2007-07-31 by Rick Brand
I love the story about the minister who preached from the Psalm about God's coming judgment and dashing the heads of the enemies upon the stone. His much more compassionate friend said, "Oh, were you able to preach that sermon with love?"
How do you preach against greed without sounding judgmental or being a hypocrite? Fred Craddock in his commentary points out that Jesus does not try to judge between the greed of the older brother and the greed of the younger brother. I think I am looking at talking about the great sadness of what the man missed because of his focus in life.
As so many of the commentators point out there is nothing about the man being evil, crooked, exploitive or abusive. He was a very focused, skilled, effective business man. He made money the old fashion way. He earned it. But as the story suggests he never got to enjoy it. He never found in joy in being able to help somebody else. He never entertained his friends. The story seems to suggest that his world was never larger than "me" and "my barns," "my crops," my, my, my.
There is a great sadness in this story that he missed out on so many other blessings of life, and he missed out on the benefits of the blessings he had.
There is a great sadness that his world never got beyond his own farm, and his life never thought about life beyond this life. When he died he confronted the reality that none of this work or blessing had prepared him for the question of where will he be after death. At funerals I pray grant that "we may live as those prepared to die, so that we may die as those prepared to live in the joy of Your kingdom. " He seems no more prepared for eternity at his death than at his birth. There is a great sorrow in that.
My work on Hosea
2007-07-30 by Rick Brand
Hosea 1:2-10 "Go, and Take a wife of harlotry"
July 29, 2007
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
"Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom, and children of whoredom, for the land goes awhoring away from Yahweh." Not many of us use that kind of language at the moment. The only place I know where that word, whore, is used regularly is in black rap music. But that is the language of Hosea. That is what God tells Hosea to do. "Go and marry a whore and have children with her." It is mission work that we hope God never tells our children to undertake.
"Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom, and get children of whoredom." What kind of holy, just and gracious God would give that kind of command? It is enough to make the commentaries work extra hard at trying to make it sound better. This is poetic language. This is an allegory that Hosea is telling. Like the movie Big Fish, Hosea is preaching his sermon in language meant to shock. Certainly the purity of God would never demand such immorality from his servants.
Yet if we look beyond the language there is good basis for the historical nature of these events. Gomer could have been a very normal and average young woman of her day. She could have even considered herself very religious. The more settled and agrarian the Israelites became the more they began to assimilate and adopt the customs and the rituals of the Canaanites. Israel was created by God through the call of Abraham and the rescue of the Exodus. At Sinai they had made a deal, these Israelites and God. They would be his people and He would be their God. They had their own rituals and their own customs. But as they lived and worked in their new land, they began to take up the local customs. So every spring just before they went to plant their crops, when the Canaanite farmers took a bull, slit its throat and poured the blood on the land for fertility, the Israelite farmers figured they better do the same thing. But that wasn't what God had asked them to do. Gomer could have been a very nice and gracious young woman. In the Canaanite culture a young virgin woman, just before marriage, went to the temple and engaged in sexual activities with a priest in the conviction that such activity enhanced her fertility. We all know how important it was for a woman to be able to bear children. She may have been a very religious young woman, but she was worshipping at the wrong place. In Hosea's eyes Gomer had gone awhoring after other gods. Gomer was very much part of the culture that had lost its devotion to God and was an adulterous society.
The sweet young thing, Gomer, was a whore because she was forsaking with her culture the worship of God and she was participating and seeking the gifts of life from other places. Her children would become the children of whoredom because Gomer would always be convinced in the back of her mind that she had been able to have these children because of her participation in that fertility ritual. The children were not the gift of God to Gomer. The children were the results of the fertility ritual in Gomer's eyes.
Hosea is the prophet who makes the astonishing comparison of Israel and God as a marriage. God and Israel in the covenant at Sinai had something as important as a marriage, and Israel as a community was being unfaithful, was awhoring, by its participation in the Canaanite cults and way of life.
You can still hear some people using this sexual and adulterous kind of language about what is happening in our society now. The United State of America,they claim, was created as a Christian nation, and now we as a people are going awhoring after other gods. There is great sadness and anger as they see actions which they believe destroys and abandons the covenant of this nation with God.
There is no doubt that things have been changing within our society. There are others who use other words for those changes. As we have been made aware so dramatically in the last few days, how you describe something can be most explosive. For most there is a recognition that we are moving away from the official endorsement of spiritual concerns. They talk about the increased secularization of our society. There seems to be an ever growing confidence and arrogance in modern science. It will be medical science which will soon give life, preserve life, and extend life. It will be modern science which will find new forms of energy, develop safer machines, and provide advance warnings from disasters.
Of course, the confidence in science is really an ever reoccurring of our confidence in ourselves as human beings. Human beings are the brightest and best of creation. We can accomplish what we want. There is no limit on what we will be able to achieve. The exaltation of the individual means that there is no authority outside of ourselves that matters.
The current outpouring of anti-God books seems to rest upon the great problem of evil. Look at all the horrible things that have been done in the name of God. We don't need God. The religious devotion and fanaticism has incredible power to cause war, pain and cruelty. We would do better without the worship of any god we are told. We can as human beings make it on our own power.
There are those individuals who have expectations of their religion that have not been met and so they have gone in search of other spiritual powers which will deliver for them what they want. There are the new age groups, there are those who have explored Eastern religions, there are those who have decided to worship the dark side. There are all kinds of people who will tell you that they are not religious but they are very spiritual, but when you ask what that means they have very little to say about what is spiritual. It is a vague feeling that has no face, no values, no personal qualities, no demands, and no compassion for creation.
And of course, there is the constant worship of our material prosperity. Life is more and more defined and evaluated by what you have. Our rating of ourselves and our neighbors is on the basis of our stuff. There is great pity for those who do not have two cars and boat. There is almost no appreciation for the network of friends, of mutual support, of the joy and celebration of the struggle of life that exists in other cultures. If they don't have air-conditioning in the summer, they are to be pitied.
Hosea would have no problem saying that God had told him to go and marry a wife of whoredom, a Material Girl. Remember Madonna's song about she was a material girl. That is what Hosea is talking about. One who has become so a part of her adulterous culture that she has all of the characteristics of that culture. "Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me, I think they're ok. If they don't give me proper credit, I just walk away." Because I am a material girl, living in a material world, and only boys who save their pennies make my rainy day." We may think she is a perfectly nice young woman, but Hosea says she has gone awhoring after other gods and He was told to marry one of those young women.
And the children as they come give us a very clear message of what is the future of those communities and people who have lost the definition of their faith in God. The first child is named Jezreel. Jezreel is a beautiful little village which became the site of amazing violence. Jezreel is where Ahab and Jezebel were killed. Jezreel is where Jehu the General killed the kings of Israel and Judah. Jezreel would be like calling one of your children Abu Grad. Hosea names the first child Jezreel because God says I will put an end to the Kingdom of the house of Israel. The first thing that fails and falls apart when a community forsakes its covenants and commitments.The first casualty is the political order. God who always prepares for salvation with judgment has the first born of Hosea as the walking announcement that where we no longer know who and what we believe or worship the consequences are the end of political integrity, political structure.
The second child is named "Without Mercy." The community that continues to be confused, searching, and undisciplined because everybody is their own authority, becomes a community where there is no mercy given to each other. The rhetoric becomes loud and harsh, the judgments are swift and vicious, tempers are short and motives questioned. This erosion of the community and its definitions and standards means that there less and less mercy and civility within the community.
And the last child is name "Not my people" The final outcome of this constant search for other powers and principalities to worship or to turn to for our redemption simple means that we finally are so far away from God that he can no longer call us his people. The covenant is no longer in force. We are not his people and He is not our God. The last child is the billboard for the message that we are now on our own, and God is no longer able to claim us as his community.
Hosea undertakes this calling to marry a Material Girl and to have a family with her so that he might present the judgments of God in order that God might begin the work of redemption. That is always the story of the Scriptures. God's love must ask hard things from us in order that we might be his people and share his kingdom.
For the Kingdom of God is in our midst, but we must seek first the kingdom of God or we cannot find it.
SERMON OUTLINE FOR JULY 29
2007-07-26 by David von Schlichten
TEXTS: HOSEA 1 AND LUKE 11
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF SERMON: We baptized are to be persistent in prayer and are to have a healthy prayerlife as part of our marriage to God, who has established the marriage through our baptism into Christ.
MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH
I. Introduction: Many ways of describing our relationship with God; one is as a marriage
II. Hosea: provide brief description of book and of Hosea's marriage to Gomer
III. Hosea's broken marriage points to how Israel has cheated on God
IV. How have we cheated on God? Provide examples
V. Through Christ, God reunites us with him; our baptism is a new marriage; the Church is the bride of Christ
VI. We are called to respond by being a faithful spouse
VII. One way is through good communication, i.e., prayer
VIII. Gospel stresses the importance of prayer, especially persistent prayer
IX. God is ready to listen, is in love with us, wants to have quality time with us, is ready to provide for us as our devoted spouse
Wednesday Morning Bible Study
2007-07-25 by David von Schlichten
DESCRIPTION OF MY BIBLE STUDY
Each Wednesday morning at my congregation, St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Youngstown, PA, we have a Bible study from 9:30 to 11. There are four or five people who come, plus myself. The people range in ages from 72 to 90. I am 38.
We always study the lessons for the coming Sunday, and I encourage each of my fellow students to think about what she (or he) would preach about if she were preaching that Sunday.
The group tends to interpret passages as having a finger-wagging, you-better-shape-up-or-else message, even if the passage really is not along those lines.
In general, the group is great for helping me to see what some of the key theological issues are for my parishioners.
FOR THIS SUNDAY, JULY 29
In our Bible study, we noticed the following themes:
Persistence in prayer. In Genesis, Abraham is persistent with God regarding getting God to show mercy to Sodom, and Jesus encourages his hearers to be persistent in prayer.
Balance between commandment and mercy. The passage from Hosea (an alternate to the Genesis reading) urges people away from spiritual infidelity and toward renewing their marriage to God. God the Husband expects much from us but also gives us much gracious forgiveness.
The Lord's Prayer is in the Gospel. A person could preach a bunch of sermons on that.
After Bible study and further reflection, I have come up with the following "thesis" statement for my sermon:
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF SERMON: We baptized are to be persistent in prayer and are to have a healthy prayerlife as part of our marriage to God, who has established the marriage through our baptism into Christ (After all, a good marriage needs lots of communication.).
Thanks, Wednesday morning Bible study. :-)
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poet and pastor
2007-07-24 by David von Schlichten
I received the following question:
In looking at the Lectionary reading from Hosea, (I like to try to get some Old Testament preaching in during the Summer) I turned to the Anchor Bible commentary on Hosea. Anderson and Freedman, and found almost a hundred pages on the Hosea\'s marriage. Has anybody read all that and can give a digest of the major points from that commentary for preaching that text?
Here's what I found especially helpful from that commentary. First, Anderson and Freeman contend that the marriage to Gomer was an actual event commanded by God and not a metaphor, allegory, or vision. Sometimes God calls people to do shocking things (like walk around naked or sacrifice your son).
Second, Anderson and Freeman believe that Gomer is not merely a promiscuous woman but is involved with the Baal temple prostitution somehow. Therefore, Gomer's infidelity is not merely a metaphor for Israel's but actually is an example of it. In her infidelity, Gomer is not merely cheating on Hosea but is cheating on God by engaging in the Baal prostitution cult, just as Israel is cheating on God by "sleeping with" Baal. See page 125.
Gomer is not unfaithful at the time of her marriage to Hosea but becomes unfaithful afterwards. This situation better parallels Israel's, which is that the nation was, at the beginning of the marriage to God, faithful and then cheated.
It is impossible to construct a clear biography of Hosea because the narrative is not always linear and not always clear.
Gomer's name is not symbolic. It's just her name.
Gomer leaves Hosea, but he brings her back (ch. 3), and there is reconciliation. Here lies the main point. Israel has cheated on God; God will bring her back; and there will be reconciliation.
It seems to me that the following pages from that commentary are especially helpful: 125, 128-9, 156-7, 161, 164, 167, 171, 221ff.
Some general information about Hosea from my Oxford Annotated Bible: from the northern kingdom, Hosea ministered to the northern kingdom, which is suffering from war with Assyria and is in virtual anarchy.
IF I WERE PREACHING ON THIS TEXT, I wouldn't worry too much about the details of the marriage. That God commanded Hosea to marry a woman whom he knew would cheat on him will be enough for parishioners to absorb.
Then you can talk about how we all cheat on God but how God continues to want us back and has remarried us through Christ. Now Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride.
If anyone else has helpful thoughts on this matter, please share them.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten
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