Faithfulness

Hosea 2.14-20

Last Sunday we had a fabulous Super Bowl party at our house for the children, youth and their families. We had great party food, the predicted snow did not come, and the game was exciting. But for many of us, including most of the children and youth, the commercials were the real draw. We loved the commercial with the puppy and Clydesdales, the one with the Brady Bunch, the sweet one about fathers and their children, and the one about running, throwing and fighting like a girl, but several of the commercials sucked the life right out of our party. For a few moments after two commercials, the room was silent and we all sat stunned. One was about accidental childhood deaths – it had a cute kid talking about the joys of childhood but then the cute boy told us that he had not been able to enjoy these things because he had already died. Another one had a woman calling 911 and ordering a pizza – viewers soon realized that she was in danger and needed help, it was a commercial about violence against women.

The issue of Domestic violence has been in the news a lot lately, brought out in the open by the video of Ravens football player Ray Rice beating his fiancé unconscious in an elevator. It is good and right for there to be a commercial about it during the biggest football game of the year. Although the commercial about domestic violence was a bummer in the midst of a great party, the need for heightened awareness and conversation around this issue is critically important. The statistics are numbing. Like, the number of women killed by their current or former partner greatly exceeded the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001-2012. The statistics are so frightening that it is easier for us to just not think about it. However, truth be told, all of us have women in our lives who have suffered or are suffering from violence. 25% of Americans, mostly women, are victims of violence by someone they know; their husbands, someone they are dating, hope to date or used to date will abuse them in their lifetime and the rates are higher for women during college years. And violence against women is not a new problem, it is an ancient problem.

We continue this week in our prophet series by looking at what has been a thorn for many theologians, church educators and preachers. Hosea has some beautiful passages, like the one we just read, but it also has some seriously troubling imagery, so troubling in fact that many people skip it altogether. I was one of those who was so troubled by what I read that instead of delving into it and trying to make sense of it, I kept reading and moved on to the next prophet, Joel.

You see, Hosea begins with the Lord saying to Hosea “Go take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom.” So Hosea married Gomer and she bore three children. And then in chapter 3, God told Hosea to take a lover who is an adulteress, it is Gomer again. And Hosea purchased her for fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley and a measure of wine. Hosea purchased Gomer. Now marrying a prostitute might not necessarily be a bad thing. Rahab, ran a brothel, and may have been a prostitute but had a good heart and was faithful to God and is part of Jesus’ ancestry. But purchasing a woman? That is not right.

If you look just before today’s text, earlier in chapter 2, you will read some pretty terrifying words about Homer, “I will strip her naked and expose her, I will uncover her shame and no one shall rescue her.”

These words about this abused woman were metaphors, part of Hosea’s prophecy. Home was not a person who lived and breathed, this relationship did not happen. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute BECAUSE God said, “the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the Lord.” and to love an adulteress BECAUSE the “Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods.”

Hosea cannot be read like Jeremiah or Isaiah, it has to be read more like Ezekiel when the dry bones rose up from the ground after sinews, flesh and skin covered them; an allegory for what God would do for Israel – bring new life. Hosea has to be read more like Revelation where there are 24 thrones and 24 elders with 4 living creatures covered with eyes on the front and back and 6 wings and where 4 angels stand at the 4 corners of the earth holding back the 4 winds – allegory for the end times.

Hosea’s relationship with Homer is allegory for God’s relationship with Israel who have been continually unfaithful. It is allegory – it did not really happen, but that does not negate the fact that the image of the abuse of a woman as allegory is troubling – using this type of imagery is harmful to women. Even when we understand these words are NOT true, they belittle women, make them objects and that is dangerous. The imagery of the marriage to an unfaithful wife who was punished for her infidelity is horrible. He stopped supporting her and took everything away from her, even a vineyard and fig trees. He took away her clothing and made her stand naked in public and no one was allowed to rescue her. He kills her with thirst – the text says. And it was written as “the word of the Lord.” We remember that Jesus modeled compassion instead.

Israel had been a very unfaithful partner with God. They had forgotten who they were and whose they were. They had been worshipping idols. They had been worshipping other gods. They had forgotten the God who had freed them from Pharaoh. They had forgotten God’s faithfulness to them in the desert. They had forgotten the gift of the Promised Land. Israel had been unfaithful.

The imagery in Hosea was familiar to the ancient audience. They understood the symbol of the unfaithful prostitute named Homer was for them. At that time, women were property. Unmarried women had few options to earn money and selling their bodies was sometimes their only opportunity to support themselves and their children. And unfortunately, some women feel it is their only option today and some are the sex industry by force.

The women’s ministry for Disciple’s is called Disciple’s Women. They come together for a conference every 4 years and at that conference they lift up a subject for study and work. Disciple’s Women are currently studying modern-day slavery, called human trafficking. Most of the victims are women, teens, and children used for sexual exploitation, the average age at which they begin prostitution is 13 years old. After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing. Let me say that again – after drugs, buying and selling human beings is the second largest criminal industry. It is estimated that 800,000 people are bought and sold every year around the world. And it is even happening here in Kentucky. The thought of the enslavement of women and children in our own state is so frightening and distressing that it is easier to just not think about it or talk about it – just like it is easier to not read Hosea.

But I can say with absolute certainty that God does not support or condone slavery, oppression or violence against anyone.  The abuse of people happens due to a separation from God – due to brokenness. And as the hands and feet of God in this world, it is our duty to speak out, and to have compassion and love for anyone who has been abused. As the voice of Christ in this world, it is our duty to model respect and loving care in all our relationships. As conduits for the Holy Spirit, it is our duty to demonstrate respect of women and empowerment of girls with our words.

AND as children of God, followers of Christ and expressions of the Holy Spirit, it is our obligation to love and respect ourselves, as males and as females. We are all broken to one degree or another. We have all suffered – emotionally, physically and spiritually and we need loving kindness, – gentleness, – compassion – and respect. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, respect each other as we respect ourselves, have compassion for our brothers and sisters as we have compassion for ourselves. Self-Compassion it is called.

Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves when we are having a difficult time, when we are remembering a painful memory, or when we notice something we don’t like about ourselves. Instead of just ignoring our pain, we can acknowledge it and be kind to ourselves. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing ourselves, self-compassion means we are gentle and understanding to ourselves. We all try to change in ways that allow us to be more healthy and happy, to be better at following Christ, to be more whole, but this is done because we are made in the image of God, not because we are worthless or unacceptable.

Having compassion for ourselves means that we honor and accept our divinity AND our humanness. We are broken, we have limitations, and we are learning and growing. This is a reality shared by all of us. Having self-compassion requires a level of mindfulness where we acknowledge how we are feeling – without judgment. We cannot ignore our pain and brokenness and feel compassion for ourselves at the same time. But we also must not become consumed by our thoughts and feelings, and caught up in negativity. We simply acknowledge our situation and our feelings and then we lift them to God who forgives us, loves us, has compassion for us and desires a respectful, loving, faithful relationship with us.

Speaking to us, the Lord says, “I will charm you, and bring you to live in the country, and speak tenderly to you. From there I will give you your vineyards and build you a road from our country home   it will be a door of hope….I will make for you a covenant on that day – with the wild animals, the birds of the air and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish weapons and war from the land and with me you will always be safe. I will take you …forever; in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy, I will take you in faithfulness and you shall know me intimately.”

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