Change: Hosea

Change: Hosea
A Message on Hosea 3:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 10, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Hosea 3:1-5 (NRSV)

The Lord said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine. 3 And I said to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” 4 For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

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If you ever wondered why preachers don’t preach from Hosea very often, you have probably figured it out after hearing the scripture readings this morning. There is some pretty… um… adult-oriented language and concepts in Hosea.

And I have to admit that I find it very uncomfortable to stand up here and use some of those words and concepts. But as we continue our sermon series on “Change,” focusing on people in the Bible who experienced significant change in their lives, I think it is important that we include Hosea, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

I found myself in a very uncomfortable position on Wednesday during Mini Methodists. Normally for Mini Methodists Bible study we take a portion of the scripture that we are going to preach on for the upcoming Sunday and talk about it. We print it out for them with a memory verse for them to take home and talk about and discuss with their parents. That way the scripture they hear on Wednesday at Mini Methodist will be the same scripture they will hear here at church on Sunday.

Well when I looked at the scripture reading for today I quickly came to the conclusion that maybe we should do a different scripture for Mini Methodists. Call me “chicken” if you want, but I sure didn’t want to wade into those uncomfortable waters of Hosea. So for the Bible study I lead I chose scriptures from the story of Jonah. Simple and safe, right? What could go wrong?

So with the first group of 2nd-4th graders I was asking them to guess what Jonah did. I told them I would give them some hints, and that Jonah was a word that started with a “P.” They made some guess and then I gave them another letter: “PR.” Again some more guesses, but none of them were correct. But they were trying, which is good. They were thinking.

I gave them another letter: “PRO.” I was looking for the word, “prophet,” of course. But all of a sudden a young girl, who will remain nameless, yelled out with confidence, “Prostitute”!

I know I had a look of panic on my face. I had worked very hard to keep from wading into those waters, but I felt like a great big wave just crashed over me and knocked me down.

I called her by name and asked, “Do you know what that word means?”

“No,” she admitted.

I was trying not to let my face show it, but I was panicking. My brain was quickly trying to think of how to respond. The only thing I could think of to say and it popped right out of my mouth: “Ask your mother.”

Hosea is a rather uncomfortable book of the Bible to read, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be ignored. The uncomfortableness of it is, in fact, a message we need to hear now just as much as the people of Israel needed to hear thousands of years ago.

In our Bible Hosea is first of the 12 “minor prophets.” He lived in the 8th Century BC in the northern kingdom of Israel, back when there was a divided kingdom. He was a prophet for an unusually long time: 60 years.

God calls Hosea to do a difficult thing: to be part of a living metaphor. He calls Hosea to marry a woman who practiced “the world’s oldest profession.” And the reason God did that was to emphasize Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.

When couples get married, as part of the liturgy we ask them to declare their intentions to each other, to the people gathered there, and to God. I ask them:

“I ask you now, in the presence of God and these people, to declare your intention to enter into union with each other through the grace of Jesus Christ, who calls you into union with himself as acknowledged in your baptism.”

I then ask each one of them:
“(Name) will you have (Name) to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor and keep her/him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him as long as you both shall live?”

Marriage is not to be entered into lightly. A while back someone posted on Facebook that they were looking for an ordained minister to conduct a wedding service the next afternoon. After not getting any responses, they kind of got snarky (in my opinion) that no ministers responded. I wrote a response saying that the United Methodist Discipline required UM pastors to meet with the couple and do premarital counseling before conducting a wedding ceremony. One guy responded that he thought that was ridiculous, but I was surprised at the number of people that responded to that comment that it was a very good thing.

It is a very, very serious commitment, to pledge to forsake all others and be faithful to another person for the rest of your life. And it is a covenant that the two people make to each other, witnessed by family and friends, and before God.

In Hosea we find the prophet marrying a prostitute to symbolize how the people of Israel had been unfaithful to God. They had the law, given to them by Moses, but they gave in to the social pressures around them and began to worship other gods and engage in religious practices that God detests.

They were unfaithful. As the Hebrew people they had pledged to worship the one and only true God and to forsake all other gods and religions, but they broke that pledge, that covenant. They were unfaithful.

There are several covenants in the Bible that God makes with his people. It is a pledge, a legal contract if you will, saying what each party will do and the responsibilities each has. And it often includes the consequences of breaking that covenant.

And in every single instance it is never God that breaks the covenant. God keeps up his end of the deal. It is humans that stray away and break the covenant, and with disastrous consequences.

The prophets were called to point out the ways the people strayed, to repent of those errors, and to return to God. And they did so in different ways.

The words of the prophet Hosea are applicable to our lives today. As Christians the world calls to us and tempts us to be unfaithful and break our covenant with Jesus Christ.

Jesus is referred to many times in the New Testament scriptures as the groom and the church as his bride. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection seals the covenant between himself and his people. It was paid for by his blood.

We enter into that covenant with our baptism. The water of our baptism washes us clean of our sins and creates a new covenant by water and the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we die to the world and are resurrected as new beings. We form a covenant with God, and God never breaks his covenant.

But unfortunately we do. We become the harlot and are unfaithful to God and forsake our covenant. We cozy up to the false idols of our world: power, greed, popularity, vanity, self-centeredness, lust, addictions, and even technology (especially our smartphones).

Oh, but we want Jesus to still keep our covenant! We want him to do his part, to forgive us when we mess up, to give us salvation so that when we die we go to heaven. But we are so quick to forsake our part of the covenant. We cheat on Jesus, but don’t want him to cheat on us.

Hosea goes to great lengths to call the kingdom of Israel to repent and turn back to the Lord. As Christians we also should repent of following the things that lead us astray and renew and keep our baptismal covenant.

Hosea kind of gets a bad rap. He is known by some as the “prophet of doom,” but I think that is misleading. We find these words of hope in the scripture we read today: “Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.”

My challenge to you this week is to “return and seek the Lord our God,” that we we may “come in awe” to Jesus Christ. We are to turn away from playing the harlot and instead be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to repent and to keep the covenant we made with God.

We are called to be prophets, not that other word that starts with PRO…

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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