Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Sermon on Hosea 1:2-10
For the Community of First Baptist Church of Austin
On the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 24, 2016

God of Incarnation, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Created and the Creating Spirit. 

Imagine it with me this morning… Two parents who are so very proud of their only child, a son. They have raised him right, good schools and good after school activities, he has had good internships and the world really is his for the taking at the moment. He lettered in varsity football. He has done all right service projects. He loves the arts. He is a bit left of them politically but they are okay with that, they raised him to be a thinker. He’s had a great upbringing.

There are only two concerns his parents have. The first concern is he is a bit too religious for their taste. They certainly raised him in religion because that was good and proper, but the truth is they are more “spiritual but not religious folks.”

The second involves his love life. He has not dated much, in fact he took his best friend to prom his senior year and he has been very adamant about them staying out of his dating life. So when he called one evening to ask if he could stop by the next morning for a cup of coffee, they did not think too much about him making any sort of big announcement. He often called and stopped by for a cup of coffee in the morning.

So that morning after his second cup of coffee, they were quite taken aback when he announced, “I have decided to get married.” They did not even know he was dating someone… but that did not stop his mom from crying out in joy and allowing her mind to immediately rush to wedding showers and grandchildren and her grandmother name. In fact she got so lost in all that she missed the rest of his sentence, “to a lady named Gomer.”

Now his dad did not miss the rest of the sentence. Yet he still thought he must have misheard his son, “wait- who did you say you were marrying?”

And Hosea replied again, “Gomer. You know her.”

Which was an understatement, the whole town knew her. She was a tragic case, the local town prostitute. Their son was announcing to them he was marrying the local hooker. And as much as one loves Pretty Woman, it’s not a story they want to see repeated in their own family. However being good parents who understood the pivotal rule of parenting- don’t react, don’t let them see you sweat, they simply asked if they could take Hosea and his new fiancĂ© to dinner that night.

And they did and she was so charming.  And they were educated enough to understand her situation better than most would have. They knew that no one choses to be a prostitute. Prostitutes are the victims of sexual abuse, addiction and an economic system that is set up against women. They knew that it’s not the prostitutes who should be punished; it’s the system that put them there and the men who treat them as if they are property who should be punished.

And even though it was not a normal love story, they were as taken with her as Hosea was... in fact the only strange part of the story was actually their son who kept repeating the line, “God told me to marry her.”

They were beyond excited when almost a year later, Hosea and Gomer stopped by for a cup of coffee and gave them “World’s Best Grandparents” coffee mugs. This was exactly what they had dreamed of and those months were so exciting- preparing a nursery (both in their house and Hosea and Gomer’s house), baby showers, buying onsies. The only thing that was strange was Hosea and Gomer would not talk about names. Secretly the grandparents believed maybe it was because they were going to name the baby after them.

So it was with nervous excitement they watched Hosea come out of the Operating Room holding a little baby boy and proudly announce, “Here is little Jezreel.” It was a record scratch moment. No one would name a baby Jezreel, right? I mean sure it was a pretty name that meant “God plants” but had Hosea and Gomer forgotten it was also the city halfway between Samaria and Galilee…. That city that had been the sight of mass murder and incredible violence, they even asked, “you mean the city from 2 Kings 9 and 10… that city where all the people were killed including kings?”

And Hosea said, “Absolutely right. He is named exactly after that city because God is bringing an end to the kings of Israel. The monarchy is about to fall.”

They had no words; they just held their new grandson and quietly and quickly created a nickname for him. They would just call him Gus. And pretty soon Baby Two came around and this time Hosea announced her name was to be Lo-Ruhamah, which means no compassion. His mother was again disappointed, No Compassion is not a name you want to put on a smock dress or a Christmas stocking. And soon came baby three and his name was to be Lo-Ammi, which means not my people.

These names were telling a story of sorts and it was not a story anyone wanted to hear. You are going to lose your kings and power, your are going to lose my compassion and you are going to lose me. Your story is a future without power, without God’s compassion and ultimately a future without God.

And finally Hosea’s mother has had enough, it’s time for a cup of coffee and this time she calls him over- alone. And she starts in on him, “You can’t keep doing this to my grandkids. It’s one thing for you to have all these religious thoughts, but it’s another for you to make their names a living and breathing metaphor for God’s story. Can’t you name them something a bit nicer? They deserve better names.”

They deserve better names.

And I think if we were to stop this morning and to listen to the cry of our world we would hear her very words hidden in our cry, she is crying out the same prayer: They deserve better names.

We live in a world where names really matter and I am not simply talking about our birth names, I am talking about the way people identify us. For some of us here we have worked ourselves weary trying to earn some titles that will help people identify us in positive ways. Maybe it’s a job title. Maybe it’s an office we hold in this very church. Maybe it’s a social club we belong to. Maybe it’s the neighborhood we live in. Maybe it’s the family name we were born into.

And for some of us here we have worked ourselves weary trying to rid ourselves of a name, and again I am talking about the very way people identify us and it’s not in a positive way. Maybe it’s our marital status, divorced and cheated on. Maybe it’s an illness, addict seems to fit here. Maybe it’s something that happened to us and our name has become victim. Maybe it’s a past sin and failure that we have let go of but no one else seems to forget. Maybe it’s something that everyone but us has forgotten, that junior high nickname that still haunts our soul or that awful thing you heard someone say about you.

Our world loves labels and names. It’s how we identify ourselves and it’s how we identify others. Part of it is that makes it easy to classify people, to feel like you know someone, to be able to group folks into good and bad columns. A lot of it is about power and privilege: who is more powerful than you and who do you hold power over? What privilege does your name provide? And it all has to do with our ego.

We read this story of Hosea and the kids names bother us because we know what it’s like to struggle to earn a good name. You see there are all sorts of struggles we carry when it comes to this book but one of them is the fact that we hate the thought of these three children’s names. And yet we have verse 10 in chapter 1: “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sea of the sand, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

We need to pay attention to the verbs there- the place where it was said and the place where it shall be said… there is a journey from was said to shall be said. It’s a past tense verb and a future verb, which leaves us the work of the present tense verbs: become, reclaim, rename and redeem.

And maybe that is the problem of our faith… we want the nicer names and we want them right away, a quick fix. We want to skip the messy parts, the complicated part, the parts where we are not shiny, happy beautiful folks. Unfortunately, a lot of our life is about the transformation from the messy parts of the life to beautiful life. It’s about the three days in between the Cross and the empty tomb. It’s about the process of resurrection which more often than not is slow and steady work and not an overnight extreme makeover.

You see that middle part, the messy complicated part that is redemption, well that is where most of the best things in life are born and where they live… it’s the home to forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, love, grace, mercy. It’s the very work of sanctification, which is to say it’s the very vocation of our lives. To reclaim the name beloved.

Which is what I think Hosea is trying to do, to redeem us.

Now the ending is a bit complicated, the narrative focuses on the marriage and not on the children. We don’t have their new names. They don’t get some beautiful baptismal renaming experience, which they each deserve. They are not really mentioned that much after they are named and maybe that is intentional… because maybe the ending of this story is still being written over and over again in our world. The renaming is ours to do, To act out.

For instance in the powerful new theological work, The Cross and Gendercide, the author tells the story of Ashmita, a 15-year-old girl from a central district in India. This is not her given name. Her given name was Nakasha, which means unwanted. The name was given to her by her grandfather who was angry that he was getting a granddaughter and not a grandson. She would be of no worth to him, so he named her Unwanted.

And yet there is a tremendous organization in India with the name “Save the Girl Child.” One of their tasks is organizing renaming ceremonies where they change girl’s names from those of worthlessness to those of dignity and acceptance. Nakasha, Unwanted, was renamed Ashmita which means “Very Tough” or “Rock Hard” for her resilience and inner strength.

Her name was redeemed.

It’s the acting out of the last verse from our text, ““Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sea of the sand, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

The world is crying out for us, the church, the Beloved community, to provide for our world some better names…. This is our work, our calling.

And that work takes shape all sorts of different ways. It’s going back into the neighborhoods we once fled and finding the lots where vacant and decayed homes stand and building beautiful communal gardens in those places to symbolize life and birth and beauty.

It’s hosting art projects where the entire city is invited to bring their guns and redeem them for gift cards and then those guns are melted down to create statues that literally reflect the biblical verse, swords into plowshares.

It’s opening some of the closets in our own souls, those places we have tightly closed and allowing a bit of light to break through and seeing if a bit of air could bring about some healing to our own hearts, the renaming in our very own soul.

It’s going to a broken relationship in our own lives and saying those words that are heavy but healing, “I am sorry.”

It’s standing in front of a mirror and looking at your reflection and saying over and over again, I am a beloved child of God and saying it not only until you believe it but until you see it.

It’s being willing to step into someone else’s pain and be their guide until they can find their true name.

It’s stepping out into this world with all our divisions and binary thinking and renaming our world One. Bridging all divisions with unity, the sacred work of reconciliation which we have seen is so needed this very summer.

It’s doing whatever it takes to rename all fear and hate into courage and love because fear and hate have no place in the Kingdom of God… but courage and love, well they are pillars of the Kingdom of God.

It’s walking the entire journey from the cross to the tomb, because our journey requires both.

And this is the work of the church.

To go into all of creation, people and places, and to proclaim to a world that largely believes its name is “You are not my people” and to remind the world, to redeem the world, by saying, “Oh but you are so much more, you are more than just my people, you are children of the living God. We are children of the living God. We are beloved. Beloved is our name.”

Amen and Amen.


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