Weekly Seeds: Compassion

Sunday, July 24, 2022 | After Pentecost
Proper 12

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Gracious and Angry God, we are your people. You are our God. May it ever be so. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Hosea 1:2–10
2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” 3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. 7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, 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.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Hosea 1:2–10 and Psalm 85
Genesis 18:20–32 and Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6–15 (16–19)
Luke 11:1–13

Focus Questions:
1. Compassion means “to suffer with.” How does this definition inform your understanding of compassion?
2. Hosea uses marriage as a metaphor for the divine-human relationship. What other human relationships inform our understanding of our relationship with God?
3. How does the unfaithfulness of the children of the covenant resemble infidelity?
4. What consequences do we observe from contemporary idolatry?
5. How might we express and demonstrate our compassion toward God?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Characterizing the divine-human relationship proves challenging and complicated. God is Creator, and we are creation, but we are also called and empowered to create. We are made in the image of God, but we cannot see God and we don’t look alike. God loves us unconditionally, and God has expectations of us. God gives us free will, and God sets boundaries for the exercise of it. We are created as companions for God, yet we cannot fully know God. We could go on with the seeming contradictions and dualities embedded in this relationship.

The biblical writers and countless faith communities have adopted metaphors in an attempt to capture various aspects of this relationship. These metaphors are illustrated through the many names of God as expressed in the Bible and that we expand upon today. We also understand them through the names and personifications of God’s people. In many cases, human creatures are referred to as children of God. It may be the most common relational moniker given to us. It reflects a loving relationship of a parent toward their offspring, including the responsibility, authority, and obligation for nurture and care.

Through the ministry of the prophet Hosea, marriage becomes the dominant metaphor for the divine-human relationship. This gets picked up in the New Testament, but it is a new development in the Hebrew scriptures. We should consider it with care:

The book of Hosea is a much-examined work among feminist biblical scholars, because the prophet Hosea is the first to employ the metaphor of husband for the Deity, casting Israel in negative imagery as God’s adulterous wife. This representation reflects the historical situation of ancient Israel, where gender relationships were asymmetrical: the man occupied the more privileged position in this society, and the woman was subject to him. What is important for women is that this socially conditioned relationship deeply affects the theology of the book of Hosea. This theology interprets the divine as male and the sinful as female. Using this imagery, the prophet describes God’s legitimate punishment as physical violence against the wife by her husband. The problem arises when the metaphorical character of the biblical image is forgotten and a husband’s physical abuse of his wife becomes as justified as is God’s retribution against Israel.
Gale A. Yee

Metaphors are descriptive, yet historically, these literary devices have been used prescriptively to denigrate and oppress those already situated on the margins. Metaphors in the Bible utilize a condition that people understood to illuminate something they did not. As Yee has noted, the representation in Hosea does not advocate for asymmetrical gender relationships, it uses existing cultural understandings to explain the asymmetrical divine-human relationship. (I might even suggest that biblical metaphors often magnify and critique disparities and injustice in human-human relationships.)

The work of the prophet is to speak on behalf of God in a given situation. As a result, many of them live metaphorical lives. Hosea provides the most explicit example of this:

Like many of the prophets, Hosea not only speaks on God’s behalf (4-14), he also embodies his message (1—3; Isa 8:18; 20:3; Jer 27:2; Ezek 24:16). As the book opens, YHWH instructs his prophet to marry a prostitute in order to visually picture Israel’s spiritual prostitution (1:2). With this living metaphor, “the pain in the heart of the prophet became a parable for the anguish in the heart of God.”
Bran P. Gault

Reading the text from Hosea’s perspective invites us into God’s point of view. Of course, there are other characters in the story who need attention. Gomer represents humanity, specifically, the people of Israel during the era of Hosea. Their marriage reflects the tumultuous relationship shared between the Holy One and humanity during that time. It is jarring to read these words substituting God and human beings for Hosea and Gomer. God’s directive for Hosea to marry a prostitute indicates how God felt about their relationship with humans. God proposed an everlasting covenant of abiding presence, intimacy, and love. The lived reality of that relationship found God bound to a partner who scorned those sacred gifts by selling themselves to another.

Israel’s political and economic interests, both domestic and foreign, interconnected with its official religious cult. Hosea accused the wife/Israel of chasing after her lovers, the Canaanite baals. Baal, whose name means “master” or “husband,” was the Canaanite storm god responsible for bringing the life-giving rains, for an agrarian society with an arid climate like Israel’s, such rains were crucial for survival. Grounded in the agricultural seasons of the year, the Canaanite religion placed a strong emphasis on fertility in all areas of life, not only in the cultivation of crops and the breeding of flocks, but also in the birth of children. For Hosea, the nation’s neveration of the baals embodied all that was wrong with Israel’s leadership: its political instability and corruption.
Gale A. Yee

This is deep betrayal. God is hurt by this and responds from this place of pain. But, that there’s more involved here as cultural norms of honor and shame would have been understood by the original hearers of this word:

Hosea’s original audience would have received and understood his marriage metaphor in relation to the meanings that marriage and sexual transgression carried in the ancient world. In modern culture, we tend to think of marriage as being primarily a romantic or personal relationship, and value mutual and equal relations between husband and wife. In Hosea’s world, the primary aim of marriage was reproduction and the continuation of the patrilineage, and the relationship between husband and wife was hierarchical and asymmetrical. A wife in ancient Israel was under the authority of her husband, was dependent on him for her subsistence, and owed him exclusive sexual rights so that the paternity of his children could be assured. A wife who strayed sexually was subject to divorce and even death (Num. 5:11–31; Deut. 22:22–24). Her obligation of fidelity, however, was not reciprocal; a husband could enjoy sexual relations with other women, such as prostitutes or concubines, so long as no other man’s “rights” over “his” women were violated. Codes of honor and shame provided indispensable support for this social system. A man’s honor depended on his ability to maintain sexual control over his wife/wives and daughters. A woman who had illicit sexual relations—even if it was forced on her through rape—brought shame on the men in her family (Gen. 34:31; Lev. 21:9). Hosea’s metaphor draws on these social codes, comparing the nation to an adulterous wife giving birth to children of uncertain paternity (powerful symbols of transgression and shame in his world) in order to awaken his audience to the gravity of their own transgression of their covenant obligations to YHWH.
Alice A. Keefe

Remember, the metaphor demonstrates that God’s honor is impacted by the behavior of God’s covenant people. It is not an indictment against womxn and should not be used to imply that womxn are inherently untrustworthy or subordinate to men. The prophet’s familial experience reflects judgment against the people and their dishonoring faithlessness.

The children, as the final characters to consider, personify the consequences of this toxic relationship. They are literally the offspring of the union of one who is faithful to one who is not. There is no indication that Gomer reforms after their marriage. The children born within the bounds of the marriage may not be a result of the marriage. Hosea is identified as their father but is that a false claim. The history of the church provides regrettable examples of actions taken in the name of Christianty yet scrutiny and discernment challenges the veracity of those claims. The Crusades and Manifest Destiny illustrate the point historically but opposition to asylum seekers and immigration in general provide a contemporary example where claims of righteousness do not meet the standard of the gospel.

Hosea invites us to take God’s point of view. The Holy One is faithful to a people who do not match that level of commitment. God’s anger and anguish permeate the text. The names of the children are unlike any other birth announcement. They reflect a different consequence of the broken covenant: Jezreel (punishment), Lo-ruhamah (no pity/compassion), and Lo-ammi (disavowal).

Hosea also reminds us that the God who declares impending doom, promises unforgiveness, and disowns their progeny…cannot escape their own character and nature. The Righteous One may decree that the people deserve all these things, but the Compassionate One cannot help but suffer with the ones who have caused God such pain and suffering. Reconciliation is not only possible; it is assured in the “yet” found in verse 10.

In spite of their unfaithfulness, the Sovereign One will keep God’s side of the covenant:
“Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, 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 relationship will shift…from partner to dependent. Yet, the covenant and the covenantal promises will endure past this moment of indiscretion and betrayal.

But first, the people will be drawn into living God’s experience…with compassion.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl
half-notes scattered
without rhythm/ no tune
distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder
it’s funny/ it’s hysterical
the melody-less-ness of her dance
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
she’s dancin on beer cans & shingles
this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
lyrics/ no voices
& interrupted solos
unseen performances
are we ghouls?
children of horror?
the joke?
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
are we animals? have we gone crazy?
i can’t hear anythin
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me . . .
somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times
sing her song of life
she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered
without rhythm/ no tune
sing her sighs
sing the song of her possibilities
sing a righteous gospel
let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly.
–Ntozake Shange. For colored girls who have considered suicide/When the rainbow is enuf

For further reflection:
“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” ― Andrew Boyd
“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.