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Shocked by God

Our Scriptures for Today:

Hosea 1:2-10
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to him,“Go, marry a prostitute and have children of prostitution, for the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the Lord.” So Hosea went and took Gomer, Diblaim’s daughter, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 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 destroy the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Jezreel Valley.” Gomer became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Name her No Compassion, because I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have compassion on the house of Judah. I, the Lord their God, will save them; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” When Gomer finished nursing No Compassion, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Not My People because you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the people of Israel will 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 will be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.

“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Now these two scriptures we have before us this morning/evening are about as different as they come. In one scripture we have God declaring ‘these are not my people’ – disowning them. In the other scripture we have Jesus teaching his friends how best to pray. Friends, these scriptures are given as a pair by the people who plan out the church year – the people who make the lectionary – I didn’t put them together. Part of the role of a preacher is to make sense of the scriptures together. Let us pray –

God, let your Holy Spirit work within me and in this room so that we might gather what it is that you’ve laid out before us. Lord, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living Word in Jesus Christ. Amen

Just a few weeks ago, before the shooting in Minneapolis or in Baton Rouge, before the sniper in Dallas, my boyfriend and I watched the movie ‘Selma’ – a movie about a moment in the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organizes and leads a protest march from Selma to Birmingham to convince President Johnson and Governor Wallace that African Americans deserve legal protection for their right to vote. Have you seen this movie? How many of you remember this happening in real life? I sometimes find myself wishing that I lived then because the issues of the day seem so straightforward and obvious. But the truth is, I don’t know who I would have been then, and I’m sure ‘the right thing’ wasn’t as clear as it is in hindsight.

We’re in a new time when it comes to the racial divide in our country. People are hurting and on edge, wondering what will happen next. Race conversations seem to have popped up in many new areas of our lives lately – or, at least it’s new for many of us white folks. I believe the scriptures this evening/morning shed light on what we’re facing today and help us find a way to move forward.

In our scripture from Hosea we catch an old testament glimpse into God’s reaction to Israel’s betrayal. Israel had been worshipping another God – Baal – and falling away from God’s commandments. The Bible uses a metaphor that doesn’t translate well into our time – one of a wife who is prone to infidelity – but it was perfectly appropriate to the situation of Israelites praying to and worshiping gods of fertility instead of Yahweh in that time.

The prophet Hosea names his children, ‘You are not my people’, ‘Cursed’ and ‘No Compassion’ to reflect the way that God viewed His Children – Israel. God is super angry and promises to not forgive these children. – Woah – Wow. This whole passage in Hosea just shocks me. An unforgiving God. A God who gets mad and reacts the way that a human might in the face of ultimate betrayal. Some of us probably know something about how God is feeling here. Anger and hurt so great that we say we’ll never forgive.

But what if we take the place of Hosea’s children? We’ve done wrong over and over and God has cut us off. How do we live, knowing that God is promising to erase us as a people? God loves the people of Israel – Despite the hurtful words and threats, they ARE God’s children. You cannot feel the pain of betrayal without love. You cannot be cut so deeply without first trusting and loving and being vulnerable.

Looking back over the events of this month – the shootings, the death… and remembering that it cannot be separated from our past faults… colonialism, slavery, lynchings, segregation, hate crimes…. Friends… we are NOT better than Israel in Hosea’s time. We’re told by God to love each other – love as neighbors, protect them, just as we’d want them to protect us. Who is your neighbor? Earlier in Luke we hear Jesus say that our neighbors are those who are hurt, outcast, alone – not those who are like us, or who can give us something. In the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that being a neighbor means embracing the beaten man with unclear social standing who is embarrassingly naked in the middle of the road.

We cannot ignore people in pain and love them. We cannot distrust people and love them. We cannot fear people and love them. We cannot sit quietly while innocent people are killed. In this, we are betraying God.

It’s bleak in this moment in the scriptures for the children of Gomer – and it’s bleak for us. I’m sad. I’m afraid. I’ll admit that I’m afraid – that the clash between the police and black men – shootings on both sides – has suddenly made me feel unsafe. I know that I’m part of the problem. As a white person from a small, very white town, I’m ignorant and biased because of my early years, and just now starting to learn about how race affects my life. I pray that God helps me see how I can move forward.

Thankfully, we have our second reading for today, from the NEW Testament, God’s NEW promise to us through Jesus. A promise of forgiveness, rather than destruction. Relationship with God through Jesus Christ gives us opportunity to move forward to a new kind of reality, rather than being cut off like the people in Hosea. The foundation of this relationship is prayer.

As you heard in Luke, we are taught how to pray with the beginnings of the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is emphasized throughout the Bible – be in communication with God, ask for God’s will and God’s forgiveness and God’s action where it’s needed.

The scripture doesn’t end with pray though. It says pray with persistence. If someone won’t give you what you need, keep asking and eventually he’ll comply. It’s basically saying, ‘If you annoy someone enough, you’ll get what you need’. Again, the metaphor of asking a friend for some bread because you have a guest coming isn’t very relatable in our time. There’s not a better metaphor for us unfortunately, as we live in a culture where we value not having to ask for help.

What do we need? Justice, love, peace, security. We need our neighbors to be as safe as we are. We need the violence to stop! So we pray, and we’ll continue to pray. But asking God for help is not the only form of prayer that we have at our disposal.

About his time in the civil rights movement, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.” Action is prayer that is alive and moving.

But Jen, I’m not a racist, I’m not a biased cop, I have black friends, I’m progressive, my community is inclusive. This sermon isn’t for me. Well, I don’t say this often, but you’re wrong. Look around the room. How many people of color do you see? Churches are still the most segregated places in our society. We choose this!

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with this – how can I possibly stop this violence – I’m not pulling the trigger! Well, we all do what we can to slowly change the culture that allows violence. We all have actions to take for our world to be better. The unpopular political route is to write to your representatives. Tell them that you demand something be done about unnecessary violence done to black people. Vote in local elections – for city council and state representatives, etc. In cities and states, change is much more possible. Take a stand on what you believe.

If you don’t want go the political route, there are other options. Educate yourself. In your bulletin, I’ve included a list of resources to get us started. Read books, listen to podcasts. One podcast that I recommend is called ‘Code Switch’ – it’s not on my list of resources. Talk to people. Acknowledge that you DON’T KNOW what it’s like. Listen closely when people of color talk. Believe them.

If you have children in school, listen to them about what’s happening. Teach them that they cannot just look the other way in the face of racism. Teach them about turning the other cheek, about forgiveness. Teach them that life isn’t fair for everyone, and some people need more help than others. Teach them that they have power, to use it for good. Every parent has the chance to slowly bend reality toward justice in the next generation.

The scriptures in Hosea and Luke teach us about disappointing God with our actions and how to right those actions. Jesus was sent to us to teach us how to change. He prayed and he acted in solidarity with those who weren’t seen as equal in his society.

Jesus says, ‘Ask, and it will be given, seek, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened.’ We all have asking, seeking, and knocking to do. We need to continue praying, friends. But I ask you to pray with your legs, with your ears, with your hands, with your brain. With the help of God and each other, we can make this world sing in tune with God. This is my prayer. Amen.