Proper 12, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 28, 2013

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
Hosea 1:2-10Psalm 85Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)Luke 11:1-13

By Mary Ricketts

Hosea 1:2-10

When I read a passage like this one from Hosea, I always wonder what people who believe the scriptures are inerrant think. The prophet gives us an amazingly strong and provocative image of experiencing God’s disappointment in the chosen people. It speaks to their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant in a powerful way. I once heard a psychologist comment that if you want to make a lasting impression about the way you feel about something or someone, tell a symbolic story that conveys the feelings of the event or person.

So, Israel has lived among cultures with a variety of gods and a variety of ways of worship and they have followed practices that are not a part of God’s covenant, i.e. they have followed foreign gods. The passage is written in the typical format of a prophecy of punishment, but with a symbolic twist. So, God tells Hosea to marry a whore so he can experience how God feels. As Hosea’s proclamation of God’s anger and disappointment concerning the behavior of God’s people is put into a story, the story crystallizes God’s experience of their unfaithfulness.

The symbolic nature of this story is emphasized in the naming of the children of the marriage. Jezeel, which literally means El Sows, has been the sight of a number of battles for Israel. So now God says this time the bow of Israel will be broken on that battlefield. The second child, Lo-ruhamah, meaning No Pity or Mercy, will be weaned before the third child, Lo-ammi, meaning Not My People or Nobody, is born.

So the story of Hosea marriage could be thought of in this way. God has married Godself to a people who have been about as faithful as a whore and they produce children who will be destroyed, not be given any mercy, and become not God’s people. It is a three-pronged destruction of the people of Israel.

Yet, after this powerful and imaginative prophecy of destruction, the last two verses say it will all be OK. The nation of Israel will still have countless number of people and they will be called “Children of the Living God.” Go figure.

Psalm 85

This is a good psalm to pair with the Hosea reading because even in the midst of judgment, God’s mercy is triumphant. This psalm might have been used in the yearly ritual of autumn, when the old year was left behind and a new year of possibility was embraced. The people ask for forgiveness of their past sins and God’s mercy brings salvation/new life.

For me, this is the truth of our faith life. There is never a time when we do not fail: we fail God, fail others, fail ourselves. There is disappointment and sadness for the broken mess our lives can become… and yet there is always God’s mercy and grace waiting for us. New possibilities within each new moment, if we will be open to the lure of God’s imagination: see the new life which God imagines that can raise us from the ashes of despair.

The particularly like the last two verses paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message.

“Love and Truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty;
Our land responds with Bounty and Blessing.
Right Living strides out before him,
And clears a path for his passage.”

For me it is a great vision of what the faithful people of God can bring to God’s creation.

Colossians 2: 6-15 (16-19)

The passage in Colossians is a reminder of the starting place of the first communities of faith. Those who were Jewish and now believed in Jesus as the Son of the Living God had grown up with a catalog of laws and appropriate behavior for every occasion. Their life in the Jewish tradition had been, and at times literally was, like a set of clothing with everything fastened in the proper way and in the proper order. Then, they started to walk in “The Way.” A completely organic new life of experiencing and responding to the Divine presence in each moment of life.

It must have been very difficult to understand how to live this new faith-life that was less like an external set of clothing and more like an interior rebirth. I like the way The Message phrases the 7th verse, “School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.” It is an emphatic, “Just do it!”

However, for this first Christian community there was no long history of those who had lived the faith-life well. There where no examples of how ordinary people were transformed by God’s Spirit to live extraordinary lives of God’s grace; just stories of Jesus that came from many sources. So, the letter to Colossians warns against false teachers who would draw them away from the central message of Christ and against those who would recreate a new set of laws for the new faith in Christ.

For our generations we have many examples of those who have lived the Christ-life well, but we still tend to get drawn into useless, lifeless, arguments, and too often we make up new laws about who’s in and who’s out. I think this letter written to those walking in “The Way” in Colossians is helpful for us as well. For me it is a call to once more center my faith-life in a new life that is provided by God’s renewing gift of grace. It is something I cannot do for myself and gives me the hope of seeing the dynamic presence of God in each moment.

Luke 11:1-13

The pericope in Luke centers on the concept of prayer, and like the Epistle passage, it is a teachable moment for the followers of Jesus.

It was typical of a Rabbi to teach his disciples a lesson unique to their group. Jesus’ followers, having witnessed Jesus ubiquitous prayer time and asked for instructions on his type of prayer. They anticipated that his teaching would be different than what others had learned from his cousin John. Jesus makes no reference to John, but goes straight to a specific prayer to be used by his disciples. I think what the passage tells us more than anything is that prayer is relationship. A relationship with God that takes time, energy, and mutual love.

The version of The Lord’s Prayer is shorter than both the one in Matthew and the one used on Sunday morning by many congregations. I would encourage you to stay focused on the text before us today and hear what it has to say. In The Message it is:

Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”

It begins with an address of intimate relationship, asks for revelation, direction, daily provision, forgiveness and protection; what more is needed. If, you think of this as being sufficient for our lives, then all that we have or want can be measured against it. This distillation of our relationship with God bring us back to the essence of our existence on this planet.

The two stories that follow the prayer emphasize the need for continual and focused communication with the Divine Presence. Neither story relies on the faithful or grace-filled nature of God, but on the common sense of the hearer.

The first story would have been meaningful for a world in which there was a scarcity of bread and no way to effectively store it; there wasn’t even a way to communicate about an unexpected trip. So, someone shows up at your door and you have no food to share – which is a horrible thing, particularly in a culture where hospitality is extremely important. So, you go to the neighbor, who is tucked in for the night and beg for bread. The story is clear that it is not the neighbor’s goodness or your need that matters; it is your persistence that moves the story forward. In a time where the first Christian communities were waiting for Jesus to reappear and led them, this would have been an important message. In our time, where we need the leading of the Spirit desperately, it is important as well.

The second story states the obvious about God and make an assertion we might miss. First, God is our loving parent and will give us good and healthy things to help us to grow in faith. Sometimes the verses 9-12 have been used to put forward the idea of God as a vending machine in the sky. Put in the prayer, get what you want. However, verse 13 makes it clear what we are to ask for and what we will get: the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling of God’s presence that lures us into a new reality of healing and possibility that is to be the aim of our communication with God, i.e. our prayer. There is nothing else that is needed for this Christ-life we are living – revelation, direction, daily provision, forgiveness and protection – all given through the Holy Spirit.