The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12-C), 28 July 2019


July 9, 2019

Reading 1Reading 2Reading 3Reading 4Reading 1 AltReading 2 Alt
Hosea 1:2–10Psalm 85Colossians 2:6–15, (16–19)Luke 11:1–13Genesis 18:20–32Psalm 138

by Robert McDonald

Discussion of the Texts:
This week of the Lectionary introduces us to a new minor prophet during Year C: Hosea. We continue the trend of two options for the first reading from the Hebrew Bible, depending on whether the liturgy will focus on various historical and narrative themes which begin in Year A or we wish to thematically pair a reading with the Gospel reading (Luke 11 in this case).

Assuming we go with the first options from the Hebrew Bible, Hosea 1 and Psalm 85, we are met with the aforementioned Hosea. Prophesying during the period of the divided monarchy, Hosea’s “central concern is Israel’s loyalty to God” (Theodore Hiebert, “Hosea: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 1211). The reading for today sets the stage for Hosea to speak out against Israel through the metaphor of infidelity: Hosea is known best for using the image of an unfaithful wife, the former prostitute Gomer, to illustrate how Israel (represented by Gomer) has been unfaithful to God (represented by Hosea).[1] The reading for today begins with the marriage of Hosea and Gomer (Hos. 1:2), followed by the births of their three children: Jezreel (1:2–5), Lo-ruhamah (1:6–7), and Lo-ammi (1:8–9). Each child was named for the judgment passed down from God: “Jezreel,” translated as “God sows,” was named for a valley northwest of Samaria, the capital of Israel; “Lo-ruhamah” translates as “not pitied,” referring to how God would cease showing pity to Israel (1:6); and “Lo-ammi” means “I am not yours,” speaking to how God would no longer call Israel their people (1:9). But God nevertheless affirms through the prophet that Israel will remain a people of God (1:10). This brings us to Psalm 85, a “communal prayer for help” (J. Clinton McCann Jr., “Psalms 85,” 807). Whereas Hosea condemns Israel for its iniquities, the psalmist of Psalm 85 affirms the mercy of God, imploring God to restore their people (Psalm 85:4). The psalm consistently affirms God’s “steadfast love” (85:7, 10) because God “will give what is good” (85:12). According to McCann, this psalm was likely written during Israel’s post-exilic period, which explains the hopeful nature of the author’s words — the return from the exile was likely not what the people believed that it would be (McCann, “Psalms 85,” 807).

In lieu of Hosea, we could instead continue to read Genesis 18, following the optional reading of the previous week (i.e., Gen. 18:1–10a). The reading for today consists of Abraham’s dialogue with God regarding the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Then the LORD said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know’” (Gen. 18:20–21). What we hear is Abraham bargaining six times with God to not destroy the cities on account of the fewest possible numbers of righteous individuals in the cities: “Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” (18:23). Abraham is able to talk God down from fifty righteous individuals (18:24–26) to forty-five (18:28) and further, all of the way to ten righteous individuals (18:32).[2] As we all know, the righteous of the city included only Lot, his wife, and their daughters, but Abraham sought to save the cities from God’s judgment. Given the graciousness of God, Psalm 138 acts as a “song of thanksgiving” (McCann, “Psalm 138,” The Access Bible, 851). Similar to Psalm 85, Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving, with the psalmist consistently affirming the goodness of God in spite of the struggles they experience.

Turning now to the reading from the Christian New Testament, we continue our reading from Colossians. This particular reading seems to reaffirm what Abraham Smith asserts as a key aim for the author: to counter an apparent heresy within the church of Colossae (Smith, “Colossians: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 1972). The author[3] of the letter asserts the primacy of Christ over human knowledge, stating: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Affirming a high Christology (2:9), the author tells the church of Colossae that they need only their faith in Christ. The optional section, verses 16 through 19, recalls the famous dispute between Paul and Peter regarding whether Gentiles needed to follow the Mosaic Law, especially the dietary restrictions (for example, see Galatians 2 and 2 Peter 3). This leads us to the reading from Luke — the Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:9–13). What is interesting in this version of the Prayer is that the use of “Father’ (Luke 11:2) is term not of authority but of intimacy (David L. Tiede, “Luke,” The Access Bible, 1768). In a way, this reading is a contrast to Colossians: where the latter discounts human knowledge, the Gospel extols it by highlighting how those who ask and seek will attain what they are looking for (Luke 11:10). In either case, there is a call to have faith.


Process Theology and the Texts
:

This week is another which does not readily present themes of process. Perhaps the strongest themes are those found in the Psalms and the Gospel reading. In the first place, we see in Psalm 85, especially verses 7 and 11, speak of God’s “steadfast love.” In particular, “[v]erse 11 suggests the whole earth, from ground to sky, will be permeated by God’s gracious presence and purposes, yielding what is good (v. 12; 84.11)” (McCann, “Psalms 85,” 808; italics in original). The element of process thought here is that God does not privilege humanity over-and-above the rest of Creation — humans are distinct, but God’s grace is given to all creatures. Psalm 138 is similar in its emphasis on the grace of God. How we connect it to process thought is that God “regards the lowly” (Ps. 138:6). What is more, God preserves all who work for the will of God (138:7).


Preaching the Texts
:

I “made” Cursillo when I was still a Catholic seminarian in May 2007. I am grateful that I made Cursillo with the Diocesan Movement of Erie, PA rather than the National Cursillo Movement (the NCM was Catholic-only at the time, whereas the Erie Cursillo Movement was open to anyone who wanted to attend — I worked a weekend with an atheist turned Catholic deacon). Without giving away too much, there is a song which tugged at the heartstrings in 2007 and continues to do so: John Michael Talbot’s “Hosea.” I mention this because I think it would be an appropriate hymn for today. In addition, despite the patriarchal nature of Hosea, the general theme of being called back to God is a powerful theme to preach on in the United States (and the West, generally).

Speaking of Hosea, there are many points of departure for preaching. One of interest is that of the theme of loyalty to God. Here is a question; what does this loyalty entail? I think we can all readily recall all of the passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament which discuss love of God and love of neighbor. Simplistically, loyalty to God would entail whole-hearted devotion which does not name any other “gods.” On a deeper level, we may consider the words of another minor prophet: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God” (Joel 2:13). Loyalty to God, I would suggest, entails metanoia — a change of heart. As is said later in Hosea: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

One additional point for preaching is connected to how Hosea criticizes the religious scene of Israel (Hiebert, “Hosea: Introduction,” 1211; see Hos. 2:8, 13, 16). Consider how we in the US, during the month of July, celebrate “Independence Day” — how far do we go to hide behind nationalism and xenophobia when we celebrate the claim that the United States is the greatest country in the world? The fact is that nationalism — “love of country” — can and often does become an inordinate “state religion,” service and sacrifice to a false god. How often does this get-in-the-way of our love for our neighbors and out love for God? Too often, I fear, based on the events of the last several months on the US-Mexico border.

As always, these are only a few points of departure for preaching on the readings for today. I have no doubt that others will preach to their communities according to their needs and from their experiences.


Endnotes:

[1]  As many of us are aware, the culture of Hosea’s time was highly patriarchal; as such, the metaphor of an unfaithful wife was intended to be a shock-and-awe tactic to shake-up the male-dominated society of Israel. Still, Hosea does use alternative imagery: a barren tree (9:13–17) and a rebellious son (11:1–7).

[2]  According to Olson, it is possible that Abraham was aware of his nephew Lot living in Sodom, so he was possibly bargaining for the sake of Lot and his family (Dennis T. Olson, “Genesis,” The Access Bible, 72).

[3]  Recall that it is unlikely that Paul was in fact the author of Colossians.


Bibliography

O’Day, Gail R., and David Petersen, ed. The Access Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Updated Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, [1999] 2011.

 


Robert McDonald

Raised Roman Catholic, Rob is a second year PhD student with the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology. Having studied philosophy, theology, history, and public policy/administration at the undergraduate and graduate levels at both Gannon University (Erie, PA) and Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), his specific research interests with the Center and CST (to hopefully culminate in a dissertation) are the ethical implications (especially environmental and social) of a comparative analysis/integration of the lives/works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ and Morihei Ueshiba (as well as the Kyoto School of philosophy and the traditions of the Ainu People of Japan), in light of Whiteheadian process thought. Rob is also the current English Coordinator for The Balkan Journal of Philosophy, Editorial Assistant with the Whitehead Research Project, and the 2018/19 Research Assistant for Philip Clayton.

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