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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 07/28/2019

There’s the story about a farmer who had a new mule he was trying to train but, mules being notoriously stubborn, no matter what he did, he couldn’t get the mule to do anything, it wouldn’t even go into its stall in the barn. Exasperated, the farmer hired an old mule skinner to break the mule in; mule skinners, as they were called, were supposed to be the experts in dealing with stubborn mules.

The farmer explained the situation; the mule skinner looked at the farmer, looked at the mule, then picked up a fence post that was lying there, swung it like a baseball bat and hit the mule right upside the head. The mule shook his head but didn’t budge; just stood there as stubborn as before. The mule skinner took the fence post and hit the mule again, this time knocking it to its knees. As the mule got back to its feet, the mule skinner gently took its halter and the mule quietly followed him into the barn. The mule skinner went back to the farmer and said, “If you want to train a mule, the first thing you have to do is get its attention.”

It’s just a story; no mules were actually hit in the head in the telling of it. I tell it though because to me, the Lord’s word to Hosea in today’s first lesson has a fence post hit in the head feel to it. When the word “whoredom” shows up three times in one verse it does have a way of getting your attention.

A couple of weeks ago we started a series of readings from the prophets, Jeremiah will wind up having the most to say among those we hear from, but the series started with a couple of readings from Amos; this week and next week we hear from Hosea. I ducked the two Amos readings as both consisted of harsh criticism for failing to follow the way of the Lord, criticism which, if we have ears to hear, actually hits pretty close to home with cautions about the rich getting richer by cheating and/or ignoring the poor. It wouldn’t have been bad to preach on Amos but I opted for the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha.

If I was hoping for things to get easier this week with a reading from Hosea, it didn’t happen with these metaphors involving marriage, whoredom and infidelity. Needless to say, this isn’t a text that gets used at weddings. What these Amos and Hosea readings do though, is to remind us that part of what prophets do is to say things many would have thought best left unsaid.

In a way, it’s remarkable that some of what we get in the prophets wasn’t edited out. One of the fascinating things about the Bible though, is that rather than trying to smooth things out by eliminating some of the more disturbing parts, they were left in; there’s no sugar coating; one has to deal with the difficult parts even when it feels like being hit in the head with a fencepost.

In the Hebrew Bible, the prophetic books sit right in the middle, in between the first five books that we call the Torah or the Pentateuch and the Writings, books like the Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. Our Bibles arrange them differently but that’s how the original Hebrew does it. The Torah contains most of what we think of as the great Old Testament stories. At the center of it is the Exodus, the story of Moses leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It’s the story that really defines the people and their God, the Lord. The Law contained within the Torah, the Law centered on the Ten Commandments and their interpretation, describes what the relationship should look like. On the other side of the prophets are the Writings which include an assortment of voices that, broadly speaking, address ways of sustaining the distinctive identity described in the Torah.

In between then, are the prophets who, broadly speaking, do one of two things: after the Torah tells stories of the people of Israel and defines them as the people of God, the prophets frequently set up the Lord as the adversary of those people who perceive themselves as the chosen ones. So the prophets dish out harsh criticism, but…they also imagined new possibilities at times when the evidence would say that such possibilities didn’t exist. This week’s somewhat disturbing reading from Hosea actually does a little of both.

I’ve said before that the many voices that make up the sixty-six books of the Bible don’t all say the same thing and as a result they include many different images of God. The image that we settle on as core testimony is that of a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; it’s a description that is repeated many times with those exact words, many more times with similar words like those of today’s psalm. As Christians we find it to be a good description of the God we find revealed in Jesus.

That’s the core testimony and that’s what we come back to, but we also have to take into account other descriptions of God, particularly those of a God who has limits, a God who has an edge and a God who gets angry when the people are not who they are called to be. Like a parent or a teacher, it’s a God who can get frustrated because the people just don’t seem to be paying attention and when they’re not paying attention, you try and do what it takes to get their attention.

I get the idea that that’s what’s going on in these opening verses of Hosea. It’s a figurative hit upside the head with a fence post, the shocking image of people standing before God as an adulterous spouse stands before a long suffering, loving and faithful spouse. They’re verses about Israel’s failure to properly worship and follow the Lord, that failure bluntly and somewhat crudely described as adultery, prostitution and harlotry. The names of the children born to Gomer, the wife of whoredom, the names Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi, symbolically foretell the fall of Israel because the Lord will show no mercy because the people are not God’s people but no people. It’s not nice. It’s harsh, but it does get your attention; you can’t ignore it and pretend that the situation isn’t serious.

“You are not my people and I am not your God” is about as serious as it gets. But then, in the next verse we get, “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured or 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.’” As awful as the images of whoredom and infidelity are for Hosea to speak and for the people to hear, it’s as if it’s just as awful for the Lord so for a moment “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” comes back to the surface. From there the tone quickly shifts back and if anything it gets even worse in the verses that follow, but it’s as if the Lord can’t go on without first sneaking in a word of hope moving from “not my people” to “children of the living God.” Even in anger, the Lord can’t stop being gracious and merciful.

As disturbing as some of Hosea’s imagery is on a summer Sunday morning or any time as far as that goes, it is actually reflective of a God who loves us enough to get angry, a God who loves us enough to go to extreme means to find us and bring us back. Think about the Parable of the Lost Sheep where a shepherd won’t give up until he finds the one lost sheep out of a hundred or the woman who combs the house in the darkness until she finds one lost coin or even more, think about the father who waits and waits until the lost son returns and then throws a party when he does. Those are all stories that Jesus told in order to explain the nature of God’s love.

It’s a nicer approach than what we get in Hosea but the description of a God who will go to extremes is the same. It’s a God who loves and forgives, who seeks and finds, who waits and saves, and also a God who gets angry if that’s what it takes to get the attention of his people.

The God we worship, the God we find revealed in Jesus is a God who by nature wants to be in relationship with us. It’s a God who takes the initiative in forming the relationship and, as these lessons show, it’s a God who especially takes the initiative in maintaining the relationship. We’re given plenty of instruction about what our part of the relationship should look like; today’s gospel lesson on the Lord’s Prayer is an example of that. When we don’t do our part though, which happens all too often, we have a God who doesn’t just sit back and wait for us to come to our senses and do the right thing but instead comes after us, even using some version of a hit in the head with a fence post if that’s what it takes to get our attention.

We prefer gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but sometimes a hit in the head is what we need to help us remember that we are “children of the Living God.”

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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