Sermon for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: Hosea 1: 2; 3:1
The Lord said to Hosea, "Go and get married; your wife will be unfaithful, and your children will be just like her…. So Hosea married a woman named Gomer. … The Lord said to Hosea, "Go again and show your love for a woman who is committing adultery with a lover. You must love her just as I still love the people of Israel."

A love story

Remember the film the 1970s Love Story – a simple somewhat sentimental movie about two star crossed lovers from different social backgrounds – Oliver the son of a millionaire and Jenny the daughter of a struggling family of Italian background. The millionaire father can’t accept that his son is in love with such an ordinary person but the two lovers end up marrying. Their happiness is short-lived. They discover that she has cancer and she dies in his arms. The film was a hit and actually saved the movie studio Paramount from total bankruptcy. It is clear that everyone likes a story about people in love even though it has a sad ending.

In the Old Testament there is a love story - a very odd love story.

This love story comes from the 8th century before Christ. This story is about a loving, decent bloke called Hosea.

Hosea was a messenger, a prophet, sent by God to the kingdom of Israel. God comes to Hosea and tells him that it’s time for him to get married. God also tells Hosea that his new wife will be unfaithful to him.

Now normally you wouldn’t see a bloke for dust if he knew that his new wife would be the cause of so much grief. But not Hosea. In fact he does what would be considered complete foolishness. He finds himself a wife from amongst the temple prostitutes – one of those Jewish girls who had become caught up in the cult of Baal – a pagan religion of the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the land. Her name was Gomer.

And so the holy man and the harlot set up home together. You can be sure this gave the town gossips plenty to talk about!

Let’s pause a moment to consider what this strange love match is all about.
Why did God tell Hosea to enter such a relationship that was doomed to failure?
Telling a holy man to be intimately involved with a harlot – especially a harlot from a pagan temple is ranked as one of those odd commands that God gives every now and then – like telling Abraham to kill his only much loved and longed for son or telling Noah to build such a big boat when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
What did God have in mind getting Hosea involved with a pagan temple prostitute?

Or was this just a case of stupidity. Hosea was just plain dumb getting mixed up with a girl like that. Or was it a case of Hosea being blinded by love and couldn’t see the grief Gomer would bring into his life?

A point well worth remembering is that often prophets not only gave a verbal message from God but also acted out the message. Hosea’s marriage with the harlot Gomer is an acted out message about God and his relationship with his people. Gomer didn’t deserve Hosea’s love. In fact, she deserved to be treated with disgust and tossed out of Hosea’s life but Hosea demonstrated the kind of love that baffled everyone who knew him.

Likewise it’s hard for us to fathom why God keeps on loving a habitual sinner, a person who repeatedly falls into the same shameful actions and ways of dealing with other people. God knows we are so much like Gomer who went back to her old tricks in spite of the love that Hosea had shown her.

And yet, surprise of all surprises, God chooses to be in a relationship with us – a marriage relationship if you like - not because our lives are overflowing with love and kindness for others, or because we are nicer or smarter or more moral or more cultured than anyone else.
God takes his covenant of love seriously even if we choose to be careless with things like faithfulness, loyalty, commitment and love.
When we were baptised God promised – like a man promises a woman in the marriage ceremony –
that he would be loyal to us,
claim us as one of his special and precious people,
show forgiveness and kindness when we least deserve it,
and be our constant companion and helper though life.
At our baptism God was serious about his commitment to us, even though he knew, as only God can know, that we would turn away from his love so many times throughout our lives and shun his love in the same way Gomer shunned the love of Hosea.

So how did Hosea’s marriage work out? We don’t know all the details but we do know that Gomer did what everyone thought she would do. She preferred to go back to her old ways rather than enjoy the security and closeness of her devoted husband. You could say she preferred the company of wicked men rather than the unmatched and unconditional love of her husband.

No doubt Hosea would have been deeply hurt. Who wouldn’t be?  It must have been a heart-wrenching event. Perhaps he arrived home one day to find her missing. No letter. No explanation.
His love had remained firm.
Her love was shallow and easily perverted.
The neighbours must have said, "I told you so. Forget her and get on with your life".

If you were Hosea how would you respond to this blatant disregard for your love and your feelings? I believe you would react much the same as I would. I would be really upset. I would be angry. I would not be saying any nice things about a person who treated me that way. In fact, I would suppose that our sense of justice – our sense of being treated unfairly and being taken advantage of - would kick in and we would respond by saying something like,
"That’s it. I’ve given you all the chances you’re going to get. You can wallow in your own muck and mire and no matter how much you come begging, I am finished with you. This is entirely your fault. You have hurt me so deeply. I don’t give a damn what happens to you from this moment on. You are no longer a part of my life".
Taking this line of action doesn’t make you a bad person. You’d simply be giving that person exactly he/she deserves – no more, no less. As the saying goes, "You reap what you sow". That’s justice.

But Hosea’s response to his wife’s unfaithfulness surprised everyone. His neighbours didn’t understand him. In spite of all that Gomer had done to hurt him, he still loved her and longed for her to come home.
He didn’t say "goodbye and good riddance"; his only desire was that she turn away from her sinful ways – leave the arms of those who had enticed her away and come back into his arms.

He went out to find her. He still loved her and she was still his wife, even though her behaviour wasn’t anything like that of a loyal wife. He found her and discovered that she was the sex slave of another man and because she was a slave he had to buy her back – ‘redeem’ her you might say. Happily Hosea took Gomer home and restored her to her former status. Hosea wasn’t interested in justice; all he was interested in was showing love – grace – an unconditional love that looked beyond the horrible way he had been treated by Gomer and loved her as his wife.

There is a risk in this kind of love. It’s a very real possibility that Gomer would treat him badly again – reject his love for her – and find it hard to give up hard old ways. But Hosea is prepared to take that risk. His love for Gomer is such that he is willing to be hurt again because she is his wife and is prepared to bend over backwards to maintain a close relationship with her. He will give up anything to be reconciled with her, even if it means going through the process over and over again.

What a story - a story of love, unfaithfulness and then ongoing love and commitment. If this was a movie it would be worthy of an Oscar.

This is a story about God and us.

Like Gomer, our faithfulness to God has been shown again and again as disastrously inconsistent. God always keeps his side of the covenant. On our part we fail badly and often.
We are lured away by those very things that God gave us in the first place – work, money, possessions, and everything else that fills our life to the point where we have no time and energy left to show our love and devotion to him.
We trivialise faithfulness and commitment to God and his ways.
We are enticed by Satan to forget about how others feel and how our behaviour impacts on them by flippantly saying, "That’s their problem, not mine".
We are so much like Gomer who didn’t care about how her behaviour affected Hosea.
Like Gomer we desert the love of our life - our divine Lover.

In a beautiful way, the love of Hosea foreshadows the love of God that we see in Jesus. Hosea had to pay a price to get his wife back – he was labelled crazy for running after someone so disloyal. He was the object of laughter and mockery. He was considered shameless.

Jesus paid a price to the point of sacrificing his life to bring us back home to our heavenly Father’s arms. He didn’t consider the cost too high and pulled out all stops to forgive our disloyalty and reconcile us to our divine Lover.

This love of God is as real today as it was in the past. God will stop at nothing to save every single person on this planet. He wants everyone to see that his love is unquenchable and that he has provided the way to forgiveness and reconciliation through the suffering and death of Jesus.

Hosea’s love life is a picture of God's untiring love for us.

No matter how often we fail through foolishness, not matter how many times we fail through deliberate disobedience, God does not wipe his hands of any of us. We, the fools and rebels, who prostitute our gifts and energies to many other masters, have a God who comes looking for us in the dark places. God comes calling our name, not to treat us like dirt and condemn us but to reclaim us as his friends and his people, even if it costs him everything.

That is the Gospel. That is the amazing truth.

Friends, I don’t know what’s been going on in your life these last weeks or months.
I don’t know what secrets or scars or regrets you’ve got tucked away there.
I don’t know how much guilt you are bearing.
But I do know this - your God is a gracious God. God delights in offering his grace and forgiveness to all people, especially to you in your need at this moment.

God knows it’s risky to offer grace to each of us. Like Gomer there is the potential for us to turn away from God's love; to take it for granted; to go back to our old sinful ways and not let it change the way we live our lives and treat other people. God keeps on coming to us with his grace because he sees in us the potential to be the kind of people who will make a difference in the church, the community and in other people’s lives.

God’s grace is offered to you; it’s available to you right now. Will you take it?
Will you live it? You’ll be blown away by the difference that grace can make to your life.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th July 2007

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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