All Tangled Up in Blue with You
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Hosea 11: 1 – 11. Focus on the Judgement of God. Check out Rasaan Bourke and the choir as they sing – Shout to the Lord.
We who live in the United States often believe that we are invincible, but we seem to be facing an uncertain future. We may be the lone superpower, but beyond our military prowess, we’ve fallen behind many of our allies in terms of education, infant mortality rates, health care costs and more. Watching the Republican debates you can feel the angst rising up in the nation. So maybe we are in a position to understand the message of Hosea.
I have to confess that I like Hosea although there is not much to like about his message. Hosea, the husband of a prostitute who spends his days worrying about a woman who refuses to abandon her trade; and though she has children with Hosea they are stuck with names like “Not pitied” or “Not My People.” (Hosea 1: 6, 8) They will grow up without much that would seem to be in line with what we would call parental care or responsibility.
From this agonizing family situation Hosea teaches us what God feels about Israel, which is what he feels about his wife Gomer – namely, rejected, abandoned, and humiliated. To quote Bob Dylan – “We have a situation that is tangled up in blue.”
Like another unpleasant experience – preparation for a colonoscopy for example, we might not want to go through with the process but we are the better for having had the procedure non-the-less.
Most of us prefer a loving God to an angry God; yet we know that these images are there, we just wish they weren’t. They complicate our theology and our image of God. We like a loving and gentle God but no so much a judgmental God. Yet with God it seems you can’t have one without the other.
Not surprising is the fact that there is very little good news in this book for the story doesn’t end on a happy note. Before too long, the nation of Israel will cease to exist. In 722 BCE they will be completely and utterly obliterated as a nation and though God promises their return. The Assyrians will be followed by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans – and on and on. Not until 1948 will there ever again be a nation called Israel on the face of the earth.
In our text – Hosea 11 – the voice of a scorned husband complaining about his unfaithful wife moves to the voice of a parent speaking about an unfaithful child that the parent still loves, but seems unwilling to help in any real way. An audible monologue that God seems to have with himself and allows us to listen in on as if to say – this could happen to you so watch it.
And in this divine monologue God oscillates between longing for the good ole days, when children knew their place in the family hierarchy. Seen but not heard – a place under their parents guidance and authority. But here the children seem to be out of control with little if any parental guidance almost like an addict caught in a death spiral that God seems unwilling or unable to stop. Death and destruction the only viable options as the children play out a tragedy that only death can cure.
Yet there are loving parental acts by God on full display in verses 5 – 7: “I loved … I called … I taught … I took them up … I healed … I led … I bent down … I fed.” But even in these very same verses God is nowhere to be seen, as if all sense of parenting is gone from God.
The sword now becomes the primary actor, the agent of judgment in these verses, with Israel continuing to spiral out of control. Then suddenly in verses 8 – 9 akin to a bipolar mood swing, God is once again the center of attention – but here the focus is not on what God has done for Israel, but how God feels. God is mortified at what is happening to Israel, yet God refuses to get involved and allows the tragedy to continue and unlike Judah, Israel will get no mercy from God. She will never return to her land as Judah was allowed to do.
And finally in verses 10 – 11 there is another divine mood swing with the un-kept promise that, after Israel has been subjected to extreme violence by Assyria, she will be allowed to crawl back to God “like a trembling bird.”
Hosea 11 thus sounds a lot like an abusive parent who takes no responsibility for any harm done during his episode of violent discipline. It reminds me of the flood narrative in Genesis, after which God sends a rainbow saying, “I’m sorry, honey. I promise I’ll never go off on you like that again.” And no matter how much we might want to be sympathetic to the Divine Parent, there is no way to minimize the suffering of his children – his people.
When I was in seminary, we were repeatedly challenged to answer the question “So what’s the good news of the text?” Obviously, I don’t think that is easily answered in this week’s text. It is true that, when compared with the other deities in the region, God is far more humane; emotionally mature, as well as less arbitrary and less capricious than any of his competitors. But that’s not saying much because the other gods desire human sacrifice.
Most of us may not see this text or this book offering anything in the way of Good News, but rather more along the lines of prepping for a colonoscopy, something we might need but not like.
Sometimes for us and for God it is simply a matter of being tangled up in blue. Amen