God’s Promises are Real

How public witness makes real God’s promises of liberation for all people, including those who are queer.

HOSEA

Hosea marries a woman named Gomer, whose name means “End” or more literally, “death with big breasts.” Hosea and Gomer have children named Lo-Ruhamah, which means Not Shown Mercy, and Lo-Ami, Not My People.

The Bible is neither so prudish nor subtle as we might imagine.

Hosea, was active in the 8th century before the common era, so nearly 3,000 years ago. He gave voice to God to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel (remember two weeks ago we talked about how the kingdom split because kings never keep a people whole).

Hosea makes the same bad marriage, at least in metaphor if not fact, that Israel has.

Just as Hosea has married a loose and unfaithful woman and made with her children that have no god, Israel has married unfaithfulness itself, made allegiances with kings and greed, leaving the people without knowledge of mercy or the experience of knowing God. 

Where God seeks intimacy, the people give faithlessness. Where God seeks faithfulness, the people give adultery in the form of idolatry.

In today’s section, though, Hosea (11.1-9) takes another tack. He switches to a parental metaphor.

Israel was a lad and I loved him and called him my son, God says. And here is what my son did: worshiped other gods, called parent the kings of Egypt and Assyria. Though I held Israel to my cheek as I would a baby ,though I nursed the people as would a mother, my child turned away in insolence.

What shall I do? Give up on them? Let my people go and go under the sword? No. My heart and my compassion take over my wrath. I will not be as a man, for I am God. I will continue to tug them with human cords and bonds of love.

The God of Hosea rejects human ways, insisting on a way more wholly and holy different from ours.

Thank God.

For human ways lead only to death, death of the spirit and death of the body.

We see that in our own nation. We could update Hosea’s metaphor to say that American has married not End but Division. And America and Division have birthed together Refusing to Show Mercy and Rejecting of People.

We have experienced that horrid union ourselves in the burning of our banner.

You may have seen our neighbor on TV last June when he talked about taking that action as one of judgement and to honor God. He detailed much further his loathing of queer people during his testimony this week. He was unapologetic, unrepentant, unconcerned for his own potential jail time, glad to take it if it meant standing up for his truth. A truth that includes his belief that there are no real churches in Ames and that he will form one with judges and enforcers who will cut queer people out of the land of the living.

And it is a truth informed by the Bible.

We have to be honest: the Bible is no friend to women or queer people. The Bible has been a good friend to slave owners and conquerors. But it does not want to be.

MARVEL

This is the marvel of the Bible to me: Humans want a God that hates what we hate that only loves what we love. What could be better than a divinity that makes us comfortable and self-righteous?

Even better, we humans want something we can call the word of God, a relic, a papyrus, that we can then create an ecclesiastical structure around, a system of authorities and outsiders, so that we can then use that object as a means of social control. What is a better way to sway people than to say that you have exclusive access to divine insight?

But the Bible won’t let us, at least not for too long.

For every verse that shelters and feeds hierarchies and oppression, there are dozens more, hundreds, about a holiness that wants nothing more than for us to lay those structures and practices down.

Whatever verse we may want to use to hate gays, exclude women, enslave people of color, or refuse shelter to the migrant, unnamed faith ancestors across thousands and thousands of years have preserved a different way, a way that does not come naturally to people, and so we have had no choice but to name it divine.

That is what makes the Bible holy: Its persistent voice of holiness, a voice that makes us do what we do not want to do while also giving us the power to do just that.

Which is exactly what we have done as a people of faith.

AMES UCC

We here have married Humility that we might have children called Knows Freedom and Born That Way.

I know it seems simple, hanging up banners, but it isn’t. For a Christians to reject millennia of church teaching is no small task. To then broadcast that new understanding means taking a risk of being just as loathed and abused as those whom the banners represent. It means we are to this community as Hosea once was: messengers some of our neighbors may not want to hear.

It also means we are living into Hosea’s parental image of God. Not all of us had great parents. Not all us know what it means to be held to a parent’s tender cheek, to even have cords of love to be tugged. Or, some of us do, but lost them when we came out as LGBTQIA. Every day queer people are having to choose between themselves and their families because of religion.

We offer an alternative. We offer the collective nurture of a family that, in the way of the Bible itself, makes God’s tender love our guide, a tender love on offer to all.

PROMISES MADE REAL

Hosea’s people did not listen to him. The people of our prophets never do, that’s why we have so many of them. The habit of humanity is to fall out of covenant with God and each other. It is to become forgetful of our obligations to the poor and indulgent of our own wants.

And then we suffer the consequences. We suffer the rage of the oppressed and the theft of the powerful. We suffer the desecration of the earth and the demolition of the sky.

But God promises something different. God promises a life where everyone has enough and no boundaries divide. Ames UCC, on this corner of 6th and Kellogg, with heart and compassion, you have shown God’s promises real.

AMEN

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 11, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

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