Sermon by The Rev. Christopher W. Hogin, July 28, 2019
Thank you for tuning into Ascensioncast. We hope you enjoy listening to this and our other podcasts. This sermon references the Old Testament lesson and we are providing that in the notes in additional to the Gospel passage. You can find more information at www.knoxvilleascension.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Old Testament Lesson: Hosea 1:2-10
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor 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.”
The Gospel Lesson: Luke 11:1-13
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Reverend Christopher Hogin An Enduring LoveHosea 1:2-10The Episcopal Church of The AscensionJuly 28, 2019
There’s a 2006 movie called The Painted Veil, based on the English novelist W. Sommerset Maughn’s book set during the British colonial period of the early 20th century. It’s about a pensive bacteriologist named Walter Fann. Walter marries a young, beautiful, vivacious, but also spoiled London socialite named Kitty Garstin. Kitty marries Walter because she’s tired of her controlling family. She wants freedom and independence. The marriage is doomed from the start. Kitty is bored with Walter. She yearns for passion and excitement: a life of champagne, music, and parties. She wants everything Walter is not.
Walter and Kitty move to Shanghai, China, a British colony at the time, so that Walter can advise on a cholera epidemic. Kitty has an affair with a dashing diplomat named Charles. Walter discovers the infidelity. He’s angry and hurt. Kitty offers him a divorce, but Walter says no. Kitty then asks her lover, Charles, to leave his wife and marry her. Charles refuses. Kitty finds herself in a bind. She now must follow her husband to a remote Chinese village where he will be treating victims of cholera. She’s also pregnant by her former lover. She tells Walter about the child expecting a release, but he remains undaunted. He doesn’t give up on her.
In that Chinese village they live in abject poverty. Walter spends his days improving sanitation and assisting the nuns who treat the sick. The movie reveals how Kitty’s feelings change towards Walter. She observes his compassion for the villagers. She sees how children are drawn to him. The marriage transforms into real love. By the end of the film Kitty is a different person. She learns what it means to love and to be loved completely despite her own short-failings. The enduring love she receives from Walter is what ultimately saves her.
The movie is not too far off from what’s happening in Hosea. We don’t know the full details, but most biblical scholars agree the prophet Hosea married a woman who was unfaithful. Like Kitty in The Painted Veil, she presumably bears a child from another man. Hosea is hurt and angry. He expresses that hurt and anger in raw language in the opening chapter. Still, he finds meaning in his suffering. He makes a connection between his personal situation and the nation of Israel. Both have strayed. Both have broken promises: Hosea’s wife broke her marital vow with her husband, and Israel broke its religious vow with God by worshiping idols. The two are one in the same.
But here’s the thing, Hosea, just like Walter in The Painted Veil, does not give up on his wife despite the hurt and anger. His love for her is greater than the hurt she inflicts. Its’s the same with God. God does not give up on Israel. God’s love is greater than the hurt God receives.
We don’t think about the possibility that God hurts when we sin, do we? We like to think God punishes us for our actions. But what if God is more hurt than angry? What if God hurts because God knows that of our actions will bring us harm in the long-run? Maybe God hurts because God knows that our reckless actions will lead us down pathways of pain and destruction.
I’m not saying that when bad things happen it happens because we’ve done something wrong. That’s not the point. Sometimes we endure tragedy through no fault of our own. But there are times when the choices and decisions we make do lead us down pathways of harm. When there is theft, violence, or adultery—pain usually follows. When there is jealousy, disrespect, or greed—pain usually follows. When we gossip about others or slander another person’s character—pain usually follows. God hurts when we hurt.
Unfortunately, our small reading doesn’t tell us the rest of the story between Hosea and his wife. A few chapters later they reconcile. There is healing between the two. In fact, the name Hosea in Hebrew means deliverance. It also means salvation. It’s the same kind of deliverance and salvation that happens between Walter and Kitty in The Painted Veil; and the same kind of deliverance and salvation between God and the nation of Israel. In all three instances, an enduring love outweighs the pain inflicted.
The point of this sermon is also not about making moral pronouncements regarding marital infidelity, or that people should remain in a marriage no matter what. That’s a complicated separate issue with no hard and fast answers. Sometimes marriages need to end.
No, the message is that God does not give up on us, even when we mess up badly. Does God get angry? Does God hurt? Yes. But the anger and hurt of God is nothing compared to the love God has for us. The closest thing I can possibly come to understanding God’s love is as a parent. As a parent I get hurt and I get angry when my child makes bad decisions. But despite the anger and hurt, my love is always so much greater. It endures. It’s been only recently that I now understand the kind of love my parents had for me, my brother, and sister growing up. And even then, that’s a small shadow of God’s love for us.
An enduring love is what saves the Kitty; an enduring love is what saves Hosea’s wife; an enduring love is what save the people of Israel; and an enduring love is what God has for all of us. It’s that enduring love that will ultimately save, deliver, heal, and redeem us all in the end. Amen