Sermon for 8 Pentecost, Year C
Based on Hos. 1:2-10; Col. 2:6-15
& Lk. 11:1-13
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Patient persistence, faithfulness, loyalty, sticking with it in bad times and good times, loving and remaining obedient to God no matter what—this is one of the central themes running through all three of our lessons today. It was Jean Jacques Rousseau who once said: “Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.” Oftentimes we are tempted not to patiently persist; to give up too easily; to see only the bitterness of life rather than faithfully enduring to reap the sweet fruit of patient persistence.
In our passage from Hosea, God works in a rather unorthodox way to wake up the citizens of the northern kingdom, Israel. What does God do? He instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute! Now why would God do such a thing anyway? That’s pretty unorthodox, isn’t it? Can you imagine the inner agony that Hosea was going through when he heard this message from God? What?! Marry a prostitute?! Come on God, you’ve got to be joking! Did I hear you correctly, or am I going crazy?! Nonetheless, Hosea obeyed the Lord by marrying Gomer.
Then the Lord speaks to Hosea again and tells him to have children with Gomer. They have three children and God tells Hosea which names to call them. The names are not very attractive either, not the sort of names most of us would even think of giving our children! The first child, a son, is named Jezreel, which means “God sows.” The problem is that Jezreel, God sows not good, but bad. Jezreel was actually a place in northern Israel where several military battles were waged. According to 2 Kings 10, Jehu massacred both the northern and southern royalty at Jezreel in 842 B.C.E. So, the name of this son was a prophetic warning to Israel about bloodshed and military defeat in war. Who would want to live with such a name, especially after knowing it’s tragic history in the life of God’s chosen people?
God then tells Hosea to name their second child, a daughter, Lo-ruhamah, which means, “Not pitied.” It doesn’t get any better does it?! What a horrible name to live bear. The daughter’s name is another prophetic warning to Israel that God is angry with them and will not forgive them, but God will pity and save the southern kingdom, Judah. Can you imagine what constant agony this must have caused Hosea as well as the children?
Then God speaks again to Hosea, telling him to name their third child, a son, Lo-ammi, which means, “Not my people.” It doesn’t get much worse than this, does it? This son’s name is yet another prophetic warning to Israel that God is about to reject them as his people; God is about to disown them as his chosen people.
What terrible names to give your children. How could Hosea and Gomer give them such names? Would we or could we be able to do such a thing? What about the children themselves? How would they feel about having to live with names like: God sows, Not pitied, and Not my people? But, alas, God’s ways are not our ways; God did know what God was doing in all of this. By instructing Hosea to marry Gomer the prostitute and by naming their children God sows, Not pitied, and Not my people; God was speaking to the nation of Israel. God was telling them that They, Collectively were like Gomer the prostitute—they had chased after all kinds of other gods and forsaken the covenant. They had prostituted themselves and their faithfulness on false gods. This had caused a deep agony and hurt in the very heart of God, just as Gomer’s prostitution caused agony and hurt for Hosea and most likely the children too. Thus, Israel must suffer the consequences of their prostitution; their lack of persistence; their lack of faithful loyalty to God and the covenant. God was about to sow bloodshed and defeat on them; God was not going to pity them anymore; God was no longer going to accept them as God’s people, God was no longer going to be their God.
But wait a minute! After going into exile and suffering from their punishment, God gives the Israelites another chance. God, in spite of all the unfaithfulness of Israel persists with them by promising them that Israel shall indeed be in number like the sand of the sea and they shall be called “Children of the living God.” Yet, it took God’s suffering, ever-persistent love along with Israel to reach this point in the blessing of Israel.
In our second lesson, the apostle Paul exhorts the church at Colossae to keep persisting in their faith; to remain faithful to Christ. It appears that false teachers and false teachings have influenced some of the Colossian Christians—deceiving and tempting them to abandon their faith in Christ by practicing other superstitious beliefs. What were these superstitious beliefs? Well, Paul refers to them as elemental spirits, that is, worship of air, water, earth and fire. If one appeased these elemental spirits, then one would be assured of a good, prosperous life. Over against this false religion, Paul reminds the Colossians that Jesus Christ is fully and completely God, thus Christ is Lord over all nature. He is to be worshipped, not the elements of nature. He is to be worshipped, not by superstitiously believing that if we do, we’ll get whatever we want—rather, because he loves us so much by dying on the cross for us and in response to his love, we love him too.
Paul also underlines the importance of persistence, faithfulness, sticking with Christ by using the words: “rooted, built up, established,” to emphasize the solid, lasting nature of faith in Christ. To be rooted in Christ means that like a stately tree with healthy roots, we too will be able to flourish in all kinds of conditions; all kinds of weather; in bad times and in good times. To be built up in Christ means: that we will want to respond to Christ’s love for us by worshipping him regularly; by praying and studying the scriptures; by loving and encouraging others in their faith journey. To be established in the faith means: that we are free to live with confidence because even the worst thing that could happen to us cannot destroy us. We can feel secure in Christ because he has promised to be with us always. Therefore, we can faithfully persist in our faith no matter what we face.
In our gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples and us about the necessity of being persistent in our prayers. He emphasizes this in his illustration of the one friend going to another friend at midnight and asking him for bread to feed yet another friend who is visiting him. Jesus then says that the reason for the friend giving his friend bread was his persistence in asking him for it.
What about us? Are we persistent enough in our prayers to Christ? Do we ask, do we search, do we knock enough in order that we might receive, find, and have the door opened for us—personally and as a congregation? Are we asking for the right things? Are we searching in the right direction or places? Are we knocking on the right door?
Scientists often spend years, sometimes a whole lifetime, in making an important discovery. Then how can we expect to discover spiritual beauties by spending only five minutes every day in quiet and prayer (or one hour a week in worship)? What would people do when they have to spend Eternity in the presence of God? We must begin the habit here and become used to being with God. 1
When we fall upon troubled times—as we well might be experiencing right now—it is very tempting to give up on or blame God, on the church, on the pastors, on other Christians. May we not fall into this temptation; rather may we continue in our patient persistence; our faithful loyalty—trusting and obeying our God; who is able to accomplish greater things than we can even dream of. God shall reward our persistence; our faithful loyalty; just as God rewarded Israel, and countless other followers of Jesus down through the ages. Are we willing to learn from them, take heart, and remain persistent in our faith and life journey?