The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 28 July 2019

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85

Track Two:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138

Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]
St. Luke 11:1-13

Background: Prostitution

Prostitution in the ancient world was invariably tied to religious practice. Both male and female prostitutes operated on the temple grounds in Mesopotamia and in Canaan as well. In Sumeria we have the first recorded instances of institutional prostitution (2400 BCE). Temples devoted to Ishtar had three grades of women who served as temple prostitutes, 1) Those who performed sexual rites in the temple itself, 2) Those who performed sexual acts for visitors to the temple grounds, and 3) Those who lived on the temple grounds and went to find customers on the streets. In Canaan and Phoenicia, prostitutes (often male) were allied with the goddess Astarte. Prostitutes are known in the Hebrew scriptures as well. The story of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38:14-26) has Tamar acting as a prostitute in order to trick her father-in-law into impregnating her so as to force his observance of the demands of the Levirate Law. Another instance is the story of Rahab of Jericho who hides Israelite spies in her home.

Track One:

First Reading: 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 depiction is of Hosea hearing the continuing word of YHWH – an on-going action similar to the first verse of Genesis, “When God began creating…” Hosea is urged to take as his wife a prostitute, Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. What kind of prostitute she is is not clear. It is more likely that she is a temple prostitute in that she becomes a symbol of the idolatry of the people. Thus, begins a series of symbolic acts and names that get at the message from God, “for the land has surely whored away from YHWH.” There are several instances in prophetic works where names and actions become symbols of the message intended by God. 

Here we encounter a discrepancy between biblical records. God asks Hosea to name his son “Jezreel”, and the reason quickly follows, “for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel.” Jehu killed Jezebel and those faithful to her and took the throne of the Northern Kingdom. II Kings 9-10sees this as authorized by God, but Hosea seems to have another idea about this.

The symbolic acts continue as YHWH wishes to underscore his judgment against Israel. One of the children is named “Not shown mercy,” Mercy is not to be shown to the Northern Kingdom, and so this child becomes a symbol of that intent on God’s part. 

Breaking open Hosea:
1.    What symbols have gotten a message across to you?
2.    What symbolic names have you encountered?
3.    How would you tell Hosea’s message?

Psalm 85 Benedixisti, Domine

     You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
     You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
     You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
     Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
     Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
     Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
     Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
     I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
     Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10    Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11    Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12    The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13    Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

In this psalm we hear what the author remembers of God’s deeds, but also what the author hopes will continue as God’s good favor. The things that God makes Hosea aware of, the forgetfulness of Israel is what this psalmist hopes that God will continue to forgive, “Restore us, then, O God our Savior, let your anger depart from us. In the first verse we get a clue as to when this psalm might have been composed, "You have restored the good fortune of Jacob.”The word “restore” might lead us to think of a Judah that had fallen from God’s good graces, had been in exile in Babylon in 586 BCE, and then had been brought out of exile, restored to the land. The sin and wayward ways that caused this difficulty are asked to be forgiven. Should this forgiveness happen, the psalmist promises that the people will be “those who turn their hearts to God.” The couples, “mercy and truth,” and “righteousness and peace” become signs of this new covenant of peace and forgiveness.

Breaking open Psalm 85:
1.    What do you hope God will continue to do in your life?
2.    What has God already done?
3.    How do you turn your heart to God?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."

So, the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again, he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

This reading is separated by a few verses from last Sunday’s pericope in which Abraham and Sarah entertain three strangers who sojourn at their tent, and who pronounce a promise to the couple. What follows is a story of courage. God announces a displeasure with Sodom and Gomorrah, “how very grave their sin.”As the text continues, we suddenly are apprised as to who the three men in the first pericope are – they are indeed the Godhead, seen as three men. Robert Alter in his commentary refers us at this point to a Ugaritic Tale of Aqhatwith tells a similar story about a childless man named Dan’el. There are many similarities between the two stories.

Soon we have an interplay between God before whom Abraham stands and ultimately bargains, and the three men who turn their faces toward Sodom. The text wrestles with the exact nature of the three. The important part, however, is the conversation that is held between Abraham and YHWH. Abraham “comes near”so that God might hear his plea – this is indeed almost a courtroom situation. Abraham becomes the advocate. What is to be determined here is “who is righteous, and who is guilty?” Here is the question, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” And here Abraham observes the One to whom he is speaking, “the Judge of all the earth.” Regardless of the status of the One whom he addresses, Abraham becomes an audacious bargainer. He marches through diminishing numbers of righteous, ending at ten, the minimal unit in Israelite communal accounting. 

Breaking open Genesis:
1.    Have you ever bargained with God?
2.    Have you ever gotten angry in your praying?
3.    Have you ever gone beyond Abraham’s ten?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

     I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
     I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
     For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
     When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
     All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
     They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
     Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
     Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
     The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Here we have a thanksgiving psalm – giving thanks for a rescue from enemies. Although the author gives thanks to YHWH, it is before other gods that his praise is sung. This may be a glimpse at religion in Judea that had a bit of polytheism left in it, or it is an acknowledge afront to the gods, as YHWH’s praise is sung before them. Two aspects of God’s presence are singled out for praise – the Name, which is so holy it is not to be spoken, and the Word, God’s intent for the world. Thanks is given for a ready response to prayer, “when I called, you answered me, you increased my strength within me.” In the context of “before the gods”, we have another universalism, “all the kings of the earth.” The Word is so powerful that the powerful of the earth begin to understand its supremacy. 

What follows is a contrast between the loftiness of God’s holiness, and the lowly, the objects of God’s love and compassion. Those of power, “the haughty”are seen “from afar.” In other words, God distances Godself from the presumptuous. Where power oppresses and beats down, God accompanies those under its trouble. The last verse implores God to always accompany us in the sight of our enemies.

Breaking open Psalm 138:
1.    Do you give thanks at a restaurant?
2.    Do you pray in public?
3.    How has God accompanied you in trouble?

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

[Therefore, do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Reminding the Colossians of their participation in Christ, Paul then turns to warn them about the temptations of their philosophical and cultural life, which he calls an “empty deceit.” In the first chapter Paul speaks of the “principalities and power” that trouble life, and here he talks about the “elemental spirits of the universe.”This is not all the demonic forces that the world at that time saw at play in human existence, but also the civic rules and regulations that might distract the Christian from his responsibilities as a follower of Jesus. He contrasts the “rules and regulations” that were still troubling these people in their own community. Circumcision, rules about food and drink, festival days and commemorations – these can become a distraction from what we really are and what we really need to do – sharing the Gospel. Of special interest in our time is this comment, “Do not let anyone disqualify you.” What are requirements for some, may not be requirements for others. In our time we all too often hear Christians disparaging other Christians, or other people of faith. Paul reminds us that we are a body held together in Christ.

Breaking open Colossians:
1.    What do you think of when Paul talks about “elemental spirits”?
2.    Who are the “principalities and powers?”
3.    How do you protect yourself from them?

The Gospel: St. 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!"

This pericope is an example of the Word of Jesus that Mary found so fascinating. The disciples follow her example and ask questions of Jesus, in this case “how are we to pray.” It is interesting that in this pericope and in our usage we only find the content of Jesus’ prayer to be of note. Yet it is not the content that can help instruct us, but rather the attitude about prayer. The story of the importunate neighbor who is heard because of his persistence becomes an important lesson. The persistence of Abraham in the first reading (Track Two) provides another example. Prayer, I think, should not be gentle but audacious. Our sense of etiquette and proper behavior may wince at Jesus’ advice that we ask so that we might receive what we need. When we think about the marginalized in our society who have the courage to ask, we should answer them with provision, not humiliate them for asking. This is the righteousness that we are all called to regardless of our religion. God gives the more complete example – the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here I think of the words of Paul, how it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the words and courage to pray.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Have you ever used the Our Father as a guide to prayer?
2.     Do you use it in your own prayer life?
3.     What is your favorite petition?

Central Idea:                 What are we persistent about?

Idea 1:                             Hosea’s persistence in convincing Israel of its loss of God. (First Reading – Track One)

Idea 2:                             Abraham’s courage as an example for prayer – bargaining with God (First Reading – Track Two)

Idea 3:                             Prayers of Thanksgiving (both Psalms)

Idea 4:                             Prayer in the midst of difficult times (Second Reading)

Idea 5:                             Learning to use our own words (The Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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