May the words of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock, and our Redeemer.
Hosea’s story is wild: as a prophetic message to the nation of Israel, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute and bear children with her, knowing full well that this wife is going to be unfaithful to him-the children she bears might be fathered by other men. God asks this of Hosea because the land-the whole people-is in the same position: in a covenant relationship with God AND committing adultery with other gods. This is all an incredibly elaborate and painfully personal living metaphor for the people and for us who read it today.
Hosea lives this as his real, actual life-at one point in chapter 3, Hosea has to go out to the brothel and pay to take his wife home-he bought her for a few days-not to sleep with her, but to keep her from selling herself to other men who will use her and abuse her. Hosea takes on all of the humiliation, pain, and disease her infidelity brings into his life. He is cast in the role of God in this living metaphor, and so Hosea never divorces Gomer. He remains faithful to her through each of her bouts of unfaithfulness.
But it’s more than just the life Hosea is asked to lead, it’s the message he is called upon to speak: he is called to say to all of his people that THEY are as Gomer. THEY are adulterous. They are the toxic ones, the abandoning partner. And God is being faithful to them and promises right out of the gate to redeem them if they’re willing-God will buy them back-but this situation is incredibly destructive and they must, must, must repent. This really struck me because it hits on something that is super common in Scripture and really uncommon in American Christianity: the idea of communal sin.
Sin in the Bible isn’t just individual. Sin is also communal; shared. I know in my Evangelical Christian upbringing, this was never emphasized or really discussed. All sin was personal, individual. We could sin against others, of course, but sin was an individual problem that Jesus came to forgive, heal, and redeem. A universal issue, but deeply individual. But that isn’t how the Bible speaks of sin. The biblical definition of “sin” is two-fold: 1) it IS personal actions of moral failure that cause brokenness within me and brokenness between me and God and me and my neighbors and me and creation, and 2) the Biblical concept of sin also defines it as a power that deceives whole communities into justifying this broken behavior.
I think the thing that scares us off as Americans is the shared nature of this: we are an individualistic culture. We want the freedom to be our own people, to live as we see fit. We want to be judged on our own merits. Of course, we have our families and friends and communities and we are devoted to them. But who here wants to be accountable for the sins of their neighbor? No one. And I don’t think we are-I won’t be judged for the sins of my neighbor. But we cannot escape this reality of communal sin: there is something going on there. I am somehow part of the sins of my people. I cannot separate myself and say, “Oh not me, I’m not one of them!” Hosea didn’t get to say, “Well I’m not worshipping Baal and abandoning my relationship with YHWH our God, so this isn’t my issue.” No, this was about the whole nation and Hosea is a part of that nation. The consequences of the communal sin would fall on them all, faithful and unfaithful alike. And so as one faithful to YHWH, he was called upon to take action for the sake of his people.
Some examples from our own world might help: none of us has personally committed an act of gun violence, but for a long time and still, in certain places, we have been deceived into justifying it as just the tragic way things are sometimes. And we all live with the consequences of that sin-we all feel the grief and fear it causes. When I chose to get involved in gun violence prevention, it was in large part as a Christian responding to our baptismal vow to resist evil and it was also partly as an American seeking to root out a sin particular to
America-it’s unique to our culture and I’m a part of that culture and so I’m going to take some responsibility to help. It’s communal, but now it’s also personal to me. Or racism: it’s a sin that was planted so deeply in our nation’s growth and development that we’re still finding it in everything, we’re having to dig it out over and over again in our lives and our communities, our schools, our governments. I have no intention of being racist and yet I find myself still needing to uproot and kill off its influences in my life. It’s a shared sin.
Once I noticed this communal aspect of Hosea’s story, I realized community is all throughout our texts today:
- in the Psalm we have, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation; and put away your indignation toward us.”
- In the reading from Colossians-I looked it up in the original Greek-all the “you’s” are PLURAL: we could read it “As y’all, therefore, have received Christ Jesus the Lord, y’all continue to walk in him… “
- And of course the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins… ” God’s word isn’t individualistic, it’s for us.
We have a communal problem and Jesus offers us a communal solution: in our Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus teaching about prayer: he gives his disciples, including us, a format to use, but also an actual prayer, here’s what you should ask of God. And he goes on to explain the second aspect of prayer: the Holy Spirit, promising that if we ask and seek and knock, God will answer and give us the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Prayer is meant to be prayed with the life and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As followers of Jesus, we occupy a unique place in the world. We are a people of HOPE because we know that God is the God of Justice and Mercy. Real HOPE is the golden middle of a spectrum: it is not blind optimism, that everything is beautiful and all will be well, and it’s obviously not despair. But I think we forget that the real hope Christ offers us in no way asks us to minimize or dismiss the pain and evil we see in the world. Quite the opposite: Jesus invites us to look evil in the face and name it as such, just like Hosea does-and to take some responsibility for it. We see that in Jesus’ own life: Jesus did not turn his back on the evil around him, calling the righteous to come and hide away together. Jesus confronted evil and spent his time with the broken, the needy, and the aggressor-all to bring them healing, forgiveness, and restoration-they got to experience God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. They received from Jesus their daily bread and received his forgiveness and learned to forgive others.
That stuff doesn’t happen when we only name evil and then hunker down within ourselves to wait for Jesus’ return. We can and ought to look at these evils because the prayer Our Lord and Savior taught is to seek God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Our baptismal
vow is to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. And we say that we will, with God’s help. How can we resist what we refuse to acknowledge? How can we avoid and then repair the pothole if we refuse to look at the road? But we cannot take in all the evil in the world there is too much. So we ask for the Holy Spirit to guide our eyes and our prayers: what ought we see? Where is Jesus inviting us to pray in deep seriousness for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven? Where is Jesus inviting us to actively, personally, and communally, resist evil, and pursue repentance?
We already do this as a church. We see that some of our neighbors don’t have enough to eat and so we pray and we act like Martha’s Table, Meals on Wheels, Meals for Seals.
We see that many don’t care for God’s good creation, putting us all at risk, and so we plant and cultivate and water our pollinator garden. These are the good works of resisting evil.
And HOPE means we can do this with HOPE! We believe in the reality of God’s love, from both reason and experience. And we have hope because we’ve studied the history: we see God time and time and time again in Scripture being the God of justice, the God who rescues the captive, binds the wounds of the broken, delivers the oppressed, and offers forgiveness and redemption to the oppressor. We take seriously Hosea’s message: that God will never divorce his people, no matter how many times we desecrate our covenant with Him. We know that in the fullness of time, the words we read in Hosea 1:1O will be true: “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.”‘ We know how the story ends and so we have hope to live and fight through the middle.
It is serious business being a follower of Jesus. The hope is serious, too. I want us to be able to genuinely feel and earnestly pray, “Oh God, will you restore us and grant us your salvation?” I want us to feel the security and hope of the promise that righteousness and peace will kiss.
And I want us to continue to join God in God’s good work of bringing His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. If I’m allowed to suggest a “homework assignment” from up here, I would encourage each of us to take the scripture home and pray Psalm 85 and the Lord’s Prayer a few times this week. Ask God for the Holy Spirit’s life and guidance as we read and pray, that our hearts would align to God’s heart and that we would see what the Lord wants us to notice in the world around us. And like Hosea, we may find that the invitation from God as we pray is to put some skin in the game: our money, our time, our relationships, our authority, and our influence. If the Lord asks, trust him and be open. And proceed with HOPE.