8th Sunday after Epiphany

February 27, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Hosea 2:14-20
Reading 2: 
Psalm 103:1-13, 22
Reading 3: 
2 Corinthians 3:1-16
Reading 4: 
Mark 2:13-22

Many metaphors are used in the Bible to describe God; after all, who has ever seen God? No one metaphor is complete and adequate by itself, therefore, several images are used. God is like an eagle, or a mother hen, or a shepherd, or a parent. Here, in Hosea, God is seen as a jealous husband.

Chapter 3 seems to be a court proceeding. It appears at first glance that it is a divorce hearing. The poetic situation is clear: The wife is Israel, the husband is God, and the children are the faithful few. The intent of the text is to address the question "Can this marriage be saved?" Verses 2 through 13 (not part of the lectionary reading) sets up the list of accusations against the wife: How many ways can you spell adultery? The list is pathetic, that is, full of pathos; it is heart-rending. The husband is in agony. He obviously loves the wife and her behavior is painful to him and he is angry, even vindictive. Torn between love and hurt, what can he do?

The wife, for her part, thinks that she has gained all her blessing from her other lovers (other gods, Baal), and is blinded to the many blessing from her husband. There will be punishment, as verses 9 through 13 state. Verse 14 introduces a different attitude. There will come a day when the husband will try to woo the wife back to him.

Each metaphor that is used in the Bible to describe God, describes certain aspects or attributes of God. The metaphor of husband tells us something about God. God is the divine lover and will not let go of the wife so easily. Even when there is disloyalty, even when punishment is called for, the divine intent is to work for reconciliation, for restoration to an intimate relationship. Notice that the dilemma is in God; it is trauma in God's heart. Notice also that the initiative for reconciliation comes from God. God is the one who will remain loyal and loving.

This text is a powerful statement that trust in God is a matter of the heart in the deepest way. Matters of trust and loyalty and love are set in the context of a marriage relationship. This text (and others like it), which makes the claim that these are matters of the heart, puts the lie to the idea that God is unfeeling, uninvolved, remote and dispassionate. The idea that nothing we do affects God's nature goes against a text such as this. What we do deeply affects God.

Process Theology would completely appreciate the nature of this God. From a Process perspective, God is deeply involved at every moment of every occasion of experience. And how God is involved depends to a large extend on decisions made about God's involvement in prior moments. The text raises the possibility that God feels our decisions, that somehow, our acts become part of God and, in turn, God's response to us appropriately.

Mark 2:13-22
The disciples of John ask Jesus "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" (verse18) Jesus' response is familiar after reading the Hosea text. The metaphor is a wedding, and as long as the wedding is going on, celebration is appropriate. As long as the bridegroom (Jesus) is with them, why act as though there is no wedding?

The metaphor of "wedding" goes to the same issues as the metaphor of "hurt husband." Dealing with God and (now) the kingdom is a matter of the heart and it has to do with love, trust and loyalty. As any parent will understand the use of "Father" or "Mother" to describe God's sacrificial love and the dynamics of suffering love, so any one who has ever been in love with another will understand the dynamics of love, trust and loyalty, hurt and reconciliation. Our understanding of God's love is rooted in our understanding of human loves. We understand God's love for us because we know what is involved in loving others.

This theme goes to the very heart of Process Theology. God's love is like a lure to us, presenting possibilities to be realized in the becoming of an actual occasion of experience. God is luring us, moment by moment, into the future, not pushing us from behind. God is persuasive love and not coercive power.

2 Corinthians 3:1-16
This text makes the same claim as above, in verse 3: "And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

A sermon possibility is to focus on the Hosea text because of its dramatic quality. Simply tell the story of the hurt husband and relate it to the ways others we love can hurt us. Describing the way humans love, then extrapolating that dynamic to God, is the thrust of the sermon. Themes of love, trust and loyalty, hurt and reconciliation can be set within the context of the Hosea story. The marriage relationship is a very strong, rich metaphor which can be used to understand God's relationship to us.

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