What is the world coming to? How many times have we had to ask ourselves that question over the past few months, the past few years? When I told people abroad on vacation where I came from, they had heard of Cleveland, Ohio, for all the wrong reasons. They knew about our worst stories, our most malevolent demons. They shook their heads and asked, “What is the world coming to?”
Despite Hosea’s rather blunt and uncomfortable language, I am glad that we read him this morning. He also is wondering what his world is coming to, his world being the northern kingdom of Israel, its capital Samaria, under threat from Assyria and falling into decadence and decay from the inside out. Like the other prophets, like Jesus, he calls his people to repent and return to God, to call upon God’s mercy in the face of the worldly judgement that is about to befall them. He does it in an unlikely manner, living his life as a parable, a prophetic action. His wife, his children all are material for his prophecy.
I am not sure that Hosea’s story is, in fact, strictly autobiographical. Did he really seek out a woman of ill-repute to marry, did he really name his children Unloved (Lo-Ruhamah) and Not Mine (Lo-Ammi); did he really call his wife a whore? Or are they a story he tells; did he live the parable piece by piece or make poetry, prophecy out of hints and intimations in his life to make it speak more clearly to his people of their plight? We will likely never know. Either way, Hosea’s story tells how faithlessness, how turning away from the love of God and godly love for one another leads to family and community break-up, disillusionment, disgrace and disenchantment; how it leads ultimately to despair. How low do you have to go before you name your children Unloved and Not Mine? What is that world coming to?
And yet, following the pattern of the prophets and of the psalms, Hosea ends this section of his story by remembering God’s mercy, in which we hope. The ones who were named Not My People are now called the Children of God. In the next couple of verses, which you can look up at home, the one who is called Not Mine is now called Mine (Ammi), the one who was called Unloved is now called Loved (Ruhamah).
Whatever Hosea’s world is coming to, it never runs out of hope in the living God who loves it and will not let it fall completely into despair.
When his disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he teaches them to pray first not for their own needs or will but for the will of God to be done on earth; for God’s kingdom, which Jesus has preached since the start of his ministry, to come near, to be established.
When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he talks to them not about individual prayers for salvation and success, but using the language of us and we, he tells them to pray first to God as a father, as one with whom they have a living relationship. He tells them to pray to God as one who is holy, set apart and sacred above all others. He tells them to pray that God’s reign will be established in all the earth, because therein lies our hope. From that hope comes the assurance of bread sufficient to the day, of mercy given and shared, of assistance in times of trial, strength and hope in the days when we wonder what the world is coming to.
About eighteen months ago, in the wake of the Anthony Sowell trial, Bishop Hollingsworth went on a local radio program to talk about the tagline you have most likely seen and heard about the place, “God loves you, no exceptions.” In the course of the conversation about the difficulty of relating this theology to a notorious serial killer, the Bishop said this,
“I don’t need to know what God intends for you or me or anybody else after this life. What I do need to know is what I can do to either create heaven or create hell in this life.”
When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” God replies by inviting us to become agents of heaven in this life, to bring that kingdom closer, to open the doors of heaven to those who are facing hell on earth.
I think that the detail of this week’s news which most disturbed me was the suggestion that the man charged with multiple murders in East Cleveland had set out to emulate the actions of a murderer, to follow in the footsteps of death. The idea that a man could wander so far from the path, could be so lost, be led so far astray as to place his expectation, his desire, his hope in the last place that hope is to be found was both breathtakingly wrong and profoundly sad. When serial killers become role models, what is the world coming to?
And yet, if God can resurrect Jesus from the dead, God can restore our lives in the living of them. We are never beyond hope. We proclaim God’s love as a shout of light in the darkness, as a beacon of hope even while the wildfires burn. We know that we are falling, but we know that God never fails.
So what are we to do about it? How do we open the doors of heaven to those facing hell on earth? Hosea relented on the names of his children; wisely, he realized that he wanted them to grow into a relationship with God, not out of it, that naming them with hope – Child of Mine, Loved – was more likely to win their hearts for good than naming them out of anger. What chance the child whose name is Unloved?
How are we naming hope in our communities, how are we opening the doors to heaven for those around us? Where are we having conversations about God, about mercy, love and justice, about hope and heaven? Where are we acting on our own petitions, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come”? Bumper stickers are not enough. When we call God our father, we acknowledge that all of God’s children are our brothers and sisters; we are in relationship with them, and we need to engage with them honestly, and intimately, and hopefully. We need to be involved in our communities, not to abandon them to despair but to do the hard work of persisting in hope, whether it’s through community activism, or through visiting or volunteering, mentoring or remembering to tell a neighbour, I am praying for you. And by the way, God loves you.
I am planning to talk to some of our neighbours in the Lakeshore Ministry group and beyond about starting a series of prayer walks in our own neighbourhoods, reclaiming a place for prayer in our communities, opening the doors of heaven right outside our own front doors. I’ll let you know once the plans are in place and I hope that you’ll join us as you are able – let’s proclaim the kingdom of God even as we pray for its completion among us, even here, even in Euclid and in East Cleveland and wherever its hope is needed.
After he taught his disciples the prayer, Jesus went on to tell them a couple of stories about persistence, because he knew that the times of trial would come, and that courage would be needed to carry on in the faith that God’s kingdom is drawn near. Far be it from me to suggest that a few meetings and prayer walks will make everything right in our cities overnight. Our recent trials – here in the north and elsewhere, in Florida and the south – continue to remind how far we still have to walk in the way of the cross before we come to a place of peace.
Still, as Hosea realized, naming our hope will carry us further than living out our anger and our fear. Renaming our future as Belonging to Us and Beloved will open more doors to heaven than the alternative.
So I invite you to pray with me now, for the coming of God’s kingdom, that God’s will might prevail here on earth and open our lives to the peace and joy which is in heaven, in the words that Jesus gave to his disciples:
Our Father …