Category: Jim Coston

Hosea 11:1-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 31, 2016.

Hosea - di Buoninsegna
Hosea – di Buoninsegna

For most of Hosea chapters 1-10, Israel has heard of her apostasy and rebellion against the Lord.  These charges include judgment and pending punishment.  Hosea 11 departs from this cycle, offering a statement of God’s love for the people and a promise of future restoration.

For those concerned with the patriarchal language from Hosea 1 last week, the imagery moves from one of marriage between man (God) and woman (Israel)—made incarnate through Hosea and Gomer—to the metaphor of a parent (God) and child (Israel).  The language surrounding this picture, particularly in the first section of verses 1-4, invites consideration of God as a mother who nurtures and cares for the young.  Within the male dominated society of ancient Israel, women had the tasks of child-rearing.  In this way, God mothers Israel out of infancy to maturation.  As any parent of adult children knows, once the kids are able to make their own decisions, they don’t always make the right, or righteous, ones.

Lest we forget, Hosea is the father of Jezreel, Lo-Ruhammah and Lo-Ammi. The reader may hear his own vexation as a parent of rebellious children in these opening verses.  These I-statements reveal a parent in pain and anguish, receiving apathy and hostility for the offering of love and care.  God nurtured Israel only to have Israel lay its affection upon idols and false gods.  The prophetic words do not arise from anger but from longing and disregarded love.

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Hosea 1:2-10

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 24, 2016.

Haag - Hosea & Gomer
Haag – Hosea & Gomer

Alright, Pastor.  The lectionary has called upon you to preach a passage that many congregants will have some familiarity with.  In fact, this passage may be all they know of the entire book from which the verses come.  And, given current cultural sensibilities, what your parishioners may know of Hosea is likely viewed as patriarchal, misogynistic and akin to child abuse.  The tasks for this Sunday will require a great deal of work to get to the fruitful core of the message of Hosea 1:2-10.  But, it can be done.

Some thoughts on how to do this:

Be upfront and honest about what the text does not voice, while acknowledging what your parishioners are likely thinking as they hear this passage read.  Hosea, Gomer and the brood are presented as actors on the stage dramatizing the relationship between God and Israel.  The text is unconcerned with any of these actors aside from their relative parts.  Within this passage, God is the only voice heard.  We may wonder how Hosea felt about taking on an unfaithful woman as his wife.  We may wonder why Gomer was unfaithful and how motherhood did or did not change this.  We may wonder how the children lived with such painful monikers despite their relative innocence–notwithstanding their relative’s guilt.  The scripture does not wonder about these things.  It directs hearers and readers right past these concerns.  A faithful Biblicist will acknowledge our natural inclination toward these questions while directing us to dive deeper into this incarnational metaphor as the text clearly wants.  Ask your parishioners to suspend their concerns about gender, parenting and praxis and just listen to the text.  The recognition that Hosea the prophet does not even speak within these first 10 verses may assist them.  This passage is to be visualized as Hosea lives out this metaphor.  This passage is to be heard as God speaks from heartfelt sorrow and pain.

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Amos 8:1-12

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 17, 2016.

Basket of Fruits - Manet
Basket of Fruits – Manet

The summer before my freshman year in college I worked at an agriculture experiment station run by the University of Tennessee.  They hired me as a laborer; they had recently planted a peach orchard and needed extra hands to tend to it.  I remember long hot days filled with humidity, bugs and peaches.  We culled peaches often, fearing that the weight of all the fruit would harm the trees. We picked ripe peaches and sold them to the public.  And we had to dispose of overripe fruit.  That smell remains in my memory.  Whereas our culled peaches had the subsistence of a baseball, these spoiled peaches were almost impossible to pick intact.  They were soft and slimy, oozy and… you get the picture.  This was summer fruit.

This week’s lectionary text concerns the fourth vision of Amos.  Its central image is summer fruit.  To most congregants, the phrase summer fruit may bring to mind watermelon, peaches, cantaloupe and the like.  We think of picnics and refreshment, perhaps even church socials in parks.  That picture could not be more antithetical to this vision.  The Hebrew word for ‘summer’ in verses 1 and 2 is the exact same term used later in verse 2 by God when He replies, ‘The end…’  The vision here is not meant to conjure a cornucopia of produce.  Rather, the image concerns fruit that has reached its end point—spoiled, rotten fruit.

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Amos 7:7-17

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 10, 2016.

Amos - Gustave Dore
Amos – Gustave Dore

This third of five visions in Amos 7.7-17 offers the preacher great possibility.  It also contains some peril.  Amos, southern Judean, relays doom and gloom to the northern kingdom of Israel.  And yet in the mid-8th century BC, Israel is at peace under the reign of King Jeroboam.  Prosperity abounds.  While no one wants to hear dire tidings, when those pronouncements conflict with the empirical evidence of day to day life, the prophet’s task is all the more difficult.

This passage begins with Amos’ vision from the Lord.  The imagery of a plumb-line holds rich promise for speaking of God’s prerogative to set measurements and define what is straight or righteous.  This visual could easily illustrate the point that God determines what is right and wrong and that there are consequences when one does not measure up.  However, verses 7 and 8 may not refer to a plumb-line at all, at least not in the way most of us understand that term.  There is scholarly debate on the meaning of the term ‘plumb-line.’  This is the only occurrence for this word in the Old Testament.  Some translations offer ‘pick-ax’ while others offer ‘tin’ as a more accurate meaning.  Any homiletician who builds a Sunday message on the image of wall building must be aware that this text likely does not support that metaphor.  Furthermore, focusing on the ‘plumb-line’ dilutes the emphasis on the proper aligning of God, worship and the state inherent to the greater passage.

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