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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
The Prophet and the Prostitute

Pentecost 3A     Hosea 1:1-6; 5:15-6:6      (also in Pentecost 8C, alternate to Psalm 138)

Summer is wedding time here at Grace Lutheran Church, and again, this summer we are going to have several weddings. Many families are getting in the mood for a wedding e.g. the Pugerudes, Laaksos, Vraspirs. James McPherson is getting married this summer to Kelly Sarioni. Why, I remember when James was born some twenty-four years ago. I remember the visit to the intensive, natal care unit because it was feared James was not going to live. But he did, and he was baptized on Christmas Eve of that same year. I baptized him, confirmed him, watched him graduate and now I have the pleasure of being part of his wedding. Yes, many families are in the mood for a good summer wedding.

When you come to weddings here at Grace, this is the way it works. Weddings have a similar feel to them. The rituals are pretty much the same. Often, the wedding will be at 3:00 or 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and so you come fifteen minutes early. Now, it needs to be remembered that any normal red blooded male does not enjoy putting on a tie, a white shirt and suit on a hot summer day, but we do for the wedding. It is our first gift to the wedding couple: dressing up on a hot summer day. … You then come and stand in line to sign the register book, and chat with other people who are also standing in line. The entry narthex is buzzing with activity and conversation. … You are greeted at the door into the sanctuary by this young man wearing a tuxedo and he is looking great. He doesn’t look at all like the kid you watched growing up. With apparent maturity, he ushers you down to your seat, carrying himself in an unusual dignified manner. … You sit down and look around you and everyone is talking as fast as their mouths can go. Friends are laughing and smiling and in a good mood. You notice several of the relatives you haven’t seen for a while, and you wave at them. Old Aunt Maggie. Old Uncle Clarence. They never miss a wedding. … Your eyes move up to the front of the sanctuary and you see the lovely bouquet of flowers that are on the front altar, and you notice the sprays of flowers in stands on either side of the table.  … And the couple has a harpist playing, accompanied by a flute, and the ambience of the wedding is perfect. … The mother of the bride finally enters and we must pause to look at the mother of the bride. No one has said anything openly about this, but we all know how important the dress is that the mother of the bride has chosen. Hours have been spent shopping for it, and it must be elegant, tailored, designed to look perfect for this wedding. The mother of the groom is to wear a color that is co-ordinated with the mother of the bride. … The bride’s maids enter majestically and they glide gracefully down the center aisle. Women, especially note the color and the design of the dresses. … The groom enters with a flourish of the organ, walking with the pastor that no one really notices because he/she looks the same, but the groom looks spectacular. His hair is neatly trimmed, jet black, and slicked back. His shoes shine like they have never shined before. He is wearing a ruffled shirt and he has never worn a ruffled shirt since early childhood and he is wearing so much sweet smelling cologne that the people in the first three pews are nearly asphyxiated. He doesn’t look or smell like the boy you saw growing up. …

And here comes the bride. The mother of the bride stands and all stand to watch the pure elegant young woman slowly glide down the center aisle with her father. From a distance, you can see that something is unusual. Her wedding dress is spattered with mud. Her veil is askew. She comes closer and you notice that she has a cigarette drooping from her lips. Her lips are painted red and she has too much rouge on her cheeks. As she walks by your aisle, you smell booze on her breath. She finally arrives at the front, and the broom is broadly smiling at her like a Cheshire cat. He lovingly looks into her eyes and the two of them stand before the altar to be married. Indeed, this is the strangest wedding that you have ever experienced.

But this parable is profoundly true. This parable of a wedding is the exact imagery of the Church, with Christ being the perfect groom and the Church as being the imperfect bride. Christ, the perfect groom, looks lovingly on the Church, the people of God, who are corrupted and corroded and covered with sin. This parable is a parable about grace; that God loves sinful, imperfect people. And that is what grace is all about. And that is what the book of Hosea is all about.

Today I would like to talk with you about Hosea and Gomer, the prophet and the prostitute, the nice and the naked, the sacred and the secular.

First, I would like to give you background information about the prophet, Hosea. Hosea was one of the four great prophets of Israel in the eighth century before Christ. In confirmation class, the students learn their names by means of learning a formula: H I M A. That stands for Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and Amos, and these all became famous prophets of the Lord. Amos was a national prophet. That is, he wasn’t known just in Des Moines, Federal Way or Kent; his reputation had spread across the whole nation. He was a national icon. And the particular sin that Hosea repeatedly condemned was the sin of sexuality. That is, people were constantly violating God given sexual boundaries. They were sleeping around and even having sex with prostitutes who hung out near the front door of the temple. Hosea’s condemnation of sinful sexuality was so loud that it was heard across the whole nation. Then one day, God said to Hosea: “Hosea, you seem a little self righteous to me. A little puffed up with your own holiness. I command you to go and marry a temple prostitute.” Hosea said: “Who me? Me marry a temple prostitute? You’ve got to be kidding. I have condemned the temple prostitutes my whole life? What will others think?” But Hosea went and married a temple prostitute, and the tongues of the people began wagging as fast as they could: “Look at Hosea. He was so puffed up and righteous towards us and now he goes and marries a temple prostitute. What a joke. What a lousy example. What a ‘come down’ for Hosea.”

I would like to tell you a little bit about Gomer, the temple prostitute that Hosea married. We don’t know much about her, but she was a temple prostitute; that is, a woman who was hanging out near the busy entrance to the grand temple in the center of the city in order to sell herself for an income. I would like to offer a footnote here. We find prostitutes all over the world, and most of them began young and most of them sell their bodies for money, not for sex. For example, a friend of mine is a college professor on the Board of Lutheran World Relief, and he recently traveled back to his homeland, India. India now has a rate of HIV that is beginning to accelerate, much like Africa’s. Vincent told the story of knowing families that were very poor. The daughters could not receive an inheritance, the daughters were not married, and eventually the daughters grew up and went to market for the day, and at night they came back with food. How had they gotten their food? Nobody talked about it, but they had sold their bodies, and the HIV virus was spreading. Whether it is the prostitution of India or Thailand or Burma, the tragic story is often the same: a girl has been sold young by her father, and she is now in business for food. My suspicion is that Gomer was similar to these tragic people around the globe today. Simply, Gomer was a temple prostitute. She sold her body for sex. … Hosea was ordered by God to marry her and so she married Hosea. She soon deserted her husband and had two illegitimate children. Her family begged her to remain but her life went down and down and down and down and down, so low that she was finally to be sold into slavery at a slave auction. The people around her were taunting, “She is getting what she deserves. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind. Her bad choices are catching up with her and her types, and she deserves to be sold as a slave.”  The day of the auction finally arrived and the people were watching, sadistically enjoying her misery as she was dragged to the auction floor. The auctioneer cried out, “Who will bid on this woman? Who will buy her as a slave?” There was silence, and then from the silence, we see one hand raise up and one voice said, “I will buy her. I will buy her back.” It was Hosea, the prophet, and he was buying her back. “What a cad. What a creep. Doesn’t he know what he is getting.” Hosea was responding to the Word of the Lord who said, “Go again Hosea. Buy that woman who is an adulteress.” (This story is best told by first reading the whole book of Hosea from the J.B. Phillips translation. Phillips helps the story become alive.)

And thus we hear the story of the prophet and the prostitute, the nice and the naked, the respected and the repugnant. We hear the story of the word, redeem. The word, redeem, is an economic word meaning to “buy back again.” Hosea bought back Gomer, a sinner; he paid a price for her. And in the New Testament, we hear the story that Christ was a redeemer; that Christ paid the price for us, the sinful people of God.  The parallels are perfect. Hosea buys back, Gomer, the sinner; Christ buys back you and me, the sinners. These are stories of pure grace, of pure love, of pure sacrifice for sinful people.

And what is the meaning of this story? Of this parable? The Church is filled with people whose lives are messed up, who don’t have it together, who make enormously poor choices and live with their nasty consequences. The church is filled with sinful people. O, yes, we may pretend otherwise. We may give our perfect appearances, may project our images of health and wholeness, but we are a deeply flawed people, all of us, in spite of our appearances to cover up our degree of sinfulness. Our selfishness runs unabated. Our marriages. Our kids. Our finances. Our personal relationships. Our prayer lives. Our devotional lives. Jesus once said, “I didn’t come to save the well, but those who know they are sick.” And we know that we are not right inside. We are not right with God and God’s people around the globe or around our neighborhood. And Christ chooses us, of all people, to be his bride.

Today, I would like to talk briefly about both Hosea and Gomer as both being profiles in courage. That is, years ago, I loved a book by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the book was titled, PROFILES OF COURAGE. Hosea and Gomer didn’t have the courage that we associate with the marines who climbed the cliffs of Normandy or the marines who crawled the beaches of Iwo Jima. I am not thinking of the well known courage of Abraham Lincoln when he condemned racism and the trafficking of black slaves. Today, I am not thinking of the courage of a police officer who approaches an apartment and the people inside are having a domestic violent clash. No, I am not thinking about these kinds of obvious courage. Rather, I would like to suggest to you that both Hosea and Gomer had a quality of courage, and I want to briefly talk about this today.

Gomer had a courage, and her courage was the courage to confess, to be honest about who she was and the imperfections that were living in her life. So often, we have the need to project middle class togetherness, health, an “I’m OK attitude;” so much so, that we don’t’ let other people see our “shadow side.” For example, a husband and a wife have a blowout, I mean, a real blowout. And they end up shouting at each other so much so that the people next door can hear the clash between a man and woman. And it takes courage to come to that person and say, “I’m sorry, Honey. I lost my cool. I really lost my temper. I don’t know what got into me that I became so angry. Please forgive me.” It takes courage to confess, to tell another person directly that you have violated them. It is often easier to confess to God than to the other person you have hurt in the argument. … Or let’s say you are a teenager and you have been doing some stuff lately that you shouldn’t be doing. You know what it is. You know what you have been doing lately behind your parent’s back. I guarantee you: it takes a great deal of courage to confess and say to your mom or dad, “I’ve been hitting the booze. I’ve been using drugs.” You have no idea how much courage it take to confess, to own up to the flaws of your life to someone else. We prefer to handle those inner flaws differently: not tell any one and perhaps they will go away.  … Or let’s say that you are an addict, and you are addicted to a substance, and to finally come to grips with it. Or let’s say you are addicted to an attitude: I am addicted to success and some of you are addicted to anger. There are all kids of addictions that grip us, and we try to cover they up. It takes courage to confess. … If you have had an affair with a person, an emotional or physical affair,  or if you are secretly addicted to pornography, on the television set or on the Internet, it takes a great deal of courage to confess, to be honest with another person about your shortcomings. It is so much easier not to say anything about it, and hope that these flaws will go away.

What I am suggesting to you this morning is that Gomer is a symbol of a person who needs to be honest about her sinfulness. The more honest a person is, the healthier that person may be. It takes courage to confess, to be honest with another person about one’s own imperfections.

Hosea? He is symbolic  of a person who has the courage to care. For me, Hosea is the Christ figure. In my mind, I can see the situation so easily: Hosea coming to that auction block and all the tongues wagging their sneering criticism that Gomer was getting what she deserved. And in the silence, Hosea raises his hand and buys Gomer back again. What a fool. What pure grace. What a gift and sacrifice of love.

Hosea? He is symbolic of people who have the courage to care for another, when that courage to care doesn’t seem sensible. He had that courage to care for anther person, when everybody else had given up on that person. And he was willing to pay the price for that person, when everyone body else said it was a waste of time, effort and money.

I think of the story of a nurse who worked in a leprosarium. This nurse had a tough, tough job, just as many of you do, as you care for sick and dying people in some very awful situations. I think of the hospice nurses that I have watched taking care of the bodily needs of our congregational members who were dying, and I thought to myself as those nurses did the dirty work, “I wouldn’t do that job. I couldn’t do that job.” And this nurse in the leprosarium, working with lepers was asked, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars to do what you do. How do you do it?” And the nurse replied: “Neither would I. I don’t do it for money, that is for sure.”  There are certain jobs in the world that take an inordinate amount of courage and compassion. It takes courage to truly care.

It takes courage to care in certain life situations with certain people who may have Alzheimer’s disease or a long term illness or disability. There are all kinds of people that I know who have a courage inside of them, a courage of caring and compassion. And it takes courage to live in those situations, with those kinds of disabilities or long term illnesses. It takes an inordinate amount of personal sacrifice.

It takes courage to care for another person when everyone else has given up on them, but you don’t. Some may give up on a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife, a brother or a sister. But your compassion is consistent for them, when you know that others have given up. This is especially true for families.

Hosea and Gomer. The prophet and the prostitute. The courage to care. The courage to confess.

It is summer time. It is wedding time. And we are going to have weddings at Grace Lutheran Church this summer. Everyone will be so happy and smiling. The congregation will be chattering with each other and the organ music will swell to let everyone know that here comes the groom, walking elegantly down the aisle. He stands before, in all his glorious perfection, waiting for the bride. And the organ swells again. The congregation stands, and here comes the bride. Amen.

CHILDREN’S SERMON.  Have a large, white piece of paper, on a stand. What does everyone see? A white piece of paper. Then color a dark, circular dot on the center of the white paper. What does everyone see? A black dot. Why do eyes always focus on black dots when 99% of the paper is white? Why do people often focus on one flaw of a person when they have lived their whole lives decently? As a young person, I remember the football tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and his name was “Wrong Way Marshall.” One time, he picked up a fumble and ran the wrong way and made a touchdown for the opposing team. But 99% of his life as a professional football tackle, he was an All Star, the best tackle there was. But to this day, he is known as “Wrong Way Marshall.”  So often people remember a person by their flaw rather than their whole lives. … Then, take a rip of white paper and place it over the dark spot. What do the children see? Nothing but white. And so it is with God. God covers our sins and sees nothing but white. Our lives may be soiled and spotted but God sees not the spots but the image of white and perfection. That is, our sins are covered and God sees only us.

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