You can listen to it here, or read on.
Last Sunday, Father Keith preached a powerful and challenging sermon. If you missed it, I hope you’ll find it on our website and give it a listen. As we reflected on that sermon on Monday morning, Keith noted that he was probably more specifically demanding of us in that sermon than in most that he’s preached. His challenge was a good one, and is simple enough to do. All he asked was that we read the Bible every day. “Feasting on the word of God,” I think he called it, and it is very important indeed. I hope that most of you received this week’s E-Pistle, our weekly newsletter, and have perused the resources listed in order to help you spend some time, each day, reading God’s holy word. If you take this challenge seriously, I promise you, it will change your life.
I know that a lot of you are currently engaged in daily scripture reading. Several of you use the Bible App on your iPhones and are engaged in “Read the Bible in a Year” reading plans. Chris Bridges, a history teacher at Foley High School is using the chronological plan: he gets to read the Biblical narrative as it unfolds through time. My wife, Cassie, is using the standard plan, which includes something like 3 Old Testament and 2 New Testament chapters each day. They both have found these plans helpful to keep them on track and there are various other plans that might pique your interest, including on that some friends of mine did that takes you through the whole Bible in 90 days! That’s quite a feat.
I did want to offer you one caveat to the high praise that Keith and I have given to reading the Bible every day, and that is: sometimes reading the Bible is really, really hard. If you choose to read Forward Day by Day or the lessons from the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer, you’ll be pretty safe, but if you take on the challenge to read the whole Bible, be it in 90 days, 6 months, a year, or more, you’ll be like Chris and like Cassie, asking yourself, your spouse, and sometimes your priest, “What is that all about?”
There are some pretty terrible stories in the Bible.
A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind, but ended at Second Kings, chapter two, verse fourteen. A little bit later in chapter two there is a story of some boys who made fun of Elisha because of his male pattern baldness. Elisha got mad, cursed them in the name of the LORD, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them. Bears! That’s not a great story. And it doesn’t just happen in the Old Testament either.
In the early chapters of Acts, as the early Church attempts to get its act together, many followers of The Way sold everything they had and offered it to the common purse. Two of them, a husband and wife duo named Ananias and Sapphira, conspired to keep some of the money for themselves. Peter rebuked Ananias and he immediately fell down, dead. Three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened, and lied to Peter about the money. Peter says to her, “Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” Then Sapphira fell down dead, just like her husband. Also, not a great story. Even Jesus was not immune.
Mark and Matthew recount the story of Jesus meeting a Syro-Phoenician woman, a Gentile, whose daughter was possessed by demons. Jesus, having at first ignored her completely, is compelled to do something by his disciples who can’t stand her constant yelling, so he answers her request by first calling her a dog. That’s not a great story either.
Sometimes, reading the Bible is really, really hard. Sometimes, like with the stories I just mentioned, the lesson we heard read from Hosea chapter 1, and many others, reading the Bible can be downright detrimental to your faith. “What kind of God commands that everyone be slaughtered, even women and children?” “What purpose does it serve that Abraham is called by God to sacrifice his only son?” “Why is Jesus so mean to his mother at that wedding in Cana?” “Did Paul really say that women shouldn’t be allowed to speak in church?” These questions, among many others, can be difficult to deal with, but let me tell you: those moments of fear and doubt will be opportunities for growth if you stick with it and finish reading the whole Bible. The arc of salvation history moves from the Fall of Adam and Eve to the Flood of Noah to God’s choosing of Abram and Sarai as the parents of Israel to the anointing of King David’s royal line to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the development of the early Church to the coming of the New Jerusalem. While the individual stories aren’t always what we’d expect them to be, the Story is Good News. And often, even in the most confusing story, there is meaning that is deep and rich and leads us to the Kingdom.
Take, for example, our reading from the Prophet Hosea this morning. The life of a prophet is not an easy one. Isaiah walked around naked for three years. Ezekiel lay on his left side for 390 days. But I think Hosea got the worst deal of all. Our lesson begins at chapter one, verse two. Right at the outset of the Hosea story, we hear these words from God to his prophet, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom…” As just about every commentary I read this week said in one way or another, “These passages raise a considerable number of exegetical problems.” (Ya Think!?!?) This is hard stuff, in part, because our context is so different than 8th century BC Israel. It isn’t helped by our language, which misses important meanings to some words. Let’s deal with that word that __________________ had to read for us this morning: “whoredom.”
Looking back at the verse, God doesn’t command Hosea to marry any run of the mill “wife of whoredom,” but instead he marries one of the cultic prostitutes, one of the women who *ahem* helped men worship the fertility god, Ba’al. The LORD commanded him to marry Gomer, Hosea tells us, because Israel has been unfaithful by offering sacrifices to Ba’al in the Temples of the LORD, and through the pain of Hosea, the LORD will show what that adultery feels like.
The story goes on, and Hosea and Gomer have three children, who God names very specific names. The first is a son named Jezreel, which means “God scatters seed” and is a play on the word “Israel.” The name, however, carries a much darker connotation as it is in the valley of Jezreel that God overthrew the unfaithful King Joram and his mother, Jezebel, was eaten by dogs. (I told you, this wasn’t a pleasant story). The second child, a daughter, is named Lo-ruhamah, which means “no compassion,” and is accompanied by a promise that God will neglect his chosen people. Finally, a third child, another son, named Lo-ammi, which means “not my people,” a direct reversal of the promises made by God to Moses, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.” This is a terrible nine year period for Hosea, and it serves as a precursor to bad things that are about to happen to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. What happens next is what happens every time a prophet announces judgment on the nation: bad news is immediately followed by a word of hope.
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and 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.” The people of Judah and the people of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head; and they shall take possession of the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. In that day you will call your brothers Ammi– ‘My people.’ And you will call your sisters Ruhamah– ‘The ones I love.’
Isreal will be redeemed. Even the sad, awful names of Hosea’s children will be restored: “for great shall be the day of Jezreel… In that day you will call your brothers Ammi – ‘my people’… You will call your sisters Ruhamah – ‘the ones I love.’”
Clearly, this is an awful way for God to teach this lesson, and I won’t pretend to know why God does and doesn’t do certain things, but the lesson remains, “Through God’s infinite mercy, he will reclaim as his own beloved people those who through their unfaithfulness, have lost all claims to being God’s own.” This morning, I give God thanks for those hard parts of the Bible, and encourage you to read them, deal with them, pray over them, and remember that God’s story is one of redemption and salvation for this world and the next. Amen.
 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology vol 2. p. 140.
 Exodus 6.7.
 Hosea 1.10-2.1.
 I forgot to cite this quote while I was writing, and didn’t have time to go back and find it.