The Epsicopal church provides a format for daily prayer. In Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer there are psalms assigned to be read (prayerfully) and three additional readings from the bible. Today one of the readings is from Hosea. He is a prophet of Israel who lived around 750BC. He is best known for marrying a woman who turned to harlotry and then calling her back to be his wife. His own life served as an image of God's relationship with Israel. It is a tragic story of pain and love.
One of the most stunning features of the Bible is the amount of negative material it contains about Christians and Jews-the very source of the material. In the New Testament the apostles (the eye witnesses who tell the stories about Jesus) are frequently portrayed as dense and unfaithful. However, the Old Testament is even more radically honest. The prohets, for example, are relentless in pointing out the sins and foibles of the Jewish people. And, to their credit, the Jewish people recorded these words and saved them. In chapter 10 of Hosea, which I read this morning in my prayer time, Hosea says of Israel "Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased the more altars he built..." The altars, unfortunately, were for other gods. Israel did not stay focused on worshipping the One God who had blessed her. Israel, says Hosea (speaking for GOD!) is producing fruit, but the fruits have led her astray. In a simple declaration, Hosea continues in verse 2 "Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt." Judgment. A time of reckoning.
As different as America 2010 is from ancient Israel, it is easy to see the parallels. Abundance has not produced justice and peace or true worship in our land either. The warning of the prophet is relevant today. We are on a journey together and our choices today will impact what happens tomorrow. If we are false then we will bear the guilt. As I look at the fruits of my life I am distressed by how often the abundance produces greed. I want more. It also produces worry. I don't want to lose what I have. Thankfully, by God's mercy at other times I am greatful. I try to focus in prayer on praise and thanks. I seek to be God focused. The God revealed in the Old Testament. Today's reading, full of threat and judgment, ends with verse 12 and a word of hope. Hosea tells us that God says, "for it is time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you." This is also judgment. A declaration that those who seek God will be caught up in the refreshing rain of His "Justice-doing." He will raise up the lowly and cast down the mighty. Better days are coming for those who seek Him. This is our hope. Some critics would mock such hope and label it wishful thinking and a fantasy. Perhaps. But how then to make sense of those other verses, the message of challenge and threat with a demand for conversion? How is it that the word of God is as likely to produce guilt or fear as hope and joy?
To me there is something that rings true in this word. There is something authentic in the Jewish faith and by extension through Jesus in the Christian faith. The words produce as many questions as answers. That is why reading and praying on them every day is so vital. So today, it is time to seek the Lord!