A Reading from the Book of Hosea (1:2-10)
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” 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.”
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians (2:6-15)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (11:1-13)
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
For the first month and one-half of the summer, our first readings were taken from First and Second Kings, describing the lives and ministries of the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. The past two weeks, we heard selections from the first of the “writing prophets,” namely Amos, with his stern message of divine judgment on Israel because of the growing gap between the few rich and the many poor. Today and next Sunday, we have the opportunity to listen to the words of Hosea.
Hosea was a contemporary of Amos; yet their personalities, and so their prophetic writings, show marked contrasts with each other. The great 20th-century scholar, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, has compared the two this way: “Amos dwells on what God has done… Hosea dwells on what God has felt for Israel” (The Prophets, page 60). In many ways, Hosea’s words have the power to touch us at a deeper level than those of any other prophet.
Maybe the reason for that is that Hosea not only knew what God had experienced in the unfaithfulness of Israel; he had experienced it, he had felt it himself. As the story opens, Hosea finds himself married to a woman who is repeatedly unfaithful to him. He is deeply hurt; he is crushed; he is angry. His first reaction is to throw her out of his life and have nothing else to do with her, so deeply has she hurt him. But he just can’t do it. Despite everything that has happened, despite everything that she has done, he still loves her. And so he forgives her and he takes her back once again.
With the passage of time, Hosea realizes that God has gone through the same experience. God’s wife, Israel, has repeatedly been unfaithful as well. God’s first reaction was one of judgment: Israel would have to be destroyed. But God could not let it end that way. Because God is God, God still forgives. God still loves. And God still will enable Israel to live again.
That theme of forgiveness seems to permeate today’s readings. Psalm 85 speaks of the God who has forgiven God’s people. The letter to the Colossians speaks of the God who has forgiven us, nailing the record of our offenses to the cross. And Jesus, in his most famous prayer, asks that God forgive us “our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” But do we? Do we forgive everyone indebted to us, just as Hosea forgave? Do we forgive, just as God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us?
Sadly, that happens all too infrequently. But when it doesn’t, when we refuse to forgive, the person we most often hurt is our self.
I have seen it far too many times to count. Maybe you have, too. People have been hurt, and they hold onto that experience year after year, refusing to let it go. They hold a grudge. And, as long as they do, they see their fundamental identity as that of victim. In doing so, they make themselves, not only the casualty of whatever someone else may have done to them or said to them long ago; but they are also the casualty of their own unwillingness to forgive. They live their lives in a prison of their own making.
American theologian Lewis Smedes, once observed (Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurt We Don’t Deserve”): “The only way to heal the pain that will not heal itself is to forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiving stops the reruns of pain. Forgiving heals your memory as you change your memory’s vision. When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself. Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. [God] began by forgiving us. And [God] invites us to forgive each other.”
That’s sometimes easier said than done. It’s sometimes hard to forgive. We see that fact, not only in our individual lives, but in the life of our society as well. In the face of clear injustice, people often cry that “justice must be done.” The problem is that, all too often, what they really mean by “justice” is “revenge.” It does not necessarily have anything to do with what is just, with what accords with legal or ethical principles. It is nothing more than retaliation, vengeance. “That person hurt me, so I want to hurt them more.” That distorted notion of “justice” accomplishes nothing but lowering us to the level of the one who has hurt us.
It is only when we cannot get the revenge that we really want that we turn, as a sort of “Plan B, to forgiveness. “Since nothing else has worked, I’m going to try forgiveness, sort of as a last resort.” But Samuel Wells reminds us (“Forgiving Ahab,” The Christian Century, April 17, 2013) that, when we take that approach, we have it all backwards. “Forgiveness shouldn’t be the last thing Christians have to say in the face of injustice. It should be the first thing. Forgiveness says, ‘You can hurt me, but you can’t take away my allegiance to Christ. You can be cruel to me, but you can’t make me become like you. You can crush me, but you can’t put yourself outside the mercy of God.’ …Forgiveness is the justice of God.”
It is that forgiving justice that God exercised time and time again with the people of Israel. It was that forgiving justice that God extended to all the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is to that forgiving justice that God calls us
Granting that forgiveness to others is not easy. We need the strength and wisdom of the Spirit of God in order to do it. But then, as Jesus reminds us in our gospel reading, all we have to do to receive that greatest of all gifts is to ask. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” The Spirit of God in whom we are forgiven can enable us to forgive as well. And in forgiveness, we can find healing. In forgiveness, we can find the justice of God.