Letters from Home – part 4

Scripture Text: Hosea 2:19

Guest Speaker: Matt Goodale, Whitworth Fellow to 1st Presbyterian

GoI am very glad for the chance to share God’s word and what He’s been teaching me through it with you all this morning. Let me begin us in prayer. Pray.

So this morning, as Craig read earlier, we’re looking at a short passage from the book of Hosea. For many of you who have been here the past few weeks, we’ve been going through the different sections and divisions Scripture, pulling one passage from each section to dive deeper into our Love1st mission as a church and see what truths Scripture has to offer us about God’s love. We’ve already gone through passages from the Torah, the History books and the Wisdom books and we’re now in the last Old Testament section known as the Books of Prophecy or the Prophetic Books. There are 17 books in total in this section so I won’t list them all, but if you opened up your Bible, they range from the book of Isaiah to Malachi. There are some strange ones in there like Obadiah and Habakkuk. I don’t even think I had heard of Obadiah until I got to high school, but that’s probably because it takes up half a page in the Old Testament – I guess he was just a very concise writer.

As you could guess, these books were all written by prophets who were chosen by God to deliver a message to his people. In most cases this was a message about their impending judgment and destruction if they didn’t turn back to God and repent from all the idolatrous practices and gods they had adopted.

And this is exactly what the book of Hosea is: it’s a warning from God to the Israelites about the destruction that awaits them because of how they’ve prostituted themselves to other gods. Now I’ve used this language very intentionally, because the theme of Israel prostituting itself to

other gods is woven throughout the book and is used as a metaphor for their unfaithfulness towards the covenant they had with God. In fact, the book was written by a prophet who himself was married to a prostitute who was unfaithful to him in their marriage.

Now the strangest part about this book is that the reason Hosea is married to a prostitute is because God told him to be. God told Hosea to faithfully commit himself to a woman who would again and again prove herself to be unfaithful to him. As you read this book, you’ve gotta wonder, what’s going on in Hosea’s head: I’m sure he originally was poking around on Hebrewjoblistings.com and found that God had an open prophet position so naturally he signed up. And to his horror, the first day of work, he shows up and God tells him: “I’m sorry, but I forgot to include under my job requirements on Hebrewjoblistings.com that you’ll need a prostitute for a wife.” I can imagine Hosea thinking to himself: Umm, ok God, I don’t think this is the job I signed up for.

But we do see that Hosea faithfully listens to God and he faithfully marries a woman named Gomer, who continues her life of prostitution throughout their marriage. And this actually does turn into a beautiful love story of redemption which ultimately mirrors God’s promised plan of redemption for his people, the Israelites. More than just the theme of impending judgment, this is what the book of Hosea is about: God’s faithfulness to his people, us included, even in the midst of our blatant unfaithfulness.

Even as Hosea first married Gomer, it’s possible that he thought: even though her past isn’t that great, God has brought us together so our future must be full of happiness and delight. Maybe he had something from Song of Solomon in mind. But he was mistaken. Hosea was probably hoping for a clean and comfortable life/marriage, but God had different plans for him. Hosea had a life laid out for him by God that continually resulted in him having to enter into the messiness and woundedness of his wife’s life in order to faithfully love her. And this is where our passage is pulled from today:

“I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” This is a promise that Hosea makes to his wife, Gomer. And a promise that God makes to his people. So we can see that the effectiveness of Hosea’s message

is strengthened through his similar experience of woundedness and betrayal. He had a stake in God’s message and is not simply a bystander.

So what do we learn about God’s love from this passage? We learn that God is willing to enter into the messiness of our humanity and to begin healing us there: this is the example of love set for us. God doesn’t betroth himself to Israel and us in order to just let us continue sitting in our cesspools of sin and brokenness with our wounds continually stinking and rotting. In Hosea, God exhorts the Israelites to turn away from prostituting themselves to other gods because it opens them to more and more rotting wounds. Hosea also pleads the same of his wife: that she would return home to him and not throw her life away to all the other men who simply desire to use her. Hosea desires healing for his wife. And God desires healing for the Israelites and us. God isn’t willing to leave us as we are and love us from a distance. He enters into our woundedness and he heals us there. This is his promise to us. He enters into our insecurities, our lack of self-esteem, our depression, our disappointment, our shame, our [fill in the blank]. He meets us at the place of our woundedness because true, committed love isn’t afraid of entering into wounds and isn’t satisfied with anything less than redemption and healing. God desires the redemption of his people. He desires to unbandage our rotting, stinking wounds and heal us by pouring cool, fresh and living water on them.

But how does God enter into our woundedness? He sent his Son, Jesus, to become human and share the same wounds that all of humanity has suffered from since the beginning of time. In Philippians, Paul writes: “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” God wasn’t content to leave us alone in our wounds. He came to share in our wounds so he can relate, so that he can cry with us, suffer with us and most of all so he can offer us hope that one day the bandages will come off and our wounds will be fully healed. We worship a God who redeems us and offers us hope at the very place we need it.

In a new song that Switchfoot just released, part of the lyrics of the chorus read: Your wounds are where the light shines through. And this is the heart of the Gospel that we see over and

over again in Scripture: the Gospel is where our woundedness/brokenness intersects with God’s grace. The “Good News” is that we have a healer so committed to loving us that he is willing to enter into our wounds and heal us from there. So we have hope in the midst of our wounds. In our woundedness we recognize our need for a Savior. Only when we acknowledge our wounds, our inadequacy to live a joy-filled, full life on our own, do we recognize our need for God and for his saving grace through Jesus Christ. In the Bible this is called repentance.

I’ve had a few people come up to me lately and ask: Matt, where is God in the midst of all the chaos, the senseless killing and violence and utter hatred that we’ve seen in the news from across the world over the last month. I usually haven’t known how to respond to this other than to say: Yeah, sometimes I wonder the same thing. But after diving into this book of Hosea, God has since turned on a little lightbulb in my head. Where is God when our hearts break for the lives lost and the pain caused? Where is he when the families of lost loved ones mourn and can’t comprehend how someone could do something so awful?

The answer that we see here in the book of Hosea: God is right in the middle of the pain, suffering the same wounds, the same broken heart, the same tears. He doesn’t look on from a distance and wait to come back while we suffer and mourn alone. No, he became human so that he can suffer and mourn with us because he is a God who deeply cares about us and has betrothed himself to us. The wounds of our world are where the light shines through. So have hope. We worship a God who redeems and who has promised redemption for his people and for his world. Redemption begins at the place where the wounds are.

So what does all of this mean then for the way we choose to live our lives? It means that the example has been set. We know that God calls us to love one another and he has modeled for us what this love looks like. He has shown us how love heals. Love meets people in their woundedness and that’s where the healing begins.

We see this in Hosea. In chapter 3, God calls Hosea to go into the slave market to purchase back his beloved bride. Hosea subjects himself to embarrassment and ridicule from those around him who were astonished that he’d still choose to rescue his wife who had left and prostituted herself to countless other men. And Hosea faithfully subjected himself to the pain of loving someone so deeply who doesn’t always love him in return. He went into the mess where she was and showed her how much she is still cared for despite her wounds. We’re called to do the

same. We’re called to enter into the wounds and messiness of those around us who are hurting because this is what Christ did and continually does for us. Now, what does this look like?

As humans I think we have three common reactions to woundedness.

The first is to retreat or hide from it. Oftentimes, this is the comfortable and easy way out. Lately I’ve found myself drifting into this category as I continue to see news story after news story about such senseless killing. It becomes easy to grow numb to it and then I don’t have to hurt as much. I’m sure some of you can relate to this feeling. But God didn’t send his Son into this world so that I can enjoy my comfortable and easy life, free from having to share in the pain of others. God has already begun his plan of redemption and we’re part of it. Just as God has entered into my woundedness and your woundedness, he inspires us and calls us to do the same.

The second most common response to encountering someone else’s woundedness is to put it on our own backs and try to fix it for them. I think this is admirable and we all do it with the best intentions, but we’re not God. We can’t fix them on our own and trying to fix them only feeds our own God-complex and strips them of the chance that they might encounter the true God who can actually heal them.

I do want to say a quick word on the difference between empathy and sympathy. An old mentor of mine gave me this advice; he said: As Christians we’re called to empathize with those around us. This means allowing ourselves to hurt with them; to allow ourselves a taste of their pain. As Christians we’re not called to sympathize with those around us. To sympathize means not only to allow ourselves to hurt with them, but to also try to take their burden upon our own shoulders. Only Christ can carry our burdens. That is not our job. Our job is to step out of our comfort zone and enter into someone else’s woundedness and pain, allowing ourselves to feel and grieve with them and to let them know that they’re cared for and to point them to who can truly heal them.

We see in this Hosea passage that God’s betrothal to us is completely dependent on him and not on us. He has betrothed himself to us on the basis of his righteousness, his justice, his steadfast love and his mercy. He made this promise even while the Israelites rejected him.

In a book titled, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen writes: “A Christian community is therefore a healing community, not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new hope. Mutual confession then becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and shared weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.” We enter into the messiness and wounds of others not because we think we can heal them, but because we know that is the place where God can heal them.

That brings us to a third response which I believe is the biblical response to woundedness: compassion. In the New Testament the Greek word for compassion is splagcna. It literally means: to feel it in your bowels/in the deepest parts of your being. Even the sound of the word connotes an inner guttural sound. This is what it means to have compassion. To allow ourselves to feel for someone and suffer the same hurt and pain as them at deepest parts of our being. It means letting our guard down and allowing our hearts to break for what also breaks God’s.

When I was in high school our youth group did a Sunday morning series on some of the social problems in Africa. Each week we would watch clips of starving children talk about their dreams to one day be able to provide food for their family or to give their siblings a good life. It broke my heart. So after the first week I decided to stop coming to youth group until the series was done. My youth group leader called me during the third week and asked me where I was because it was rare I didn’t go to youth group. I told him that the videos were too heart breaking, especially since there was nothing I could do for those kids. And you know what he told me: He said: Lean into what breaks your heart because that is where your feelings align with God’s. Allow those feelings to compel you to pray for those children even though you can’t physically help them. And finally, are there children in your neighborhood, or in this town or this church that need someone to truly care about them just as much as the children in those videos do?

This is the first step for us: to allow our hearts to break for our fellow men and women. And to let our broken hearts compel us to pray. Finally, start with one person around you, a family member, a friend, co-worker, someone sitting next to you in the pew, and commit to love them by entering into their woundedness. Even though you probably can’t help any of the police

officers in Dallas or Baton Rouge, do you know a police officer here in town that you can encourage or cook a meal for or just simply listen to.

Most of all, entering into someone’s woundedness means listening to them. There’s a missionary in FL by the name of Brian Clark and I’m going to close by reading you a Facebook post from him the day after the Orlando shooting a month ago.

“I just went. I had to get out of my suburban bubble and enter where the wounded were.

We live 29 minutes away from the second worst terrorist attack on American soil. For me going down to Ember the night after the attack, a gay bar in downtown Orlando where there was a candlelight vigil was needed.

Almost everyone I asked had a friend in the hospital or lost a friend. There were no answers just people there for each other. Many were in shock, many just wanted to be around others that cared.

I spent two hours with Dean and Ora there and listening to their stories, hearing more about the LBGT community here in Orlando, and talking through how we have handled grief. I did a lot of listening.

We are good at giving advice but the hard work of grief, healing, and living for others in the big or small ways we can is hard work and often needs to modeled to us before we get it.

I often don’t go. I often have good intentions but business or routine prevail. Yet I have never regretted when I do enter a story where I can just listen and be the Kingdom of God.

I am friends with Dean and Ora on Facebook now. We influence one another by our lives and what we post and I am having them over for dinner when we get back in town after being gone all summer….just real life. One life at a time.”

Who is God calling you to listen to and allow your heart to break for?

We’re now going to spend a minute in silent prayer. This is a time for you to talk to God about a wound that you need healing from and to ask him to bring someone to mind who you can enter into their woundedness.




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