At first reading, the prophet Hosea and the Lord's Prayer have absolutely nothing in common. But I think we might be able to at least find that they make sense together.
At the time that the Lord began to prophesy to Israel through his servant Hosea, Israel was at war with Assyria. The inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom, were we able to ask them, would tell us that they were Jews, followers of Adonai, the one God. I am sure that the Shema - Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one - was uttered daily by all of these people. Not only did they proclaim God as Lord, they also kept all the feasts and sacrifices as prescribed by Moses.
The problem wasn't that they now considered themselves children of Baal or Astarte, it was that they were very comfortable being Jews. They had it in the back of their heads that the Lord was their God and the Lord would always be there for them, would always rescue Israel. This made them so comfortable that they promptly forgot everything else they knew about God and how they had been told that children of God behave. They used questionable ethics to get ahead - in business, in society, in government and foreign affairs. They believed in God but they trusted that they knew what was best for Israel and God was behind the times.
So God has Hosea act out his prophecy. "Go marry a prostitute, Hosea. For my people are prostituting themselves by forsaking me," says the Lord. "You will have children but they will be the product of prostitution, Hosea, because the children will be like their mother, selling themselves to the highest bidder to get what they think is happiness and security.
"Your first child will be a boy named Jezreel, named after the place where King Jehu slaughtered so many people, ostensibly in my name but in truth to avenge his ancestor Naboth. Your daughter will be named Lo ruhamah because Israel will get no pity from me this time. And the third child, another boy, will be named Lo-ammi. By this Israel will know that they are not my people and I am not their God.
"But in the days far ahead, the children of Israel will be more in number than the grains of sand on the seashore and in this very same place, I will call Not My People the Sons of the Living God."
It couldn't have been easy for Hosea to marry a prostitute. Gomer was probably a temple prostitute, one who was part of the fertility rites of the local gods. Everyone knew who and what she was. Having her in his house, walking down the street with her, raising her ill-gotten children would have been an awful embarrassment, bringing shame on Hosea and his extended family. But he obeyed the Lord and married this most unsuitable woman, letting everyone know that Gomer is a symbol of how they treat the Lord.
The United States has always considered itself to be a Christian nation, one nation under God. Europe is the cradle of Western Christianity and yet the consensus today is that Christianity is dead in Europe. That is certainly a generalization; however, consider this story. My sister Beverly was in Sweden for Easter one year. At a dinner on Easter Eve, someone asked her what she was going to do the next day. Bev said she was going to go to church. "Why?" her companion asked.
Nor can we honestly say that the United States is a Christian nation. Besides the fact that we have become a haven for many faith traditions - a very good thing and one that is part of our charge from God to welcome the stranger - we seem to be Christian like Hosea's Israel was Jewish. We believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit but can't seem to translate that into daily living. We would rather trust ourselves or those we have chosen to lead us.
And so we come to the Lord's Prayer, probably one of the first things we ever memorized, somewhere around the tender age of three. It is as much a part of us as the Shema was a part of Hosea's Israel. We can all say it at the drop of a hat and with just about that much thought. Hear again Luke's version:
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.
If we stop and listen to what we are praying, we may well be brought up short. This is not something to be rattled off. It is a prayer we say boldly, with the conviction that God hears us.
Father, hallowed be your name. There is no one or no thing greater than you, Lord. You are the beginning and end and in you we live and move and have our being. I trust you.
Your kingdom come. I will not spend my life raising up my own kingdom, God. I will look to you for guidance and direction so that your kingdom may thrive and that I may live there.
Give us each day our daily bread. I'm not asking for more than I need or deserve. I trust that you will help me find what I need and what my family need. I will not be greedy.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. I know, Lord, that I have sinned against you either by what I have done or what I have not done. Others have sinned against me and they are indebted to me for forgiveness. Some have even asked me to forgive them and I know that I need to do that. Maybe if I remember that I am indebted to you for forgiveness, I will remember to forgive them.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. Please, Lord, do not try my faith. For I know I will be found lacking even though I strive to be righteous.
This is but one interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. It isn't perfect or the only way to interpret what Jesus told us to pray. The key is to go beyond these few short sentences, this small collection of words, and pray it as if all of life hinged on God's answer.
Because it does.If we continue to pay lip service rather than taking God as the center of our lives from whom everything flows, we will end up like Israel did. Defeated, killed, removed from the land.
We are here because we know this to be true. We understand that the Lord expects us to be serious about being faithful children of God, that the Lord desires nothing more than to be in loving communion with us. And so we pray boldly not just for ourselves but to call upon the Lord to be present with us even when we are afraid, full of sin and anger and greed. We turn to the Lord because there is simply no one, no where else to turn. We live in God and with God and act through God.
Because the Lord did not abandon the people of Israel. God allowed their decisions to form their destruction but when they saw how wrong they were, God restored them and called them Sons of the Living God. We are the inheritors, through Christ, of the land, called Children of God forever. The Lord is our God, the Lord is one and to the Lord be all the power and the glory. Amen.