By Pastor Jack Hartman
Scripture: Hosea 14:1-4,8-9
Text: 1Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall!
2Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously that we may offer the fruit of our lips. 3 Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” 4 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. 8 Ephraim, what more have I[c] to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.” 9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
Introduction: Because this is Mother’s Day when we focus on love, I want to share with you God’s love story. This is a true story that is recorded in the first three chapters of the book of Hosea. As we read in our text, Hosea declares that God will love his people freely. How did Hosea come to that conclusion? What does it mean that God will love his people freely? I will answer that question and use a three act play to do so.
Imagine that we are in a theater and this is the stage. As you take your seats, let me tell you what the stage looks like. On your right side is a kitchen area which has upper and lower cabinets as well as a sink with counters on each side of the sink. On the left side of this area is a hallway that leads to the front door. Along the back wall is a table sitting below a window that looks out over a meadow.
The lights are coming up, and the play is beginning. Entering from stage left is the main character Hosea. He does what he does every morning. He takes a coffee cup from the top cabinet and pours himself a hot cup of coffee. He has one of those automated coffee makers. We watch as he sets his coffee cup on the table and walks down the hall to the front door. He retrieves the newspaper from the front porch and returns to sit at the table.
As we watch him, we can see the contentment on his face. This is his favorite time of the day. He enjoys this time of reading the paper as he sips his coffee. But suddenly and unexpectantly his quiet time is interrupted with a loud voice of someone who calls his name. “Hosea!” He looks around but sees no one. Yet he can feel the presence of someone who is with him. The voice calls again, “Hosea!” He responds, “Who are you?” The loud voice proclaims, "I am your God. I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “What do you want with me?” Hosea counters.
“I have a message for you, and I want you to be obedient to what I tell you. I want you to go to the land of the unfaithful people and find a woman by the name of Gomer. She is living in sexual sin. I want you to declare your love for her, bring her home with you, and marry her.” Perplexed Hosea asks, “You want me to do what?” The voice persists, “I want you to go to the land of the unfaithful people and find a woman by the name of Gomer. She is living in sexual sin. I want you to declare your love for her, bring her home with you, and marry her. Now do as I say.” And then the voice and the presence of that voice was gone.
Can you see the look of consternation on Hosea’s face? Why should he go find someone he doesn’t know who is living in sexual sin and end up marrying her? That makes no sense to him at all. But as he ponders this, he can recall other times in his life when God had called him to do things he could not understand at the time, but when he followed God’s leading, everything always worked out right. Hosea decides to go to the land of the unfaithful people and find this woman named Gomer.
We watch as he washes his coffee cup and puts it away. He folds the newspaper and puts it away. Hosea is a guy who likes neatness, and everything must be put away where it belongs. We watch as he locks the front door and goes out the back door locking it. The last we see of him, he is walking across the meadow toward the land of the unfaithful people. The curtain falls and Act 1, Scene 1 ends.
You can probably hear the stage crew resetting the stage for Act 1, Scene 2. As the curtain rises, we are in a village with people mingling around. This is the land of the unfaithful people. As Hosea enters stage right, he has a puzzled look on his face. He has been asking himself the same question ever since he left home: How will he find Gomer? God never told him where to meet her or what she even looked like.
Hosea notices four women standing outside a shop talking with each other as women are prone to do. He gets their attention and asks them, “Do you know how I could find a woman by the name of Gomer?” You can tell by the look on the faces of the women that he has asked the wrong question to the wrong group of people. As they turn their backs on him, he hears one of the women state disgustedly, “It is bad enough that men in town are going to Gomer. Now they are coming to her from out of town!”
Hosea keeps moving through the village until he comes upon four men digging a hole in the street. Well, one man is working while the other three are just leaning on their shovels as men are prone to do. He interrupts their conversation to ask them if they know where he can find Gomer.
“You too?” They ask with smirks on their faces. Hosea responds, “Please just tell me where I can find her.” They finally relent their joking as one of the men gives him directions: “Go down two blocks, turn left, and it will be the last building on the right.” As he walks away, you can hear them as they call out to him, “Have fun!”
Hosea follows their directions. As he enters the building, he still cannot figure out how he can know which woman Gomer is. As he looks around, his eyes suddenly fall on a woman in the back of the room. He tries to look at the other women, but his eyes keep coming back to her. Then he notices something strange happening to him. His hands are sweating, and his heart rate has increased. He has butterflies in his stomach. What is really strange is that he feels like love is rising up in him for this woman from whom he cannot remove his eyes.
About then he notices that music is playing. In fact, you might know the song,
“Some enchanted evening you will meet a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know ….. “ Hosea is convinced that this has to be Gomer. He finally gets the courage to walk up to her and asks, “Would you be Gomer?” “Yes, I am? Who are you?” she replies. “Hosea,” he states. With a look that melts his heart, she asks, “What can I do for you, Hosea?”
“It is not what you can do for me,” he counteres; “It is what I want to do for you. To hear this, I think we both better sit down.” Hosea tries his best to put it into words, how God had come to him and what God wanted him to do. He told her how he had found her including how he felt love rising up in him when he first saw her and knew it was her without any hesitation. “Gomer,” he says, “I do want you to come back home with me. We will build a relationship that will be good for both of us. I want to have an honest, loving relationship with you that will last all of our lives. Please come with me.”
Gomer is stunned and almost speechless. All that men had ever wanted from her was the sexual favor that lasted a brief time. But now, this was an offer for an authentic relationship for a life time. This is what she had dreamed would one day happen. Her mind, spinning faster than she ever imagined, she asks within herself, “Could this be the day? Is this the one?” When she looks back into Hosea’s eyes, she knows this is the day; this is the one. Almost whispering with tears in her eyes, she says, “Yes! Let’s do it.” We watch now as they make their way through the village. The last we see of them, they are crossing the meadow that leads back to Hosea’s home. The curtain falls and Act 1, Scene 2 ends.
While they are setting the stage for Act 2, I want to discuss with you what you have seen and heard. In fact, you and I are one of the two people in this play. Have you figured out if you are represented by Hosea or Gomer? In case you are not sure, let me tell you, you are not Hosea. In this play we are Gomer. Just as Hosea went searching for Gomer, God came searching for us. We only have a relationship with God, because he came looking and found us. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “He (God) loved us before we loved him.” I think you can change the verb in this text and stay true to the text. He thought of us before we thought of him. He believed in us before we believed in him. He wanted a relationship with us before we wanted a relationship with him. Just as Hosea went looking for Gomer to offer her an authentic relationship with him, God has come looking for us to offer us a relationship with himself.
The stage is now reset for Act 2. As the curtain rises, we are back in Hosea and Gomer’s home. They have been married for some time now. It is early morning when Hosea gets his coffee and newspaper. But as he does so, he discovers a piece of paper lying on the table. I told you he is a neat person who wants everything in its place. He knows that piece of paper was not on the table when he went to bed. We watch as he picks it up and begins to read the words on the page. His hands begin to shake. His breathing is heavy. His whole body begins to shake as tears fill his eyes. He wads up the paper and throws it – not so much against the emptiness of space – as against the emptiness of his whole being.
After staring at the note for some time, he picks it up and tries to press out the wrinkles as if that would straighten out the message in the note. He begins to read the note again. “Dear Hosea: I am sorry. There is something I wanted to tell you for some time, but just could not find the right time or the right words. I have felt the call to return to my old way of life, so I packed up after you were asleep and left in the middle of the night. You are a great man, Hosea … too good for me. I am so sorry. Signed, Gomer.”
The curtain falls and Act 2 ends. While they are resetting the stage, let’s talk about what just happened. I don’t know about you, but there is something in me that would like to get ahold of Gomer and just shake the life out of her … or maybe shake some life into her. What would motivate her to leave the only authentic love she has known? But before we become too critical of Gomer, we need to heed the admonition of Jesus: “Don’t worry about the speck in someone else’s eye without looking at the log in your own.”
Isn’t it true that often we are not as faithful to God as we would like to be? There are times we resist doing what God wants us to do or keep doing what we know we should not be doing. We hold grudges, we refuse to forgive someone, we hurt the ones we love the most. You know how you are. We are all that way. It is the human condition.
The prophet Isaiah put it this way. “We are all sheep and have gone astray. We have all turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) Do you remember the nursery rhyme “Little Bow Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them.” What is she supposed to do? “Leave them alone, and they will come home wagging their tails behind them.” That is a lie. People who know sheep better than I do, say lost sheep never find their way home. That is the exactly the point Isaiah is making. When we lose our way with God, it is difficult for us to find our way back to Him.
The Apostle Paul put it this way. When push comes to shove, the things I know I should not be doing, I just keep doing them. The things I know I should be doing, I never get around to doing them.” (Romans 7:14-20), He ends by proclaiming, “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me?” (Romans 7:24)
That is an important question to ask. Johnathan Edwards dealt with this question in a classic sermon he preached that was entitled, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” I do not even like the title of the sermon. Here is his point: God is so upset with the likes of us that He is holding the world over the flames of hell with a thin thread and is wondering if he should still hold on or let go. If you were God, what would you do?
The answer is in Act 3 which is the final act. As the curtain opens, we are back in the kitchen area of Hosea’s home. It is that early part of the day. Hosea does what he always does. He gets his coffee, retrieves the newspaper, and sits at the table. We can tell by his mannerism that he cannot concentrate. This is no longer the serene time in his daily life. He throws down the paper on the table and rises to pace back and forth. Do you know why he is unable to concentrate and is pacing back and forth? He misses Gomer more than you can imagine. Every day since she left he has been wondering what he could do to get her back. He still loves her!
Then the unexpected voice and the presence of the voice calls his name, “Hosea.” He knows that voice and knows who is calling to him. He stubbornly refuses to answer. The voice persists in calling his name. Finally, Hosea answers angrily, What?” The voice says, “I am the God …” Hosea interrupts, ‘I know who you are.” “God states, “Hosea, I have a plan for you.” “No thanks!” Hosea quickly responds. “Be quiet and listen to me,” the voice counters. “I want you to go back to the land of the unfaithful people and declare again your love to Gomer and bring her back home with you.” Hosea is quick to respond, “No way, Jose.” God counters, “There is a way, Hosea. Do what I tell you to do this day,” Then the voice and presence of the voice is gone.
Hosea is asking himself perhaps the question you are asking yourself. Why should he go seek Gomer? She was the one who left! But as Hosea contemplates what God has said, he realizes that it is what he should do. Ever since she left, he has been wondering what he could do to get her back. Against all the odds, Hosea closes up the house and starts for the land of the unfaithful people. The last we see of him is through the kitchen window as he walks across the meadow to the land of the unfaithful people. The curtain falls and Act 3, Scene 1 has ended.
The stage crew has reset the stage and now we are back in the village of the unfaithful people. As Hosea has made his way to the village, he has been asking how he will find Gomer again. As he makes his way through the village, the same women are standing outside the store and are talking with each other. He decides, based on his previous experience, not to ask them anything. As he journeys on into the village, he comes upon the men digging a hole – except now all of them are leaning on their shovels.
He interrupts their conversation and asks them where he can find a woman by the name of Gomer. One of the men recognizes Hosea. “You were here some time ago, weren’t you?” “Yes,” Hosea sheepishly replies. “I need to find her again.” After teasing Hosea a bit, he is told where he can find Gomer. It is a different place, but he makes his way to where she is.
As he enters the room, Hosea immediately sees Gomer in the back of the room with her back towards him. Suddenly he has the same experience as the first time he saw Gomer. His hands are sweating, and his heart rate has increased. He has butterflies in his stomach. He knows how much he still loves her regardless of what has happened. Then he hears the music playing; it is the same song. Do you remember how that song ends? “Once you have found her, never let her go.”
Finally he makes his way to her and taps her on the shoulder. As she turns to see who it is, she exclaims, “Hosea, what in God’s name are you doing here?” “Gomer,” he states, “I am here in God’s name. God helped me to understand how much I still love you. I have come to take you home with me.” Gomer cannot believe what he just said. How could he still love her after leaving him suddenly in the middle of the night? She cannot even look at him because she is so ashamed.
Hosea takes her head in his hands and lifts her face so that they are seeing eye to eye. “Why,” he asks, “is it so difficult for you to understand how I love you so much. I have loved you from the moment I first laid my eyes on you. Please, come back home with me. I love you so much!”
“Oh, Hosea,” she explains. “I knew I had made a mistake when I got back here. I have never stopped thinking about you. I have been telling myself to forget about you and move on. Hosea gently places his hand over her mouth so she cannot speak a word. “Please,” he pleads. “Let’s go home and start over. All is forgiven. Are you willing?” “O, yes!”, she says with total relief. “That is what I want also. Let’s go – now!”
But as they get ready to leave, a man shouts out, “Gomer, where are you going?” “Home with my Husband where I should have been all the time,” Gomer explains. “Not so fast, young lady. When you came back, you became my property the man demands.” “How much will it take for me to buy her back?” Hosea confidently asks. “I need fifteen pieces of silver, a bushel of barley, and a flask of wine,” the man contends. Hosea leaves them, and before long, he is back and has made arrangements to pay the man exactly what he asked.
We watch as Hosea and Gomer leave the village. The last we see of them is when they are heading across the meadow back to their home. The curtain falls, and the play ends.
Does what Hosea did to get Gomer back sound like what Jesus did to bring us back to God? Except that it cost Jesus more than silver, barley, or wine. It cost him his life to declare to us that God still wants an authentic relationship with us. The Apostle Paul was right when he wrote, “You have been bought with a price.” (I Corinthians 6:20)
G.K. Chesterton, one of the great and original Christian writers, was also one of the most absent-minded of men. He had difficulty in keeping his dates straight, and he never could remember the schedule of a lecture tour. A friend one time received a wire, that said, "Am I coming to you tonight, or what?" The friend had replied, "Not this Tuesday but next Wednesday." But perhaps the most famous case of his confusion was this telegram he sent to his wife, "Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" She replied, "Home," because, as she said later, it was easier to get him home and start him off again on the right track than to tell him how to get where he ought to be from where he was.
So it is with us. God’s invitation to us is to come home to him and start over again. Jesus welcomes you home. Jesus welcomes all of us home. Amen.
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