We find ourselves this week with another reading from Hosea. Since we had so much fun working through Hosea 1 last Sunday, I thought we would look at Hosea 11, the last chapter of the book of the prophet of the same name. Head count, how many of you were here last week? I’ll offer a quick recap from last week. In Hosea 1 we wrestled with the way in which the text depicts Gomer, the woman Hosea is asked to take as his promiscuous wife, even though Gomer is never given a say in the matter. Gomer is not given any voice in the text and her children are first given names of curses. This is a text that gives evidence to the ways in which women are treated as lesser than, texts that have propped up misogyny from the Ancient world until today. And yet in the same text we saw the reversal that takes place in which God chooses Gomer to be the person through which God redeems God’s people. Gomer’s childrens’ names are changed to reflect blessing. We discovered that we can retell Biblical stories in which voiceless women become the centre. The voiceless take an active role of delivering God’s redemption to a broken world and they themselves become whole and elevated in their stature in the cosmic story.
This week in Hosea 11 we continue this roller coast ride, building upon the heavy lifting from last week. On the far side of this book of the prophet Hosea, we read about the relationship between God and God’s people depicted as family. God is the parent, both growing angry with a disobedient child, while reluctant to cut off the child and leave it to its own devices. Thinking about the relationships we have with our own parents or children, for whom this applies, the family metaphor can be fraught. There are plenty of folks who have strained or even abusive relationships with family, so this is a perennial shortcoming of the metaphor depicting God as parent delivering what is often depicted as tough love. For folks who have experienced abuse there may be no redeeming of this image. We cannot simply say, God is the parent you wished you had, or a similar gloss. We need to name the pain people experience and recognize not every metaphor works for everyone’s situation.
Divine Anger giving way to Grace
One dynamic worth exploring with the family metaphor is the depiction of God as angry parent. There is a lot of baggage that comes with the image of an angry God and the ways in which this has been used by church in order to manipulate and coerce people into fearing God’s anger and wrath.
Lutheran theology helps us here balancing the image of an angry God with an theology of overpowering grace. The takeaway in Hosea is that no matter God’s anger and disappointment with human creation, grace and love prevails. And not in a Jekyll and Hyde kind of way, which we would describe as an abusive relationship. Not a God flying into a drunken rage, striking us, and then in the morning bringing us flowers to make up. That is an unhealthy, abusive image that has no place in church. There is nothing redemptive in the image of a God who flies off the handle with a bad temper. But rather Martin Luther talked about the overpowering role grace plays in the Biblical text, both in Hebrew scripture and the New Testament. Again, not an angry God in Hebrew Scripture and a grace-filled God in the New Testament, but rather the same God throughout whose grace and love are greater than anger and disappointment.
Luther’s genius was in part rescuing an image of a hellfire God and restoring a theology of grace. In many ways this still applies today. We need more grace than ever before. For many people a wrathful God has been replaced by a secularized version of a wrathful economy and political landscape. We are told that unseen forces have determined it is necessary that some people are blessed with riches, while others struggle day to day with basic survival. We’re told that’s just the way it is and you only need to look at the comments section on an on-line article in the Times Colonist or Saanich News to see this confirmed. Anytime there is the slightest hint that the poor or homeless are being helped in any way, people lash out with complaints about taxes, about people not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, these people are to blame for their own situations, etc. In an increasingly secularized world we have replaced the image of a wrathful God with that of an agentless but nevertheless wrathful economic system. And largely this is accepted as “the way the world works” without too much questioning.
As Christians and particularly as Lutherans we are in a unique position to proclaim a gospel of grace because no one else is offering this. If people ask “but isn’t God angry?” We can talk about Jesus’ anger at powers and principalities that crush people and erode their sense of self-worth. People who are taught they are worthless because they didn’t grow up with the privilege of being white and middle class. We can proclaim a gospel of grace in a world that applies the cold gaze of economic judgment. And it’s hard for people to escape that sense of judgment because Victoria is a place with ample evidence of material success. There are beautiful neighbourhoods, yachts in the harbour, and evidence of a life of privilege. It is hard to reconcile this image with that of neighbours pushing around shopping carts and jerry-rigged bicycles full of Canadian Tire camping gear. This past week a homeless person knocked at our door asking if we had any painting needing done and politely asked if they could go through our recycling bins placed on the curb.
So yes, let’s talk about divine anger in the face of injustice. This is the same God who is battling evil in the world that is incarnated in powers and principalities that embody inequality and injustice. We have struggled identifying evil as modern Christians because evil often operates quietly and doesn’t want us to see its face. It would rather have us blithely accept that injustice is just a fact of nature that cannot be overturned or challenged. But there are faces because it takes real people to keep systems of injustice in place.
Feminizing and Queering of God
Given that Hosea is comfortable depicting God using metaphor, we recognize there is no one right image of God. Hosea explores multiple metaphors, including that of a lion ferociously protecting animals under its care.
This openness to depicting different images of God, reminds us that we are free to imagine contemporary images as well. What does it look like depicting feminist and queer images of God? To be sure this is neither a radical nor new question for me to be asking. Theologians and artists have been exploring these questions for a long time, going back to Medieval mystics and beyond.
We know that God is beyond gender. And yet we have become fixated on depicting God as male much of the time. As a friend in Virginia likes to ask, “Does God have a penis? If not, then God is not male.” When Hosea compares God to a lion, we know God is not literally a lion. So why the fixation on using male adjectives and identities for God considering the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
What does it look like when we adopt female and queer images of God? Even the incarnation is not by definition male. Jesus’ salvific power does not come from being a man but by being fully divine and fully human. Jesus has no problem offering salvation to every body in the body of Christ, including every gender expression imaginable. The same God that is the Alpha and Omega is not limited or defined by genitalia or gender.
I think about a recent social media post from Pr. Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum, pastor at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Edmonton. She was sharing about an event in the US this weekend which marked the first time the African Descent Lutheran Association gathered together with Proclaim, representing queer Lutheran rostered leaders. While this may not seem like a big deal on the face of it, this kind of gathering represents the kinds of converging of the body of Christ we need to work towards. In order to begin imagining different images of God we need to create opportunities for the full diversity of the body of Christ to gather together to create liturgy, prayer, song, and theology. Bringing people together leads to the kinds of changes we desire and need as church.
While serving as a pastor in Virginia I remember it was a big deal for predominantly white churches working together with predominantly African American churches. For the most part this never happened apart from civic gatherings. In the Victoria context this may look different. What are church bodies that look different from us that we can be working together with? I don’t have the answer offhand. I do know we have opportunities with interfaith partnerships, thinking about working together with local Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs to name a few possibilities. We are already working with some of these folks at University of Victoria through Multifaith Services and can build upon these relationships. I think also about showing up to events organized by indigenous peoples and supporting their events.
I think there are opportunities among Lutherans as well, thinking about Pr. Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum in Edmonton, Pr. Carolina Glauster in North Vancouver, representing queer leaders. There are Pr. Aneeta at St. Mary’s in Metchosin and Pr. Emmanuel Aristide in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan, among the few Lutheran pastors of colour in Canada. And there are several others with whom we can build a more inclusive church.
Pr. Jorgensen-Skakum shared the following takeaways about a racism training organized by a group called Crossroads including quotes from presenter Jessica Vasquez Torres: “In recognizing that white supremacy objectifies all things and dehumanizes all people, we work for nothing less than the restoration of creation.” In other words in order to rehabilitate more inclusive images of God we need to do the hard work of combatting white supremacy. It’s not just about Soldiers of Odin in Nanaimo and Culture Guard in Langley, two white supremacist groups, that have had a presence on the island since I’ve arrived. It’s also about doing the the work as church to combat white supremacy and patriarchy within our understanding of church and scripture.
A couple other quotes: “Normalize discomfort. Comfort is where white supremacy lives.” In other words this mini-two sermon Hosea preaching series isn’t enough. We need to continue having theological conversations as church that make as uncomfortable. This is especially important considering the recent mass shooting in El Paso in which the shooter released a white supremacist manifesto.
And as a last quote: “There is no changing institutions without first changing ourselves. We can become critics of the institution...but we will not become change-makers until we stop receiving the benefits of institutions at the expense of systems of oppression that promote whiteness and oppress People of Colour. Trickle down social justice does not work.” There is a lot packed into these few words. One consequence is questioning how we can de-centre ourselves and our white privilege in a predominantly white Lutheran church?
I don’t have all the answers and by definition most of cannot come up with the answers on our own as white folks. We need to enter into relationship with people of colour and queer folks. We need to listen to women in the church and over time allow different theologies and readings of scriptures take place.
Wrapping up, let us remember the ways in which the Holy Spirit is disrupting our reading of Hosea and scripture. Let us listen to different images of God and ways of being church that have been silenced for too long. Remember that death and resurrection are integral to the gospel story. Jesus is walking with us as we as the body of Christ go through death and resurrection. This too is church history and we are living proof of that. Come Holy Spirit and shape through grace and love, preparing us for your coming kingdom. Amen.