We finish our short series on the early prophets of Israel: Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea. One thing they all had in common was pronouncing God’s anger at Israel’s unfaithfulness. They all warned people in very strong language that God’s righteous judgment would soon fall on Israel’s ingratitude and sin.
This past week there was lots in the media about confession and penitence and humbly imploring God (and those wronged) for forgiveness. Not so much about prophetic anger from those who spoke on behalf of the church. (That was left for some of the media commentators.) But Divine anger is there in spades in the prophets. That is not all that has been revealed about the God we worship, but it is part of it. What do we imagine God feels in relation the residential school catastrophe? Suffering and pain, yes; grief, certainly. What about deep anger at the grievous abuse of children that still traumatizes their descendants?
Righteous anger, whether God’s or our own, is often a good place to begin the healing journey. It is closely tied to God’s judgment (which might be a good way of characterizing what the church is living through in this generation.) Only after we have heard the word of God’s anger and judgment are we open to receiving the grace of God’s loving kindness and forgiveness – a particular emphasis in Hosea.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 73: “Praise to the Lord/Louez l’Eternel” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 107: 1-9; 43 Hosea 11: 1-11 Anthem: “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman) Luke 12: 13-21 Hymn 508: “Your word, O God, awoke” Sermon: “God’s Anger Management” Hymn: “I was there to hear your borning cry” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 324: “Great is Thy faithfulness” Benediction /Go now in Peace Postlude
This week we are on to another prophet of the doomed northern Kingdom of Samaria, the prophet Hosea. It is a vivid and unusual book. Last week, Amos hammered home the sin of economic injustice and the great polarization of wealth that betrayed God’s intention for his people and so led to social collapse. (Many people today share his concern and worry about a similar outcome.) Tomorrow, the prophet Hosea also warned the ten northern tribes of Israel (Samaria) of coming judgment. But he pointed to an even deeper cause: the conjunction of worship, sex and intimacy. Economic injustice was a manifestation of this deeper malaise. Israel’s sickness was both sexual and religious promiscuity, the one mirroring the other. Prostitution, both physical and spiritual, was rampant and had destroyed the covenanted marriage relationship between God and his people. The goodness and faithfulness of God had been ungratefully rejected by faithless and promiscuous Israel, who was now to be abandoned to her enemies.
Hosea knew whereof he spoke from bitter experience. Right at the outset of the book, we are told that he was instructed by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute. (It is the only time such happens in the Bible!). Maybe Hosea didn’t quite hear God correctly but, in any case, it turned his life into an emotional roller coaster that transformed his understanding of God and turned him into a prophet with a distinctive voice. He began to comprehend what it must be like to be God bound in a covenanted marriage to faithless Israel. God’s love for his people was complex, like his own disastrous marriage to Gomer. Later on, the phase. “Israel whoring after other gods” became a cliché among the prophets. But, in the Book of Hosea, the torment and agony of what it meant were real and fresh. How can relationship continue with a partner who is serially unfaithful? What sort of love does it imply?
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 459: “O servants of God” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 85 Hosea 1: 1-11 Anthem: “Psaume 85” Luke 11: 1-13 Hymn: “Lord, rebuke me not in anger” Sermon: “A Passionate God” Hymn 696: “In suffering love” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 371: “Love divine, all loves excelling” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
Last week, Elijah was carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire, and Elisha found himself left alone. But the story continues. Not even a great prophet like Elijah is irreplaceable. (Although according to Jewish tradition, Elijah had the unique and special task of returning from heaven to herald the arrival of the Messiah.) The renown of Israel’s prophets extended well beyond its boundaries. Just as Elijah had anointed the king of Aram (Syria) before departing, the great Aramean General (who, we are told, God used to defeat Israel) seeks healing from Israel’s prophet, Elisha. (Think of a Russian General travelling to Ukraine to seek out a monk for physical and spiritual healing and you get a sense of how unusual it is.) The God of Israel moves between borders and peoples and above military conflicts with sovereign power and in surprising ways. Naaman has learned of the prophet, or perhaps been reminded of him, through his wife’s slave girl who had been captured in a border skirmish with neighbouring Israel. She says to her despairing mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease.” (Samaria was the name of the northern Kingdom of Israel.)
For Naaman it is the beginning of a education in the humble paths of the God of Israel, which contrast sharply with the pomp and majestic expectations of the court in Damascus where he holds an elevated and favoured position, despite his disease.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 814: “Morning has broken” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace The Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 30 2 Kings 5: 1-18 Anthem: “Purify my heart/Refiner’s fire” Luke 17: 11- 19 Hymn “Give thanks/Merci” Sermon: “The foreign General in need of a cure” Hymn: “Healing river of the Spirit” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 374: “O for a thousand tongues to sing” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
For the third Sunday in a row (and next week, too) our Old Testament lesson is about the prophets Elijah and Elisha who lived during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (roughly 800 years before Jesus.) They are some of the best stories in the Bible, but not as well knows as they once were. Here is an icon of Elijah taking off to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving his anxious disciple, Elisha, wondering how he will carry on without his mentor. It is a story about transition; about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one. It also reminds us, perhaps, of Jesus at the top of the Mountain of Transfiguration conversing with Moses and Elijah, in a cloud of heavenly glory. Or of Jesus’ Ascension as the disciples stare up into the clouds that separate heaven and earth, feeling bereft as Jesus returns to the Father and leaves them behind. What will they do now?
Before his master leaves, Elisha requests a “double portion” of his spirit; (a “double portion” the inheritance of an oldest son) so that he can continue the prophetic ministry of Elijah – despite his misgivings. He also receives a physical gift of Elijah’s cloak (or “mantle”). The disciples, however deserted and inadequate they feel when Jesus departs from them, also receive a “double portion” of the spirit at Pentecost which empowers them to continue Jesus’ ministry. It is the story of the church in every generation. How do we carry on after past leaders have left us and the present seems so naked and pitiful in comparison?
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 187: “We have come at Christ’s own bidding” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 2 Kings 2: 1-14 Anthem: “Deep River” Luke 9: 36- 50 Hymn 445 “Open our eyes, Lord/Ouvre nos yeux, Seigneur” Sermon: “Left Behind” Hymn: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn: “God of the prophets” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude