Sunday, July 25, 2010


Sunday Reflection: The flawed follower

Today was my last Sunday at 7th and James Church here in Waco. It was messy and sad and goofy and perfect.

One of the things I love most about 7th is that I can be (and really must be) a follower there. Because the members of that congregation are so smart and giving, I was always able to be the learner, the student, the follower-- a role I very much need in my life. I rarely participated in the Sunday service, but today was different.

I was asked to read from the first Chapter of Hosea, in the Old Testament. It is perhaps the worst passage in the whole Bible to read out loud in front of a crowd:

2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD." 3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said to him, "Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel." 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, "Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. 7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen." 8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then the LORD said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God."

Crikeys! Really? Here are some problems with reading this aloud:

1) The whoring whore of whoredome. I really have no desire to have anything to do with whoring whores of whoredom, in Waco or anywhere else. I suspect that they are the type I wrote about earlier this week.

2) Talk about grim! Who names their kids "Punishment," "No pity," and "You are not my people?"

3) God concludes by telling Israel "You are not my people, and I am not your God." What do we make of that? It can't be good.

In fact, I prefaced this reading by saying, "And now a reading from the Book of Hosea, which I did not personally choose." I didn't want people to tag me with some kind of interest in the rejection of Israel and the whoring whores of whoredom.

So, here's the rub: I messed it up (I'm not even a very good leader when I get the chance). I was supposed to read Hosea 1:2-10, but for some reason I stopped after verse 9. I did not read verse 10, which changes everything:

10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."

Wow. Boy, did I mess that one up. As Burt Burleson explained in his warm, challenging, and insightful sermon, the story is about the connection between judgment and mercy. God has standards; Israel had failed them. They were not a chosen people at that time, having been judged. Still, what were they? They were "Children of the living God." Children, all of us, who are judged and watched and loved and forgiven, whole in a way that mere chosen-ness can never provide. There is God who watches and condemns and yet He loves.

And I... I am a flawed follower, the mirror image of a perfect leader. Yet in my imperfections perhaps I have a role in God's plan; perhaps my humbling failure made Burt's sermon that much better, and set in counter-point all the more starkly the message of hope held out in Hosea 1:10.

Seventh and James gave me many things, and one was a chance to be flawed and messy, even judged, yet loved and valued. Can there be a better thing in a church? To be so like Christ?

I think the short readings, often out of context, are designed to make us go back and read the Bible.
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