“Lovers and Fools: Unlikely Bed Buddies”
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 18, 2018
Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent. Lent officially began last Wednesday. In addition to the lovely Taize service that we had that night, I participated for the first time in what is called “Ashes on the Go” with other community clergy. As I mentioned last week, during the noon hour, other clergy and I went to Ed Hales Park on State Street and offered ashes to those passing by. I was surprised by how many people took us up on our offer of ashes and prayer. In fact, at one point, I stood at one of the stop signs on State Street with an “Ashes on the Go” sign. As people pulled up to the stop sign, I would make eye contact with the driver, point to the “Ashes on the Go” sign and either the driver would shake their head “no”, completely ignore me afraid that I may be one of those “Turn or Burn” street preachers, or they would nod their head “yes” and roll down their window. Let me say there were quite a few people who rolled down their windows, I would quickly put the sign of a cross with ashes on their foreheads and say, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. May you live this finite life with infinite love. God bless you.” They would say, “Thank you,” roll up their windows and be on their way. It was quick, easy and convenient. For some people, I think it was very meaningful. Some had tears in their eyes. Some shared that they had a Valentine’s dinner that night and were grateful for “ashes on the go”. In the Catholic Church, it is a holy day of obligation, and some of our Catholic friends had wondered how they were going to fit in this obligation of ashes with the business of Valentine’s Day. Some shared that they had not received ashes in 20 years – the last time they stepped into a church. Sometimes people don’t always come to church and so the church needs to go to the people. I was deeply touched by the experience. But I did leave with a thought lingering in the back of my head. I hope that people do not associate “ashes on the go” with a drive thru Christianity, especially as we enter into this season of Lent. Lent is a time to live intentionally, to move slowly. To dig deeply.
As I place ashes on people’s foreheads, I say these words. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” It is from the fragile, blessed dust that God breathed life into us and it is to the beloved dust that we will return. Life is short. Life is fragile. Our time is finite. “How will we spend this one wild and precious life on earth?” Lent is not a drive-thru experience.
Our Lenten theme this year is “Lovers and Fools.” As I shared during our Ash Wednesday service, this year secular holidays and sacred ones join forces. Ash Wednesday took place on Valentine’s Day. Easter this year falls on April Fool’s Day. Thus, our Lenten theme is “Lovers and Fools”, the bookends to the season of Lent. The two mashups, that is Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day and Easter falling on April Fool’s Day have not happened together since 1945 –yes, 73 years ago. Valentine’s Day is always on February 14th. April Fool’s is always on April 1st. Easter, however, changes from year to year. It is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring Equinox. Ash Wednesday takes place 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays. And this year it just so happens that Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th.
Yes, our Lenten theme is “Lovers and Fools”. And there is no doubt that love can make fools of us all. Just listen to today’s scripture passage from Hosea.
Hosea is a prophet. Hosea is a righteous man. He was a brilliant theologian. He was a passionate speaker and respected preacher. And God said to Hosea, “Go, take a wife of harlotry.” So Hosea, being a faithful man, did as he was told. He went down to the local brothel and asked to meet some of the women who worked there. He sat on the red crushed velvet sofa with his hand between his knees, nervously awaiting for the women to come down. One by one the women came down to meet Hosea and Hosea’s eyes fell on Gomer. Gomer – it’s a funny name – we think of Gomer Pile – but this is no innocent Gomer Pile – this is Gomer, the mistress of the night. And right there in the perfumed parlor, Hosea proposes to Gomer (Taylor, Barbara Brown, Gospel Medicine, “Betrothed by God”, p. 50).
If it happened in today’s modern church, it would be quite a scandal. I could see it on the front page of the Redlands Daily Facts, “Local Preacher marries Prostitute: Unlikely Bedmates.” It could cause quite a scandal. And it is our Biblical story this morning.
It’s a strange marriage, no doubt, but Hosea grew to love Gomer deeply, passionately. One day, however, Gomer packs her bags – she decides to leave Hosea for another man. And then she leaves that man for another man, and that man for another one.
You would think that Hosea being a righteous man would wash his hands of Gomer. But that’s not what Hosea does. You see, Hosea loves Gomer and love is often irrational and foolish. Thoughts of Gomer filled Hosea’s mind and imagination most of his waking moments. . . and many of his sleeping ones as well. He relentlessly, obsessively, passionately loved this woman, even though she left him for other men. He can’t get her off his mind, out of his heart. And so he goes searching for her. He heard that her current husband had grown tired of her and sold her into slavery.
And so Hosea went to the marketplace and he watched as Gomer was brought up and placed on the dock and there she was stripped of all her clothing and stood naked before the crowd. She was old; she was decrepit. Who would want her? Somebody bid three pieces of silver and Hosea raised it to five. Somebody else upped it to eight and Hosea bid ten. Somebody went to eleven; he went to twelve. Then Hosea offered fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley. The auctioneer’s gavel fell and Hosea had his wife back, the woman he desperately loved. He took her not as a slave but as a partner in marriage. He went to her, put her clothes on, led her away by the hand, took her to his home, and ran a warm bath for her and tenderly nursed her wounds.
That’s the power of love – it is irrational, foolish, naïve, impractical, relentless. The story of Hosea and Gomer parallels the story of God and the Hebrew people. The Hebrew people often went and worshipped other gods. During the wilderness experience, they worshiped a golden calf. They were continually turning their backs on God, continually breaking the covenant with Yahweh they had agreed to. And yet, God over and over again relentlessly welcomed the Hebrew people back into the arms of love.
I think sometimes that we have this concept of this rigid, judgmental God who is always looking over our shoulder to make sure that we are doing everything right. This God who is ready to punish us the moment we step out of line. And certainly that has been the dominant image of God over the past two thousand years. It’s a picture of a God of fear rather than a God of love. It’s a religion of control rather than the expansion of human freedom. Yet, in the story of Hosea and Gomer, we meet a God who loves unconditionally with amazing grace.
Rumi puts it this way. “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
Just like Hosea continually calling Gomer back into his life, so, too, God, Spirit, the Divine yearns for our return to love. Lent is a time for intentional living. It is a time for us to turn away from distractions and focus on what really matters, what is really important. This 40 day Lenten journey requires more of us than simply a drive thru Christianity. It calls us to dig deep and to return to the Source of all love.
I heard a story once about Archbishop Desmond Tutu teaching a class at Emory University called “God’s Love.” And when the students got there, they asked, “Where’s the syllabus?” Desmond Tutu said, “There is no syllabus.” The students asked, “Well, what are we being tested on? How many papers do we have to write; how long do they need to be?” Desmond Tutu said, “There are no tests, no papers – in fact, everyone gets an A. God has low standards.” The students asked, “Well, then what are we going to do in this class?” Desmond Tutu said, “This is what we are going to do: I am going to tell stories of when I encountered God’s love and you will tell stories about times that you have encountered God’s love. That is what we are going to do for the entire semester. For you see, if you leave this institution without knowing God’s love, you leave with nothing.”
This Lenten season may we return to love. May we know that Divine love in the depths of our souls, in the innermost recesses of our being and in the marrow of our bones. Amen.