Hosea 07 – Children are STILL in Cages at the Border

whenever I would heal Israel,
the sins of Ephraim are exposed
    and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
They practice deceit,
    thieves break into houses,
    bandits rob in the streets;
but they do not realize
    that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
    they are always before me.

“They delight the king with their wickedness,
    the princes with their lies.
They are all adulterers,
    burning like an oven
whose fire the baker need not stir
    from the kneading of the dough till it rises.
On the day of the festival of our king
    the princes become inflamed with wine,
    and he joins hands with the mockers.
Their hearts are like an oven;
    they approach him with intrigue.
Their passion smolders all night;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven;
    they devour their rulers.
All their kings fall,
    and none of them calls on me.

“Ephraim mixes with the nations;
    Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over.
Foreigners sap his strength,
    but he does not realize it.
His hair is sprinkled with gray,
    but he does not notice.
10 Israel’s arrogance testifies against him,
    but despite all this
he does not return to the Lord his God
    or search for him.

11 “Ephraim is like a dove,
    easily deceived and senseless—
now calling to Egypt,
    now turning to Assyria.
12 When they go, I will throw my net over them;
    I will pull them down like the birds in the sky.
When I hear them flocking together,
    I will catch them.
13 Woe to them,
    because they have strayed from me!
Destruction to them,
    because they have rebelled against me!
I long to redeem them
    but they speak about me falsely.
14 They do not cry out to me from their hearts
    but wail on their beds.
They slash themselves, appealing to their gods
    for grain and new wine,
    but they turn away from me.
15 I trained them and strengthened their arms,
    but they plot evil against me.
16 They do not turn to the Most High;
    they are like a faulty bow.
Their leaders will fall by the sword
    because of their insolent words.
For this they will be ridiculed
    in the land of Egypt.

I missed recognizing the start of Advent and the first anniversary of this blog.  As often happens, life got in the way: we didn’t finish with poultry processing until the first week of December (several weeks longer than usual), and I had a (not so) merry-go-round of illness run through the kiddos.

I forgave myself a while ago for times I cannot post as regularly as I’d like to. What I cannot forgive myself for though is the fact that children are still in cages at our border.  I know it is not personally my fault, but my very first blog post, now a little over a year ago, was on welcoming refugees.  I made a small donation, called my representatives once, but I must admit I have done nothing significant since.  And a year of silence while so many suffer is truly unconscionable.

God has put the fate of these refugee children before me several times in recent days.   Let’s start with today’s scripture:  “Ephraim mixes with the nations,” reads v. eight, “Foreigners sap his strength,” reads v. nine.  I worry that all of vv. 8-13 could be taken as Biblical reasoning for cruelty towards immigrants.  On top of that, the pictures of the Guatemalan boy who lay dead on the floor for hours in ICE custody before being found earlier this year have been circulating in my newsfeed lately.  Finally, the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California, which shows baby Jesus and his parents as refugees in separate cages, went viral a few days ago.

If we celebrate Christmas but forget our Christian duty of mercy, then we are no better than those who Hosea accuses of gathering together for grain and new wine while turning away from God.  Christmas is a season for celebration, and I don’t want to take away your joy: go to your Christmas parties, exchange gifts with your family and friends, but don’t forget the reason we are celebrating, either.  Jesus was made man to save us from our sins, to bring us a message of love for all.  And what have we done with that message of late?  Our kings and princes (aka, our president and congress) are delighted with wickedness and lies.  They – and we, with them – turn a blind eye (at best) or willfully forget those less fortunate, including the families and children in detention for No. Damn. Reason.

It is also a busy time of year, but once again, I encourage you to take a little time to call your representatives and ask them to change border policies and close the detention centers down.  I ask you to consider giving to organizations like the IRC, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, KIND, RAICES, or Save the Children, among others who are actively fighting for the children detained.  Additionally, it is important to record and report any interaction you may have with immigration officials, so the agency can be held accountable.  Attend marches and protests in your area, and simply don’t stop talking about it.  There’s a more comprehensive list of twenty ways to help refugees at the border here.  And yes, I donated (to the RAICES Texas Bond Fund) and called my representatives (Wittman, Warner, and Kaine) yesterday afternoon.  I will continue to let you know what actions I have taken – not to brag, but to hold myself accountable.  I hope you will consider doing the same.  Christmas is a time for families to be together, not separated in cages.  Please, join in the fight to help make it so.

Hosea 06 – Mercy, not Sacrifice

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.”

“What can I do with you, Ephraim?
    What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
    like the early dew that disappears.
Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
    I killed you with the words of my mouth—
    then my judgments go forth like the sun.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
    they were unfaithful to me there.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    stained with footprints of blood.
As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
    so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
    carrying out their wicked schemes.
10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
    There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
    Israel is defiled.

11 “Also for you, Judah,
    a harvest is appointed.

“Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people,

 

Yes, that is where this chapter leaves off.  There are some funny breaks between chapters in Hosea. Kind of a cliff-hanger, right?  We’ll get to the rest of Hosea’s woe-filled charges next post.

Jesus quotes v. 6 of today’s reading twice, in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.  That got me to wondering, what parts of the Old Testament does Jesus quote? I found a list that looked pretty comprehensive, and according to this, Jesus quotes the OT 45 times.  Of those quotes, almost a third of them – thirteen, by my count – deal with mercy, love, and correcting the excesses of legalism (which would lead a person to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of it, meaning they have a deficit of mercy and love in their hearts).

“An acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” is what God desires in the second half of verse six.  And really, most of this chapter is God lamenting how the people come to him with empty words, how their love is fleeting “like the morning mist,” even though God’s love is as reliable “as the sun rises.”  Isn’t this something we are all guilty of?  Perhaps we go to church, sing the hymns, maybe put some money in the offering plate, and feel like we’ve done our duty.  But being Christian needs to mean so much more than that.  We need to live God’s values day in and day out.

Yes, a large portion of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even more especially these prophets, details humanity’s sins against God in great length.  But God always forgives us, we are always reconciled with God.  If God can forgive us time and again, if God loves us “as surely as the sun rises,” then, to again quote Jesus, who are we to cast the first stone against someone else, for any reason?  God does not call us, anywhere that I have seen so far, to judge anyone for their deeds or misdeeds.  We are to leave that to God.  So political beliefs, sexual orientation, station in life, race or ethnicity simply should not matter when it comes to caring for anyone.  We are to show mercy.  Mercy and love.

Just to be clear, you do not need to be a doormat.  If you have been abused, you can forgive your abuser from afar.  If you are in any way being taken advantage of, you do not need to put up with that shit for the sake of God.  Remove yourself from that situation, please, because you are also a child of God and deserve better.

But beyond those extreme situations, we can do better.  We can abolish the death penalty.  We can change the justice system into one that rehabilitates instead of one that penalizes.  We can extend medical care to everyone.  We can make sure that everyone has enough to eat, a safe place to sleep.  These are simple acts of human decency that shouldn’t be that revolutionary, if we are honest about what our Christian values call us to do.

And really, what better way to lead people to Jesus?  Let us demonstrate his kindness in action.  Let us heal, as Jesus did.  Jesus brought a message of hope and redemption, and we grossly pervert it when we turn Jesus into a tool of oppression and condemnation.  No one wants to follow such a mean-spirited god.  I worry that by loudly demonstrating our faith instead of truly focusing on helping others, we are metaphorically guilty of giving God the empty burnt offerings instead of the true acknowledgement Xe really desires.  We can leave the proselytizing behind, and let our actions speak for themselves.  We do not need to shove Jesus down people’s throats.  Let people find their own way to Jesus: we can pave that path for them through heart-felt care, love, and mercy.

Isaiah 25 – An All Saints Day Primer

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
    the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
    cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
    is like a storm driving against a wall
    and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
    as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

10 The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain;
    but Moab will be trampled in their land
    as straw is trampled down in the manure.
11 They will stretch out their hands in it,
    as swimmers stretch out their hands to swim.
God will bring down their pride
    despite the cleverness[a] of their hands.
12 He will bring down your high fortified walls
    and lay them low;
he will bring them down to the ground,
    to the very dust.

 

I’m probably not ready to start posting two entries (and definitely not three!) every week – I still have several more chicken processing days on the farm to go. But I didn’t want to let All Saint’s Day pass without recognition.

For those who don’t celebrate it – and that includes a lot of Protestant traditions – All Saints Day celebrates (you guessed it!) all the Saints, known or unknown, who are in heaven.  This includes more common household names, like Saint Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of animals whose statue you may have seen in gardens), and anyone else who has brought people to Jesus.  All Souls Day is November 2, and celebrates all who are in heaven, sainted or not.  Some places also celebrate the Day of the Innocents, which recognizes children who have passed. So, depending where you are and what church you go to, some, all, or none of these themes may be touched upon in a church service sometime between this Friday and Sunday.

All Saints Day has been well overshadowed by it’s secular neighbor, Halloween, but it is still observed.  It’s an interesting holiday because it is somewhere between solemn and festive.  In New Orleans, for example, there are often family picnics in cemeteries, where the living visit their departed loved ones, sometimes cleaning up the tombstones or crypts, sometimes pouring out a libation in the deceased’s honor.  The closely related Dia de los Muertos (an ongoing mash-up of Catholic and pre-Hispanic customs and beliefs), includes parades and special food and drink, with public and private celebrations galore.

Also, I think it is important to note that (almost no) Episcopalians pray to saints, and neither do Methodists or really any Protestant traditions that I can think of.  Instead, they see the saints as examples to be looked up to when we seek inspiration in our own religious lives.  Catholics and many Eastern traditions do pray to the saints for intercession, which essentially means asking the saint to speak to God on the behalf of the one doing the praying.

So, to get to the actual Bible verses above, why is this particular passage one that is read on All Saints Day?  The specific reading is actually just vv. 6-9, which describes a Holy Feast prepared by God and the destruction of death.  This feast marks a time when suffering is no more, and God’s Kingdom returns to earth – in other words, a time when all the faithful will be saints.

Taken in the context of All Saints Day, the rest of the chapter frames the day’s reading nicely. (Unlike my reading from Isaiah 09 last Advent, which starts out all warm and fuzzy and full of Christmas spirit and took a hard left into crazy cannibalism.)  “Strong peoples will honor you,” verse three says.  Reading that, the first person I think of is another saint, Joan of Arc.  Talk about a strong person.  “You have been a refuge for the poor,” follows in verse four.  I think of all the work Mother Theresa, another female saint (beatified in 2003, if you weren’t up on your recent saints), did on behalf of the poor.  These verses illustrate that God is for everyone, for all nations. Sure, verse ten talks about Moab being trampled into the ground, no stronger than straw in manure (there’s a visual I can relate to!), but that should be seen symbolically more than anything.  Moab is one of the prophet’s favorite “bad guys,” is you will, and came to represent everything that was un-Godly.  The destruction of Moab is a metaphor for the destruction of anything that might stand in our way of a full relationship with God.  And let me be clear, I do not think Moab is a metaphor for another country.  Turkey, China, Russia or any other country we may have current tensions with is not Moab.  What stands in the way of our full relationship with God is more abstract – greed, fear, anger, hate.  That, while harder to villianize, is what we need to combat in ourselves and in the world in order to join in the procession of All Saints.

I love holidays because they invite us to pause and reflect.  We have so few opportunities to do so in our ever-busy lives.  Maybe All Saints Day isn’t a church-going day for you, or one you’ve ever really recognized except as a day for candy-hangovers.  But I hope this year, this All Saints Day, you are able to take even just a moment to pause and reflect.  Thank God, if that feels right for you, or give thanks for someone saintly in your life, living or deceased.  Taking a moment out of your day to connect to something spiritual, to give thanks for something or someone good, helps us all re-center on what is important, and we could all use a little more of that.  Happy All Saints Day.