Sunday, July 31, 2022 | Trey Comstock
A couple of years ago, I volunteered to direct a play. It was an annual passion play done at a church about thirty minutes away from the church where I was pastor. Did I have time in my life to be running a medium sized and highly active United Methodist Church, be a husband and a father, and direct a massive theatrical production? No, I did not. Did I agree to do it anyways because directing a good play is, in my book, one of life’s great joys? Yes, I did.
I got recruited because the play’s previous director, who had shepherded the production for many years, quit unexpectedly. This should have sent up red flags for me, but I blithely figured that we could work through whatever the issue was upfront and then focus in on the production. I investigated the issue and found out that it was a small group of folks who had been doing the play for decades and who wanted to maintain control over the production despite not being the director. So, I met with said group, found out what they thought shouldn’t be changed, and got them to commit that anything else that got changed was fine. We all agreed what was in bounds and what was out of bounds like good rational grown ups. I crossed that off my list, wrote some updates to the script (that were not on the list of unchangeable things), built a rehearsal schedule that would eliminate my personal life for two months, and sent it all off to the relevant parties. I didn’t hear anything back, so I assumed everything was fine and held my first rehearsal. Things were not fine. No one had read my emails.
The crew of previously identified troublemakers were shocked by the changed at our first rehearsal. I cordially reminded them of our agreement and moved on with the rehearsal. A day or two later, while I was at the pub on a Thursday evening leading a Bible Study, I got a phone call from the chief person that I had been negotiating with this whole time. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he had been praying about it and that God was not in favor of the changes that I had made. I should change them back. I told him that it “wouldn’t be a problem,” politely excused myself off the call, promptly called the pastor of the church, and resigned as director leaving the production in the lurch. I was doing this out of the kindness of my heart and my love of theater. We had agreed to expectations of behavior. I had upheld my end of the bargain. They had immediately gone back on their word. I was not going to tolerate being treated like that for the rest of the production. I now knew why the previous director had done the same thing. That show has not been held in years in part because of a global pandemic and in part because they can’t find a director.
I do believe that I was justified in walking away, but reading our passage in Hosea, I’m glad that God doesn’t act that way. Hosea is writing from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, long after Israel split into two nations: the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, home of Jerusalem. His book, which is a collection of speeches given by the prophet, document the final fall of the Northern Kingdom as they get swallowed up by the Assyrians apparently because of their atrocious behavior. Most of the content does not take kindly to Israel’s actions. Hosea compares them to his spectacularly unfaithful wife, Gomer, in chapters 1-3. Later chapters include such gems as, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the Spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do no not know the Lord,” (Hosea 5:4 NRSV) and “when I would heal Israel, the corruption of Ephraim is revealed, and the wicked deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely, the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. But they do not consider that I remember all their wickedness. Now their deeds surround them, they are before my face.” (Hosea 7:1-2 NRSV) God’s more northern people had very much not lived up to God’s standards of behavior, and they were about to receive one heck of a consequence.
A lot of the contents of the prophets, not just Hosea, serve to remind us that God would be totally justified in leaving us and never turning God’s face back to us again. The cycle of the entire Old Testament is constant repetition of:
- The people are close to God and living as they should.
- The people stray from God with idols or not caring for the poor in their midst or some fabulous new form of misbehavior.
- The people suffer for a while.
- God forgives the people and welcomes them back.
- The people rededicate their lives to God and live as they should – for a while.
- Rise, wash, repeat
That this cycle has be playing out since the literal beginning of time with Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and Noah and his family gives, God plenty of ground to give up on us. The Old Testament testifies to thousand of years worth of misbehavior, suffering, forgiveness, good behavior, misbehavior, suffering, and forgiveness. It’s got to be more than a little aggravating to be the divine creator who gave your people the breath of life and who has let go of millennia of transgression only have them do it yet again. Clearly, if I were in the same position, I’d walk. I baulked at one major transgression from an overly controlling theater troupe.
The righteousness and love of God is that God remains faithful to us even though we struggle to be truly faithful to God. Hosea knows this of God and does not leave Israel without hope of a restored relationship if not a restored kingdom.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
(Hosea 11:8-9 NRSV)