Background Scripture: Hosea 1:1 - 3:5
Focus Passage: Hosea 3:1 -"Then the Lord said to me, "Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes."
If the pastor announced a forthcoming series of sermons on the book of Revelation, I might predict a certain level of anticipation and enthusiasm. If he, however, announced a series on the book of Hosea, would you get fired up? I have to confess that it was with such an attitude that I approached this series of lessons on the first of the "minor"* prophets. Perhaps it is the paradoxical command by the Lord God to Hosea to go and take to himself a promiscuous wife . Or, maybe it was the inexplicable directive for him to actually go and buy her back (redeem her) out of her decadent lifestyle. And maybe, just maybe it is the enigmatic nature of God's persistent love for the unlovely; that He doggedly and relentlessly pursues us when we have nothing of beauty or value to offer Him. That's not just puzzling, it's CRAZY...at least from our perspective. We can't wrap our minds around it because, far too often, it's just not how we love.
Her name was Roberta Langella**. And, from a human perspective, she had nothing to offer God whatsoever. Born the fourth of six children, she thought her childhood to be fairly normal (as much as can be for a child in Brooklyn,NY). That is, until in her eleventh year, her mom announced that the family was moving to Florida. The catch: her father was not coming along - ever. She, like so many, was now the product of a broken home and, if the most important adults in her life couldn't be trusted, what was the point of life?
Within just a few years Roberta managed to alienate her family and her friends and, at age 16, came back to New York to live with her dad for a year. His uncaring attitude led her to drop out of school and pick up a nasty drug habit. By age eighteen she found herself living with a man who was an IV drug user, twice her age, and abusive. One day she informed him that she was going to kill herself and he calmly replied, "I'm watching the Jets now. Talk to me at halftime." Can you say low self-esteem?
The next several years were a blur of drugs, abusive relationships, shooting galleries, and the punk culture "dead look." She had fallen so far, so fast, that she considered herself beyond redemption. The diagnosis of "HIV positive" from needle sharing served to confirm that assessment. Then, one day after a five or six day crack binge, she hit rock bottom. She was out of drugs, out of money, and out of hope. That is when Roberta remembered that run-down church next to the apartment where she lived in Brooklyn with her first "boyfriend" (I use the term "friend" advisedly. He once punched her so hard it broke her eardrum). She remembered that the people who filed into that church each week seemed so happy and so hopeful.
Before she could explain it, she found herself at the alter of the Brooklyn Tabernacle praying the first real prayer of her life. It was Tuesday, the day of the weekly prayer meeting at the Tabernacle. Her prayer: "Oh, God, I need you in my life. Help me, please!" That was it. No flourish, no fanfare, not even so much as a sermon. At that moment Roberta Langella began to believe that God could love even her. You see, it appears that God is attracted to helplessness.
One year later she found herself singing in the very choir that she had resented years ago on hot summer nights when the church windows were open. Her chains were gone. She could relax in God's love because, if God could love her, He must be an awesome God! One Easter, the pastor of the Tabernacle asked her to share her testimony with the congregation. He had to coach her to leave out the more lurid parts but, even so, the Holy Spirit fell on the church like a ton of bricks. You see, Roberta had asked her estranged father to come and hear her sing in the choir. He was the first person to the alter that night.
Today, Roberta Langella heads up a ministry called (what else?) "New Beginnings" reaching out to drug abusers, the homeless, and gang members. Each week she has 100 workers riding the subway to the rehab centers and shelters inviting them to church for a meal. It appears that there is nobody too dirty, too smelly, or too far gone for her to love. I wonder where she found that model for loving?
Now, who do you know that's too far gone to save; who's beyond the scope of God's love?
Keep and Defend the Faith,
*We call them "minor prophets" only because of the length of their prophecies. There are twelve of them in all and, for my money, they are all in the major league and batting .400.
**The story of Roberta Langella is true and has been adapted from Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. (Zondervan Press, 1997).