Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"What Does God Want/"

Hosea 2:14-32

Matthew 18:12-14

      This morning, we’ll be reading from the 8th century prophet named Hosea.  Something new in

the writing of Hosea, and in the writings of the other so-called latter prophets -- which sets him and

them apart from previous Old Testament prophecy -- is their heightened and refined sense of ethical

responsibility.  They seemed to see more clearly than their predecessors that how we relate to God,

and how we relate to each other, are virtually inseparable.  This laid the groundwork for the revolu-

tionary teachings of Jesus – such as we find in His great discourse recorded in Matthew 25 -- that it is

every bit as important to love our neighbor as ourselves as it is to love God.  

      We gather from the style and content of his writing that Hosea was a gentle and sensitive man;

much different in temperament than Amos, for example, who was more fiery and unbending.  

Hosea witnessed firsthand the growing unfaithfulness and corruption of God’s people.  At the same

time, he experienced the personal tragedy of having his wife Gomer leave him for a life of prostitu-

tion.  In the writing of Hosea, we find a dramatic parallel between God’s broken heartedness over

Israel’s unfaithfulness, and Hosea’s personal grief over Gomer’s infidelity.  So much so that it is some-

times difficult to distinguish whether it is God or Hosea to whom the words are referring.

      As we hear this morning’s passage, I suggest we listen for double entendre; terms with two

meanings.  “Her,” for instance, is reference to both Gomer, beloved of Hosea, and Israel, beloved of

God.  When that strange word “Ba-al” is referenced, it stands at the same time for those men to

whom Gomer prostituted herself, and to the idols and false gods to whom the Israelites prostituted

themselves, bowing down and offering their worship.  We’ll hear reference to three names:  “Jezreel”

which means “God sows; “Lo-ruhamah” which means “not pitied;” and “Lo-ammi” which means “not

my people.”  These were the names of the children born to Gomer and sired by her illegitimate lovers. 

The meanings of their names also refer to the condition of the wayward children of Israel.  We pick up

our reading beginning at the 14th verse of the 2nd chapter.  This follows the first thirteen verses which

warn of the dire consequences of unfaithfulness; on the one hand, the unfaithfulness of Gomer

toward her husband; on the other, the unfaithfulness of Israel toward its God.  I trust this context will

help make sense of an otherwise complex passage; a passage which speak volumes about God’s grace.

          (Read Hosea 2:14-23)

      I remember when I was going under care of Pittsburgh Presbytery to begin my training in mini-

stry, one of the first things I was required to do was to take a battery of psychological tests.  I guess

they wanted to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind, leaving a promising career in business and industry

for a church vocation.  One purpose of these tests was to assess my personality type, and to deter-

mine whether it fit with what I felt called to do.  There is a growing use of such evaluative tools,

whether in the aggressive world of corporate management, or in the delicate work of marriage

counseling.  One of the primary focuses of these instruments is to determine what different types of

people want and need in relationships.

      Not everybody wants and needs the same things from other people.  Some people need more

space in relationships, while others need more interaction.  Some people like to take the initiative,

while others are more comfortable responding to the initiative of others.  Some people have a des-

perate need for approval, while others get along fine with or without it.  I wonder what such a

psychological inventory might reveal about the wants and needs of our Creator?  Surely, it would

reveal, as the Bible does, that God is relational and interactive.  Theologians would say that our in-

nate desire and need to be in relationship with others exists because we are created in God’s image.

The balance of this morning’s message is framed by the question which serves as the title of our

sermon:  What does God want?

      One of the earliest teachings we find in the Bible is that God, like our parents, wants obedience

from God’s children.  God has house rules.  They aren’t posted on the refrigerator door, or on the

white board in the mud room.  Rather they are Ten Commandments, cast in stone.  Therein we find

that there are things God does not want us to do, and others God does want us to do.  For many to-

day, this is a turn-off, as we’re living in a culture where, as Crosby, Stills and Nash once sang on

behalf of an entire generation:  “Rules and regulations, who needs them.  Open up the door.” 

Probably most adults still believe, and never get beyond that belief, that God primarily wants our

obedience to rules and regulations.

      If we dare enlarge our perception a bit, we begin to see that is isn’t that simple.  God doesn’t just

want obedience.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were fanatics about obeying the Law; the Ten Com-

mandments; the Law of Moses; the Levitical Laws; the Deuteronomic Code.  Odd that Jesus had less

patience with the law-abiding religious folk than He did with prostitutes and tax collectors.  We

learn that God wants not merely our dutiful obedience.  God wants the commitment of our very

lives.  God wants our allegiance; our devotion; our loyalty to God’s cause.

      Perhaps God wants the commitment of our lives in some particular way; as a preacher; as a mu-

sician; as an Elder; as a Deacon; as a missionary.  Most often, God’s call to commitment is outside

the vocations of the church.  Whatever our particular calling, God wants us to enlist in that cause of

righteousness and justice.  Also as an expression of our committed lives, God wants our prayers as

means of building and strengthening our relationship with God, and God’s relationship with us.  Paul

makes this clear enough when inspired to write to the Thessalonian Church and to us:  “Pray without

ceasing….”  It may make God seem like an older relative who expects a certain amount of attention,

but God does indeed want our attention, and often allows situations and circumstances in our lives

which bring us around to God.  All of this is part of a larger perception which understands God

genuinely wanting our lives.  Yet if we leave it at this, God may come off looking somewhat vain, and

even a bit greedy.

      The next rung on the ladder of spiritual maturity and understanding might be the realization that

God’s desire for our lives is not selfish at all.  We find throughout the witness of Scripture, becoming

consummately clear in the teachings, life and death of Jesus, that what God most wants is for us to

love and serve others, sacrificially and without reservation.  God wants our obedience and our very

lives for that reason.  Because in a mysterious and mystical way, in serving others, we are serving God. 

As Jesus was speaking to the disciples at the Mount of Olives about His own second coming and the

great judgment, He said this:  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are

members of my family, you did it to me.”  In a nutshell, our purpose in life – our driving force – is to

serve God by serving others.  Yes, God wants our obedience.  God wants our lives.  But God wants

them primarily lived in love for and in service to others, after the example of Jesus.

      While each of these suggestions of what God wants contain elements of truth, if taken alone,

each falls short of offering a full picture.  In attempting to answer the question of what God desires,

there is a central issue we must not miss.  And that issue is revealed in Hosea.

      The book of Hosea reveals that both God and Hosea have hearts of unbelievable love and devo-

tion.  As we noted earlier, it is sometimes hard to tell whether it is God or Hosea to whom the words

are referring.  But the truth lies in the parallel; in the double entendre. God loves Israel [God’s people]

with the passion of a spurned but still hopeful lover.  Love and mercy in Hosea are not things that just

might be granted if the guilty party comes home – tail between legs – and makes proper repentance. 

Inconceivably, such love and mercy goes out to retrieve; to seek out and find the beloved who is

wayward; even with dreams and aspirations of sweet reconciliation.  The tenderness expressed in our

text is almost unparalleled anywhere in its poignancy.  In fact, these prophetic words written several

centuries before the birth of Christ prefigure Jesus’ words when He poses a question:  “What do you

think?  If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the

nine-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?..... So it is not the will of

your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”  Beyond Hosea, we have to go to

the hill of Golgatha -- where Christ was crucified -- to find a more profound expression of selfless love,

or a more radical expression of divine forgiveness.

      I submit to you that Hosea bears witness to what Jesus has so fully revealed to us about God.  God

is first and last, Spirit of love.  To say only that God loves, however, does not exhaust the meaning of

this truth.  What does God want?  God wants to be loved.  That isn’t so difficult to comprehend,

especially if we were to ask the question as those created in God’s image: What do we want?  Behind

all our individual peculiarities and eccentricities; beneath our particular psychological and personality

profiles, whoever we are, we want to be known and loved.  That’s as basic as it gets.  We want to be

known fully, then to be loved for who we are.  I daresay, so does God. 

      I want to bring this to a close by quoting from Alice Walker’s classic book The Color Purple.  If

you’ve read it, you may remember an exchange where Shug is talking to Celia, about sex of all things,

but ends up talking about the Almighty.  Celia observes: “People think pleasing God is all God cares

about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”  Shug inquires, “You

mean [God] want to be loved, just like the Bible say?” “Yes,” Celia says. “Everything want to be loved.”

      Can our minds stretch to imagine such a God?  A God who desires our obedience?  A God who

desires the commitment of our lives to God’s causes of righteousness and justice?  A God who desires,

above all else, our service to others?  A God who desires to retrieve us and return us home when we’ve

wandered in the wilderness of unfaithfulness?  A God who desires to be loved……..?  Can our hearts

begin to offer what our God really wants?  Amen.