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The Mauve Sofa

Posted by chesterlanducc on June 12, 2017 at 8:05 AM

From the first chapter of the book of the prophet Hosea:

The word of the LORD that came to Hosea …

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”


There’s a story about a young couple, John and Mary, who in the 1970s traded in their old Volkswagon Super Beetle for their first piece of new furniture: a mauve sofa, a light purple sofa. The man at the furniture store warned them not to get it when he found out they had small children. “You don’t want a mauve sofa” he advised. “Get something the colour of dirt.” But with the naive optimism of young parenthood they said “We know how to handle our children. Give us the mauve sofa.”

From that moment on everyone knew the number one rule in the house. Don’t sit on the mauve sofa. Don’t touch the mauve sofa. Don’t play around the mauve sofa. Don’t eat on, breathe on, look at, or think about the mauve sofa. It was like the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. “On every other chair in the house you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for in the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die.”

Then came the Fall. One day there appeared on the mauve sofa a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. So Mary, who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up their three children in front of it: Laura, age four, Mallory, two and a half, and Johnny, six months.

“Do you see that, children?” she asked. “That’s a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. The man at the sofa store says it is not coming out. Not forever. Do you know how long forever is children? That’s how long we’re going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa.”

Mallory was the first to break. With trembling lips and tear-filled eyes she said “Laura did it.” Laura passionately denied it. Then there was silence, for the longest time. No one said a word. John, the father, knew they wouldn’t, for they had never seen their mother so upset. John knew they wouldn’t because they knew that if they did they would spend eternity in the time-out chair. John knew they wouldn’t because he was the one who put the red jelly stain on the sofa, and he wasn’t saying a word because he was even more afraid than the children were. Please hold onto to this story as I’m going to come back to it in just a little bit.

Now, I had a mentor who used to say all the time; it is all about the relationships. We are a congregation that celebrates the diversity of relationships God has provided us with—we week to love everyone, not just some people, not just some of the time, not just when it is convenient or easy. Some in society have often sought to tell us who we can and who we can’t love, who we can be friends with and who we shouldn’t. Some is society and even Christianity have often shared a message of division, rather than unity, across lines of race, religion, gender, sexuality, class, age, politics, and ability.

We remember today that one year ago, on June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 58 wounded in inside the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. We condemn not only the violence of this event, but also those in our society who preach hate and division and intolerance—those who try to tell us who we can and who we cannot love. So today we continue to stand with Orlando and remember those whose lives were ended or dramatically altered forever last year.

Despite the messages we sometimes have heard from the Christian Church, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures share with us story after story about people loving one another across these lines of division—people loving each other regardless of differences or imperfections—and we are going to reflect on some of these and in some cases celebrate these relationships for the next couple months as we explore how God calls us to be in relationships of love and justice with others.

Today’s story is about the Prophet Hosea who lived about 800 years before Jesus at a time when the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, a northern kingdom of Israel, and a southern Kingdom on Judah. The Northern Kingdom had lost its way and had begun worshiping other God’s and on the brink of be conquered by another nation.

God speaks to the prophet Hosea and commands him to marry an unfaithful woman so that he and the woman he marries might become a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, the northern Kingdom. For the first time in Hebrew Scriptures, the metaphor of marriage is used to represent the relationship between God and the people of Israel. In this metaphor God is the husband and the people of Israel, his wife, are cheating on him. They are breaking their covenant with God.

In the story Hosea marries Gomer because, it is suggested, he knows she will likely be unfaithful to him. As the story continues she has a child with Hosea but then almost immediately she has a second child with another man. Hosea becomes angered and threatens her and tries to shame her, but a she has a third child with yet another man and eventually Hosea divorces Gomer. The story becomes even more bizarre as Gomer somehow eventually ends up sold into slavery and Hosea pays for her freedom and takes her back.

It is a crazy story. But the point of the story is simple. God loves Israel. Hosea loves Gomer. Israel cheats on God. Gomer cheats on Hosea. God and Hosea love the very people that hurt them the most and so time and time again they forgive and they take back their cheating spouses.

The story of Hosea is kind of like the story of the red jelly stain on the Mauve sofa. There is but one rule—the covenant is clear—stay off the Mauve sofa—don’t cheat on God with other Gods. And yet in the story of the mauve sofa, it isn’t the children who break the covenant, it isn’t the children who do what they aren’t supposed to do—it is the father, the husband, who know better than to eat jelly on his wives’ precious Mauve sofa, but he does it anyways. And one can imagine that the wife will not only forgive the husband for the jelly stain, but also for the hundreds and probably thousands of mistakes that husbands will make over the course of their marriage—because she loves him.

Hosea is perhaps the oddest story in the bible. But it is perhaps the most simple. Hosea loves someone who is not faithful to him, and despite how much she hurts him, and perhaps how much he hurts her, he loves her even if it is not clear she loves him. And this story tells a truth about our relationship with God.

Now, of course, most of us don’t worship golden cows or other Gods and perhaps we don’t understand our God in the same way Hosea did, but I think we all can relate to the idea of what it means to cheat on God. Regardless of our particular beliefs, I imagine we all have some sort of covenant we make with God—however we understand God—some form of values and beliefs of what is right and wrong.

If I understand God to be simply the source of all love, and I treat someone poorly, then I have broken my covenant with who and what I understand God to be. If I understand God to be justice, and I ignore injustice in the world, or I take advantage of others, I have broken my covenant with who and what I understand God to be.

I think the point of the story isn’t that when we fail we can’t re-establish our covenant with God. But rather, that when we fail, and we all fail all the time, when we fail, God, however we understand God, will be seeking us out with forgiveness.

Hosea forgives Gomer even though his heart is broken. Hosea mends his relationship with Gomer even after she is sold into slavery. Hosea’s love knows no boundaries and neither does God’s. However, if we are to understand the story fully, we see that Gomer, that we, must also work to reconcile our relationship with God when we fall short.

The heartbreaking part of the story is that the Northern Kingdom of Israel eventually was wiped off the face of the earth, with just some remnants remaining. The Southern Kingdom of Judea however, even though they too were often unfaithful to God, they sought reconciliation with God and they thrived and they became as countless as grains of sand.

So, wifes, forgive your partners who leave red jelly stains on your sofas. And spouses, when we fall short, seek forgiveness and seek reconciliation. It is not enough to simply say you are sorry, but we must also learn from our mistakes and grow in love so that we are as worthy as we can possibly be of the forgiveness that is shared with us by God and by those who love us. Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.

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