Proper 22

October 3, 2004
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Lamentations 1:1-6 or 3:19 -26
Reading 2: 
Psalm 37:1-9
Reading 3: 
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Reading 4: 
Luke 17:5-10
Alt Reading 1: 
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
By Rick Marshall

That all things are interconnected is a basic premise of process theology. After all, process thought is fundamentally a theology of relationship. This deep interconnectivity is an idea that underlies all the passages for this Sunday, each in its own way. One could say that most of the Bible points to a deep interconnection within creation, and most profoundly, between creation and Creator. Well being depends upon the quality of the relationships within creation and between creation and Creator. Because the Bible is most concerned about interrelationships, process theology, or, as we might call it, a theology of relationship, is the most effective way to move deeply into all these texts.

The first text from Lamentations and the text from Habakkuk are expressions of grief over brokenness. Habakkuk is deeply pained by violence and injustice. Generally, and especially in the prophetic books, justice is the barometer, the measure, of the health of a society. Hence, injustice is an indicator of brokenness. Socially and economically, the Bible holds to what we might call the “trickle up” theory of economics. That is, if the least powerful, the most vulnerable,--i.e. the orphans and the widows, the sick and the poor--are cared for, then all of society will experience well being. To the extent that there is a gap between rich and poor, then society will be unhealthy. There are consequences to social and economic practices that reward injustice: violence, poverty, oppression, ill-health, death. The natural consequences of injustice are felt as punishment. Lamentations poetically laments a society that embodies forms of injustice. Both Lamentations and Habakkuk believe that ultimate hope for well being is trust in the creative, transforming power of God.

The text from 2 Timothy gives a positive picture of important relationships. The author expresses a deep fondness for certain people at the very beginning of this letter and points to their “faith” as the bedrock of the quality of those relationships. The author goes on to talk more about the nature of this faith and points to power and love and self control (v7). This “power” involves bringing new life out of death as modeled most dramatically in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, “Christ” in the process perspective points to the creative, transforming power of God.

In the text from Luke Jesus is talking with his disciples about how we treat one another. He uses the category of “servant” to impress upon those hearing him that no one is “higher” or more valuable that any other person. We are servants of one another. This is a variation on the commandment to love the neighbor. Again, the idea of relationship lies behind the two great commandments. How we treat one another is of utmost importance. “Love” is not a very good word here because it implies affection. A better word would be “respect”. The requirement then would be to treat the other with respect. This frees us from any requirement that we like the other person or agree with them or even respect them. But we treat them with respect. This is the key to human relationships. In this context, the idea of being servant to one another makes sense, though I wouldn’t use the word “servant” because of its social baggage and how it implies a power up and power down relationship.

Preaching the texts
There are so many important ideas involved in these texts. Relationship. Respect. Justice. It would be easy for a sermon to float off into abstraction. One strategy into a sermon is to start where the author of 2 Timothy starts, and that is with specific relationships in the church and the kinds of gospel values that support and nurture these relationships. Then the preacher could extrapolate from the particular to the more general idea that we are all interrelated. We are all children of God and what happens to one of us, affects everyone else. When one suffers, we all suffer. The sermon could be a clarion call to the moral value of respect as the bedrock to any healthy relationship or for any society. Another strategy would be to focus on the idea of justice as a measure of well being. The preacher could lift up how divergent our current economic theory is to the Bible in the idea of “trickle down economics” that is so fundamental to our economy. We would then envision a world where “trickle up” is the foundation of society and respect is the word of the day. What a different world that would be! Jesus called it the Kingdom of God , or the Realm of God. The sermon could end with the text from Lamentations 3:19-26 and the acknowledgment that God’s creative, transforming power, especially as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only power that saves and creates well being.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for more than 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.