Proper 25

October 24, 2004
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Joel 2:23-32
Reading 2: 
Psalm 65 or Psalm 84:1-7
Reading 3: 
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Reading 4: 
Luke 18:9-14
Alt Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
By Rick Marshall

The Jeremiah and Joel texts are the peoples’ confessions of sin and requests for deliverance, even arguing their case with God. The texts involve lament and grief over their behavior with respect to God, their ruptured relationship. The poetic piling up of words of sadness and despair can become overwhelming, cascading images of failure, a steady beat of hopelessness.

It seems so repetitive that it leaves the reader with the feeling that hopelessness will define the day. There is a small logical movement in each text, though subtle and easy to miss, that holds the key to hope. It is the recognition that God is in their midst, which is fully expressed in the Joel text. This is a hope in spite of all that has gone wrong between the people and God. The word “yet” says it all. “Yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not.” Jer. 14:9b  This often comes after long experience of feeling abandoned by God. The idea that God dwells with the people, in the midst of them, is a strong theme in many parts of the Bible.  One of the most striking narratives that makes the point is in Exodus and the divine planning with Moses that goes into building the Tabernacle. The purpose of the Tabernacle is so God can live in the midst of the encampment and go with the people, guiding them, being present with them, and not on some mountaintop. For God to dwell in the midst of life is a powerful expression of hope. It is the ultimate form of well being: to be in right relation with the Creator.

The Luke text is a cautionary tale of what attitude toward God not to have. Next to the prophetic texts, the self righteous religious man highlights the ultimate form of idolatry, which is worship of self. The image of him standing proudly before God, exalting himself as so far superior to the sinner, is astounding. It displays the difference between self worship and worship of the Creator, which is at the heart of the Bible’s analysis of the human condition.

There is a sense in all the texts that the voice of the narrator/writer/speaker expresses life in the middle of things: the sinfulness and rupture of the relationship in the past, and the forward looking hope that wants God’s presence and love to return and endure. The poetic voice of the text is our voice, speaking from the midst of our lives, asking God to be present here, too. There is a feeling of tension between the pull of the past and all the wreckage and heartache that is remembered in divine absence, and the hope of a future of peace, wholeness and divine presence. God’s faithful endurance in the covenant, in spite of the dismissive behavior of human beings toward the covenant, is what will bring everything back into balance.

The initiative has to come from God. The vision of hope is vague, especially as expressed by Joel or Jeremiah or 2 Timothy. But God doesn’t have some detailed endpoint toward which the Divine hand is guiding creation. Instead, God’s power is at work in the unfolding of everything, moment by moment--in the midst. God’s attention is on the moment with an eye toward bringing harmony and beauty out of all the experiences of the creatures. Process theology takes seriously the biblical idea that God, instead of being outside  the process of life, is in the midst of life, working to lure all of creation toward harmony and beauty ultimately in God’s own experience.

Preaching the texts
If I were preaching on these texts, I might choose a hymn which expresses the heart of the poetic voice, which is a hope for God’s faithfulness even when spoken in the midst of a place of wreckage. Most of the texts are devoted to a poetic expression of this tension. The final resting place will ultimately be in God. I would use the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (replace “my Father” with “Creator”) as a poetic text that draws all the Biblical texts together. God’s faithfulness, God’s endurance, is a fundamental theme running throughout the Bible. The suggested hymn expresses this simple hope so powerfully, that, after preaching from these texts on the theme of God’s faithfulness, the hymn can be powerfully and meaningfully sung by the congregation. What a wonderful moment!

In preparation for that moment, the nature of covenant between Creator and creation could be drawn out and the dynamics of the brokeness of the primary relationship between Creator and creation would give voice to the sense of brokenness we all experience in our personal lives and in the world. The darkness of the experienced despair issues in a bright hope for repair.

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.