Proper 13

August 5, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Hosea 11:1-11
Reading 2: 
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Reading 3: 
Colossians 3:1-11
Reading 4: 
Luke 12:13-21
By Rick Marshall

Discussing the text
There seems to be a thread leading from one text to the next in this set of texts. Psalm 107 begins with the most basic biblical affirmation possible: That God is good. What might seem self-evident to many, to others it is not obvious that God is good. There is so much evil and darkness in the world, and sometimes the forces of death seem so overwhelming, that God’s goodness becomes problematic. The problem of evil is theological at its base and the problem of whether the universe is ultimately a friendly place or a hostile place is a basic philosophical question. The death of a child; the destruction of dreams and life by natural forces such as tornadoes and earthquakes; deliberate acts of evil of one against many--all stack up powerfully against a good God. The current rash of books promoting atheism such as Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great” attests to the continuing debate. If one argues for the goodness of God based on evidence, the case is difficult to make. Yet, that is precisely the argument the Psalmist makes.

The Psalm begins by giving thanks to this God because this God is good. The goodness of God is evidenced by the quality of love. The Psalm calls attention to a list of loving acts. God delivers in times of distress, hunger and fear. The wise person is the one who pays attention to these acts of God.

The Hosea text continues with the theme of the nature of God as love. In this case, God is seen as parent. God is portrayed in a state of anxiety over the waywardness of the child. God loves the child and is therefore committed to the child no matter what the child’s behavior might be. Any parent who has a troubled teenager knows the anxiety of the text. The trouble relationship between parent and child is one of the basic forms of anxiety that love produces. Rarely in the Bible do we get such a glimpse into the Divine agony caused by taking the risk of love. God is torn between anger and compassion. This is an existential moment in the divine experience of the world.

The Colossians text essentially is a call to adulthood and responsible behavior. The message is to grow up. The logic is simple if/then. If you grant that God has acted in and through Jesus Christ and if that act is a loving act, then certain behaviors are implied. What parent hasn’t used this same logic: look at what has been done for you out of love. Therefore behave appropriately and responsibly. Of course, this views the text simplistically. A move has been made from death to life, from one nature to another. The new nature has been put on, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (vs. 10) The image of the creator is defined by love, which is the threat running through the texts. God’s love has power to transform the beloved. God is, in turn, transformed.

The Luke text provides a cautionary tale, a nice counter balance to the theme of love and divine connectedness. The question of verse 13 tries to drag Jesus into a dispute about property. As many preachers know, weddings and funerals bring out both the best and worst in family dynamics. In this case, requesting adjudication about inheritance suggests a funeral has taken place, hence the argument between brothers over property. Such arguments generally result from brokenness in the family. The question posed suggests a dysfunctional family. Jesus reacts to the act of coveting, which is a fancy word for selfish desire. The parable is about a rich man who acted in a prudent but isolated way, thinking his welfare had nothing to do with anyone else’s welfare. He acted alone and without regard for others. Coveting is a centrifugal power that throws and scatters. Love is a power that connects and commits itself to the other.

Process Theology and the text
The nature and quality of the divine love portrayed in the first three texts is at the heart of process thought. Especially as seen in the dynamics of the heart-rending parent/child relationship of Hosea, love is that quality that connects us to one another and the acknowledgment that my welfare depends upon the welfare of others. Speaking as a parent, I can immediately and intimately identify with the gut-wrenching dilemma of the voice of the Hosea text. To become a parent is a most powerful commitment to another human being at the deepest level. So is marriage and friendship. But to claim that this elemental human relationship of parent/child is what defines the nature of divine love is a profound claim. It is this claim that ultimately gives validity to the psalmist’s statement that God is good.

Preaching the text
A sermon could easily focus on the Hosea and Luke texts, comparing and contrasting them. The Hosea text is such an accessible model of divine love in the most understandable human terms. The Luke text is so simple and clear in its rendering the consequences of an isolated life. Comparing the two texts is offering the classic biblical choice between life and death. The Psalm text could easily be brought in to sharpen the question of  the nature of God.

Several themes are suggested by the texts. The goodness of God. The nature of God’s love. Connectedness vs isolation.

Children and the text
The theme of a children’s sermon could be the way we are all connected. Begin with simple observations: we are breathing the same air. The silly claim could be made that this is my air and I don’t want to share it with any of you. Or, the preacher could bring a cup of water and talk about where that water came from. The tap, of course, but before that, the water system, and before that maybe a lake or a river or a well, and before that… The preacher could bring an object that was made in China. Talk about who might have made it and how it got here. The point of the sermon is that we are all connected to one another and God is connected to everything, too.

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.