Proper 14

August 12, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Reading 2: 
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Reading 4: 
Luke 12:32-40
By Rick Marshall

Discussing the text
A major thematic arch connecting this set of texts is the act of God’s speech summoning creation (Psalm), the voice of God calling for justice (Isaiah), calling the faithful to a different lifestyle of waiting for God’s realm (Luke), expressed as an act of faith, much like Abraham’s act of trusting God‘s guidance without knowing where that guidance will lead (Hebrews). God’s act of verbally calling creation and the faithful to respond to God’s grace and life-giving power is a major theme in the Bible. The creation story in Genesis has God speaking the world into being with the pronouncement that it is good. The Psalm text states it positively: The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. The Isaiah text speaks it in the context of indictment against a people who have strayed from the call. The Isaiah text ends with a reminder of the nature of the call: Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Ultimately, God’s call is a call to life--for all of creation and for the human community. The indictment of Isaiah is a result of a choice for death that is expressed in forms of injustice. Many writers in the Bible have analyzed quite effectively what has gone wrong with the human community and how it has gone off the track of well-being and health and joy. It chooses death over and over by taking control of its future on its own terms, controlling its own security and well-being. Isaiah uses the names of Sodom and Gomorrah in referring to the people and their leaders. This is an obvious clue what the indictment is: violation of the rule of hospitality, that is, oppression, injustice, violence. Where has that gotten us? The set of texts for this Sunday is a reminder of the call of God to return to faith, a return to entrusting our future (Abraham) into God’s hands. The proximate divine goals for the world are well-being, justice and peace. The ultimate goal of God’s call is stated so well in Psalm 50:1. The divine goal is the perfection of beauty through which the divine nature shines forth.

The emphasis of the texts is upon God speaking and human creatures hearing. As the Isaiah texts says: Hear the word of the Lord. Give ear to the teachings of our God.

Process Theology and the text
The idea of God calling creation into being is natural to a process view. God is involved in the unfolding of all of creation by providing a call, a voice, a possibility, to each emerging creature. The creature has a choice as to how to respond to that call in its becoming. So, moment by moment, all of creation is responding to the call of God to unfold. Only when we get to creatures as complicated as humans does choice become an important factor. Human beings can choose to respond to God’s call for their best possibility or they can reject that call and choose some lesser way of unfolding. This is expressed in the Bible’s simple offer to choose life or death. Moment by moment, human beings are in a process of choosing. Choices can be made that move us toward openness, peace and health, or choices can be made that move us toward isolation, fear and anxiety. The biblical claim is that God continually chooses life for us, wills well-being for us, but cannot impose that vision on us. Instead, the Bible often portrays God as struggling with us to make good choices. Even when we get ourselves into a mess, God continues to offer us choices for good, limited though they may be by our history of choices.

Also, if the goal of God’s call is ultimately beauty, process theology would understand this very well. Given the nature of the complexity of experience, the involvement of contrasts and intensities of experience and harmony, beauty is the ultimate arrangement of not only human experience, but of nature and finally the divine experience. Beauty is the ultimate and final category of divine purpose.

Preaching the text
It seems clear that most people know the difference between right and wrong. The preacher can appeal to this natural sense of a moral universe to make explicit the texts’ call to do good, to choose justice. Yet, at the same time, it seems clear to many that we live in a very corrupt society that works against the common good. With the recent awareness of global climate change and the resistance of governments and business to change habits that clearly damage the environment, it seems clear that sin is real and embedded in the way we live our daily lives. Images of war are before us daily. Acts of violence and self-interest are routine. It is impossible to defend the world situation as the way God would want it to be. Some people have been fighting to have the Ten Commandments displayed in public places. But what effect would a different biblical call have on people in public places. What would happen if we posted the prophet indictment and call to justice in the public square?

One way to handle the texts is to focus on the nature of God’s call. How does God call us? What does God’s call sound like? Is it a disembodied message that comes from beyond? Does it come through a dream? Talk about the idea that God speaks to us by presenting options to us each moment. Given our past, our present circumstances, our abilities or limitations, certain options are open to us from moment to moment as to how to respond to that moment.

Another way to approach the texts is to focus on the issue of trusting the divine call. The story of Abraham is a good example of what trust looks like. Reflecting on the Abraham story, what would trust look like in our own lives? The world is a fearful place. Many bad things go on all the time. We feel threatened and sometimes fear is the appropriate response. But then some people live a life of fear. Fear can become a lifestyle. The preacher could do a cost/benefit analysis of living a life of fear compared to living a life of trust. In the abstract, the biblical call to choose life seems simple and self-evident. But when the issue is worked out in the details of the way we live our lives, it becomes a different story. Trust in God becomes problematic under the influence of fear.

Another way to preach on the texts is to talk about justice as a symptom of a healthy society. It is a measure of how well a society is doing. Conversely, poverty, abuse of any kind, oppression, violence, are all indicators of ill-health, disease. The preacher could point out health care statistics and poverty rates, crime rates, of the United States as compare to other developed countries. How are we doing as a society? Are we healthy or sick? Is there a concern for the well-being of the community? Or do greed and self-interest determine business practices and government policies? If so, how is that working for us? Are there movements in society that are actively working for justice and peace? What has been their effect? In others words, where is our ground for hope?

Children and the text
You are the Decider. Present the children with some kind of simple choice. Maybe between two kinds of candy. Or present them with a dilemma, for example a situation where they are required to share a toy. Discuss how we are creatures that make choices. Talk about all the choices that they, as young as they are, make every day. Point out how our parents try to teach us to make good choices and to know what bad choices look like. Do those who love us want us to make bad choices? What happens when we make bad choices all the time? We hurt others. We hurt ourselves. We limit ourselves. Why do they want us to make good choices? They want us to have a good life. Can you have a good life when others make bad choices? We all have to make good choices together, don’t we? God wants us to make the best choices for ourselves and for others.

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.