Craft of Preaching

A Sustaining, Sustainable Gospel

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Minimalist (Week #17)
Creative Commons image by Paul Oka on Flickr.


During ordinary time this summer and fall, the lectionary offers semi-continuous readings from Luke and from several different epistles. Semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament begin a tour through several prophetic books, and complementary readings thematically pair Old Testament readings and Psalms with the Gospel lessons.

The most consistent theme throughout July is found among the Gospel readings, all drawn from Luke 10 and 11. Here Jesus’ teachings delineate the nature of God’s realm. Jesus invites disciples to live in ways that are far more sustainable for all creation, both human and nonhuman, than most people of his day (and of ours) actually do. He envisions living radically free of material baggage, hanging only loosely to personal interests, being free to respond immediately to the others’ needs, to recognize opportunities for relationship and growth, and to maintain simplicity in daily cares. Living this way eschews props for personal security (which can never supply guarantees anyway), but focuses fully in the present.

How do such habits also add up to ecological vitality? First, Jesus sends disciples out to preach taking little baggage with them, but only word of the nearness of God’s healing, restoring reign (Luke 10:1-20, July 7). Such material simplicity means using fewer of the earth’s irreplaceable resources, and producing less waste for the air, water, and land to absorb. It means living at a slower pace, undistracted by the need to protect and maintain possessions. It means attending primarily not to stuff but to relationships -- with God, with other people both familiar and new, and with creation.

Second, freedom to respond immediately and directly to perceived needs of others, as exemplified by the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37, July 14), means being available to heal and mend in a timely way and, extending this parable beyond the human world, it means timely responsiveness to ecological as well as human emergencies.

Third, sitting to listen, as Jesus perceived Mary doing, rather than remaining too busy to think clearly (Luke 10:38-42, July 21), leads to a richer and more well considered inner life, attentive to one’s impact on the world around. And fourth, telling a story to teach his disciples that God wishes to provide for their needs, Jesus nevertheless instructs them to pray simply for sufficient food, forgiveness, and peace (Luke 11:1-13, July 28). Such daily reliance on God discourages anxious hoarding.

These values are the bread and butter of Christian living. Yet in our contemporary materialistic, fast-paced, self-centered world, such practices are entirely countercultural, and must be deliberately cultivated. The ecological needs confronting us today provide further reason to renew our commitment to follow in Jesus’ steps.

Ecological touches in the other lectionary passages follow below:

Epistles

  • Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 (July 7) promises that everyone reaps what they sow, and exhorts therefore not to grow weary in doing right for the good of all.
  • Colossians 1:1-14 (July 14) prays for the Colossians that they may know God’s will and lead worthy lives, bearing fruit in good works.
  • Colossians 1:15-28 (July 21) describes the cosmic Christ, the firstborn of all creation, holding all things in creation together.
  • Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19) (July 28) reminds readers that, despite appearances, it is God who rules over all creation, all principalities and powers.

Old Testament Readings (Semi-continuous)

  • 2 Kings 5:1-14 (July 7) describes Naaman, the Aramean commander suffering from leprosy, seeking a cure from Israel’s God. He nearly misses it when he deems a showy fanfare more powerful than the curative powers of the Jordan River’s simple water.
  • Amos 7:7-17 (July 14) shows Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, mistaking Amos’s divinely inspired warning for a political conspiracy against the king’s power, but Amos remaining steadfast.
  • Amos 8:1-12 (July 21) offers Amos’s warnings that cheating in business dealings will bring ecological disaster for all.
  • Hosea 1:2-10 (July 28) introduces a book in which faithfulness to God is directly correlated with ecological prosperity.

Old Testament Readings (Complementary)

  • Isaiah 66:10-14 (July 7) compares prosperity to an overflowing stream bringing plenty, and humans are compared to flourishing, quickly growing grass.
  • Deuteronomy 30:9-14 (July 14) portrays God’s word as sensible and available. Obedience will lead to prosperity of body, livestock, and soil.
  • Genesis 18:1-10a (July 21) depicts generous hospitality toward strangers bringing unexpected rewards.
  • Genesis 18:20-32 (July 28) raises the problem of collective, ecological punishment for evil. The presence of a few who do right can save the entire city -- but without the few, disaster results.

Psalms

  • Psalm 30 (July 7) demonstrates the continuous availability of divine redemption for those who seek God’s help. Even in darkest days, joy may reappear.
  • Psalm 66:1-9 (July 7) proclaims God’s rule over all the earth.
  • Psalm 82 (July 14) shows that the powerful who neglect the weak and fail to give justice to the destitute cannot maintain their lofty status but will fall.
  • Psalm 25:1-10 (July 14) imagines God as a patient teacher, correcting mistakes and leading the teachable into faithful paths.
  • Psalm 52 (July 21) compares those who trust God to fruitful green olive trees.
  • Psalm 15 (July 21): lists the social virtues of the faithful: they speak truth, refrain from slandering neighbors, honor God, and behave honestly and generously toward others.
  • Psalm 85 (July 28) portrays faithfulness springing from the ground like a perennial plant, and righteousness looking down from the sky like the sun’s brightness.
  • Psalm 138 (July 28) offers thanks and praise to God for caring for the lowly.
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