The Common Good
May 2010

Refusing the Deathly World of Anxiety

by Walter Brueggemann | May 2010

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

These readings mark the transition in the church year from Easter to Pentecost, and culminate with Trinity Sunday. This transition lets us focus on both the particularity of the Risen Christ, who gives life in the church, and the continuing force of the spirit of Christ that is alive and at work in the world. The doctrine of the Trinity is the church’s somewhat enigmatic attempt to witness to the linkage between the risen historical person and the worldwide force of God’s presence known in him.

The good news is that God’s power for life is at work in the world. This news contradicts the common assumption that the world, in its deathliness, has refused and rejected that power for life—and that our proper stance in the world is therefore one of fear enacted as anxiety, greed, selfishness, and violence. The text tells otherwise! The text attests that the world continues to be the venue where the gift of life is given. The God given to us in this trustworthy text is one who makes no distinctions, who authorizes hospitality, who opens prisons, who breathes the world new, who assures good order in the world. In sum, the text defies the belittling of God’s world and invites us to live in the world boldly, freely, in peace, at home, practicing generative hospitality. We may be home-makers, following the God who makes a home among us.
Walter Brueggemann, a Sojourners contributing editor, is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
[ May 2 ]
Who Hinders God?
Psalm 148; Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Peter is quizzed by Jewish Christians in Jerusalem concerning his conduct in Acts 10. He reiterates his amazing performance in that chapter. He reports on his vision concerning all sorts of “unclean animals” and the voice of “the Spirit” that led him to “not make a distinction” between clean and unclean. His narrative is about the force of God’s purpose crashing against all established social protocols to make something new possible.
He ends with a rhetorical question: “Who was I that I could hinder God?” (verse 17). Peter is nobody who could stop God. Nor could his companions stop God. Nor could the readers of this narrative, ancient or contemporary, stop God. God is reaching out to include all who have been excluded or regarded as second class by our tribal passions. Peter knew that he and all the followers of Jesus are under a new commandment that readily violates usual social arrangements (John 13:34-35).The Spirit that crosses boundaries is the presence of the risen Christ. We who confess Easter are recruited to move in generous love across all the boundaries of “clean and unclean” ... citizens and immigrants, Jews and Muslims, gay and straight, rich and poor. All are invited to sign on for the “new earth” that will match the “new heaven” that comes through specific acts of neighborly generosity (Revelation 21:1). All can “turn” (repent) toward God’s newness (Acts 11:18).
[ May 9 ]
Welcome Home
Psalm 67; Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22-27, 22:1-5; John 14:23-29
Easter is an invitation to homecoming. The big picture of homecoming concerns “the healing of the nations,” a time when the nations will not be fearful and aggressive, because all will be safe and cared for (Revelation 22:2). The small picture is of a woman, Lydia, in Macedonia where Paul came to preach. We are told that Lydia “opened her heart to listen eagerly”; she was in a moment of readiness, disposed to listen as “a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). As she listened, she responded by inviting Paul to stay “in my home.” She practiced hospitality, opened her home in welcome. Perhaps the practice of hospitality is the ultimate outcome of the Easter season, when there is no fear of others, but readiness to host (see Romans 12:13).
The connection between the healing of the nations and Lydia’s welcome is the gospel news that God will make God’s own home in our midst (John 14:23). God’s readiness to take up residence in our habitat contradicts all the fearful aggressiveness of the world. The risen Christ came and said “peace” (John 14:27). Where he comes, there is peace. The news of Easter is that the enlivened Christ invites us away from the deathliness of the world, not to withdraw, but to listen and host and welcome, and so to reverse the vicious cycles that keep wounding nations, communities, and persons.
[ May 16 ]
Social Disturbance
Psalm 97; Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
The Acts narrative has all the ingredients for a greedy, self-deceiving, status quo society:
There is a used slave-girl fortune-teller who thinks that the future is all fated and can be programmed with certitude. There are money-making exploiters, the banker-pimps who use the innocent fortune-teller to generate private wealth. There are the magistrates who use their authority to maintain the status quo and prevent any social “disturbance.” And there’s a prison that is a social statement about power and order that constitutes a threat to any who act “outside the box.”
Into the midst of these “fixtures” of a stable society come the apostles who assert an alternative “way of salvation” (verse 17). The new way of well-being exposes all their old ways as failed frauds. In reaction to such news, the magistrates by decree and the mob by violence try to stop the news of “another way.” But, we are told, “suddenly” all the fixtures of shut-down control are shattered. The text makes no direct connection between the news and the quake. It only lets us imagine that God’s new power is on the move. It’s no wonder that the ones who know, sing and pray and praise and praise (Psalm 97). We praise because we know the prison houses of fear cannot contain this God who gives “life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).
[ May 23 ]
The Seduction of Self-Sufficiency
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27
Given the Pentecost “rush of the Spirit,” Psalm 104 invites us to consider God’s Spirit who sustains and energizes all of creation:
  • The praise of Israel asserts that all in creation, including the frightening sea monster (leviathan, chaos), are God’s beloved creatures whom God enjoys. The Creator is in a comfort zone with the exhibit of chaos and invites us to safety even there.
  • The praise of Israel confesses that God is the guarantor of the food chain, providing all that is needed for life, daily bread for all creatures.
  • The praise of Israel affirms that God’s spirit is the reliable source of life; God’s constant inhaling and exhaling are the sure life-support for the whole world.

The world in all its parts is dependent upon this reliable, generous source of life. No wonder Israel sings, “As long as I live … While I have being” (verse 33).

The lectionary predictably skips over verse 35a (“May sinners vanish from the earth, and the wicked be no more”) because it is “not nice.” That verse identifies “the wicked” who do not trust God amid chaos, who do not receive food gratefully, who do not rely on God’s constancy, and so do not “trust and obey.” We are always seduced out of grateful dependence on God and talked into self-sufficiency. But it does not work, and we, then the “wicked,” are “consumed” in anxiety. This “Day of the Spirit” invites a pondering of our true status before the life-giving goodness of God.
[ May 30 ]
Wisdom of God
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Proverbs 8 meditates on the mystery of God that indwells the world. The Christian notion of the “Trinity” is only inchoate here. But the text provides materials for us to think toward “the Trinity.” In verses 22-31, “wisdom” speaks (imagined as a woman with a voice) as the sensible, coherent meaning that God the creator has ordained in the world. This poetry lines out three lyrical claims for “wisdom”:
  • Wisdom has been there in creation since the outset. There never was a time when God’s world was not ordered according to coherent well-being.
  • Wisdom is an agent in accomplishing creation, a “grand artisan” who contributes decisively to the project.
  • The relation of the creator and wisdom is one of deep and endless joy; both together rejoice in the world and in the humanity that is known to be “good.”
In Christian tradition, and most especially in John 1 concerning the “Word,” it is asserted that this feminine “wisdom” came into the world specifically in Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus is the peculiar carrier of God’s good intentionality.
This claim for God’s wisdom refuses the notion that the world is a tale told by an idiot or that the world depends upon our meaning-making. The rule of this three-personed God is an elemental contradiction of the anxiety that besets a world that seems to be insane, disordered, and on its own. We know better!
“Preaching the Word,” Sojourners’ online resource for sermon preparation and Bible study, is available at www.sojo.net/ptw.

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