The season of Pentecost, with the surging of the Spirit, may focus on the “new creation” God enacts that becomes visible in public life and available in personal relationships. The God who sends and lives in the Spirit breaks old deathly patterns and makes all things new.
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Such a surging possibility requires a receptive, appropriate response. That response, on the one hand, is a singular readiness to receive only from this source and from no other, knowing that the “good parent” is adequate. On the other hand, a faithful response reaches out into the neighborhood with acts of mercy and policies of justice. Passionate love for God and intentional love for neighbor always go together when the Spirit comes.
This season’s texts testify to an intensity and an intentionality that bind the faithful to God. That binding is between incommensurate partners—the one who gives and gives and gives generously and reliably, the other who asks in honesty and who gives thanks in lyrical self-abandoning freedom. This ongoing transaction of generosity and gratitude is deeply unlike the world in which we live, for that world does not believe that gifts are generously given; it instead believes that self-congratulation is more appropriate than thanks. On all counts, the people of these texts know better and live differently, always asking, always receiving, always thanking, and always answering in glad obedience.
Walter Brueggemann, a Sojourners contributing editor, is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
[ July 4 ]
Signs of New Creation
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Paul makes an argument against preoccupation with one’s self (“flesh,” in Galatians 6:13). In his time that preoccupation was expressed as circumcision—taken by some as a qualification of merit to make the (male) self more acceptable, more pious, or more obedient. Paul famously dismisses such “merit” and contrasts it to a new creation that “is everything” (6:15).
The focus on “new creation” gives entry to the gospel reading. Jesus sent his disciples out, admonishing them to travel light (“no purse, no bag, no sandals,” says Luke 10:4), but to focus on their assignment of healing the sick, as a sign that the new rule of God is very near. They report on their journey that they did indeed have power over demons to enact new creation among those who had been disabled and immobilized.
It is not different in the narrative of Naaman, the Syrian general, and Elisha. Elisha is infused with God’s power for life and is able to bring amazing newness, even to a Gentile (see Luke 4:27). It is no wonder that the song of thanksgiving in Psalm 66 attends to God’s “awesome deeds.” Israel praises the God who has “kept us alive.” The texts converge on “new creation” that in Israel is the Exodus (see Psalm 66:6); for Naaman, it’s newness of “baby flesh” (2 Kings 5:14); and it’s enacted as healing by the disciples (Luke 10:17).
Paul has named the debilitating pathology of our society: the preoccupation with self (flesh). Those who are preoccupied with self—self-fulfillment and self-securing—have no power for new creation. The gospel summons us away from that societal preoccupation to a focus on the suffering love of the cross (Galatians 6:14)—for lepers, for the demon-possessed, for all those denied fullness of life—that imbues with transformative power, that makes all things new. No wonder the disciples returned from their mission “with joy” (Luke 10:17).
[ July 11 ]
Marks of a New Self
Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
The church never finishes wondering about the way it is to live. It’s called “ethics,” but in fact it is a practice of glad obedience to the one we love supremely. Paul commends the church in Colossai to “lead lives worthy of the Lord” (1:10). The purpose is to be “fully pleasing to him,” which is done by “bearing fruit” in “every good work.” In Colossians 3:10-13, Paul writes of “the new self” that is marked by “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and, above all, “forgiveness.” Paul invites them to a radical decision concerning the character and action of “the new self.”
These readings sketch out “the new self” who is to live in the world differently. The gospel offers the model of “the Good Samaritan,” who reaches across ethnic and social boundaries in an act of neighborliness. Specifically, it is an offer of generous healthcare to one unlike himself. Jesus draws the conclusion that “mercy” is the primal mark of genuine neighborliness (Luke 10:37).
In the Amos narrative of confrontation between the prophet and the royal priest, the prophet’s accusations against the regime are harsh. Earlier Amos has variously urged social justice and condemned those who refused such social practice (see 4:1-3, 5:14, 6:4-7, and 8:4-6). Now he indicts the royal establishment for its failure of justice.
In Psalm 82, remarkably, the poetry suggests that even the gods are held to such neighborly expectations to “Give justice to the weak and the orphan ... Rescue the weak and the needy” (verses 3-4).
All of these texts concern “the new self” in the new community in response to the newness of God. “Worthy of the Lord” consists in neighborly mercy and justice, a life congruent with God’s own life.
[ July 18 ]
Choosing the ‘Chosen One’
Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
The focus of the gospel reading is the awareness that Mary of Bethany has chosen the good part, the one indispensible thing. She has chosen “the Chosen One.” The accent is on Mary’s utter devotion to Jesus, refusing every alternative or distraction. She is completely focused on the one who is indispensible for her life.
The lyrical affirmation of Paul affirms that the reality of Jesus, in whom “all things hold together,” is the one thing needful for a full life. A proper engagement with Jesus is a life “holy and blameless and irreproachable” that is “steadfast in faith” (Colossians 1:22-23). Paul warns against “shifting from the hope promised by the gospel.” The faithful refuse to hope in anything or anyone else.
Psalm 52 traces the sharp contrast between two ways of life. There are “boasters” who practice treachery, “love evil,” and “trust in abundant riches” (verses 1-7). And the alternative, “the righteous,” who trust singularly in God, obey the Torah, and see the foolishness of the boasters who try to save themselves (6-9). Those who trust in God’s faithfulness are like “a green olive tree” that flourishes with much fruit; they end in much thanks.
The sketch of a faithful person runs with consistency from Mary in the gospel to the “holy and blameless” in the epistle to the “green olive tree” in the psalm. In each case, it is a fruitful life grounded in a single loyalty. The polemic of Amos is directed against those who have chosen foolishly and, consequently, live destructively. The Mary narrative identifies the Chosen One necessary to a viable future. “Steadfastness” means settling for this single offer of a viable, well-ordered life.
[ July 25 ]
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
The Hosea narrative reflects a crisis of identity for God’s people. That community (Israel, church) had been “my people”; but because of disobedience it had become “not my people,” “not pitied.” In the text, however, God resolves that this people will again become “children of the living God,” recipient of God’s gift of life (Hosea 1:10).
In light of identity as “children of the living God,” the gospel is instruction about how to live life with that faithful God. Jesus instructs his disciples in prayer, and urges them to practice persistence (Luke 11:8), because asking, seeking, and knocking will evoke a generous response from God. This God is like a generous parent who will not withhold good gifts from children who need and who ask. This life with God offers a generosity commensurate with honest asking.
This relationship of asking-receiving depends upon singular, undivided commitment. The epistle lesson warns against being seduced by other offers that will “disqualify” you for life with this God (Colossians 2:18), that is, spoil the transaction of asking and receiving. The epistle suggests that “philosophy,” “human tradition,” and “human ways of thinking” can damage the “rootedness” of the faithful (2:7-8, 18). The terms are strikingly contemporary for us as generic religious options swirl around the church amid its resolve to trust and obey only Jesus.
Singular devotion to the generous God of the gospel is possible. When practiced, it yields a life of exuberant gratitude. Psalm 138 is a script for gratitude for the “rooted,” with glad focus at the beginning (verse 2) and at the end on God’s steadfast love (8). Those who look only to the God of the gospel find that God to be a sufficient, abundant source of all that is needed. In an ocean of seductive alternatives, the intentional discipline of knowing whom to ask is crucial.
“Preaching the Word,” Sojourners’ online resource for sermon preparation and Bible study, is available at www.sojo.net/ptw.