Living the word

A Season of Generosity and Gratitude

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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Sojourners Magazine July 2010
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A Cast of Emancipated Characters

These texts, taken in sum, imagine the church. It is not an institution, but rather a community of folk who are propelled by God’s own spirit, situated in Jesus’ own narrative, and alive in the world in alternative ways. The sequence of texts in Luke’s gospel gives us character sketches of the kind of folk who are drawn to Jesus: The son raised from the dead (7:11-17), the woman of the street who enacted generosity (7:36-8:3), the possessed man now restored to sanity (8:26-39), and the would-be disciple who felt reluctance (9:51-62).

These are unlikely characters. But they people our imagination, because all of them are attracted to Jesus and all of them are summoned to radical and deep change.

Pentecost is a time to reimagine and re-enact the church as a movement that is unrestrained by old patterns or by the rule of fearful authorities. It is no wonder that the gospel readings are matched to Galatians. In that letter Paul is aflame with the freedom that Jesus gives out beyond all business as usual. And now our society is in deep need of folk who have energy beyond business as usual. Folk gathered around the gospel are likely candidates for just such a vocation.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2010
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Refusing the Deathly World of Anxiety

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.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2010
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The Power of Suffering Love

Our readings move from Friday to Sunday, from death to new life. Friday, in Christian reckoning, is a null-point wherein the power of God is defeated by the empire of force. But the church has found in that Friday shut-down the transformative work of God, because this God works in and through weakness and vulnerability as the door to new life. It is a Friday truth that suffering love has transformative power that the “executioners” never suspect.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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An Answering God

The readings for February include the final Sundays of Epiphany and the first Sundays of Lent, linked by the pivot of Ash Wednesday.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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Wondrous, Inexplicable, Demanding Newness

The biblical writers, in a rich variety of ways, confess that God is giving a newness. That newness from God is the center of Hebrew Testament faith. And for Christians, the life of Jesus is the quintessential exhibit of God’s newness in the world. Three things strike me about that constant assertion of God’s newness. First, it is beyond explanation and beyond our own conjuring. It depends wholly upon God. Second, the Bible is concerned with the community that receives, trusts in, and embraces the miracle of newness. It knows that this community, synagogue, and church is summoned to a radical way of obedience in the world, a way so radical that it evokes the hostility of the world. But third, those vexed by such a summons turn to God in hope and trust that God will overrule such hostility.

It strikes me that these texts, especially in the season of Epiphany, are stunningly contemporary for us. The world in its fearful anxiety grows more hardhearted and violent. Clearly such a bent can never lead to well-being. The question is, how can that vicious cycle of deathliness be broken? The answer given here is that it is broken when a community boldly acts in response to God’s self-giving jubilee. The ground for enacting jubilee in our world is baptism, entry into an alternative existence that is not beholden to the old orders of death.

Walter Brueggemann, a Sojourners contributing editor, is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

[ January 3 ] The Great Gatherer

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: 10-18

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Getting Ready for the Unexpected

Elizabeth (mother of John) and Mary (mother of Jesus) are kinswomen, a linkage that makes their sons cousins. The readings this month feature both cousins. It is important to see them commonly in their work of witnessing to God; it is equally crucial to see each of them at distinctive work.

In the first two Sundays we get cousin John (Luke 3:1-6, 7-18). John has a sense of demanding urgency, because the new rule of God is very close at hand. That new rule is not to be received casually; there must be intentional readiness for it. The texts may tremble us out of our narcotized consumerism into a practice of hope and obedience. Conversely, we get cousin Jesus in the last two Sundays, plus, of course, Christmas. Mary’s song is about the revolution Jesus will lead. The Christmas reading is about the “touch down” of the revolution in the region of the shepherds. And the final Sunday voices the large vocation of Jesus that he will act out in the gospel narrative.

We are summoned by both cousins. John issues a call to disciplined readiness; Jesus is an agent of deep newness. Readiness and newness are counterintuitive in a weary society like ours. We are invited to embrace that which is deeply inexplicable among us. When we do, we may be amazed like those who heard the shepherds’ testimony (Luke 2:18) and exuberant like the singing church (Colossians 3:12-16).

Walter Brueggemann, a Sojourners contributing editor, is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

[ December 6 ]
Back to Basics
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Our Redemption Draws Near

As we end the liturgical year, we prepare for the gospel’s final portrayal of Jesus—as Christ the king—and for a new year with Luke as our guide. Mark’s Jesus, as described in preceding weeks, is anything but a traditional king. Rather, this king weeps with those who mourn and seeks out those bound by the cords of death, calling them to the new life of resurrection. He condemns a religious system that leaves poor widows destitute, and saves his most passionate criticism for those who not only exploit the vulnerable, but do so in God’s name. When the disciples behold the new temple in awe, Jesus assures them that it will be leveled by God’s new reign, confirming that his kingdom is different. It is built not on structures of power, dominance, and exploitation, but on love and concern for the least of these.

This final portrayal of Jesus comes as he prepares for his throne, the cross, where he will accept the forces of violence and death in body and spirit so that their power over us will end. Christ emerges victorious, resurrected—our true and only king! We are ready to start the sacred journey of Advent, when this ruler of all is born as a helpless child.

Redeemer, counselor, Emmanuel, God-with-us, God comes to us anew: “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” Rejoice!

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

November 1
'Come Out'
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6; John 11:32-44

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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An Unconventional Messiah

Jesuit theologian Carlos Bravo labels the next four weeks “crisis and confirmation”—Jesus’ insistence on extending God’s love and mercy to the poor has put him on a collision course with the religious establishment and the oppressive Roman state. Far from a divine being, aware of his fate and mission from day one, Bravo understands Jesus to be profoundly human and struggling to faithfully live God’s reign in the face of increasing hostility. Jesus’ choices simultaneously confirm his violent fate and his identity as God incarnate, who will, through death and resurrection, offer each of us everlasting life.

Jesus faces resistance not only from social and religious leaders, but from his own disciples. Though able to confess that Jesus is the “messiah,” the disciples’ understanding of the title is the opposite of what Jesus teaches and lives. Jesus must insist again and again that his destination is not traditional kingship, but suffering, rejection, and, ultimately, death. Only through this path can he show that God’s love for us is real and triumphant over death. Over and over Jesus must explain kingdom values, as opposed to human values that prioritize power, status, and exclusivity. He must insist that the mission is not to be served, but to serve; not to be first, but to be last. And not to limit the scope of God’s work or love: Those who bring light and love in Jesus’ name are to be supported, not condemned, for “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

September 6
Faith Into Action

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 124; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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