Reflections

What Is the Lord's Justice?

EXECUTE: TO ENACT OR DO. Having grown up in inner-city Chicago, I have fond memories of red fire hydrants, swinging jump ropes, and church robes. During summer, the fire department would open the hydrants. Parents granted the petitions of children to run through the streams of water, soaking our clothes and cooling our backs. And while I never achieved the rhythmic agility to jump Double Dutch, I loved to recite the rhymes, which eventually helped me gain a verbal dexterity like that of my pastor. I wanted one day to have a robe like hers—one that signaled that the words I spoke revealed the reign of God.

Turn the clock back. Some children would hold very different memories of fire hydrants, ropes, and robes. In Birmingham, Ala., in1963, the force of the water injured petitioners for freedom. During the American Revolution, a Virginia justice of the peace named Charles Lynch ordered extralegal punishment for Loyalists to the Crown. The swinging rope became the tool of mob violence. And the “hooded ones” continue to use the label of “Christian” to make a mockery of the vestments of clergy.

Fire hydrants. Ropes. Robes. Execute: to eliminate or kill. Meaning conveyed to the hearer may not at all resemble the intention of the speaker. Often communication requires suspension of what we think in order to listen to the context from which the speaker shares. Reading is no easier a task. Sometimes the same letters forming the same word present entirely different meanings. Justice executed. What does it mean?

The context for the next four weeks exposes what the Lord’s justice requires.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.


[ February 2 ]
Fighting God in Court
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

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Waiting for the Coming

ADVENT IS UPON US: Waiting for the coming of Christ. But do we really know who he is or what his kingdom brings? His Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount are good reminders.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount simply has “blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20). Taking Matthew and Luke together, the kingdom will become a blessing to those who are afflicted by both spiritual and material poverty. The physical oppression of the poor will be a regular subject in this kingdom, but the spiritual impoverishment of the affluent will also be addressed and healed. Spiritual poverty is often the result of having too much and no longer depending on God. Jesus offers blessings and healing to those who are both poor and poor in spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Those who have the capacity to mourn and weep for the world will be comforted by the coming of this new order. Jesus’ disciples would later hear him say that loving their neighbor as themselves was one of the two great commandments (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). To feel the pain of the world is to participate in the very heart of God and one of the defining characteristics of God’s people.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Christ’s kingdom turns our understanding of power upside-down. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, promises the same when she prays about what Christ’s coming means: “He has scattered the proud ... brought down the powerful from their thrones ... lifted up the lowly ... filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). And when Jesus is asked who will be first in his kingdom, he tells them it will be the servants of all.

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How the Lord’s Prayer Saved a 9/11 Survivor

Credit: RNS photo courtesy John Mahony
For John Mahony remembers how prayer helped him the morning of Sept. 11. Credit: RNS photo courtesy John Mahony

Out of the chaos, to the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, John Mahony, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was managing projects for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, sensed something that reminded him of when his mother would wrap him up as he’d climb out of a cold swimming pool, and he would be held, safe and warm, in loving arms.

“As I walked down that stair, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between ‘Our Father’ and ‘Thy will be done,’ that same feeling came over me," Mahony said. "Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, and love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God’s peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right.”

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

September 2010

These lessons range over a rich field of faith, imagining with us and for us what a difference faith makes. The sequence of psalms pushes the emotional extremities of faith, in turn concerning instruction (Psalm 1); confession (Psalm 51); praise (Psalm 113); and assurance (Psalm 91). The height and depth of life are all brought before God.

The epistle readings are offers in "practical theology," insisting that trust in the gospel leads to a visible, daily difference in how life is lived. The gospel readings from Luke -- like the four Hebrew scripture lessons -- exhibit the ways in which the rule of God (in the life of Jesus) invites, warns, disrupts, and challenges.

When we pay attention, we are sure to be surprised by the presentation of God, who exposes us with our "possessions," who welcomes us back, and who plunges us into new thoughts and new actions about our resources. It is clear that gospel faith puts before us challenges and possibilities that would otherwise elude us completely. These challenges and possibilities do not admit of easy resolution. They do, nevertheless, give us more than enough to think and decide about.

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

[ September 5 ]
Faith, Not Fate
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Faith teaches us that we are not fated by the stars, not by hidden powers, not by economic forces. Rather, the life God gives us is a zone of freedom that we may exercise to choose our futures. The urgency of faith is to think seriously and long-term about choosing futures that God makes available.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 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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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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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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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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From Bread to Body

The next month is dominated by Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse in the book of John. For four weeks we are invited, again and again, to enter the mystery of how an incarnate God becomes real food for those who hunger. As Christians we are called to be Christ’s body; Jesus assures us that by consuming his body we too are consumed, and transformed, so that we in turn can transform the world—from death to life, despair to hope, exclusion to welcome, and judgment to mercy.

Like all great mysteries, the teaching is meant to be entered into and lived rather than intellectualized. In the words of theologians Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, “We can never grasp a mystery; we can only allow ourselves to be grasped by it. That kind of surrender … is needed if we are ever to receive the gift of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.” It is proof that through the most humble and basic of foods, God has yet again found a way to be presence and present to us and to the world.

Finally, it is no coincidence that Jesus welcomed sinners and was welcomed by them at the table. Sharing food was always a joyous occasion for Jesus, through which he rejected oppressive social and religious laws and extended God’s boundless mercy and love. This feast has become both sacrament and sacred: the unique time and space in which we receive God as bread, and then joyfully share God with the world as the body of Christ.

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

August 2
Food that Endures

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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