Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Threat of Life

...sermons on pain, power and weakness, by Walter Brueggemann

...pure proclamation and holy demands...

threat of life coverIt seems to me that re-reading this book after a few years was extremely providential. As usual, Walter Brueggemann brings many ideas that could become teaching and preaching resources, many ideas for anyone to ponder, possibly even more so during this season of Lent. As I've done in my prior book posts, I'll reference some ideas along with their pages.

On pages 59-60, the author describes preparations for the two hundred who typically attended a long-time annual Church Strawberry Festival Social in days of yore along with the two dozen present-day attendees. Like in those days of [the exilic] Isaiah 43:18-20, the Church Strawberry Folks were so completely enamored of the past they neglected and "have completely misunderstood the present tense." What are my own excessive preparations and concomitant misunderstandings these days? I know I'd enjoy—or, I think I might enjoy a Strawberry Festival on Cape Cod, but that doesn't relate to where I live right now. Or does it? I'm trying to capture at least a dozen snapshots of my past, trying to ask myself how I got here from there. For sure the short answer is that unexpectedly I found myself journeying alone and without real community, and for far too long a loneliness. Part of an accurate reply also references the too many excuses I've made for other people and even a few too many for myself. In addition, it's been not so much planning for 50 when only 5 would attend but a related habit of waiting too long in a present that likely would not become fruitful. Those instant pics need to include and can include bountiful and healthy pasts I can duplicate in some form where I currently live.

On page 113 WB talks about "the long wait of Saturday" and observes that most of life is Sabbatarian, but how can Saturday be so persistently lonely and void of community? And are we not supposed to wait together for Resurrection Sunday's Easter dawn?! Throughout The Threat of Life WB reminds us we are baptized, and that baptismal pronoun always is we, us, our, ours and never ever an isolated, atomized autonomous "I, me, my, mine."

Evoking days of cultural anthro classes and later-on conversations in divinity school, when WB insists "You get a whole world with each food, because each food is a social reality in a social context" / "They are big, far-ranging public choices concerning foreign policy and budget and land reform and dreams..." (page 120) I respond with, "indeed, in so many ways." You are what you eat, meaning we actually become in some sense those rapacious grabbers of land, polluters of rivers and exploiters of the innocent. But maybe even more tangible and touchable, during the current economic recession and long before then, although all during my adult life I've eaten low on the food chain though not vegetarian (a little meat, chicken or fish once or twice a week), how clearly economic circumstances and anxieties about future income constrain and restrain the edibles we purchase and prepare and literally prevent us from much eating out in real sit-down restaurants with actual flatware and live wait-staff. You could say circumstances even re-train our palettes and our habits!

I love how in chapter 12, preaching on Psalm 23 for Lent 4, "Trusting in the Water - Food - Oil Supply", WB observes "The journey, with the power and purpose of God, changes the circumstances in which we live. Wilderness becomes home, isolation becomes companionship, scarcity becomes generosity. That is how the life of faith is. It is, to be sure, very different from the life where Yahweh is not at its core." (pages 94-95)

I've read and paraphrased this observation from page 153 related to Psalm 98:1-5 a ton of times:
No wonder that, in that ancient Psalm about God's odd power, the trees and fields and sea sing for joy, because now life becomes possible wherever the power of this God is at work. This power is unleashed in the world. We are left dazzled, because we did not think it would happen. We are threatened, because we do not want our tea party upset. We are invited, and in any case, we cannot ignore the new power.
Preaching on Jeremiah 5:20-29 "God's Relentless 'If'", that became chapter 10 of the book,"Yahweh gets back into the game only because of the poet [Jeremiah] who now 're-speaks' the God of Sinai." (page 76)

Jerusalem had "...long since forgotten the counter-tradition of Moses..." And Yahweh's word from Mount Sinai included a heavy "If"... if you keep my commandments, if you keep covenant, if you have no other gods beside me... As Martin Luther observed, all sin violates the first commandment so that we actually need only a single commandment, the first. From Jeremiah 5:
20Declare this in the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah: 21Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear. 22Do you not fear me? says the Lord; Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it. 23But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away.
in context: Jeremiah 5

WB interprets this as meaning truly fearing Yahweh in the popular sense of terrified, trembling, shaking fearfulness rather than calmer, quieter, awe, reverence and respect. In his Small Catechism Martin Luther begins his explanation to each commandment,, "We should fear and love God..."

As we approach the fifth Sunday in Lent, consider ways typical Lenten disciplines and practice may help achieve the possibility of new life as we abstain from all our idolatries, indulgences and distractions in favor of trusting and encountering the God who tames chaos, orders creation, enacts resurrection, demands our allegiance, and promises life if...

my amazon review: pure proclamation and holy demands

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