Lent recalls times of wilderness and wandering, from newly freed Hebrew slaves in exile to Jesus' temptation in the desert. God has always called people out of their safe, walled cities into uncomfortable places, revealing paths they would never have chosen. Despite our culture of self-indulgence, we too are called to walk an alternative pathone of humility, justice, and peace. Walter Brueggemann's thought-provoking reflections for the season of Lent invite us to consider the challenging, beautiful life that comes with walking the way of grace.
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About the Author
Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, he is the author of dozens of books, including Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Journey to the Common Good, and Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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A Way other than Our Own
Devotions for Lent
By Walter Brueggemann
Westminster John Knox PressCopyright © 2017 Walter Bmeggemann
All rights reserved.
An Old Identity Made New
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
— Isaiah 55:6–7
These verses are a familiar call to worship or a call to repentance, not a bad accent for Lent. The face of God shown here is of a Lord near at hand, ready to forgive, a God of grace. But this is a God to whom a turn must be made, a God of demand, a God of demand ready to be a God of grace ... not just hard demand, not just easy grace, but grace and demand, the way all serious relationships work.
The imperative is around four verbs, "seek, call, forsake, return," good Lenten verbs. But this is not about generic repentance for generic sin. I believe, rather, the sin addressed concerns for Jews too eager to become Babylonians, too easy to compromise Jewish identity, Jewish faith, Jewish discipline — in order to get along in a Babylonian empire that had faith in other gods with other disciplines. The imperatives are summons to come back to an original identity, an elemental discipline, a primal faith.
I suggest, moreover, that these are just about the right imperatives for Lent among us Christians. For I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.
The good news for the church is that nobody, liberal or conservative, has high ground. The hard news is that the Lenten prerequisite for mercy and pardon is to ponder again the initial identity of baptism ... "child of the promise," ... "to live a life worthy of our calling," worthy of our calling in the face of false patriotism; overheated consumerism; easy, conventional violence; and limitless acquisitiveness. Since these forces and seductions are all around us, we have much to ponder in Lent about our baptismal identity.
Lent is a time to consider again our easy, conventional compromises and see again about discipline, obedience, and glad identity. And the climax of these verses:
that he may have mercy ... for he will abundantly pardon. Isa. 55:7
The word to the compromised deportees is that God's face of pardon and mercy is turned exactly to the ones who reengage an identity of faith.
God of grace and demand, you challenge us to reclaim our baptismal identity as those whose lives are built on your call and your promises — not on the easy, seductive forces around us. Stir our hearts that we may engage your transforming word anew and rediscover its power to save. Amen.CHAPTER 2
First Thursday of Lent
On the Road Again
I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
— Psalm 121:1–2
We are on the road again! As followers of Jesus, we are on the road again in Lent, walking the way of obedience to Jerusalem for the big showdown with the authorities of church and state. It turns out, every time, to be a hazardous journey, full of toils and snares, potholes and adversaries, ending in a rigged trial. But women and men of faith are always on the road again, departing safe places, running risks, and hoping for well-being on the journey.
The defining journey of biblical faith begins in the departure of Abraham and Sarah back in the book of Genesis. They were dispatched by God to leave their safe place, to go to a new land yet to be given, to get a new name, to be blessed by God, and to be a blessing to the others around them. They went! And their family, generation after generation, has gone. And we, finally in their wake, must also travel beyond safe places to the gifted end that God intends, hopefully to be blessed and a blessing on the way.
And if we ponder our destination, perhaps it is to be to the neighborhood of shalom, the neighborhood of shared resources, of inclusive politics, of random acts of hospitality and intentional acts of justice, of fearless neighborliness that is not propelled by greed or anxiety or excessive self-preoccupation.
Psalm 121 is designed exactly for travelers who face a demanding, risky journey. It is a psalm that has been used over and over by travelers and now is available for us. This psalm is an assurance and an affirmation that the journey we now undertake is not by ourselves alone. We are surrounded on the way by the God of all trust, the God who kept Abraham and Sarah safely, the one who walked all the way to Jerusalem with Jesus, all the way to Friday and on through to Sunday.
I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.
Self-giving God, call us to walk the road of newness — a new self, a new society, a new world, one neighbor at a time. May we have traveling mercies this Lenten season. Amen.CHAPTER 3
First Friday of Lent
A New Way of Being in the World
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
— Matthew 6:27
Lent is a time when we ask about the meaning of repentance. Lent could be a time not when we think about all the sin and suffering and self-denial that have been traditional with us, but when we ask in fresh ways what the people clustered around Jesus make of the world they are in. I put the question this way: Jesus affirmed that it is possible to be in the world in a new way, to be present to the people and problems around us with some newness and freshness.
The usual way of being in the world is anxiety, of being pressed and harried and worried, and that in turn leads to a stance of defensiveness and fear and a determination to keep what we have. Anxiety that believes that we best get what we can and keep what we got snowballs on us, and we get caught up in it and don't know it's happening.
Characteristically, Jesus asks a question which doesn't require an answer because it's so obvious. It is a question which just stops all our protests and explanations short. You know it well: Which of you, by being anxious, has ever added an inch to your lives?
I find that a biting, embarrassing question, because of course, it is true. Being defensive and frightened and coveting has never really resulted in any gains. Partly we do it because we don't know any better way and partly because it's habit. In either case, he suggests another way:
Seek the kingdom and his righteousness.
Put another way:
Get your mind off yourself long enough to care; be so concerned about the well-being of the human community that you don't have to worry about your place, your church, your class, your values, your vested interests.
Now this could be a sermon on emotional well-being that says quit worrying, but that is hardly what Lent is about. Rather — this is a talk about the mission of the church. The invitation is to get so involved in the emergence of humanness, human persons in all their delicacy, human institutions in all their effectiveness, human relationships in all their mystery, humanness, wholeness, that we don't have to be defending how it was, worried about what will happen to the things to which we have given our lives.
Free us, Lord, from our obsession with ourselves long enough to care for others; to be so concerned about the well-being of the human community that we don't have to worry about our place, our church, our class, our values, our vested interests. Help us to know the joy and freedom of putting all our trust in you. Amen.CHAPTER 4
First Saturday of Lent
A Trip, a Temptation, a Text
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
— Luke 4:1–2a
So we are on the way in this business of Lent. There is the assuring voice of God, which says, "I will protect and I will answer and I will deliver." That voice, however, is countered by a second voice that mocks and seduces men and women of faith, making easy promises, issuing facile invitations, urging acts that are against our faith and our identity. Lent is a time for learning how to listen to the voices of promise and seduction and decide how to adjudicate them, to hear better the true voice of assurance and to notice quickly the seductive voice of unfaith, and to distinguish the same psalm when it speaks faith and when it serves unfaith.
It will be a gain for us to see our Lent as placing us between these conflicting voices. Christians in our society are cast exactly between these voices epistemologically, deciding if we have faith that seeks understanding or if our learning is simply power packaged as knowledge. Christians in our society are cast between these voices in terms of political and economic power, to see whether we can honor the pain-filled voices of marginality or if we will notice only the tired claims of the old monopolies. Christians in our society are cast between these voices in terms of self-identity, to see if we can receive the innocence of real faith or if we will practice the old cynicism of despair, which works most of the time. We are at risk because the very assurances of God can be turned against our true selves as a warrant for cheap, self-serving actions.
We begin our Lenten journey addressed by the remarkable assurance that the God who summons us is the God who goes along with us. We begin our journey knowing we will want to ease off and not take the risk. We will have chances, epistemologically, economically, in terms of self-perception, to make decisions, hearing more than one inviting voice. The world thinks this journey is unimportant and therefore easy. Well, yes, the world may think it easy, because it is only faith that requires entering the danger zone where our lives are at risk.
Teach us in this season how to listen to the voices of promise and seduction and how to tell them apart. May we hear better your voice of assurance and recognize its counterfeit, that we may walk faithfully before you. Amen.CHAPTER 5
First Sunday in Lent
Lent as Alternative to Empire
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
— Isaiah 55:1–2a
Some of you will remember these TV ads from AT&T.
They featured a winsome young teacher or librarian sitting at a table with young children. He engaged them in friendly talk through a series of questions. The questions of course led to the conclusion that we should buy AT&T products. But the teaching addressed to the viewer through the children was this: it is better to do two things at once rather than only one thing at a time. Bigger is better. Faster is better. More is better.
This poem of Isaiah is a wake-up call for us when we have been nearly talked out of faith by the force of empire, when we have wanted to prevail instead of trust mercy, when we have decided to gut it out rather than let the pardon come, when we have bought in to the phoniness of the AT&T ad rather than the God of the gospel who gives free gifts.
Lent is a question, a gift, and a summons.
The questions of Lent are:
What are we doing?
Are we working for that which does not satisfy?
Are we spending for that which is not bread?
The gifts of Lent are free, gifts in the gospel that sustain life: free wine and milk, free water and bread, and all the markings of sacrament that refuse our thin attempts at empire.
The summons of Lent is to bear new fruit. Do what is in sync with the God of the gospel, the God who has another intention for our lives, who wants us out of the rat-race of "big is better" and so has mercy, who gives us pardon when we do not do enough by doing two things at once.
We are left with a new sense of ourselves as God's people:
no longer working for that which does not satisfy; receiving good gifts that we need for life; engaging in a new productivity of that which heals and transforms.
This could be, for any one of us, a return to our true self after almost being talked out of it.
You are the God who disrupts our lives with an invitation. During this season of Lent, may we stop and may we start again: may we stop our strivings marked by greed and anxiety, may we start again the work of compassion and generosity. Amen.CHAPTER 6
First Monday of Lent
Habits That Make God Unhappy
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
— 1 Corinthians 1:27–29
The cross is a contradiction to the world and pertains to public policy just as it pertains to personal wellbeing. The cross exposes the way of the world in a fantasy land where we hunger for that which cannot satisfy. The cross — with its death and its odd Easter victory — asserts that the self-serving of the world in its self-confidence cannot prevail.
There are escape hatches to this type of subversion, which is so risky. One is to throw over this claim in secularism and get a day job that will bring it all home in power, wealth, and wisdom. The other is to keep the form ofJesus but to turn the truth of weak, foolish poverty into a worldly force. The first temptation is that of those outside the church. The second is the temptation of those inside the church. Either way, the truth of the gospel compels us to decide about the things that make God unhappy and the things that make God happy. Because God is God, there are habits of death and there are habits of life.
Wouldn't it be something if all the conservatives among us would get honest in the company of the church and confess, "I would rather not delight in the things of God!" And wouldn't it be something if all the liberals would get honest and confess, "I would rather not delight in the things of God!" What an energy and a newness if liberals and conservatives together would make cause together, that we do not want to choose the hard way but must decide to anyway.
And then Paul grows lyrical:
God chose what is foolish to show the wise little acts of compassion that violate our learning.
God chose what is low and despised in the world to reduce to nothing the things that are low and despised, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and the rulers of the world are not finished with him yet.
Folks, the odds are always long. But entertain this:
the world waits for newness; settled wisdom knows nothing of newness; settled wealth knows nothing of newness; settled power knows nothing of newness.
But we do, and so we consider our call and occasionally choose what makes God happy. Take an instant today and brag a little: Brag that you know the things in which God delights. Celebrate that you delight in that which makes God most happy.
You have ordained a new order in which the first are last and the last are first. Turn us away from the false values of the world, that we may pursue your priorities, that which makes you happy: steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. Amen.CHAPTER 7
First Tuesday of Lent
On Terms other than Our Own
And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The Lord'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
— Exodus 33:19
The story of Exodus 33 is about an awkward, complex negotiation with the future. God is cranky and absolute. Moses is defeated but is not willing to sacrifice the community just because God is upset. And therefore Moses bargains, trying to figure out the limit of God's responsiveness. That is what we do when we are fresh from failure. We find out what is possible in a new start.
God is gracious. God is assuring and affirming and generous and kind. God is merciful. God has compassion and empathy and a readiness to be available in decisive ways. God is gracious, and God is merciful. And that is what Moses most hopes for, for the new journey after the big failure; the future after failure depends on God's graciousness and God's mercy.
But there is a catch. It is that this pronouncement does not say simply that God is gracious and God is merciful. Rather, God is gracious toward those whom God wants to be gracious; God is merciful toward those whom God wants to have mercy on. It is all on God's terms. Hard bargainer that he is, Moses now is able to discern that the true God upon whom the future depends is not a good luck charm or a nice, kind uncle or patsy. The future is on God's terms, and it will not be otherwise. Israel is expected to give up all of its pet projects of religion, all of its favorite convictions, all of its conservative ideology, all of its liberal propensity, to notice that God has not signed on for any of our easy preferences.
Excerpted from A Way other than Our Own by Walter Brueggemann. Copyright © 2017 Walter Bmeggemann. Excerpted by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCompiler's Note, 1,
Ash Wednesday: An Old Identity Made New, 2,
First Thursday of Lent: On the Road Again, 4,
First Friday of Lent: A New Way of Being in the World, 6,
First Saturday of Lent: A Trip, a Temptation, a Text, 8,
First Sunday in Lent: Lent as Alternative to Empire, 10,
First Monday of Lent Habits That Make God Unhappy, 12,
First Tuesday of Lent: On Terms other than Our Own, 14,
Second Wednesday of Lent: Flooded with Fidelity, 16,
Second Thursday of Lent: Summoned beyond Ourselves, 18,
Second Friday of Lent: First Sadness, Then Gladness, 20,
Second Saturday of Lent: A Vision That Dis-Comforts, 22,
Second Sunday in Lent: Like a Thief in the Night, 24,
Second Monday of Lent: Seeing Clearly, Loving Dearly, Following Nearly, 26,
Second Tuesday of Lent: True Self-Denial, 28,
Third Wednesday of Lent: Neighbor Religion, 30,
Third Thursday of Lent: Caught by God, 32,
Third Friday of Lent: A Nighttime Gnaw and a New Possibility, 34,
Third Saturday of Lent: Power for Life Flown in by Bird, 36,
Third Sunday in Lent: New Song, New Reality, 38,
Third Monday of Lent: The Snares of Death and the Drama of Good News, 40,
Third Tuesday of Lent: A Way other than Our Own, 42,
Fourth Wednesday of Lent: Boundary-Crossing Generosity, 44,
Fourth Thursday of Lent: The Future, 46,
Fourth Friday of Lent: The Dangerous State of Blessedness, 48,
Fourth Saturday of Lent: Scarcity and Plenty, 50,
Fourth Sunday in Lent: Pain That Transforms, 52,
Fourth Monday of Lent: Hope from Memory, 54,
Fourth Tuesday of Lent: God of the Gnats, 56,
Fifth Wednesday of Lent: Like Eagles Renewed, 58,
Fifth Thursday of Lent: Known, Named, and Unafraid, 60,
Fifth Friday of Lent: A Demanding Long-Term Miracle, 62,
Fifth Saturday of Lent: Re-Formed by Jesus, 64,
Fifth Sunday in Lent: Until, 66,
Fifth Monday of Lent: Called against the Distortion, 68,
Fifth Tuesday of Lent: The Gift of a New Chance, 70,
Sixth Wednesday of Lent: The Drama of Lent, 72,
Sixth Thursday of Lent: Water and Vegetables, 74,
Sixth Friday of Lent: A Secret World of Possibility 76 Sixth Saturday of Lent: The Big Yes, 78,
Palm Sunday: In the Wrong Temple, 80,
Monday of Holy Week: On Changing Our Minds, 82,
Tuesday of Holy Week: An Alternative World at Hand, 84,
Wednesday of Holy Week: Drawn Away, Drawn Toward, 86,
Maundy Thursday: Belonging and Washing, 88,
Good Friday: Penultimate Honesty, 90,
Holy Saturday: Expecting to Be Interrupted, 92,
Easter Sunday: Authorized for Risk, 94,