Should come as no surprise that Walter Brueggemann rocked it this morning. The challenge he left the room of pastors was a bold one, so much that one Baptist minister afterward heard me mentioning my friend who was a Baptist and thought I was (still) one and asked, "How do you preach that to Baptists?" I answered, "I don't. I gave up on the Baptists. Good luck."
Brueggemann proclaimed and lectured (first a sermon, then a lecture revealing the background to the sermon) that "it is the pastoral task of the church to guide people through the end of exceptionalism." Which is not easy, he said, because most people don't realize how they participate in exceptionalism. He focused on the "chosenness" of Israel, the Church, America, and White people and deconstructed all of them. "Absolute chosenness is over," he said. "Absolute chosenness is idolatry." Pastors are those with the resources to help people face this and learn to live together in society.
Chosenness leads, inevitably, to entitlement, exclusion, extraction of wealth, and violence. He unpacked each one. "The more frightened we are, the more entitled we are." "Everyone knows the church continues to be a wounding institution." "The Bible is shot through with lethal ideologies."
We must give up the notion of American exceptionalism. Give up the idea that Christianity contains the only truth about God. Give up the ways we have benefited from white supremacy.
He then walked us through ways that the Bible negates its own themes of chosenness. He focused on Amos 9:7, Micah 4:1-5; Isaiah 19; Acts 10; and Romans 15.
The church has the liturgical resources to help people--we have the psalms of lament and our conviction about God's grace. We must lament that the world we know has ended and name that, so that we might move on into this new and better world. We cannot simply allude to these topics, we must face them.
As alternatives to entitlement, exclusion, extraction, and violence we must offer neighborliness, inclusion, the common good, and compassion. And they must be identified as alternatives.
The pastor should begin with the people who are wounded for the wounded know that the absolutes are not reliable. What is reliable are baptized brothers and sisters who are present with us.
The Festival this year isn't pulling any punches. Almost every speaker I've heard has gone directly to confront the strange times in which we live and the dangers of this political moment. Donald Trump has been expressly named and his views denounced and alternatives proclaimed. The speakers have spoken to the challenges of pastoring and preaching faithfully in these times, that we must help people with their fear and grief. I have enjoyed the prophetic proclamations, but I hope that some will focus now on those latter points--how do we pastorally help peoplewith those griefs and fears and not simple alienate them?