Every Sunday I begin worship with a prayer that ends with words that sound something like this, “…so that you might be our God and we might be your people.”
I am writing this little reflection from a hotel room in Atlanta during a break between the thoughtful and challenging lectures that are being offered at the Festival of Homiletics. The last one was given by Old Testament scholar, Dr. Walter Brueggemann whose topic was, “Choosing against Our Chosenness.” It is Brueggemann’s belief that rejecting the notion of chosenness needs to be a driving priority for the church in these times when Christianity no longer enjoys the cultural advantage that it enjoyed in previous days. Pastors have the important task of guiding churches through the likely painful process of allowing our notions of chosenness – exceptionalism – to die.
I hope that my opening prayer hasn’t worked at cross purposes with this task! When I pray that we might be God’s people, I don’t mean that we might be God’s only people. Rather, I mean for us to see ourselves as included, as being among God’s people. But, Brueggmann points out that often in scripture and through the course of human history chosenness has been understood in terms that divide the chosen from the not-chosen. It leads to entitlement, which leads to exclusion, the extraction of wealth (land), and the doing of so by violent means.
This is bad on a couple of levels. First, of course, it oppresses the disadvantaged. It makes victims of
God’s creatures. But, it also hurts the advantaged. It traps the advantaged in a perpetual
struggle to maintain advantage, and therefore the advantaged are caught in unending anxiety. Plus, at some level there is the reality of guilt, persistent guiltiness, from which the advantaged are not free to seek liberation because of their ongoing commitment to a flawed sense of chosenness.
Though chosenness is clearly a theme in the Old and New Testament scriptures, Brueggemann points out that so is inclusion. In his lecture he points to five scriptural examples, not the least of which is the resurrection of Christ, showing that a world of power, scarcity, and domination is overcome by a new way of grace, abundance, and inclusion.
Brueggemann’s theme fit usefully, I thought, with the previous talk offered by Leonard Pitts who suggested that the decline of the church is directly related to the church’s failure to embody the spirit and love of Christ in the face of systemic injustices. All too often the vocal church is represented by leaders who are committed to a brand of faith that values judgment and power over the creation of just systems and the celebration of radical inclusion. He noted important apologies that were offered by some of these leaders well after the fact of their judgements, but also asks, “Where were you when we needed you?” It’s little wonder that people are leaving the church when the church continues to be so late to the justice party.
It seems to me that a church that is free from the need to desperately hold on to its diminishing standing and sense of exceptional chosenness is also freed up to focus its energies on receiving the same grace and the same Spirit that God wills to pour out
on all peoples. It is a church that is freed up to receive the love of God and to live in love with the rest of God’s people. In other words, there is Good News for the church in the death of our chosenness.
What do you think?