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God and our prophetic imagination

by davesandel on October 25th, 2021

Monday, October 26, 2021                             (today’s lectionary)

God and our prophetic imagination

God is the father of orphans. He is the defender of widows. God gives a home to the forsaken. And he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.

Hear this simple story of sweet, sophisticated healing and its afterward.

On the Sabbath day Jesus called to a long-broken woman, who had been crippled by a spirit. She was completely incapable of standing erect. He said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity,” and laid hands on her. At once she stood up straight and glorified God. The leader of the synagogue was horrified.

But Jesus said to the priest, “On the sabbath, do you not untie your ass from its manger and lead it to water? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound now for eighteen years, ought she not have been set free on the sabbath day from her bondage?” At these questions all his adversaries were humiliated, while the whole crowd rejoiced at the splendid deeds done by Jesus.

God’s power in our lives knows no bounds, except those He puts upon himself.

This God, the Lord, my Lord, controls the passageways of death … But if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. Then you cry “Abba! Father!”

Over and over, God reminds us, “Do not be afraid.” Let me be creative in your culture, and you will flourish. In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann lays his own claim to the Star Wars battle between the Jedi of the Galactic Republic and the Sith, soldiers of the Empire. His book, published a year after the Star Wars saga began its decades-long grip on our imagination, looks back to Egypt before the Exodus and pictures Moses as a prophet whose imaginative obedience to God changed the world.

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered. Let God, let God arise!

Moses listened to God and spoke to Pharaoh. Thus, writes Brueggemann, “by the middle of the plague cycle Israel has disengaged from the empire, cries no more to it, expects nothing of it, acknowledges it in no way, knows it cannot keep its promises, and knows that nothing is either owed it or expected of it. That is the ultimate criticism which leads to dismantling.”

Egypt was without energy precisely because it did not believe anything was promised and about to be given. Egypt, like every imperial and eternal now, believed everything was already given, contained, and possessed. If there is any point at which most of us are manifestly co-opted, it is in this way. We do not believe that there will be newness but only that there will be merely a moving of the pieces into new patterns.

However, a prophet must not merely criticize and dismantle. God energized Moses and directed him toward a NEW way of life. Moses empowered God’s people to “engage in history, evoking cries that expect answers, taking God and themselves seriously, and ceasing to look to the numbed and dull empire that never intended to answer in the first place.”

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, heirs of God and heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him.

This is the God who dared to “harden Pharaoh’s heart,” something which confuses soft, uncreative Christians like me. How could He do such a thing? Brueggemann sees past my offended spirit:

This is not the comfortable god of the empire, so fat and well fed as to be neutral and inattentive. Rather, it is the God who is alert to the realities, who does not flinch from taking sides, who sits in the divine council on the edge of his seat and is attentive to his special interests. It is the way of the unifying gods of the empire not to take sides and, by being tolerant, to cast eternal votes for the way things are.

Does what David Noel Freedman calls “militant Mosaic Yahwism” exist today, in our own struggles as Americans against the empire (whatever we conceive it to be)? Of course it does. Brueggemann is right when he says “we are indeed made in the image of some God.” But which God?

Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper godness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion.

How interesting all this is, oh, my! Let mercy lead us along the yellow brick road, those old Hebrew slave-made bricks, laid out and maintained by the God of freedom, guiding us up into a new horizon.

(Romans 8, Psalm 68, John 17, Luke 13)

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