Sunday with Walter Brueggemann: The holiness of the baptized community

View of a River with Rowing Boats, Van Gogh

Sunday with Walter Brueggemann
The holiness of the baptized community

The holiness of the church does not consist in true doctrine that everyone accepts. It does not consist in true morality that everyone embraces. We know of course that the church has often specialized in doctrine and morality. But the truth is that the holiness of the baptized community consists in the habits of generosity, grace in speaking, and tenderhearted forgiveness. Imagine such an agenda for the church: generosity, grace, forgiveness. These are the marks of baptism, these are the marks of Jesus, these are the shapes of our new life in Christ. The truth of the church, dramatized in baptism, is that our life is so safe that we can trust ourselves in the world. And when we do that, the world will see our holiness, our righteousness, our life in God. That is who we are. That’s us! And we are not like them, because our life in generosity, grace, and forgiveness is in the image of God. By our life, God is honored and the world is healed. That’s us!

The baptismal conversation is not dishonest about our hurt, does not deceive about our failure, does not deny about the violence all around of which we are apart. The baptismal conversation does, however, place in the midst of hurt, failure, and violence this other word which has been spoken over us, spoken before us, spoken against us, spoken on our behalf. This other word is hesed, God’s steadfast love which overruns our hurt, outdistances our failure, supersedes our violence, outflanks our sin. In the end, because that other word is true, our words are changed. Our words are now serious speech, ready in hope and confidence for a new obedience. Baptism is a decision to stop the mindless preoccupation of the world and focus on how the world will be, when recast in fidelity.

A Gospel of Hope, pp. 148-149

17 thoughts on “Sunday with Walter Brueggemann: The holiness of the baptized community

  1. I recommend the novels, essays, and one play, Dialogues of the Carmelites, of French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos. Most of them can be found in English translation.


  2. “The priest was still on his way, and finally I was bound to voice my deep regret that such delay threatened to deprive my comrade of the final consolations of Our Church. He did not seem to hear me. But a few moments later he put his hand over mine, and his eyes entreated me to draw closer. He then uttered these words almost in my ear. And I am quite sure that I have recorded them accurately, for his voice, though halting, was strangely distinct.

    ‘Does it matter? Grace is everywhere….’

    I think he died just then.”

    Conclusion to Diary of a Country Priest, Georges Bernanos.


  3. This calls to mind the baptismal covenant we renew at every baptism. If only our evangelical sisters and brothers could begin to catch a glimpse of this. His yoke is easy!


  4. “but there come that one time where you know to make a change or something in you will die that wants to live”

    Pure gold that.


  5. “that one time where you know to make a change or something in you will die that wants to live.”
    Yes. Those moments are few but we never forget them.
    I knew a monk who was as simple as a monk can be (I typically think of them as complex and multi-leveled). His job was cutting grass. I don’t think he gave his holiness a second thought but I felt it when I was around him. He did no particular thing to appear holy but I always sensed it.


  6. experienced once a strong sense of the holy in another person which others with whom I had worked had also experienced . . . the man was ‘special’

    but ‘looking the part’?
    he was in his thirties or so, very, very thin, soon to leave this earth’s life, with a hole in his cheek where the cancer had already eaten the flesh, and there was an odor in that ‘home’ no doubt a place run ‘for profit’, and the bedding was wrinkled and unclean, and flies hovered near him, and on the table, a glass for water that might have been filled if the pitcher had anything in it (it was my honor to remedy this neglect) and there was a bible there but no crosses on the wall, nor any pictures of family or friends, or any human sign that someone cared for this man

    and yet, we from the social services bureau had ‘noticed’ something about him that was radiant . . . . being Catholic big ‘C’, I had no problem calling ‘a sense of the holy’ about him, and even my co-workers who had come in to check on him . . . . they also had sensed something ‘special’ about this very ill, rather young black man in a ‘home’ where people were openly neglected even when the social services were coming . . . . . nothing ‘pious’ about him, no, no preaching, no quoting Scripture, none of that . . . . just a kindness and a concern for us that we might be made uncomfotable by the surroundings and by his condition and the flies and that there was only one glass for the water we demanded for him . . . that kindness, that gentleness, whatever it was we ‘intuited’ raised this dying man far, far above his circumstances in our eyes, and I never forgot him

    and your comment, ChrisS, brought him immediately into my memories as a person who was ‘a holy persona’ and yes, his being one WAS tough enough. I left my job later that year, but heard that this man had passed and on hearing, I crossed myself, and cursed that I could not have done more for him than get him some water, and report his circumstances that the state or could not remedy. For him, even the grave might have been more merciful. But my faith tells me he is in the bosom of Abraham. And in retrospect, I left the job to go and try to find work where I might be able to do ‘more’ positive work and he may have been one of the reasons I had to change the direction of my own life. He sat silent witness to something that called me to a different place. There were other reasons, but there come that one time where you know to make a change or something in you will die that wants to live.


  7. +1. This short blurb is wonderfully written and takes me straight to the fruits of the spirit outlined in Galatians.

    A Gospel of Hope indeed. Thanks for sharing this snippet of Brueggemann, CM.


  8. Holiness is not so much seen in others as it is intuited, felt and recieved. What comes to mind is the overt exhibition of a holy persona. It’s totally unnecessary to look holy. In fact it is often a sign of suppressed anger and darkness. I’m generally turned of by the extreme piousness that sometimes is on display. I tend not to trust it and go the other way. Looking the part is way too much work. Being it is tough enough.


  9. Wow. I have never heard baptism explained like that before, but it, when expressed, seems obvious: it is about becoming definitively part of the church community and (which is the new bit to me) this means a place where we can practice “the habits of generosity, grace in speaking, and tenderhearted forgiveness” amongst those who we can be assured are also embarked on the same mission, in a community built around the Spirit and Word of which these are fundamentals, and then take our developing skills with more confidence into the wider world.


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