PREACHING GOD'S TRANSFORMING JUSTICE: A Lectionary Commentary, Year C. Edited by Dale P. Andrews, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, and Ronald J. Allen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. Xxvii + 504 pp.
There is a myriad of lectionary based-resources available to the preacher. There may be an embarrassment of riches out there, so one might ask – why another book or series of books? Why add more clutter to the shelves? The answer? The editors and the authors of the lectionary reflections found in the volumes that carry the title Preaching God’s Transforming Justice believe that the church needs to hear prophetic preaching. But such preaching doesn’t entail predicting the future or condemning folks for their wrong actions or beliefs. It’s not focused on chastisement. No, prophetic preaching seeks to help “the congregation and others interpret the world from the standpoint of God’s life-giving purposes“(p. xxi). Thus the preacher is charged with helping the people compare the behavior of the community with that of God’s purpose.
This volume is the second in the series, with the commentary on year B, with primary editorship belonging to Ronald J. Allen, having been published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2011. Those of us who have made use of the first volume, under primary editorship of Ronald J. Allen, and I’ve turned to it regularly both for preaching and teaching, have found within it a treasury of riches. The most important difference between this commentary and others that one might turn to is its focus on issues of social justice.
The current volume is edited by Dale Andrews, and a third volume will be the primary work of Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm. It numbers ninety contributors, half of whom are women and half are men, with forty percent being persons of color. As with any multi-author text there is unevenness present, but overall the quality of writing and insight is excellent. The exegesis useful, and the guidance provided is greatly appreciated. As with the earlier volume, this volume “concentrates on how the lectionary readings can help the preacher identify and reflect theologically and ethically on the social implications of the biblical readings” (p. xii).
As with the original volume, one will find lectionary commentaries for twenty-two “Holy Days for Justice,” such as Martin Luther King’s Birthday and World AIDS Day. In the introduction the editors write of these holy days:
Each holy Day for Justice derives from either a person or an event that helps the contemporary community become aware of arenas in the world that cry for justice. These Holy Days bridge significant phenomena in our history and present culture that do not receive adequate attention in the church’s liturgical calendar or may not otherwise be noted in the congregation. They draw our attention to circumstances in need of social transformation (p. xiii).
These reflections on days outside the normal lectionary focus should prove extremely valuable over the course of time. If for no other reason than that they remind us that God is concerned about things on days other than Sunday.
As for format, the writer of the reflection takes up the texts of the day – Hebrew Testament (with both primary choices receiving commentary), the Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel. The author will address the text through the lens of the prophetic vision of transformation of God’s world. Although this is but one resource to be consulted, it will broaden our preaching horizons, helping us see things differently. This will probably be especially true of white male preachers like me. But it also reminds us that the prophetic tradition undergirds the preaching tradition. Called to preach, we are called to speak to the questions of the age, and justice is always at the forefront of our questions.
We are blessed to have this new addition to the series of important contributions for preachers that WJK Press has published in recent years. If you’re not acquainted with the first volume in the series, you may have found the Feasting on the Word series to be of great help. This is a nice compliment to that series. If you’re a preacher who follows the lectionary and is concerned about what is happening in the world, and want to discern how God would have us respond, this is an essential resource. Remember too that the time for this volume is on the near horizon!