Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Without Apology Sermons for Christ's Church

Several years ago I participated in a three year pastor-theologian program sponsored by Princeton Seminary. Stanley Hauerwas was a guest speaker at one of our summer conferences. Before attending that particular conference I had no idea who Stanley Hauerwas was. A fellow pastor leaned over and told me, "he's a riot." I do not remember who the other speakers were at that conference but I shall never forget Stanley! Wow! He spoke on the Gospel of Matthew, pastoral vocation and ministry and I do recall his line, "The Beatitudes aren't suggestions about our life in Christ, they're commands dammit!" I also remember laughing a lot during his talk too. The humor though wasn't gratuitous, he was not trying to be funny, but he was funny. He was funny because he told the truth in its entirety. In that way he was very much a prophet. I think most of us live in some state of denial about ourselves, about our families, about our friends and co-workers, and especially about our parishes and our churches. The truth often hurts but it is needed. We tend to laugh at those who speak the truth because they are real. I never met Stanley, although I would love to one day, he certainly spoke the truth at our summer conference and he certainly speaks the truth in this sermon collection which was recently published by Church Publishing.

Without Apology is a breath of fresh air. As a longtime pastor and preacher I find myself digging in the same well of Scripture week after week. After a while I wonder how I can preach on this same text, especially Mark's story about Jesus' driving the pigs into the Sea of Galilee or Jesus' parable about the sower. I enjoy reading various sermon collections not only for their content but also how the preacher weaves his or her sermon together; to see how they understand a particular text. I read sermons to be fed too because even pastors need to be fed and nourished on the Word of God. We need to be reminded of our common calling as disciples.

Without Apology is a small book and when it came in the mail I said to myself, "This is it?  Maybe there's a volume two coming soon?" But I was wrong. There is no volume two. This small book packs a punch. My mother always said good things come in small packages and a lot of good things come through in this smallish sermon collection.

The sermons are divided into five parts. The first two parts are the particular places where the sermons were preached; at Holy Family parish in Chapel Hill, NC and in Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN. The other three parts are sermons given at particular occasions such as sermons on the priesthood which were delivered at ordinations or during installations of a new pastor to a parish. The other part are sermons that deal with certain topics like repentance and so forth.

Since I am a parish priest and have worked in the Lord's Vineyard for a while I enjoyed his sermons on the priesthood the most. In his sermons on the priesthood he speaks about the priest working together with the people since we are all members of one another. It is all to often that parishes think that their priest is their hired hand, it's his job to "do the ministry" not ours. However that thinking is simply wrong. Jesus is our sole high priest who invites us to join his priesthood, the priesthood of all believers. Some of us are set apart or ordained to engage in more specific or intentional ministry such as preaching, teaching, and providing pastoral care. The Vineyard is often overgrown with weeds and needs pruning from time to time. There are times for planting and sowing and reaping. More often than not the work is boring, long, and often thankless. Yet we continue. We strive on. We push ahead. Sometimes we wonder whether or not there is an end to al of this since most of what we do is a "work in progress." Ministry is really never finished I guess. Stanley's sermons on the priesthood have kept me going these past few weeks. I thank him for it.

If you are looking for some "pearls of wisdom" to help your preaching or are a longtime fan of Stanley's and want to read more of his work than look no further. His new book Without Apology: Sermons for Christ's Church is just what you need.

For more information about Without Apology: Sermons for Christ's Church click here