Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Into Your Hands

I have reviewed several of Walter Brueggeman's books on this blog, especially his two-volume sermon collections which are very good. Brueggmann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is a prolific author and has many books on both the Old and New Testaments as well as various essay collections and talks. I always enjoy his writing.

Into Your Hand: Confronting Good Friday (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014) is a short collection of sermons/prayerful reflections on the seven last words of Jesus. These talks were delivered in a three hour long prayer service at his home parish which included song, Psalms, and prayers. Even though the book is very short, its around 45 pages, it contains a lot of food for thought regarding Jesus' last hours.

What I like about Brueggemann is that although he is an Old Testament scholar and seminary professor he has a pastoral heart. He brings the Scriptures to life for his readers, and in this case, his hearers, as he reflections on the last words of Jesus which we find in the gospels.

It's unfortunate that in many Churches Good Friday gets overshadowed by Easter Sunday. All too often the focus is on the Empty Tomb, on Christ is Risen, and in some places, the Easter Bunny. Yet what about Good Friday? What about the suffering? What about the beatings? What about the crown and the vinegar? What about the abandonment? What about Jesus' crying to God the Father? All of these things are discussed by Brueggemann in a prayerful and pastoral way.

This book would be a great book club book for those wanting to learn and discuss the basic outline of Good Friday.

For more information about Into Your Hand click here 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: Invasion of the Dead

Spring means blooming flowers, green trees and grass, and warmer weather. Spring also means that its the Easter season. It is very timely then that I received Rev. Dr. Brian Blount's new book, Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrection (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 2014) for review. Couldn't have timed this better!

Rev. Dr. Blount is President and Professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA and is the author of numerous books, articles, and reviews. This book is a collection of lectures that he gave in 2011 at Yale University Divinity School. The three lectures are interspersed with three of his sermons.

Most parishioners forget that every Sunday is a mini-Easter, a mini-Resurrection feast. Sure we celebrate Easter once a year after Good Friday but every Sunday is the Lord's Day, it is the Day of the Lord, where we offer our prayer and praise and break bread and share fellowship with one another. Yet most of us probably don't think much about the resurrection, or as Dr. Blount says, many folks just stop a bit shy and focus on the cross. Yet all the gospels contain the resurrection accounts and the preaching of the good news to the whole world.

I must say being a pastor I enjoyed reading Dr. Blount's sermons and hope that one day he publishes them. The three sermons in this book focused on some aspect of the resurrection: new life, joy, rebirth. I especially enjoyed the last sermon in the book focusing on Mark 16 called "Rise" which was delivered in honor the rededication of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. Blount refers to a tired and dying parish like that of Jesus. Yet there is hope in that dying. He admits that much of institutional Christianity is dying or has died, namely old ways of thinking and old ways of doing things.

Does this sound like a depressing story? Yes! But Dr. Blount provides hope. Just as Jesus rose from the dead so too can a parish rise from the burning ashes that they might find themselves in. Some parishes struggle with poor attendance, others struggle with lack of regular income, and others struggle with shifting demographics. All this sounds like bad news, tired, sad, and downright depressing. Yet Dr. Blount reminds us that new life is possible. That God's gracious gift of resurrection can even be found in big and small ways throughout the Church.

Reading this book gave me several pearls of wisdom for my own parish ministry. Where do I see God's gracious hand in my life, in my parishes life, in the larger Church that I find myself? Where do I see glimmers of the shimmering light of the resurrection?

For more information Invasion of the Dead click here