The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Volume 1

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Walter Brueggemann
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , November
     2011.
     392 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664239121.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Though published four years apart, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Volume 1 and Volume 2 are twin homiletic tomes functioning as a two-volume work, spanning the minister and prolific prosaist Brueggemann’s sermons over a forty-year period, from 1972 to the present day. Though these books lack the dynamism of the sermons’ original delivery, even on the static page they excite and delight. The first volume is arranged chronologically, while the second is arranged by liturgical season.

In her introduction to the first volume, Rebecca J. Kruge Gaudiono writes of Brueggemann’s rhetorical art (xix-xxi). The virtue of these sermons lies partially in their shocking juxtapositions and turns-of-phrase, for example, when Brueggemann reminds his congregations that the church is not meant for an inward-focused circle of “pious masturbation” (1:69), or describes the “Hebrew barrio” in Exodus 1–2 as a “future-infested place” from which arises the jazz song of Miriam (1:263–64). In one homily on 2 Kings 6:8–23, he startles—perhaps with a wink—his audience with “the story does not have anything to do with us”—then proceeds to explain how the story has everything to do with us. Likewise, he creatively echoes his key phrases to contrast imperial hopeliness with Gospel hope (e.g., 2:182).

These sermons emerge from and speak to the time and place of their speaker and listeners. “Imperial” is not a word one hears much in homilies, but Brueggemann repeatedly returns to the headlines of American empire, whether the Boston marathon bombing (2:177), the Vietnam war (1:9), or the boastful pride of great cities (1:225). He frequently contrasts the way of American empire with the way of God’s reign—Jesus’s kingdom values. In doing so, he both inspires hope and places a challenge on his listeners. The workings of empire in the Bible, critiqued by prophets from Jeremiah to Jesus, are familiar to today. Brueggemann describes this technique as the “evangelical imagination,” offering an alternative to the “ideology of the world” (1:xxiv).

Yet Brueggemann-the-scholar and Brueggemann-the-homilist are no Jekyll and Hyde. They are one in the same man. Only one immersed in Hebrew would preach a sermon entitled “The Strong God with Two Weak Verbs” (1:29). Brueggemann spends just enough time explaining the pe yodh and lamedh he forms before moving into his point: the work of ministry is to “come forth, appear” just as Isaiah did (Isa 49:9). He stops to look at the trees of verb forms, but thankfully zooms his lens out shortly after.

Best digested slowly, these sermons exemplify good preaching, and would be of benefit for anyone who exegetes the Bible for our own time: preachers, biblical scholars, or teachers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jonathan Homrighausen is a graduate student in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

Date of Review: 
September 19, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is one of the world's leading interpreters of the Old Testament and the author of numerous books.

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