Preaching Jeremiah, Walter Brueggeman. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020.
Summary: Bruggeman takes the framework of Jeremiah as a model for preaching, both in its structure of introduction, ending(s), and body, in its bringing a message of beyond, that both confronts the denial of God, and the grounds for hope that outlasts despair.
The arrival of this book was timely as our church has been preaching through Jeremiah, and as one called occasionally to fill in, I was thinking about the message of Jeremiah and the preaching of it. Walter Brueggeman not only explores these matters but also the nature of preaching in this book.
In particular, Brueggeman considers a situation where his audience is smugly spiritual and complacent when they are both in denial of God and of the approaching danger resulting from their apostasy. This is not unlike the preaching task in America today, one that requires the preacher to be courageous, imaginative, and countercultural.
He begins with Introductions, decrying many of the clever introductions in contemporary preaching. He looks at the call of Jeremiah, describing his task and the rejection he will face. There is both a call from beyond and a very specific grounding in a person and place. The introduction of Jeremiah suggests that the sermon begins long before the first word is uttered.
He then turns to conclusions. He notes that this is plural and points to the multiple endings of Jeremiah. Instead of “preaching to a decision” he proposes sermons that are “open-ended and multivoiced” recognizing that the preacher does not know the endings God has in mind, and thus leaves room for different responses.
He then turns in his last two chapters to the body of the sermon. Throughout the book Brueggeman parallels the trajectory of Jeremiah to that of Christ from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. There is the death, “the long Saturday,” and finally resurrection to new life and hope. First must come the plucking up and tearing down, and particularly meeting the resistance of the Jerusalem establishment. He must name their self-deception as to their status within the covenant and that through the nation from the north, God will make war against them, not with them. The preacher must engage in truth-telling that subverts denial.
In the final chapter he turns to the other aspect of Jeremiah. When the people are brought to a null point by the devastating invasion, Jeremiah turns to hope-telling, how they do so during exile, and look ahead to the wonder of God’s restoration, begun in repenting and returning that leads to healing, reversed fortunes, building, cleansing, forgiving and prospering.
As he concludes, he considers the challenge of this practice of truth-telling and hope-telling in the American context, a context where he thinks such preaching is “hardly utterable”:
- our preaching is largely privatized without an opening for public issues;
- there is a broad pattern of collusion with denial in the interest of a kind of therapeutic kindness;
- we preachers ourselves are enough citizens of the nation of denial not to have energy to risk so much; and
- the God we utter is usually not tough enough for infidelity, invasion, and illness, not powerful enough for fidelity, peace, and healing.
As this should make clear, Brueggeman thinks Jeremiah confronts “faint of heart” preaching with a call to resistance, prophetic integrity, and pastoral hopefulness rooted not in worldly optimism but in the wonders and redemptive work of God. This work both brings Jeremiah’s call and message to life, it informs the shape of pastoral integrity in a culture where God is paid lip service while its heart is in another place. It seems this would be a good work for one to read before embarking on preparation for pastoral ministry. Just as the call of Jeremiah made sure he was shed of all illusions, so is the case of this work for the aspiring preacher.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own.