Every now and again as a reader, thinker, theologian and writer I sit and list in my mind those who have helped me to read, think, do theology and write. Intellectual indebtedness is one of the most enriching forms of being in another's debt. Throughout the years as I have been reading and preaching, thinking and sharing, praying and talking, writing and listening, a number of voices have become familiar, known, trusted, and therefore significant to the point of defining of the way I now think and talk about what I believe.
The list grows, as does the debt. Walter Brueggemann, Jean Vanier, Thomas Merton, P T Forsyth, Evelyn Underhill, Jurgen Moltmann, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dorothy Day, Cicely Saunders, James Dunn, Jonathan Sacks, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, Lesslie Newbigin, Dorothee Soelle, Frederick Copleston; poets like Denise Levertov, R S Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Jennings, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, novelists too many to mention or even remember. And biographies or remarkable people, not because they were famous and therefore great, but because they lived lives of exemplary human complexity, in frailty and strength, with courage and sometimes fear, now making right decisions then wrong, but not always because the choices were clear or morally straightforward. Biography is theology enfleshed, embodied conviction, faith evidenced by life.
And amongst those to whom I acknowledge a long indebtedness, intellectual and spiritual, is Frederick Buechner, whose writings include novels, essays and sermons. This is the year of publsished sermons for me. So Brueggemann's volume will appear and Fred Craddock's is already out. Buechner has preached since 1959 and the volume Secrets in the Dark is his selection of sermons, preached and written, over 50 years. The first, and still remarkable for its unabashed faithfulness to the God crucified in Christ, was entitled 'The Magnificent Defeat'. In an age of internet borrowed material and power point illustrated 'teaching', and rigidly pragamatic and practical applied preaching, this stands as a masterpiece of contradiction to all forms of homiletic dumbed-downness. This is rhetorical passion and biblical imagination, theological courage and pastoral honesty that will not short change the listener who comes to hear a Word from God. And throughout this book there are moments of revelation, and sometimes what we learn of the love of God comes through the preacher's own acknowledged frailties and needs.
Late in the book is a sermon entitled "Waiting". Tomorrow and Sunday I'll quote a few paragraphs. Then maybe you'll believe the blurb above!
This was written while listening to Beethoven's Violin Concerto - there too there is tenderness, vision, playfulness, rumbustious confidence, tension and gentleness, force and movement, and all expressed with the virtuosity of the concert level performer - there are no homiletical concerts, but if there were Buechner would be on stage!