DON’T bother trying to find a publisher for your old sermons. You will receive a polite but firm letter informing you that there is no market for them — unless, that is, you are Eugene Peterson.
Peterson is best known as translator of the Message Bible, and author of a small library of lyrical, insightful writings on faith and pastoral ministry. His approach to the spiritual life was formed through 29 years as pastor of a Presbyterian church in a sleepy town in Maryland, and this book collects 49 of his sermons from those years. The title of the collection comes from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Peterson writes of his particular debt to Hopkins and to the Swiss physician Paul Tournier in shaping his understanding of faith.
This is not, says Peterson, a “greatest hits” collection, but a representative selection from three decades of pastoral ministry. With an eye to biblical symbolism, the sermons are grouped in seven clusters of seven, each with a short introduction. Each section is themed around a character in the Bible: Moses, Solomon, John of Patmos, and so on.
The faith unpacked throughout is gentle and earthy, with the same poetic lyricism as characterises Peterson’s books, shot through with flashes of insight. Preaching on the Song of Songs, Peterson begins by noting that sex and prayer are both ways of looking at the same thing: relational intimacy.
These sermons mostly date from the 1960s to the 1980s. Most preachers today might want to include more practical application than the tentative suggestions with which Peterson ends most of the talks in this collection. But that is a minor niggle. This is a lovely selection from the back-catalogue of one of the leading spiritual voices of our day, rich in poetry and wisdom, close to the very bones of what it means to be human.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for the Church Army, and author of the “Faith Pictures” evangelism course.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A conversation on the ways of God formed by the words of God
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