Virus as a Summons to Faith by Walter Brueggemann
Just what do you say that is neither trite philosophy, superficial piety nor just plain common sense? Brueggemann offers seven fascinating studies, has a biblical Word for where we are today and brings the Bible alive as a bonus
Virus as a Summons to Faith
By Walter Brueggemann
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore
When I preached my first sermon (more than half-a-century ago) I thought my focus was either education or conversion, or both. When I preached my last (a decade ago) I had come to see both as byproducts. The key concept was Connections, and it was triangular: the Word, the Listener and the Circumstances (geographical and temporal) at the point of delivery. Mostly, Listener and Circumstances will trump Word, but on the best days Connections will trump all three.
Brueggemann is well aware of this and a master of the art, demonstrated most recently here with much to offer to all preachers who have found ‘the pulpit’ difficult over the last 12 months (or would have done had they been able to get in it). Just what do you say that is neither trite philosophy, superficial piety nor just plain common sense? Brueggemann offers seven fascinating studies, sound and solid as always and (Old Testament scholar that he is) has a biblical Word for where we are today and brings the Bible alive as a bonus. What he offers is certainly thought provoking, though preachers may want to reflect not so much on what he says as how he does it.
For example, with graduations postponed and weddings cancelled Bruggemann’s ‘Until the Dancing Begins’ spotlights Jeremiah’s world without ever mentioning our’s, while leaving us in no doubt what is in his mind.
Isaiah 42:14-15 gives us a ‘Licence to Groan’ in a world where ’all creation is groaning’ (Romans 8:22), where groaning is regarded as normal in labour, ‘newness is never cosy’ and only ever arrives with a struggle. Groaning is a natural part of nature. The land cries out, the stones shout. So are we still with the virus or are we now in the ecological world with the force of nature and climate change? That's for the Listener to determine.
In a time of plague and pestilence, who but Brueggemann would make a beeline to 2 Samuel 24:1-25 for imaginative positive reflection, or to Leviticus, Exodus and Job hoping for refreshing water (‘Reaping the Whirlwind’)?
More straightforwardly, Psalm 77 (‘The “Turn” from Self to God’) outlines a route from ‘selfcentredom’ to submission to and reliance upon God, and ‘Praying Amid the Virus’ (a plea to God 'to hear, heed and forgive’ in a comprehensive list of disasters) sounds more familiar though 1Kings 8:23-53 rests on the assumption that God has the power and the capacity to overcome disaster and can be mobilised in an emergency.
Perhaps the easiest to assimilate is a mystery we can neither explain nor control, such as Covid, with Isaiah’s plea (43:18-19) not to look back, longing for the past, but to spot ‘God’s new thing’ . . . despite the virus.
Maybe the Bard had it all along:
‘There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out’ (Henry V).
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister