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Old Testament scholar shows Jeremiah’s relevance to 2021

‘We are in a season of relinquishment,’ Dr. Walter Brueggemann tells the Festival of Homiletics

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann drew parallels between the book of Jeremiah and today’s world during a podcast that was incorporated into the 2021 Festival of Homiletics on Thursday.

Brueggemann was a featured guest on an episode of the Working Preacher Books Podcast, a series focused on igniting preachers’ curiosity and connecting them with the living Word.

Hosts Dr. Karoline Lewis and Dr. Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary, which hosts the Festival of Homiletics, peppered Brueggemann with questions and highlighted some of his books, such as “Preaching Jeremiah” (Fortress Press, 2020) and “Preaching from the Old Testament” (Fortress Press, 2019) from the Working Preacher Books series.

Explaining what today’s world has in common with the biblical text, Brueggemann said, “Ours, like the time of Jeremiah, is a time of violence, it’s a time of loss, it’s a time of bewilderment, it’s a time of fear, and I think that the book of Jeremiah gives voice to all of that, and before it finishes, it also manages to give voice to hope.” He called that “a much-needed voice in our time.”

Later, Brueggemann commented on the role that nostalgia is playing in some of the angst that people are feeling today.

“That nostalgia for remembering a world that really never existed is what is fueling the resentment and the violence that now is besetting our society in which there is a wish for an old, white, patriarchal, heterosexual world that was wonderful for a few people and not for very many others,” he said in response to a query from Lewis. “The first task of Jeremiah is to say, ‘Whether you treasured that world or not … it is gone and it is not coming back,’” and “that includes American exceptionalism; that’s gone, too.”

Dr. Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann, who’s authored about 60 books, is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. His work centers on Bible commentary, ancient Israelite religion, and rhetorical criticism, according to the festival.

Brueggemann noted that preachers of today are processing the trauma of the pandemic “and all the stuff that has come along with that,” and explained how he feels that Jeremiah can be helpful with that.

Stressing the importance of “truth telling,” Brueggemann noted that Jeremiah faithfully described the world and its problems, including divorce, sickness and war. Instead, “we are tempted to use all kinds of accommodating euphemisms, so that we do not really face into the depth of the reality in which we are living.”

He continued, “When one is a faithful truth teller in ways that we do not understand, hope wells up, but hope cannot well up unless the truth is told, and I think that truth telling is a very hazardous enterprise for preachers today, as it always has been.”

He noted that in chapters 30 and 31, “there is a strange mix of grief and hope, suggesting that if you hope, you have, at the same time, to be relinquishing what has been lost and recognizing how painful it is to relinquish what has been lost. I think the preachable point on all of that is that we are in a season of relinquishment and it means turning loose of those things that we have most treasured, which is exactly what Jesus did when he called people to discipleship is to leave behind them their former life for this new life of risk and companionship.”

Elsewhere in the podcast, Brueggemann was asked about the notion that prophetic preaching is imaginative. He was prompted to explain what imagination is from a Christian sense.

Photo by Andrew Russian via Unsplash

“I take it to be the capacity to host a world that is other than the one that is in front of us,” he said. “The one in front of us is scientific, conditioned by enlightenment, rationality and all of that.”

However, “that’s not a faithful way to perceive the world,” he said. “A faithful way to perceive the world is through promise and covenant, and all those ingredients of gospel faith, so it requires great will and great intentionality and great resolve to continue to dwell in and bear witness to a world that contradicts the world that almost all of us take for granted, and it invites the congregation into a zone of perception that contradicts the rest of our life.”

You can watch the video version of the podcast featuring Brueggemann on YouTube.

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