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Posted August 26, 2005

Book: Performing the Psalms: with essays and sermons by Walter Brueggemann, J. Clinton McCann Jr., Paul Scott Wilson, and others
Editors: Dave Bland and David Fleer
Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO, pp. 195

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

How shall preachers offer a vision beyond themselves and draw congregations to life as the vision is uttered and imagined in the Psalter? How shall preachers speak from the Psalms of the reality of the transcendent God who, through these texts and their implied narratives, longs to claim central position in our lives? These concerns are at the heart of this volume and unearth a bevy of thrilling questions and possibilities: What would happen if we abandoned using the Bible to illustrate our prior theological notions and personal needs? What would happen if we learned to see the Bible as imagining a reality capable of recasting our human agendas to fit God’s greater purpose? What would happen if we turned to scripture for insights beyond us, for a word that did not serve our constructions of desire and need? What would happen if we allowed the Bible to form us into a community encountered in scripture by the living Lord? What would happen if we allowed ourselves to live in this new paradigm that grants the Bible a reality-defining power over the church and thus creates “an alternative story of the world?” What would happen if the church became the imaginative projection of the biblical texts? What if we allowed God through scripture to change us?

An Excerpt from the Book:

In the wake of 9/11 the church has learned the value of communal lament. It is a lesson we learned, but perhaps it had only a momentary impact. The first anniversary was observed by many; but the second lost ground, and the third anniversary lost even more. My point is not that we should institute an annual liturgical memorial day for 9/11, though I would not oppose such a move. Rather, my point is that communal lament, though it has a brief brilliant life, has not become part of the regular cycle of our liturgical experience.

Communal lament needs to become, as it was for Israel, part of the rhythm of our liturgical life. It is part of the rhythm of our human experience; consequently, it should become part of our divine service. We need communal moments of penitence (e.g., Lent). We need communal moments of memorial for past or present national tragedies (e.g., 9/11). We need communal moments of prayer for justice in the world and our society (e.g., Martin Luther King Day). We need communal moments of memory for those who died in our congregations (e.g., an annual day of remembrance).

Preaching communal laments, however, will not only give voice to the cry of the disoriented but will also become a word of God to the disoriented. Through the communal lament the church expresses its lament, hurt, and pain; but also through hearing the communal lament of Israel’s past it hears a word of God that gives hope in the present. The Word bears witness to God’s faithfulness and rehearses Israel’s past it hears a word of God that gives hope in the present. The Word bears witness to God’s faithfulness and rehearses Israel’s own memory of God’s might acts.

The “sorrow songs” of African American liturgy enabled an oppressed community to endure through faith. The 9/11 remembrance services express our continued pain and hurt but also call us to peace and justice. Lament services as part of the cycle of our Sunday morning rhythm will empower and transform the hurting as the church weeps with those who weep. The present is a good moment for the renewal of communal lament in our churches through the preaching of communal laments.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Essays on Performing the Psalms

1. Psalms in narrative performance
Walter Brueggemann

2. The psalms as limit expressions
Walter Brueggemann

3. Creed, Grace, and Gratitude: An approach to preaching the psalms
J. Clinton McCann Jr.

4. Preaching community laments: Responding to disillusionment with God and injustice in the world
John Mark Hicks

5. The New Testament preachers the psalms: Problems and possibilities
Ronald Cox

6. Reading the psalms for preaching: Fictive Plot
Paul Scott Wilson

Part Two: Sermons on Performing the Psalms

7. Like a child at home: Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10
John Clinton McCann Jr.

8. Beauty: Psalm 27
James Howell

9. Though Mountains shake in the sea: Psalm 46
Mark Love

10. The goodness of God: Psalm 73
Dave Bland

11. Going to Church in the Psalms: Psalm 89
Mark Love

12. Dust in the space in between Psalm 103
Jeff M. Christian

13. Sing to the Lord a new song? Trouble leaving the lament: Psalm 146
David Fleer