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David Ourisman draws on literary criticism (with a dash of redaction criticism) to develop a compact and practical guide for preaching on texts from the Synoptic Gospels. Ourisman hopes to move the preacher from an atomistic focus on an individual passage as the basis for a sermon to a consideration of how our hearing of a passage is informed by the broader literary and theological currents in the gospel in which it is found. The preacher wants to understand the resonances of a passage that are particular to its setting in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The author proposes a simple methodology. In the summer prior to the beginning of a lectionary year, the preacher should read and reread the gospel for the coming year in order to develop a feel for the gospel as a whole. When preparing individual sermons, the preacher first brainstorms, then re-searches the gospel (with a particular ear towards echoes of the passage in other parts of the gospel), stands open to contemporary images, establishes the plotline of the sermon, and weaves the sermon itself. Individual chapters introduce us to Ourisman's literary and redactional perspectives on Mark, Luke-Acts, and Matthew. In connection with Mark, Ourisman considers the identity of Jesus, the career of Jesus, the role of the disciples, and the female followers of Jesus. Our guide wisely considers Luke-Acts as the literary world presumed by the Gospel of Luke. The discussion highlights the controversy behind the narrative concerning the relationship of gentiles to the early movement of Christian Judaism, conflict within the narrative on the same subject, the Jewish piety of several leading characters, and the pivotal role of Peter. The chapter on Matthew takes up the motif of workers needed for the mission, the hardships of the mission, an inadequate understanding of Christian discipleship in the Matthean community (thus reducing the effectiveness of the mission), the call to retrieve disciples in danger of being lost, and conflict with persons beyond the church.
In addition to general exegetical and homiletical reflections, each chapter contains a sermon that Ourisman has preached in a live congregation. Prior to each sermon the author provides a very helpful sketch of the congregation in which the sermon was preached as well as the process of preparation, calling attention to connections between the situation of the congregation and the development of the sermon. Following each sermon the preacher reflects on the message and how it was received.
Along the way, a critical reader can take issue with some of Ourisman's exegetical preferences. For instance, I am not persuaded that the Gospel of Mark was written to a complacent middle-class community. However, such reservations only surface different ways of reading evidence that is open to multiple interpretations. On the whole, I find this book to be a congenial and helpful guide that brings two disciplines of contemporary biblical scholarship to bear on preaching.
Ourisman assumes that, week to week, the pastor will preach on discrete pericopae. I wish that this creative writer had taken a next step that is implied by his method and suggested that the pastor might actually preach on the themes that stretch across an entire gospel. For instance, instead of focusing a sermon on Mark 1:16-20 (the call of the first disciples) the pastor might develop a sermon on the portrait of the disciples in Mark. A sermon on a theme can be biblical preaching every bit as much as developing a message from a single pericope.
Ronald J. Allen, Christian Theological Seminary
David Ourisman is no stranger to United Methodists residing in what was the Southern New Jersey Annual Conference, having served as a pastor there for 16 years, first on the South Seaville Circuit and as the pastor of Monmouth Grace Church, Eatontown. His new book, From Gospel to Sermon: Preaching Synoptic Texts, is a real gift to pastors everywhere who struggle from week to week to create fresh, meaningful sermons through which God can speak to congregations.
Scholarly yet eminently readable, Dr. Ourisman's book urges the reader to look at each Gospel in its entirety, rather than merely as a collection of stories. His model provides fresh insight into the often difficult task of lectionary preaching, where the pastor is confronted with the same texts every three years of the lectionary cycle.
Throughout the book, he provides much more than exegetical detail; he gives the reader a carefully devised methodology for sermon preparation and creation. Included in the text are sermons created using his method as examples of what can be accomplished through it. He takes the reader through each of the synoptic gospels, providing insights into the richness of these sources. At the conclusion of the book, he provides an excellent bibliography for further reading.
Dr. Ourisman has served as a member of the faculty of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, and is currently visiting assistant professor of New Testament at Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, British Columbia.
I highly recommend this book to all who are involved in the preaching endeavor. It is a timely, thoughtful and stimulating addition to the field of preaching literature.
Daniel Casselberry, The United Methodist Relay 47 (March 2001) 14.
From Gospel to Sermon: Preaching Synoptic Texts by David Ourisman gives a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to reading and preaching the Synoptic Gospels. He is a United Methodist minister and visiting assistant professor of New Testament at Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, B.C. Ourisman begins his book with an all too familiar scene that he calls "the weekly dilemma." He portrays the painful circumstance of the "working stiff" pastor, who must "get up a sermon" week in and week out. He also alludes to those who preach regularly through the lectionary, noting how we seem to revisit the same text every "three, six, and nine years." His solution is to read the texts with new eyes and to learn how to "plot a sermon" for its eventual delivery. Although he does not explicitly say so, he draws the distinction between the content of the sermon and the sermon's form.
As I read through his book, Ourisman did not startle me with brilliant or novel insights. What impressed me, however, was Ourisman's persuasive combination of insights to help ordinary preachers like me address what is really important in preaching and what is not as vital. He focuses on the gospels as story-as-a-whole and provides clues about how this insight helps preachers develop sermons that both remain faithful to the text, while at the same time speak to the audience's needs.
David Neil Mosser Sr., The Clery Journal (August 2001) 47.
Ourisman is an excellent tour guide to direct our trip from gospel to sermon because he is so well acquainted with all of the important sites along the way. From careful readings of each of the synoptic gospels, through the forest of sermon preparation, to the destination of the completed sermon, he points out what we need to know to make the journey more easily ourselves.
While encouraging us and teaching us to consider them 'stories-of-the-whole,' David Ourisman offers a fresh reading of the synoptic gospels. His literary insights challenge us to read more carefully, his homiletical queries ask for proclamations with theological depth, and his sermons provide moments of devotion. Those who preach the synoptics frequently will find in Ourisman an interesting and stimulating study partner.
Larry Paul Jones,
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