This year I have been trying (with mixed success) to read a sermon a day. I have been alternating between Eugene Peterson, Fleming Rutledge, Howard Thurman, and in the past few days, Karl Barth.
Thurman’s Sermons on the Parables are faithful transcriptions of the full sermon with introductory material by the two editors. The commentary helpfully points out features and places the sermons in context. I have heard enough of Thruman’s voice in recordings that it was easy to hear Thurman’s voice as I was reading them. Thurman had a slow, deliberate style of speaking, and I think it would be helpful if you are not familiar with his speaking style to listen to the audio collection of his sermons on Audible or watch a few of the youtube video link this one.
The parables are very familiar territory for most Christians; there is little that can be said that is new. But I was surprised at how often Thurman was able to bring a fresh perspective to the parables while at the same time taking the text seriously; he was not just creating new.
I am not going to comment anymore but quote from an introduction to one of the sermons and then the sermon itself to give a sense of the book.
From the introduction
Thurman notes that in the parable of the lost sheep Jesus portrays God as a shepherd who loves and actively seeks out the sheep who is lost. For Thurman, this portrayal of the shepherd and the sheep also demonstrates the importance of community. The sheep was out of touch “with the group that sustained him.” A sense of isolation can occur with human beings who wish to be “independent,” and it also can happen with nations—and have devastating results. The parable teaches that, like the shepherd, God is not passively waiting; God takes the initiative and is always actively seeking and searching for those who are lost. What the shepherd does for the sheep, God wants to do for human beings: restore them to fellowship and the community in which they truly belong.
From the sermon
And then the shepherd, who had many sheep, missed him when he got back to the fold, and he left his ninety and nine—or whatever the number was—and he went out to try to find this sheep that was lost. And Jesus says, “God is like that.” Nothing heavy and theological about that. Very little that is dogmatic, technically, about it. Just that here is a shepherd who loves his sheep, and one of the sheep in doing the most natural thing in the world—and that is to eat the grass—did it with such enthusiasm and over a time interval of such duration that he didn’t know when the shepherd called, and he was lost. And why was he lost? He was lost because he was out of touch, out of touch. That’s why he was lost. Out of touch with the group that sustained him, the group that fed him, that gave him a sense that he counted. That’s all. And as soon as he was out there alone, he said, “I’m just here by myself. Nothing but me in all of this? And I want to feel that I count with the others.” There’s a certain warmth in that. There’s a certain something that is creative and redemptive about the sense of community, about the fellowship. Now I call your attention to two things about that. The first is that this lost sheep wasn’t a bad sheep. And what he did was not a bad thing. It became a deadly thing, however. When [in eating the grass], or in quest of it, he unwittingly paid the price of being cut off from the rest.