Roy W. Howard
CSS Publishing Company, Lima, Ohio 120 pages
Reviewed by Rose Herr Wayland
In the sermon titled “One Feisty Woman,” Roy Howard says, “All attempts to domesticate the gospel so that it conforms to our expectations render it a sentimental tale with little power to influence our lives or change the world.” In this new book of sermons, Howard approaches the lectionary Gospel readings for year A with a stance that takes seriously the difficult words and teachings of Jesus as they are instead of trying to make them more comfortable.
As a pastoral psychotherapist who has returned to interim work and preaching late in my ministry, I found much to resonate with in these sermons. Perhaps it is having more life experience, but when I come to Scripture these days, I look for how the gospel speaks to our times and how it invites the hearer to a deeper walk. I found that in Howard’s preaching.
Howard points out the need to understand the purpose behind the writing of the biblical texts in order to listen to them and make the interpretation from their time to ours so that we might hear more clearly God’s purpose for us. And in good Reformed fashion, he points out that it is not just the responsibility of the professional theologian but of all Christians to do this work.
In these sermons, Howard struggled with the text and how it applies to our situation and life today. The resulting sermons challenge, invite and call the reader to a deeper walk of discipleship. He builds bridges between the “time of vineyards and fig trees, sheep and goats” and our time. For the preacher wondering how to preach in these times of such societal upheaval, these sermons serve as a reminder that when we preach the gospel, the Word continues to speak to us.
These sermons also remind us that Jesus’ ways are not our ways. In the sermon on Matthew 20:1-16 from which the book takes it title, we are pointed to the principle of “the last shall be first.” When we are tempted to cry, “it’s not fair,” the Gospel of Matthew’s response is that all are welcomed to the table no matter how late they have come. God’s ways are not our ways. God does not measure by fairness, but by love. And God’s love is not merit-based.
Those who accuse the mainline church of not taking the Bible seriously could learn much from reading these sermons that are rooted in Scripture. They challenge cultural and individual thinking that would take the easy path. As Howard says, the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel was the “moral formation of a people of faith gathered around their belief in the Jesus as the saving one of God.” In this book of sermons, he remains faithful to that understanding. These sermons call the hearer to a deeper relationship with Jesus and to follow more closely his teaching in our lives.
Both preacher and those who sit in the pews would do well to not just read, but engage more with these messages as good sermons call us to do.
Rose Herr Wayland has been practicing her calling to pastoral psychotherapy for 30 years and her faith much longer. She lives in West Virginia and works in the Washington, D.C. area.