A word of love for the holidays

Husband-wife clergy team offer collection of sermons

“A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love.” Joseph S. Pagano and Amy E. Richter. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2012. 110 pp.

The Rev. Drs. Joseph S. Pagano and Amy E. Richter – a husband and wife team who have pastored a number of Episcopal parishes over the decades – offer a selection of their sermons in “A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love.” Each chapter offers rich homiletic reflections on Sunday gospel texts (a few expound on readings from the Hebrew Scriptures) thematically arranged according to the liturgical calendar.

Preachers, writers and seminary students will find this anthology to be a useful supplement for homily preparation, as well as a companion volume to seasonal spiritual reading and lectio divina. These sermons represent fine examples of preaching informed by prayerful biblical scholarship and a sense of compassion for the struggles and joys inherent in Christian life.

Pagano and Richter tell us in the introductory chapter that “the sermons in this book are attempts to point to the love of God.” That these sensitive pastors see the created world as suffused with God’s love is clear. And overall, their prose vividly testifies to the love they have for their congregations and for each other. In the service of that theme, the book represents a gift given in love to their people.

The preaching of Jesus illustrates that effective proclamation of God’s vision for God’s people must start with the realities of everyday life. This is why the gospels are replete with stories of farmers, families and fisherman, but with a twist of wisdom and insight. Likewise, Pagano and Richter frame their expositions in an earthiness rooted in very human questions with a studied intellectualism of penetrating insights from major-league sources. For example, in a sermon on Matthew 5 for the Epiphany season, “A Good Cry,” Pagano preaches on mourning, noting that God stands in solidarity with us as we weep, to the point where God weeps as well:

“God’s people grieve over the spoiling of God’s purposes for the world and the deep pains of human society. The world is out of joint and people raise their lament, ‘O God, there is so much hurt and pain in the world; do not let your world hurt this way forever.’”

Such an expression is a mark of profound sensitivity to both the arc of biblical theology as well to the aching of God’s people. Most impressively, Pagano elucidates these points with references to the Talmud and Shakespeare, and all in one homily!

Richter also shares this gift for gleaning the wisdom and beauty out of the apparently mundane, and re-envisioning such moments as occasions for grace. Her sermon on John 6, “The Meaning of Pie and Other Holy Mysteries,” interweaves a vignette of her late mother’s raspberry garden, and how it was cared for and continued by a neighbor. Her father, also a minister, took the pies made from the berries to his parishioners on pastoral visits. Richter recalls:

“He thought … of who might actually not just enjoy a piece of pie, but need the pie; who might need some simple pleasure: some tangible reminder that unassuming things like berries and sugar, flour and salt can be transformed into something that lets you actually taste summer in a mouthful; who might be served by this undemanding manifestation of care and love in edible form.”

The pie was the means of connection, communion. Likewise:

“Jesus is daily sustenance. He is bread to be savored, gathered around. Bread to inspire thanksgiving, to remind us of the wonder of life, to strengthen us.”

Reading such brilliant use of metaphor to articulate deep truths of faith is both prayerful and moving. One can only imagine the pleasure in hearing such a sermon delivered on a Sunday morning.

Joseph Pagano and Amy Richter have given, through this little jewel box of a book, a gift from their hearts to their flock, and to the larger church. There are many spiritually nourishing morsels to digest in their sermons, and this little volume is sure to be salutary for clergy and laity alike.

 

(Brian B. Pinter is the director of campus ministry and a teacher of theology at Regis High School in New York City.)

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