Walter Brueggemann is convinced that culture drives people to insanity. He is equally convinced that preachers are those who get to tell this culture that there is another way, another place. That is how the Festival of Homiletics began this year with Brueggemann preaching a sermon titled “Ministry in the Asylum.” He suggested that this is our assignment.
He read an Old Testament lesson from Daniel 4 where we find King Nebuchadnezzar reigning in world power Babylon. He was “at ease” in his house and “flourishing” in the palace. It was then that the king had a dream. The dream has him troubled. He sought out a Jewish therapist who told him that he was not sovereign.
Brueggemann suggests that by day, Nebuchadnezzar was convinced that he ruled the world. At night come words of sanity, when it is obvious that he is not in control. Yet, the king disregards those words and the text says that “he began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.”
He goes on to read a New Testament lesson from Luke 15 and highlights that one there “came to his senses.” But only after “he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating.” This one comes back home to where he belongs. Sanity is one’s true home.
Nebuchadnezzar also returned to reason and sang a doxology. Brueggemann wants to make sure that we know that he does this only after he hears the essence of Torah. After he is reminded that Heaven rules. After being reminded to do righteousness and to show mercy to the poor. Both Daniel 4 and Luke 15 provide acts of sanity. One sings doxology, the other dances at his homecoming. Preachers are to call people from the asylum to become a missional people rejoicing.
Brueggemann cautions against being pulled into the insanity of culture ourselves. We must check regularly to determine whether we need our haircut or our nails trimmed. And all the while calling people to another way, another place.