You have probably heard by now that Eugene Peterson died last month. Ever since my friend Dale told me to read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction I was reading everything from Eugene Peterson I could find. Peterson’s contemplative exegesis helped me at a stage when I was struggling to make connections between a biblical theology and a practical pastoral theology. I suspect it was the same for many. Peterson will not be remembered primarily as a preacher. Instead, he will likely be remembered as the guy responsible for The Message or as an author of many books. Yet, as evidenced by As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, a book of sermons that were preached by Peterson, he was a preacher. I suspect there is a long list of preachers who considered Peterson to be their pastor.
As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire can be read as a devotional or as a sermon primer. It certainly helps us to understand a little how Peterson thought about scripture. It helps us understand a little bit about this one who desired to be like a kingfisher “catching and reflecting sun brightness.” It helps us to understand a little about this one who desired Christ to be “playing through our limbs” in ways that we can live the Christ life “almost in spite of ourselves.” He calls these written sermons “kingfisher sermons” because he knows that capturing a sermon on paper is like trying to “sketch a kingfisher in flight.”
I love what his son Leif Peterson said about his father at his recent funeral. “The writer of Genesis tells us that at the end of each day of creation, God looked around the world that He had done, and saw that it was good.” He goes on to say “I think my dad did that a lot. He was always looking around at the mountains, at the flowers, at the birds, at the relationships forming and playing all around him, and you could tell from that signature twinkle in his eyes, what he was thinking ‘oh man that’s good, that’s really good.'”
He continues by saying that he used to joke with his father and tell him that he “only had one sermon, one message… It’s almost laughable how you fooled them, how for 30 years every week you made them think you were saying something new… They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them… They didn’t know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret.”
Leif Peterson said that he knew his father’s secret, however, as he had been telling him for 50 years. “For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It’s the same message over and over: ‘God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless.’”
I love that. Thank you, Eugene, for a life well lived.