Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and former rector of Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarkesville, Georgia. She currently holds the Harry R. Butman Chair in Religion and Philosophy at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. A popular preacher, speaker, and workshop leader, she was recently noted in Newsweek as one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English language.
Bread of Angels, contains twenty-nine sermons about God's providential care, as symbolized by the manna given to the Israelites as they made their way through the wilderness. As in her other books, divine love often makes itself known in reversals and surprises, as the Old Testament sermons on Moses, King David, Jeremiah, and Daniel eloquently show.
Taylor reminds us that the Israelites were not always grateful for the manna God bestowed, and sermons like "The Trickle-Up Effect" and "Why the Boss Said No" are humorous examples of human stubbornness in the face of God's bounty. A sermon sequence on the Book of Acts gives a fresh perspective on Pentecost and its aftermath, while "God's Daring Plan" is a radiant parable of the Incarnation. As always, Taylor's meditations on the life of faith and her rueful accounts of the cost of discipleship are instruction for the preacher as well as delight for the believer, offering fresh perspectives on old stories.
Reviewed in Christian Century (November 19-26, 1997) by Martin B. Copenhaver, Pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, MA
Not many collections of sermons are published anymore, but Barbara Brown Taylor's volumes appear with some regularity and that's a very good thing for the rest of us. Her sermons are simple in theme but elegant in expression. They have the character of a reminder but also elicit the thrill of discovery. For a preacher, the danger in reading these sermons is that after encountering Taylor's treatment of a particular passage one cannot escape the conviction that there is no better way, indeed no other way, to say what she has said except in the exact way she has said it.
But reading these sermons can also help us fall in love again with this strange calling to preach. There is power in the old craft after all. Experiencing that power through Taylor is enough to keep the rest of us at it.
Reviewed in the Sewanee Theological Review, 41:1 (Christmas 1997) by William Hethcock
Barbara Brown Taylor is widely sought after as a conference and workshop leader in homiletics. Some readers, especially preachers, will want to re-read these sermons to uncover why Taylor is held to be so competent and effective. I propose some possible answers to the question. First, she is a careful and informed student of scripture, and she consistently bases her sermons on sound exegesis. She gives us reason to assume that she has studied her text in depth before determining what she will say about it. Her congregation can trust their preacher to bring the scripture to them with as much clarity and truth as it is given to any of us to discern.
Second, her language is very simple. She meets serious biblical scholarship with respect, but she avails us of it in an unobtrusive way that disarms any resistance we may have to being taught from the pulpit. Her exegesis is woven into the context of what she is saying so skillfully that it is likely to be welcomed as helpful even by those who might otherwise complain that the Bible is not really meaningful to them or that scripture is no longer authoritative in the contemporary age.
Third, with the same simple language, Taylor preaches a profound message. The truth she has perceived is not trivialized by its homiletical context or the preacher's image. She demonstrates that speech need not be grandiloquent or impressive to be descriptive, direct, moving, and involving. Her words are telling a story, forming a picture, subtly opening the mind of her listeners, and guiding their thought and imagination with no linguistic stumbling blocks.
Fourth, she knows very well what people are like. This preacher discerns what you and I are up to, and she is exposing that knowledge, not to the world, but to us ourselves in case we have been dangerously successful in forgetting it. Through this renewed awareness, we are brought to be vulnerable to the biblical text as Taylor unfolds it before our eyes.
Finally, she respects persons. I have said that we are challenged, laid open, and stretched by Taylor's preaching, but we are never demeaned. Our selves are intact.
The book is worth more than merely being read; it merits being owned. Those who want devotional material and those who want to strengthen their preaching will find it a worthy resource.
Reviewed in the The Living Church (January 25, 1998) by (The Rev.) Donald J. Maddux, Shelton, WA
Barbara Brown Taylor's collection of 29 sermons again refutes the cliches about Anglicans having a non-sermon on Sunday morning....Taylor finds bright and crisp ways of telling us to look for the unconventional revelations of God in this world. She is intellectual and thoughtful enough for serious reading, and contemporary and informal enough to cause those who do not read sermons to make an exception. The way Taylor serves Bread of Angels, it is real "Soul Food."
Reviewed in The Toronto Anglican [nd] by (The Rev. Prof.) John C. Hurd
Bread of Angels is a collection of twenty-nine sermons by the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, the charming and formidable author of two previous books . "Charming," because she is; "formidable," because she is ranked among the top twelve preachers in North America today (according to Newsweek).
The sermons are compact about twelve minutes in length, with not a word wasted. Each sermon is firmly based in scripture. She begins with a text and re-tells the story in such a way that the hearer can see, smell, taste, hear, and almost touch its details
At this point the listener is lulled into an expectation of a good, traditional, moralistic, example-story kind of sermon. But there is in these sermons a "Gotcha!" as she moves from the past to the present. Her velvet touch conceals her iron grip on the deeper truths of the Gospel. Suddenly the story that she has been re-telling snaps into new focus.
As might be expected, most of her texts are taken from the narrative books of the Bible, particularly the Gospels and Acts. The reviewer, as an ex-professor of New Testament, was prepared to be critical of her direct use of material, especially from the Fourth Gospel. Her humour and her light touch, however, gives the listener the sense that this is story, rather than cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die you-better-believe-it history. And it is clear that she has done her homework with each text, using commentaries and reference works to get a scholar's view of the story. In a word, she is honest with the text.
For a lay person this book is a treasury of gems. If you think that a book of sermons would be the last thing that you would choose to read, then this is the collection for you. But take them slowly one by one, because this is strong medicine that needs time to make its effect. If you are a preacher yourself, then "Go and do likewise."
Reviewed in The Christian Ministry (September-October 1998) by Scott Dalgarno, First Presbyterian Church, Ashland, OR
"Whenever I hear about manna, I think of grits," says Barbara Brown Taylor in the title piece of her new collection of sermons. "They are both fine, flaky things that are absolutely no good as leftovers." Liberal portions of wit are sprinkled into each of these think-pieces on God. There's nothing in Brown's pint-size meditations to blow one out of one's chair theologically, but every paragraph is so finely crafted that when I finish each sermon I'm fully satisfied.
She is the master of the one point sermon no small achievement. She borrows creatively from stories, myths, favorite movies and folklore from other religious traditions to shed light on the most perplexing of Jesus' sayings and Old Testament curiosities (like manna). These are little jewels that one can turn over in one's mind. They will be with us a long time.
"Roundup Reviews" in Sisters Today, 70:6 (November 1998)
These are sermons but not the kind most of us probably hear, and while sermons do go better with the human voice at the giving end, these also read well. All of the sermons were preached in a particular setting and to a particular, and I would say, blessed congregation. God's word is the bread here, with each sermon expanding on a chosen Scripture selection and using homey examples without ever talking down. Different things are bound to touch a reader at different times, so to single out any one sermon doesn't seem appropriate. Still, "Deep in Christ's Bones" on 1 Corinthians 12:12, all the members of the body being many but making one body, is especially fine.
Reviewed in Anglican Theological Review, 80:4 (Fall 1998) by Wendel W. Meyer, The Memorial Church, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Barbara Brown Taylor's Bread of Angels is a wonderful collection of sermons which clearly displays the full range of her impressive gifts. They are sermons which are anchored in the parochial setting which gave them birth and they reflect that sense of pastoral intimacy. Taylor does not use words or images pretentiously or unnecessarily but forcefully and economically. Every now and again, one is handed a phrase which prods one's heart and mind simultaneously, stimulating a devotional response with a prying theological edge.
These sermons are filled with common sense, which is by no means common, which often sounds homespun but frequently leads to rather exotic and surprising conclusions. Taylor does not back away from the cutting edge of the Gospel and like the work of Flannery O'Connor, what seems to be a rather homely and comforting reflection may suddenly reveal a jagged and penetrating truth about what it means to be a Christian. This collection is above all a celebration of ordinary life, a tribute to the life of faith hammered out in and through the prosaic joys and sorrows, the commonplace fears and anxieties that so define and shape our shared humanity. It is a moving testimony to that mundane and graceful human reality which has become by the gift of God in Christ the extraordinary means of our eternal salvation.
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