Brief Book Review: The Faces Of Jesus

The Faces Of Jesus: A Life Story

Author: Frederick Buechner

Publisher: Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press

97 pages + Introduction, ISBN: 1-55725-455-9, Hardcover

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


Frederick Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and, over the years, has become somewhat of a popular and prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction works.

This little volume is divided into six chapters in addition to the Introduction: 1 Annunciation, 2 Nativity, 3 Ministry, 4 Last Supper, 5 Crucifixion, and 6 Resurrection.

Buechner—in this reviewer’s humble opinion—has the gift of attention grabbing turns-of-phrase that surprise and inspire the reader. Sometimes these turns-of-phrase have the capacity to confront readers with the foreboding judgment of God and the all-encompassing grace of God that are able to make readers laugh and cry—perhaps at the same time. Such is the brilliance of Buechner. Here are a few examples:

When you think the world is on fire, you don’t take time out to do a thumbnail sketch. Nobody tells us what he looked like, yet of course the New Testament itself is what he looked like…(p. ix).

If he [Jesus] is the Savior of the world as his followers believe, there never has been nor ever will be a world without salvation (p. 4).

It is no wonder that from the very start of his ministry the forces of Jewish morality and of Roman law were both out to get him because to him the only morality that mattered was the one that sprang from the forgiven heart like fruit from the well-watered tree, and the only law he acknowledged as ultimate was the law of love (p. 42).

God makes his saints out of fools and sinners because there is nothing much else to make them out of. God makes his Messiah out of a fierce and fiercely gentle man who spills himself out, his very flesh and blood, as though it is only a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet red wine that he is spilling (p. 59).

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party (p. 61).

He could be Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, who said, “Fathers and teachers, I ponder, ‘What is hell?’ I maintain that hell is the suffering of being unable to love” (p. 65).

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men [and women] even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by (p. 79).

Thus for Jesus the only distinction among people that ultimately matters seems to be not whether they are churchgoers or non-churchgoers, Catholics or Protestants, Muslims or Jews, but do they or do they not love—love not in the sense of an emotion so much as in the sense of an act of the will, the loving act of willing another’s good even, if need arise, at the expense of their own (p. 91).

This is a powerful little volume, and I hope it will be regarded as a spiritual classic for many years to come. Highly recommended.



A preacher to preachers

A preacher to preachers

Those of us who preach, more or less weekly, are also in need of inspiration from, if you will, a preacher to preachers. One such mentor whom I appreciate is Frederick Buechner. Here are a few words of wisdom from Buechner on the power and inspiration of words, sermons and preaching.

“Sermons are love letters.”

A sobering question for me as a preacher is: How much love do I put into sermons as I prepare and deliver them? I’m sure there’s always room from improvement, speaking for myself. And do parishioners hear and receive sermons as love letters? If they do, then there shall be a whole lot of understanding and harmony in the parish, and they will be inspired and encouraged.

“Language itself is revelatory and gives life.”

If that’s true, then we preachers shall always be searching, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to find the right words and transform them into God’s Word for his people via the sermon.

Buechner’s sermons contain what’s been referred to as an angular vision—i.e. seeing something just above or below, not directly, to describe the everyday and apprehend the holiness.

It has been said that Buechner’s book, Telling Secrets, is a life transforming one for preachers.

“Secrets can do damage, they undermine facing the present head on. Doubts, failures, mysteries, imperfections, warts and all—tell all the secrets, the truth will set you free.”

Buechner says that we preachers need to be whistling in the dark.

“Without darkness, people cannot appreciate the light. Writing and preaching are like whistling in the dark. It is trying to convince ourselves as preachers that there is something, someone more than the darkness.”

I like this image of “whistling in the dark,” for me it is an image of hope, courage and joy—that even in the face of sufferings and an uncertain future, we can dare to live with hope, take courage, and be joyful. Why? Because God—Immanuel—is with us.

According to Buechner:

“There is nothing more powerful than a preacher speaking with love to a congregation.”

This reminds me of the captive audience of the disciples on the Emmaus road with the risen Christ, when Jesus opened up the meanings of God’s Word.

“Silence is the first language of God. We need to listen to God in silence. Preaching is born out of silence.”

The times my sermons fall on deaf ears are likely due in part at least to the reality that I did not spend enough time in silence to germinate the Word or hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to me.

Buechner’s writing is often darkness before the light, the muck before the cleanliness.

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found.”

Amen to that, for that’s the Good News of the parable of the prodigal son in a nutshell!