Nov 06

Finding Ourselves Among the Saints



Two years ago Misty Copeland became the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. At the time she told reporters, “I had moments of doubting myself, and wanting to quit, because I didn’t know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level. At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. So it’s not me up here — and I’m constantly saying that — it’s everyone that came before me that got me to this position.” In a world—and not just the dance world—where pictures of success are still often filled with white faces, Copeland has become a model of new possibilities for people of all races. To those, like her, who have faced difficult circumstances just because of the color of their skin, she demonstrates the virtue of persistence and destroys the lies of limitations imposed on them. To those who have not faced such difficulties, she embodies a new world that is not chained by past prejudices and expectations. Misty Copeland is a gift, someone whose accomplishments are not just to be celebrated for their own sake but also for the fact that they make the world around her a better place. Continue reading

Oct 30

The Reformation at 500: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God



“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity.” Growing up, I heard these words often from my mother, who usually spoke them to me and my brother—I have a sister, too, but she almost never needed to hear these words—whenever we were fighting, or about to start fighting. “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in peace,” she would say, in the old King James version of Psalm 133. I never liked hearing those words, but I needed to hear them. I needed to be reminded that whatever state I was in with my brother—anger, frustration, disappointment, annoyance—there was something better for me, something good and pleasant for me to seek. Continue reading

Oct 09

Reformation at 500: Grace Alone, Faith Alone



What we would like to have is a guarantee: something in writing, preferably, with full assurances. A baseline, a foundation we can build on because we know it will never go away. Something set in stone. What we would like to have is the full knowledge that things could not be different, that there is no other possibility than the reality we have right now. And if we don’t see that foundation, if we have trouble finding it, or if someone points it out to us and things look a little wobbly, we start to build that foundation for ourselves. If God won’t give us the foundation we think we need, the sure footing we want for our salvation, then we will make our own, by the works of our hands. Yet at the heart of the gospel, at the heart of our salvation, lies this precious word: grace. And grace means that things could have been different, that the way things are right now is not the way things must be. Grace means that the guarantees, the foundations we want, need to be thrown out the window. Continue reading

Oct 01

Reformation at 500: Scripture Alone



What happens when we read Scripture? What do we expect to happen when we read Scripture? In Nehemiah, our Old Testament lesson for this morning, Ezra reads from the scroll of the law of Moses. We don’t know what, exactly, he read, either what part or how much. Maybe he read from Exodus, or maybe he read all of Deuteronomy. What is clear is that this kind of reading hadn’t happened in a while, maybe in a generation or more. Imagine, decades without hearing Scripture read, interpreted, or proclaimed. Not just for one or two individuals, but for the whole people of Israel. Continue reading

Sep 10

Real Church Life



Two weeks ago, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen brought on himself the kind of attention nobody wants. His church, Lakewood Bible Church, was slow to open its doors to offer its neighbors shelter. Osteen himself was a little clueless, if not insensitive, in his answers about why it took so long for one of the largest churches in the country to help out after such a bad storm. I can’t stand Osteen, and I think in general he does more harm than good, but I don’t bring up this unfortunate situation to beat up on him. I’m more interested in the reactions from people both inside and outside the church.

Almost everyone I heard said something like, “This is a church. Don’t they know how they’re supposed to act? Don’t they get it? How could they let something like this happen? Don’t they know that they’re a church?!” And on the one hand, I support that response. We Christians ought to hold ourselves to a high standard, and we shouldn’t be upset when others hold us to a high standard, too. But on the other, I think that attitude is dangerous. It makes the church an ideal, a fantasy society that gets everything right all the time. But the church, in this world, is not filled with ideal people. The church is a hospital for sinners, a place where we are healed from sin so that we can live according to the new life given in Jesus Christ. But a hospital is not a place where everyone is well. And the church is not a place where no one sins anymore. The “ideal” church is a lie. And when we believe the lie, or let others believe it, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and even for falling away from the church when things go wrong. Continue reading