Category Archives: Voices

Voices: Elie Wiesel

Sometimes I find myself apathetic in the face of the injustice, evil, and sin that stand between the way things are and the way things out be. In those times, I’m tempted to conclude that because I cannot do everything, there is no point in doing anything. I don’t think this temptation affects only me. Elie Wiesel, who survived the greatest atrocity of the 1900’s (the Holocaust) speaks against that impulse:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” [1]

[1] Wiesel, Elie. “The Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.” Essay. In Night (Night Triology), translated by Marion Wiesel. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2006. Kindle.

Voices: The Gospel Itself

Another important point from Allister McGrath:

Christianity is not just about the historical fact that Jesus was crucified; it is about the astonishing and thrilling truth that he died in order that we might be forgiven. Paul makes a clear distinction between the event of the death of Christ and the significance of this event. That Christ died is a simple matter of history; that Christ died for our sins is the gospel itself.

[1] Allister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1997), Kindle, 59.

Voices: He Descended to the Dead

“He descended to the dead.” We say those words almost every Sunday as part of The Apostles’ Creed, but what do they mean? My explanation has always been that they signify that Jesus was really dead. But now you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Oxford scholar Allister McGrath in his book I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed:

“He descended to the dead.” What does this mean? It is a statement of the belief that Jesus really did die. For the New Testament writers, Christ was not raised “from death” (an abstract idea) but “from the dead.” . . . The Greek term literally means “out of those who are dead.” In other words, Jesus shared the fate of all those who have died. . . . Jesus really was human like us. His divinity does not compromise his humanity. Being God incarnate did not mean he was spared from tasting death. He did not merely seem to die; he really did die and joined those who had died before him. [1]

He descended to the dead. Jesus really did die, but, of course, that was not the end of the story.

[1] Allister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1997), Kindle, 61.

Voices: More Than the Worst Thing

In my sermon this past Sunday, I shared a quote from Bryan Stevenson: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” That sentence is the gospel truth, and it stands on its own. But the sentences surrounding that statement are also profoundly true. Here they are:

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” [1]

[1] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2014), Kindle, 17.

Both Word and Sacrament

This Sunday, I plan to preach on Luke 24:13-35. In which Jesus travels with two disciples on the way to Emmaus before being made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Justo L. Gonzalez aptly sums up the core teaching of this passage:

“The Word and the sacrament [Holy Communion] stand together: the Word explains the Sacrament, and the Sacrament enacts the Word and makes it a reality for the disciples. He [the Risen Christ] is made known to them in the breaking of the bread; but it is because along the road he has explained Scripture to [them] that they know who it is that they know! [1]”

[1] Justo L. González, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 278.

A Hymn for Holy Saturday

A hymn, titled Behold the Savior of Mankind, written by John and Charles Wesley’s father, Samuel. The last verse is especially applicable for Holy Saturday

Behold the Savior of mankind,
nailed to the shameful tree;
how vast the love that him inclined
to bleed and die for thee!

Hark how he groans! while nature shakes,
and earth’s strong pillars bend!
The temple’s veil in sunder breaks,
the solid marbles rend.

‘Tis done! the precious ransom’s paid!
“Receive my soul!” he cries:
see where he bows his sacred head!
He bows his head and died!

But soon he’ll break death’s envious chain
and in full glory shine.
O Lamb of God, was ever pain,
was ever love like thine? — Samuel Wesley (1662-1735).

According to The United Methodist Hymnal, this was “one of the few relics of his papers found after the fire which destroyed the Epworth rectory during the night of February 9, 1709.” 1

1 Both the poem and the historical information are from The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 293.

I Want for Nought

My plan, this Sunday (March 19, 2022), is to preach on Psalm 23. Sometimes a new translation can help me see an old, familiar scripture in a fresh light. Frederick Buechner put a rough translation in the mouth of a monk named Elric in his novel Godric:

“God keeps me as a shepherd keeps his flock. I want for nought,” he said. “I bleat with hunger, and he pastures me in meadows green. I’m thirsty, and he leads me forth to water cool and deep and still. He hoists me to my feet when I am weak. Down goodly ways he guides me with his crook, for he himself is good. Yea, even when I lose my way in shadows dark as death, I will not fear, for he is ever close at hand with rod and staff to succor me.” [1]

[1] Frederick Buechner, Godric: a Novel (HarperSanFrancisco, 1980), 114

Voices: Only God Creates

In our lenten devotional book, A Way Other Than Our Own, Walter Bruegemann, the renowned Old Testament Scholar makes an interesting point about God, human beings, and creation:

“God brings into existence that which does not exist. Did you know that the Bible never uses the word create with a human subject? We may “make” or “form” or “fabricate,” but only God creates, only God works a genuine new possibility, a new thing beyond our expectations and our extrapolations. It belongs to the mystery and holiness of God to call to be that which is not yet. Because this is God’s world, the world is not closed, either by our hopes or by our fears.” [1]

[1] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), Kindle, 62-63.

Voices: “Thick Skin, Tender Heart”

Words of wisdom from Rachel Held Evan’s final book, Wholehearted Faith:

” ‘Thick skin, tender heart.’

You never want to toughen up so much that you lose your tender heart, the part of you that experiences and processes pain and compassion and love. . . . Sometimes you have to remind yourself that it is okay, and not just okay but normal and right and good, to feel hurt when someone calls you names or questions your faith. 

I’m just as uncomfortable with uncertainty and emotional exposure as the next person, but I also know that just about every sociological study on the subject shows that meaningful connection requires risk and vulnerability, and you can’t argue with that data.”

“Thick skin, tender heart.” I’m taking that advice to heart in hopes of becoming more Christlike and fully human.

[1] Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu, Wholehearted Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2021), chap. 5, Kindle.

Voices: Rachel Held Evans

Here’s Rachel Held Evans on the impact of the gospel in our lives:

The gospel means that every small story is part of a sweeping story, every ordinary life part of an extraordinary movement. God is busy making all things new, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has opened that work to everyone who wants in on it. The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up in the same story, with Jesus at the center. [1]

The last part reminds me a lot of College Avenue. You’re not a group of people who all believe the same things; you’re a group of people caught up in the same story. I’m thinking about the book this quote is from, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, for a book study. Any thoughts?

[3] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Nashville, Tennesee: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 157.

Voices: Kierkegaard

In my “witness” this morning I mentioned the importance of Soren Kierkegaard in my faith journey. He wrote one of my favorite prayers. I find often find myself praying this prayer when I’ve worked myself into a frenzy over my inability to successfully think through a theological issue or challenge.

Here it is:

“Teach me, O God, not to torture myself, not to make a martyr out of myself through stifling reflection, but rather teach me to breathe deeply in faith.” 1

Amen and Amen.

1 Soren Kierkegaard, The Prayers of Kierkegaard, ed. Perry D. LeFevre (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1956), Kindle, 36.

Voices: William Faulkner

Yesterday, I preached on Christian freedom using Galatians 5:1-6, 13-25. Today I came across the following quote from William Faulkner: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” [1] Faulkner was talking about freedom in general, but his words apply to freedom in Christ as well. Let us practice holiness and love; that we might be truly free.

[1] William Faulkner, “On Fear: The South in Labor,” Harper’s Magazine, May 31, 1956, pp. 29-34, 34.