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Sometimes when I am not sure what to post here on The Twelve when my turn comes around every two weeks, I troll some online news websites to see what sparks my interest or if I can jog loose from my middle-aged mind an idea I’d had some days before but had forgotten about. On this first full week of July and flush as we Americans are from our recent celebration of the nation’s 237th birthday, the news just now is–or feels–bleaker than usual.
Just now I read more about an airline crash in San Francisco that mercifully spared most every life on board and also I read a story about a horrible train derailment near a Quebec town whose crude oil-induced fireball almost certainly took more lives than even the plane crash. Then there’s Egypt where the turmoil roils on with a mounting death toll in the wake of the military coup that so far no one is sure really is a coup (one person’s coup is another’s democracy course correction). The George Zimmerman trial in Florida is giving the cable news talking heads more to talk about than they can handle when they’re not covering some of these other horrors. Meanwhile in news not on CNN, two respected colleagues at my alma mater died in rapid succession in the past 10 days even as a ministerial colleague, now retired, has disappeared and may or may not be found again as I write this. Apparently he’s been struggling emotionally and the news stories said he is considered a danger to himself.
I’ll tell ya . . . some days the news internationally, nationally, and on Facebook seems to jab and jab at your face the way Mohammed Ali used to go after opponents once he got them cornered in the boxing ring. But why note this here? It’s unfortunately not news that the news is typically grim. What’s the line from The Beatles’s song “A Day in the Life”: “I read the news today, oh boy.” The ostensible lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer offer no respite from sadness and it’s at times like this when a small cascade of such things washes over one’s soul that the need for the Good News is revealed afresh.
That’s why I was encouraged in the midst of this sultry Michigan afternoon in July to peruse another item in my denomination’s periodical “The Banner.” Pictured across four or five pages are this year’s synodically declared “Candidates for Ministry” in the Christian Reformed Church. I know pretty much each and every one quite well from various classes at Calvin Seminary and above all through the Capstone Integrative Seminar that I teach for all graduating seniors every Spring Semester now. As I peruse their faces, I can hear their voices and their laughs even as I recall many classroom interactions, including in preaching classes the last three years.
All of us who have ever graduated from a seminary know that preaching abilities across any given class vary but if there is one thing I know to be true of every student I looked at earlier today in those candidacy photos it is this: each one is committed to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each one knows the importance of what people like my colleague John Rottman and I tried to drill into them these past years and that is that every sermon needs hope and grace. No matter the specific text (Ruth 3, Psalm 121, Mark 6, Philippians 2) for a sermon to be a sermon in the broad tradition of the Christian Church it needs to loop back to the fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. There’s only one reason to mount a pulpit or stand behind a music stand with the intention of delivering a sermon and that is because God really was in Christ. He really did sacrifice himself to save this bloody and battered world–this very world whose news bloodies and batters our hearts some days, too.
So I eke out hope in the midst of the surrounding sadness. I hope that each student whose picture I perused will find fulfillment in ministry and I hope that a big part of that fulfillment stems from having the sense that he or she heralds Good News every week. I mean, somebody’s got to do it! And these students will. In that there is hope.
As Andy writes to Red in The Shawshank Redemption, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And Gospel Hope is the best of the best of things.
I read the Good News today. Oh boy!
Scott, I know what you mean. Every year when I encounter the six or seven new RCA seminarians at NBTS, who to a person are pledging their lives to the Gospel, the full Gospel, the deep Gospel, anticipating no reward back from the world and little reward back from the church, I am always grateful and hopeful, and sometimes moved. Most of them are second career people, and they are making great sacrifices, financially and socially, to enter a profession that will cost them many more sacrifices. Burning through savings, selling their houses, depleting their IRAs, just to be able to do the full course at a seminary in order then to give their lives to preach and teach the Gospel of the cross and resurrection. How can you not be hopeful? Always inspires me.
Stay strong, Scott, and keep teaching the preachers! I know of two fantastic young women who will show up at your seminary this fall. The Lord continues to call out from among us talented and committed pastors. Sometimes I get all snarly about the future of the church, but I shouldn't. God's got it.