Northeastern Seminary Blog

Shalom Challenged—What Happened to the Redemptive Struggle?

Posted on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 @ 12:00 PM

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Part One

We live in a society where a disproportionate number of African Americans are impacted by high unemployment, poor health, violence, and low graduation rates.[1]  Their interest in, and knowledge of, Christian theology can sometimes take a low priority simply because of the need to survive day-to-day. Over the past 10-20 years, an acceleration of heinous crimes, immoral, unethical and shameful behavior, a disdain for common decency, and a rejection of God has weighed heavily on everyone’s faith.

However, we must attempt to connect and integrate the need for a solid biblical and theological foundation for people to operate effectively in a pluralistic society where there are challenges to Christian beliefs. In addition, the prevailing culture of our times has an effect on church congregations and competes with biblical principles in which shalom (God’s peace) is required. Furthermore, there are many issues and challenges that members of black churches face, such as crime (in the form of murder, child abuse, assault, rape), health issues, and social challenges that weigh on their capacity to remain steadfast to their faith and believe in the relevancy of Christian principles within society.

Viewing the kind of violence, nonsense, evil, and disregard for life and family (not only in the Rochester community, but throughout the United States and around the world) has truly become discouraging. We don’t know what tragedy will strike next—it’s like trying to predict where lightning will strike. In the twinkling of an eye, our lives could change—turning the sunshine in our lives to tears of pain.

In the midst of poverty and economic deprivation within the African American community, there still are many blacks who have achieved success and middle class status. However, there does not seem to be much solidarity around the problems of abject poverty and its impact on the black community as there once was.[2] Upward mobility has allowed the black middle class to move out of the inner city into the suburbs. Meanwhile black churches within the city are comprised of struggling families within a short distance from the church and a few middle class members who commute on Sunday and go back to their comfort within the suburbs. In addition, one might argue that middle class black churches are not as active in pursuing economic equality, peace, and social issues as they were in the 1950's and 1960's to the extent that there appears to be some complacency.

Consequently, a growing spirit of greed, belligerency, individualism, and callousness is threatening to replace the spirit of redemptive struggle for the well-being of the race and nation. If certain trends persist, might not the African American churches lose their souls and alienate themselves from their ancestors.[3]

We hear people saying, “nothing is being done”; yet there are individuals, congregations, agencies, and organizations who are trying to help solve the problems that plague our community. But, all of these efforts seem to be in vain.

See part two in this three-part series for a discussion of how we got to this point of frustration.

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Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 p.5.

[2] Peter J. Paris, "African American Religion and Public Life: An Assessment," Cross Currents 58, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 489.

[3] Ibid., 490.

Tags: D.Min., reflection, seminary alumni

Mary’s Expectation

Posted on Thu, Dec 24, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

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I miss my mother –

standing close to her

to light the Sabbath candles,

the smell of her warm challah bread

mingled with the scents

of her freshly bathed body next to mine

as we pray together and joyfully enter the sacred night.

 

I never dreamed of delivering my babe away from home –

away from her

in a city with its noises even after dark

so little holy quiet in this place

squatting in smelly borrowed room

the kindness of innkeeper’s wife nearby

brought tears to me beyond the pain of birthing.

 

Now with newborn in my arms –

fresh eyes open and slowly focus on mine

hold me

then close in trust and rest

and for one brief moment

Love’s nearness undoes me and

I hear the noisy night whisper “Holy.”

 

—Rebecca Letterman, M.Div.‘08

      associate professor of spiritual formation

 

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

A Voice Crying

Posted on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 @ 03:55 PM

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As it is written in the book of Isaiah, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Luke 3:4

I have lived in Brooklyn for the past 20 years. One thing I have discovered about the city of New York is that there is a lot of noise. There are voices talking ceaselessly over thousands of radio and TV stations, sirens from ambulances, fire trucks, etc., and now and then one recognizes the unmistakable sounds of gunshots. Noise, as well as voices is everywhere clamoring for a hearing, but not having the answer to the needs of the world.

In this verse we hear it said of John the forerunner to the promised Messiah: "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Luke 3:4). John the Baptist has been described as a courier of the King, but he did not work for an earthly monarch. He was the advance man for Jesus. John was the immediate forerunner of the Messiah, opening up the way for the coming Christ. The Gospels tell us he was "a man sent from God" (John 1:6). He was very much of that prophetic tradition, cast in the mold of the greatest of them; in fact he was the last of their line. John didn’t call attention to himself; it was his mission as well as his message that mattered.

John was seriously proclaiming his message. He had good news in the words he quoted from Isaiah, "all mankind will see God’s salvation" (Luke 3:6). But it wasn’t good in the sense of being comfortable for the people. John was in the same prophetic tradition of Amos bringing news of terror: "Flee from the coming wrath … every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7, 9). Why was John’s message so stern and why the language so uncompromising? He had to shake the people out of the false confidence which they firmly believed was their security, both as a nation and as individuals. They had grown up with the assumption that since they were the descendants of Abraham, and therefore members of the chosen race, they were already in a right relationship with God. This false security had to be broken down before they could come into a right relationship with God.

So John issued a call to repentance.

The people had to recognize that they had to abandon their pride of self-sufficiency, lineage, and false security. They had to turn away from evil ways and come to God as sinners needing forgiveness. When John saw Jesus coming toward him he introduced him to the crowd, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus was the way back to God through faith in his sacrifice as the Lamb of God. Sin had to be dealt with and Jesus the sinless one had taken it on himself and dealt with it once and for all. Today, Advent reminds us that he came for this purpose.

I wonder as we are in the season of Advent now: who is that voice in the wilderness calling men and women to repentance? Who declares to those who need to hear that God is not pleased with the current climate of gun violence? Have we become so numb to violence that we have accepted it as the norm? If so, God help us! Why are there not churches, groups, people of good will, and people who are tired of the violence, coming together to unite against this evil? Why aren’t we all having a march chanting “Enough is enough?” I think we as a nation have become the murder capital of the world. No well-meaning citizen thinks this is a record of which to be proud. God is looking for people who, like the prophet John, are willing to make some noise, speak truth to power, and be a voice for God in all areas of life despite the consequences of such an approach. That, I believe, is the need of the hour; It is to call our nation back to God in repentance.

It is unconscionable that at this time of Advent, this time of peace and goodwill toward all, there are some who refuse to embrace all of scripture. Jesus called us as Christians, to “love your enemies, and pray for them who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Many people hear the voice of God and yet seem to fall away. They do not think that this applies to some religious groups. They have become so possessed with fear and paranoia. In the time of John, it was the life one lived, not lineage that was God’s standard of measurement! So, calling ourselves Christians is not enough. We must as John declared “bring fruits worthy of repentance.”

John’s message wasn’t a cheap gospel. Repenting, being baptized, and then remaining the same as you were before wasn’t sufficient. Real repentance had as much to do with the future as with the past. It included the sincere resolve to amend our ways and renounce old evil. Luke records how specific groups of people asked John how this life of repentance applied to them. His answers were clear and forthright. The message of the Gospel had to work its way through all of life’s experiences. In other words, it’s not only for Sunday but for all of the other days of the week as well.

The wealthy and powerful were told to be open-hearted and kind. God can’t be pleased if the well-off don’t help those who have too little.

May God who is rich in mercy, bless and keep you all at this time of Advent, and may his peace be with you now and forever. Have a Christ-filled Christmas, A happy Kwanzaa and a prosperous new year.

Edward Jenkins Sr. (M.Div. ‘13) is the pastor of Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

It’s Time for a Messiah

Posted on Mon, Dec 21, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

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In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.  And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

Luke 3:1-6 NIV

We find here John preaching the coming of the Messiah at a very interesting time in history with the intersection of politics and religion. The message is clear, it is time for a Messiah.

Politically, Tiberius Ceasar, Pontius Pilate, and the three Tetrarchs were not nice people. A number of negative adjectives could probably accurately describe their individual character and policies, leaving the people searching for guidance. It was time for a Messiah.

On the church government side there were two persons serving as high priest when God intended that there should only be one high priest at a time. This tells us that the church at the time lost focus and operated with a spirit of division. It was time for a Messiah.

Fast forward to today and it is once again time for a Messiah. As I look at the world, I see a time when politicians misuse their power and the church misunderstands its purpose. Descent people are struggling to find a decent place to live, work and raise a family. Church is not a priority, yet our currency declares that it’s in God we trust. Are we truly one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for “all.” It's time for a Messiah.

Today as then, the message is the same; "Every valley", valleys of hopelessness and despair, "will be filled”—filled with hope and joy. "Every Mountain," mountains of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, "will be made low.” “The crooked …” [crooks] “shall become straight” (straightened out). "The rough places," places where people have had a hard time, "will become smooth." People won't struggle always. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed. “And all people will see God’s salvation.”

Now more than ever, it’s time for a Messiah. It’s time for the expectant one. It’s time for the one who was born to us. It’s time for the one who was given to us. It’s time for the one who can shoulder the government. It’s time for the one who is, was, and shall always be, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It’s time for The Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God and the reason for the season.

Charles Wesley said it best, “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”

Craig W. Douglass (MA, MSW '12) is ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church where he serves as presiding elder for the Western New York Conference. He also serves as a mobility counselor at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a non-profit that works to ensure that all people in Western New York have fair and equal access to housing in their desired community.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

Welcome to Wonder

Posted on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 @ 12:03 PM

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Every Advent season, I carefully reflect on the nature of God’s coming among us. It’s a time of remembering, of reviewing the surprising ways that God has broken into our world and into our individual lives. Advent is about God getting involved against all human odds.      

Consider the shepherds of Luke 2. The angelic announcement of Christ’s birth provides a clue to the nature of God’s shocking advent love. Shepherds were considered unclean by the religious leadership, and yet, the Messiah’s very first public viewing is to them of all people!  What unexpected Advent wonder! And what a sign of things to come!

Now consider the choice of Mary who was from a backward little village, a spot on the map of Judea, a peasant of lowly stock, and a girl- perhaps only 15 years old. Who would have thought of it but God? Yet this is the stuff of Advent. Indeed, I believe if Jesus were to be born in 2015 it might be somewhere like the troubled lower east side of Buffalo, or Ferguson, Missouri, or Kabul, Afghanistan. But then again, God is unfolding an Advent-charged future into which no life needed ever again be insignificant.

I am a son of an East Side Buffalo couple, born in the Depression. Who was I, born into a family marked with deep heartache and pain, to be discovered by the grace of God? As a boy, deeply wounded by it all, I would stare in despair for hours, days on end, year after year, out of my upstairs window into the darkness.  

Then into this life God came. After years of rage and drugs and isolation, God sought me out. It was Advent time—unexpected, uninvited, and in the middle of a football game! There I was, 22 years old, waiting to return the kickoff from the other team. I was standing beside Greg—the two of us in the end zone. I hadn’t seen him for about a year. (The last time was at a drinking party, where he’d told me about the latest house he had robbed.) Then it came- out of the blue: “Bob I’ve got good news!” “Huh?” “I’ve met Jesus Christ as my Savior.” It was Advent time! God took the initiative and entered this obscure young man’s life. Just like that—smashing into my life like a defensive tackle. (Maybe “smashing” is a little strong, for God never forces his way.) Jesus came as a baby among us. Yet come he did, and come he does! God has gotten involved in our world, and things will never be the same.

Another Advent encounter was on an unlikely day in California. It was in the early 1980’s when I was attending seminary. We were financially broke—borrowing five bucks here and begging five bucks there. On top of this, we had had two unexpected pregnancies and were facing monstrous debt. I was dragging myself back to our small apartment after another grueling day of rigorous study about God who seemed absent in our struggles. Then, suddenly, there she was, headed toward me down the street—a person from my college days in New York—Lois, a friend of an acquaintance. She was now living in Southern California, married to a doctor. As we chatted, I told her my basic story—without the bad stuff—but she seemed unsatisfied. “What else, Bob?” she asked. “How are you doing now?” So I told her. We were down, both emotionally and financially. I was questioning my call to the ministry. We were at our lowest depth—with two young children, no money, and skyrocketing debt. Feeling uncomfortable in sharing more with this relative stranger, I politely closed the conversation. Then, three days later, an envelope arrived in the mail with a check for $1,000. The accompanying note simply said that Lois and her husband would like us to have this!

Welcome to wonder—wonder that keeps meeting us with unexpected gifts of grace in our hour of need! Welcome to the God of Advent. Welcome to the God of shepherds and peasant girls. Welcome to the God of former drug-heads and house burglars. Welcome to Advent, where we have stumbled upon a manger, though it was all planned from God’s side of things. Behold he comes! Behold, it’s Advent time!

Bob Tice (D.Min. ‘12) is lead pastor at River Rock Church, a multicultural church in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y. He teaches Theology of the City at Northeastern Seminary. This blog post was adapted from an article in Pulpit Digest, 1998.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

For Righteousness in Our Neighborhoods

Posted on Fri, Dec 04, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

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People and organizations seem to be particularly generous this time of year. Donations of coats, toys, and food roll in intended to spread holiday cheer. People seem to think that the plight of the poor is the lack of resources when the reality of the matter is that joy and contentment have little to do with material possessions or the lack thereof. While most recipients are grateful for the seasonal relief, the rest of the year they are left to make ends meet on much less. Once the new year rolls around, the merriment of the season is replaced with the reality that little is changed by a few gifts or a free turkey. No one wants to rely on handouts. What people really need are jobs that pay decent wages, affordable childcare, and the opportunity to give their families a happy, healthy life. More than a few trifles that will be forgotten after a few days, what is truly needed is change in our economic, educational, and legal systems that remove barriers to living flourishing lives.

As I read through the lectionary passages for Advent this year, I am struck by the relevancy of the words for people today. Jeremiah said, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). Our “land,” the neighborhoods in which we live and work, is crying out for righteousness. Our communities are begging for justice. From the African-American lives lost at the hands of law enforcement to the terrorist acts around the world, violence has left an indelible mark on our cities without recourse. Our children lack quality education, and families are trapped in cycles of poverty and dependency. Moreover, our refugee and immigrant neighbors are under unreasonable scrutiny, and left vulnerable to hateful actions rooted in fear and ignorance.

Yet, the hope of Advent lies in the one who will deal with the oppressors, and removes the shame of the powerless (Zephaniah 3:19). We anticipate the day when mothers no longer worry over the safety of their children, and people are judged by their actions rather than the color of their skin. As we reflect on the birth our Savior, we are reminded of promises fulfilled, and of those yet to be. We wait for the one who delivered the faithful in the past, who will do so in the future, as well. We celebrate the coming of our King who will strengthen his people and bring shalom that our world so desperately needs, where there is nothing missing and nothing broken (Micah 5:4-5). Our hope at Christmas time, and the whole year through, is in our Lord Jesus.

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Marie Moy completed the Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in May 2015.  She serves in the city of Buffalo through Jericho Road Community Health Center and Renovation Church.  Marie is passionate about Christian community development, and works with like-minded individuals and organizations to holistically restore communities.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

God’s Expressions of Hope

Posted on Tue, Dec 01, 2015 @ 03:00 PM

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During this time of the year, humanity is reminded of the masterful artistry of God as we observe the variety of distinct colors displayed within the fall foliage. Each year, as senior pastor and pastor of Higher Heights Fellowship in the heart of the city, my wife and I enjoy seeing the masterful artistry of God being displayed specifically throughout the congregation and the community.

As part of our ministry over the past 17 years, our church family supported our community through the distribution of Thanksgiving baskets and turkeys. We have been blessed with the opportunity to distribute these baskets first of all to our widow/widower’s (fulfilling the Word of God) and then to unsuspecting homes surrounding the ministry. We also participate in a dynamic collaboration with other ministries serving a free Thanksgiving Dinner in the city’s northwest community center.

Serving in urban ministry, we have discovered that the needs are great and we could never have enough to meet the demand. But we make sure what we do is impactful. We all need hope. Life can be hard. Sometimes, we have to endure bad days. Other times, we face unrelenting heartache. Most of us face difficult times more often than we would like.

The season of Advent is about hope. It is not just hope for a better day or hope for the lessening of pain and suffering, although that is certainly a significant part of it. It is more about the hope that human existence has meaning and possibilities beyond our present experiences, a hope that the limits of our lives are not nearly as narrow as we experience them to be.

As we look at our world, we see hopeless situations. The news regularly bombards us with stories of the harmful and evil situations people endure. Hope can seemingly be lost. Yet as Christians we are reminded our hope is built on Jesus Christ.

The season of Advent affords us the opportunity to restore hope, love, and peace through Jesus Christ. Not to extend a hand out, but to extend a hand up. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, regardless of who you are doing it for!

My wife and I have witnessed the great difficulty of many during these last couple of holiday seasons as they try to partake of the celebrations with heavy hearts. Many have experienced the passing of love ones quite dear to them during this time, causing deep reflection and sadness. It is our prayer and ministry objective within the Advent season to extend a hand up to all those who may have experienced anything life altering, in an effort to keep hope alive. The Hope of Christ! May we all experience a new sense of the God’s hope and be filled with joy and peace this season.

Rev. Julius Brunson (MAT ‘12) is senior pastor of Higher Heights Church of God located in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

Prayerful Reading

Posted on Mon, Nov 23, 2015 @ 10:58 AM

ASR_Icons.jpgI arrived Friday night. It was the perfect opportunity to relax, meet the retreat presenter, and mingle with seminary friends. Between the fellowship and worship time together the tone was set for the rich sense of community that permeated our retreat.We talked about doubt, "a subtle weapon in the hands of the evil one," and about woundedness—how it perpetuates a sense of being unloved and unworthy of love. These are not subjects that one would ordinarily call “awesome” and yet, for me, it was. The pace, time for reflection, and sharing worked together to create a spiritually enriching experience.

By understanding more about icons as holy writings that were created by people who have fasted, prayed, and felt directed by God to create them, I was open to using them in prayer to access deeper meaning and message. And through a prayerful “reading” an icon of Jesus rising from the tomb I experienced a powerful sense of God's loving presence and gained insights that were a godsend:

  1. Doubt is a weapon which can be counteracted by recognizing the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice and love for us.
  2. We are all wounded, often unintentionally, by the circumstances of our life journey and our relationships. It can be difficult to identify the source of that wounding and its impact on our life. However, there is no question that it molds and shapes our attitudes and behaviors.
  3. I have unwittingly contributed to the wounding of others. By acknowledging and accepting that fact, I can extend compassion, forgiveness, and love toward others. I'm also free to extend those same graces to myself, and this way I participate in aiding my own healing process and perhaps the healing of others as well.
  4. An important benefit to identifying my own woundedness is that it enables me to let go of blame and bitterness toward those who have wounded me and frees me to be more receptive to love and free to give love. I am more able to obey Jesus.

I have come to love the opportunity to be part of the annual retreat experience built into each program at Northeastern Seminary. What a blessing.

Angela Richardson (MATSJ) is an associate minister at New Bethel CME Church in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: prayer, reflection

Embracing my Genuine Spiritual Identity

Posted on Fri, Aug 07, 2015 @ 12:30 PM

Unfiltered_Spiritual_IdentityWhile I played host for a series of youth leader seminars at this year’s Kingdom Bound festival I also found myself being personally engaged and challenged. In the first seminar Joyce Wagner, owner and primary therapist of Restoration Counseling, spoke about how to avert suicide by properly assessing the warning signs and intervening on behalf of suicidal individuals. Then, Denis Johnson, Jr., pastor of creative arts, music and teaching at The Father’s House, led a conversation around the “selfie” phenomenon and what this obsessive trend tells us about ourselves and our view of God. And finally, Jay Trainer, founder of Infuzion, unpacked the three I’s of youth ministry—image, intimacy, identity—and challenged us to consider how our ministry goals can be shaped by these three cultural influences and keep us from pursuing life-giving relationships with God and one another.

From a broad perspective, Joyce, Denis, and Jay, were pressing us to seriously consider (1) the ways in which so many of our young people feel compelled to filter their identity, (2) the damaging consequences of doing so, and (3) a God-focused response. As I listened to their presentations and to the responses of those in attendance, it occurred to me that young people aren’t the only ones who experience this compulsion to filter their deepest selves for the sake of yielding to some external pressure or internal desire that ultimately expresses a single, critical fallacy: “I ought to be something other than what I am.”

For example, my Facebook feed tells me that my life ought to be filled with more exciting adventures, more exotic vacations, and more expensive toys. It tells me I ought to have a winning and bright white smile on my face no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. It tells me that everything about me ought to be interesting to others. But Facebook isn’t the only culprit. Even going to church comes with its own set of pressures to be cheerful and worshipful. There’s often no room in the pew or the worship service for people doubting God or entertaining the unspoken questions that disquiet their faith.

So many messages I encounter throughout each day tell me not to be genuine. And when I persist in filtering who I am I may begin to idolize the image I ought to resemble and come to despise the genuine me.

Scripture tells us a different story.

God is love, and the Bible says that Love carefully arranged and pieced together the genuine me. You are, in fact, created to be precisely who you ought to be. The author of Psalm 139 eloquently reveals the intimacy of the Creator with us, the beloved created. It declares that our lives are searched and known; our ways are discerned and traced; our thoughts and words are anticipated; our journeys are accompanied and we are, no matter where we are, inescapably held close to the One who carved out our history before we were born. It is our unfiltered selves that were created for life and relationship with God and others. Can we hear this message above the noises of our culture and receive it? Can we bear the message to our children and our churches and the world that each person is the result of the divine imagination to create something wonderful?

God help us to embrace our genuine spiritual identity and to remove the filters that hinder the formative work you’re doing in each one of us.

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." – Henri Nouwen

Caleb Matthews (M.Div. ‘12) serves as director of admissions for Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: youth leaders, reflection, youth ministry, ministry to teenagers

Hosanna: A Shout of Praise or Cry for Deliverance? ..

Posted on Sat, Apr 04, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

cross_on_scripture“Hosanna!” from two Hebrew words literally meaning, “Save us,” and “cry/pray/beseech.”

“Deliver us, we pray” – “We beseech you, save us!”

On its own, the word is a cry for deliverance. A shout of “hosanna” would not recall occasions of celebration, but of desperation. It would have been a cry born out of great need for a rescuer to come swiftly.

Most of us know “hosanna” only as a word of praise, usually employed to a great extent during worship services on Palm Sunday. Psalm 118 reveals the context which turns a shout of “hosanna” into a shout of rejoicing and adoration:

“This is the day of the Lord’s victory; let us be happy, let us celebrate! Save us, LORD, save us! Give us success, O LORD! May God bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD! From the Temple of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God; he has been good to us. With branches in your hands, start the festival and march around the altar. You are my God, and I give you thanks; I will proclaim your greatness. Give thanks to the LORD, because he is good, and his love is eternal.” – Psalm 118:24-29 (GNT, emphasis added)

It was this Psalm that the crowds were remembering aloud in their shouts of “hosanna” as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on a donkey. That moment we remember on Palm Sunday prompts me to consider the crowds and what my own cries would have been had I been among them. With loud cries of “hosanna” they proclaimed the mighty rescuing power of the one they were welcoming into their midst and yet revealed their own desperate need to be saved as they would shout for his death days later.

“Hosanna!” “Save us, Lord!” is both the recognition of our need for deliverance and a shout of expectation, hope and praise to the God who saves.

Caleb Matthews ( M.Div. ‘12) serves as director of admissions for Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: Lent, reflection