For the past few years the religion department at the Chautauqua Institution near Buffalo has sponsored a program for new clergy and their families. This summer I was invited to meet with the group, especially to talk with them about prophetic and pastoral preaching.
I was teaching a class on Isaiah and we had reached chapter 40,”Every
valley shall be exalted.” A student piped up, “So Isaiah borrowed these
words from Handel?” He was reading the Old Testament in the light of
“new” history. In Isaiah I find it hard not to read the Old Testament
in the light of the new—the New Testament, that is.
High on the list of people I have most admired is Mstislav Rostropovich, the great Russian cellist who died in April. I admired him first for his courage. In 1970 Rostropovich expressed his support for artistic freedom and human rights in a letter to Pravda, the state-run newspaper of the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviets stripped him and his wife of Soviet citizenship.
Following a speech by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin, a woman in tears spoke up to say that she was unable to forgive herself, because she had been told many times she was unforgivable. Bolz-Weber, widely known as a tattooed, salty tongued Lutheran pastor from Denver, responded: “Maybe for as many times as you’ve been told that, you need to hear that God is gracious, and merciful, and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and loves you as you are. And as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by Christ’s authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins.” The congregation responded, “Amen” (Wisconsin State Journal, February 2).