Is there no blessing reserved for me?"
A thousand congregants ponder Rev. Jawanza Karriem Colvin's question, awaiting the young pastor's answer. It's the question Esau asks his father in Genesis 27 after his brother steals his birthright. Suddenly, the scorned son's life looks barren and bitter.
Colvin knows many members of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church have felt the same. So he leads them through a dazzling sermon inspired by headlines, poetry and pop culture. He compares Esau's anguish to Haiti's battering by Hurricane Tomas, to The Godfather's chilling revenge plots and to the kids in Waiting For Superman, the indie documentary about struggling urban public schools.
He encourages the congregants to fight for their birthright as citizens. Yet he entreats them to feel blessed, not broken, no matter what comes of their social struggles; he quotes lines from Langston Hughes' verse and Esau's eventual response to Jacob: "I have enough."
Colvin, whose first and middle names mean "dependable" and "most generous," grew up in Washington, D.C. He came to Olivet last year from his childhood church, D.C.'s East Friendship Baptist, where he was pastor for seven years.
He brings a new generation's energy to the church that he describes as "one of America's national cathedrals for the African-American religious tradition." His sermons quote hip-hop lyrics and the latest headlines as well as Scripture. "I think coming here at this age for me creates an opportunity because I'm full of ideas," he says. "I'm constantly asking, why not? I ask that about our great city, and I ask that about our church."