Hold Fast To What Is Good

November 11th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Romans 12: 9

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            Hold fast to what is good! (Romans 12: 9)

This is a verse we remember and revere.  To return to it, to a beloved, familiar passage evokes, most evoke, some sense of humility rooted in praise, some sense of understanding rooted in wonder, some sense of life rooted in an awareness of death, some sense of love rooted in need, some sense of longing rooted amid all the daily ennui, acedia, and loneliness of life.  Come Sunday, for all the guns fired mid-week and all the fires burning weekday and weekend, we reach up and reach out to hold onto the good.   So, come Sunday, we return to a familiar verse in a familiar space, a space like this one, Marsh Chapel, laden with the recollections of the good.  We listen for a word of faith, in a pastoral voice, toward a common hope.


Four Chaplains 

            This November 11, 2018, one hundred years since the end of the first World War, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ‘the war to end all wars’, we notice again that in our balcony here at Marsh Chapel you can find a stained glass window which remembers four veterans, chaplains in the Second World War.   On this Sunday Veteran’s Day, we remember them. As Daniel Marsh reminded us:   In the early days of WW II, the SS Dorchester laden to capacity with soldiers was struck by a torpedo.  On board were four chaplains. They were of different denominations and traditions, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish.  Their ship was hit and began to sink.  In prayer, the four determined to take off their life jackets, and to give those four jackets to four young men who had none.  It is a bracing, warning sign and story for us.  Life is unpredictable.  You never quite know what may emerge.  Granted that most of us are not and will not be in the crisis faced by those four chaplains, nonetheless their courage, their courage unto death, their courage as veterans and as ministers, humbles us and inspires us too:  George L. Fox, a Methodist preacher; Clark Vandersall Poling, a Dutch Reformed preacher; John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi.  Fox was a graduate of Boston University. They were on deck together, praying, when the stricken ship made her final plunge. (D. Marsh, The Charm of the Chapel, 136).

            We are drawn again to recall such sacrifice, in a week when a Southern California policeman, Officer Ron Helus, with a wife and family and year from retirement, lost his life responding to rapacious, outrageous, needless, senseless gun violence.  If all 49 other states had the gun laws of our Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we would be in much better shape as a country.  It is tempting to let dismay and discouragement overwhelm. Yet we will want to bear in mind that, over time, matters in public health can change, and do, and, may it be so, regarding guns, over time, will.   Fifty years ago 40% of American adults smoked cigarettes.  Today that percentage is 14%.  Real change is real hard but it comes in real time when real people really work at it. Giving up is not an option.

            Hold fast to what is good!


Inner Strength

            This calendar year, in all our preaching, summer and fall, on hope, and looking back 50 years, we honored the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in January with Dr. Walter Fluker, on April with Rev. Cornell William Brooks and Governor Deval Patrick, in September with Dean Lawrence Carter.

            Yet we also in the spring term honored and remembered the birth of our own Inner Strength Gospel Choir, 45 years ago.  We gathered on the morning of April 28, to learn, to listen to speeches and memories, and then to hear the Inner Strength Gospel Choir sing, under the adroit leadership of Director Herbert S. Jones.  It was a profound moment, impressive in its recollection that the choir came together to hold fast to what is good, to provide mutual support in a time and in an environment that could be fully hostile. We are pleased and proud to have the Inner Strength Gospel choir singing with us today.  Through the year we are proud to have the choir representing Marsh Chapel and the University in various guest appearances and travels.  On April 28 we were captivated and enthralled to hear the choir sing, as their concluding anthem, ‘O Happy Day’.

            How do we find inner strength?  In the face of sin and death and the threats of meaninglessness, we do so in mutual support, in the joy of song, and  by holding on to the good.

            Hold fast to what is good!


Mark 12: 38-44 

            Our exemplars from Scripture this morning are heroines of the Bible, both women.  Ruth’s complex, multi-valent story, a series of sermons in itself, which as you remember began last week with the courage to leave the familiar, continues today in her grasp of security for the future. Naomi reminds her, and she reminds us that we need not fear to state our needs.  Say what you need, name what you need, so that, as Naomi says, it may be well with you.  Then in our Gospel, the famous widow of Mark 12 makes her appearance, as she does every third autumn, in our lectionary round of readings.  The ordinary perception of her, as a pillar of generous giving, which she is, misses the admonishment of those of us of means.  There is a poignant recollection here, in the comparison of one who gives much, we might read too much (everything she had, all she had to live on), in contrast to those who give little, we might read too little (out of their abundance).

            The widow’s voice is an alto, second level, voice.  Not that of Jesus—not soprano.  Not written only by Mark—not tenor.  Not absorbed in the history of interpretation—not bass (oddly, of all the early Christian writers, only one fully cites this passage—Commodianus, ANF IV, 221)

            She may have been included just here, simply by connection with the earlier teaching about disregard for widows.  These admonitions are like others from the gospels: woes for the cities of Galilee, woes for the rich, criticisms of the current generation, threats to this generation, threats to Jerusalem, woes to the daughters of Jerusalem, woes to those who say ‘lord, lord’, rejection of false disciples, warnings about the parousia, and others (RB, HST, 49). 

            The widow came to life in the experience of the early church—a true alto. This narrative probably originated in a sermon.  A sermon meant perhaps ‘to present the Master as a living contemporary, and to comfort and admonish the Church in her hope’ (RB, HST, 60)

            Later, Matthew has deleted the story of the widow–it is unclear why–while Luke keeps her, in keeping with his own emphases on generosity (think of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son).  Mark apparently puts her in, just here, because of the use of the word ‘widow’ in the sentence before.  Make no mistake about it: “at the sight of religion frozen into ritualism, at the sight of superficiality and love of self and the world—this message becomes a cry of woe and repentance”. (IBD, Mark, loc.cit)

            Hold fast to what is good!


Veteran Widows 

            In the widow’s more ordinary conscription to exemplify giving with generosity, one finds a harbinger of goodness waiting to be discovered again by another generation of women and men who will enter the ministry. There they will find her, salt and light, out in the life of ministry, endless in its labors but also precious in its gifts.  Her story in the Bible would not mean very much alone, if we had not also known her, in experience, in our own life and ministry. I call her out in her modern incarnations, this giving, generous widow.

            Here is Bernice Danks, whose husband ran the Cornell Veterinary School, she an Ithaca Nurse, later widow, and a teacher of nurses, whose favorite word was the word ‘routine’:  ‘I tell my students to protect what is routine.  We call the most important things the routine things because the most important things are the routine’.   Singing with joy in the choir, attending countless, endless meetings with a good humor, greeting the day with its losses and its gains with a steady, real smile, here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Setta Moe, a North Country widow, living alone for years on a small pension, reading at dusk in the cold tundra twilight.   On her own, years earlier, she had gone from house to house to raise money for some beautiful stained glass in an otherwise modest church.  ‘I felt I could do something for the church.  We need more beauty here, more beautiful things around here, to keep us going’. Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Mickey Murray, a Syracuse widow, whose husband died at 40, She raised her three children alone.  Every Wednesday in those years she went to the church after work and cooked a full meal for her own kids and twenty or so others, then had them play, sing, read the Bible and do their homework together.  She had every reason to complain about the cards life dealt her. Instead she practiced a communal generosity, and made a difference in her city neighborhood.  Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Ruth Lippitt, a Rochester widow, who all her life gave voice to the longing for peace and justice she had learned as a graduate student in Chicago, under the influence of Ernest Freemont Tittle.  She gathered ten elderly friends for dinner in her home to meet the new minister, a year before she died, and, before the meal said bluntly, ‘tell him who you are, one by one, you have two minutes, and I will ring this bell if you go longer’.   Yes the ministry has its rigors.  But it also has its own sheer joys.  Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Hold fast to what is good!



           Beloved!  Let us draw ourselves together and affirm our faith!

           Whence cometh our hope?

           From the Lord who made heaven and earth.  The Creator. The Ground of Being.  The God beyond God.  The invisible, unknowable, unutterable, unattainable.  The first, the last beyond all thought.  The Transcendent.

          What is the point of our living?

          The meaning of life is in the living of life-To worship God and glorify God forever. 

          How is this possible, in the face of silence, darkness, mystery, accident, pride, immaturity, tragedy and the threat of meaninglessness?

          By walking in the dark with our Transforming Friend, the Transcript in Time of who God is in eternity, the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, our beacon not our boundary, the presence of the absence of God,  Jesus Christ our Kyrios, our Lord..

          Given our failures, our gone-wrongness, our sin, what daily hope have we, as those who hope for what we do not see?

          Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Where there is freedom, there is promise.  There is a self-correcting Spirit of Truth loose in the universe. There is a self-correcting Spirit of Truth loose in the universe.

          How do we follow the trail of the Spirit?

         By generous giving, by ordered Sunday worship, by honest faithfulness in relationships.

         And at Marsh Chapel, what is our envisioned mission?

        To be a heart for the heart of the city, and to provide a worship service in the service of the city.  We are making headway in the areas of voice, vocation, and volume. 

Hold fast to what is good!  Hold fast to what is good!  Hold fast to what is good!


-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Toward A Common Hope

November 4th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Mark 12: 28-34

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And Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

We listen again for the windchimes of hope, whispering and singing to us, beckoning us into and out from an unseen future.   The chimes ring today in Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.

Scripture:  Gospel

The passages we have read, during worship this fall, in the Gospel of Mark, our earliest gospel, show us in living color what sorts of things were on the minds of early Christians, say in Rome, say in 70ad, say among mostly gentile people.

There is Jesus’ prophetic affirmation of a higher law, of a more empathetic view of women within divorce, along with a command to protect them.  In response to a direct question, he thinks the question through.  Intellect.

There is the celebration, welcome and embrace of children, as measures and exemplars of the faithful life.  They have not yet had their spontaneity squelched, nor their emotion demoted, nor their sensuality sabotaged.  They have an infant, primordial freedom, toward which it could be the rest of us might well lean.  Spontaneity.

There is the warning, the stark recognition of the pervasive omnipotence of wealth.  A camel might go through the eye of a needle before a rich man might go into heaven.  A certain amount of wealth, to support one’s living and work and love makes sense.  More than that harms and hurts, because it corrupts the gift of freedom.  Emotion.

There is the ever present need of the ill, the sick, the blind.  One is made well, made whole–blinded he sees.  Her Mark is about baptism, about seeing a way into a new life, as the language (Son of David), the garment discarded (his tunic), the cry (Lord, KYRIE, which in Matthew becomes KYRIE ELEISON), the eyes opened (the miracle of faith)—all tell us.  Bartimaeus is you and me, an example of a new disciple. Sensuality.

And today, as if to sum up, our passage hears Jesus, again to answer a religious question, bringing focus to the commandments:  love God, and love neighbor.

We know not who wrote Mark, only his name.  He wrote for a particular community, whose location and name are also unknown.  He even mentions by name members of his church, Alexander and Rufus (15:21).  The book is meant to help a community of Christians.  It is written to support and encourage people who already have been embraced by faith.  While it purports to report on events long ago, in the ministry of Jesus, its main thrust is toward its own hearers and readers forty years later.  So it is not evangelist tract and it is not a diary or history.  It is a Gospel.

Gospel.  You have heard the word many times, and know that it means ‘good news’.  It is an old term.  You could compare it to ‘ghost’.  Gospel is to good news and ghost is to spirit, you might say.  Yet Mark calls his writing a ‘gospel’.  He creates something new.  Mark is a writing unlike any other to precede it.  It is not popular today any longer, no longer fashionable, to say this.  It is however true.  Mark is not a history, not a biography, not a novel, not an apocalypse, not an essay, not a treatise, not an epistle.  Examples of all these were to hand for him.  Mark might have written one of any one of them.  He did not.  He wrote something else and so in form, in genre, gave us something new.  A gospel.  His is the first, but not the last.

A wind chime in Scripture.

Tradition:  Unity

My sister in law’s minister in Arlington Texas, Stephen Langford, evokes a tradition of unity:

“Unity in diversity, expressed in community.” The term expresses the idea of oneness that embraces differences. In this way of living, differences are viewed as strengths that contribute to enriched life in community with one another. The term is used describe the pattern of relationship in the Godhead as the Three-in-One, in marriage in which the two become one, and in the church as the body of Christ.
“Uniformity is not unity…Perhaps it would be helpful to remember the words of John Wesley from whose ministry the original Wesleyan movement began. In his sermon entitled “A Catholic Spirit,” Wesley asked, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” In that same sermon, he went on to say, “If your heart is as my heart – if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more – give me your hand.” Wesley is also credited with a saying that originally came from Thomas a Kempis and was a part of the Moravian movement that helped shape Wesley:
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity (love).” For Wesley, a common commitment to love God and others (the heart) was the grounds of relationship, not agreement. Love, not agreement, was the determining factor in relating to one another.”  Langford Blog, Arlington UMC, Texas.  Supplied by Rebecca Steimle.

Politics is downstream from culture.  Culture is downstream from religion.  Religion is downstream from faith.  Faith is downstream from a word spoken and heard.  In this discreet moment:  Do you know God to be a pardoning God?

Granted that your opponent is wrong about everything.  But is there something maybe about which he is right, just maybe?  If that were so, what would that be?

A wind chime in tradition.

Experience:  Consanguinity

 North of Boston you come close to the Dominion of Canada.   We served two churches on the St. Lawrence river, an hour plus south west of Montreal.  You could see the river from our back bedroom.  Our friends and parishioners had farms all along the border, a couple of which had land on both sides.  The hay looks just about the same, north and south of an utterly invisible border.  One autumn my lay leader Earl Friend, one of those with land on both sides, shot a bear near his cow barn.  He had strung up the bear to have it drain, so it was hanging between two trees to the left of his front porch.   Our daughter Emily was four, and for some lastingly strange reason, I thought she would like to see the bear, so we drove over in our old 1973 Mustang convertible, which had only a few more years in it.  Earl took our photo in  front of the bear.  From the bear to Canada was maybe 30 yards, a stone’s throw.  Then, as now, just over the fence, you could have free health care, whatever your annual income, and free education through college, including at globally fine Universities like McGill.  Just a stone’s throw away.   Our middle class in this country deserves and needs what on the other side of the cow barn they would already have.  Education and health care, in a free society, for the sake of the freedom in the society, are far more right than privilege, especially for poor children.  Most Americans agree.  It is, by reason, a step on toward a common hope.  As are full rights for sexual minorities and women.  As are fulsome and loving support for churches and community groups. Volunteerism in a free society is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Or listen to our own victorious Boston Red Sox this week, bringing clear reason to a full moment:


Alex Cora:  ‘I was young, inexperienced, and still learning, and I still am’.  (Humility)

JBJ:  ‘you just need to focus on your preparation’ (Discipline)

JD Martinez:  ‘this is not about any one player, this is something we do together, as a team’ (self-giving)

Nathan Eovaldi:  (on pitching 6 of 18 innings)  ‘I expected to pitch one inning, and one became two became six;  that’s the thing about baseball (and life) it is just unpredictable’ (flexibility)

A wind chime in experience.

Reason:  Hope

Most reasonable people would agree:

We await a common hope, a hope that our warming globe, caught in climate change, will be cooled by cooler heads and calmer hearts and careful minds.

We await a common hope, a hope that our dangerous world, armed to the teeth with nuclear proliferation, will find peace through deft leadership toward nuclear détente.

We await a common hope, a hope that our culture, awash in part in hooliganism, will find again the language and the song and the spirit of the better angels of our nature.

We await a common hope, a hope that our country, fractured by massive inequality between rich children and poor children, will rise up and make education, free education, available to all children, poor and rich.

We await a common hope, a hope that our nation, fractured by flagrant unjust inequality between rich and poor children, will stand up and make health care, free health care, available to all children, poor and rich.

We await a common hope, a hope that our schools, colleges and universities, will balance a love of learning with a sense of meaning, a pride in knowledge with a respect for goodness, a drive for discovery with a regard for recovery.

We await a common hope, a hope that our families, torn apart by abuse and distrust and anger and jealousy and unkindness, will sit at a long Thanksgiving table, this autumn, and share the turkey and pass the potatoes, and slice the pie, and, if grudgingly, show kindness and pity to one another.

We await a common hope, a hope that our decisions in life about our callings, how we are to use our time and spend our money, how we make a life not just a living, will be illumined by grace and generosity.

We await a common hope, a hope that our grandfathers and mothers, in their age and infirmity, will receive care and kindness that accords with the warning to honor father and mother that you own days be long upon the earth.

We await a common hope, finally a hope not of this world, but of this world as a field of formation for another, not just creation but new creation, not just life but eternal life, not just health but salvation, not just heart but soul, not just earth, but heaven.

Most of us would agree.

A wind chime in reason.

We listen again for the windchimes of hope, whispering and singing to us, beckoning us into and out from an unseen future.   The chimes ring today in Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.

And Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

 -The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean. 

The Hope of Freedom

October 28th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Job 42:1-6

Mark 10:46-52

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One: Bird

 Overhead an eagle soars, on quiet summer days when the lake is empty.  He does not come out on the weekend, or when there is noise, or when the boats are numerous.  But in the quiet he sails and soars, hunting the lake with an eagle eye, hunting for a next fish meal.  You turn over swimming, floating on your back, and over he goes, right overhead, a beautiful long wing span against the blue gray sky.   On the off occasion, twice say a summer, he has his partner with him, his mate, eagles mating as they do for life.  But not today.  He commands the sky, and all below with a grace, a soaring beauty, a regal flight. Beyond the gulls, the sparrows, the robins, the red winged blackbirds, the cardinals, the finches, the bluebirds, the blue-jays, even beyond the blue heron, just there soars the eagle.   Karl Barth recited and repeated, ‘The Gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight’.

Freedom.   In the summer our Marsh sermon series surveyed the expanse, the freeing breadth of hope.  This fall we have listened for the wind chimes of hope, setting us loose, setting us free, in presence, in pressure, in peace, in beauty, in healing, in welcome, and in faith.  What does the God of Hope (Rom. 15:13) bring us today, now that we set hope next to freedom? What is the hope of freedom, for you, a woman or man of faith?

‘For freedom Christ has set us free’, intones the Apostle: ‘stand fast therefore and do not be enslaved again’ (Gal. 5: 1).  Paul addresses the Galatians,53ad, with regard to the superiority of faith to religion, with regard to the superiority of gospel to tradition, and in affirmation of the gospel freedom to include the Gentiles by grace.  Paul’s words, remembered, recited and repeated, became the core of the Protestant Reformation501 years ago, a Reformation we recall and honor the last Sunday each October–today.   The same sense of freedom, the expansion of human freedom, nurtured the Renaissance,the renaissance of learning, art, music, philosophy, and science that over several hundreds more years has given us our current world, culture and life.  Market capitalism emerged steadily in the light and under the wingspan of religious and artistic freedoms.   Political democracy came along as well, in fits and starts, starts and fits which have yet to cease, as we are relearning in this decade.  The freedom of the person of faith, unshackled from the bonds of institutional religion, grown in the expansion of culture and art, given substance and support through the burgeoning accumulation of social and personal capital, and protected by democratic governments, ideals, and practices, surely is a great or the great blessed happy victory of the modern era.

Two: Fromm

 Or is it? 

Freedom, the freedom of the person of faith, surely is a great or the great blessed happy victory of the modern era.

Or is it?

In a time when suddenly and unhappily we witness a broad willingness to taste test authoritarianism, a dark willingness to give over personal freedom for the sake of a putative security, or a rage for order, or a minimization of the more complex forms of self-government, just how precious is freedom, and at what cost?

You know, a sermon seems like a monologue.  Yet it is not.  A sermon is a thicket, a tangled webbing of dialogues, including in the spoken word, the moment of the word.  The dialogues include memory, Scripture, experience, prayer, illumination, fear, dreams and the uncanny evocation of the divine.   For instance, today’s sermon comes in part out of a June dialogue.  We had been invited to speak a half dozen times, sermons and lectures, for the New England Annual Conference, in session for part of a week in Manchester, NH.  The forgiving and kind Methodists there received these pronouncements with a good grace, more than deserved.  You will not be surprised that the Gospel of John appeared, now and then, that week.  After one such presentation which probably, like the peace of God, ‘passed all understanding and endured forever’, one fellow paused in reflection on what he had heard.  He may have been a retired minister, though with sadness the name escaped collection and so memory.  Trailing after his response came this:  What you said reminded me very much of Erich Fromm.  I stuffed the reference in my so-called memory.  Erich Fromm.   I had not thought of him in decades.  With the eagle soaring in the summer, I dug him out.  You see about sermons and dialogues.  Here, five months later, the dialogue emerges, continues, continues its wayfaring course in discourse.  For Fromm acutely inspected both hope and freedom, the theme of our sermon today.

That is, in 1941 the philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a striking, seminal book on this question, ‘just how precious is freedom, and at what cost?’.  Its English title is Escape From Freedom.  Fromm explores the dark side of freedom, religious, cultural, economic and political.  As an expatriate German, watching the events in Europe at the time, Fromm was trying to understand, from the perspective of social psychology, the rise of authoritarianism in his native land, but also, and more broadly and in a general way, to understand how people and groups of people become enthralled with, enamored of, and committed to authoritarianism.  His argument is direct and simple:  real freedom is real difficult to handle, and, when pressed, people move to escape from the demands of freedom by investment in authority.  Freedom is scary.  Freedom is demanding.  Freedom is dangerous.  Freedom is difficult.  Better to hide underneath the sturdy voice of an authoritarian leader, preferably one who denies all responsibility for wrong or hurt, the rock solid social identity of a mass of people, the commitment, itself often quite costly, to a cause that sets aside personal freedom, so lonely and hard and uncertain, for group support under authoritarian wings. 

Freedom has a dark side. Our current national dilemma, in this unfolding decade of humiliation, presses us and makes us present to the question of freedom.  It is more than issues of political liberalism—gay rights, women’s rights—that besets us.  It is more than issues of economic socialism—ample education and abundant health care—that concerns us.  It is more than cultural conservatism—unflagging Sunday worship and vigorous voluntary associations– that beckons us.  As important as all these are.  It is more than a highjacked national narrative, more than a collapse of moral conscience and compass, more than the protections of civil society, the customs and ceremonies of courtesy meant to protect us from the pipe bombs of unbridled, unhinged rhetoric, that beset, concern and beckon us.  As important as all these are.  It goes deeper, this our current malaise.  It goes down deep into the caverns and caves of freedom.  How will we live, in hope, with freedom?

Erich Fromm warned us.

He warned us about the dread of freedom:  Freedom has made (us) isolated…anxious and powerless…(which) is unbearable(x)…(One’s) brain lives in the 20th century, but she art of most (people) still live in the stone age(xvi)…To feel completely alone and isolated leads to mental disintegration just as physical starvation leads to death (17)…enhancing the individual’s feeling of aloneness and insignificance (38)…(We) becomes more independent, self-reliant, and critical, (but we) become more isolated, alone and afraid…

 He showed us the historical origins and outcomes of freedom: Protestantism made the individual face God alone (108)…The prinicipal social avenues of escape in our time are the submission to a leader, as has happened in Fascist countries, and compulsive conforming as is prevalent in our own democracy…

 He traced the effects of the lack of hope in freedom:  (for) the individual to escape his unbearable feeling of aloneness and powerlessness…(he has) no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender, as quickly as possible, that gift of freedom which he, the unfortunate creature, was born with…

 He unveiled, out of his own experience, and touching too our own, the consequent appeal of authoritarianism:  the authoritarian character admires authority and tends to submit to it, but at the same time he wants to be an authority himself…

 He described the impact on persons:  The authoritarian character loves those conditions that limit human freedom…The individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns (say in rallies?) and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be…love for the powerful and hatred of the powerless… (is) fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere (240)

 He pointed to a couple of daily consequences—see if they sound familiar: …to lose the sense of discrimination between a decent person and a scoundrel…the fear of death lives an illegitimate existence among us (245)…

 Beloved.  Be alert, on the qui vive, watchful, be sober, be watchful for nascent authoritarianism.   In the daily denigration and disfigurement of facts, of truth.  In the weekly demonization of ‘others’, of those other, in religion, in race, in nation, in orientation.  In the dishonoring of other seats of power, like the judiciary, like the press, like the churches and other religious communities.  In the steady denial of fact and responsibility.

Yet Fromm offered a word of hope in freedom, what he called positive freedom:  positive freedom consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality (257)…THERE IS ONLY ONE MEANING OF LIFE: THE ACT OF LIVING ITSELF… (In positive freedom (one)) can relate (one)self spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of (one’s) emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities (139)..        

Spontaneity.  Comraderie.  Emotion. Intellect.  Where you come alongside these, according to Fromm’s work, there we might say is a hope in freedom. 


Three: Community

We can appreciate, perhaps, a bit of what Fromm said, even in our immediate setting.  The academic world intensifies and crystallizes these tendencies, especially under the aegis and aspect of technology. Spontaneity?  Emotion? Comraderie? Creativity?  These can be hard to find, and to nurture,  in academia.  Consider the rigorous path for the professor, for example.  7 punishing years of graduate school (following on 16 earlier years) lead to the Ph.D.  Another 7 punishing years of junior appointment lead to tenure.  After 30 years, perhaps, one gains tenure.  Think of the commitment to excellence, the attention to detail, in that life work, forged in freedom.  You can stray from the path, but you cannot then complete the journey.  Consider the rigorous path for the undergraduate student at an institution like ours, for example. Begin with earning a 1420 on the SAT, then continue in classrooms and courses where not some but almost all are as able as you. Think of the commitment to excellence, the attention to detail, in that life work, forged in freedom.  You can stray from the path, but you cannot then complete the journey. Further, as Sherry Turkle and others are showing us, we have only the slightest inkling thus far of what the massive newer technologies are doing with our students, ourselves, our world.  We have done a great deal to teach teenagers how to pick up devices, but have done virtually nothing to teach them about how to put them down. 

Thanks to each one of you, for all the challenges of academic life, here at Marsh Chapel, week by week, you sing the song, tell the tale, and ring the bell of freedom!  It is a remarkable, uncanny gift you offer!   The spontaneity of conversation.  The comraderie of communion.  The emotion of song.  The Intellect of faith.  You sing! In four part harmony!  Right here in the heart of a great University!

Real freedom, that for which we affirm Christ has set us free, positive freedom, resounds with spontaneous, physical, emotional, mindful, personal work and love.  The move away from positive reedom comes from alienation, isolation, anxiety, and fear. The move toward positive freedom comes from independence, responsibility, thinking, feeling and willing–forged in the soul. Every one of our lives inhabits two dimensions, one psychological and one sociological, personal and social holiness both.

As the community of faith, then, we want to be and become that place and space where one can listen another’s soul into life, where the urges and longings toward positive freedom are protected and nurtured, where the demonic drives in culture and economy are called out and known by name, where we have each other’s back, where we live and give the benefit of the doubt as a means of grace, where we hold up and hold out and hold onto the freedom of the human being.  A place where, like last night, in the historic nave of this Chapel, the music of joy, the music of majesty, the music of brilliance, the music of gladness—the music of Mozart—plays the accompaniment to our ongoing daily struggle, in freedom, the daily struggle of faith, to withstand what we cannot understand, the ongoing struggle of faith to eradicate violence and religious animus from the earth.

There is hope in freedom, when positive freedom baptizes us in sensuality, emotion, spontaneity and intellect.  Thanks to each one of you, for all the challenges of academic life, here at Marsh Chapel, week by week, you sing the song, tell the tale, and ring the bell of freedom!  May we contine to live by such hope!

Yes, there is hope in freedom, but it comes at cost, and it comes with work.  Jurgen Moltmann appends our benedictus: in Theology of Hope: “Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering but also the protest of the divine against suffering.  That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience” (p. 21).

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean. 

The Present Moment

October 14th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-22

Click here to hear the meditations only


The Present Moment.

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.


‘In Thy Presence There is Fullness Of Joy.’ (Psalm 16).

In the Present, the present moment, come with me, to become open again, open to Presence.   Around you, yes, racism and misogyny and sexism and xenophobia and rapacity and mendacity and perversity and predation.  Yes. So, all the moreso, your being hungers for Presence. Presence, as our Psalm 16 acclaims this morning, the fullness of joy.  Simchat’ my Rabbi and friend tells me.  It means joy. Simchat Torah. Serve the Lord with Joy. Come with me, aside, just a moment.

Come with me, aside, just a moment, to recall one morning, an early morning early in August this year, wherein there was an experience of Presence.

The coffee was percolating in the cottage kitchen.  Wait for it with me, why don’t you, and come sit down on the living room couch.  Through the front open windows you might hear the lapping of the lake water against the shoreline, carried by a steady breeze out of the west, north west.  Most of the time, there, the wind comes from the west, blowing Midwestern weather through us and on to Boston. The lap, lap, lap continued, somewhat in rhythm with and somewhat out of rhythm with, the music of Liszt by radio.  The water and the waves are there all the time, background music to the day every day. We should carry some summer into winter. This day you could hear the surf, though surf is too much of a word for that little lake. Just the steady lap, lap, lap of the water on the shore.

The quiet (can you hear it?) was full.  There was and is no sound, other than natural sound, most of the time, mid-week, in the mornings there.  Little to no traffic on the road or on the water; little to no talk, on the road or on the water. The sound of the silence is the most pronounced audition of the day, in such contrast to our life really anywhere else.  A gull now and then will sing out—our five year-old granddaughter has learned nearly exactly to mimic the gull song, ‘Gina’s’ song, she calls it, as she names all gulls Gina. The murmuring of the blessed classical music, soft but audible, rumbles, morning by morning.  

You are, as I was, unusually, all alone.  It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  For some weeks, with two days excepted, we had the full joy of some assortment of grandchildren, as few as one, as many as seven, and their parents, as few as one as many as six, and friends, neighbors, visitors, in sixes and sevens, all.  Jan though had gone away the day before, to see our daughter, to make a call on my elderly mother, to lunch with old friends, and to see her former work colleagues. So the company I kept for a day and night and a day was my own. It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  

With the coffee susurrating, sit for moment, and feel the cool breeze through the windows, and hear, though not as a focused listening, the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.  That morning you could feel and see faintly, a storm brewing out of the west, full clouds coming dark with rain, but still a distance off. I picked up the book I was reading, where it had been left the quiet night before, following a solitary dinner, prepared by, made by, and pre-cooked by Jan, warmed and consumed alone by me.  The book is that of Paul Theroux, Deep South, his masterful journal and reflection on a year of travels due south of his home on Cape Cod.  You may have known him from his earlier book, The Mosquito Coast, and from reviews of his other two dozen.  This one had been casually left by my dear friend Jon Clinch, himself a world renowned writer, author of Finn, Kings of the Earth, and several other novels.  ‘You might like this’ Jon said, following the fireworks of July 4.

That morning, the book was open to a passage about Julius Rosenwald.  Rosenwald became the head of Sears, Roebuck in 1909. He was the son of German-Jewish immigrants.  Most have not ever heard of him. Theroux’s book is in the great tradition of travel books. You may have loved John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.  You may have loved William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways.  Well, Theroux apparently did too, and set out to visit the least known part of America, to him, the deep south.  He comes along poor country roads, and the stories along those roads, with the clean, bright eyes of a genuinely interested visitor, a Yankee a long way from home.  And he, Theroux, revels in what he finds. By the help of an African American barber, chef, and preacher, he finds the story of Rosenwald. Julius Rosenwald gave his substantial fortune to build rural schools for black children in the deep south.  They have a particular architecture, fit for their role and setting, large glass windows facing the southern sun, open and flexible rooms and walls to be used for many different needs, and a distinctive aspect given by those at Tuskegee who planned them.  How many? Five thousand. There are 5000 Rosenwald schools in 15 states, the first built in 1917. Rosenwald died in 1932. He gave his fortune to poor black children in the rural deep south.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

For some reason, with the breeze blowing, and now the dark clouds somehow headed north and away, with Franz Liszt’s meditative music alive and round about (he whose name you can never recall whether to spell with an s or with a z—(which is it choir?)  because—it’s both!), this little account of Rosenwald, in Theroux’s graceful hand, choked me, moved me. I think it would do so for you too.

Once I had a high school meeting set with a black preacher and his church in Syracuse.  My mother, lightly but sternly, said as I left something like this: You should try to appreciate what those good people in that church have had to live with down there on the south side of Syracuse, you want to be respectful of what others have been through. None of us in this country, even those of us educated at Nottingham High School, Bob, or going on Ohio Wesleyan University, Bob, has really ever had enough education about slavery, about what the conditions of that 250 year hell were, about what the ongoing effect to this day in the 150 years since have been, about how this country and its notable capitalism, and the very sky line of our dear city, the making of American Capitalism and every dollar still swirling in its rinse basin today, came in part from stolen land and slave labor, the trail of tears and the middle passage, the five arable states of the new south and 4 million chattel slaves—beaten, raped, lynched, chained—to till it.  Even your or I, Bob, could make money with free land and free labor. And our economy still depends on the same two features, abuse of the environment and abuse of labor, to make the profits demanded by the market. We walk through it every day, and hardly notice. How do we do this? She said.

These are the kind of memories a breeze, a little music, and a quiet morning can conjour.

Now with the coffee almost done, and the reading of Theroux in motion, the lap, lap, lap again in the breeze, the lap, lap, lap again, from the lakeshore, the lap, lap, lap of, well, the present moment.   For three generations now our family has been itinerant, moving from church to church, from pulpit to pulpit, from town to town and from hidden communal misery to hidden communal misery. Every town, every city, has secret failures, as every heart has secret sorrows.  So the lake, the very modest little lake, and the cottage, the very small humble cottage, the north western tip of Appalachia about which the most remarkable thing to say is how little it has changed since 1959, becomes a place of reverie, a place of memory, a place of home life, the place called home.  Home is such a big word. That also means it is a place where hard memories are present and can be faced. Hard things. Accidents. Mistakes. Betrayals. Deaths. Losses. Failures. On this morning, in the lap, lap, lap, and with the Liszt, Liszt, Liszt, and in the breeze, perhaps mainly the breeze, with the coffee brewed, these readily come up to mind in the morning, if they haven’t already made their nocturnal appearance in the buzzard wildness of dreams.  The water on the shore brings a steady reminder that life gets lived in the aftermath of disappointment. The breeze from the west, with and without raincloud, brings the confidence that even the hurt, the shame of the wrong can be endured. The music, light and lingering, brings along the recollection of happiness that is more true for its injury in sorrow, its debasement in waste, its limitation in grief.

Let us stop, here.  In the little air, in the lap, lap, lap, in the dead quiet.  In the present moment. There. This is what the Psalm means. This is what prayer touches.  This is what the divines felt. This is what Ralph Harper wrote about, in his treatise, On Presence.  This is what old Huston Smith then of MIT said of God, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…We are in good hands, and so it behooves us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of love.  This is what Alistair Macleod depicted in his stories of Nova Scotia, concluding, all of us are better when we’re loved.  This may be what my Dad meant when he said that he had never seen anyone die fearing death.  This is what the black cold of the Pyrenees was saying to me, about vocation, in the deep winter of 1974.  This is what you carry into surgery, as the anesthesia kicks in. This is the miracle of the present moment.  Presence. Hope has a handsome son named Presence. Wordsworth: Eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.  Hammarskjold; ‘God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal Deity, but we die on the day our lives cease to be illumined by a radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder whose source lies beyond all reason.’

Chesterton: the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder. This is the refutation, at the last, of disenchantment by enchantment.  This is the overflowing giddiness of the getting up morning hour of the day when the stars begin to fall of the of the light shining in darkness that has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory in the face of…the present moment.  Psalms: 1, 19, 22, 23, 33, 46, 51, 61, 95, 96, 100, 121, 139. Psalm 16, in Thy presence there is fullness of joy.

It was only a half-second.  It was only an un-holdable, ungraspable flicker.  It was only the breeze and the book and the coffee and the music, the lake and the Liszt, and the memory and the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.

Take with you this week a sense of presence.  Take with you this week a feeling of presence.  Take with you this week a quickened apperception, awareness of the gift of one day, one day, one day, lap, lap, lap.  Take with you this week the spirit, given in the present moment. And practice, with Brother Lawrence of old, the presence of the good, the presence of God.  Do so here at Marsh Chapel. Sunday evening, right here, with prayers and spirituals sung by the Inner Strength Gospel Chorus.  Monday, right here, the compline quiet and sturdy liturgy. Tuesday, right here, with creative pause. Wednesday, right here, with a guitar at 11am in the morning and a sung eucharist  at 5:30 in the evening. Thursday noon, right here, and maybe especially, with quiet, silent silence. (The best thing at Marsh Chapel is ’nothing’—we leave the sanctuary open in silence, and open to…Presence.)

And what of pressure, Hope’s other handsome son?   The pressure toward the good, in the question of the Rich young Ruler today—‘what must I do?’.  For that, we must come back next Sunday, when the Gospel of the Present Moment is acclaimed, not only in Presence, but also within Pressure, the pressure to love.



The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

We Are One

October 7th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Isaiah 2:2-4

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 17:15-23

The podcast audio for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I don’t know about you, but the last few weeks have had some definite rollercoaster moments for me emotionally. The state of our country and the world in general continues to be in turmoil. Sometimes it feels as though we’re going to continue feeling stressed and anxious forever. But Every once and a while we still experience moments of joy, or at least we find moments of escape. I’ve recently been seeking solace from the stresses in my life through baking and escaping to foreign lands through cooking shows. While eating food is often seen as a comforting act for some, making or learning about how different dishes are made eases my anxiety. In particular, I recently watched a travel cooking show on Netflix, called Somebody Feed Phil. Unlike your normal cooking show where a trained chef demonstrates the complexities of a dish or highlights extremely cutting-edge ways of developing meals, Phil Rosenthal, the titular host of Somebody Feed Phil, takes more of an everyman approach to food and travel. With great enthusiasm he tells you about and shows you all of the great street foods and restaurants that he encounters in cities from Saigon to Lisbon. Although Phil is able to afford this kind of travel because of a successful career in television writing and production, his approach is to encourage the average person to go out and experience the world, because, as he stated in an interview “If people see a putz like me out there, they say ‘oh if he can go, I can go.’” Even if you don’t have the means to travel internationally, Phil encourages you to try new foods in your own city or town and to get to know people from different cultures through their food.

My favorite part of each episode, though, is when Phil has a meal with the family of a friend he knows from the region he is visiting. Frequently not all the guests at this meal speak English, so Phil is left making exaggerated reactions to the food he’s eating to convey his pleasure to his table mates. What I like about this part is what the host is trying to convey: that over a meal, we are all just people sharing in an experience together. In his episode in Saigon Phil quips “You know, you sit down and you eat with people that you’ve just met, and by the time you’re done eating you’re a little bit closer. That’s the idea, right?” It is out of the singular experience of sharing a meal that a community can grow. We can come to know our neighbors, even our global neighbors, just by sitting down with them over a meal because sharing food is an intimate act of trust and love.

Have you ever witnessed a community form? Have you seen the initial, trepidatious steps taken by people who don’t know each other easing into comfortable relationship with one another? Maybe you were a part of such a community-formation. Maybe it was in a church or through volunteering or even in your neighborhood. One minute, people are unsure, reserved, taking the temperature of the room, and the next there’s laughter and conversation. Not unlike the meals Phil shares across the world in different contexts with total strangers, there’s some uneasiness that eventually melts away into friendship. It develops out of patience, connection, and care.

            Every year, I get to observe communities form or take new shapes. One of the unique aspects of working in University Chaplaincy is that the communities formed here are fluid – always changing, especially from year to year. That’s because the student population changes – seniors graduate, and new first year students and transfer students arrive. New students with new identities, perspectives, and experiences to share. The chapel provides places and times for these new students to connect with one another and be in fellowship with on-going students at the university without the pressure of the classroom. It gives a space for spiritual connection, even if that connection is an unconscious one.

            This week I’ve been keenly aware of the presence of the divine I feel when students come together in fellowship. Something as simple as hearing two students in conversation who only met three weeks ago saying “I’ll text you and we can make a plan to go to ‘x’” outside of our normal fellowship activity. Or observing a student who was silent during the first meeting of the year volunteeing to help prepare and cook various parts of Malay Nasi Lemak, our meal for global dinner club this past week, all while interacting with a kitchen full of students. Students staying a half hour or even long after an event ends to continue chatting with each other while washing dishes. Something happens between weeks one and four of our weekly gathering that creates bonds between people, allowing them to engage each other on a deeper level. It is holding that other person in a place of respect with a sense of openness that allows for relationship to develop.

            It is in these points of connection, in relationship and community building, that God resides. We are reminded that Jesus often did his teaching over meals, bringing his community together from all parts of society. Jesus built community out of sharing food with others because of the intimacy it implied. By inviting those who were marginalized to eat with him, Jesus committed revolutionary acts outside the accepted norms of Jewish society. His notion of the need for relationship and community outweighed what the social and religious conventions of the times demanded. The importance of relational identity with others is so important to the Christian identity that Jesus demonstrates it for us time and time again. One of the commentaries I read for this week stated: “One cannot be a Christian by oneself.” Firstly, we are in relationship with God, always. We feel God’s love and grace in our lives; it is our foundation. We are also in relationship with other people in our societies and communities. As Christians we are called to love one another. John reminds us that God is love. Therefore, it seems only logical that it is in and through relationship that God can be experienced.

The history of Christianity centers around the need for community. Back to our roots in Judaism, it is the community of the Israelites that God leads out of slavery and into the promised land. The Israelite community was one based on being the “chosen people of God,” whom God liberates. The Christian community, however, has an expanded notion of inclusion. Through the actions and words of Jesus, we learn that all can be members of God’s community, especially those who are marginalized by the society. Despite national identity, economic status, or even gender, all are equal in the sight of God, as Paul tells us in the epistle to the Galatians. We are unified in our faith in Christ and God, forming the church in the world. But what is the Christian community really, and how are we supposed to be Christians in a globalized world?

While community is important to the core concepts of Christianity and Judaism (as well as many other religious traditions) interestingly, there is no word in Hebrew or Greek that is an equivalence to the English word for community. (Just as a pre-apology, I’m going to try my best with pronouncing biblical Hebrew and Greek in the next few sentences…bear with me). In the Hebrew Bible, the closest term is r’h (ree), which translates to brother or neighbor. In the New Testament, there’s the ekklesia (eck-klee-seea), the church or assembly, hagioi(hag-ee-oy) the community of saints/ or holy ones, the agapetoi (agapaytoy) the brothers/beloved ones, and the koinonia,those in the fellowship and sharing in Christ. When we talk about the Christian community and the values we share, we are most often referring to the koinonia, which speaks to the deep spiritual connection we recognize in each other through our union with Christ and God. Alternatively, there is another word used in the New Testament of as much value when we think about being in community with others. Allelon(Ah-lay-lon) is a relational term meaning “one another.” Primarily used in the epistles in the New Testament, “one another” is the term used to provide guidance on social relations within Christian communities. Christians living in community are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2; Col. 3:13) and to build up one another (Rom 1:19; 1 Thess 5:11), and most often cited, to love one another. The community of Christian believers is not joined together by proximity, but by relationship through the holy spirit grounded in a shared belief in Christ Jesus. It is this faith in God through Christ through which the community experiences and expresses grace to one another. It is in this community that they are able to find solace, celebration, and hope.

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday as a sign of our Christian unity. Started in 1933 by Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, World Communion Sunday grew from a local celebration of church unity and interdependence to a celebration recognized by the Federation of Christian Churches, now National Council of Churches, in 1940.  All around the world, Christians share in the Eucharist on this day as a reminder that our community extends far beyond the walls of our individual churches, beyond our city limits, beyond our countries of origin. We all bring different cultures and perspectives to our global community of Christians, but we all also share in the hope and salvation of Christ. Today is also a celebration of the ecumenicism built between Christian denominations over the past century. The ecumenical dialogue developed before and after World Communion Sunday makes the existence of a congregation like Marsh Chapel possible through the cooperation and affiliation of various Protestant denominations with each other.

In today’s scripture readings we hear about the importance and the beauty of being in community with others. The psalmist reminds us “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The writer of Ephesians reminds us that we are called to each fulfill our own individual vocations while also seeking love and peace with our community, something that will join us together in the unity of God who is present in all. The passage from John’s gospel speaks to the significance of the relationship Jesus shares with both God and with us. Jesus, on the night that he is sharing his last meal with the disciples, turns to God and prays for the future of the community. Jesus knows what he is called to do in the next day, to give up his life, but instead of fearing what must be done, he instead focuses on his hopes for the community he will leave behind, asking God to continue to protect and sanctify them. It is through the close relationship Jesus shares with God and the community that he projects the unity of the Christian community into the future – “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is then our tasks as Christians to accept the love and grace given by God and employ it as justice and righteousness in the world we live in today.

Do not be mistaken, though, a call for Christian unity is not a call for uniformity which erases all differences and experiences. Instead, the Christian community is strengthened by the diversity present within it. It allows for the voices of the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the oppressed to be heard and valued in our global context, challenging us to create a society where everyone can seek to be liberated from oppression in its many forms. As Christianity has grown globally, it has taken new shapes and forms which speak to the varied contexts in which it has been established. As the global church shifts its center away from the Western dominance it once had, the mission of Christian visions of hope and love continue to be the central focus of the Church. While Sunday worship in Nigeria or Korea may look very different than our service here in Boston, Massachusetts, the grace and love of God sustains all of our congregations to meet our worldly challenges head on with a sense of optimism.

Through celebrating communion together today, we emphasize the presence of God in our lives through Christ. Sharing in the eucharist is a communal act. Even though we may individually receive our piece of bread and sip of wine, we share in the act of eating from the same loaves and drinking from the same cups, just as the disciples did with Jesus at the Last Supper. The acts of worshipping together may not always generate the same sort of connection that having a long meal with someone might – there’s little chance to converse or find moments of individual connection in our service – but it allows us to focus our attention on God’s presence in our lives. It is then out of this recognition of God’s presence in our lives that we are able to find deeper connection outside of worship times – before the service in the Narthex, after worship at coffee hour or our covered dish luncheon, during the week in a fellowship opportunity, or even just getting coffee with someone from the congregation. It is felt when we take the time to get to know our new neighbor who moved in across the street, welcome a newcomer to our monthly book club, or invite a friend to join us in a new context, like church, for example.

While the holy meal of communion fills us spiritually during this time today, it should also remind us that our church reaches far beyond the walls of this building. And no, I’m not just talking about the fact that this service is broadcasted on the radio. What I mean is that it is the people who participate in this service, whether sitting right here in the pews or listening half a world away, going out into the world to share the love and grace of God with others. Ours is a community that pushes back against the norms of what society may expect or demand from us; instead we focus on the justice and righteousness offered through God’s presence in our lives as a guiding force. Our community founded in God’s love helps us to see what is moral and what is amoral in our contexts, and then to move into action to challenge the status quo in the best way to serve our neighbors, whether they are Christian or not. Through upholding our values found in establishing just and unified communities, we come closer to the vision that Jesus holds for us when he prays for us before his death.

So as you leave from this place today, I urge you to continue building the relationships found within this community of Marsh Chapel, but also to bring the knowledge of God’s ever present grace and love into all of your relationships. As we enter into our Holy meal, our Holy Communion with one another, remember that we are one with God through Christ, imbued with the Holy Spirit. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, to build one another up, to love one another, extending God’s love, grace, and sense of justice into the wider world.


 Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


The Bach Experience

September 30th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

 -The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean. & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music.

It’s All About Peace

September 23rd, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

-The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and Professor of Religion, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA

Hope that is Seen is not Hope

September 16th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

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Hope that is seen is not hope.  Who hopes for what he sees?  We hope for what we do not see, and what for it with patience.

Our denomination bade farewell to one of its great matriarchs this summer, Barbara Steen, who with her husband the Rev. Tom Steen mentored generations of clergy, especially regarding invitation in outreach and fellowship.  Chuck Foster (Educating Clergy)Is an example.  Their example teaches us about hope.  In fact, Barb lived out the sense and substance of the Letter to the Romans, chapters 1,3,5,8,12,15 (here verses are recited in the sermon). 

What gracious good news to recall in this era of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, irresponsibility, perversity, rapacity, and, especially, mendacity. Listen again to James, and to Mark.


The Tongue

If ever there were an age that could hear, and appreciate, the teaching of James about the tongue as a fire, it is our own. You know, the preacher here does not need to bring exegesis to bear, or to give explanation for the wisdom proffered, or to bring examples, many or few.  We know in our evenings of listening to the cable news.  We hear in our mornings of commuting with the radio on. We read and learn and inwardly digest what speech can do for ill.  We are coming to a point where even James 3 is too tepid, too mild to describe our national condition.  At some point we will need to repair to Amos, and to drink the hard cold medicine of his teaching.  When we wreck the use of words without pause, you do come to a time when words no longer work.  You have stripped the gears.  You have shredded the fabric.  You have cut the muscle.  And no one can speak the truth and no can hear the truth any longer. 

Behold the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line’.  Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;  I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac will be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid to waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword’. Amos 7: 7-8.        

‘Behold the days are coming’ says the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.’ Amos 8: 11-12


Mark 8: 24-37

To renounce oneself, said John Chrysostom is ‘to treat oneself as if one were another person’ (Marcus, II, 624). Consider oneself as every day on the edge of death.  Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  We live at the intersection of present advent and future hope. What good is the greatest possession if there is no possessor to enjoy it?  ‘Take up the cross’ is a reference to the beginning of the journey, and the next part, ‘follow me’ refers to the ongoing life of faith. Baptism, first, you could say, Communion, second, you could say.

We like Peter have aversion to suffering, as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus is more than a prophet.  But he is not less than a prophet.

Mark’s harsh portrayal of Peter as ‘Satan’ is too much for Luke, who omits it later, and that reaction was probably not unique, for we can understand it too.

Hope that is seen is not hope.  So your preachers this summer reminded you:  Br. Whitney, Dr. Walton, Rev. Gaskell, Dr. Coleman, Rev. Donahue, and the dean, speaking about hope and righteousness, hope and freedom, hope and disappointment, hope and children, hope and lying, hope and listening, hope and the sweet aroma of the bread of life, hope and blending blue and red into purple (ok, maybe it was more like violet!), hope and faith.

Seek the Lost: Outreach

Barb and Tom Steen lived out of a desire to seek and to save the lost.   That is old language, for sure.  But it catches the fire and flavor of their, of her, faith.  Many of us have had several helpings of faith, Sunday by Sunday.  But for some, for some others, the first meal has yet to be served.  That is where some of our youth work, some of our outreach and evangelism, some of our willingness to open the church to others who may at some point need community comes in. AFUMC did this to national recognition in August this year.

Barb loved the camping programs at Watson Homestead and Casowasco.  This summer, driving along Route 90, our granddaughter counted up the number of times she will be at, she will have been at Casowasco, this year and next.  Many times.  Barb would have smiled.

We knew her many years ago, along the lakeshore of Owasco Lake, in the parlors of the building there aptly named ‘Galilee’. We saw there the effect that loving community, caring presence, modulated teaching, all in a naturally beautiful setting can have.

One summer, toward the end of the season, we had a young man of about 15 as a camper.  He had never been to camp before.  He was a rugged, stout fellow, who could and did pass the swim test, but barely.  He was just full of life, and not overly attuned to boundaries.  He had to sit out every now and then, but was quite affable about it, not minding the light discipline.  He was such an exuberant fellow, it was hard not smile at his various antics.  He was having a whale of time, all week long.  I was working as the lifeguard so I don’t know how much Scripture he learned, or how much praying he did, or how fully he could articulate his sense of faith.  But he was every bit alive, all week.  And the meaning of life is in the living of life anyway, isn’t it?

Come Friday, after lunch, our young friend disappeared.  He did not show up for rest period, and the later class, nor the swim at 2pm.  His counselors were rightly worried.  We formed up a search group, and trekked up to Mt Tabor, and hunted across the road in the Highlands, and looked through the gorge and the woods surrounding.  No luck.  By dinner we were plenty worried, even looking through the waterfront.  Then early that evening, I was walking up the railroad track, to the south of the camp, still hunting.  There he came, shuffling along.  He told me why he ran away.  He said that he did not want to go home.  He said that the week had been the best one of his life, that he for once friends, that he loved the hiking and meals and swimming, even the evening vespers. He just had never known anything like it.  And he did not want to go home, to what he had to go home to.  He told me about that, too.

That night, as he had some late supper, he came to something of realization.  It wasn’t so much that he could put everything into words.  The gist of his thought was along the line that he would go home and he would make the best of it.  But he would do it with memory of the week he had had, and that he would not forget, and he would not let the memory of the week fade. He would have to go home, but he could take something new home with him.  Another way, another experience, another perspective, a little hope. 

That is an example of what Barb and Tom were aimed at, in that part of their ministry.  A first helping of faith, shared genuinely, shared authentically, with those who had not yet had a chance to sit down at the table of fellowship and faith. It is what inspired her regular phone calls to our home, in Rochester, as our growing up children would hear, rattled out rapidly, ‘Hi Hon, Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is school, is your mom there, thanks’.  She made her list of 5 or 10 calls she would make every day, and she made them.

Welcome the Stranger: Fellowship

We left New York City suddenly, in 1979, to take a church in Ithaca, in the snows of February.  Jan was ill, with child, and both the mother and the in utero baby had survived surgery for an ovarian cyst.  The doctor at St. Elizabeth’s in NYC had been unsure whether he could save either.  Our conference and Bishop had an open Cornell neighborhood church and we had every need to be in place, be employed, be able to heal and prepare.  Ordination—and with it health insurance as a conference member—were months away, in mid-June, near the due date for the birth.  As it happened, the child, our first, arrived two weeks late, a gift for some in the family, and a task for others.

We knew no one really, of our age, in the conference at that time.  Those were hot, lonely months, with all the pure joy and utter confusion of parenthood’s sudden arrival.  The birth of the daughter, that day, July 5,1979, was and remains the happiest day of my life.  Whatever joy is, it is not something I can think about without the sight of that little beautiful baby, that beautiful young mother and the delivery which was deliverance too.  So we began to stumble around in ministry, writing sermons, making visits, trying to make sense of personal and church budgets, a salary of $8K a year, plus a house. 

In early September the phone rang in our little parsonage cottage in Ithaca, at the end of Forest Home Drive.  ‘Hi Hon Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is the ministry, Ithaca has enough committees for everyone to be the chair of at least one, these people don’t want faith they want a graduate course in religion—ugh!—is your wife there?’  We knew Barb and Tom by reputation only, a part of which we were about to see in real time, their commitment to small groups, to welcome, to hospitality, to invitation.  She called to invite us to a brunch two weeks hence in the Newfield parsonage, then occupied by Gary and Jeannie Judson.  Later in ministry our Syracuse predecessor Rev. Wayne Archer, his wife a Fenton of Fenton glass, reminded us that the Newfield church burned down during his ministry there. Oddly, the DS had said, ‘Archer, light a fire under that church’.  Well, Wayne also had served a church in Pennsylvania that hard burned, hence his nickname, ‘the Arson Parson’.  But Newfield UMC was rebuilt, and parsonage, as the older ones do, had a big parlor. 

Barb had gathered a dozen twenty something couples, including the Judsons and the Hills, who didn’t know each other form Adam’s house cat, for a meal.  Half or more had little babies in tow.  We sang and prayed a little, ate a little more, and laughed a whole lot more about the oddities of life, young adult life, parenthood, ministry and the loneliness lurking behind and above and underneath them all.  She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other. She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other.  We came alive.  The next week the phone rang. ‘Hi hon Barb Steen here, how is the ministry, how is life, how is that beautiful little ‘Emly’ how are your folks Marcia and Irv, wasn’t that a great brunch at Judsons, is Jan there?

From that one gathering friendships formed. One minister then took me to lunch. Another suggested a round of golf. A third saw my car and told to me to come over so that he would teach me to how to change the brake pads.  ‘You don’t want to spend money on that.  You can’t afford it on $8K a year. I’ll help you’. A fourth came and preached on Christmas Eve, making reference, in earshot of Rudolph, to the blessed taste of venison.  Thanks to Bob, to Duane, to Gary, and to Dale.  Tom Steen himself got me into a clergy study of the Psalms that lasted two years until we moved north.

The habits of visitation, the habits of welcome, the habits of outreach, the habits of hospitality, the habits of Christian charity and love, all so dearly central to any genuine form of ministry, are not necessarily permanent gifts.  They have to be remembered.  To be remembered they have to be modeled.  To be modeled that have to be practiced.  I give you Barb Steen.

Peter Berger (Rumor of Angels) reminded us that the very sense we have of lasting, earthly injustice, of wrongs not and never made right, a real and palpable sentiment, is itself a rumor of something more.  Which we cannot see, of course, and of which we do not know, of course. But maybe a heavenly breakfast will again be served, at which the table will seat the resurrection of the just. We hope for what we do not see.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

Begin With The Hope In Mind

September 9th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Mark 7: 24-37

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Begin with the hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.  Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.

         Since her cousins and sister had already jumped into the cold lake, right off the end of the dock, Jane too headed that way.  It was her turn to jump.  The air was warm but the water was cold, she knew, from wading earlier.  She wanted to jump but she feared the cold.  She had some hope, but it had a cousin called fear. She longed to proceed as others had but she feared the pain, the jolt, the cold of the water.  So, she paused, she pondered, she hesitated, she equivocated, she moved left and right. Then she asked to take a moment to go down into the water, wading, to get her feet wet, and to get herself wet before the jump.  Up she came, but still, she stood still.  ‘Jump, Jane’ called her cousins. So since that light moistening didn’t work she asked to go down into the water to submerge in full, and be all wet before the jump.  Surely that would do the trick. But that didn’t work either.  Finally, she negotiated an end to the hostilities by deciding to wait until the next day.  She went up the hill dry and warm, but unsuccessful and downcast, her fear mollified but her hope deferred.  She had it right, though, both ways, didn’t she?  Yes, it would feel good to jump and yes, it would not feel good to jump. Both.  At the same time.  The sheer, public full honesty of the dilemma, the horns of the dilemma, is something we adults somehow learn or manage to disguise.  One is always better than the other, when it comes to choices, we suppose.  Right? Is that right? Well, not really. Yes, it feels good to jump, but yes it feels bad to jump.  Both. At the same time.  And there was evening, and there was morning, another day. And the next day, a whole day older and wiser, she took her usual place, fourth among six, and sauntered to the end of the dock, counted to the ritual three, uno dos tres, and, without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped.  She came up smiling.  Now less fear, now more hope. Choices in real time, choices in our experience, choices in freedom, for young and old, are strange things, dialectical and multi-dimensional.  We want what we fear and we fear what we want.  We hope for what we do not see, and we do not see the way toward that for which we hope.  And, sometimes, the air feels better, and sometimes the water.  The meaning in life and the meaning of life is in the living of life.  Choose. Choose!  And then choose again.  But as you begin, begin with the hope in mind.  There is fear, but there is hope.

         For the Gospel of Mark, it is ever a question, put to us again today, whether we can learn to see through Jesus’ eyes, to begin with the hope in mind.  To be honest about our fears, for sure, and, in due course, to give them their due.  But when your child is ill, as was the child of the Syro-Phoenician woman, to begin with hope in mind.  But when your body needs healing, as did that of the Gentile without hearing, to begin with hope in mind.  Hope is the spiritual air we need to breathe.  It is not so much that where there is life there is hope, but more that where there is hope there is life.      

         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.  The second records a healing of speech and hearing, brought along by Jesus in the region of the Sea of Galilee, the healing of a deaf mute, whose ears are opened and whose tongue is set free.  There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own unable to hear and so unable to talk.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these things become real possibilities, the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken. An old story this, it carries an Aramaic word into the Greek language and world of Mark’s written Gospel and Roman community: Ephphatha!  Be opened.  May it be so.

         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.   The first story, if ever there was to be one story truly accurate about Jesus’ earthly life, carries us to Jesus’ worn tunic side, to Jesus’ young man’s body, to Jesus’ somehow power to heal, to Jesus’ willingness to be corrected, to stand corrected.  Mark and the early church had every reason to forget such embarrassment, the Lord of life brought to terms by a poor woman, a fearful and fretful mother who would do anything for her daughter, a GENTILE woman, an outsider, not truly religious, who challenges him.  Yes, Lord.  Yet even…There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own mistaken about the universality, the breadth, the magnanimity of the mighty God and his God begotten Son.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these errors become real possible pathways to full healing, to a child brought back from the brink, to the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken.  An old story this, it carries a woman’s harsh rebuke of Him the church and Mark’s Roman community proclaim Risen Savior, Son of God, Lord and Christ. 

         Both stories are shot through with magical, exorcistic language, so much so that Matthew in retelling the Gospel on the basis of Mark, two decades or so later, eliminated them. The language can cause us to miss the meaning of the stories: they are meant to be understood symbolically, metaphorically.  The hope that Jesus brings, announces our Gospel, can be spoken and heard by those not originally religious, those not within the accustomed heritage of faith—the Gentiles.  Why Jesus even loses the one argument he loses in his whole ministry, here, to a Gentile, a Syro-Phoenician woman, a wily, crafty, Gentile woman.  The hope that Jesus brings can be spoken and heard by those not naturally inclined to such speech and hearing, those not gifted say with a religious gene or a spiritual gene.  For some music comes easily, for others not so.  For some faith comes easy, for others not so.  It is in the nature of things, this difference. Yet the hope in the healing that Jesus brings, here, overcomes both cultural and the natural barriers.  Jesus is still working miracles of speaking and hearing, of ‘loosening tied up tongues’ (J. Marcus, Anchor Bible, I, 480). 

         Salvation is a Latin rooted word, stemming from salvus, which means health.  The hope of salvation is the hope of healing.  Where there is healing, there is the Risen Christ, as if He were to say, I am the hospital, I am the diagnosis, I am the medicine, no comes to healing but by me, and wherever healing happens there I am also. 

         Every day this fall, begin with hope in mind.  Every week this fall, on the Lord’s day, come to church, and begin with hope in mind. At every turn, with every challenge, in every season, begin with hope in mind.

         You heard the hope of healing again in Senator McCain’s memorial last weekend.  Yes in the trumpets and traditional American music of the Navy Hymn, and in Boston’s My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the nature hymn, How Great Thou Art.  Yes in the wise voices of Presidents and Senators and family and friends.  Yes in the Gospel of John, with attendant, lesser Scriptures.  Yes in the organ, the gothic nave, the robed choirs, the solemn liturgy.  Yes, yes. But primordially you heard the hope of healing in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s two verse poem, with which the sermon that morning began: 


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myselfit speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.


I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.    

…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his…


Many of us had left campus last spring before the full ‘beginning’, the full celebration of ‘commencement’.  Those days offered great hope in beginnings.  Our Commencement at Boston University in 2018 was a new beginning that began with hope.

We heard hope in the voice of the Deans in conference who spoke about ‘What constitutes ideal student life?’   Here are some of the words used.  See if they sound to you like they sound to me:  meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting.  That all sounds to me like religion.  All require a leap of faith.  Jump, Jane!  You cannot get within earshot of meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting,apart from religion.

We heard hope in the voice of those honored by induction into the Scarlet Key.  This has been donefor 105 years.

We heard hope in the honored faculty member in the School of Dentistry.  He remembered his own graduation and having six family members stay with him in his one bedroom apartment.  Then he said to the graduates:  work for the cause not the applause work for the cause not the applause. 

We heard hope in the voice of Professor Nancy Ammerman preaching from this pulpit during the STH hooding ceremony.  She fully acknowledged the difficulties in ministry and in life which bedevil our time, indeed which shadow and make anxious every day.  Then she quietly and strongly spoke the gospel and spoke about the gospel.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt. And her sermon was leaven, light and salt.

 We heard hope in the voice of the the tenor soloist at the Boston Pops singing from Leonard Bernstein’s magnificent West Side Story:  Maria…Do what you love and love what you do!

 We heard hope in the voice of Carmen Yulinda Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, who simply asked what you will do when you are faced, as she and her people were last year, with choices of life and death.  How will face that?  Then she broke down briefly and beautifully in emotional remembrance of what her parents had sacrificed to send her to Boston University, including mortgaging their house twice.

We heard hope in the voice of John Lewis at the biggest of our gatherings, 20,000 of us at Nickerson Field, after Lewis had worshipped here at Marsh Chapel.  He told about his first correspondence with and first conversation with Martin Luther King more than fifty years ago.  Then he challenged the 20,000 present at Nickerson Field.   So, good for you, you have a degree.  And then what?  You will get a good job.  And then what?  You buy a new car.  And then what?  You will build a new house.  And then what?  You will advance in your career.  And then what?  You will make money.  And then what?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?

 We heard hope from Colonel Thomas M. Stewart at one of our smallest but most meaningful gatherings, the ROTC Commissioning, annually at Fanueil Hall, but this year at City Hall: Speaking of Ego, Royalty  left the Army when the British left Boston.  You put your mission first.  You focus on your people always.  You be adaptable.  You practice life-long learning.  Then their parents stood beside them, placing upon their shoulders the apullets, the shoulder boards, marking them for service and sacrifice as they promised to Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic.  Did you hear the wording?  The Constitution…all enemies… foreign or domestic. 

 We heard hope in the voice of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in the reception of our Madeiros Scholars, telling these 20 full scholarship recipients that because you have been given a great gift, you have a responsibility in the future, in some significant way, to give back.

Today we begin with the hope in mind, a sermon offered as a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.  May our global listenership, including this year Kasey Shultz in Madagascar, continue to expand.  May our undergraduate student members, like those present and participating today, continue to increase.  May our worship service be distributed broadly to NPR stations coast to coast, so that those in Idaho and Texas can hear the service live on his home NPR station.  May the interpretation of the Scriptures here, and elsewhere, continue to try to bring a biblical, prophetic critique, to bear upon national and cultural leadership under such manifold cloud cover today. May we try to strengthen the vital habits of assembly and representative democracy, these crucial though underattended, time and labor intensive communal gatherings, in Faculty Assembly, in Annual Conference, in Congress, and in Life.  May our pastoral care ministry, embodied in chaplains and in many Lay Leaders, be matched by similarly vigorous ministries of outreach and of evangelism.

This may not be the morning for you to take a leap of faith.  The timing may not be right.  The air may be warmer than the water, and the water may still be cold.  The right balance of hope and fear may not yet have arrived.  No worries. There is tomorrow, and there is next week, and there is another day.  Yesterday was ‘Splash’, the celebration of student life and groups, inviting a leap of faith.  Friday night, said John Kerry, in reference to his recent writing about faith:  ‘you know, it takes a leap;  faith, it always takes a leap’.

Or, on the other hand, the time may be right and the air and water temperature fit, for just that leap of faith. 

Begin with the hope in mind. For there is a healing that hope brings. Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.

– The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

Communion Meditation

September 2nd, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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James 1:22-27

Mark 7:1-8

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As you enter this year of study, every day you will have a chance and a need for some pause, some moments of quiet.  Use your familiar devotional reminders to bring peace of mind and encouragement of heart.  Recite the decalogue.  Recall the creed.  Repeat the beatitudes.  Rely on the Lord’s Prayer.  Remember Paul’s admonitions.  One of our student choristers brings you our sincere,  communal and heartfelt word of welcome.  Maggie?




Maggie:  Welcome to the varied ministry of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, fall 2018!  We look forward to getting to know you, as you sign up to sing in a choir, as you volunteer to usher or greet, as you attend a fellowship or study group, and especially as you worship with us on Sunday at 11am! 

            The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is to be ‘a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city’.  To that end Dr. Jarrett will invite you to vocal expressions of faith in the life of our music program.  To that end Ms. Chicka will invite you to global outreach in our work with International students.  To that end Br. Whitney will invite you to take part and take leadership in campus student ministry.  To that end Mr. Bouchard will solicit your support for work and works in hospitality. 

            This year, with our emphasis on ‘voice, vocation, and volume’ in our shared life, we are using as a focus for our work the word ‘hope’.   Our summer, fall and spring term worship and community life are laden with expressions of hope.  We trust and hope that each and every Sunday Morning will become an occasion for the speaking and hearing of ‘a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope’. 

            Where we can be personally helpful to you, and where our staff, chaplains, and campus ministers can be a benefit and blessing to you, do not hesitate to call up on us. 

            John Wesley famously called for a means of grace to ‘spread scriptural holiness and reform the nation’.  Now that was a big dream! May grace expand and extend in meaning for us in the fall term, 2018!

To begin, as you enter, as you ‘matriculate’, today and this week, we offer you, in communion meditation, three thoughts on adventure, regret, and faith.


  1. Adventure


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

In so doing, we may be able to remember, to recollect, to regather ourselves by reference to our best selves, to our own-most selves.  We have, for instance, had three years of shouting about a wall to be built along the Rio Grande.  But even once, or at all, have you heard a reference in all this hollering to the Monroe Doctrine?  The Monroe Doctrine expressed a singular, particular interest, on the part of the United States, in the whole of the Western Hemisphere.  It privileged, rather than denigrated, our relationship with the peoples and lands from Canada to Mexico to Chile.  Have you heard it quoted, or referenced in the last two years?

We happily have a rising senior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an international studies major, who can help us remember the Monroe Doctrine.  Denise, what can you tell us?

Denise:  The Monroe Doctrine, authored by James Monroe in 1823, is in the main a statement of American commitment to the welfare and well-being of our northern and southern neighbors, Canada to Chile.  It has waned and waxed in actual influence, and at times has been tragically abused.  Theodore Roosevelt added his own corollary about 100 years after the original.  The Monroe Doctrine expresses American commitment to protection and defense of our neighbors in this hemisphere. 

Who knows?  Perhaps some part of our matriculating class of 2022 will engage in the adventure of rebuilding culture, society, economy and politics in our international neighborhood.  Listen again to the love poetry in the Song of Songs.  The voice of my beloved!  Behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. Voice…Beloved…Leaping…Bounding!   Life is just full of potential, of possibility!!  Life is an unending set of adventures!!  Why we could as a country, for instance, rebuild the Central American societies and economies that are sending parents and children fleeing for their lives north to America.  We have the means.  We have the motivation.  Bridges are better than walls.  In safety and with jobs, people could stay in their own countries.  What an adventure that would be, to see the Monroe Doctrine refit for the 21st century!   You might want to venture in adventure to study abroad, even perhaps south of the border.


  1. Regret


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.  In so doing, we may be able to sharpen our capacity to the tell the difference between the true and the false, between the decent and the scurrilous.

You probably remember the phrase, ‘Methinks the lady protesteth too much’.   In hindsight we gain insight though often the insight is painful.  Where is this remembered phrase found?  In Shakespeare.   It expresses doubt in another’s sincerity (for those older than I), or authenticity (for those of my own generation), or capacity for irony (for those coming into the student ranks today).

We happily have a rising junior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an English major, who can help us remember Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, from near the year 1600.  Tom, what can you tell us?

Tom:  Well, actually, Dean Hill, the quotation, though often put as you did, is more accurately, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks“.  The line so spoken is a little subtler and has an irony to it.  Here Queen Gertrude remarks on the insincerity, the overstatement within the ‘play within the play’ that Prince Hamlet writes.   The play itself shows guilt and insincerity, as does the famous line about ‘protesting too much’.  We use it in everyday speech to say that someone is lying.

By the way, if you have to choose, along the way, what in college to read, read some Shakespeare and read some Scripture.  The Bible and the Bard are the best, in the long run.  Both know about regret, a short or one word definition of hell.  Hell is regret, and regret is hell.  Hardly anyone escapes this life with no regrets.  They befall us all.  But we can at least be aware of them.  We can least strive to minimize them, both in quantity and in quality, both in number and size.  These years, if it be possible, we pray, let your regrets be few, so that your fulsome sense of irony and authenticity and sincerity will shine through.   The thing about social media, the newer technological forms, is that it is possible to represent yourself as someone a bit other than yourself.  For a time.  But over time, the truth, the hard truth, comes out.  When you look others in the eye and speak.  And they look in you in the eye and listen.  That is when you don’t want to have to ‘protest too much’.  As the Bard also wrote, trite but still true, ‘to thine own self be true’.  At least as much as possible!  When I lie, I hurt most myself.  Regret, the recognition of a lived moment of lying, hurts not others, but me.  Eschew regret.  Limit regret.  May your regrets be few and far between.

My esteemed friend Professor Andrew Bacevich, speaking to the graduating class of our own BU Academy some years ago, said:  ‘Now you are going off to college.  You will sometimes find yourself in a situation where a little soulful radar sounds inside you.  You know that something is afoot that just might not be right.  Listen to the beeping, the conscience, the sound of that soulful radar’.  The hardened and stern lessons of the Letter of James stand in this tradition: ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’.  It is not just what you learn or hear, it is what you do or don’t do that makes a life, a college career, and a person.


  1. Faith


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

We are living through a national debate about whether honor is necessary to leadership, or not.  Here in Mark 7 honor comes in two varieties, the one of the lips and the other of the heart.  Said one this week, speaking of his work place, ‘What is missing there is heart’.

May your adventures be many, and may your regrets be few.  The power to see things through, both when you need the accelerator and when you need the brakes, the capacity to balance the two, goes by the name of faith.   As the Gospel today emphasizes, it is the inside of the cup, the heart, the sense of honor, over time, that matters most.  Faith is the courage to continue to lean forward, when adventure is in the balance, and the courage to continue to lean backward, when regret is in the outcome.  Whatever, says Paul, is not of faith, that is sin.  So we gather for prayer every Sunday, and are led by lay leaders like Sandra, who often prays with and for us, as she does this morning.  Sandra?


Sandra:   Gracious God Holy and Just

Thou from whom we come and unto whom our spirits return

Thou our dwelling place in all generations

Rest upon us in the silence of this moment we pray

Dry the tears of those moved to emotion in an hour of separation

Illumine the skyline of opportunity that lies behind the rain clouds of worry

Carry young hearts open to friendship into seas of friendship

Help us hear for our time the voice of the Prophet

‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly’?

Help us we earnestly pray to prefer justice to judgment

Help us we earnestly pray to love the merciful more than the material

Help us we earnestly pray to walk humbly not haughtily

May the degrees we earn turn by degrees the wheel of life from judgment to justice

May the courses we choose inspire in choices later a keenness of mind matched by a fullness of heart

May the learning we gain afford us the gain of humility, the honest desire to give credit where credit is due, and not to tip the scale

May the friendships we make in their turn make us less inclined to judgment and more enamored of justice

May the regrets we acquire then incline us to mercy, as we have felt mercy, and not to material measurements alone

May the adventures we bravely pursue give us the wisdom to know our condition, mortal, frail, prone to harm others, frail, mortal

May all our acquisition of knowledge chase us toward justice, toward mercy, and toward humility

And the wisdom to welcome, later, perhaps much later, the recognition that

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery  that surrounds it

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it


– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.