Sunday
September 13

Liberal Grace

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 18: 21-35

Click here to hear just the sermon

Please forgive the intrusive nature of this sermon.   For I want to begin by taking a walk with you into the attic of your soul.  Though we are friends, it is not my right to initiate such a visit.  Though we are pastors and parishioners, it is not our right to force such a trek back up through the mist of time.  You would need to make an invitation, yourself.  Even to suggest the climb, without any initiative on your part, is rude of me.  I apologize.

The Gospel, however, intrudes upon our very souls, whether the preacher has a right or not.  As kingfishers catch fire, and dragonflies draw flame, so truth—that liberal grace, that light in which we see light—advances upon us.  So we go ahead.  We walk together upstairs to the landing.  You kindly have turned on the hall light.  Thank you.  I wonder if this is a sign from you that you will welcome this joint venture?  We pull down on the chain that loosens the attic portal.  You know how that little door in the ceiling falls open, and slowly a flank of wooden stairs comes down, and down, and down, and touches our feet.  We are ready to climb up into the darkness.

Watch your step.  You have not been up into the cobwebs and the dust of memory, the mothballs and the coverlets of history, the grime and the darkness of the past.   It is a little slow going.   This is your attic, though.  You know it as well as you know your own past.  In fact, it is your past, box by box, and crate by crate.  I have no right to be here, and if you ask me, I will leave.  A man has a right to his own regrets.  A woman has a right to her own regrets.  They are not common property.  They are yours, these boxes and labels and shoes and hangers and records and amulets and souvenirs from the dusty past.   One of you is looking over at an old service uniform from the great war—brown and rumpled.  Another sees bobby sox and a political poster—I LIKE IKE.  She has stumbled past three old Beatles albums—greatest hits, Abbey Road, the White album.  I notice a Jim Croce tape.  I wonder if it still plays?  He thumbs through a pile of other newer albums.  She has a 2004 World Series Fenway ticket.  He has a ball marked deflate-gate.  Of course there are lots of photographs.  What kind of an attic would it be without boxes and records and photographs?

This is the attic of memory.  No, we won’t stop at the wardrobe

Today. The wardrobe is for another day, a day of hope and imagination.  Lions and witches come from wardrobes.  Today we are looking back, though.  We are going to stumble and claw our way over into the back corner.  There is not much light here.  It is a long time since anyone came back in, all this way.  Dust, cobwebs—it makes you sneeze.

Over in the corner there is a small, low box, carefully closed, and tied around with a little bailer’s twine.  This is yours.  No one else knows it is here, or if they do, they have forgotten or never understood or just don’t care.  But you know and remember and understand and care.  I really do not want to be here, and you probably don’t want to either.  I—for it is not my business.  You—because in black ink, now dusty, is penned across the top of the box a single, awful, hellish word—regret.  Regret is a short synonym for hell.   And up here in the attic of memory, off in the corner, sits this stupid box, which means nothing to anyone, except to you.  There it is—a single box labeled “regret”.

Open it.

Go ahead.  Try it.  If you want.  I think you have wanted to come up here, but just never had 20 minutes of quiet to do so.  Remember last summer when you thought about the box?  And remember that early morning dream?  That was a strange thing.  I want to encourage you to open it.  Hold it in both hands.  Untie the twine.  Loosen the top.  Turn it over, and let it all fall out.

Good.  That was a gutsy thing to do.  Good for you.

The reason the box was marked “regret” is that this is one thing you regret.  You have a regret.  That is part of being human.  Can you live with being human?  Can you live with being a little lower than the angels?  How do I know all this?  As my great aunt would say, “If you’re so smart how come you aren’t rich?”  A real good question.  I know because I have boxes in my attic too.  They too are covered with cobwebs.  I too make my visits, my attic climbs, very seldom.  And, yes, I know about regret.  Not just vicariously, either.  There is nothing quite as bitter.  If only…If only…If only…

I asked to come up here with you for a reason.  Up in the attic here, with that swinging bare light bulb and the Johnny Mathis record, and the 2018 election lawn sign,  and all this dust, we may feel God.

Look at the box again, and all its contents spread across the floor.  In the dark I cannot see the floor, but after 44 years and 10 pulpits I truly doubt if any of it would surprise me.  After reading the Bible and Shakespeare and a few decades worth of the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, there is not much that surprises.  But it is different for you.  This is your attic, your memory, your box, your regret.  It is YOURS.  In a way, this box is more yours than any of the others.

In this box are the articles of impeachment brought by life against us.  They are multiple and they are damning and unlike civil and criminal law, the laws of the soul do not give way to lawyerly cunning.  And there is no vote, no 2/3 majority needed.  And the impeachment may not have led to conviction, except in the heart.  Yours.

What is that you say?  Not you?  Never a cutting word?  Never a selfish deed?  Never an unhealthy habit?  Never a compulsive trend?  Never a myopic judgment?  Never a temptation accepted?  Never an ungenerous year? Never a vote you wish, truly wish, you had not made?  You meant one thing, it meant another.   Never a non-giving decade?   Not you?  Never a misspent dollar or day or dream?  You don’t go to enough funerals.

But the box doesn’t lie.  Nor does the conscience.  Nor does the memory.  Nor does life.

It simply spells “regret”.  That, I regret.

There is something that both can and must be said, as we pack up the regret box. Read about it sometime in Matthew 18: 21-35.  It is not a human thing to say, though we are the only saying beings around so we do the best we can.  It is a God word.  And only God speaks God words.

First, looking down at the dusty cardboard of past regret—something that if not removed can fester and infect and cripple—first there is this.  God forgives you.  It is, according to the Scripture, the divine promise and intention to forgive and to forgive.  It is the first and last and only unreplaceable word of faith.  Abraham felt it.  Miriam sang it with all her might.  Joseph practiced it.  Hosea proclaimed it.  Jesus taught us to pray for it.  And for 2000 years the church has tried to exemplify, embody this one word.  God forgives.  John Wesley asked his preachers one initial question.  “Do you know God to be a pardoning God?”  Now that, in the face of a box marked “regret”, that is good news.  In the face of the worst rejection and the most regrettable misjudgment on earth, God practices a powerful forgiveness.

You know in the midst of all the harshness of the religious right and the flightiness of the religious left, it can be hard to hear the central truth about God and about us.  God forgives.

God forgives before we are up in the attic at all.  God forgives when we realize what we have to regret.  God forgives as we carry the regret around.  God forgives when we hear and when we do not and it does not depend on our hearing.

Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  If so, you know God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Here are some Scriptures worth memorizing about God who forgives….

If you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?  … I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

 But maybe that is not what keeps you awake, not what makes you linger today in the attic.  You may well believe and trust that God forgives.  But what about those you have regrettably hurt?

This can be particularly hard for those who have grown up around especially hardened parents and other adults.   If you have not heard an encouraging word much growing up, it can be hard later in life to believe that those other humans around you can practice a liberal grace, that they can be gracious.

They can be.

As a matter of fact, most of the time they are.  More than most of the time.  People forgive, more than you know and more than you may think you deserve.  It really delights me.  People have a profound capacity to forgive and forget.  It is God given, and it is real and it is good.

I think of the waiting father and the prodigal son.

I think of Paul forgiving Peter’s two-faced behavior.

I think of Augustine’s mother forgiving his selfishness.

I think of Erasmus forgiving the wayward Popes.

I think of Grant and Lee at Appomattox.

I think of Abraham Lincoln walking through Richmond.

I think of the Marshall Plan and rebuilding of Germany and Japan in the 1940’s.

I think of women and men, night after day, for millenia.

You may have to ask sometime for forgiveness.  You probably should.  Say, “I’m sorry”.  Like the ancient TV character ‘The Fonz’, who could never utter the word, “I was wrong..”  But my experience is that most people most of the time when confronted with a heartfelt, sincere apology from a person of integrity will simply, directly and kindly say, “Don’t worry about it.  I forgive you.”  It is one of the greatest things about other people.  You may have to give it a little time.  You may have to pray about it.  You may have to trust a little. You may have to try more than once.  But—other people will forgive you.

But that may not be what holds you here in the attic.  As a matter of fact, I bet that the box is still up here, wrapped in twine and covered with dirt and marked regret, for another reason.  It’s one thing for God to forgive you.  It’s one thing to accept another’s kindness.  But in the end, that still leaves you a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and a few french fries short of a happy meal.  God has forgiven you!  Your neighbor has forgiven you!  Now comes the hard part.

You have to forgive yourself.  You have to let yourself off the hook.  You have to find a way to admit to yourself that you are not 101% perfect.  You have to, well, accept your own acceptance.  And that can be a lot easier said than done.  Because we have a way of holding onto what poisons us.  Why is that?  We have a way of clinging to that which poisons us. We have a way of just wrapping ourselves in a miserable kind of self-conceited self-condemnation.  Up in the attic.

Sunday is a good time to dump your guilt.  God doesn’t want it. No neighbor finally has much use for it.  So why is it still in the box?   What good is it?  Get rid of it.  When it doubt, throw it out.

God forgives you.  So does your neighbor.  Forgive yourself.

Matter of fact, while we are here, up in the attic—let’s just take that box out of here.  I’ll hold the ladder for you while you are coming down.  You can carry it, with a little homiletical help.  If we hurry we can get out on the curb before noon.  The heavenly garbage truck always comes by this part of your mental world Sunday at noon.  There, it’s out on the curb, and soon it will be gone for good.  Sang

William Blake:

And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

 And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

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

Sunday
September 6

Liberal Breeze

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 18: 15-20

Click here to hear just the sermon

Keep a clean wind blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a warm wind blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a liberal wind blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a summer wind blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Matthew 18: 15-20 involves communication, especially in the practice of forgiveness in community, with precise advisements, directions, and instructions.  Presence is important.  Listening is important.  Voice is important.  Collegiality is important.  Second tries are important.  There is no mention of technology, neither that of the first nor that of the twenty first centuries.  Forgiveness is personal, human, spirited, and real.  It requires human not sub-human communication.   And, as we shall see next week, forgiveness includes forgiving yourself.  We can note, to our possible discomfort, the Scriptural root and basis for the religious practice, following unsuccessful mediation, of shunning.  One antique but Scriptural answer is in the practice of shunning.  Another sermon for another day…

In verse 15, Matthew begins to give advice about how to live in community.   Community involves difference, but also can involve hurt.  Communication makes community.  Matthew’s Jesus teaches us to speak to each other in our presence and not of each other in our absence—to each other in our presence not of each other in our absence.

Some time ago I received a triangulating e-mail.  It came from the leader of an organization I dislike, seeking support for a person I do like.  I loathe one and love the other.  The triangulation in the communication forced me either to support an organization I do not like or to disappoint a person I do like.  What do you do in such a situation?  The kinder approach from the organization would have been a visit, or a phone call, in which sensibilities could be explored.  But now we have the e-document, email:  eternal, irretrievable, international, indelible.  And hence the tangled triangle.  It would take 3 hours or more to unbind and loosen this knot.  You know, there was a time when people had to come and see you before they so complicated your life.  I think on inquiry, that Matthew 18: 15 teaches me how to respond.  I should not send a steaming reply, tempting as that would be.  I should not reply from a distance at all.  I should go and see my interlocutor.  I should make a visit to the author of such an e-mail and find a way through the horns of the dilemma, the Scylla of support for an organization I dislike and the Caribdis of hurt to a person I do like.  A cartoon this week pictures a man saying to his friend, “I used to call people, then I got into e-mailing, then texting, and now I just ignore everyone”. Get things moving, get the community walking together!

 In verse 16, Matthew quotes from Deuteronomy 19.  That is, he goes back to the basics, back to the starting point, the Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament, back to kindergarten, if you will, as many are going this week.  Read again Robert Fulghum’s, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kingergarten. Get things moveing in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 17, Matthew provides a further suggestion, to use if the earlier ones fail.  Tell the whole church, his Jesus says.  We are clearly hearing overtones of what was needed in Matthew’s community, toward the end of the first century.  Jesus may well have taught in such fashion, though the use of a Greek word like ‘ecclesia’—twice here—probably indicates this is later material placed on Jesus’ lips.  But the import remains—gather the community for deliberation.  Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 18, Matthew strongly affirms the lasting power of such church considerations, even saying, similar to our reading two weeks ago, in the phrase, ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’,  that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is forgiven on earth is forgiven in heaven. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 19, two or three, when truly together, suffice to form a judgement.   Our English words ‘symphony’ and ‘pragmatic’ are rooted in the Greek here for agreement and matter. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 20, to conclude, the gospel further celebrates the precious joy of common life in the present, in the here and now, and it only takes a few, ‘wherever two or three ARE gathered in my name, there I AM as well.’ Get things moving in the community—get people walking together.  As our friend and colleague Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore wrote this week:

Breathe in the Spirit of Life
Breathe out your best selves
Breathe in the newness of the year
Breathe out your deepest hopes
Breathe in possibility
Breathe out acts of compassion and justice.

          Yes, a liberal breeze is blowing all about us.

The farm stand up the road from us summer by summer offers vegetables and fruit, as the summer season evolves.  Beans, peas, berries to begin, and corn, tomatoes, squash to follow.  They make their own maple syrup candies from the spring syrup.  It is a family operation, careful in cleanliness, in presentation, in pricing, and in conversation.  For all the pandemic changes, the pandemonium of policing troubles, the pugilism of the presidential contest—of about equal balance by the way in our county—our farm stand is an oasis of unchanging grace, natural abundance, civil discourse, and, especially, delicious foodstuffs.

A woman waited on me, with mask and distance and hand sanitizer, bringing out blueberries and two dozen ears of corn, half butter and sugar, half yellow, all melt in your mouth yummy good.  They now take a credit card, but when asked if they preferred cash said, ‘thank you for asking; no, now with this special (something, a metal clip or other) either one is fine’.  Carefully mowed lawn, decidedly smart packaging, good pricing though not cheap, signage at a quarter mile radius, NSEW, and happy eye contact welcome at the counter:  natural grace, at least 50 years in service, a still summer point in the soon to come autumn turning world.  And a liberal, summer breeze blowing across the lawn.

Yet. However. Nevertheless.  Sin embargo…

The stand is at the southeast corner of the intersection of routes 26 and 12B.  In June of 1966, as we were preparing to move from Hamilton all the long way north, all 16 miles north, to Oneida, an itineracy at the time grave and global to the 11 year old psyche, a woman was nearly killed at the crossing.  In a brand new car, dressed for celebration, she was driving south to her own high school reunion, had the green light and right of way, and was hit by a drunk driver, the car obliterated.  My father was still the minister in town, and I can remember the horror of the incident, and his visits to the little, then new, town hospital through her recovery.  Just a few years ago, by happenstance, I came to know her family and enoy their friendship. Natural grace, but a stone’s throw from high way carnage, in drunk driving.  And why the drunken driving? We could speculate abut the young man in the truck.  A life of milking early and late every single day perhaps, , 12 hour days, perhaps,  low income, limited possibilities perhaps, the forgotten folks left to tend the sheep while the shepherds went off to the city temple, perhaps? Lurking there, beyond my younger capacity really to see, was the vast historical conspiracy of these United States against the full humanity of poor white people, in the fields and harrows of cultural life.  White children make up the largest racial group of poor children in America (4.2 million): (“among America’s poor children, 4.2 million are white, 4 million are Latino, 3.6 million are African American, 400,000 are Asian, and 200,000 are American Indian”:  NCCP, 475 Riverside Drive, NYC, NY).   Natural grace, but a stone’s throw from class discrimination, in income, housing, education, health care, and respect.

On the northwest corner of the same intersection, nestled against the shoreline of Leland Pond, there was and still is a mile by half mile quadrangle of vegetable farming, owned by others.  In autumn each year there would arrive for about three weeks, a traveling company of African American pickers, whose children would come to our school for those weeks.  They started in northern Maine earlier in the year and just followed the advancing harvest south, leaving our little town for the next stop in Pennsylvania, and then following the Susquehanna river further down into Maryland.  I can see the families walking row by row, gathering the cabbage and other vegetables.  The film Cider House Rules decades later gave a bit of further insight.  Lurking there, beyond my younger capacity really to see, was the vast historical conspiracy of these United States against the full humanity of black folks, a conspiracy still deeply rooted in the fields and harrows of cultural life. Black children make up the highest percentage rate by race in poverty (33% of black children) (In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among black children range from 29% in California and Florida to 47% in Ohio. NCCP, 475 Riverside Dr, NYC, NY)  Natural grace, but a stone’s throw from systemic racism, in employment, housing, education, health care, and policing.

How on earth did the rightful longings and lost dreams of poor white people on the southeast corner of that intersection get opposed to the rightful longings and lost dreams of the poor black people on the northwest corner of that intersection?  Excellent work, Wormwood, you devil you.  You make your Uncle Screwtape so proud.

 Take heart, dear souls, take heart:  A liberal breeze is blowing all about us.  There is a new day coming.

This cleansing summer wind blows away the spurious, silly, hate-filled attempts of national leaders to set at odds the urban and the rural, the manufacturing and the agricultural, the city and the country, the heart land and the coast.  What ridiculous falsehood.  Childhood piano lessons I took were given by a farm wife who then returned to the barn.   Sermons early on in ministry were endured by men who had been milking at 4am and were glad for a nap at 11:20am come Sunday.  Our best parishioners then and later knew the back-breaking labor of haying, and took on our teenage sons for such a week’s summer work.  One September evening we left a magnificent meal in the farm kitchen, to help with and see the birth of a calf in the barn next door, then to return for dessert.  In August one parishioner rode her horse to church in those years.  The idea, the flagrant false idea, that these saints are marks to be conned into belief by pseudo leaders who have not a whisker of belief themselves is absurd.  The idea that these good people are sitting ducks to be convinced to hate on the basis of race, to control on the basis of gender, to reject on the basis of ethnicity, nation, income, education or accent—the thematic thrust of some recent political discourse–is as appalling as are its spokespeople.  The dairy farmers we knew would have been inclined to take care of them, refine their education shall we say, perhaps out behind the barn, in no uncertain terms.  Of all my homiletical regrets and failings this one stands out in this season: as one who has lived half his life in great city streets and the other half in great country meadows, I have somehow failed to make clear our lived experience that, when it comes to good faithful people urban and rural, there is so little lasting difference.  It is a hoax.  It is a hoax!  And yet, somehow I and others who know better have not been able, yet, to make that case, and make it stick.   Rural people are not sexist rubes, racist dunces, greedy materialists, or fundamentalist flakes.  Urban people are not permissive snow-flakes, flighty nincompoops, unrealistic and clumsy airheads, any less interested in law and order and prosecution for wanton property destruction, or celebrants of Willie Horton.  You are being conned, America, you are being conned.  Take care to think through with care just who benefits from such false, adroitly engineered division.  Again: shades of Wormwood and his affectionate uncle.  The best good people, in the city and in the country, can know each other in spirit in a heart-beat.  They would know each other in a New York minute, and enjoy each other until the cows come home.  They would know each other in a New York minute, and enjoy each other until the cows come home. (I pause to break the fourth wall and to point out to budding preachers the structure and phrasing of the sentence, New York…cows…see?  Say what you say by the way you say it.)  Such saints would, can and will happily greet each other,on this side or on the farther home side of glory, with A METHODIST HANDSHAKE.  In heaven.   And for all of us, it’s later than we think, and Heaven-New Creation-Glory is closer than we ever fully project or expect.

Around us is blowing a gentle, summer wind, a lasting liberal breeze.  While creation groans, and while love suffers long and is kind, we shall need a little of the third person of the ancient trinity along the way.  A liberal breeze, a liberal breeze.

By the way, the asperity with which the Holy Scripture summarizes creation is only matched by the asperity which the creeds of the Church summarize creation.  ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. Period.  ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth’. Period.  Scripture and creed say what reason and experience know:  we have the brute fact of the brute creation.  Period.  The rest of the Holy Scripture, all 65.9 other books, and the rest of the creed, the long second paragraph and the shorter third, go on from there.  The love of God comes accompanied by faith and hope.  Creation is the occasion of love but does not occasion love, does not occasion faith in love, and does not occasion a hope for a loving future.  God is Love is profoundly about the second person of the Trinity, the Christ of God, not about the first person of the Trinity, and the creation of God.  Creation alone will never get us to heaven.  In pandemic, it will take the Second Person of the Trinity to get us free from the fallen creation of the First, guided hourly by the RUAH, the PNEUMA, the spirit, the wind, the liberal breeze of life.

In a moment we will hear again the ancient liturgy for eucharist.  We are not together to receive together the bread and cup.  But we are together in relationship, by memory, in hope, through prayer.  And with a little imagination, with eyes closed and hearts open, we might allow the familiar, ancient prayers of communion, to bring us into communion.

So, travel with a little imagination…Imagine Eucharist at Marsh Chapel.  Stand to sing… Pause to reflect… Step out into the aisle… Look at and look past Abraham Lincoln and Francis Willard…Receive cup and bread, bread and cup… Kneel at the altar to pray… Stand in communion with the communion of saints…Here is the bread and cup of friendship…Imagine, if you are willing, your own funeral, say right here, and a congregation reciting together a creed, a psalm, a hymn, a poem.  Imagine, if you are willing, a congregation currently in diaspora, but just now, by the word spoken, a gathered and thus addressable community, you and I and all together.

Keep a clean breeze blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a warm breeze blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a liberal breeze blowing through our hearts Gracious God

Keep a summer breeze blowing through our hearts Gracious God

 

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

Sunday
August 30

Liberal Heart

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 16:21-28

Click here to hear just the sermon

Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Jesus Christ and Him Crucified is at the mysterious heart of All, of Life, and of Change.  Jesus the Son of God, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Presence of God, can bring change.  To you.  Simon Peter found his life immeasurably altered by a word or two, fitly spoken.  He found a liberal heart. You can too.  He found a liberal heart.  We can too.  He found his own heart opened, and forever remade, by the liberality, grace, freedom, generosity and love of God.  We can too.  Peter following this change still struggled to appreciate and bring apperception to the Person of Jesus, the Presence of Jesus, the Power of Jesus.  But the change was permanent.  He was given a liberal heart, a heart of wonder, a heart of vulnerability, a heart of self-abandon.  God is calling you to open your heart today to that kind of change, that scope of change, that force of change. Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Let us pray.

 

Gracious God, Holy and Just
Thou who art loves us into love and frees us into freedom

In the mystery of thy presence we pause at the beginning

 The beginning of a new season, of a new year, of a new adventure

 Thankful for the wise leadership of our University, and for the chance to learn and study together this autumn

 Now at Matriculation 2020 we offer our common prayer

 We pray for safety, health, and wellness for all

We pray to become good stewards of, protectors of, the safety, health and wellness of others, to be our sister’s keeper, our brother’s keeper

 We pray for the disciplines of courage, and of responsibility, and of compassion that together we shall need, and that together we may find

 We remember in prayer those who got us here, who raised us, taught us, loved us and supported us, and who yearn to see us through

 Bless Boston University this year we pray, bless those who study and those who teach, those who lead and those who support, bless each and every one of us we pray

 With a joy in learning, a regard for virtue, and an inclination to piety—a joy in human knowing, a regard for human doing, and an inclination to  human being

 Grant us thy peace, grant us thy peace, grant us thy peace.  AMEN. 

Our Holy Scripture takes flight first this Lord’s Day with Moses’ fear.  The prospect and the present potential for change bring a quaking in the boots, a quaking in the heart, a quaking in the very soul.  You are right to worry and wonder a little bit about a Matriculation Sunday sermon, and whether it might bruise or cut a little bit.  Alma Mater carries the sense of birth, of child birth.  The mysterium tremendum, all about us, the HOLY HOLY HOLY.  And Moses, God love him, first, fears.  For the Divine Presence brings change.  Real change is real hard, but it comes in real time when real people really work at it:   I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.  I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  But there is no theological exam here, nor any doctrinal requirement.  There is just the chance for change.  It is a very broad brush, a big canvass, a wide and wild painting, big enough for cameo appearances by fearful humans, including Moses, and you, and me.

Our Holy Scripture sails and soars second this Lord’s Day with Paul’s wisdom.  These verses you need to memorize. Romans 12: 9ff.  They are neither heavily theological nor pointedly doctrinal.  They are existential.  They include. They involve many, and various, and different and all.   The church survived and grew for 150 years before it had a Bible, from 30ad to 170ad, at least a Bible of the sort we have today.  It had the Law, Prophets and Writings, but no Gospels shared, no Letters agreed upon, no Apocalypses acclaimed.  The Holy Scripture proved itself Holy, over time, in context, with debate, out of friction.  The Godfather of the New Testament was a gnostic heretic named Marcion, in opposition to whose Bible of Luke and some Letters of Paul the Church instead accepted in addition the Hebrew Scripture, in addition the other Gospels, in addition the other Letters, and even an Apocalypse or two.  Scripture came to life in and through life.  So, you would not blithely disparage it.  It comes with blisters and sores and cuts.  Paul finds change in these 13 very simple, transparent advisements, let love be genuine…practice hospitality. 

Our Holy Scripture lands at Peter’s feet, in the call to change, to a change of heart.  What will it profit if one gains the whole world yet loses one’s soul?  Somewhere between world and soul, Peter discovered a liberal heart.  What Jesus said in 30ad is written down at last by Matthew in 85ad. There was a long line of listening, hearing, sharing, speaking, long before the writing. In part we know this because the two saying here are at odds, one offering to hearing and faith the paradox of saving and losing life: you only have, only possess, only truly hold what you have the power, grace, freedom and courage to give away. If you do not have it, you cannot give it. If you give it, truly, you then show you have owned it.   The sayings were written down together in Matthew 16 because they shared a tag word—life. What can you give in exchange for your life? (Here the message is careful: hold on, flee false forfeit, prize life now you have it). Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses is life will find it. (Here the message is caring: splash around with generosity, give with no thought of return, take up the cross, follow). The two teachings are there to balance each other. Which one for which day on which way will you say? It’s up to you. Over time, you will need them both.  Just this week, in the tragedies of Kenosha Wisconsin, Jacob Blake’s mother was doing the same, balancing justice and order, the caring and the careful:  On Tuesday, Mr. Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, had told reporters that she opposed the sort of destruction that had been left by protests spurred by her son’s shooting.  Ms. Jackson told reporters that she had been praying for the country to heal.“I’ve noticed a lot of damage,” she said. “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.” (NYT, 8/26/20).  So, Listen. Tune your ear to God.   Life is short.   This high peak passage, Peter’s Confession, rightly evokes the deep heart of faith, of gospel, of Scripture, of change.  It is the keystone, the lynch pin, the center in some measure of the Gospel we preach, we teach, we depend upon in life, in death and in life beyond death. What will it profit if one gains the whole world yet loses one’s soul?

Life

             In September of 1976, forty-four years ago, like many of our young colleagues on arrival this week for Matriculation, I had found my way to another great city—New York, along another great river—the Hudson, to the center of another great urban university—Columbia.  A sermon that week in James Chapel at Union Seminary was brought uptown from the minister near Greenwich Village at Washington Square.  It has stayed with me, because it was true to life, and true to change in life, and especially true to Moses and Paul and Matthew today.  He commended wonder, vulnerability and self-mockery.   Change of a healthy spiritual sort is not primarily theological or doctrinal, though it might become so.  It is existential.  It is life coming alive.  It is a heart become a liberal heart.  Call it a liberal art heart.

A liberal heart radiates wonder.   Borden Parker Bowne:  Philosophy begins in wonder.  G.K. Chesterton: the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder.  Charles Wesley:  changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place, ‘til we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.  Between Matriculation and Commencement there is chance for a change of heart, a chance for the emergence of a liberal heart, a heart open to wonder, charged with wonder, delighting in wonder.  What we will lead us in part away from anxiety, depression, ennui, acedia, loneliness and despond is in part this sense of wonder.   Some ongoing connection with the natural world, a regular walk along the emerald necklace, say, may aid you here.  Some chance to see the ocean, close at hand, on a regular basis, may help you here.  Some occasional visits to the BU rooftop telescope may help you here.  The joy of reading, the thrill of music, the mystery of friendship, all may bring a new rebirth of wonder.  Even in a fallow, covid time:  we watched one 11 year-old neighbor read 35 books this summer.

A liberal heart owns vulnerability.  Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  We are utterly vulnerable creatures, from birth to the beyond.  If nothing else, our current pandemic has indelibly placed such vulnerability before us.  The question is whether we will own it.  Whether we will wash and wash the hands, whether we will attain, maintain and retain social distance, whether we will take up and take on the hourly masking that will protect others vulnerability, and our own.  Our physical vulnerability may also, just may bring a Petrine change to our proclivity to pretend invulnerability.   Somehow Peter came to see life from a different angle, not from the vantage point of power but from the perspective of love.  How?  Who can say?  But in some measure it may well have been a readiness, a willingness to admit his vulnerability, even as he curses his Master’s.  We have a shared vulnerability that should shock us into commitments to communal protections.  We will need shared, common behaviors, educational and health investments, global and national planning and spending to get prepared for the next virus, as have not at all been for this one.  That will take the liberal heart to admit vulnerability.

A liberal heart has a measure of self-abandon, of self-awareness, even of self-mockery.  Take yourself lightly, so that you can fly, like the angels.  Take yourself lightly, so that you can fly, like the angels.  The church has loved Peter for so long because he is so human, so prone to mistake, and yet with such a courage to admit error.  Most students will make a mistake or two in their college years.  No one recommends it. All work against it.  And yet.  We learn, to measure we learn most, from our mistakes.  When they come, if they do, take some time to learn from them.  And then get up, dust yourself off, and be able to live with a little lightness, a little self-mockery.

 Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Jesus Christ and Him Crucified is at the mysterious heart of All, of Life, and of Change.  Jesus the Son of God, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Presence of God, can bring change.  To you.  Simon Peter found his life immeasurably altered by a word or two, fitly spoken.  He found a liberal heart. You can too.  He found a liberal heart.  We can too.  He found his own heart opened, and forever remade, by the liberality, grace, freedom, generosity and love of God.  We can too.  Peter following this change still struggled to appreciate and bring apperception to the Person of Jesus, the Presence of Jesus, the Power of Jesus.  But the change was permanent.  He was given a liberal heart, a heart of wonder, a heart of vulnerability, a heart of self-abandon.  God is calling you to open your heart today to that kind of change, that scope of change, that force of change. Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Let us pray.

 

 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

Amen.

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

Sunday
August 23

Liberal Church

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 16:13-20

Click here to hear just the sermon

A healthy institution of any sort, particularly of any religious sort and certainly of any Christian sort, is a community that is learning together.  As Albert Camus said, the healthy society is a circle in which all are seated and each reminds the other: ‘You are not God.  I am not God.  You are not God. I am not God.’  You are the recipients, the inheritors of that liberal tradition, the legacy of the liberal church.  As such, we are learning together, every single day, every Lord’s Day, every one day.

We are learning together.

Moses teaches us.

We learn together from these glorious narratives, offered us week by week in this year, from Genesis—think of Joseph last week—and today from Exodus.  The uncanny, the unexpected, the spirited entrance into life, by and through human imagination and courage, of grace, of freedom, of love.  And Pharaoh’s daughter took a little prophet out of the bulrushes, Moses by name.  There come times when a new Pharaoh arrives, one ‘who did not know Joseph’.  There come times when the odds are set up against the real and true and good.  There come times when it is hard to name a fully good thing from any day or week.  There come times when both nature and history appear to conspire together, against grace.  And then along comes a recollection of the self-giving courage of a mother, setting her basket into the rippling waters of bulrushes along the Nile.  Loving by letting go.  There are some eyes with tears right around here this week, some parents turning away and giving children to the unforeseen future.  No matter the age or stage, it takes courage, it takes the uncanny, the unexpected, the spirited entrance into life, by and through human imagination and courage, of grace, of freedom, of love.  The community of faith knows change, knows itinerancy, knows loss that becomes gain and gain that becomes loss.  That is the legacy of the liberal church.

Moses teaches us.

Paul teaches us.

Here is a sweet memory to share, now more than twenty years old, but it is clear as a bright August morning, even so.  For how happy we were one Saturday in Rochester to hear an excellent sermon on today’s epistle, Romans 12 from our former pulpit, given at a divinity school graduation by the Rev. Mr. Peter Gomes, Harvard Chaplain.  Do you remember The Good Book, his 1996 essay on the interpretation of Scripture?  Really, his hymn of love for the Scripture.  We were really proud to have him in our Rochester pulpit, and to hear his message.

If memory serves, it included some standard homiletical devices—a foundational text (Romans 12:2), a theme (endings are beginnings), repetition, litanies, epigrams, some old and new humor, making use of natural “oppositions” that come to the mind of the hearer and then addressing them, a little poetry (TS Eliot—“Little Gidding”), a quotation or two, and an exhortation to the congregation to be transformed “by the renewing of the mind”.  Be ye not conformed but be ye transformed by the renewal of the mind.

What most appealed was the design of the message.  Following an extended introduction, and preceding a simple conclusion, the preacher offered three memorable points.  Hah!  In the living church, much national debate and new homiletical theory to the contrary notwithstanding, there is—and especially there was on that Saturday—still room for a good three-point sermon, even one that concluded with a poem.  From Aristotle to about 1970, this design had endured, and reports of its death in the last decades have been, in Twain’s term, “exaggerated”.   Three points and a poem still work.

Gomes challenged the graduates, the students, and by reflection the church and by extension all Christians, not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind.  How?

          First, by noticing the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

          Second, by practicing meekness, whose opposite is not strength, but pride.

          Third, by protecting space and time for relaxation, prayer, reading.

Now, it would be nice to have the note page on which was summarized the message.  Somehow, though, between the past and present, the paper disappeared.   No matter—his design preserved the message for me—wisdom, meekness, relaxation.  Let us try to remember and, in Justice Holmes good phrase, try to give it the benefit of five great words: “I applied it to myself.”  Care to join me?  That is your legacy in the liberal church.

Paul teaches us.

Matthew teaches us.

We are disciples.  The word means student.  Disciple means student.  Salve Discipuli.  Salve Magistra.   Discipleship means studentship.  The model of faithfulness recommended, particular in Matthew, and especially in Matthew 16, is the model of the student.  Perhaps if we simply said ‘studentship’ rather than ‘discipleship’, we would do better.  Perhaps we should and could see the courageous arrival of the class of 2024 as exhibit a, exemplum docet.

Living right means learning together—in voice, in thought, in conflict, in Scripture.  Learning together.

It is this driving preachment that causes Matthew to eviscerate Mark here.   Matthew in 85ad has taken a passage from Mark in 70ad and turned it upside down.   It is not so much the detail, by the way, of the manner in which Matthew and Luke revise Mark, chapter by chapter, which is important.  What matters is that they happily re-gospelled the gospel for their own day, to a fair thee well.

No?  No?  Oh Yes. Yes, indeed.  Yes.

Mark in the passage calls Peter ‘Satan’.  Matthew calls him Rock.  Mark has no mention of any church of any kind.  Matthew uses the word, the greed word for church, ecclessia—not likely something Jesus would have said, and gives Peter keys to the kingdom.  Mark has Jesus tell the disciples—the students—to keep it all secret.  Matthew rejects that secrecy, except for the title, messiah, and says, ‘preach it’.  Why?  Why does Matthew eviscerate, confound, gut, overturn his legacy, this inherited passage from Mark?  Answer:  he and his community are learning together.  From voices.  From thoughts.  From conflicts.  And Matthew sternly tells his people:  to become fully human you will need institutional grounding, support, protection, and sustenance:  family, neighborhood, school, church, university, country, globe.  And let me be clear about the church, he adds:  the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

Just more thing, as we are learning together in voice, thought, conflict and scripture.   Like Peter Falk used to say, in his character as Colombo, the absent-minded professor-like detective, turning as he left,  ‘Just one more thing…’

Who do you say He is?  In your life. Notice the passage crashes away from the general and the philosophical—what do others say (general) about the son of man (philosophical).  Some say (general), the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the Prophets (philosophical).  Notice the move to the specific and the personal.  Who do you say I am?  Meaning for you today:  how are you going to live?  A life of studentship, or not?  Said Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And you?    Remember this.  Peter is the one who most needed forgiveness, and full pardon he did receive.  There is forgiveness in life (repeat). And the church is the place where people like Peter, like you and me, who need forgiveness, find themselves forgiven.   That is your legacy in the liberal church,

Matthew teaches us.

Moses, Paul, Matthew—they teach us how to live in the liberality of the gospel, wherein we worship God who is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.  The passages become Holy Scripture, in that they make us more whole, more ourselves, more our own healthy, safe, well, best selves, holy because whole.   Scripture teaches us.  And, so does experience, sometimes both together.

 

Our long-time friend and virtual, radio congregant, Dr. Kris Kahle, in New Haven, Connecticut, often sends along something of interest, a passage from Camus, say, maybe from THE PLAGUE, or a paragraph from Barth’s Church Dogmatics, which he has been reading alongside his COVID 19 medical practice.  He and family are part of our extended family, an example of so many, far and near, who are with us in spirit, together in spirit, come Sunday. Perhaps you are one such. Grateful we are, thankful we are for Dr. Kahle and others, who share with us at Marsh Chapel, the freedom and love of the church, who share with us at Marsh Chapel, the fellowship, koinonia, commonwealth, partnership of the Gospel.  What began in the bulrushes of the Nile, and then was taught to the Romans by the Apostle to the Gentiles, and then, and now, today, in the Holy Gospel is acclaimed—this is the good news of ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Earlier in the summer Dr. Kahle took a moment apart from his medical teaching and practice to send me the video of John Lewis’s funeral, or rather, one of the eulogies therein.  We otherwise might have missed it, given the backwoods lack of technological connection—a summer blessing in the main—with which we live or don’t live, in the woods of upstate New York, come summer.  We trail technologically behind the Little House on the Prairie for some of the summer.  So, we would have missed it.  He sent it.  What a gift.

What made President Obama’s eulogy for Congressman Lewis so powerful?  It was a grand, high moment, a soaring eagle moment in American rhetoric.  Was it the reminder of what gracious eloquence can mean in leadership and life?  Yes, but not only that.  Was it the painful but real measure of civil society, of what ground we have lost, much ground, much real and rhetorical and religious ground we have lost in these past few years?  Yes, but not only that.  Was it the sense of the cost of progress, the willingness to work toward ‘a more perfect union’, recognizing, with sober honesty, the myriad imperfections that beset us?  Yes, but not only that.  Was it the generous sense of common hope, that which can sustain the least and the last and the lost, as well as the rest of us?  Yes, but not only that.  Was it the personal honor, in cadence and story and honesty and heart?  Yes, but no only that.  Was it the humanity—recalling Bill Clinton lifting his hand and pointing to the casket of Coretta Scott King in 2006, and stepping off his prepared text to shout, ‘for all these kind fancy words, don’t you forget, there’s a woman in that box.’  Yes, but not only that.  What was it, at depth, that made Barack Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis such a tremendous gift to me from Dr. Kahle?  Let’s cogitate a minute on that while the sermon meanders and unwinds toward its conclusion this summer morning.

What was it that made President Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis so trenchant and true?  Scripture, Holy Scripture, The Church’s Book, The Book on and of the Church.  In the main, along with other ingredients mentioned, the power in his personal ability, rightly to choose and use timely verses of Scripture, the Holy Scripture taught and learned in the learning community of the liberal church.  The setting—Ebenezer Baptist—spoke the same truth, in the languages of architecture, history, pulpit, choir and people.   Yes, the church is both a representation and a distortion of the divine (Tillich).  But if for some reason the church were to disappear overnight, in a cultural tsunami, it would come back.  Even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Somehow, we would find a table, and somehow a chair or two, and somehow some bread and wine, and somehow a Bible and an hour or so, and we would start again, as, in a way, we do every Sunday, which is especially and vividly apparent to us now in this pandemic.  We start over.  We would start with Holy Scripture.  It is this Holy Scripture in the Holy Church that rose up like a lion in the Obama eulogy for Lewis, the right verse in the right time in the right way.  James! ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”  That is the courage of the Book of James. Corinthians!  (SECOND Corinthians, let us be clear), We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.   Acts!  “Do not be afraid, go on speaking; do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18).

It was the right handling of the word of truth that brought power and love, freedom and grace to life.  And it still does.  He concluded in eulogy, summarizing his three points, James, Corinthians and Acts:  And that’s where real courage comes from. Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

 

Sunday
August 16

Resilient Love

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 15:21-28

Click here to hear just the sermon

In the 1992 classic movie, The Mighty Ducks, a successful lawyer was sentenced to 500 hours of community service. He ended up coaching a ragtag group of children how to play hockey and how to be a team. In typical Disney fashion, this helped the coach, Gordon Bombay, to connect with the childhood loss of his father. Before the team’s success though, Bombay lost the trust of most of his team. In a pivotal scene of the movie, he revealed to one player that he frequently replays losing the championship game for his childhood hockey team. Bombay was selected to take a penalty shot which he missed and the team went on to lose the game in overtime. He says that he missed the shot by a quarter of an inch. Throughout the movie, the missed shot is shown multiple times and the viewer sees the puck hitting the goalpost.

While missing a shot in a children’s hockey game by a quarter of an inch seems utterly insignificant given everything going on in our world, the movie viewer is given the sense that things might have been different for Bombay if he had just scored the goal. After recounting the missed shot and saying that, a quarter of an inch would have made the difference, one of Bombay’s players says “‘Yeah, but a quarter inch the other way and you’d have missed completely.” Bombay responds, “I never thought of it that way.” Just like that, Bombay’s outlook is re-oriented by this line. This new perspective changes him. He can’t go back and take the shot again, but he has some say in how the memory shapes his life. He permits to accept that he missed the shot and that changing what happened, either for success or for greater failure, was impossible. While a quarter of an inch one way would have led to success he could have just as easily missed completely if it went a quarter on an inch the other way.

Throughout life, we must learn to deal with failure and success, as well as the margin between success and failure. As a hospital chaplain, I consistently listen to stories that people tell me. These stories often contain triumphs and despairs. Part of my chaplain training is to learn to recognize the degree to which these memories shape the present. It is clear to me that the past continues to impact the present. I have learned not to take for granted the impact that memories or events can have, even ones that seem insignificant to others. Unrequited love from 30 years ago, moving to a new state, the loss of a pet, or a missed hockey shot. People respond to events in life differently. We are unique and people interpret life and events out of their individuality. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how events or memories shape us. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how much pain or for how long painful events linger.

What is clear is that tragedies and hardships of varying magnitudes, can leave marks on our minds and souls. Some have taken to calling these marks soul wounds. Soul wounds are invisible marks left from traumatic or troubling events. They can be memories that refuse to be integrated into identity. Events that linger far beyond what is considered conventional. Feelings that flood the mind at unwanted times and overwhelm the sense of self. Strung out emotions and isolation pervade as powerlessness and a lack of agency abound. Soul wounds are serious. Sometimes, the wounds are so deep and strong that they make people question their whole understanding of reality. Then, there are times when people are unaware of the potency of soul wounds. Often times because they remain hidden beneath the surface. In these situations, they are hidden but powerful and impactful. Escaping recall and language but shaping reality.

Soul wounds can impact anyone regardless of race, class, or gender. They are not bound by geographical location or education. Numbers 1-9 on the enneagram, any combination of letters from Myers Briggs INFJ, ESTP, anyone can be hurt and that hurt can linger far beyond the initial wound. Recognizing the ongoing impact of soul wounds, of losses and failures would be easier if we could see the scars that these events leave. Unlike our bodies which often retain marks of serious injuries that can be seen by others, soul wounds are invisible. You can ride the T with a train full of people experiencing myriads of misfortune and not know. Certainty, there can be the visible signs drooping heads, sluggish shoulders, and misty eyes but for the most part soul wounds are obscure. Their obscurity helps them persist. Their obscurity also reminds us that soul wounds are often outside of our direct control. Soul wounds can lead to a sense of powerlessness and a lack of autonomy over the self. These wounds though, do not determine who we are nor are we completely defenseless against their impact. Coping tools and resiliency, of which faith can be a major contributor, can help in times of trouble. Certainty, new perspectives, love from others, and other forms of support can mitigate the impact and effects of the wounds. Yet, it is hard when every day it feels like pieces of the self are under threat from various sources.

The encounter recorded in Matthew 15 with the women in the districts of Tyre and Sidon is complicated. The text says that she is a Canaanite woman. Like many of the women of the Bible, her name was not deemed worthy of being written down, after all, papyrus was expensive.

While her name was not worth mentioning, her ethnicity was worth recording. She was a Canaanite. The supposed ancient enemy of the Israelite people. This marker of identity, this label given to her by the narrator, is not polite. It isn’t even neutral. It is downright troubling. It is, to be frank, an ethnic slur. A racist slur. The mistreatment and prejudice did not end with the narrator though. After revealing that her daughter was being tormented, she was ignored. She was not deemed worthy of a response, other than by the disciples who want to send her away. Her suffering was deemed an inconvenience. It was deemed an inconvenience to those with privilege. Even when her suffering was named and put out in the open, there was no compassion from the disciples. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” They do not even say, heal her daughter and send her away, for she keeps shouting after us. Just send her away. Her shouting, her suffering is bothering us. They did not want to see or hear it. Her wounds, her tragedies, her very life and the life of her daughter were measured and deemed inconsequential.

With all the resiliency and tenacity that comes from living on the margins where a quarter of an inch is the difference between life and death, this woman pushed. In the midst of an unsafe situation where she was outnumbered by a group of men who do not care what happened to her or her daughter, who do not look quite like her, who do not speak quite like her, she risked her life out of love for her daughter. Beloved, if you want to know what Gospel love is, perhaps in Matthew 15 we ought to look at this woman who refused to accept what the world and religious people told her about herself. She refused to accept what the people in places of power said.

If we want to see Gospel love, perhaps it is the insistence that Canaanite lives matter and that when one group has the means and resources to save others, “no” is not an acceptable answer. She refuses to accept “no”, she refuses to accept that the position has been filled, the house has just been sold, or that things will be better for the next generation. She offered her daughter resilient love that would not stay unseen and unheard.

She pushed. We cannot say exactly why but she pushed surely partly out of love and desperation for her child. What loving parent would not push for the sake of their child? We must be careful though not the make her suffering redemptive for that too easily becomes co-opted by power and privilege. There is such a thing as redemptive love and suffering can be redemptive but here we see resilient love. It is not suffering that saves but resiliency in the face of adversity. Resilient love that demands to be seen and demands to be heard. Resilient love that claims a place at the table. Resilient love, not a feeling that comes and goes, waxes and wanes, but a way of being. This is resilient love. Resilient love is Gospel love.

The story is complex. This encounter is complex. People are always more complex than they are made out to be. Jesus is more complex than he is often made out to be. It would be a much easier story without versus 24 and 26. You see, these verses seem to reveal that Jesus bought into the racialized ideologies of the time.  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is not only Israel first, but it is Israel only. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Nevertheless, she persists. She came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” These are not the words of the narrator, these are not the words of the disciples. These are red letters and that does not stop them from being another racial slur. Jesus refuses to heal when he can and refuses to see the women in front of him as a person. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Sure, the Greek is diminutive which is perhaps more appropriately translated as puppy instead of dog but the inference is no better. He does not see her because he does not have to see her. He compares her sick daughter to a dog.

Michelle Obama, in a recent podcast, shared that she feels the ongoing racial strife, and lack of response to the pandemic in the nation, has left to her experiencing low-grade depression at times. While I do not think that depression and soul wounds can be correlated or equated, there certainly can be similarities. And, her sharing her experience names the wider truth of what is going on across the country and world. Whether it is soul wounds, depression, or trauma the nation is facing a challenging time. People are facing challenging times. A time when a quarter of an inch in any direction can have monumental ramifications. The ongoing water in which we currently swim, the soil in which we are attempting to draw nutrients, provides additional challenges to individual and communal thriving. How can plants thrive when the soil is sick? How can fish swim when the water is poisoned? Although, many of the challenges have always been present and have been unacknowledged by those in places of privilege.

Between the myriad of pandemics the country is facing, and the personal challenges, this season feels a bit like the state of Narnia is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe. When the Pevensie children first arrive, they learn that the fictional country of Narnia is in a perpetual state of winter. They are told that it is always winter and never Christmas. We have had summer without beaches and barbeques, virtual fireworks for the Fourth of July, and empty churches for Easter. We have watched death and destruction on the news and streamed on the internet. We are living in an age of dislocation. It is almost as if someone forgot to turn the calendar from Lent to Easter and then to Eastertide. Always winter and never Christmas. Christianity has a place for trauma, tragedy, and soul wounds but we usually prefer it to stay compartmentalized. Death and silence are acceptable topics on Good Friday and Holy Saturday but Easter has come and gone. It is now time for hope, joy, and love. It is now time for the resurrection. But what do you do when it seems like the resurrection just will not come? Perhaps even harder, what do you do when the resurrection has come and gone but it does not seem like anything is different? Is it now a time when it is always lent and never Easter? Sorrow, grief, anguish, despair, and isolation are refusing to be contained and controlled. They are refusing to stay silent. The impact of their discordance is seen across individuals and communities. In the face of such, we must learn resilient love. Resilient love clings to hope in order to fan the flames of change. Resilient love recognizes brokenness, trauma, and tragedy. It does not force joy and triumph before they are welcome but it does not give up.

The power of the cross is a location of redemptive love in triumph but the cross is also a location of resilient love in brokenness. The cross is a symbol of tragedy, and not just triumph. Life is a process of interpreting meaning. There are times when events and situations align. There are times it seems that nothing goes right. Everything seems broken beyond repair. Sometimes the difference between the two is just a quarter on an inch. Faith reminds us that life is meaningful and purposeful in seasons of Lent and seasons of Easter. Faith calls for redemptive and resilient love.

I sometimes wonder how different life would be if people were able to see soul wounds. We can show each other physical scar and wounds. We can see when people are physically bleeding and hurt. When pointed out, people often share the story behind the wound but soul wounds often remain unseen and un-narrated. On the one hand, this protects the agency of the person by preventing unwanted vulnerability, on the other hand, it too often allows the harm that caused the wounds to persist. Would we be more compassionate to each other if we knew the weight of pain and sorrow we bore? Would we bear each other’s burdens with more care if we knew? We cannot see soul wounds but we can learn to be more attentive to emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of those around us, including our own. We can learn to give and receive resilient love.

Like many outside of places of privilege and power, the woman in Matthew 15 learned to survive on crumbs. She learned how to glean on crumbs that others did not want. Crumbs from the masters’ table. This is what she asked for from Jesus. She asked for crumbs and knew that she would work hard to live on less. On the one hand, she gets what so many others miss. That a crumb from the Messianic Banquet is enough to sustain life, on the other hand, her story asks why do some get seats at the table and others crumbs that fall.

 I confess that as a white person, I am tempted to want to celebrate that Jesus changed here. I want to make the story better by saying that the ending ties everything up; however, we must resist such interpretations of texts and life. It is too neat. The change does not negate the harm. It is good that Jesus did change as a result of his encounter with this woman. He affirms her faith. He heals her daughter. There are other sayings and stories that reveal a more inclusive ministry; however, Jesus’ changed perspective may not be what the text is about for us today. This is a story of a mother’s resilience who persisted in the face of prejudice and privilege. This is perhaps a time, where Jesus learned about Gospel love from another person. From an outsider who was written off. This is the Gospel as the resilient love of a mother who advocated through adversity, who refused to accept no as an answer. Thanks be to God for the Gospel of resilient love.

 

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
August 9

Faith and Fear

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 14:22–33

Click here to hear just the sermon

The text of the sermon will be posted when it is available.

-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Associate Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

Sunday
August 2

Good Trouble

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 14:13-21

Genesis 32:22–31

Romans 9:1–5

Click here to hear just the sermon

Preface

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful; be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year; it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis, 1940 – 2020

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether life has meaning.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether love is real.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether struggle is redemptive.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether friendship is nourishing.

The Hebrew Scripture

Our psalm and lesson from the Hebrew Scripture recoil around us to recall for us the place of struggle in life.  In pandemic and pandemonium, in political and presidential reckoning, in personal and familial realignments and choices, we right now may benefit from such a reminder.  After all, why return Sunday by Sunday to ancient writings, if not for a chance to orient our own selves and lives by the light of what our forebears have seen and done?

One the great gifts of Boston University to our life has been the immersion and inclusion in a tradition of struggle, redemptive struggle.  Over dinner, courtesy of the Gotlieb Center, perhaps six years ago, we sat with John Lewis.  Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres, say the Spaniards.  Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.  After the meal he quietly told stories which had the aspect, for one who tells stories, of frequent narration, as overtures to good trouble.  In particular it brought a full smile to hear his childhood dream of being a preacher, a story that was new to us, but well known to others, and now to the world.  He would come home and preach to the chickens as he fed them, and baptize them as they were born, and bury them with dignity and the end of their egg producing days.  Hence, Lewis picked up the nick name, Preacher.  Yet it was really his life that spoke, and that commitment to a sense of redemptive struggle.

Now Marsh Chapel, you remember that on May 19, 2018, Mr. Lewis sat right here in the second pew before the pulpit of this nave.  You remember that he sang the hymns of faith, and heard the words of Holy Scripture, and prepared himself to address 20,000 at Commencement.  You remember his lingering among us on the Plaza, as the bus driver nervously waited.  You remember that, like any good preacher, he was willing to take the time to take you seriously.  Said the parishioner, ‘I just wish that the preacher in his sermons would take my life seriously’.  Well, by the echoing hallelujahs sent his way later that day, from the voices of the class of 2018 and others, you could hear that he did.  Take their lives seriously, I mean.  You remember the climax of his address.  Yes, class of 2018, you will get jobs and find work and buy cars and build homes and raise families and take trips.  Good.  But what else?  What else are you going to do?  What else are you going to do in the brief span years you have? Will you help make this world a better place.  And to do that, will get into some good trouble along the way?  In my years at BU Commencements, it was the rhetorical high point, and that’s saying something.  Later, in the President’s gracious lunch, we stood next to him for a photo (I was uncertain whether to interfere so, but Jan said, ‘No, let’s get a picture).  And I looked at it again this morning, from two years ago, and wept. One the great gifts of Boston University to our life has been the immersion and inclusion in a tradition of struggle, redemptive struggle.  What an inheritance, what a legacy, Marsh Chapel, you have to share.

Now recall just a few of the words offered in memorial across the nation to John Lewis:

Moral authority…aggressive yet self-sacrificial…animating a mass movement…non-violent protest grounded in the principal of ‘redemptive suffering’……from the Rev. James Lawson…and Mahatma Ghandi…’something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive…opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves’…the essence of the nonviolent life is the capacity to forgive…’even as a person is cursing you to your face, even as he is spitting on your, or pushing a lit cigarette into your neck’…At bottom, this philosophy rested upon the belief that people of good will—the Beloved Community—would rouse themselves to combat evil and injustice…in March of 1965—Bloody Sunday—Lewis suffered a fractured skull…the voting rights act…was signed into law that summer…the Supreme Court crippled the act in 2013…colleagues…we can best honor his memory by picking up where he left off… (NYT on J Lewis, July 2020)

Now hear the words written by our own congregant, friend, Marsh Chapel community member Kwame A. Mark Freeman, just this last week:

“I had the honor of meeting Mr. Lewis on a few occasions over the years. The last time I spoke with him was at Metcalf Hall in the George Sherman Union at Boston University.

Mr. Lewis was a humble man in the truest sense of the word. He was one of the last living civil rights titans of his generation who more than virtually anyone, had a grasp of the institutional memory of both the turbulent and tragic but yet triumphant period of Black people living in the United States during the period of the civil rights movement. The work Mr. Lewis engaged in on behalf of Black people is indelible and stretches over six decades beginning in February of 1960, at a lunch counter in Nashville, Tennessee.

I want to thank Mr. Lewis for all that he has done for Black and brown women and men living in the United States. Just importantly, I want to thank him for what he has done for all of humanity by his clarion call for justice, both now and until the day and time when -injustice- becomes a fleeting memory and a tragic but yet another triumphant footnote in the annals of Black history in the United States.

 God bless Brother John Robert Lewis, and may his soul rest in peace.

Meanwhile, back in the Bible, in Genesis Jacob receives a new name, One Who Struggles With God:  Israel.  There is a redeeming quality in struggle, so much so that one’s full identity emerges in a different way, with a different name.  Jacob recalls for us the power of community, the formative range in the struggle of each community, including his own.  We sure need such a reminder this summer, in this summer of uncertainty. The summer, be it remembered of the use of unmarked cars and camouflaged federal agents in Portland.  We are on the brink of lawlessness from the highest offices in the country.  What shall we bring to this struggle?  A little honesty and a whole lot of ownership?  But also, a critical caution, in our choices?

In the spring of 1972, graduating soon from High School, I was watching as various communities were struggling, including that of the USA itself.  My father had bought a pool table that winter, the first of its sort to adorn that Methodist Parsonage.  Looking back, I think he had some idea to try to connect more fully with a teenage son who was about to leave home.  And it worked.  We spent some evenings playing pool and talking about nothing and about everything.  It was down in a pretty dank basement full of the things you throw in a basement.  He would smoke his pipe and I would talk about things I really knew nothing much about.  But I had opinions.  That spring there was a protest against the War in Vietnam, and I had decided to go, and we discussed it.  It was to be held outside his old high school, where he had been elected class president in 1949.  He had gone on to serve in the Air Force as a chaplain, so he was a military person but was himself also and strongly against the war.  Yet when I told him about the protest, well, he did not try to talk me out of it, but he filled his pipe and racked the balls for another game.  I could tell he was trying to tell me something, or teach me something, or something, without being too parental.  Anyway, the gist of his question, as I remember it in the haze of faulty memory and pipe smoke, was, ‘Do you know who is organizing this?  Who is running this?  For what reason?’  Well, we did not argue.  I went ahead and attended the thing, such as it was.  But that careful, critical edge, that question, who is really doing this and why, stayed with me. I cannot begin to number the times, in so many different situations, when that basic question—who is really behind this?—has come back to help me.  And this is still a struggle today, across the land, trying to do and know how to do, the right thing at the right time, in the right way.  Good trouble.  It is almost like that hymn, ‘You Got Good Religion?”  Or not.  ‘You Got Good Trouble?’  Or just trouble?

The New Testament

Likewise, our two New Testament passages, lesson and gospel, guide us in redemptive struggle.  In Romans, Paul is about to launch into two chapters of farewell to his own beloved religious inheritance, his own spiritual legacy, his mother tongue, the law.  Religious faith sometimes means leaving things behind, shaking the dust from one’s feet, and moving on.  In a way, every day has some measure of that leave taking, of saying ‘Thank You’ and of saying ‘Good Bye’.

In our weekly staff work here, we are guided by a set of values, in which we embed our ministry, music and hospitality, and which share a curious quality of leaving some things behind.  We try daily to 1 build trust, to 2 foster consensus, to 3 seek unity (not uniformity) in peace (not dishonesty), 4 to review all communication that speaks to or for the whole  5 to avoid any secrets, surprises or subversion, 5 to live a life that becomes the gospel 6 to speak to others in their presence not of others in their absence, 7 to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Christ law, 8 in teaching to search the Scripture, 9 in daily work to reflect on our envisioned mission (‘a heart in the heart of the city’ and our primary foci (voice, vocation, volume)10 in liturgy to be informed by the hymnal and book of worship, by Methodism and the ecumenical consensus 11 in all things to look for charitas, 12 to encourage by example regular worship, tithing, and interpersonal faithfulness, 13 to be punctual, frugal and industrious but not to worship work, for we are saved by what we receive not by what we achieve, 14 to offer attention to outsiders, first, as a matter of course, 15 to remember that the staff supports the mission of the chapel not the other way around.  16 To believe that God loves us into loving and frees us into freedom. 17 In working with staff our reigning interest is:  “Tell me what best exposes your authentic self (baptism) and what unshackles your fiercest passion for life and ministry (vocation)?”  We can build some real future around this. 18 In communications, we hope to model dimensions of spiritual health and honesty, specifically by responding promptly to voice-mail (same day or next day), e-mail (three days), regular mail (one week), interoffice memos (same day if possible). 19 Also, we believe that a good meeting lasts no more than 90 minutes, and preferably no more than 60. 20. We expect to be people who are “happy in God” (Wesley).

That is, we hope, a to find a way into ‘good trouble’, not just trouble.  Our community here at Marsh Chapel will continue to go through changes in rhythm.  Remember that once we thought we would be together again the day after Easter, April 13?  Hm.  With the insight, foresight and hindsight of Paul in Romans, we shall also need, for the long haul, the remembrance of Matthew, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with two fish and five barley loaves.  Not much to go on.  And yet, all were fed.  And more miraculously, according the Scripture, not only were all fed, but all were all satisfied.  All were satisfied.  Along with values to guide us, we shall need, Marsh Chapel, the gospel promise to keep us.  Satisfied.  Hm.

In a moment we will hear again the ancient liturgy for eucharist.  We are not together to receive together the bread and cup.  But we are together in relationship, by memory, in hope, through prayer.  And with a little imagination, with eyes closed and hearts open, we might allow the familiar, ancient prayers of communion, to bring us into communion.

So, travel with a little imagination…Imagine Eucharist at Marsh Chapel.  Stand to sing… Pause to reflect… Step out into the aisle… Look at and look past Abraham Lincoln and Francis Willard…Receive cup and bread, bread and cup… Kneel at the altar to pray… Stand in communion with the communion of saints…Here is the bread and cup of friendship…Imagine, if you are willing, your own funeral, say right here, and a congregation reciting together a creed, a psalm, a hymn, a poem.  Imagine, if you are willing, a congregation currently in diaspora, but just now, by the word spoken, a gathered and thus addressable community, you and I and all together. And all were satisfied…e

Coda

Our virtual congregant Milton Jordan in Texas reminded us this week of John Lewis’s words:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful; be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year; it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis, 1940 – 2020

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether life has meaning.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether love is real.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether struggle is redemptive.

Faith is the affirmative answer to the question whether friendship is nourishing.

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

Sunday
July 26

The Parabolic Path

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Click here to hear just the sermon

A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. What do these have in common? Some are valuable and others are cheap. Some are organic and others are inorganic. Some serve an essential purpose and others are ornamental. We could continue to make such comparisons but fear not, this is not a Sesame Street game of “one of these things is not like the other.” Besides being used in parables by Jesus and recorded in the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, these earthly objects do not have much in common. Yet, Jesus says that each of them is like the kingdom of heaven. Each provides one part of a comparison. These comparisons describe to us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is not that each is like the kingdom of heaven in their atomic or chemical make-up such that if we gathered all of the objects together we could put the kingdom of heaven on a table, but the parabolic comparison shows that each has the capacity to reveal the kingdom of heaven. In their capacity to reveal the kingdom of heaven, the materiality in the relationship between the earthly and heavenly is indispensable. What is seemingly mundane can disclose the sacred. The parabolic path is marked by a participatory presence.

The parables of Jesus show that everyday objects can participate in the divine economy. On the one hand, we learn about the kingdom of heaven through the particular comparisons Jesus makes, and on the other hand, we learn that such comparisons can be made. This is significant because it reveals the potential for a sacramental quality of Creation and life. Not everything is a sacrament but Creation has the potential to be sacramental. For a society that goes through its everyday existence with a loss of amazement at life and the world, this is a word of Gospel. It is good news because it re-orients our experience of existence. It invites imagination, wonder, and excitement into life. It reminds us that every person, made in the image of God can offer insight into the kingdom of heaven. Every lush garden or arid desert has the touch of its Creator. Even time can be sacramental. There is a time for weeping and a time for joy. There is a time for work and a time for rest. While it may seem obvious, it is worth stating that how we approach life impacts how we interpret our being. The kingdom of heaven is a potential present reality through the parabolic path. The parables help re-orient toward a participatory nature of existence. God participates with humanity and humanity has the potential to participate with God.

In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor shares a story where a seemingly ordinary childhood encounter transformed her outlook on life. One Sunday her pastor asked her to sit in the front pew and listen attentively to his sermon. He offered an illustration of Taylor nurturing tadpoles in a birdbath and watching them grow into frogs as an example of participatory Creation care with God. Listen to what she writes about the aftermath of the sermon:, “I could not wait to find further clues to heaven on earth. Every leaf, every ant, every shiny rock called out to me—begging to be watched, to be listened to, to be handled and examined. I became a detective of divinity, collecting evidence of God’s genius and admiring the tracks left for me to follow.”[1] After that sermon, she viewed Creation in a whole new manner. She looked for ways in which God was revealed through God’s work of and in Creation, partly through her own participation. She became a detective of divinity.

Detectives are people who have gained the skills to be able to interpret what untrained eyes and ears might miss. Detectives are people who can make sense out of seemingly incomprehensible data. They can connect the dots. For Taylor, God’s work was present in her life but for her to see God’s work, someone had to point it out to her. Someone had to name it as such. Creation drew her childhood wonder which only grew when nurtured to recognize the wonder of the Creator. There is a difference between seeing and understanding. It can be easy to see what is going on but it is a lot harder to recognize what is truly happening. What would it look like to be a detective of divinity and where would you look for traces of the divine.

The parables can help us here because they remind us that we do not have to look exclusively in the grandiose. The kingdom of heaven can be found in modest places. It is not only the mountain tops and majestic waters that invite us to see the hand of the Creator. As magnificent as the sublime is, it should not overshadow the possibility of revelation in other places. With open eyes, the kingdom can be found in bound books, coffee conversations, and even socially distant zoom meetings. Perhaps, it is hard to see the kingdom in the everyday because we think it ought to be something so magnificent that it cannot be mediated in the ordinary. Surely, the kingdom is greater than simple seeds, cooking ingredients, and fishing tools. Yes… and no. These do not exhaust the kingdom but they do reveal. Excluding the common from the kingdom attempts to preserve the mystery of the infinite and offers due regard. Yet, by itself, it misses that God chooses to reveal Godself through everyday materiality.

It is a wonder that God trusts the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to comparisons with earthly objects. Then again, God is wonder. Enlightenment rationality for all of its benefits has shaped us into a society that sees value in what people and objects produce; rather than, in how they participate with God and others in communal thriving. Parables whisper invitations to pause and listen to another hum of the universe, where God holds all of creation together. This hum contributes as the core of a song that includes many voices. This song resounds with all that is true in philosophy, science, medicine, music, and is guided by the constant resonance of the Creator. The parabolic path hears this hum in conjunction with life. The song is always present faith and life do not need to be bifurcated.

In two of the parables, the treasure and the pearl, Jesus reveals that the kingdom of heaven may be found by those who are looking. There is no guarantee that the kingdom will be found or that finding it is easy. But this reassures us that looking and finding can take place. While we cannot create a scientific method or formula for discovering and quantifying God’s presence and work in the world, whether or not we are open to it makes a difference.

Openness to the kingdom requires openness to the world. It may seem counterintuitive but it is in and partially through the world that the kingdom comes to be. A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. These are all things of the world. These are items with the potential to lead us toward the kingdom. When you think about it, none of these particular items are necessarily religious or holy. They are just stuff; albeit, with various degrees of value. But, we do not regularly find mustard seeds and nets in the church buildings; however, it is not only in church buildings where we should seek God’s presence and work. The institutional church does not have a monopoly on the work and presence of God. In fact, there are times when the church must observe what God is doing elsewhere to listen to God’s call. The Gospel is deep and wide.

This is a time of listening where discernment of the Spirit’s presence and work in the world is needed. In an age where we stand on the brinks of nuclear, ecological, economic, political, and interpersonal disasters the church must engage with the world and it must do so from a position of humility. The church can no longer presume to have all the answers or the exclusive understanding of truth. The church cannot always presume to set the agenda for the conversation and must learn how to cooperate with others. Cooperation is no small feat, especially when considering how hard it is to get different denominations to cooperate. The church cannot abdicate its theological voice and responsibility but we are called to listen to collective wisdom. Doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, social workers, lawyers, parents all have the potential to lead us toward truth and communal thriving. Detectives of divinity can come from anywhere.

In the 1960s the Catholic Church convened the Second Vatican Council and drafted a new document on the relationship between the church and the modern world. This document, Gaudium et Spes begins, “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”[2] This underscores that the church has a responsibility to the world and all of humankind. Gaudium et Spes sought to approach this responsibility from a place of mutual respect.

For too long and in too many places still, the relationship between the Church and the world is marked by opposition. Fraught with tension, this rivalry has had detrimental effects. History and science were rejected and social progress characterized as unbiblical. I am not suggesting that the church must uncritically accept all positions but abnegation with the modern world is untenable. For too long the concerns of the world have not been the prominent concerns of the church. For too long the desire for superiority has prevented cooperation. The anguish of COVID and racism must be the anguish of the church. The anguish of a system that oppresses all, but especially those who are not white, male, and heterosexual must be the anguish of the followers of Christ. The grief of a world hurtling toward destruction must be the grief of the church. These are the issues of the world that makes them the issues of the church. If the church is honest with itself, these ought to already be the issues of the church too. The parables of Christ invite us to see these as spiritual concerns.

Later in Gaudium et Spes, the document says, “Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has people had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one person depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes.”[3]

I have read Gaudium et Spes numerous times in my life, but when I read that this past week, I forgot that it was written in the 1960s as it continues to be poignantly true today. The aptness with which that paragraph describes the modern world is an indictment and an invitation. It invites us to repentance and change. It invites us to continue searching for God and Gospel. The perils of war continues to loom, even as it looms in different places. The perils of racism, poverty, disease, and exceptionalism are rampant. It might be tempting to try and withdraw from the world and its many problems. It might be tempting to seek for the kingdom outside of such pain and suffering. But maybe, these are the places where God can be found working. Maybe these are the places where ordinary mustard seeds and yeast are needed the most. Small seeds and yeast have transformative potential.

A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. These invite us to see God and the world with faith. These are not the places we might expect to find God but these invite us to search for God in unusual places. The kingdom is not a vacation destination that once discovered means we get to escape from the world and its struggles. The kingdom is here and it calls us to live in light of the call God has placed on our lives. The Kingdom pulls us toward loving justice, seeking mercy, and walking humbly. A call of cooperation. In doing so, let us remember that “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Preaching Life. (Plymouth, UK: Cowley Publications 1993), 16.

[2] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

[3] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
July 19

Elusive Presence

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Genesis 28:10-19

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30

Click here to hear just the sermon

 Preface

 One summer some years ago our family made a three-day trip to Maine.  We stopped in Kennebunkport and swam in the ocean.  That day the newspaper carried a little book review of a short book called On Presence.  The review noted that the book had been written by Ralph Harper, an unknown Episcopal priest in Maryland, who also taught a religion course at the local college.  The book won a prestigious prize.  The author was quoted as saying, among other things, ‘After preaching almost every Sunday for the past 31 years, I know how hard it is to say anything honest’.  I stuffed the review in my shirt pocket.  I finally bought the book (though nine months later).  On Presence is about the practice of the presence of God.  Harper writes, We have too short a time on this earth to pass up any chance to find words and images to live by.  I believe almost everyone is capable of being moved by some person, place, (part of) nature, or individual work of art.  Of course, there is instability and incoherence in and about us all the time.  There is also the inexhaustible store of Being to keep us permanently in awe.

 This summer we are not traveling, neither up or down the coast.  Perhaps you are doing so, and is so, many blessings to you. But the matter of presence, or the question, is freshly alive in the season of plague, the season of power and its policing, the season of presidential reckoning.  One asked, Just where is God in all of this?  To the few verses of Holy Scripture accorded us this summer morning, we may portage that question, of presence, of divine presence, of God, of God’s presence, or absent presence, or present absence, during pandemic, and pandemonium, and political reckoning.  Our Scripture affirms an Elusive Presence, oddly lodged in remorse, in scrutiny, in longing and in contest.  All of our lessons today explore this question, a good and honest question of faith, the question of presence.  But they answer in a Scriptural key, in a Biblical tongue, in a Holy honesty.  In a strange way, a strange answer, coming out of the heart of the strange world of the Bible.

Remorse

 Sometimes presence appears in remorse, in hindsight.  From your campfire days you will remember Jacob’s ladder.  The Book of Genesis is about to move from Creation and Covenant, on to Providence, or at least to the naming of the sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes, with which the rest of the book will be consumed.  But first, there is the matter of Jacob himself.  Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending to and from heaven, and hears the promise of promise.  He awakes and rubs his eyes, and realizes.  He had not seen, he had not known. I knew it not!  In this place, with a baffling dream and a rock for a pillow, here, not in comfort or completion, or conquest, here, alone at night and in a dream, there appeared a strange presence.  But he sees so in retrospect, in reflection.  He sees after the fact.  And, with more than a tinge of remorse, he realizes what he had missed.  ‘Surely the Lord was in this place….but I knew it not’.  In case we are prone to think this a cheery tale, the lesson schools us otherwise.  For Jacob, we are immediately apprised, ‘was afraid’.  In hindsight.  In retrospect.  In remorseful recollection.  So that was it…was blind but now I see…If only… If only we had seen that coming tsunami of a virus for what it was, say, and earlier, say, and more fully and truly, say, and, well…

Consider, in hindsight, what you may have missed, along the way.   A season ago, or a decade ago, or most of lifetime ago.  Presence, though elusive, presence still.  So many are the examples.  The Gospel of John has as its main point, the ladder up and down to heaven, for sure, but more so, the utter grief of a congregation that only belatedly recognized just Who, just Who, this Jesus had been, among them.  God.  Divine Presence, but Elusive, mistaken, mistaken in identity.  Way and Truth and Life and, now we see in hindsight, we mistook Him—Way and Truth and Life—for so much less.

The hard truths of the strange world of the Bible include a somber recognition of divine presence, eerie and elusive, but presence nonetheless, seen most clearly in hindsight.  Presence? Yes, but known in remorse.

Scrutiny

 Sometimes presence appears in scrutiny.  In being known in full and in truth and in person.  Seeing ourselves as others, or Another, sees us.  This is the wearying challenge of friendship, of partnership, of marriage, of employment, and of any long term, honest relationship.

You may love the 139th Psalm, as did Howard Thurman and as do I, perhaps more than any other in the Psalter.  Usually we hear it, and properly, as light in darkness.  O Lord though hast searched me…such knowledge is too wonderful for me…even the darkness is light to Thee…

 Yet some years ago, I offered it at a BU Commencement, a joyous and happy and celebrative day, in this, my preferred sense of it.  Still.  Afterward a friend and colleague, and a veteran lover of the Psalms too, came up and said, I heard that Psalm in a completely different way today.  In hindsight, I believe what he meant was, Thanks for a gladder reading of the verses, 1-12, but there is a more sober one too.  Think of being so entirely well-known by another, any other:  O Lord thou hast searched me…Thou knowest when I sit down and rise up…Whither shall I flee from thy presence…

A sudden sense of no escape, of being known through and through, of being seen for just who we are, of having no dark corner in which to hide, of having no fig leaf behind which to huddle…Even the darkness is not dark to Thee.  Yes, there is an elusive presence, at the sheer price of being fully known.  Is this not one of the great challenges of CORONA?  Our full social and cultural exposure, to full scrutiny?  Scrutiny of who suffers and who is healed, of who has and has not, of who can make easier strides and who stumbles through no athletic fault, but for lack and lack and lack?  I see your true colors…

 There is, for sure, a gladness in being known through and through.  But there is also, for sure, a sobering effect to such scrutiny, such an elusive presence in such scrutiny, be it human or divine or both.

Longing

Sometimes presence appears in longing.  Paul names for us the groaning, the groaning of all creation, awaiting the revealing of the children of God.  There is hardly a longing or groaning at more of a fever pitch in all of Scripture, or in all of literature, or in any life, than here in Romans 8.  Groaning inwardly…as we await…the redemption of our bodies…For this hope we were saved…but hope that is seen is not hope…who hopes for what he sees?  We hope for what we do not see and wait for it with patience.  Patience. 

 Our time waits for such redemption. And ours is a hard, a challenging time, yet one within which there is a shared groaning, a communal longing.   My friend’s 7 year-old daughter, at the end of glad hearted family meal, as one or another mentioned the virus, the pandemic, burst into tears, saying, When is Corona going to end?  We hope for what we do not yet see.  And wait.  With a disciplined patience.  Without a vaccine, there will need to develop a semblance of antibody bulk, of herd immunity.   We need to have a sober mind, an awareness of waiting, waiting, waiting for what we do not yet see, and may well not see for some time.  This capacity in St. Paul and in my seven year-old, to long and long without yet seeing, but still to wait, too is part of the elusive presence.  We have a long way to go.  But the 7 year-old’s groaning is spirited expression of hope, presence, divine presence, though utterly elusive.  She awaits a hope, not seen, but awaited, as did Emma Lazarus.

 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Contest

 Sometimes presence appears in contest, in the contention of life.  The Gospel of Matthew leaves wheat and tares together sown, unto joy and sorrow grown, without yet a final winnowing, without yet an eschatological separation.  And here is our condition, too.  The challenge of every day, with decisions to make, small or large, or what appear to be small but are large, and what appear large and are actually small.  The challenge of wheat and tares is in the contest of the everyday, for and toward the true and the good and the beautiful. On your prayer list, it may well be, you have a place regularly to lift up those near and far who face rigorous, awkward and multiple daily decisions in a new era.

In this contest, we may need traveling partners, allies, those from and with whom to learn.

One may be David Brooks.  He wrote movingly this week about such an elusive presence, and the contest of perspectives needed to arrive at a better day.  It was striking to me, as a son of a BU graduate, who studied here in the 1950’s at the time of the high water mark of Boston Personalism, to hear Brooks use the term Personalism, without any reference to BU, or any sense that the term had a longer fuse than the one he lit under it.  Yet, perhaps by accident, or grace, or the influence in contest of an elusive presence, his conclusion came close to home.  We will leave quibbles for another day.

Personalism is about constructing systems where the whole person is seen and cultivated—schools where a child is not just a brain on a stick, hospitals where patients are not just bodies in beds, cities where cops are seen as people, communities in which each person is seen as rich interplay of multiple identities, economic systems that allow people to realize their full dignity as makers and earners.  Personalism judges each social arrangement by how well it fosters the kind of relationships that enhance the full complexity and depth of each soul. (NYT 7/10/20)

 In this contest, we may need our predecessors to lean on.  Elmer Leslie taught Hebrew Scripture here when my parents were at BU so long ago.  His son, James Leslie, became my chaplain at OWU, a mentor and model for chaplaincy, he, one of only two Chaplains OWU has had since 1960, each serving thirty years.  Elmer wrote on the prophets, who themselves needed their own predecessors, in the contests of the eighth century bce. Friends, we shall need a biblical grace, tough as well as tender, for the days ahead.   Let us draw down on our spiritual endowment, our religious inheritance.  It has been done before.  A favorite verse, perhaps for you, is Micah 6:8:  He has declared to you O Mortal what is good:  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah drew on the three great prophets who preceded him, Amos and Hosea and Isaiah, finally to craft his magnificent verse:  justice from Amos, kindness from Hosea, and humility from Isaiah.  And so, drawing on the Elusive Presence, he could preach to the need of his time.

Coda

 When we ask about divine presence (and how can we not?) we may be surprised to hear a response—Jacob, David, Paul, Matthew—that affirms, strangely, a presence, but an elusive presence, hidden in, with and under, even the sobrieties of our day:  in remorse, in scrutiny, in longing, and in contest.  Who would ask for more remorse, tougher scrutiny, unrequited longing, and ribald contest?  Yet, of a summer Sunday, in the reading and reckoning with Holy Writ, we are sent their way.

Ask yourself about a moment of remorse, of hindsight.  Was there not, even there, an elusive presence?

Ask yourself about an experience of scrutiny, of being known, really known.  Was there not, even there, an elusive presence?

Ask yourself about a keen sense of longing, a cry at night, a groan at dawn.  Was there not, even there, an elusive presence?

Ask yourself about a kind of contest, struggle in contention for the good.  Was there not, even there, an elusive presence?

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

Sunday
July 12

Finding Our Own Good Ground

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Isaiah 55:10-13

Psalm 65:1-8, 9-13

Romans 8:1-11

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Click here to hear just the sermon

For Mother’s Day this year our older son and our daughter-in-law brought me a charming pot, and an hibiscus plant to put in it.  The plant was covered in large flowers with crimson throats, then a band of white, and then edges in a beautiful pink, with yellow stamens and orange pistils.  The leaves were a dark glossy green, and the bark was a light gray that complemented the rest of the plant but did not distract from the show of the flowers.  I was instantly smitten.  Now, usually my choices in companion plants have by necessity the constitution of granite.  But this was my first hibiscus, and, as I think I mentioned, it was given to me by our children.  And did I mention that hibiscus is one of their favorite plants?  I really did not want to report back an early death, or a slow demise brought on by rusts, smuts, molds, blights, or plagues of insects.  Growing a flowering tropical plant that I did not know in Boston was going to require some effort.  My just being smitten was not going to make either the hibiscus or me happy in the long run.  So, like many graduates of BU, I decided to rely on research.

Turns out that a modern hibiscus is a bit of a diva.  Its ancestors came from China or India, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands off the coast of Africa, Fiji, and Hawai’i – all places with abundant sunshine, lots of humidity, and high temperatures.  I, however, live in a Boston neighborhood with high buildings and tall trees that block much of the sun, with dry air and chilly temperatures for a good part of the year.  Hibiscus is also referred to as a “voracious feeder” that requires frequent watering and even washing.  It has specific nutrient requirements not just for the soil but also for the fertilizer in the frequent waterings.  The required soil and fertilizer are not, of course, easily or cheaply obtained.  Fortunately, there are people online who have been living beautifully with hibiscus for years.  They are very generous with care information and problem-solving.  For a modest price and outrageous shipping charges, they will send you hibiscus soil that feels lovely in your hands. as well as an attractive soluble fertilizer tinted aqua so no one can mistake it for salt.  I am still smitten.  And so far, my hibiscus plant in its pot is glossy-leaved, putting out flowers, and voraciously eating and drinking, while I cart it around our small yard to find the place with the most consistent sun.  Grow lights may be in our future, say around late September.

With all this, you might imagine my bemusement as I contemplated the parable in our Gospel text this morning.  A sower goes out to sow.  The sower doesn’t care where the seeds go: the path, rocky ground, among the thorns, good soil.  And predictably, only the seeds that fall on the good ground grow and multiply.  And then Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”  This is just silly, on the face of it.  Unlike my hibiscus plant, the seed that the sower is so careless with will provide part of the yearly food crop for their family and their community.  Unless the sower is making an experiment to see if the seed will or will not grow in different kinds of ground, why waste it so?  Seed is expensive, especially in Jesus’ time, when a lot of it had to be saved from one year to the next.  By this time, everyone in the listening crowd would know that the seed being sown in that region would only do well in good ground.  The explanation follows, of course, but why go through a story that calls forth a basic response of “Duh,” and tell people to listen to it, and then immediately give an explanation that really has nothing to do with plants at all?

Well, part of the interest in preaching from the lectionary is to see what the lectionary compilers leave out of the readings.  And here the compilers have left out something important in verses 10-17, the verses between the story and the explanation.  These left-out verses tell us that Jesus is speaking to the crowd in the original story; in the following explanation he is speaking to his disciples, the ones who say they are serious about following him.  Jesus tells the disciples that he speaks in parables to the crowd because they are just that – a crowd, that follows him for who knows what reason:  it’s a nice day to be at the beach, there might be a miracle, it’s a break from routine, what else?  They fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy:  “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.’’

But the disciples are blessed, because their eyes see and their ears hear in their commitment to discipleship, and so Jesus gives the explanation of the story to them.  The seed is the good news of the Kingdom of God, and the different kinds of ground are the different kinds of responses of the people who hear the good news.  The path response is to not understand or to refuse to consider the good news, and the evil one makes sure that these people will not remember that they have heard anything at all.  The rocky ground response is to get all excited, but then not to develop roots through the experiences of discipleship, and so these people fall away when the going gets difficult or the consequences of discipleship are uncomfortable.  The thorny ground response is to hear the good news, but to let the challenges of the world and the desire for wealth and success choke out the good news, so that nothing of it can grow.  Only the response of the good soil – to hear the good news, to take the time to understand it, to bear the fruit of the kingdom – only that response is to bring forth the desired harvest as each person and community is able.

We noted last Sunday that Matthew is considered among other things to be a manual for discipleship.  With this story of the sower, I would like to consider three ways we might take this story for ourselves this morning.

Perhaps the most obvious way is to take the story as Jesus’ exhortation not to respond as did the people with the unfruitful results.  So we will not treat the good news lightly or with disdain until we study it, live with it, and live out of it, and join with others who will learn with us, so that we can teach each other our own best ways to grow and thrive.  So we will not stay in our discouragement when things get difficult, but we will remember God’s help in the past, and the great joy that is possible with God, so that even the earth shouts and sings together, as in our Psalm. So that we will remember with the Psalmist and with Paul that we are not condemned for our sins, and that the Spirit lives within us and empowers us to grow in love.  So we will rejoice in our freedom from slavery to sin and death, and see the possibilities in the challenges before us, and look for the way that God makes for us out of no way.  In the good news of the Kingdom we find our own good ground in which to flourish, and through our sharing of the good news we help other people and all creation to do the same.

A second way to take the story is to see it as a statement about how some people may respond to our sharing of the good news.  Jesus is very matter-of-fact about it:  you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and as we share the good news with others, these kinds of responses are all possible.   Some of the more unfruitful responses might be because of how we share the good news, and we’ll get to that in a minute.  But people’s responses will be their own.  What we are called to do and to be as followers of Jesus is often a challenge or scary or counter-cultural or counter-intuitive for us, so we should not be surprised to find that others may not leap immediately for the chance to join us.

This second way to take the story plays into a third – we are invited to see ourselves as the Sower.  While people’s responses are their own, it is our job to sow the seeds of the good news and to cultivate those who decide to be nourished by it.  In one sense our sowing is in fact a great experiment:  we cast our seed widely to see what will take.  And like the Sower in the story, we do not at first in many cases know where the good ground will be in our particular situation, unless we cast our seed widely.  Sometimes that will mean doing things that we have not done before, or being with others we have not previously experienced, and we may be reminded that the Seven Last Words of the Church are “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Sometimes that will mean prioritizing energy and resources, and we may be reminded that if we are not good stewards, only the squeakiest wheel will get the most grease, and it may not be the one most vital to our mission.  But in the end, we are reminded that to find good ground is not enough.  Finding our own good ground in terms of what we are called to grow, and where we are called to grow it, and then how we are to grow it, means that a Sower must also learn to be a cultivator, or at least learn who to join with as cultivators, so that the whole fruit of the Kingdom can grow and thrive.

This brings us to our present day, and as was noted above. how we sow our seed, and how we find our good ground to sow it in, are pressing questions right now.  In too many cases the seed of the good news has been linked to and even corrupted by Empire, greed, racism, sexism, bigotry, and anthropocentrism.  In too many cases individuals and whole populations have been harmed, with results of trauma to this day that hinder human societal flourishing, and human spiritual flourishing.  There are two ideas in particular that we might consider as we consider our work of sowing and cultivation.

First, if we do not know what the seed needs to grow and flourish, we cannot help it to root, leaf, blossom, and fruit.  It is not about what we want to give.   Instead, just as I needed to learn, to ask it if you will, what my tropical hibiscus plant needs to survive and maybe even thrive in New England, we need to learn and discern, we need to ask God, what the Kingdom needs to thrive in our particular situation.  This can get complicated.  Just as different kinds of seed need different grounds and different conditions in which to flourish, so the vast diversity of the Kingdom’s manifestation in the world needs different grounds and conditions.  It depends on the context of our calling.  What particular manifestation of the Kingdom’s love and justice does God want to manifest in our context and calling?  We will need to discover the details of the people, ground, and resources or lack of them, in our location.  We will need to be honest about our own motives, resources, and capacities.  And we will need really to pay attention to our prayers and to God’s answers, if we are not to dilute or corrupt the good news for other than Kingdom ends.

Second, it is not the seeds’ fault if they are not able to grow because the conditions they need to grow and thrive are not met.  And while it is true that people’s responses are their own, it is also true that a little augmentation of their ground might make it easier for them to receive the good news and take it to heart.  If as sowers and cultivators of the Kingdom we insist on scattering our seed in places that we know it will not grow, and we do nothing to cultivate the ground, it is not the seeds’ fault if there is no harvest in spite of our sowing efforts.  And if the ground does not welcome our seed it is not the ground’s fault.  The ground is what it is, and unless we change that, nothing will grow.  Just as with my hibiscus plant, this is where the need for augmentation and fertilization of the ground come in.  For too long individuals and populations have been castigated for being unresponsive ground for the good news of the Kingdom.  We might want to consider that this is not a surprise, considering the corruption of the good news through its linkages with Empire, greed, racism, sexism, bigotry, and anthropocentrism as mentioned above.  Individuals’ and populations’ lives have been destructively affected for generations by these evils, and by the systematic evils that accompany them:   poverty, violence, lack of education, genocide, voter suppression, lack of healthcare, and loss of hope.  They might be forgiven if they do not respond to the rescue of salvation offered by those who may not be trustworthy and whose message has so often been a cheat.  It may be that in order to prepare the ground for the seeds of the Kingdom, we may need to augment people’s lives with justice and the resources of justice for their bodies and minds, before we can plant the seeds of the Kingdom with any hope of appeal to their souls.

Finding, or even creating, our own good ground so that the Kingdom can flourish is a call to be both a sower and a cultivator.  In that call the word “ground” has a meaning in addition to its being a medium in which something grows.  Ground is a place to lay down roots, and, it is also a place to stand, to take a stand.  To find our own good ground as disciples of Jesus is to stand our ground for the sake of the Kingdom, even in the midst of pandemic and national upheaval, so that present and coming the Kingdom may grow and flourish, and that we and all creation may grow and flourish within it.  AMEN.

-The Rev. Dr. Victoria Hart Gaskell, Minister for Visitation