It is good to be home.
We have missed you, your smiling faces, your singing voices, your radio responses, your stories, daily appended, of our shared journey in faith. We have missed being with you in worship.
Although we did join you last Sunday. The Sunday free, after a joyful itinerancy north and south through the summer, we became radio\internet listeners to your service. Under a blue sky, before a blue lake, on the deck of a federal blue cottage, cooled by a light breeze, a spirit wind, we worshipped with Marsh Chapel. The sprightly hymns. The crisp readings. The magnificent choral and organ music. The word of God rightly spoken in the sermon. Moments of prayer and communal celebration. You gave us all these. Jan and I thank you. As the final hymn was lifted I thought, ‘I could go to that church’. I said so to Jan. She said, ‘you do’. She is always so right. ‘You will be there next Sunday’. Right again. Such a beautiful and highly recommended marital utterance: ‘You are so right’. I commend it to you. It will bless you.
With you, in the blue, blue sky blue house blue lake, we prayed to the Blue God, and were fed, and nourished and satisfied. Your witness here, virtual and actual, lasts, matters, counts and is real. You help us and others learn, as we learn together.
Learning in Voice
We have been learning this summer in voice, through voice. Our 8th annual national summer guest preacher series has brought you emerging adult voices on the theme, ‘the gospel and emerging adulthood.’ Rev. Dr. Walton served as my teaching fellow for the course on the Gospel of John—for seven years. And lived! She has heard me say everything I know about the fourth gospel, seven times. She has heard me say more than that! Like the woman who went Niagara Falls in a barrel—and lived! Her ‘batting cleanup’ voice lingers in our memory as do these all. A diminutive priest, more David than Goliath, more Zaccheus than Caiaphas, she was told by a radio listener, ‘in the Marsh Pulpit who sound like you are 5’7”! Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, our sister and friend and colleague in ministry, occupies a position unique in the whole country, a university chaplaincy devoted to international students as a whole—not a role carved out of the petty narcissism of small religious differences, but a common ground spiritual ministry with Buddhist and Bahai, Muslim and Hindu, Confucian and Secular, all. Your dean celebrated and spoke next, preceded a week by our dear partner in University Church ministry, from Harvard, the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Walton, whose partnership in gospel becomes ever more meaningful to us here, across the river. Dr. Echol Nix come up all the way from Furman College in South Carolina, to honor his alma mater, and gather with friends here in Boston, and bring us the voice of a philosophical theologian in the pulpit. Br. Larry Whitney, who guides our ministry with students here at Marsh, and never complains to preach on July 4 weekend, brought his own voice in sermon and celebration. My son in law from Rochester,(a newly minted Princeton PhD, a student of the Rev. Dr. Kenda Dean, whose theological conversation partner for the dissertation was Howard Thurman), Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady, brought his voice and the singing voices of his wife and 3 children, or, the voices of our daughter and grandchildren, depending on your perspective. Our own Rev. Dr. Robin Olson, probably the most expert and knowledgeable minister in New England regarding emerging adulthood, brought her voice way back in June, ‘our lead off hitter’, as she said. That is, we are learning with and through the voices of others. Proud of their varieties of perspective, of their varieties in gender, race, background, denomination and ethnicity. Their ministries, and their personal gifts over many miles and years, to me, are exceedingly sweet and precious, precious jewels, voices of the present and future beloved community. And all, with one notable decanal exception, themselves in or very near emerging adulthood! Voice that themselves are echoes of a gospel not yet fully spoken. Comparisons are odious, and all 8 series have brought height and breadth and depth. This summer’s though brought just a little more height, all the way to 5’7”, and beyond. Spend an evening reading or listening again to the nine sermons, and we shall continue learning together, in voice! And mark the learning: there is new generation of excellent preachers, emerging in and around Marsh Chapel. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound!
Learning in Thought
And what did we learn? My dad, before he died 4 years ago, a proud alumnus of BU 1953 by the way, for whom our coming to Marsh Chapel meant more initially than it meant to anyone else on planet earth I think, partly because he knew the history more fully and felt the potential more keenly, (and I am so eternally happy that he could be here himself, for worship with us, for some years), used to ask me, and others, following high or in some cases low moments: ‘and what did you learn?’
We are learning in thought, we are learning to learn and think, together. Not one generation instructing another only, or another reconstructing another only. Not GI\Silent\Gen X\Millenial\Gen Y in verbal or other competition, though creative tension is often creative, but together is this confluent space of Marsh Chapel and environs and extended community, a hoped for community, an aspirational desire to live, learning together. So what did you learn this summer?
I ask graduate students to learn to summarize a book in a page. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. So, we will here summarize a summer in nine sentences, one per sermon, June to August., and then in a word each. 1. A capacity for wonder bursts from the faithful witness of emerging adults. 2. Emerging adults want love of neighbor, learned and taught in substantive even traditional worship. 3. Development for emerging adults is misunderstood if it is linear only, and benefits from a non-linear perspective. 4. The gospel, particularly for the college years, is about the transformation of the mind. 5. Emerging adults benefit to remember Bonhoeffer and the cost of discipleship (both these themes quite fit for our readings this morning. 6. Wise leadership is humble leadership, all other appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. 7. Higher education is wonderful but alone cannot finally teach emerging adults how to live, cannot feed all alone, especially in the most difficult experiences. 8. Be quiet. Silence! Silence is golden, and emerging adults know it, and teach it by example. 9. Emerging adults were recently children, and children are full participants, fully fellow itinerants, on the journey of faith—especially when it comes to worship.
For those of you who tuned out one or all summer Sundays, I offer, free of charge, like the grace of the gospel itself, this humble nine word summary of the emerging adulthood gospel : wondrous, hospitable, non-linear, transformative, costly, humble, nourishing, quiet, childlike. Listen or read through the sermons again. They have fed us this summer 2014
Learning in Conflict
We have needed the nourishment. Our thirst, our hunger, have needed the slaking, the feeding of the gospel this summer—grace, freedom, love, forgiveness, pardon, peace, acceptance. These are your middle names. John Grace Smith. Mary Freedom Jones. You are children of light. And if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. That is who you are. You are a child of God. Pray in the morning remembering that. Read Scripture at noon remembering that. Visit a lonely neighbor in the afternoon remembering that. Send a check in the evening remembering that. And come to church—here or elsewhere—come Sunday, remembering that. You are a child of God.
We need that steady reminder. For our summer has been one in which the background of violence all about us has spilled into the foreground of existence nearer to us. You list the summer 2014 background conditions…Gaza and Israel: Phyrric victories; Europe and Ukraine: collective effort; Ferguson and Race, second summer: continued trauma;Iraq and Syria: islands of decency; Planet and Warming: Bill McGibben calling us to compunction; College women and campus safety: our failure, our shame at 1/5 assaulted; Tornadoes and Fires: natural disaster; Debt personal and debt national: $1T in student loans alone.
We lift only one, and briefly, this morning, Ferguson.
Rev. Earbie Bledsoe, on Ferguson: “No, I don’t think things have changed much. Not enough to write down,” he said. (msnbc.com 8/19/14)
Not enough to write down.
By your measure, what percentage of slavery is still with us?
The wiser and more sensitive see in Ferguson a moment of judgment and revelation, an eschatological incursion into the present time, of harm from the past and hope for the future. As with Treyvon Martin last summer, we are brought up short, chastened, brought to compunction and to lament. Our desire for justice, an even handed, common justice, common to all without privilege or prejudice, is not what we see in the mirror of events in Ferguson.
A sermon is often a mirror held up before a community, so that as a community we can see ourselves, as we are together. In a sermon we are learning together, and learning to be together. There we see ongoing distrust, ongoing fear and distance, ongoing hatred that boils up into violence. We also learn together about the amount of military weaponry and equipment that has somehow found its way into otherwise small, sleepy communities. As with the violence and loss in Gaza, we are learning the hard way, learning together. Ferguson is a sermon.
Now, one thing a town of any size can use, can benefit from, is a strong, loving church. This will bring us in a moment to Matthew 16. It is noteworthy that the clergy in Ferguson, of the black churches and of many churches, were a part of the leadership for compassion and civility last week. Pastors who make home visits know people, their voices, their needs, their fears. They have a built up and built in trust, or credibility, when they have been doing their pastoral work. So when, in the course of events, some of that pastoral capital needs to be spent and invested in the free market of peace and justice, there is money in the bank. You need to have some of that spiritual money in the bank, in order to lead a community out of stranglehold and suffocation. You need some institutional traction. In its clergy and churches Ferguson had some of that.
This too is something our bright, compassionate emerging adults are struggling with.
“It is no surprise, as Pew reported, that the millennial generation is skeptical of institutions — political and religious — and prefers to improvise solutions to the challenges of the moment. “ ( 8/17/14 NYT)
“Empathy was a theme sounded repeatedly by some of the millennials photographed for this article, and interviewed in an online slide show that accompanies it.”
For empathy to be real, to be learned, to be experienced, and then to be a source of action, and hopefully of transformation to justice, for there to be traction in history toward good ends, you need institutions, particularly political and religious ones. Empathy without institutions is dead. King and others needed the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund. Wesley and others needed the annual conference, and its systematic itinerant appointments. Thurman and others needed Marsh Chapel, the Church of All Nations, and Rankin Chapel. Frederick Douglass needed the North Star. Abraham Lincoln needed the Republican Party. Dorothy Day needed the Catholic Workers. Kate Millett needed NOW, whether or not fish needed bicycles like women needed men. Bob Hill has needed: the Methodist Church, Camp Casowasco, Ohio Wesleyan, UnionMcGillColgateRochesterBostonUniversity, and yes, Marsh Chapel. And Matthew needed the church, the ecclesia. Faith without works is dead and empathy without institutions is, too. Slavery is still 30% with us, and to be rid of it we shall need INSTITUTIONAL reform—education, employment, health, public safety, and, yes, strong liberal southern and Midwestern churches. Rev. Earbie Bledsoe has been pastor at his church, built with his own hands, for 43 years. And the gates of hell have not prevailed against it.
Learning in Scripture
To conclude. 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 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.’
We are disciples. The word means student. Disciple means student. Save Discipuli. Save 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.
Living right means learning together—in voice, in thought, in conflict, in Scripture. Learning together.
It is this driving kerygma that causes Matthew to eviscerate Mark here. Matthew has taken a passage from Mark 8 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, which is important. What matters is that they happily regospeled 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, staying still within the community of Judaism. Matthew uses the word, ecclesia—not easily 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 gut Mark? Answer: he and his community are learning together. From voices. From thoughts. From conflicts. And Matthew sternly tells his people: you need institutional grounding, support, protection, and sustenance. And let me be clear about it: the gates of shall not prevail against it.
Just more thing, as 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: ‘Just one more thing…’
Who do you say He is? 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.”
~The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel