December 5

Memory and View

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 3: 1-6

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Past and Future

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Our beloved Aunt Jane, now of blessed memory, lived with a gladness of heart, with a spiritual gladness, with a heart strangely warmed, as a child of God, a woman happy in God.  A singing Methodist with a warm Methodist handshake, she taught math, and helped her fifth graders to learn to sing:  row row row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.  Life is but a dream.

Come Advent, we ponder dreams, as did John the Baptist, wet and cold in the murky Jordan.  Do you record your dreams?  One advantage of a college education, four years of freedom, subsidized freedom, to study and read and learn and change, the college advantage, is now and then, at least in part, to escape the 21st century.  Yours is the chance by thought and lection and dream, to get out of December 2021, and dwell elsewhere, for a time.  Others too spoke of dreams.

Take Shakespeare.  Here is Prospero, in the Tempest, singing for all time, and all times, and our time:  We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.’  Rounded with a sleep. Rounded with a sleep.  The line came to mind at the gravesite last Saturday.  She, a positive, optimistic, possibilist, would smile to hear it:  We are such stuff as dreams are made on. You…you are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Shakespeare, for dreams and for poetry about dreams has a partner in his Spanish contemporary, Calderon de la Barca, would died at 81 in 1681.  Of dreams—your stuff, you on whom dreams are made– “¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí. ¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión, una sombra, una ficción, y el mayor bien es pequeño; que toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son”…y los suenos suenos son…even dreams themselves are themselves dreams.

You are such stuff as dreams are made on.

In hours and days when we rue and mourn the senseless and needless slaughter of innocents in public school corridors, ‘such stuff’ can be hard to hear, difficult to remember, a long way off, far and far away.  Such tragedy.  This is a tragedy embedded in a second amendment, originally meant to provide poor farmers defense against enemies foreign and domestic, become nationwide by the willful celebration of guns, of gun rights, and of gun violence, a portal to the loss of children, now with parents in utter grief and teachers in utter sadness, and a nation drenched in sorrow, teachers, by the way, quite like our dear Aunt Jane of blessed memory.

You are not meant to die by gunshot, or be assaulted, or en masse be misled, or be tethered to technology. You are the stuff on which dreams are made.  You are.  We are.  So let us live so, and choose so, and vote so, and treat others so.  Let us learn from the apostle, that our love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight (how in our time we need this!) to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.

That Thanksgiving vacation week, six of eight grandchildren, for the moment safe and secure, played in front of the fireplace in our modest cabin in the woods.  The oldest had been there, right there, 5 weeks after birth, and the others much the same.  The small room’s windows look out over the full length of the lake, facing northwest.  They played.  With authority their grandmother asked, What do you most love about this place?  There was long silence, somewhat an embarrassed one.  Then, quietly, the 13 year old said, The memories, I love most the memories here. And then another long quiet, a big chill of quiet.  Then, quietly, the 11 year old said, The view, I love most the view.

Memory and view.  Hopefully good memories and beautiful views.  These we receive from others.  Powerfully, come Advent, we receive them again from the church.  The church, so avoided, mocked, forgotten and underfunded today, the church gives you memory and view.  The memory of others who have lived dream lives, and an open view of the future, open to an open future.  Be open, said Tillich.   Cold to the bone, awaiting the Messiah in the water, John the Baptist embodies the memories of all the glories of Israel and the view of the gift and promise of heaven.  Of course, here in bread and cup, we chew on the memories and drink deeply of the hope of heaven.  Do you know God to be a pardoning God, intoned Wesley.  Do you?

In Conversation

There is a saving power, a saving grace in our Advent interest in conversation.  It costs nothing to listen, except time and risk.  And it costs nothing to speak, except time and risk.  Listen for what is not said or not clearly said.  Could you say that in another way?  What I hear you to have said is just this.  Do you really mean that, or do you mean half or double that?  It sounds to me like you are wandering around Robin Hood’s barn, and that makes me wonder why you are wandering like that.  When you say that, who do you have in mind?  Why do I have the feeling that you have a feeling about this?  Let’s talk about this again some day. There is a healing power, a healing grace in conversation.  Most people can in time solve their own problems, if they just have someone to talk to about them, who will really listen to them.  Maybe you will be that someone for someone else this week?  Prepare ye, though, be prepared

For in conversation, you are part bull fighter, part heavy weight boxer, part private detective, part spy.  At stake, for all, is lasting health, personal salvation, individual growth, spiritual integrity, and the chance, the fleeting chance to experience being alive before we die.  The cape ripples and the saber rattles.  The prize fighter dodges, weaves, ducks, swings, retreats, advances.  The PI looks through the back window, checks the mail in the mail box, notices the water still dripping from the faucet, puts two and two together.  The one disguised behind enemy lines smiles, demurs, nods, remembers, and then will try to bring home a truth, the truth in hand, without getting caught.  But these arts are learned, practiced, sharpened, conveyed, by one and another…in conversation, come Advent, Advent conversation.

Lukan Baptist

So, the Baptist, dressed in camel’s hair, with a diet of locusts and honey (though Luke omits to dress and feed him as Mark so does), John the Baptist is the precursor to Jesus.  You cannot get to Christmas without Advent.  You cannot come to Bethlehem except by way of the Jordan.  You cannot celebrate grace without hearing first the prophetic voice (though it is also good to be reminded that the prophetic is a part of the gospel but not the heart of the gospel (repeat)).  Every year, right now, the Baptist, out in the dark cold miserable mud-soaked Jordan River, stops us.  He stops you.  He says the one prayerful word of the precursor, the prophetic word: ‘Prepare’.  Then he calls the whole people to prayer:  to repentance for pervasive sin; to acceptance of pardon as the way out of evil and hurt; to assurance of grace.

Prayer is what comes before the rest, like Sunday morning is meant to come before the rest (of the week).  Are you getting off on the right foot week by week?

John the Baptist would want to know.  Look carefully at what Luke says about him.  See the Lukan Baptist, different from John the Baptist in Mark.   Mark, 20 years before, begins his gospel with the Baptist.  The gospel opens, ‘the voice of one…’  Not Luke.  Luke wants John put in particular context, 20 years later.

(We want to hear the gospel in the gospels.  Luke says something different from what he borrowed out of Mark.  That should give us confidence, as we preach, to take the gospel in hand, and apply it to our own condition, our own time, as, well, the first gospel writers all did.)

So, Luke has a history that precedes the precursor.  This history, an orderly one, tells of the conjoint mysterious births of John and Jesus.  This history, an orderly one, gives singing voice to Zechariah (whose psalm we used today) and Mary (two weeks hence).  This history, an orderly one, acknowledges the days of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius.  This history, an orderly one, honors Joseph, and paints like El Greco shepherds in the firelight of the ‘smoking cradle’ (Barth).  This history, an orderly one, makes a little space for the childhood of Jesus, in woe and weal both, circumcision, presentation, growth in wisdom, and temple teaching.  Then, only, does Luke allow the Baptist to appear.  But even here, it is the orderly history that prevails: 15 years, Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and Philip, unpronounceable regions, eminently forgettable tetrarchs and priesthoods (‘a six-fold synchronism’, as Bultmann wryly remarks (HST, 362)).   Luke is making sure Jesus has his feet firmly planted in history, both of secular Empire and sacred Temple and an orderly history at that.   So, for us, our engagement with history, under the influence of the Gospel of Luke, matters, counts, lasts, is lastingly real.


An idea arrives.  Whence an idea?  Whence a thought? One interest in ministry is ‘conversation’.  Two books by our MIT neighbor Sherry Turkle, Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation, have guided some of our thought in the past.  Her voice is a crucial one, regarding students, in this conversation about conversation.   Our work on conversation benefits from good ideas, like hers.  Musing, an idea, maybe a good idea, has arrived, as the green sea fields of young corn roll by.

Where did that idea, that imaginative possibility come from?  Whence such an idea?  How does a new prospect—here, the possibility of books read–come to life?  The moment of insight, of new thought, the arrival of an idea comes on its own without our choice really, without a well-manicured airport, runway or landing strip.  Whence an idea?  What is going on when we think?  Or when we think we are thinking?  Or when we think about our thinking?  Whence an idea?

There is no full answer, at least this morning.  Today, perhaps, we simply want to pause before the mystery, one of life’s great mysteries, the birth of an idea, in this case quite a modest one, but an idea nonetheless.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength—and mind.  And you love your neighbor as yourself.  Whence an idea?

Here is an idea, more daydream than dream. As we head into a winter better than last years’s but not probably as good as next year’s or as good as we had hoped, maybe some memory and some view will help us. Pardon this more pastoral word. A winter advisory if you will. Carry the memory of what you learned in endurance and creativity last year. And carry the wide angle view behind pandemic, the promise one day of post pandemic play, a hope fir next year. Memory and view. We need the two.

The gift of memory.  The gift of view.  Life is but a dream.  Rounded with a sleep.  Suenos suenos son.  So, another’s imagination, another’s Advent season, winter epoch imagination, north of Boston, a hundred years ago.  Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 We await in the season of promise and expectation, of memory and view,  the coming of a new day, in which all flesh shall see the salvation of God. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

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

November 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 21:25–36

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

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  After months of screen, of zoom, of facetime, of text, of email, of distance, of attention to spaces, electronic spaces to which nuance, humor, personality, humanity, and connection so often go to die, we have this autumn been returned to the land of conversation.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  There is a robust magic in conversation, whereby John Wesley named conversation a means of grace, alongside prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and fasting.  Conversation.  One step in and toward faith begins with a regard for conversation.

In our current Marsh Chapel ministry, on Bach Sundays, we engage a conversation.  We model that conversation in two voice dialogue, Director and Dean.  The conversation engages past with future, Scripture with music, wisdom with beauty, and Bach with experience.  Our COVID time has muted conversation, to some degree, but has not squelched it, at least not yet.

In conversation, there abides, or lurks, the lasting possibility of heart to heart communication, heart by heart communion.  That potential seizes you, not the other way around.   You are longways, say, into a talk with an old dear friend, and of a sudden, you realize, you intuit, just how much that friendship means, a friendship planted and grown in conversation.  You are gathered before dinner, and the children, coaxed, begin to sing the songs of memory, of history, of Zion, of nation, of upgrowing.  The folksongs, the hymns, the partner songs, the spirituals, the camp fire rounds, multiple rounds, give off an invisible glow, a kind of verbal hearth.  Or, there is a moment of difference. Some things, like some malignancies, you can never cure but you can manage.  They are manageable but not curable.  They can be managed, managed to ground, even though, unseen, the malignancy remains.  In conversation, in the magic of conversation, such hard and dark and difficult truth can surface.  You realize afterward, that one loved one, in one seemingly innocuous conversation, was trying to say something, something like, I am worried about this medical procedure…  But the clues and hues and dues and schmooze are sometimes too indirect, too subtle, and you miss the marrow and meaning of the talk, only to recall it, only to get it, later, much later, too late.  You are in a meeting, and all of sudden the temperature shifts, and sunlight and warmth become cave darks, stalactites and stalagmites.  And the conversation flickers, withers, and dies.  Something is in there.  It would be utterly invisible and inaudible by zoom.  But in conversation, in presence, with embodied silence, and incarnate body language, you see and hear.   She is really hurting.  He is really angry.  I am in over my head.  They want something they can never have. Somehow, conversation.

Dr. Jarrett, what does the music and beauty of Bach bring us in conversation this morning?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

There is a healing power, a healing grace in conversation.

I have a friend and colleague, a musicologist and viola da gamba player, whose research focuses on what he calls “Polyphonic Intimacy”. The notion that western music, with it’s subjects and counter-subjects, point with counter-point, strands of consonance and dissonance woven together, trace their roots in mirroring human conversation. Imagine one monk chanting the Te Deum. His neighbor in the cell next door, a plucky fellow he, decides it’d be fun to sing along with his pious brother, but does so in what we’d call today harmony. A musical conversation is born. A point and counter-point. Harmony. A musical conversation. Better yet, a musical congruence, where I shape my conversation to yours. Or perhaps the kind of conversation where a couple can complete each other’s sentences, or allow the conversation points to gather one on the other. There are unlimited possibilities. But the idea that music, making music, making music with others in community, can mirror societal discourse, modeling a path for our disparate voices to find commonality, unity, perhaps even fostering social cohesion.

Could it be that music has such healing power, a healing grace in music’s conversation?

Soprano and Alto. Tenor with Bass. The “I and Thou” reflected each day in the Imago Dei. And this Advent Sunday, the Christian Soul with Christ as Bridegroom, that long awaited restoration of Thou in me, Thou in you — conversation as dialectic. Music amplifies, augments, colludes, and collides with that conversation in powerful, yes even healing ways.

Soar joyfully, ye voices, aloft to the sublime stars. Love draws nigh. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Love and Faith prepare a place for you in my heart. Come, dwell within.

Listen today for two virtuoso Oboes d’amore in musical conversation with one another (No 6), or in No 2, doubling, and thereby musically affirming, their soprano and alto conversations partners. Each aria, singer with solo instrumentalist, modeling a musical conversation, whose features, parameters, and sights are given to us by Bach. A space to make sense of it all, a thoughtful interplay revealing a path to reconciliation and renewal, affirming Thou in me, Thou in you.

There is a healing power in and through music, and, yes, a healing grace revealed in music’s conversation.

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

Pastoral ministry, cut to the chase, is the dangerous and difficult pursuit  of an faithful 20-minute sermon a week, alongside 25 genuine conversations a week.    I and Thou.  There yet remain some circles of ministerial wisdom shared in conversation about…conversation.  Think of Seward Hiltner at Princeton, of Homer Jernigan at BU, of Henri Nowen at Yale, of Ann Belford Ulanov at Columbia and Union.  They are not with us any longer, and not with us to remind us that the most the important things in ministry are the one-on-one things. Pastoral ministry is preaching.  Pastoral ministry is conversation.  Sit down and listen, listen, listen…until… until the cows come home.

With some exception, for the minister, every hour spent on a machine, every hour spent with zoom, with text, with email, with computer, is an hour spent apart from conversation, and so apart from life itself.  Here is a warning word for the minister. Walk with a friend.  Sit for intercessory prayer.  Call somebody on the phone.  Set a lunch date.  Offer a coffee.  Take with happiness the unannounced visitor to your office.  Steer the conversation, when you can, away from doing and out onto the broad meadow of being, out toward memory and view, on out to where heaven and earth pass away.  Keep a journal.  Write a sermon.  Craft a poem.  Design and experiment.  All of us are so challenged, so called, for ministry emerges from baptism first, from ordination second.  All the baptized have entered ministry.

My grandmother grew up on a dairy farm near Cooperstown, NY.  She graduated from Smith College in 1914.  She taught school and married later in life, raising three daughters.  She spent her later life in a modest Syracuse home, surrounded by piles of books, mounds of newspapers, and letters written or to be written and received, often long ago.  She and her college roommate wrote each other once a week from graduation until death.  She seemingly feared no conversation, and celebrated all conversation, no matter how middling or shallow or tiresome.  Famously, she was thrilled, overjoyed, to have the Jehovah Witnesses come into her Methodist living room, on their mission.  She loved to talk with them about the intricacies of Leviticus.  She always wanted them to stay longer than they could stand to stay.  They left worn out, bedraggled, dog tired, and exhausted.  She just smiled and put a roast in the oven. They had been engaged in real conversation.

To listen is to love.  To listen is to take one step in faith.  People do not always know what they think and feel until they say it, until they say it to someone they know is listening, and really cares.  This is not psychiatry, not psychotherapy, not formal counseling, nor any other of the—very wonderful, soulfully salvific, and endlessly helpful—forms of care.  This is conversation, a means of grace.  As a person of faith, it is yours, to receive and to give.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  Today is our first day, our first Sunday, in a year of conversation, with St. Luke:  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

November 21

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By Marsh Chapel

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John 18: 33-37

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Faith often emerges in single steps.   One step, one at a time.  One step in faith for you and me comes in becoming more thankful, grateful, in putting on the thanksgiving clothes and donning the thanksgiving shoes of a spiritual gladness, a spiritual gladness welling up from a physical wellness.  A thanksgiving prayer in nature, in friendship, in service, and in spirit.

Thanks for Nature

Let us be thankful for the good gifts in nature.  Our lessons from ancient Scripture surround us with such a thanksgiving.  They attribute directly to the Lord, in a way we might not in our time, both the weal and woe of natural cycles.  Yet this spirit of thanksgiving could not be more evident, in the Psalms, say, gratitude for the good that is given, in pasture and tree and vineyard.  Even those of us dwelling mostly in an urban setting can from this autumn—warm, mostly; dry, mostly; pleasant, mostly—receive such a sense of blessing and so a sense of gratitude.   Seed-time gives way to harvest, as tears give way to shouts and joy. The long months of hidden growth, of change and development under the earth, are a firm reminder that the future will look different from the past, and from the present.  Every autumn, every harvest season, we are offered such a reminder.   In a prayer recently, we heard the petition that we might serve God ‘with a quiet mind’.  A quiet and peaceable life itself naturally requires order, and when we have such, we are right to give thanks.   Especially in the later New Testament writings there is preserved for us a mature recognition of the value in things done ‘decently and in order’.  Quietly, with quiet minds, we may step toward gratitude for what is given in nature. The body.  Birds of the air. Lilies of the field.  Reminders of what Marilyn Robinson might call ‘the givenness of things’. Friday night our Inner Strength Gospel choir, gave a compelling witness, in the heart of months and years of turmoil, to thanksgiving, grateful praise.

Thanks for Friends

Let us be thankful for friendship as was our friend Max Coots, a country preacher of the first water, a rural minister in the Unitarian tradition:

“Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are;

For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.”

Thanks for Service

Let us be thankful for service, for those who have served the common good.  The common good, the shared good, the good in which all are included. Some of the deeper sources of our current American malaise, our current cultural anguish, lie in areas seldom if ever broached at length in essays, op eds, articles, broadcasts, monographs and sermons.  One wonders why not.  Perhaps the needed reflective quiet, even after 18 months of COVID quiet, eludes us.  Or maybe by contrast the enforced isolation of COVID has kept us from idle moments, side trips, family visits, and looks at how the other half lives or doesn’t.  It also may be that today’s preacher has missed something, or has not read what should have been read, or what would make the case that in fact some of this has been addressed.  You tell me.  Rally goers on the one hand and residents of academe on the other do seem to share ranges of inattention to what is underneath, what lies down in the declivities of our mutual maelstrom.  You rarely hear about these things, as they portend or protrude or shape, generate and cause a 51-49 country.  Here is one for today, connected to service.

Looking back, most of our early years in ministry, in the 80’s, involved home visits where the photos of the wedding day showed a groom in uniform.  A lot of weddings took place for a certain age cohort just after December 7, 1941, or in the years following.  There was haste in the arrangements, small gatherings in and after church, a few days of honeymoon, and then the long goodbye, for some, tragically, a permanent goodbye.  Decades later, in the living room or den, when the minister came to call for whatever reason or no earthly reason, there were brief stories about the wedding, vows and ring, cake and family.  The photos were not meant as frontispiece for the rest of life in the next half century—return, house, work, children, illness, loss, the troubles that are the only real impetus to Christian faith, faith coming as it does almost entirely out of trouble—nor were there endless stories.  In fact, to remember, the men involved said hardly anything about their service, the war, or anything related. ‘Life is how you take it’ was the spirit in the room, under the mantel, with the faded photos of white gowns and service uniforms.

Two decades prior or so to those pastoral visits, 25 a week in a healthy pastoral pattern, these women and men had spiritual cousins who had raised us, formed us, in the 60’s.  Hiking in the winter with the scouts.  Traveling on youth trips or youth service trips.  Volunteering to counsel at summer camp, with leaky cabin roofs, mediocre food, off key campfire singing, and the measures of homesickness and combativeness that come with camp.  They corrected us when we threw snowballs that hit innocent bystanders.  They raised questions and eyebrows when the days of bellbottoms and tie-died shirts came along.  They did not order, they just asked.  They wanted good things for their children and grandchildren and a world of justice and peace.  Because they had come of age, many of them, when that hope for that world was on the line.  It is in this sense that Tom Brokaw wrote a much-read book, The Greatest Generation.  My wife’s Uncle Bill, died in late December 1943, a recent hockey player and graduate of Northfield Mount Hermon, in the jungles of New Britain, just east of Australia. 300,000 American soldiers died in WW II.  He came to mind a few days ago, November 11, in this Chapel sanctuary, as we honored our veterans.  This was a generation that saw in their lived experience what Fascism could mean.  They saw up close, marching through France, or in the Pacific jungle, or moving north in Italy, just what Fascism, with its reliance on mendacity and violence, whether in ‘the big lie’ or on January 6, could do to them and to their comrades.  Some by grace came home.  And they came home sober about Fascism.  They didn’t need to talk about it, or pronounce about it, or swagger about it.  They had put their bodies on the line, and became, some of them, true heroes.  As JFK said when asked how he became such a hero, ‘It was easy, they sunk my boat’.  Can you hear the resolute humility, the chastened spirit, the wry humor in that little phrase?  Without as much fanfare, those who raised us, and then were our first parishioners and lay leaders and congregants, also had that resolute humility, chastened spirit and wry humor, a hard-won love of country, and a willingness to serve for the common good.

One unremarked reason that our politics and culture have gone so far afield, so far astray, it may be, is here.  That quiet presence, the strong sturdy example of The Greatest Generation, in board meetings and church councils and political gatherings and family systems and college faculties and business chambers of commerce, is now dead and gone.  Their reticent silence is itself now silent.  They who looked fascism in the eye have not been around to look others in the eye when authoritarian mendacity and violence have become, tragically, modes of political engagement.  They aren’t in the room, silently to frown, quietly to shake the head, gently to ask a question, and be heard with honor.  You knew these people and you know they would have had no use for the kind of short-sighted, wrong-headed disrespect for government, for due process, for legitimate democracy, that has descended upon us.  One reason for our trouble, our travail, it may be, is that the Greatest Generation is no longer with us to remind, to correct, to balance us, not just in the great speeches of the day, but also and more so in civil society, in civil society now become largely uncivil, and much, much weakened.  In Moose Lodges, and Baptist Churches, and County Fair committees, and Pine Wood derby rankings and Memorial Day ceremonies. And at Thanksgiving, offering a prayer at the Thanksgiving table.

In one of our churches, there were eight adult Sunday School classes, arranged over time by age, with membership in each one of up to 200 a piece.  The two strongest were made up of the GI generation, on the one hand, and the Silent Generation, on the other.   Those who had actually been in uniform, seen combat, suffered hurt, and looked fascism in the eye, on the one hand, and those who had heard about it, had grown up with some second-hand memory, but themselves had not been there.  It needs no saying that both groups were truly wonderful people, great people, interestingly though, the GI generation more liberal and Silent generation more conservative.  One man from the older group, by then nearly 80, took me aside in our first autumn, to say:  Well, you are going to be my pastor, so I need to tell you how I got to faith.  I was 23 years old in a field in France, and I had to run across open land with guns trained on me.  I said to God, ‘If I live, I will serve you the rest of my life.  Please let me live.  And He did. And I did.’   He was like most of his generation whose funerals we had in the years prior and the years after.  They are dead now, most all of them, 99%, or in the shadows of our life, in nursing homes or at home, or alone.  One of the biggest, unspoken reasons for our cultural and political mayhem is their absence.  But I have seen not a single word written about it, and I have not heard a single word spoken about it.   We need to conjure their voice, to honor their service by remembering their hard-won wisdom, and saying in their absence what they would have said in their presence. We need to conjure their voice, to honor their service by remembering their hard-won wisdom, and saying in their absence what they would have said in their presence.

Thanks for Spirit

Let us be thankful for the spirit of truth.  John 18 puts Pilate in the spotlight, he who asks ‘what is truth’, in a way that others along the way in Gospel have done already:  Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, Thomas, and, in a way every one of us too.  The sharp, daunting witness of our Gospel today challenges us with two assertions, two affirmations. They are part promise and hope, and part haunting and daunting warning. The first is that there is such a thing as truth, which, over time, comes out.  The second is that for those seized by the confession of the church, for you, that very truth is known, elusively and dimly, but nonetheless known, in Jesus Christ, Christ the King, whose spirit and truth, we are promised, will have the final word.  Truth.  Truth through Christ. As David Brooks wrote so eloquently a day ago, (we) are judged by history, not the distraction and exhaustion of the moment…Did (we) address the core problem of the moment? (NYT, 11/19/21) One step, a truthful step in faith if you will, a move toward faith this morning, is the truth and goodness in gratitude, a spiritual gladness, a spiritual thanksgiving. So let us be grateful this Thanksgiving, as was Howard Thurman, who in so many things was a hundred years head of his time fifty years ago.  Here is his famous poem:

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:

My mother’s arms,

The strength of my father

The playmates of my childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives

Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies

And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;

The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the

Eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day


I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;

The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I

Feared the step before me in darkness;

The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest

And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;

The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open

Page when my decision hung in the balance.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:

The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,

Without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp

And whose words would only find fulfillment

In the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,

The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,

Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;

The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream

Could inspire and God could command.

For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.


I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment

To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:

The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,

My desires, my gifts;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence

That I have never done my best, I have never dared

To reach for the highest;

The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind

Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the

inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the

children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

Faith comes in single steps.   One step, one at a time.  One step for you and me comes in becoming more thankful, grateful, in putting on the thanksgiving clothes and donning the thanksgiving shoes of a spiritual gladness, a spiritual gladness welling up from a physical wellness.  A spiritual gladness in nature, in friendship, in service, and in spirit.

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

November 14

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 13:1–8

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A written text of this sermon is currently unavailable.

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

November 7

For All the Saints

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 12: 38-44

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All Saints Sunday

After more than a year and a half of disembodied worship, worshipping in diaspora, we have now had this autumn twelve Sundays of personal, embodied assembly, and gathering, in worship.  We have also by grace and the work of WBUR and many others continued to broadcast our service around the globe, come 11am on Sunday.  For the sustained efforts of those at every turn who make this service possible and available, we are endlessly grateful.  Today we turn our minds and hearts to those who have died in these twenty months, near and far, more than 750,000 across the country, and, especially, to their loved ones, perhaps including you, who bear the losses to this day.  If you have lost someone in this COVID time, our sermon and litany today here are meant especially for you.

One of the great challenges and difficulties of the last two years is found here.  Across the country and indeed around the world, we have not been able fully to gather, to assemble, to worship in person, at the hour of death.  We have lost loved ones without the ability or capacity to face the losses in full in the full company of the church, the church militant, even as we give over our loved ones to God and to the church triumphant.  We should be frank, candid with one another, and with ourselves, that this particular labor of love is an unfinished labor, just now.  An unfinished labor of love, to which we attend in part today.   Faith comes in small steps, for most of us.  One of those steps, one to take again today, is to learn the rhythms of grief.

And it is work, good and honest work.  Mourning is work.  Grieving is work.  It takes time, energy, attention, focus, investment, prayer and love.  Conclusively, to mourn means for you to need to do something in mourning.  Faith is found in such a step.  Jesus looks upon the single widow, offering her simple gift, and smiles, and commends to us her step, one step in faith.

As a daughter, you may have buried my mother.  As a sister, you may have remembered and eulogized your siblings’ mother.  As a pastor, you may have given over parishioners, sisters and brothers in Christ, one by one.  In a university community, you may have faced and mourned the losses of students, faculty, staff, alumni, relatives and others of the University community.  As an itinerant Methodist preacher, you may have had to sing alone ‘Blessed be the Tie that binds’, rather than, by custom, gathering around the casket of a fellow preacher, to sing the hymn with others in ministry.  As an American, you may have wept at the stories of those taken, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal.  And, as a child of God, you may have lamented without ever fully grasping the depth or breadth of such lament, the deaths of others, other children of the living God.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, in your time of loss, in your twenty months or more of mourning, this morning as we face our mourning, we feel for you, we are sorry for your bereavement, we reach out with invisible hands to hold you in an invisible embrace, and listen with invisible ears as you utter your prayers of lament.  Whatever else may be, at least hear this, you are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.  Together we take a step, in grief.  For all the saints we give thanks.

We call you forward to remember.   We recall, here in Marsh Chapel, five of our own Marsh Chapel saints, among the dozens lost, as witnesses, as a few and particular examples, exemplars of faith, as was the widow in the dominical teaching.

We remember C Faith Richardson.  She died in March of 2020.  On December 11th of 2019 she turned 104.   She had led a 600 person Sunday School at Erwin Methodist Church in Syracuse, in the early 1960’s while her husband Neil taught Hebrew Scripture at the University there, before they moved here to Boston.  We went to serve that very Syracuse church in 1984, and twenty years later that giant Sunday school still cast its warm shadow.   One who had been a ten year old back then remembered, ‘I just don’t know how to put it.  There was, there was, so much love there.’  We asked Faith in December 2019 how it felt to be 104.  She answered, with her playful wit, ‘about the same as it felt to be 103’.  For all the saints we give thanks.  Let us remember C. Faith Richardson.  (BELL)

We remember Dr. Gaylen Kelly.  Gaylen was an honored, revered professor in the School of Education.  He and his beloved wife were married for 66 years, starting with their wedding on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve in New Sweden, Maine.  We remember his easy manner, his inclination to laughter, and his love of students.  Especially his love of students.  He supervised 200—200!—dissertations in the School of Education.  Gaylen died in early February 2021, at home, and surrounded by the love of his children and family.  For all the saints we give thanks.  Let us remember Dr. Gaylen Kelly.  (BELL)

We too remember his beloved bride Glenice Kelly.  Who could forget her warm Sunday morning smile, her happy, glad hearted greeting in the covenant of faith, her exuberant hug, and her enjoyment of conversation?  Married to Gaylen in the northern snows 66 years earlier, they died within hours of each other early February 2021.  As a pioneer in health and sex education, she paved the way, in days we can imagine when the trail had to be cut, to be hewn out, for such important teaching.  Her indomitable spirit was more than a match for the calling. You can see her in the third pew, pulpit side, there is Glenice, smiling and laughing and hugging and listening following worship.  For all the saints, we give thanks.  Let us remember Glenice Kelly. (BELL)

We remember Harvey Greenburg, a blind man who road to worship on the T by taking the subway to the BU central stop in front of Marsh Chapel.  A graduate of Perkins School, he repaired Steinway pianos.  Each winter, he brought piano accompaniment to a Sunday afternoon hymn singing party, graciously hosted by dear friends in Lynn MA.  Every so often the sacred melodies of Charles Wesley would receive a little rock and role riff, as Harvey extemporized.  who graciously accompanied our mid-winter afternoon hymn singing on the piano, with an occasional rock and role riff.  His love of music abides, here and now.  For all the saints we give thanks.  Let us remember Harvey Greenburg.  (BELL)

We remember Ed Mann, and his faith, his love of worship at Marsh Chapel, and his ready response to all manner of statement:  I understand. I understand.  I understand.  And you knew and felt he did.  A Math professor with a strong personal and family connection to Eastern Nazarene college, Ed came to worship early and engaged in intercessory prayer, with help toward the end from his loving children.  He came to us many years ago, and brought the stories of his own ministry in mission in Romania.  Ed lived his faith, and his faith was lived for others, a man for others.  He lived as he was raised.  Wrote Jonathan Edwards: “It is no small matter whether one habit or the other is inculcated in us from early childhood; on the contrary, it makes a considerable difference, or, rather, all the difference.” For all the saints we give thanks.  Let us remember Ed Mann.  (BELL)

Let us sing the song of these saints of God.  And let us act as well.  In grieving let us reach out by visit or voice to another who knows grief.  In remembering let us write out for another generation some central memories of our lost loved ones. In accepting, let us take the silent time of silence we need, in prayer, let us carry out the quiet.  In affirmation, let us invite another to the faith of Christ through fellowship with His people, attendance in worship at his church, and the commitments of tithing and service that are His salt and light.

As we come to the Lord’s table, our Marsh Chapel Membership secretary Ms. Sandra Cole has graciously agreed to lead us in our Litany of Remembrance.

Litany in Remembrance of Lives Lost in COVID (Led by Ms. Sandra Cole, Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary)

Leader(L):  Gracious God in whom we are all interrelated, interdependent and one in humanity

People(P):  Thou whose grace embraces all, and in whom violence to our brothers and sisters is violence unto each of us

L:  We grieve for, remember and honor those whose lives were lost last year in COVID

P:  Especially we pray for the poor, for first responders, for the public health community here and across the country, and around the globe

L:  In these troubling and tumultuous times when injustice and prejudice breed inhumanity to one another

P:  In this time of challenge and struggle, of tumult and loss

L:  May we find our way, Your Way, amid conflict, unrest and violence

P:  Teach us your ways, God of refuge and strength, the ways of love and peace

L:  Make us tender hearted and loving toward one another as your mercy rests upon those whose lives have been deeply altered by death or loss

P: Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, You are our God of refuge and strength, a present help in time of trouble

L: Gracious God, remind us that we are interrelated, interdependent and one in humanity so violence to our brothers and sisters is violence unto each of us.

P: May we find our way, Your way, in this world of conflict, unrest and violence. Teach us Your ways, oh God of refuge and strength, the ways of love and peace.

L: Make us tender hearted and loving toward one another as your mercy rest upon those whose lives have been deeply altered by death or loss.

P: You are our God of refuge and strength a present help in time of trouble.”

L: In these troubling and tumultuous times when inhumanity towards another brings tumult and destruction to our living,

P: Grant us thy peace.  Grant us thy peace.  Grant us thy peace.

L: We gather today in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, to give thanks to God, to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit,
and to proclaim the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

P: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In his baptism these were clothed with Christ; in the day of Christ’s coming, he shall be clothed in glory.

L:  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

P:  Therefor we will not fear.

L: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

P: The maker of heaven and earth.

L:  Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.
P: Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

L:  Let us pray together:

O God, who gave us birth,
You are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.
You know our needs before we ask,
and our ignorance in asking.
Show us now your grace,
that as we face the mystery of death
we may see the light of eternity.
Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are ended,
enable us to die as those who go forth to live,
so that living or dying,
our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

(BELL 5x)

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

October 31

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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John 8:31–36

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The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Good morning! Can I say what an absolute thrill it is to get to share God’s word with you today? I’m always excited to preach when the Dean offers, but to get to share those duties with my friend and colleague, Scott, discussing Luther and Bach on Reformation Sunday which also happens to be Reformation Day? It’s like the Lutheran Superbowl! I even wore my team’s colors – Red – (and insignia – the Luther Rose that appears right here on the bottom of my stole)! While I know today is another holiday observed in the US, *ahem* Halloween, October 31st will always be Reformation Day for me, first and foremost.

All kidding aside, Reformation Day is a significant marker of changes within the church and a reorientation to the personal, unmediated relationship people have with God. It is where many of our familiar forms of Protestantism find their roots, in one way or another, emphasizing the role of justification by faith and God’s unconditional gift of grace. Many of us are familiar with the general story of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of the Schloßkirche, or Castle Church, in Wittenberg. What began as a conflict with the Church over the use of  indulgences to assist people in attaining absolution, not only for themselves but for those who had died, resulted in centuries-long changes and divisions within Christianity that continue to this day. It also began a major shift in theology, emphasizing the ever-present role of God as our foundation as mediated through the Means of Grace, which for Luther are the scripture and the sacraments. The abuses of the Church were causing people to falsely put their hope in what they had to “do” to achieve salvation, straying them from the true guidepost for a life of faith, the Gospel. As we heard Dean Hill say in his sermon last week, Luther risked fracturing the Church apart for the sake of the Gospel.

One of Luther’s driving factors in challenging the church was that people’s souls were on the line. In convincing people that they had to buy indulgences to ensure salvation, the church was misdirecting and misinforming people about how salvation is attained, notably through faith, Sola Fide. Luther’s focus was not to separate the Church into factions, which is what ultimately happened, but to reform the church to a radical return to the Gospel as the guiding principle, Sola Scriptura, by scripture alone. Luther’s theological perspective removed power from human institutions, which are inherently corrupt because they are made by corrupted beings (we are all sinners), and instead emphasized that God is the only true source of power, love, and grace. God’s effort is what saves us, not our own. It is difficult to hear this in a culture that puts so much emphasis on achieving whatever you want in life if you just work hard enough. The Lutheran message of salvation Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, (scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone) squarely places responsibility for our salvation in the hands of God.

In today’s Gospel, we hear a familiar phrase, “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” Despite the fact that this line of scripture does not occur in our regular readings, we have heard it, or forms of it, echoed in our society. Hearing this quote out of context may cause us to question “what is the truth?” as some sort of abstract concept, or what are we being made free from? However, in context, Jesus all but tells the disciples and us what the Truth is. In the first half of this sentence Jesus states, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” then follows it with “you will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free.” Continuing in Jesus’ or God’s word makes one a disciple of God. The Greek word used here is “μενω” meno, which is more than just continuing to follow in Jesus’s teachings. Instead μενω indicates “abiding” in the word – accepting and remaining in relationship with Jesus who is the word. The question here is not “What is the truth?” but rather “Who is the Truth?” Abiding in God’s Word enters us into a transformative relationship with the Divine in which we come to know the Truth by having our lives completely reoriented through the radical love we encounter in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are made free through our faith, which comes in abiding in God’s word. In Luther’s language, we are justified in by our faith in Jesus Christ, made free from our sin through God’s gift of grace.

When we are set free from sin through God’s grace, we are set free to love and serve one another. One of the most common critiques of Lutheran theology is that it de-emphasizes the role that works play in the life of the Christian. Yes, Lutheran theology does say that faith and not works is what justifies us to God, but the freedom that comes from our faith and trust in God and God’s promises enables us to share love with and be in service to others. Good works flow out of a life grounded in faith. The relationship we have in trusting in the triune God transforms how we think and act in all ways in the world.  The problem with how many of us conceptualize our approach to a life of faith is that we think “God wants me to do that” as the driving factor for the decisions we make. It may very well be that God does want us to do the things we are intending, but we must be aware that we can’t do it alone. It is faith in God that supports us along the way.

Psalm 46 speaks to God’s constant support of God’s people throughout the ages. God is not only our support, but our refuge and our strength. When we fear, when we face uncertainty, God’s presence provides the security to help us continue on our way. In the Psalm, the whole world is in tumult. Natural disasters, political upheavals, and even the notion of change itself are realities that the human community has come to face time and time again, including in this passage. I’m sure many of us can relate to this feeling of chaos. It appears as if almost everything is in upheaval and the world does not feel as ordered or certain as it may have in the past. God is still with us through these times of trial, however. God remains steadfast when everything else is in a state of flux.

Many of us are experiencing fear and trepidation about what the future will hold for our communities, our country, and the world. Turning on the news, looking at the internet, or even hearing the weather report at this point can induce a sense of panic. So much has changed for us in the past year, some definitely for the better, but much that has caused us to feel alienated from the world that we once knew. We do not know what to do in facing such huge societal and global problems such as a continuing pandemic, political division, racism, bigotry, economic upheaval, and increasingly destructive natural disasters due to climate change. These issues are so large and have created so much harm that we are overwhelmed. We come together today as a community of faith to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and lay down these burdens for a while, finding sources of hope and bolstering our faith.

God’s advice to us in these times, according to the Psalmist, is to “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Be silent. Have faith. These are things you need to be a follower of God. You may remember Dean Hill’s call for us to seek out the quiet in order to feed our faith in last week’s sermon. “‘Carry out the quiet’ says Dean Hill.  You do not need endless cable TV to have a happy life. The same for email, zoom, texting, techne, all.  Carry out the quiet.  For a good life you do and will need quiet.” When we share in this stillness, this time of reflection with the Divine, we can discover the ways we abide with Jesus. We can hear the still small voice within us, helping us to see the world in a new way. Silence sustains us for action.

Psalm 46 was also the inspiration for Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress, which most will probably identify as “the” Lutheran Hymn. I believe our Music Director might have some more to tell us about “A Mighty Fortress” and how another famous composer, J.S. Bach, interpreted Luther’s original hymn and theology for BWV 80. Scott?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

(Text forthcoming)

The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Thank you, Scott. This Reformation Day, we are reminded of all the ways the Church has faced challenges in the past and have the opportunity to envision what hope we can bring to the Church of the future. In coming together today and each Sunday as a community of faith to share in God’s word, including the musical offerings we are about to hear, we are emboldened in our assuredness of our salvation through Jesus Christ. May God guide us in the spirit of this ongoing reformation, awakening, affirming, and strengthening our faith. God is our foundation, and we are constantly renewed and reformed by abiding in God’s Word. We are set free from the bondages of sin by the Truth established for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s one true Word.  Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

October 24

Your Faith Has Made You…Better

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 10: 46-52

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Son of David

Our faith can make us better if and as post-Covid we carry out the quiet.

Much of the Bible is about failure, difficulty and defeat.

Many of its stories, letters and teachings record ways people have lived with difficulty, defeat and failure.  This makes the Bible a challenge for us to understand.  For we as a people have run and swatted and laughed our way past learning the language of failure.  We don’t admit to it.  We won’t accept it.  We do not countenance it.  Even when sometimes we clearly lose, we have a hard time admitting it.  And this goes well beyond sports and politics. We forget Abraham Lincoln who in loss could say, ‘it hurts too much to laugh, but I am too old to cry.  So, sermons, this one and others, which are fumbling footnotes to Holy Scripture, hit us from the side if they hit us at all.

But by grace, it is the resurrected Christ who addresses us in the preaching of the church, in the announcement of the gospel.  The passages of the Gospel allow us safe passage into the Gospel because Jesus is present to us. Bultmann: “In all the sayings of Jesus which were reported, He speaks who is recognized in faith and worship as Messiah and Lord, and who, as the proclamation makes known his works and hands on his sayings, is actually present for the church.” (HST, 348).

This morning our blind beggar, ‘Bar Timeaus’, Tim’s son,  shouts out an unexpected nametag for Jesus.  ‘Son of David’.   To call Jesus such is to remember…failure…to remember…difficulty…to remember warnings unheeded from long ago…to remember David.  For to remember David you have to remember Saul and to remember Saul you have to remember Samuel, and so on…

Bartimaeus calls Jesus by the name of David—David the personification of millennial portent, of national pride…and of Psalm 51 failure.  Son of David!  He throws off his garment—maybe a sign of baptism—and comes naked to see if there is another chance for him.   Here is another in Mark’s ‘book of secret epiphanies’ (Dibelius\Bultmann).  His ‘faith has made him well’, a saying and a truth most precious to Martin Luther, whose Reformation we honor next Sunday, Luther who fearlessly, willfully and willingly forever splintered the unity of the church into pieces, fragments, for the sake of…the Gospel, for the sake of…betting better:  faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. (M Luther, introduction to Romans).

Our Gospel of Mark seldom uses the title, ‘Son of David’, in order that Jesus not be mistaken for the hoped-for national Messiah, the hoped-for political conqueror, the hoped for restorer of Israel.  Mark’s Jesus is known by faith, in and through failure, difficulty and defeat.   And sure enough—are you ready for faith?—here it is, good news, for us this morning, your faith has made you well.  The gift of our faith can make you, well…at least a little better than you might been otherwise.  This is the discipline of faith, discipleship made real in earnest living, in daily discipline.  You can hear the beautiful Head of the Charles regatta behind us today, but the beauty of it comes from discipline, rowing crew workouts at 5:30am on the Charles, rain or shine.  This too is BU parents’ weekend.  This parents’ weekend we can honor both our biological and our spiritual parents, both our physical and our personal mothers and fathers, who have taught us the disciplines of faith.  Of blessed memory Barbara Steen, our dear friend, in her late eighties was still making a daily list of five people to telephone.  Of blessed memory Joe Yeakel who said of ministry,  the one on one things matter most.

What Have You Learned?

Discipline is itself a reminder that life is unspeakably precious.  We learn this again in peril.  A dream hurts and astonishes us, waking us in a sweat, as we or someone we love or something we truly dream, dies.  A novel or film grip us, with a reminder that life is fragile, sacred, brief, uncanny, unfathomable, in a word, precious.  A verse of Scripture, not say that one interpreted in the sermon, but a bystander reading, a lectionary reminder, a fellow traveler in worship, Job say rather than Mark, rises up and holds us by the throat.  All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…  An accident, a car ahead hits a deer on the shoulder of the road, and we are again jolted.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels…We have this treasure in earthen vessels…We have this treasure in earthen vessels…Life is unspeakably precious.

This fall, in the close to post pandemic pileup, meetings now held, weddings rescheduled for the fourth time, a conversation about conflict postponed until face can meet face and eye can meet eye, and I can meet Thou, this fall with that vast underground of unearthed anxiety depression worry concern exhaustion dismay fury incomprehension, all of which stand us up to be reminded:  life is precious.  We are given, you are given, I am given, one day at a time, one year at a time, one season at a time, with no particular guarantees, none really, of what may not or may in fact follow.

Yet, in this precious life, also we realize, we can do this…we can do this…we can do this…It may be difficutlt, even close to awful, but we can do it.  Teaching by zoom.  Learning by zoom.   Sort of teaching, sort of learning, by zoom.  Not really teaching and not really learning by zoom.  You have survived and lived to tell the tale.  Listen to the most honest least jaded voices, elementary age students, in this case our grand children.  “My teacher piled up things in a folder and expected we would find them…I could not understand what the teacher was saying and I could not figure out how to ask what it meant…Sitting looking at that screen was just awful…it was really very stressful…My music teacher would not let us sing, saying ‘I’m not getting’ the ‘rona just so you can sing…Covid.  No fellowship before, during or after class.  No learning from or with peers.  No seminar surprises, awakenings, unexpected and unplanned encounters. Zoom kept students occupied, teachers working, and schools above water.  But at what lasting, further and future cost?  We learned that we can do things we detest, when we have to do things we detest.

And, sad to say, we have been again reminded that when the going gets toughest those on the margins have it toughest.  Under tents along the railroad track.  In encampments in one Bowery or another.  In poor homes, without more than water and some corn flakes to eat.  And bad water and leaded pipes to boot.  In tiny conditions not fit for human living, but still a roof and a sink and a sagging sofa. Panhandling for change at a highway exit, after a lifetime of employment.  In a wheel- chair in front of a thriving Dunkin’ Donuts.  Spending a first night with little children in a shelter for battered women.  Battered women.  Battered.

Or look in another direction.  Look at real estate prices.  Look at the stock market.  Look at automobile values.  Look at vacation home values.  Look at the gains, the profits, the advance in abundance and the abundance of advance, for some.  But these advances were  based on and protected and built on: 12 hour nursing shifts, burials without family and without full protection, ventilators ventilating the soon to be dead, police and fire fighters whose duties never decrease and never cease, on call for ever physicians teachers counselors clergy technicians home-health-aides salvation army food providers plumbers electricians chefs fast food workers uber-drivers janitors sewage system workers bus drivers pea pod deliverers.   And we complain that minimum wage as risen to the astronomical height of $15 an hour?  Really?

Also, we learned silence.  ‘Fear not the fallow’ said Dean Thurman.  ‘Carry out the quiet’ says Dean Hill.  You do not need endless cable TV to have a happy life. The same for email, zoom, texting, techne, all.  Carry out the quiet.  For a good life you do and will need quiet.  Pandemic for all its needless, heedless and grotesque trauma afforded, for those who would receive it, a modicum and measure of quiet.  Soon we will be dead.  Why live as if you were temporarily immortal?  You and I are not immortal, not even temporarily.  More than a fat bank account, and more than a new motorboat, and more than a raise or promotion or election or victory you need…quiet.  Carry out the quiet, from the pandemic. Our faith can make us better if and as, post-Covid, we carry out the quiet.

You need an hour a day. 8am.  You need a day a week.  Sunday.  You need a week a quarter. Thanksgiving.  You need a quarter a year, summer.  Carry out the quiet.  For a year and half, after writing and recording the sermon, there was a new hour listening to the finished recording and then another new hour listening to the broadcast, come Sunday, two new and fresh hours of golden quiet.  We became radio listeners ourselves, alongside our faithful radio congregation.  Two new hours. Golden quiet.  Golden quiet.  Quiet makes you think.  All these years, did you really need to be running to another (fruitless) meeting, stopping for another (mundane) consultation, attending another (marginal) event, traveling to another (desultory) location, attending yet another (obligatory) denominational session, serving up yet another (underappreciated) lunch or dinner or social or gathering?    Carry out the quiet.  Especially if you are an extrovert, or even an extreme extrovert, carry out the blessed quiet from COVID, carry out the quiet.  It is the basinet of faith, and your faith can make you, if not well, at least, well…better.  By the time we became truly comfortable with Covid quiet, loneliness, and stillness, it had ended.  But it carried a lasting and an authentic question of faith, within the divine gift of faith, a kind of healing unto spiritual sight, a kind of healing unto spiritual sight.  Can you carry out of pandemic a purposeful respect for quiet?  Can I? Especially now.  For the preacher, like the artist, and for the life of faith for all in all, ‘in times of crisis and great injustice some inner distance from the maelstrom is required’ (repeat) (Mark Lilla).

Shimmering Beauty

Your faith makes you…better.  And we are better when we carry out the quiet, day by day.

For some of the summer, we rely on NPR radio alone, its classical music and occasional weather and news, as our only technological engagement with the wider world.  At first, the abstinence from all other is jarring.  But then. Alone in the earlier mornings, when the fitful restlessness of work life gradually abates, as it can over time if we give it time, as Anne Murrow Lindbergh reminded us, sometimes there is quiet, and in the quiet, sometimes, there is a momentous moment.

The announcer said something about Debussy, whom you may remember from required (back in the days of required courses) college introduction to music.  We sat on a carpet and listened and were tested later on baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and contemporary music.  Debussy.  The French name made a mark.

Then onto the radio waves came a light, flowing harp beauty.  It was a shimmering beauty, light and alluring, quiet, gentle, unlike really anything one could remember hearing before.  The host named the piece as an Arabesque, perhaps the second such from Debussy, though we may have mistaken that.  The lake breeze lifted the notes, and there was throughout the room for a few fine minutes a shimmering beauty.

Like its cousins, truth and goodness, such a beauty leaves a mark, makes a lasting mark, a beauty mark you could say.  Time stops.  Imagination awakens.  Troubles recede.  You are caught up in something larger than yourself, as sometimes happens in religious experience too.  Even in church.  Even in the course of head of the Charles parents’ weekend sermon meant to remind you that your faith has made, can make you…better.

In this music, it seemed to this untrained ear, there rose and fell a kind of oriental melody, a lightness, a veiled impression.  And it seemed that the better person to listen was the non-musician, the kind of person listening in that moment, who has no musical education, other than that incurred through a short course, spouse, family, and various church musicians.

It is the ear, often, rather than the eye, voice rather than face, the audible invisible, that carries an uncanny power.  The triumph of the invisible over the visible.  The voice remains with us.

And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?  And the blind man said to him, ‘Master let me receive my sight’.  And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well’. 

May faith make us well…or at least a little better.

Our faith can make us better if and as post-Covid we carry out the quiet.

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

October 17

Servant Leader

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 10: 35-45

Click here to hear just the sermon

Friday on the walk into the office a dear friend caught up and came alongside to walk along with me.  As friends do.  Coming alongside that is, walking with us that is.  The luxurious, languid autumn of New England this year allows more outdoor conversation.  The river to the right, the buildings old and new to the left, with students and faculty kicking up some leaves along the way.

We had not seen each other to talk since Covid.  We talked about exercise and failing knees, about what we done or not in the pandemic.  Outdoors, no distance, no mask, no immediate existential worry.  Just two friends, a while apart and now again together again.  What a simple joy, an authentic moment in the midst of various forms of service.  He like many at this good University has given simple, authentic service, servant leadership, over many years.

He then told me that in Covid he would come alone to the Chapel, now and then.  You have heard me say already and many times that the very best thing we do at Marsh is–nothing:  we do nothing, we unlock and open the doors and let people come in, bask in the beauty of the nave, sit, relax, snooze, meditate, pray.  Yes, he said.  I know he said.  One day, he continued, I was getting up to leave and decided I would take a video on my phone of—nothing.  A video of the empty church.  A video of the quiet nave.  A video of stone and glass and wood and all.  He said, I timed it to one minute.  So that, every day, when I wanted to, though I was miles away from BU and Marsh, I could return, return to the simple, the authentic, the quiet.  Thank you, he said.  It was nothing, I responded, truly nothing, I replied.  It was nothing.  And that is the best thing we do.  Nothing.

Carrying some quiet then from Covid, we meet Jesus this morning on the hinges of the earliest Gospel, as the flow of the Gospel continues to swing from Lord to apostles. In the announcement of this good news is included a measure of empowerment for each one of us. This is the kind of day on which, for once, for the first time, or for once in a long time, we may be seized by a sense of divine nearness. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven has come near to you. When that sentence makes a home in a heart, or in the heart of a community, a different kind of life ensues.

Now faith may come like a blinding light on the Road to Damascus.  It may.  But most of the time it rather comes one stumble, one step, one stop at a time.  One step.  One step on the walk of faith, wherein it helps to have a friend alongside.  As a person of faith.  Take a step a day, a step a week.  Health, healing, salvation, salvus, wellness, wellbeing come in small doses, occasional, discreet, bit by bit. Some like Paul are blinded by a moment on the road to Damascus. Most of us though are seized in faith, brought to healing, in a gradual way, over time, as my teacher of blessed memory Fr. Raymond Brown was used to say. Not lightening but enlightening and enlightened day by day. Sermon by sermon we could say. One step at a time. The Gospels tell us so, whatever the Epistles may opine. Faith comes one step at a time.  This week can you take a step in faith? The step this week may just be toward simple, authentic service, akin to that of the Lord Christ, Servant Leader?

One step in faith comes in service.  The considered use of influence, of leadership, in service.  The Gospel today tells us that authentic authority, real responsibility are a matter of the heart. What are your models for this?  Do they include at least a little simplicity, a little steady service?  Can you take one step, a step this week, a step of faith, in some manner of service?

It is intriguing that the Gospel lessons about living, in Mark, are set in the humble reaches of the lake country of Galilee. Writing in Rome in trouble in 70AD, there must have been some comfort, some folkloric encouragement for the persecuted urban Christians in these polished memories of Jesus teaching along the shores of Galilee. There is beauty along the lake. There is calm along the lake. There is peace along the lake. There is serenity along the lake. Along the lake there is space and time to sift, reminisce, remember, sort.  The still waters still restore the soul to stillness.   The regatta, later this month, outside our Chapel, at the head of the Charles, in its pristine beauty and vigorous discipline, will bring a kind of peace, too.

Yet, though our lesson is ostensibly set in the country, up in the north country lake region, make no mistake:  these few phrases are crafted in urban Christianity.

Our Gospel lesson today is a place where the priority, of Mark, is clear.  Mark is the earliest gospel.  Notice how his successors cringe at his composition.  Most tellingly, Matthew removes the selfish request from the lips of the disciples, and has their mother ask!  But then Matthew still has Jesus respond to the disciples!

Luke simply erases the passage, and so ‘spares the twelve’.  They too knew the embarrassment of some ranges of inherited Scripture, as we do too when troubling passages arise:  what is your sense of the most offensive? John, the Jews? Psalms, and the revenge therein? Genesis, rape and violence? The full story of David (not a children’s story)? The household codes in Colossians, and the NT assumption of slavery and of patriarchy? it is a long list. These readings come around and we mutter, ‘Is this really necessary?’  In that spirit, Luke simply erased the today’s passage, 15 years later.

For Mark is determined to show that the disciples, as do many in his own church, intentionally miss the point.  The point?  There is no real greatness, there is no real leadership, there is no service worthy of the name, without humility, none without some anxiety, some suffering, none without pain, none without public rebuke, none without the patience of Job (who today hears the crushing voice of the Lord from the whirlwind) none without a caring heart for those who experience the consequences of decisions which others make.  If, in your work, you have seen humility, known suffering, felt pain, had rebuke, summoned patience, found empathy—for all the cost, take heart.  You have taken a step, one step, a step in faith.  Good.

Here also in Mark 10 we have a strange reference to ‘glory’. The intonation of glory is a clue that we are reading from years after Golgotha.  The stark reference to the cup of sorrow bears a memory of Golgotha.  The knowing, and the counter knowing of the question about baptism, and its portents reveals the hurt of Golgotha.   The shadow of grief that darkens this discourse is the shadow of the Cross of Christ. And the final phrase is unmistakable in its reference:  to give his life as a ransom for many.  And this, this cost, this cost of discipleship is ever a steep hill to climb, a hard lesson to learn or teach.

“The basic inability of the disciples to grasp or accept Jesus’ concept of messiahship or its corollary, suffering discipleship, becomes reflected more and more in their total relationship to Jesus.  The conflict over the correct interpretation of messiahship widens into a general conflict and misunderstanding in almost every area of their relationship” (Weeden).

Yet there is a true kind of encouragement here, for us, as we take one step in faith.  Our Gospel records the misunderstandings of the disciples, and their reluctance quickly or easily to comprehend in full the nature of faith.  It takes them time.  That should reassure us.  It took them time.  And it takes us time.  It takes one step at a time.  But that one step can bring an opening to faith.

You may come to a morning hour, even this one, in which you sense a new opening, a desire to live a life that makes you smile, that makes others smile, that makes God smile. Step by step it may be, you may become kinder, happier, more generous, more forgiving. This is the purpose of being alive, to speak and act and be in a way that brings a smile to the divine countenance.  In your own life of service, of work, even of leadership, there may emerge, may be wrought, a fuller, a more authentic, a simpler way.  A step toward servant leadership is a step, one step, in faith.

Think of the Shaker community.  In their work, their dress, their furniture, their devotion, their relations, the Shakers lived simply. The heart of their simplicity, and ours at our best, is the desire to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called”. Every renewal in Christian history has had this feature: Paul mending tents, Augustine chaste again, Luther and Erasmus cleansing Rome, Wesley and his coal miners and class meetings, the Civil Rights movement with its various and contending interpretations today, the Latin American base communities, and every spiritual nudging in our own very human church.

There is an authority that is visible in every person who has found the freedom of vocation, the freedom to live with abandon.  Look around at the windows in this charming Chapel, following worship, and you will see the faces of women and men who found an authentic simplicity, a way to live with abandon, to take oneself lightly and so fly, like the angels.  They learned, over time, to model a daily heartfelt affirmation of the shared good, the common good, the communal good.

Mark 10:35 is one of the spots in the earliest gospel at which the emerging institutional needs of the church are visible.  And Christianity wrestled with institutional, formational questions in the first century:  For whom is the gospel? What are the definitive texts? And especially, who shall hold authority?  What, How, Where. And Who?  That should reassure us too.  They struggled to make things go right in shared, communal, institutional life.  And so do we.  They resisted triangles, they reached for I and Thou relationships.  And so do we.

As this passage shows, from the outset it has been terribly difficult for the Christian church to maintain its own authentic form of authority, over against the lesser models abroad in every age. Notice and emphasize in your hearing the little phrase, slave of all, or servant of the whole. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” said Paul.

In a time like ours, the very real fears of pollution, pandemic, politics, prejudice and pain tend to shove us toward a fearful taste for authoritarianism, here and around the globe.  The fears of the day and night can make us afraid of freedom, our birthright, and inclined to align with authoritarianism at all levels, including at the highest ones.  Be careful here.

A few years ago, my friend Charles Rice spoke of service, and of the minister as  the servant of the servants of God. He told about an Easter when he was in Greece. He sat in the Orthodox Church and watched the faithful in devotions. There was a great glassed icon of Christ, to which, following prayers, women and men would move, then kneel.  Then as they rose they kissed the glassed icon and moved on.

Every so often a woman dressed in black would emerge from the shadows with some cleanser, or windex, and a cloth and –psh, psh—would clean the image—phs, phs–making it clear again.  A servant of the servants of God, washing away the accumulated piety before her.  Maybe that is part of what we hope for come Sunday, a gentle washing away of accumulated piety, to make room for what is real and what is authentic and what is not simplistic but bright and simple.

My friend had a revelation about service and power and authority and leadership. As he watched the woman in black cleaning the icon, he realized that this was what ministry was meant to be: a humble daily washing away from the face of Christ of all that obscured, all that distorted, all that blocked others from seeing truth, goodness and beauty. Including a lot of piety.  Including pretense and presumption and position.  And such service, service that lasts, is both deliberate and also deliberative, it is steady, one step at a time.

Think of someone you have known who provided heartfelt service to the servants of God.  Steady, sincere, even suffering service.  Think of someone who helped you once when you needed help.

Every one of us has some influence, some leadership. If you have a pen, a telephone, a computer, email, a tongue, a household, a family, a job, a community, a church—then you have some authority. The question, one that provokes a response and that then allows us to take a step forward is just this:  how will you use, render, apply, shape and offer the authority you have?  Just how will you use the authority you have?

Our gospel today suggests a response.  A simple passion for the common good of the servants of God is at the heart of servant leadership.

Here is leadership:  simple, authentic service.  Here is leadership:  simple, authentic service.  Here is leadership:  simple authentic service.

For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Faith comes one step at a time.  This week: can you take a step in faith toward simple, authentic service, akin to that of the Lord Christ, the Servant Leader?

Faith comes one step at a time.  This week: can you take a step in faith toward simple, authentic service, akin to that of the Lord Christ, the Servant Leader?

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

October 10

Jesus’ Second Favorite Topic, Paul’s Favorite Verb

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 10:17–27

Click here to hear just the sermon

Jesus is setting out on a journey to Judea when he is interrupted by a stranger.  A man runs up to him, kneels at his feet, calls him “Good Teacher”, and asks him a question:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus responds:  ”Why do you call me good?  Only God is good, and you already know the Commandments.”  The man says, “I’ve been fulfilling these commandments for years.”  Then Jesus tells him to do one more thing, the one thing he hasn’t done:  he is to sell what he owns and give the money to the poor.  And when he’s done that, he can come and follow Jesus as a disciple.  The man, who is shocked and grieved by this answer because he has many possessions, leaves without further ado.  Then Jesus turns to the disciples, and tells them that it is very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, so hard that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples are perplexed, and disbelieving:  “Then who can be saved?” they ask.  Jesus tells them that for mortals it is impossible to save a rich person, but not for God.  For God, all things are possible.

Money is Jesus’ second-favorite topic in the Gospels.  He talks about it more than any other subject except for the subject of prayer.  This story of a rich man and Jesus at first glance seems to have a fairly straightforward point:  If you want to get into the Kingdom of God, if you want to follow Jesus, you have to give your possessions away to the poor.  But there are aspects of this story that are not straightforward, that reveal Jesus and those who come to him in new ways, ways that are very Markan in their upset of the prevailing social and religious norms.

First, we have noted before that in Mark, it is strangers, often desperate strangers, who recognize Jesus for who he is, who he is for them.  The man in this story is devout, following the commandments of his faith for years.  Yet something is missing.  He lives a good life, he is a good person, and yet whatever he means by “eternal life” eludes him.  He wants it so much, he must know what he must do.  And when he sees Jesus in the street, he runs to him and falls at his feet and recognizes him as “Good Teacher”.  Then he asks Jesus to teach him how to inherit – an interesting word – how to inherit that which eludes him.

Jesus responds by telling him he knows what to do, and the man responds that he has been doing all that for years, with the clear implication that he still does not feel that he has inherited eternal life.

And here is where things take a turn.  Jesus looks at this man and loves him.  It is Jesus who recognizes something about the man that he, Jesus, wants to encourage.  So, like a good teacher, he tells the man what he needs.  Eternal life is not inherited, like money or possessions from a family member.  If fact, money and possessions might get in the way.  In order to experience eternal life, this man will need to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, so that he will be able to receive a different, heavenly treasure.  And when he has done that, Jesus says, he can come and follow Jesus as a disciple.  The man is shocked.  What kind of answer is this?  It is not an easy thing even to consider, even to discuss.  He goes away grieving at the choice the Good Teacher has given him:  his possessions, or eternal life.

Jesus then turns to the disciples and lays it out for them:  it is very difficult for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God, to experience eternal life.  The disciples are at first perplexed.  They don’t even understand what Jesus is saying.  Then they are astounded – how can riches and all that comes with them be a problem?  If riches are a problem, who can be saved?  Jesus tells them they are right to ask that.  With mortals it is impossible for riches to be an unalloyed good – as Amos reminds us in our text this morning.   Only with God can riches be just a good, a way to the Kingdom.

Now Paul is not rich, even though he is a citizen of Rome as well as of Israel.  Instead, he has been raising money for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and also is starting a journey from Corinth to Jerusalem to deliver that money.  After that he plans to go to Rome to invite the church there to sponsor his mission to Spain.  So before he leaves Corinth he writes the letter to the church at Rome to introduce himself and his work.  The letter centers on the fact that salvation and justification – or being in right relationship to God – both come through faith, faith  in Christ.  He urges the Romans to hold fast to faith in Christ, and not to the works of the law, and he makes the point that the freedom that Christ gives does not absolve believers from responsibility to others and does not absolve them from God’s law and God’s will.  Paul also writes that the journey from Jerusalem will be dangerous, as he is once more in trouble with the religious authorities of both church and temple.  So he doesn’t really know wen he will arrive.

And indeed it is a dangerous and time-consuming journey:  Paul is arrested in Jerusalem, and is taken in charge by the Romans.  He then undergoes trial by the Jewish religious authorities, took a journey to defend himself before the Roman governor, spent two years under the equivalent of house arrest, undergoes a trial and defense before the new Roman governor, and finally he appeals to the Emperor for a hearing, as was his right as a Roman citizen. Then, before he was taken to the Emperor, he had to defend himself before King Agrippa, and only after that was  he taken to the ship to begin the journey to the Emporer.

On that journey, there was a terrific storm, the ship was wrecked, and Paul spent three more months in Malta.  After another week or so Paul arrived in Rome, in the chains of a prisoner and in Roman military custody, but allowed to preach and teach without restraint for two years, and finally to meet the church to which he introduced himself in his letter.

Now even before he wrote to the church at Rome from Corinth, Paul’s life was one of adventure, conflict, and danger.  So it is perhaps not a surprise that Paul’s favorite verb is “endure”.  “Endure” derives from the Latin in durare, which means “to harden”, and “endure” itself means “to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding”, “to regard with acceptance or tolerance”, “to continue in the same state”, “to keep doing something difficult, unpleasant, or painful for a long time”.

We can relate.  We have endured a great deal over the last year and a half, and counting.  Maybe not trials and shipwrecks, but certainly a degree of what felt like imprisonment and isolation for a very long time.  It almost made it worse to know that this was world-wide, that the pandemic made it so that there was no escape, no place other we could go.  We have also endured political upheavals, the fires and floods of global climate change, the present traumatic revelations of ongoing violent injustices to people already historically repressed for generations. Not to mention the deaths of loved ones, friends, and colleagues, economic instability, and inequality of access to economic and medical relief.  And there is no end to any of this in sight, as these circumstances have not changed, and don’t look to change any time soon.  It seems our endurance will have to continue for a while.  It is a hard state of being, to continue to endure.

The reason Paul can encourage us to endure so often is that he does not see it as an isolated action.  Its result, endurance, is produced by something, and itself produces something else, and that something else produces something else, and so on.  Endurance is part of a process in the life of faith, which reveals God at work in us in love, toward peace and grace and glory.  This process begins with suffering.

Suffering here is not something to be avoided – in fact, for many reasons even in the life of faith, it is unavoidable.  Paul even says that we can boast in our sufferings, knowing that it is in them that God works with us in the process of reconciliation with God, and so with the process of reconciliation with ourselves and with our neighbor.  Even if we are not at the point of boasting about our sufferings, as one of my mentors used to say, we should not waste them.  We can learn from them, explore them, find out what we want instead, let them produce the endurance that will keep us going over the long haul.

In faith, that endurance produces character – the particular combination of qualities in a person that makes them different from others.  And it is that kind of character – produced through endurance out of suffering – it is that kind of character in a person or group of people that produces hope.  This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into us by the Holy Spirit.  And God’s love for us is proven in the fact that Christ died for us even when we were still caught up in sin, died for us even when we were still God’s enemies.  And, now that we are reconciled to God, God’s love is proven through Christ’s life, which teaches us how to live through our sufferings to hope.

Which brings us back to our story of Jesus and the man with enough money to have many possessions.  One of the real challenges, even sufferings, of the last eighteen months or so has been to come to grips with the fact that money, or the lack of it, so definitively determined people’s experiences of this time.  To have money, or not, determined the kind of experiences that people had and so the kind of endurance that people had to develop.  Money, or not, even determined the number of choices that people had so as to retain some semblance of control over their lives.  Money, or not, even determined the ability that people had to live rather than die.

Now these disparate experiences of money and the power it can grant have been around for a long time.  Some of these tensions between different experiences around money and power from long ago remain with us this weekend.  Traditionally this weekend has been a time to honor and celebrate Christopher Columbus as an explorer/adventurer, and by extension to honor and celebrate explorers/adventurers in general.  These were people who had the money and power to travel here, to new places unknown to them, money and power to insert themselves into these new places and their new experiences, and money and power to insert themselves into the lives of other people to whom they were strange and who were strange to them.  These explorer/adventurers certainly had much to endure:  ocean voyages in wooden sailing ships about the size of this chancel were long, messy, dirty, prone to disease, plagued by storms and heat, and often boring when they were not full of peril.  We remember their courage to face their unknown in the face of hardship and danger.  And, there was the adventure, the new and different, the opportunity for gain of all kinds, and welcome when they returned home from what was to them a voyage of discovery in large measure a choice of a voyage of discovery to them.  The endurance required of the explorers/adventurers was of the kind limited to the conditions and length of the expedition.

Increasingly many people now acknowledge that the people and places the explorer/adventurers encountered were not “discovered” at all.  They were already here:  the people were indigenous to the places, were deeply settled in the places and had been for a while, and had highly developed customs and cultures and systems and networks and spiritual awareness.  As a result of this contemporary acknowledgement of these realities, many people feel it is appropriate to honor and celebrate these indigenous peoples, whose endurance developed to be very different from that of the explorer/adventurers, due to the many negative results of their encounters with the explorers/adventurers,  and whose endurance has had to last so much longer through so many more generations, and counting, of settler colonialism.  The Boston University calendar marks tomorrow as Indigenous Peoples Day, a Boston University holiday on which to reflect, to remember indigenous peoples with ceremony and celebration.

Now for us all, on top of the experiences of the last eighteen months, while it has been going on for a while, the recent Pandora revelations have underscored the fact that, world-wide, access to money – and thus access to power – is becoming more and more limited for more and more people, while more and more money – and thus power – is being hoarded by fewer and fewer people.  In our story today, the man with many possessions is shocked and grieving when he realizes that he has to make a choice – his possessions are getting in the way, and he cannot have both them and the eternal life he also wants so much.  We too are shocked and grieving, and there is anger and resentment too, as we are astounded at the increasing number and sweep of the choices we will have to make, at the hard allocation decisions around our possessions of resources, money, and time we will have to make if we are to live physically on earth as well as eternally in heaven, at the increasingly limited time in which we have to make decisions before important options are by definition off the table.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed, easy to feel as if it is impossible to do anything.  A good end to all this is not yet clear.

We do not know what the man with many possessions decided.  Nor do we know if Paul ever had the chance to appeal to the Emperor.  And, their stories are still stories of hope.  Jesus loved the man with many possessions, and taught him what he needed to do to attain what he wanted so much. Then Jesus invited him to companions and provision and more things to learn and do with Jesus and companions, and a life of faith and yes, eternal life, after he had done that one last necessary thing.  And while the man went away shocked and grieving, he did not dismiss out of hand the idea of selling his possessions for the poor and following Jesus.  He may have started on the way to changing his mind about what was really important, and about what he thought he knew about the world.  He now might see new possibilities for himself and others, and act on them.

As for Paul, he had not only endured and survived, but had come to see the life of faith in Jesus as a process, which reveals the love of God for us in all our circumstances, from suffering through to the hope that does not disappoint.

We can take these stories to our hope too.  This last Friday on the PBS Newshour there was an interview with the great African-American dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones about his latest work, “Deep Blue Sea”.  At the end of the interview he noted that “Art … might not take away all of people’s pain, but it might do something else, which is just as good:  give people a context in which they can endure.”  Art does indeed do that,  and, even more for us as believers, it is faith that gives us the unifying context for all the others in which we can endure.  Faith in Jesus, who loves us and recognizes what is important in us and will encourage us.  Faith in Jesus whose life embodies the Gospel and who through his life teaches us what is necessary for a life that is both earthly and eternal.  Faith in the love of God for us even when we sin or are confused, the love that supports us in our suffering, endurance, character building, and hope – all the circumstances of our lives.  Faith that God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, will also lead us to make good decisions, even about money and power, so that we can endure to meet our challenges even in our time, with grace and flourishing.  So may we hold fast to our faith, and so keep faith with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and all of creation.  For with God, all things are possible.


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

October 3

Boston University Baccalaureate for the Class of 2020

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Click here to view the full service

Click here to listen to the Baccalaureate Address only

This year’s Baccalaureate speaker is Yolanda Kakabadse, former president of the World Wildlife Fund International (WWF).

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.