A Basket of Summer Fruit

July 21st, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:38-42

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A Basket of Summer Fruit

Beloved, it is so good to be back in Marsh Chapel. My deepest thanks to Dean Hill for the invitation to stand in this pulpit again, to Ray and Heidi for the logistics and hospitality, and Jess and Victoria and Justin for their leadership and organization of the liturgy this morning. It is good to be worshipping with you again as we meditate this warm summer morning on a basket of summer fruit. 

You might have memories of summer fruit, of those ripened, sunburst, sweet moments of summer joy and delight. Call them to the mind’s eye for a moment. 

My memory wanders back to when I was a kid, and we would spend a few precious days every summer in Wells Beach, Maine, staying at my grandmother’s small cottage at the end of a dead end road two short blocks from the beach. Our days were filled with swimming and boogie boarding in the icy waters whose temperature hovered right around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (sounds nice on a day like today, right?) My parents and aunts and uncles would allow all of the cousins to swim until our lips turned blue or our teeth chattered. Then, we would be yanked out of the water and warmed up in fluffy beach towels until we had pinked up enough to splash right back in. We would walk along the beach, searching for sand dollars in the shallows. We would carefully crawl around tidal rocks, peeking under barnacled stones to see snails and starfish. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, we would retreat to a flat boulder we called the boat rock, begging to stay long enough to be splashed by the seawater as it rushed around us before retreating to higher ground. We would track sand back to the cottage, hose down our feet, and scarf down hot dogs and fried clams, and, for one single glorious meal each year, a shiny red lobster, which we would crack into with messy delight. We would spend hours curled up in an old slip covered chair reading the best in children’s fiction. I met Aslan in that chair, learned the secret about Severus Snape, followed a hobbit to a misty mountain, all bathed in the warmth of the summer sun. 

Once, perhaps twice, we would wrangle some quarters from an adult and would walk to the shockingly painted teal blue arcade, to trade those quarters for a few precious tickets, which we would pool and save and never spend, hoping for that day, untold years hence, when we might have the 3,000 tickets to buy the giant stuffed animal or cheap electronic device. Once, perhaps twice, we would pile into the car and run circles around the giant wooden sign at the Scoop Deck, which listed some 50+ homemade ice cream flavors, and we would shriek from delight and from the sugar high as we devoured waffle cones the size of our heads, piled high with peppermint stick ice cream or triple chocolate fudge and eating our way down to the delicate mini marshmallow at the bottom of the cone, which held the ice cream in and kept the whole contraption together. We would make a tremendous mess. Once, perhaps twice, we would wander the halls of an antiques hall that held about as much junk as antiques. We would stare at old tools, and mishandle vintage toys, and gawk at costume jewelry, and we would try to restrain ourselves from touching anything too breakable. Once, perhaps only once, we would light sparklers after dark and dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light at the end of our fingertips. 

When you call to your mind your own sunburst moments of joy and delight, what summer fruit comes to mind? Perhaps it is a quiet lake, a wooded path, bursting forth to a mountain view. Perhaps it is a field of strawberries, plucked, and a warm kitchen of jarring jam. Perhaps it is the strains of an outdoor concert and the comfort of a blanket spread on the ground. What comes to mind that looks, smells, sounds, tastes, like a basket of summer fruit?

These moments are precious because they seem, because they are both endless and terribly fleeting. A basket of summer fruit. Amos understood this in choosing the image of summer fruit at the outset of a prophecy about divine judgment for unfair labor practices, condemning those who trample the needy, boost prices, and cheat with dishonest scales. We don’t see it as clearly in English, but there is a word play in the Hebrew here between the word for summer fruit and the end. They are a half a thought apart. So, too, are fruit and fruition, ends and eternities. And we know this from experience to be true, right? This is just the time of summer when we both bask in its endlessness and begin to feel that creeping sense that it is somehow, already, almost over. Children know this, deep in their bones; they can feel when school looms. Tiny sun-filled strawberries fade quickly, sunburst wild blueberries wither, peaches and nectarines overripen into mush. 

The life of faith lived in community teaches us to appreciate those summer moments of joy, both endless and always ending. This is the lesson that we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Mary’s meditative focus on the joy of encounter with the divine. To savor our summer fruits.

The life of faith lived in community also teaches us about the labor it takes to enjoy such summer fruit. This is the lesson we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Martha’s labor to make space for joy. There is another way to tell the story of this idyllic, childlike wondrous scene. You who have been what my fellow millennials call #adulting for a little or a long time know this well, too. 

After all, that two block jaunt to the beach required lugging supplies to keep us kids happy and healthy; chairs, towels, sunblock, boogie boards, umbrella, more towels, snacks, drinks, a cooler, plastic shovels and buckets for playing in the sand. Our tiny arms could carry some things, but the adults often ended up checking the list and carrying the majority of the burden. An adult, too, without the circulation of the very young, would need to freeze alongside us in the ocean, splashed with that 60 degree Fahrenheit water, to make sure that we didn’t swim too deep and that we didn’t catch hypothermia. An adult, too, would have towels ready and then remind us to reapply sunscreen. An adult would precariously balance alongside us on the tidal rocks, tending to scrapes from the barnacles and protecting the wildlife from being permanently transplanted from their homes. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, an adult would patiently move all of the beach luggage, once, twice, thrice, away from the water, and ultimately, would wade waist deep to rescue us from the boat rock as the tide became too high and our shrieks of delight turned to shrieks of fear. An adult would beg us to rinse off our feet and spend an hour sweeping all of the sand that made it in the house anyway at the end of the week. 

Those hot dogs didn’t cook themselves, and someone needed to stand in line at the lobster pound and the ice cream parlor, to clean up the detritus of the seafood feast and the dribbles of melted ice cream, and someone had to do all those dishes. So many dishes. Grown-ups, too, would want a few precious moments to read in the warmth of the summer sun, or to wander around an antique shop without worrying whether they’d need to pay for a broken vase, and maybe, once all of the above work had been done, they too, could enjoy the taste of summer fruits. 

 

Martha and Mary, Mary and Martha. There are two ways that this gospel story is usually preached. Sometimes these two followers of Jesus are abstracted into ways of living in faith. Mary the contemplative, Martha the activist. Both are needed.

But sometimes these two women are treated as stereotypical characters in a vacation drama. After all, this story falls in the middle of the Lukan travel narrative. There are pitfalls ahead for the lazy preacher on a lazy summer Sunday. Mary and Martha are too easily pitted against one another, rivals for Jesus’s attention and favor. It’s too easy to portray Martha as an overworked housewife, complaining about Mary not helping out in the kitchen. In too many sermons, I have heard this story preached in this way, with the final message, geared far too often to women, “Don’t worry so much, everything is fine, try to relax and not stress so much.” 

Women who hear this story preached in this way often get frustrated. Feminist biblical scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza paints a vivid picture of how women hear these lazy exegetes. When women hear sermons like this, women who make a congregation run, especially in a church that is so often sustained by women, who teach vacation bible school, brew coffee, clean altar linens, plant flowers, organize fundraisers, call those who are shut in at home, who “do all of this often without ever receiving a ‘thank you,’ [they get frustrated.] They therefore identify with Martha who openly complains. They resent Jesus who seems to be ungrateful and unfair in taking Mary’s side. But they repress this resentment [it is Jesus after all] and vent it against other women who, like Mary, have abandoned the traditional feminine role.” 

To preach this passage as a “chill out” message to women too busy with household chores is a misreading of the text, a myopic telling of this story as only about Martha and Mary’s gender, and a misunderstanding of what it means to find faith in community. Instead, we need to reconsider what this pause for respite, this moment of hospitality, can mean for the life of faith in community. 

Two lessons from Luke help us to read this passage to sustain and nourish the life of faith lived in community. First, since we are in the Lukan travel narrative, we need to remember that the disciples are sent out in pairs; at the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus was sending out the seventy to teach, heal, and preach. Disciples come in pairs in Luke, and they are not sent out as polarized lessons for the church pitted against one another, they are sent out to work together for the sake of the gospel. So the story of Martha is not about a hostess too busy in the kitchen to enjoy her Jesus party; no, these are two disciples doing the work of discipleship. Martha has questions about the work of faith. To be sure, she is anxious about that work, but this is not only about worrying about who does the dishes, no she is anxious about about the partnership of ministry, about hospitality, abut diakonia, about the service work that makes the community of faith the community of faith. And her question to Jesus, a fair one, is how to work together in partnership to accomplish all that needs doing for community to thrive. Jesus’s answer, then, is not a rebuke of the work, this is no patronizing reminder to chill out, but rather, a reminder that making space for transformative divine encounter is the point of the community of faith. Martha’s question, too, reminds us that on this earth and in this life, it takes labor to make space for joy.

Which brings me to my second point. I’ve always wondered in this passage where all the other disciples were. After all, where were the rest of the disciples, anyway? They seem to follow Jesus just about everywhere. They were there just a moment ago reporting on their work and having a little tête a tête with Jesus. They’ll reappear again in just a moment, in just a few verses. just in time to be taught the Lord’s prayer. So where are Peter, and James, and John, and the others? Were they off in the backyard drinking a beer while dinner was made and the dishes were done? If you look through the gospels, you’ll find that the male apostles seem pretty helpless, especially when it comes to fixing meals. Jesus himself has to step up more than once to put dinner on the table, whether that is through miraculous multiplication of loaves, or grilling the fish on the shore after the resurrection. Jesus shares in the labor of the community of faith, but the disciples often don’t. Can you imagine the disciples can’t even cook breakfast for themselves and Jesus after the resurrection? This passage, and the glaring absence of the disciples, reminds us that we need the whole community of faith to do the work to make space for joy. 

So sometimes, I picture in my mind’s eye this scene from Luke 10:38-42. Mary is speaking with Jesus, and Martha is stuck with all the work of hospitality, all of the work of discipleship, all of the work of the community of faith. Desperate for a little help, she comes through the doorway, squints as her eyes adjust to the outside light, and asks Jesus for Mary’s assistance. Jesus reminds her about the joy of divine encounter. “What Mary has chosen shall not be taken away from her,” he says. Martha stares, a small furrow forming at her brow, ready to ask a follow up, but Jesus continues, “Martha, you are worried, there is only need of one thing.” And Jesus stops and stares, pointedly, through the door, at Peter, and James, and John, and the other disciples laughing inside. They fall silent. Jesus repeats, a little more loudly this time “There is only need of one thing.” The disciples get up, put down their drinks, and begin to set the table for dinner and start doing some of the dishes. Martha smiles, and Mary laughs. 

Beloved, there is only need of one thing. Transformative divine encounter. The role of the community of faith, the life of faith lived out in community, is to make space for the joy of divine encounter. And, beloved, it takes work to make space for the joy of divine encounter. That is the work not of any one of us, but of the community. Faith in community makes space for all of us to share both the joy and the work of divine encounter. To share the labor and the harvest of a basket of summer fruit. To share in the endless and always ending sweetness of this life in preparation for eternity. 

I now know, as an adult, just how much work went into those sunburst summer vacations in Maine. But I also know, as an adult, how to see, if you looked at just the right angle, the same childlike joy in the faces of the kids and grownups alike. Joy would spread like wildfire among the adults while watching the kids dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light with their sparklers. And sometimes the whole family, even the adults, would dance alongside the children, if only to keep them from burning their fingers. Beloved, that is faith in community.  

Amen. 

-The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley 

Bearing Fruit

July 14th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:25-37

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Bearing Fruit

Good morning! It’s good to be back with all of you here at Marsh Chapel. Summer is here and I am so glad. For me, summer means a slower pace, a time to relax and recharge. At a place like BU, the school year can be hectic, so by the time we hit June and July, it’s wonderful to have a moment to catch our breath, take stock of the previous academic year, and prepare for what the next year will offer.

Summer is also a time for travel and new experiences. Some of us are fortunate enough to have the means to take vacations from our regular lives and see new places or at least take a break from our places of work for a little while. But travel brings its own set of challenges – air travel requires you to be at the airport hours before your departure, remembering to take all of the liquids out of your carry-on bag before going through screening, lines after lines after lines of people all anxious to get their travel started in the most expedient way possible. This week, I read an article that confirmed what many of us already observe – air travel affects us emotionally and physically. Cabin pressures can cause some strange changes, like affecting our sense of taste, leading more people to crave or enjoy tomato juice on a plane than they do on the ground. The pressure inside cabins can also affect our mood – we can become more anxious, less friendly, and experience more tension because of decreased oxygen levels. Add on to that the stress of traveling to new places, individual fears and anxieties around travel, the cost of travel and/or vacations, and in some cases, broken forms of transportation and communication that can lead to frustration and all out despair when it comes to getting to where we need to go. It’s no wonder so many people dread the “getting there” part of traveling. 

For two weeks in the last month I was lucky enough to travel to Germany. While I had wonderful experiences during my time in Germany – getting to meet new people, experience the culture of my heritage, and learning new and interesting facts about Luther’s life and times- it was during the not so great experiences that I came to appreciate the kindness and compassion of others. Here’s what happened: I missed my train. Not because I was late; not because I read the schedule wrong; not because I couldn’t get a ticket. No, I missed my train because it came early An hour early. Now, I know you’re saying to yourself: “how is that possible?” Good question. Because in Germany, when there is construction, the trains come early. This is what I learned. 

After missing my train, the rest of my day was spent relying on the kindness of strangers. The woman at the information desk in the Wittenberg train station tried her best to explain to me in a mixture of German and English that even though I missed my train because it came early, I could get on the next train, but that I wouldn’t have an assigned seat. Not understanding that I could still ride on the train without a seat, I panicked thinking I would be spending another unplanned night in Wittenberg. The woman at the desk was trying so hard to help me, even going as far to type into google translate for me, but the translation was incomplete, and I still wasn’t understanding that I could still travel. Fortunately, the woman was willing to speak on the phone with my German friend in Munich, whom I was travelling to see, and he was able to clarify that I could still get on the next train even though I didn’t have a seat assigned.

Once on the train, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I had a huge bag and struggled to get it on the train. Fortunately, a man standing near the door grabbed one end and helped me thrust it up. I also thought finding a space to settle in would be easy. I was wrong. The space in between the main cars that I entered was already occupied by people who were sitting, standing, and generally looking uncomfortable as the train sped along. I stood awkwardly just inside the doorway trying to decide what the best course of action might be. A man across the way caught my eye and smiled, so I made my way over to him. He started speaking to me in German commenting on how full the train was. I then explained that I had already missed my earlier train and that I wasn’t looking forward to standing for the rest of my 4-hour train ride to Munich, especially since I was still tending to a sprained ankle. Without hesitation, he immediately sprung to action and grabbed a porter, explaining to her that I needed to find a seat because I was injured. She replied that there was room in the dining car and instructed me that it was 3 cars from where we were. The man directed me where I needed to go and wished me luck with the rest of my trip as I set off lugging my bag to the dining car. Thinking I was all set after finding a place to settle in, we stopped in Leipzig to let passengers off. An announcement came over the PA system for the train – it wasn’t a regular announcement that was translated into English as the other announcements had been – it was only in German. A chorus of groans erupted around me and people began to look annoyed. I sat for a few minutes thinking of who I could ask for assistance, as I had no idea what was going on. Seated across from me were two German women who had been in conversation since I got on the train. I tentatively asked them if they spoke English and they said “Oh yes!” and then proceeded to explain to me that our train would be delayed an hour and 50 minutes because of a fire near the tracks we were supposed to take. They welcomed me to traveling on the Deutsche Bahn, which they said was “always an adventure.” An adventure indeed. They continued to update me as we sat waiting for more announcements, ending with at least some good news that the conductors had found an alternative route that would only make us a half hour late to Munich. I made it to Munich 5 hours later than I was originally scheduled, and was never so glad for a travel day to end.

I tell you this story not because I’m seeking your pity, but to highlight the care I received from others. Granted, this was not a life and death situation, like that of the Good Samaritan story we heard in the Gospel today, but my day would have been a lot worse had it not been for the kindness of strangers who were willing to help me out when I needed it. I also needed to be willing to accept the help of others in order for the story to end well. Being receptive to help can sometimes be half the battle. We’re all familiar with the age-old trope of the stubborn person who refuses to ask for directions when they are very clearly lost. How many times in our lives are we too stubborn or unwilling to let others help us? Why do we find it difficult to accept help, or seek it out?

Getting help from others doesn’t mean we are weak. It doesn’t mean we’re incapable. It doesn’t mean we’re less than. It means we’re human. We are all here in this one crazy and too short life on Earth together. Being willing to accept help in whatever form it may take – a listening ear, a ride, or physical assistance – requires a bit of humility on our part as well as openness. 

Sometimes when we reflect on the story of the good Samaritan we are drawn to the position of the Samaritan in the story. After all, Jesus uses this as an example to demonstrate to the lawyer questioning him what love of neighbor really entails – seeing the humanity in all who need help, regardless of who they are. Another interpretation of this story by early commentators exists, however, in which humanity is not represented by the Good Samaritan, but rather Christ fills that role. Humanity is the man in the ditch. This depiction emphasizes the salvific quality of Christ; Christ is the unexpected healer and savior of all who helps us out of the ditch. The inn and innkeeper are then the church which cares for and supports us as we recover from our injuries, which in this case would be the injuries to our soul, the sin that has taken ahold of us. By holding these two interpretations in tension with one another, we can understand our role as both needing to accept the love of God as well as express that love to others by showing compassion to those we meet along the way. We must be able to see ourselves as both the person in the ditch and the Good Samaritan, as compassion is built on empathy.

In his theology of justification by faith, Martin Luther emphasized a dualistic understanding of God’s righteousness – that God provides an outside righteousness to all Christians, something that they do not have to do anything to earn. Luther calls this “alien righteousness.” Recognition of the external righteousness granted to us becomes more apparent as we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives. Our faith in God reinforces our knowledge and acceptance of this alien righteousness that we have no control over, but of which we can be made aware and incorporate into our understanding of the world around us. When we do things like come together in worship, hear or read the scriptures, or connect with others in community, we are reminded of the grace offered to us by God through Christ.

The other form of righteousness Luther describes is proper righteousness. These are the expressions of Christian love that people share with one another. Luther is quick to point out that this proper righteousness relies on the presence of alien righteousness in order to be effective. God’s love and care for us allows us to express the same love and care to others. It is in this way that we bear the fruit of the spirit which is spoken of in the epistle to the Colossians that we heard today. You’ll note that in this letter by Paul (or someone who writes as Paul) that he also emphasizes to the community in Colossae that it is the hope in God that they have found through hearing the Gospel that will cause them to bear the fruit of good works in the world. Our ability to be in service to others is informed by our ability to accept God’s love in the first place.

Luther’s describes the relationship between these forms of righteousness through the metaphor of a tree and the kind of fruit it bears in his treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian:”

It is clear that the fruits do not bear the tree and that the tree does not grow on the fruits, also that, on the contrary, the trees bear the fruits and the fruits grow on the trees. As it is necessary, therefore, that the trees exist before their fruits and the fruits do not make trees either good or bad, but rather as the trees are, so are the fruits they bear; so a man must first be good or wicked before he does a good or wicked work, and his works do not make him good or wicked, but he himself makes his works either good or wicked. 

A tree must have good nutrition, proper sunlight, proper minerals in order to flourish and produce good fruit. A tree that does not have these foundational elements will not produce good fruit, if any fruit at all. The person then, must be grounded in the faith and knowledge of God’s grace in order to produce good fruits and works in the world. To expect the fruit to be good without the rootedness in the soil of the grace of God is to not understand the ways in which God’s grace is given freely to all.

We all know that living in community is a challenge. We are each individuals with our own hopes, needs, desires, and motives. Sometimes those hopes and needs align with those of our neighbors; that makes our community an easy place to live in because we agree on seeking out an existence that has a similar world view. More than likely, however, our perspectives will clash with others, leading to disagreement, and in some cases a distrust or even disdain of our neighbor. Sometimes those we think we can trust turn out to not be trustworthy at all, causing us harm instead of love and care.

The question of “who is my neighbor?” still haunts us today. We all fail to see our neighbors for who they are; other human beings who need the care and compassion we also need to survive and thrive in our lives. We may allow things like economic differences, differences in skin color or nationality, or differences in gender shape who we view as our neighbor. Jesus reminds us that those things cannot matter if we are truly seeking to love our neighbor in the way that God commands. 

We must be willing to both accept the compassion of others as well as express that compassion if we are to join together in community. Recently it seems as though much of the public discourse in our communities lacks an emphasis on morality. In an effort to seem “balanced” people draw false equivalencies over issues in our country, failing to acknowledge how certain actions are morally wrong. For example, caging children in detention centers without adequate sanitation and care dehumanizes them and demonstrates a definite problem with the moral compass of our country. If we cannot have compassion for others based on the fact that they too are human, they too are God’s children, they too deserve to be taken care of, then we fail to bear good fruit. If we continue to allow for the degradation of our Earth at the expense of those who are most vulnerable, then we fail to bear good fruit. If we become accustomed to mass shootings and the countless lives lost to gun violence in our country without an adequate response of horror and action, then we fail to bear good fruit.  

I implore you to remember where your roots lie so that you may come to bear good fruit. Your roots lie in the love of God that surpasses all understanding, whose grace is bestowed on us as a free gift that we can choose to employ or not. Let us accept that gift of love and live out our commandment to share that love with others. We are called to be servants and love to our neighbors. Our neighbors are individuals who we encounter every day, but are also those who we may never meet and may only ever understand as an abstracted idea. Our service to others includes seeking justice and righteousness for all, no matter who they are. 

At the end of each worship service, we typically end with a benediction and a response. The benediction offers a blessing to the community gathered and the sending a reminder of that which we are to take with us as we leave worship. Here we typically use “God be in my head” as our sending response.  In my tradition, the service typically ends with the leader dismissing the congregation with the words “Go in peace; serve the Lord” and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” So to prepare you for the end of the service, I will state the benediction ending with this dismissal. Let’s practice… “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.” And as you hear and respond to these words, take to heart what the words mean in light of bearing fruit in the world – having been nourished by the words, music, and community of this service today, take them with you to serve and love your neighbor.

Amen.

Dr. Jessica A. H. Chicka

Betwixt Curation and Creation

July 7th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

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Betwixt Curation and Creation

In t’ other hundred, o’er yon swarthy moor,
Deep in the mire with tawny rush beset;
Where bleak sea-breezes echo from the shore,
And foggy damps infect the noontide heat,
There lies a Country Curate’s dismal seat:
View well those barren heaths with sober eye,
And wonder how a man can live so wretchedly.

(“The Country Curate,” Gentleman’s Magazine 7, January 1737, 52-53, stanza 1)

You are likely familiar with the verb, “to curate,” meaning “to look after and preserve” as in a museum. You may also be familiar with the more contemporary colloquial usage of the term, meaning “to select, organize, and present,” usually applied either to content, such as for a website, or to people, such as for a performance. Regardless, the activity curation describes remains relatively passive with respect to that which the curator orders. You may be less familiar with the heteronymous noun “curate,” referring to “one entrusted with the cure of souls; a spiritual pastor,” that is, a member of the clergy. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Alas, the poor priest described in the 18th century Spenserian poem, “The Country Curate,” appears doomed to conflate the two meanings:

Each sun arises in a noisome fog,
Tir’d of their beds they rise as soon as light;
With like disgust their summers on they jog,
And o’er a few stray chips their winter night:
Such is the married Essex Curate’s plight!
Tho’ seasons change, no sense of change they know,
But with a discontented eye view all things here below.

(“The Country Curate,” stanza 7)

Inheritor of tradition, the curate who curates merely looks after and preserves the faith as though the seasons do not change. Tradition, the living faith of the dead, as Jeroslav Pelikan reminds us, is given over to its poor reflection, traditionalism, that is, the dead faith of the living. (Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Vindication of Tradition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986). And in the end? The curate who merely curates is not even pitiable.

Still worse and worse her lashing tongue he feels,
The spurns of fortune and the weight of years:
The post-horse thus, an ancient racer, reels,
No longer now a steddy course he steers,
His knees now tremble and he hangs his ears;
He sweats, he totters, cover’d o’er with gore,
And falls unpity’d, as he liv’d before.

(“The Country Curate,” stanza 12)

The theology of curation is reflected in one of the traditional prayers for Compline, the night office that we offer here at Marsh Chapel on Monday evenings during the academic year, “that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness” (The Book of Common Prayer, 133). Since God is changeless, change is clearly not of God, and so the work of leadership is to simply curate unchanged the institutions and traditions we have inherited lest the faithful, and we ourselves, become weary. 

Yet, change is an enduring feature of our world, and as the curate learned, mere curation cannot enable a steady course amidst change. Wearying though change may be, attempting to deny or to resist change is at least as tiresome, and often as not tragic, as in the case of the country curate. After all, as Alfred North Whitehead reminds us, “the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things” (Science and the Modern World, 13). Indeed, change is part and parcel of the working of things, and change is often solemnly remorseless in its application regardless of the predilection to deny or to inhibit it: Denying that humanity is responsible for climate change does nothing to mitigate its effects. Treating refugees as subhuman does nothing to dampen their desperation to flee. Repurposing maintenance funds does nothing for the upkeep of tracks, signals, and subway cars, making derailment inevitable. Failure to read the syllabus does not make the paper any less due.

To cope with change, creation is the proper response, rather than curation. When the traditions and institutions of the past no longer accord us with reality, we must create new ones that do. Such creative endeavor was the cause for celebration just this past week, namely, the 243rd anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

Creation is rarely clean or clear cut. The first stab at a new government following the Declaration of Independence was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which lasted a whole twelve years before being replaced by the Constitution of the United States that we know today. The need for the change is recorded in George Washington’s cover letter to the Constitution addressed to the President of Congress: “The friends of our country have long seen and desired that the power of making war, peace, and treaties, that of levying money, and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the General Government of the Union; but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident: hence results the necessity of a different organization.” Hence, three branches of government with attendant checks and balances among them. 

Likewise, the business world tells us of disruptive innovation, whereby an innovation creates a new market that eventually disrupts its predecessor market by providing value in a new and better way. So, Wikipedia disrupts Britannica, the word processor disrupts the typewriter, and the smartphone disrupts, well, pretty much everything, (including, I dare say, this sermon). Bringing on the new requires setting aside the old, a loss that is rarely unambiguous even when the innovation is a signal advance. Indeed, as the Declaration of Independence itself reminds us, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

For all that the curate who curates is one prevalent model for religious leaders to approach situations in flux, the mode of creation is hardly foreign to religion. Jesus and Paul were, among other things, religious innovators, in varying degrees of tensive relationship at different times with emerging rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic philosophy and culture, the Roman Empire, and other religious movements they encountered along the way. Monasticism was a creative response to the change of Christianity from a persecuted minority to the official religion of the Empire. The Franciscans and Dominicans arose in part to reform the cloistered monasteries, and then Martin Luther set off a creative reform of all of Western Christianity. Methodism, adherents of which founded Boston University, started as a creative movement to invigorate piety within Anglicanism. Today, as the institutional dynamics of denominations provoke rampant disaffiliation, new models of spiritual engagement are emerging, from multiple religious belonging, to new monasticisms, to pub church, and more. Curation need not be the defining mark of religion. The creative spirit runs deep as well.

For the past two weeks we have drunk deeply from the wellsprings of wisdom of Dr. Robert Franklin, who professes moral leadership at Emory University in no small part on the basis of his own practice of moral leadership, especially as President each of Morehouse College and the Interdenominational Theological Center, both in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Franklin adjured us toward moral leadership, encouraging us to virtue and to act out of a redemptive discontent at the socio-political morass of our time such that we might come to stand above the world, that God might lift the world through us. Today I submit to you that moral leaders seek to cultivate virtue and pursue a socio-political analysis that results in redemptive discontent precisely so as to enable their discernment of the proper path forward for the traditions and institutions they lead betwixt curation and creation. Without curation there is no continuity, and without continuity there is no tradition or institution of which to speak. Without creation, however, change must inevitably overwhelm traditions and institutions, grinding them into dust and casting them off onto the slaughter-bench of history. The moral leader must harness each, curation and creation, as the situation at hand demands.

The understanding of moral leadership that we inherit from ancient China helps us to gain perspective on the role and efficacy of moral leaders. It does so by situating leadership in the wider frame of not only the traditions and institutions in which leadership is expressed, but indeed the whole cosmic order. Traditions and institutions are understood as rituals, rites, or rules of ceremony. Rites are much more than church services. They are any and all conventional behaviors patterned so as to harmonize those related by them with one another and with everything else in the world. So the 27th section of the “Li Yun” chapter of the Liji, the Classic of Rites:

From all this it follows that rules of ceremony must be traced to their origin in the Grand Unity. This separated and became heaven and earth. It revolved and became the dual force (in nature). It changed and became the four seasons. It was distributed and became the breathings (thrilling in the universal frame). Its (lessons) transmitted (to men) are called its orders; the law and authority of them is in Heaven. While the rules of ceremony have their origin in heaven, the movement of them reaches to earth. The distribution of them extends to all the business (of life). They change with the seasons; they agree in reference to the (variations of) lot and condition. In regard to man, they serve to nurture (his nature). They are practiced by means of offerings, acts of strength, words and postures of courtesy, in eating and drinking, in the observances of capping, marriage, mourning, sacrificing, archery, chariot-driving, audiences, and friendly missions. 

(Legge, James, trans. The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism Part III. Vol. 3. The Sacred Books of the East 27. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1885).

Notably, rituals are not static. Their movement “reaches to the earth” from heaven. “They change with the seasons.” When things change, they change to accord with the new situation. 

Even though they may change, tending to rituals, to the patterns that guide our interactions and relationships, is important precisely because, as the 28th section goes on to say:

They supply the channels by which we can apprehend the ways of Heaven and act as the feelings of men require. It was on this account that the sages knew that the rules of ceremony could not be dispensed with, while the ruin of states, the destruction of families, and the perishing of individuals are always preceded by their abandonment of the rules of propriety.

Traditions and institutions may only ever be relatively reliable, but life without them devolves quickly into the state of nature described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (chap. 13). Hence the conclusion arrived at in the 29th section of the “Li Yun” chapter of the Liji:

Thus, rules of ceremony are the embodied expression of what is right. If an observance stand the test of being judged by the standard of what is right, although it may not have been among the usages of the ancient kings, it may be adopted on the ground of its being right. (The idea of) right makes the distinction between things, and serves to regulate (the manifestation of) humanity.

What then of moral leadership? One of the primary virtues cultivated by moral leaders is 義 yi, which means rightness, righteousness, or appropriateness. Rituals are expressions of what is right, and moral leadership determines whether or not a particular ritual is in fact such an expression of righteousness. Rituals that do in fact express right merely need to be curated. Rituals that do not may need some creative reformation or transformation. And it is surely conceivable that a situation might arise for which no extant ritual would be appropriate, and so a moral leader would have to create one wholesale from scratch. Most of the time, however, moral leadership has to do principally with the subtle art of negotiating the tension between curation and creation in order to cultivate rituals, traditions, and institutions that facilitate righteousness and harmony.

All well and good as far as a theory of moral leadership goes, but a few examples would certainly not go amiss at this point. Surely, the Liji is replete with plenty of excellent examples, but rather than take the time to explain who Yu, Tang, Wen, Wu, King Cheng, and the Duke of Zhou are such that the examples might make any sense, it may be helpful to turn to some more familiar texts.

Consider, then, the moral leadership of the prophet Elisha as he responds to the arrival of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram:

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. 

(2 Kings 5: 1-14, NRSV).

It is little wonder that the king of Israel suspects a nefarious plot. Curing leprosy is no small thing, and the king of Aram has neglected, in his letter, to mention that he has insider information that such healing might be accomplished in Israel. The king of Israel is left to suspect that the king of Aram is attempting to provoke a conflict on the basis of the king of Israel refusing to heal the commander of the army of the king of Aram.

Enter Elisha, stage left. As a moral leader, which is what a prophet is, after all, Elisha seeks the way of righteousness. It would be reasonable to assume that healing by a prophet in Israel would be reserved for Israelites, for the followers of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and thus unavailable to inhabitants of other realms who practice other cults. In offering to heal Naaman, Elisha is defying this expectation, expanding the tradition of Israelite religion, and by proxy the institution of the kingdom of Israel as constituted by those who profess faith in Yahweh, to include any who would demonstrate such faith by following his instructions.

Elisha is clearly closer to curation than creation. He only moves the line so far. He never even speaks to Naaman directly, sending a messenger instead. His instructions remain within the realm of Israelite rituals of healing, namely, washing in the Jordan. No, the rivers of Damascus will not, in fact, do. Yet, if he is willing, Naaman may be made clean, may be healed, may be included. The creativity Elisha expresses is simply to practice a more generous hospitality than might have been expected. The tradition as it stood was inappropriate to this new situation and had to be expanded. His is the creativity of redrawing the boundaries of the tradition and the institution so as to enact what Second Isaiah would later also encourage:

Enlarge the site of your tent,
   and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
   and strengthen your stakes. 
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
   and your descendants will possess the nations
   and will settle the desolate towns. (Isaiah 54: 2-3, NRSV)

So, too, consider the moral leadership of Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as expressed in his letter to the Galatians:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6: 1-16, NRSV).

Here we see Paul navigating a number of ritual frames in order to achieve the delicate balance of righteousness. In the rhetoric of flesh and spirit we hear the backdrop of Hellenistic thought that set the terms for conceptualizing the spiritual life in the communities where Paul ministered. So too we hear Paul articulating boundaries between those who follow his teaching and those who follow the teachings of others: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.”

One of the teachings that others who have encountered the Galatians have apparently been insisting upon is the ritual requirement of circumcision. On one hand, Paul has a rather sophisticated theological argument for why circumcision, while not necessarily objectionable, is neither at all necessary. What is necessary? Becoming a new spiritual creation by spiritual crucifixion with Christ to the world. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that Paul needed to work terribly hard to convince, say, about half of the church in Galatia that circumcision was not really necessary.

Here then we have a far more creative, and less curatorial, approach to tradition and institution. Paul is renegotiating boundaries, breaking down boundaries between Jews and gentiles in Christ, even while raising boundaries between followers of his teaching and followers of the teaching of others. Paul swings the pendulum to a midpoint between curation and creation because he needs to for the sake of appropriateness. What was good for Jews in Jerusalem would not necessarily work well – politically, culturally, or practically – for the non-Jewish Christians to whom God called him to minister. Paul had to curate the heart of the gospel that he had received and creatively incarnate it in the soil to which he was sent, where curation alone would surely not do. Indeed, that Christianity endures today is largely a testament to the curation of the church through creative moral leadership by Paul.

Paul is great and all, but what of Jesus? Jesus, it seems, could find precious little worth curating amongst the traditions and institutions of the religion of his day. The apocalyptic frame of the gospels is quite strange to us, driving as it does a sense of urgency that seems to have failed to bear out some two thousand years later. Yet it is that very urgency that presses Jesus to abandon the traditions and institutions he inherited and instead send his followers out to effectively start anew.

Jesus erects clear boundaries, in Luke’s gospel, between his own movement and the religious institutions of his day. When Jesus denounces the Pharisees, the lawyers whine, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too,” to which Jesus replies, “Woe also to you lawyers!” (Luke 11: 45-46, NRSV). Jesus is clear also that each and every person must choose to situate themselves on one side of the boundary or the other. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12: 51, NRSV).

Far more interesting than how he goes about creating barriers against existing institutions is how Jesus goes about creating his own movement. Jesus himself may not have come to bring peace, but peace is precisely what Jesus sends his followers out to announce: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10: 5, NRSV). The mission of the seventy is a mission of movement building. It is deeply relational: person by person, household by household, town by town. It is the harvesting, the calling together of a community built on righteousness, that is, on peace, hospitality, justice, and the grace of God. For those that share in peace, well and good, and for those that do not, wipe off the dust from your feet and move on.

At times, moral leaders may find that there is so little rightness left in the traditions and institutions they inherit that they must cast them off and create new traditions and institutions from neigh on whole cloth. Doing so is precarious, as the authors of the Declaration of Independence note and as those who call for such revolutionary changes demonstrate, figures like Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin King, as their acts of institutional rejection and new creation result in their deaths. Important to remember is that this extremity of creation is not a foregone conclusion embraced from the start, but rather a necessity that arises for the sake of rightness, of righteousness, of appropriateness. The moral of the story for moral leaders is not that new traditions and institutions are always necessary, but rather that strategies of curation, reformation, renewal, transformation, or recreation must be judiciously selected for the sake of traditions and institutions being able to effectively harmonize us with one another and the world. Moral leadership of traditions and institutions is the discernment of appropriateness between curation and creation. Cultivate, then, the virtue of appropriateness, of rightness, of righteousness so that you may be a moral leader, that God may lift the world up through you, just as God has lifted the world through Elisha, Paul, and Jesus.

Let us stand, then, as we are able, for the reading of the gospel.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

 

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20, NRSV).

Amen.

-Br. Lawrence Whitney, LC+, PhD

Redemptive Discontent

June 30th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 4:14-21

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A text copy of this sermon is not available.

-Dr. Robert Franklin, James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership, Emory University and President Emeritus, Morehouse College

Concerning Moral Leadership

June 23rd, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 8:26-39

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-Dr. Robert Franklin, James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership, Emory University and President Emeritus, Morehouse College

The God of Second Chances

June 16th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

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The God of Second Chances

The Bible is about failure and defeat.

Its stories, letters and teachings record ways people have lived with defeat.  This makes the Bible difficult 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. So sermons, this one and others, which are fumbling footnotes to the Scripture, may hit us from the side if they hit us at all.

Paul is thinking, it may be, when he mentions “outward appearance” and “the heart”, of Samuel who learned that mortals look upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.

You remember Samuel’s story in 1 Samuel 15:34ff.  Samuel didn’t want to be a prophet, but he got saddled with the job anyway. He didn’t want anything to do with kings, but he had to pick one.

The people wanted a King, just like we at our worst always long for some imperial leader, some imperious presence on which or on whom we may cast our concerns.  Then we don’t have to live with our own freedom, our own birthright from YHWH I AM THAT I AM, the Sinai God of freedom.

Samuel revered the God of freedom and the Godly freedom in each person. In fact, he revered the people’s freedom more than they themselves did.  So much so that he helped them choose, even when he knew they chose in error. You want a king? You shall have a king and much trouble.

Saul, by name.

Saul, trouble, came and went.  Leadership is everything. But leadership is not dictatorship.  Authority is not domination. Integrity is not willfulness.

Leadership, authority, integrity—they become real when they revere the God of freedom and the freedom of each person.  Real leadership increases personal freedom for all.

So, Samuel, who knew about freedom and leadership, and who could have shouted “I told you so” to the children of Israel, instead went to Ramah, that place you remember from Christmas, of wailing and loud lamentation, and he wailed and lamented:

Why, O God, have you made my people a group focused on difference and not the common good?  Why should there be a few rich and many poor? Why should our distinguishing characteristics be so undistinguished?  Are we forever to love appearance above reality, image above heart? O my God, are we never to see your peace upon the earth, your gracious splendor among our people, your kingdom of love?

So, we may imagine, in a hot dusty cave near Qumran, Samuel wept.  And wept. And wept. He cried in his beer. He cried in his soup. You get the picture.

Until, at last, he stopped.  And as so often happens, once he stopped his weeping, his self-concern, a marvelous thing happened. God gave a second chance.  He said, “Samuel you old codger—get up and head over to Bethlehem and see Jesse. I’m going to give you another chance.” Samuel went to the house of Jesse, in Bethlehem.  

We worship a God of second chances, of new starts, of make-up exams, of the Letter to the Hebrews and pardon after baptism, of I forgive you, of surprise opportunities.  In a way, in Christ, God has simply become Another Chance.

Early on Sunday morning, we walk up and down these aisles when the sanctuary is empty.  We wonder about the congregation and the community and listeners.

We worry about a nation of have and have nots.  We are anxious about a race torn people. We think of people. Some giving birth and anxious.  Some breaking up and anxious. Some struggling to stay together, and anxious. Some aging and anxious. Some ill and anxious.  Like Samuel, we have our hurts.

Up Samuel goes to see what God will do.  God tells him that there will be a new King, of God’s own choosing, out of the family of Jesse, who had seven sons.  

Samuel sees the first son, and thinks—yes, this must be the one, right name, right place, right pedigree, right education.  But, again, something strange happens. Samuel, given to hearing voices, hears a voice. God says, “Easy big fellow, easy. Don’t look at the appearance.  Forget the outside. Don’t be misled by the image. Look inside.”

All that glitters is not gold.

One can be a saint abroad and a devil at home.

Cleanse the inside of the cup.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Be careful, when the Lady Macbeths of life connives.  Banquo was right:

‘Tis Strange

And often times to win us to our HARM

The instruments of darkness tell us TRUTHS

Win us with HONEST TRIFLES

To betray us in DEEPEST CONSEQUENCES

 

We see the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem, Samuel still has the seven sons on interview:

Job title:  King of Israel

Profile:   Perfect leader

Responsibilities:  Bring salvation, justice, and peace.

Salary and benefits:  commensurate with experience.

 

But he remembers: look on the heart.  ELIAB. No. ABINADAB. No. SHAMMAH. No.  And so on. Seven no’s. And he is limbo, he is in between.

It is tough to live in between.  Like many who are here today can testify.  Samuel would have loved to have settled things early.  But he remembered the God of Another Chance, and trusted and waited, and hoped.  Anybody can make a quick decision. Sometimes it takes more real courage to be indecisive.  Anybody can decide. It takes guts to wait. Anybody can judge by appearance. But God looks on the heart.

Paul and the earliest Christians knew this perhaps better than anything else. They knew about being in between. Maybe that’s one reason why, providentially, their letters and writings have become our Bible.  We are always a bit in between, and we need the confidence, daily, of Another Chance. The earliest Christians, Paul’s city Christians, were very much in between. They were often what the scholars call status-inconsistent, like Paul himself.   A Jew, yet a Roman citizen.  Educated, yet a tent-maker. So they were too: Women, yet rich.  Artisans, yet slaves. They knew about being in-between.

And so the Apostle says:

 

In between the Body and the Lord

In between Sight and Faith

In between Home and Away

In between Judgment and Love

In between Crazy and Sane

In between One and All

In between Self and Others

In between Death and Resurrection

In between Old and New

In between Appearance and Heart

 

When you’re in between you know the joy of Another Chance.  God sees the heart, and sees past appearances.

Well, dear old Samuel, is about ready to throw in the towel.  He has been through all the sons of Jesse, and has not found the new king.  He has found a lot of old king once removed, but nothing new. He is packing up his ephod and girding his loins and otherwise getting ready to shove off, when, again, something strange happens.

We worship the God of Second Chances.

If nothing else this morning, hear this Gospel.  

Today is another chance for your family.

This week is another chance for you work.

This summer is another chance for our church.

This year is another chance for our city.

This decade is another chance for:  our climate, our country, our denomination, our souls.

Where there is life, there is hope.  And where there is hope, there is life.

God in Christ is Another Chance.

Realism and Idealism are not absolute alternatives.  Often either you have both, or you have neither: witness Isaiah 60, John 3, 2 Corinthians 5, and the Sermon on the Mount.  Things aren’t always as they seem.

SO LET US BE OPEN THIS SUMMER!

Read again Keith Miller’s, NEW WINE.

Visit Mount Washington or Bar Harbor in July.

Take a sandwich to the seashore.

We worship the God Of Second Chances.

Plant a flower.

Hug somebody.

Write a note.

Make a bequest.

I Believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Another Chance, God’s only Son Our Lord.

ANOTHER CHANCE!

To stand in God’s presence

To learn to help others

To have a meaningful life.

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem…Samuel, turned as he was going, and looked at Jesse and said, “Are these all your sons”?  

Jesse got that sheepish look we all get when the truth starts to come out.  Well, yes and no. I mean these are all the grown ones, the ones who are worth looking at.  “You mean there is a Second Chance?,” said Samuel so excited he dropped his staff and ungirded his loins and lost his ephod.  “Well there’s the little guy, but we left him to tend the sheep.” “Bring him.”

And they brought David up.  He was little, young, ruddy, handsome and beautiful, but mostly he had the right heart.  A heart of songs and courage. A heart of love and strength. A real person. A real human being.  Another Chance. Like the Tibetan Buddhists hunting for many years in the outback of the universe to find the Dali Lama.  Like the birth of Jesus, we remember this Trinity Sunday, he also of Bethlehem. Like the moment your child came into the world.  Or your grandchild. Like every single outburst and outcropping and intrusion and explosion and invasion of the NEW CREATION—there was David, Another Chance.  And Samuel, old superannuated Samuel, could see what none of the young Turks could see—the heart. And Samuel wept, this time for joy, and said, “THIS IS THE ONE.  Hire him.”

We worship Another Chance God.

Beloved, you are not last chance, anxious people.

You are God’s Second Chance people.

Let’s agree come Sunday.  From now on, then, we aren’t going to look at anybody according to appearance, no matter how bad and no matter how good.  I mean we once knew Christ by appearance, but then God raised him from the dead. So we look, as God looks, on the heart. By God, we will become real people, in a real church, in a real community, in a real nation.  It takes a lot of idealism to become real. Anyone in Christ is new, not old.

Singing to the God of Second Chances, R. Niehbuhr wrote:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.  Therefore, we must be saved by hope.

“Nothing which is true or good or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history.  Therefore, we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.  Therefore, we must be saved by love.”

 

A Call to Ministry

June 9th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Acts 2: 1-21

John 14: 8-17

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A Call To Ministry

Awareness

To be supportive of our colleagues at Boston University, Marsh Chapel offered to gather and teach a co-curricular course this autumn on calling, titled Vocation.  We weren’t really sure anyone would sign up. The course it turns out is full, with a waiting list. Why?

People it may be of all ages are alive to the possibilities of calling, of vocation, in life, which is the gift of the Spirit, on this day of Pentecost, the day of spirit.  Where does our gladness meet the world’s deep hunger? With the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites of the first Pentecost, we today shall listen for that call, that calling, a call to ministry.

The first step in calling it may be is simply a sense of awareness.  Awareness of the gift, the glorious gift of life. Have we forgotten the love we had at first? When did breathing become such an ordinary thing to our mind? And prayer? Have we begun with the spirit to end with the flesh? Has the vocation, the sense of self and soul that is the real marrow of Pentecost given way to drift, ennui, languid doldrums?  Wake up! It is morning! Dawn is breaking! Come Pentecost. With great gladness that this is such a beautiful Charles River morning, such a glorious Boston morning, such a magnificent bright New England morning, we remember how Marilynn Robinson ended her gem of a novel, Gilead:

I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment ‘when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’, but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view

At dawn, with an aching heart, a full chest weight of the sense of …the Un-nameable. Radiance. Goodness. Wonder. Song. Joy.

In our Scripture lesson today, Luke is surely reminding his church, and reminding us, of the love we had at first. Every single one has a tongue of fire given, that makes effective connection with others. Everyone is called, has a vocation, a measure of spirit.  You are an unrepeatable miracle, with your own fingerprint, gait, voice, and calling!

Pentecost is God at dawn, with life waking up, the birth in you of real awareness.  This morning is the morning of tongues of fire, of firey tongues, of speech that burns, heals, warms, enflames, inspires.

Trust

A second step in calling, it may be, is to remember those you trust, those whose example, relationship, giving, and love have kindled in you real trust, and so, the foundation for calling.  As Carlyle Marney used to ask, Who told you who you was?

It may be that you learned to love Jesus in the simple rhythms of the ordinary, in the pause before meals, with grace in his name. In singing hymns to Him, in church, at camp, in the car. In reading about his life in the Bible, and celebrating his birth in snowy December, and his destiny in snow melting April. In seeing older people love him, really love him, with their hands, and their money and their time and most especially with their choices, and within that, with their choices about things not to say, not to be, not to do.  You may have learned to love Him like you learned to speak English, one lisp at a time, one dangling preposition at a time, one new word at a time. His music, it may be, played the accompaniment to all of the growth and decay of life around you. There was no wall of separation, neither artificial, nor sacramental, nor communal, between your life and his. His was your life, and your life was his. You came to know how to trust through people who showed how to trust by how they lived. Trustworthy people.

This could sound romantic, but it is not meant to be. Conflict, envy, hurt, gossip, anger, misjudgment, unfairness, tragedy, hatred, fear, abuse, neglect, betrayal, addiction, and loneliness sat around the table too—around the kitchen table, around the picnic table, around the coffee table, around the communion table.

Who came close enough to you to give a sense of trust, of confidence in the pull and push of life?  Looking back, just now, in recollection, there was a closeness in the Christ, in the followers of Christ, who raised us—a pine needle Adirondack Christ, with the dawn scent of the forest primeval, a sunlit Finger Lake Christ, a blue-collar Erie Canal Christ, a blizzard Christ, an autumn peak Christ, a high summer Christ, a Christ with mud on Easter shoes. You could say that we were more Gospel people than Letter people, more Peter than Paul, more good Samaritan than justification by faith.  Yet there was no forced or feigned distance between Jesus and us, between his life and our own.

He was with us in school, at home, in summer, growing, going away, coming home, in study, in marriage, in work.  

Trust your experience. Honor your instincts. Listen to your heart.

Your relationships are crucial, crucial in the dawning of a sense of vocation.  Whose closeness, whose friendship, could, can, do you trust? Relationships hold the key.

Last Sunday, a friend was ordained as a Rabbi, and some of us were graciously included in the service.  Throughout the beautiful service, the power of trusted voices and people stood out. One said, For over thirty years, I have been in a life-long love affair witb Judaism, seeking a substantive connection to our tradition, and a close and meaningful relationship with God (Jevin Seth Eagle). Close, meaningful.  These are the relationships that bring out our own-most selves.  Another said, quoting another rabbi—you have to love the closeness here—I am afraid that God will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like ‘Zusha?  And for us, come Pentecost: Bob, why weren’t you more like Bob?  Mary, why weren’t you more like Mary? Felix, why weren’t you more like Felix?

Work

A third Pentecost step, coming toward calling, it may be, is to ask yourself very bluntly about your work. To level with yourself.

Say as a young adult now you are beginning to work, to hold a job, or in middle age to hold a new or different job. What counts in your work relationships? Can you honestly list what is meaningful and what is not about what you do? There are clues here, terribly important ones. Do not, do not enslave yourself to something that diseases your soul. Life is too short for that.

Richard Florida wrote recently (The Rise of the Creative Class) something that gives me hope about the future of the culture, the church, and our shared forms of ministry.  All who are baptized are in ministry, one way or another. He surveyed people about what they want in work. Regarding work, he found, the question ‘what?’ is often secondary to the question, ‘with whom?’ Many people prefer the hair salon to the machine shop, for relational reasons. Hear his report on surveys of what people most want in work:

I..Responsibility: Being able to contribute and have impact. . .Knowing that one’s work makes a difference. . .Being seriously challenged.

  1. Flexibility: A flexible schedule and a flexible work environment. . .The ability to shape one’s own work to some degree.

III. Stability: A stable work environment and a relatively secure job. . .Not lifetime security with mind-numbing sameness, but not a daily diet of chaos and uncertainty either.

  1. Compensation: Especially base pay and core benefits. . .Money you can count on.
  2. Growth: Personal and professional development. . .The chance to learn and grow. . .To expand one’s horizons. …cut new ground…feel at home…be creative…design your own work space…define your own role…have peer recognition…enjoy a work\life balance…

Growing segments of the population work for challenge, enjoyment, to do good, to make a contribution, and to learn. Such motivations will eventually eclipse compensation as the most important motives for work. (Robert Fogel)

 

Service

The dawning of awareness, a recollection of real trust, an honest inspection, leveling with yourself, about what you love in work, these three steps, come Pentecost, may just suffice.  They are questions in calling to which we return all our lives, for callings change. Sometimes it is the second call, or the fourth, that takes us closer to our selves, to our own-most selves, to our calling, in baptism, come Spirit day, come Pentecost.  Sometimes you have dreams, and then sometimes you have to edit your dreams. Awareness. Trust. Work. Yet for some there may be a fourth step this morning, or some beautiful summer morning at dawn. There may be a longing for service of a particular sort, a ministerial sort, a religious sort, as there was for those whom we ordained at Annual Conference yesterday.

A sense of longing deeper than existential awareness, the tingling sense of life, deeper than the trust relationships of friends and family, and deeper than the modes of meaning, in work, exploding from human hearts on Pentecost. This dawn day of spirit! This dawn day of fire! This dawn day of translation, interpretation, preaching, ecumenism! This dawn day of world Christianity! This dawn day of the church! This early morning dawn day! A deeper longing burst forth on Pentecost. Theirs, and ours, is a deeper longing, a longing for a relationship with God. And for some, who may find it hard to find any place else, that may come to a calling to ministry not in the large but in the little.  

St. Augustine of Hippo at long last found himself, his soul, and his true vocation, by finding a personal relationship to God.  Augustine entered the ministry. He became priest and bishop in North Africa about 400ad. He wrote 500 letters, 200 sermons, 2 great books.  In some of these, he gave us great insight, and in some of these he left us confusion and perplexity. For Augustine, it was ordination that opened the future.  For most us, baptism, confirmation and communion are more than enough. But then there are the harder cases, we might say, those who need more medication, something more.  Augustine found that, or was found by that, in ordination. In an age, like ours, of intercultural conflict, Augustine made sense of faith’s highest vision…the city of God. In a culture, like ours, that wore the nametag of Christianity without fully understanding its meaning, Augustine celebrated…the grace of God. In a political climate, like ours, that honored highly individualized freedom and the power to choose, Augustine praised God’s freedom to choose, and acclaimed…the freedom of God. In a highly sexualized age, like ours, Augustine colorfully confessed his own wandering, his own mistakes, which, he attested, did test but did not exhaust the …patience of God. In a religious climate, like ours, which buffeted a truly spiritual belief, Augustine praised his maker, and so reminded the church of the proper…praise of God. His Confessions—perhaps part of your summer reading—his great autobiography, is a prayer—for the city of God, by the grace of God, in the freedom of God, to the patience of God, as the praise of God. Augustine found a relationship with God and was ordained. Or, better put, was ordained and found his calling, found a relationship with God.

It may be that the only way God has to fully connect to some of us, to get our attention, to mute our pride, to kindle our affection, is to get us into the ministry. Baptism and confirmation suffice for most. But for the real hard cases—the guy who wrote the book on pride, the gal whose picture is alongside the dictionary definition of sloth, the one who embodies real falsehood—like us, like Augustine…like me? like you?…God keeps ordination in reserve.  Do you hear this Pentecost a call to ministry?

Frederick Buechner’s simple lines are oft-quoted, and should be:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

 

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

Ascension Communion Meditation

June 2nd, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

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Acts 1:1-11

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

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Ascension Communion Meditation

When you cross into a new time zone, you may hardly notice the change.  You drive from Boston to Kansas City, from Kansas City to Denver, from Denver to San Diego, and you cross in and out of different time zones.  In the crossing you hardly notice the change. Boundaries are often invisible, arranged in the imagination. They are not though for that reason inconsequential.  If you forget that the zone you are in has changed, you may arrive to buy gasoline an hour after the station is closed, and sleep in your car.

On the feast of the Ascension we cross into a new time zone, in the Christian year, and especially in the Gospel of Luke and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

Our Gospel and Lesson today acclaim the Ascension.  Let us endeavor to understand their chiming joy, to interpret these pages of Holy Writ, to understand them by standing under them, as it were.   For we are placing ourselves in apprehension of Love and Truth, here, so that the chance may emerge that our apprehension of Scripture may give way to Scripture’s apprehension of us. So that, grasping, we may be grasped, and, speaking, we may hear, and longing to love, we may be loved.

Luke by legend was a physician, a writing physician, like Oliver Sachs or Anton Chekhov.  Luke, whom we follow in the Sunday readings this year, is the only gospel writer to add a sequel to his book.  Luke’s Gospel precedes Luke’s Acts, and together they form some 25% of our New Testament. The Ascension, the translation of Jesus from temporary earthly location to lasting eternal home, lies somewhere close to the deep heart of what Luke, fore and aft, was out for, was after.

Our Gospel lesson today is the very end of the Gospel of Luke.  Our lesson from Acts today is the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.  So, we are at a major divide, a seam in the seamless garment of the Scripture. For Luke, all of time is divided into three parts, as Caesar’s Gaul, divisum est en tres partes.  First, there is the time of Israel, that runs up to and includes the ministry of John the Baptist.  Second, there is the time of Jesus, beginning with the Baptist and running up to, well, this morning, to the Ascension.  Third, there is the time of the Church, which runs from right now on up to the end of time, when Jesus will come again. Luke has set the orderly account of Jesus, his preaching and teaching and healing, his passion and death and resurrection, in between Israel and the Church, John and the Ascension.  Jesus has been making appearances and speaking of the kingdom of God, an extension of resurrection, but now he departs, making space for the baptism of Spirit, next Sunday, Pentecost, just as his life took wing in the baptism of water, at the hand of John the Baptist. Notice that John, and his baptism, are mentioned here, right at the moment of prediction of the baptism of Spirit.  For Luke, all time is divided into these three parts.

You, careful listener, will have noticed though a problem.   Luke has Jesus ascend twice, once in the Gospel, on the eighth day, as is the Gospel tradition, and then, again, in Acts, after forty days.  So which is it? After some study, let us simply admit defeat, as Fr. J. Fitzmyr puts it:  Why Luke has dated the ascension of Jesus in these two different ways, no one will ever know. (Anchor, 1588).  Though from this pulpit today we might offer a thought.  For Luke, chronology, as does geography, finally serves his theology, his preaching of the gospel.   He is willing to admit of a bit of chronology confusion, or contradiction, in order to insist, to make clear his joyful sense of time in three parts.  So, one ascension scene, Luke 24, it may be, makes clear the end of the time of Jesus. And the other ascension scene, Acts 1, it may be, makes clear the beginning of the time of the church.  

With Luke in Gospel and Acts guiding us, we come to communion this morning, in the time zone of the church.  Here we find bread for the journey, wine for the soul. Here we find sustenance to go on, in faith. In the example of forebears, in the ministry of ordinary saints, in the chance possibility of conversion—example, ministry, conversion—we recognize a different time zone, that which follows on Ascension, the time of the church.

Example

First, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in sturdy example.   St. Luke, perhaps more than any other Gospel writer, affirms the utter importance of leadership—in life, in community, in church.  And leadership is example. Period. For Luke throughout all Acts, you can see and name leadership by the examples of Peter and of Paul.  We too in our own time cherish exemplary leadership.

At morning prayer in the Harvard Memorial Church, in a special service for the Board of Visitors there and some others some 10 years ago, Peter Gomes, of blessed memory, and inimitable voice, offered a meditation based on his childhood breakfast memory.

At his home in Plymouth, over breakfast, the morning papers were quietly read, including the obituaries, most especially the obituaries.  His mother emphasized these, Peter remembered. She pointedly asked, morning by morning, after the meal and the morning papers, ‘Anybody interesting die?’  By these, he went on to recall, Peter’s mother meant, especially, did any African Americans of note die, and were they eulogized in the papers? It was one of her ways, one guesses, of teaching and shaping the young Mr. Gomes, in the way of faith.  She wanted him to learn from the experience and achievement of others. ‘Anybody interesting die today?’

The anecdote here loses much of its punch and penache without the developed Elizabethan intonation preferred and practiced by Professor Gomes.  James Forbes, at breakfast and just before preaching here at Marsh Chapel on weekend, sent his greetings to Peter, and said, ‘Remind him sometime that he is not a 19th century Englishman’.  It was said in good humor, in jest, and in that covenant of the preaching clergy wherein one, once upon a time, could josh one another.  There was at one time, not so long ago a preaching siblinghood, wherein one man sharpened another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

It is in this sense of memory, of reading the obituaries, of noting especially those who have come up the hard way, of honoring the gifts of others that we may ourselves be capable of honor in some way, that the life of James Alan McPherson appeared, in a newspaper recollection a few summers ago.  African American son of the south, son of a carpenter and maid, graduate of an HBC in Atlanta, then of Harvard Law, McPherson decided against the law, and chose to write instead, becoming the first black author to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction. Yet his writing sometimes remembered the law. I don’t have to drink the whole ocean to know it is salty, and I don’t have to read all his books to know McPherson could write.  As: (Mr. McPherson wrote in The Atlantic in 1978)

What Albion W. Tourgee, in his brief in 1896 against segregated railroad cars in Plessy v. Ferguson, was proposing, I think, was that each United States citizen would attempt to approximate the ideals of the nation, be on at least conversant terms with all its diversity, carry the mainstream of the culture inside himself.  As an American, by trying to wear these clothes he would be a synthesis of high and low, black and white, city and country, provincial and universal. If he could live with these contradictions, he would be simply a representative American. I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself a ‘citizen of the United States’. (N.Y. Times, 7/28/16,)

There is fine writing, a paragraph finely composed.  McPherson remembered Plessy v. Fergusson, and in reading him, Rev. Professor Peter Gomes came to mind.  Gomes haunted the reading, partly for what his mother taught him in reading at the breakfast table down in the cranberry bogs of Plymouth, and mostly because, by ricochet, and oddly, McPherson captured the very gift of our former neighbor and pastor from the Harvard Memorial Church.  Gomes lived the contradictions without going crazy.

Ministry

Second, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in spirited ministry.  Hear the ringing gospel in Luke! On a morning when we think of 12 more good lives sacrificed to gun violence, in Virginia Beach, a violence that proper appreciation for public health and consequent adequate gun laws would largely erase, we need to hear fully the Lukan evangel:  Salvation. Forgiveness. Peace. Life. Remember and repeat. Salvation. Forgiveness. Peace. Life. There is a better way to live, and better path forward to common good than we have yet embraced. Those who show us gospel grace in ministry convince us. Like Mona Lee Brock, who died this spring.  I love her story, and I cherish her ministry, partly because it connects so strongly to our own past, and part of our summer life each year.

Mona Lee Brock had farming in her bones. “Farming you don’t learn from books,” she once said. “It’s not taught to you by a professor in a college. It’s taught by sitting in your father’s lap on a tractor. Or between your mother and father in a field. It’s from birth up, and it’s a part of you.”

And so, when the farm crisis of the 1980s swept across the nation’s fields and plains, when bankruptcies and foreclosures soared and crop prices fell, and when many farmers, who saw no way out, took their own lives, Mrs. Brock was moved to act.

She assigned herself the job of ad hoc emergency counselor to farmers. As someone who had grown up on farms and had lost her own family farm, she was sympathetic to their plight. She took thousands of calls around the clock, talking despondent farmers down from the ledge and devising strategies to try to save their farms.

Willie Nelson, the country singer and driving force behind Farm Aid, called Mrs. Brock “the angel on the other end of the line.” Around that time, Mrs. Brock, who knew most people in Lincoln County from her work in the public schools, invited many of them over to her farm one night so that they could talk about how to survive. Farmers soon began calling her at home when they were in trouble, starting her on her accidental career of counseling them.  Her son said the suicide calls to his mother seemed constant, and often chaotic. Her overarching goal was “to make sure the family survived, even if the farm didn’t.”

“She led the way in terms of how to counsel people.  People could relate to her and unburden themselves. She was on the same level as they were. She was very calming. She was a farmer.” When the Oklahoma Conference of Churches wanted to set up a suicide intervention hotline, it contacted Mrs. Brock

Asked what kept his mother going, Mr. Brock said, “The Bible and the Constitution.” A Baptist, she often prayed with her callers. And, he said, she cautioned those who were suicidal to think about their families and what it would be like for their children “if they sat down at the supper table and there would be an empty chair.”  Mrs. Brock died at 87 on March 19, 2019, at her home in Durant, Okla. (Summarized form the New York Times, April 4, 2019)

Doesn’t it make you wonder what further dimensions each of our ministries could engage?

Conversion

Third, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in the call to faith, in the experience of conversion.  For Luke, in the epoch, era, and time of the church, this is the baptism of the spirit.

Now let us make this personal, for you and me.  Somehow, we ended up in worship this morning, or we are listening to this service.  Is there a nudge to faith here, or to renewed faith here, for you? Faith is a gift of God, given in ordinary time, Luke’s time of the church.  Faith is the courage and capacity to get up and start again. It is a saving gift, a forgiving gift, a peaceful gift—the gift of life itself. Is there a nudge to faith here, or to renewed faith here, for you?  Faith is a gift of God, to you.

Our neighbor in Newton, Malick Ghachem, had a letter printed Wednesday of this week in the New York Times.  He is explaining his conversion to faith through the Catholic Church, at a time when many churches are awash in conflict, scandal and trouble:

The word church has two meanings in Catholicism:  the institutional church (the hierarchy of priests headed by the pope), and the Body of Christ (made up of all of us who are Catholic).  This second church is the one I joined. I follow the pope, but the institutional church has a distinctly secondary place in my understanding of Catholicism.  I want to see the institutional church reformed, but since it did not draw me to Catholicism in the first place, it would be unlikely to deter me in the end from the more spiritual definition of the church.

Many of us could say the same of our own life journeys in faith, in our own communities and churches.  

Coda

Are you hearing the voice of someone whose example gladdened your heart?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Are you remembering the labors of someone who provided saving health to others?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Are you at a moment, come Sunday, and for all the human foibles of the churches, when someone is calling your name, calling you to faith?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort.

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

‘This I Believe’ Meditations

May 12th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

The full service and meditation are currently not available .

Jonathan Allen – JD – Liberation Theology, Critical Race Theory and Civil Rights Law; LAW’19

This I Believe:

We are all God’s children,

Interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.

This I Believe:

Our diversity is our strength and our power.

This I Believe:

God sides with the oppressed and is actively working throughout the world to liberate those under the weight of oppression, injustice, and deprivation of life, liberty, and dignity.

This I Believe:

We have more in common than we think and therefore, share a bond that if activated can disrupt forces of evil and injustice in our world.

This I Believe:

That all things are possible and that with the power of possibility we can create a more just and equitable world.

This I Believe:

The best is yet to come and that with faith, hope, and love we are indeed better together.

This I Believe:

If God is the Creator, and we are God’s Creation, then the best way to get to know more about God is to spend more time with what God has made.

This I Believe:

Life is a collection of moments; therefore, we must cherish each one.

This I Believe:

NO weapon formed against us shall prosper, we are more than conquers.

This I Believe:

God is greater, wiser, smarter, more caring, and more involved in our lives than our human capacity can conceive.

This I Believe:

We have an obligation, a collective responsibility, to treat all living things with dignity and respect. And thus, our obligation requires that we work diligently to eradicate dehumanization.

This I Believe:

Irrespective of our religious affirmations, God’s love and heart for justice transcends doctrine.

I believe in our capacities to make change. I believe that we are inherently good.

I believe that anything that divides us is counter-goodness and Anti-God.

I believe that regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, educational level, religious background, gender, or even political party, that we need each other.

I believe that we are greater than our worst mistake or misjudgment, and are therefore, worthy of forgiveness and restoration.

I believe God is everywhere, capable of living in everyone, and can do anything.

I believe, we, as God’s offspring, are equipped to foster greater harmony in our communities through empathy and intentionality.

I believe that leaders concerned with social transformation must take care of themselves by developing self- awareness, social-awareness, and spiritual-awareness.

This I Believe:

That LOVE is the answer to all things. This I Believe!

Carolyn Hoffman – BA – International Relations; CAS’19

If the past four years have taught me anything, it is that life can be unpredictable. The major you began freshman year in has absolutely no interest to you anymore? Sure. The dryer in the laundry room does not actually dry your clothes in one cycle? You bet. The BU Bus is not around the corner as the app claims but is instead all the way at the medical campus? Every other day it seems.

But in all seriousness, my time as an undergraduate student at Boston University has fast-tracked my life from being a 17-year-old nervous about how to spend the weekends to a 21-year-old who is employed, in a graduate program and with a partner I want to spend the rest of my life with. This evolution did not happen overnight; it happened over minutes, hours, days, weeks and years of hard work, late night snacks and purchasing of face masks that claimed to rejuvenate my extremely tired-looking face.

I have mental illness, and for the last year I’ve been battling depression. I’ve had anxiety for almost my whole life, and I began seeing a therapist when I was 10. In high school I began medication for generalized anxiety and it made a world of difference. My sophomore year in college I began having panic attacks, and I started additional medication for that. But depression is unfamiliar to me, and that has made my mental illnesses even more unpredictable.

As someone with mental illness in her family, you could say that I was genetically predisposed to it. But as a “type A” student at a challenging university, I would say that predisposed me to mental illness even more. My longing for perfection in all aspects of my life—academics, extracurriculars, relationships etc.—is countered by the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day, and it is impossible to make everyone happy while making sure I am happy.

I, like many students, appear perfectly fine on the outside because I am able to hide behind the façade of my resume. President of this, co-chair of that, Honors in this…the list goes on but the reality is skewed. Too often I fear that disclosing my mental illness will result in others’ thinking I am less capable and less stable. But I realize that in doing so, I am preventing myself from living authentically.

I believe that if we talk about our mental illness experiences, not only would mental illness become less stigmatized but the world would also become a better place. Being vulnerable with loved ones and strangers is scary but necessary if we wish to create a more compassionate and empathetic society. If we hide our stories, we do ourselves the injustice of limiting support and failing to speak our truth.

I have mental illness, but mental illness doesn’t have me. I am not defined by my mental illness and neither are you. I have faith that we can join together by sharing our stories in order to eliminate, once and for all, the silent suffering of those with mental illness.

Katherine Ward – BS – Biomedical Engineering; ENG’19

My journey these last four years through Boston University and my spiritual growth journey are intertwined and inseparable. The physical journey to Boston wasn’t trivial: home is 918 miles away, my closest distant relative is in Philadelphia and the closest person from my high school graduating class was going to college in Washington, D.C. I quickly realized when I got here that the culture I grew up in and the culture of Boston University were vastly different.

I was alone.

I knew regardless of where I went to college that I wanted to form my own religious affiliation now that I had left the private Presbyterian school I attended for 12 years. I came to Marsh Chapel my first Sunday at Boston University because it was the closest walk from Warren Towers. I’m not sure whether it was the space, the stained glass, or the music but Marsh instantly felt familiar. While I personally identified with the Episcopal tradition, I never felt the need to look elsewhere for a church home once I came to Marsh.

So I stayed.

I stayed until the people became familiar faces and then close friends. I kept coming long enough that I eventually grew out of my habit of sitting alone in the pews on Sunday and then heading straight to study to Mugar library alone for the rest of the day. I became an advocate for the small community of Episcopal students on campus and worshipped regularly with the Episcopal chaplains Cameron Partridge and then Karen Coleman. I began to look forward to the community dinners and even studying for finals because of the study retreats organized by Brother Larry. I found my community and my family, my home away from home.

Now that I have attended my last community dinner and my last study retreat, I can look back on this whirlwind trip through Boston University. I can’t imagine what my journey would have looked like without Marsh, as it was an integral part of every week I spent on campus. Once I paused to reflect a bit, I realized that God was behind all of this. God’s spirit is in this space, the people who fill it, and the sounds that resonate inside of it.

About this time next week, my journey through Boston University will be complete.

Maybe I’ll return back to Boston and to this community at Marsh that I’ve come to call family, or maybe I won’t. But, no matter what, the experiences and memories I’ve formed here are coming along with me for the next leg of the journey.

Karey Statin – BS/MS – Political Science and Urban Affairs; CAS 18′ and MET’19

I believe that we can learn to live as one human race. We have the capacity to eradicate the embedded racism that has been reinforced by fear and greed. We have the intelligence to cure all diseases physical and mental, if we choose to work together and share all experiences and knowledge. We have the strength to overcome all challenges foreign and domestic, external and internal, if we unite as one. We have the power to decimate all forces of evil, if we join together in faith. We have the love to conquer hate, if we individually and collectively treat everyone the way we would like to be treated.

I believe that in order to achieve our real and true potential, we must be willing to change. We must seek the truth and release the lies we have been taught. We must accept our own faults and strive to make the right corrections. We must be willing to learn and acknowledge the commonalities that we share with others that don’t look like us. We must face our fears and denounce the hypocrisy that created, and continue to fuel them. We must relinquish our unfounded advantages, to remove unfair disadvantages imposed on others. We must sacrifice our gains to empower those who have been denied opportunities through systematic oppression. We must, with purpose and intention, visually and expressively change positively to encourage others to embrace our change, and to make the same change for themselves.

I believe, because after initially coming to Boston University in 1978 and experiencing the positive change of attitudes and behaviors toward each other showing a new respect of individual persons and cultures. Now, nearly two generations later, I believe because in spite of all the chaos and pessimism, I see optimism in the eyes of my schoolmates here at BU, and I hear optimism in the expressions and conversations of my classmates. So, I know we are headed in the right direction.

Finally, I believe with our Creator guiding and leading us all the way, we will all become the best versions of ourselves, as He who began a good work in us has and is careful to see it to completion.

Denise-Nicole Stone – BS – International Relations; CAS’19

My sophomore year, after reading the book, This I Believe which compiled accounts from the NPR segment, I wrote my own version. When thinking about writing this, I went back to it, curious to see what has changed in the past two years. I wrote that I believed in presence and appreciation, that these tenants drove the core of my being.

This assessment holds generally true. However, I think I would define it differently now. Now, I say that I believe in bearing witness. Bearing witness to the beauty, heartbreak and complexity of life. I think this journey; the good, horrible, and mundane moments of life, is sacred and worthy of sincere attention.

My BU experience, and especially the past two years, has been full of opportunities to explore new topics in a variety of situations. They have taken me to Israel, Geneva, South Africa and St. Louis. They have asked me to explore restorative justice, international responses to conflict, peacebuilding, the shortcomings of aid and the challenges of community. I have seen the capacity of people to address challenges and collaborate for healing, and to do immense harm to one another.

Bearing witness is not merely to see. It is to allow all that we have seen to change us and alter how we approach the world. It is active. It is a commitment to hold the stories of those we have met and to carry them with us. It is a commitment to try to understand what can be understood and above all to honor our human connections. I believe in sitting with tension and discomfort, wrestling with pain and love in community and asking questions of myself and others. How am I contributing to this situation? How can I disrupt cycles of harm? What are our responsibilities to one another?

What I believe has changed slightly since Sophomore year, it has evolved and been clarified by my experiences. The college years are dedicated to such growth. It is a period of near constant change and opportunity. As I leave this space, I hope life continues to teach me, challenge me and that in 2 years I will be able to further refine my beliefs.

I want to live in a way that interrupts harm, that bears witness to all of life and that honors my connection to all people.

This I believe.

 

This Holy Mystery

May 5th, 2019 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

John 21: 1-19

Click here to hear the sermon only

In the Morning

The sermon begins with a recitation of Psalm 110, in gender neutral language.

Habits lead us forward.  Come Easter. Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human. At the tomb.  Come Resurrection. This is a Holy Mystery.

Jan and I have grave plots in the local cemetery of Eaton, NY.  Where is Eaton? Exactly. It is nowhere. We bought them for $400 each, which is a real estate bargain.  Especially when you amortize the amount over eternity! All need to plan ahead, one way or another. In addition to burial or equivalent, you will want to employ the Robert Allan Hill planning for post-retirement system:  OOPS. O O P S. My mom always remembers the OOPS but then asks, what do they stand for? Order of worship. Obituary. Photo. Special papers (DNR, will).

Over the Hill from the fancy Hill post-retirement real estate there is a little town, Oriskany Falls, dating, like the graves in Eaton, from just after the American Revolution.  Our friend’s dad, Russell Clark, a Colgate and BU graduate, loved life as a pastor there. One winter a farmer, his lay leader died, and the widow was not in church for a long time.  The pastor tried to console and help, but she didn’t want company. Grief is a slippery dragon. If I had another two lifetimes I would spend half of one really studying, trying to understand grief.  It is a dark stranger, an opaque mystery, individual to each. For Russell’s Oriskany Falls widow it was too. Then one day she called to say that she would like a pastoral visit. She told him something, when he asked how she was doing.  She began: Don’t take this the wrong way, Rev.  (You know you are already in trouble with that prelude.)  It has been so unutterably hard for me.  There were days when I could not get out of bed.  But I did. And do know why? It wasn’t the resurrection sermons I have heard. No.  What got me going, got me out of bed was…the chickens. Every morning at dawn they would fuss, and rustle around and cluck, waiting to be fed.  They were hungry and they needed feeding. So I got up and put on my robe and went out and fed them. By then the sun was up, by then the mist was lifted, by then I was awake, and by then I could stand the thought of breakfast, and after that, well the day opened up.  So don’t take this the wrong way, Rev. (you know you are in trouble when…), don’t take this the wrong way, but the clucking of those hens meant more to me in my grief than all the hymns of Easter.  The clucking of those chickens meant more to me than all the hymns of Easter.

You see?  The rhythms of life, evening and morning one day, detailed disciplined attention to the routine can by grace admit illumination, the light in which we see light.  Including religious practice. Joanna, the newcomer, found it so. So can you, especially if you on Easter are a newcomer, looking for a first helping, an initial course in faith, a church family to love and church home to enjoy.  Particularly in grief. It is one thing to attend to religious practice, and another to do so, to visit the body, when you have loved the person. As some of you have done so this year.

A Later Addition

Here are some notes about the unusual chapter John 21, our Gospel today.  R Brown: *An added account of a post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus in Galilee, which is used to show how Jesus provided for the needs of the church.  *1-14; 15-23; 24-25… *‘The gospel never circulated without 21’…. *Appendix, supplement, or epilogue?… *Stylistic differences…. *We shall work on the hypothesis of composition by a redactor… *Material drawn from the same ‘general reservoir of Johannine tradition’… *Completion or correction? (RAH)…  *Other miraculous catches of fish (Lk 5)… *Ecclesiastical and Eucharistic and Eschatology, symbolism of the chapter… *‘There are good reasons for finding Eucharistic symbolism in the meal’…*15-17 ‘Peter’s rehabilitation’ (!)… *‘As shepherd, Peter’s authority is not absolute’. *Did the community think the BD would not die?* Dodd:  ‘The naïve conception of Christ’s second advent in 21: 22 is unlike anything else in the Fourth Gospel’…*Thus, while the differences are not significant enough on their own to suggest that the original author did not write the 21st chapter, it does texture its continuity: *it is not immediately apparent why the original author, “wishing to add to his own book, would add [to] it in so clumsy a manner” (577)… *This chapter occurs after a strong conclusion (ch. 20:30). It is rhetorically weak to have material after a strong conclusion. *The chronological introduction of the narrative (“After these things Jesus showed himself again”) is strikingly less precise than other temporally-concerned introductions (ch. 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week;” v19: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week;” and v26: “A week later.”)…* From these comments, Barrett suggests that chapter 21 be read as if it were a metaphorical account of the birth of the early Christian church *for the purpose of explicating the different, yet equally important, roles of Peter and the beloved disciple, penned by a second author (577). Read this way, we are to see the disciples as “catching men” (579)… *“pastoral ministry and historical-theological testimony” (587).

Lessons For Us

Our Gospel today offers us three lessons.

The first is that change, amendment, development, becoming are not only a part of life and life in faith, but also and earlier so, found right in the heart of the Bible.  The Fourth Gospel, twenty chapters long, written in the years leading toward 90 a.d., was composed out of sermons stitched together: a wedding in Cana, Nicodemus at night, the woman at the well, healings of body, feeding 5,000, debates with opponents, sight given to the blind, the raising of Lazarus, Jesus in farewell, passion and resurrection.  But then, a decade later, another chapter was added, because another chapter was needed. And all the things left out of the Gospel—so beautiful the Gospel—now have their time to appear or re-appear: the importance of the church, the centrality of leadership, the holy mystery of communion, the inherited tradition of the eschaton, the rehabilitation of Peter, the importance of pastoral care, the significance of evangelism.  The Bible has a story, too, and it is a story of becoming, not of static changelessness, but of adaptation, flexibility, formation—evolution. The Gospel ends in chapter 20, and is re-started in 21. If you find that you are changing, learning, growing—GRADUATING, well, you have some hints about how that happens, in the Holy Scripture. New occasions teach new duties.

The second is that institutions matter a whole lot, including the church.  If you eliminate ethics and pollute politics and contaminate culture, then you are left to go all the way upstream, from ethics and politics and culture, into the higher ground, the colder waters of religion.  The thing about institutions is that they don’t go away, they just either get better or worse. Love is finding a way to use time, even to waste some time, in the advancement of institutional health, in learning virtue and piety, in knowing, doing and being.  In leadership. Leading by example.

(The Methodist church hit an iceberg in February, for instance, and we are a long way from beginning to fathom the cost, damage, impact and consequence that crash.  It was an institutional failure of colossal proportion, and a spiritual defeat of colossal dimension. There is enough blame and responsibility to go all around. The question now is how to care for him who has borne the battle and his widow and his orphan and do all we can to attain a just and lasting peace, for ourselves, and for all.  Start with ten facts:

St Louis was decided by 27 votes.

42 votes were neither cast nor counted.

2/3 of US votes were liberal.

Of $400M spent outside the US by the UMC in 2017 $398M came out of US collection plates. (Funds 1,4,7).

In Finding Our Way 2014 the African UMC general superintendent referred to gay people as ‘beasts of the field’.

In 1972 mainline Christians were 33% of the US population; today 11%.

In 1972 ‘nones’ were 4% of the population; today 24%.

All but 6 UMC general superintendents finally supported the One Church plan, but they did not say so clearly and early with signatures.

Baldwin Wallace University in April 26, 2019 severed its 174 year old affiliation with the UMC by unanimous vote of the University Trustees.

Marsh Chapel marries gay people and employs and deploys gay clergy on a regular basis.

The third is that personal concern, and pastoral care, feed feed feed, have no substitute in the peculiar holy mystery of the church.  We are present for each other come Sunday. We are present for each other in Sacrament.  We are present for each other in fellowship. We are present for each other in education.  We are present for each other in visitation. We are present for each other in spoken prayer.  We are present for each other in care. In the ministry, stay close to your people. In the church, stay close to your neighbors in town and in the pew.  Love one another, as Christ has loved you.

On Friday, after senior breakfast, I met a new friend, who said, with some poise and calm, ‘well, I guess people gathering once a week to be together and remind each other to be good people and become better people, I guess that’s not such a bad thing’.  I guess not.

The sermon concludes with a recitation of the Canadian Creed.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill