Sunday
September 19

The Lord of the Harvest

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 9: 35-38

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The authority of Jesus’ ministry is today transferred to disciples and apostles, ancient and modern.

We meet Jesus this morning on the hinges of the first Gospel, as the flow of the Gospel swings from Lord to apostles. In the announcement of this good news is included a measure of empowerment for each one of us. This is the kind of bright autumn morning on which, for once, for the first time, or for once in a long time, we—not just the ordinand but we ourselves–may be seized by a sense of divine nearness. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The harvest is plentiful.  The kingdom of heaven has come near to you. When that sentence makes a home in a heart, or in the heart of a community, a different kind of life ensues.  It opens for you the question of vocation, of calling, of your truest self, of your ownmost self.

Faith may come like a blinding light on the Road to Damascus.  It may.  But most of the time it comes, rather, one stumble, one step, one stop at a time.  One step.  As a person of faith.  Take a step a day, a step a week.  Health, healing, salvation, salvus, wellness, wellbeing come in small doses, occasional, discreet, bit by bit. Some like Paul are blinded by a moment on the road to Damascus. Most of us are seized in faith, brought to healing, in a gradual way, over time, as my teacher of blessed memory Fr. Raymond Brown was used to say. Not in lightening but enlightening and enlightened day by day. Sermon by sermon we could say, Sunday by Sunday. One step at a time. The Gospels tell us so, whatever the Epistles may opine.  Daily Questions of Faith, like… Is there a dark side to Forgiveness?… Is Education about the old or the new?… Do I hold onto things too long?… Do I practice Misplaced Paternalism?… When the time comes: How do we approach death?…Have we faced the inadequacy of a life without faith?…

This year, 2021-22, sermon by sermon, Sunday by Sunday, we will look for a single small step, one question of faith at at time.

A preparatory step is to read the Bible, to open the Scripture.  We do so four times in the Sunday hour of worship, whatever the sermon may portend.  Or pretend.  Including this morning.  And so we hear the Gospel:   Vocation…leads to an experience of God. The kingdom of heaven is at hand…when your passion meets another’s need.  The harvest is plentiful like an orchard full of ripe apples.

Capture in the mind’s eye for a moment the sweep of the gospel in this part of Matthew. First. Jesus has been out and about, teaching and preaching and healing. His compassion abounds. The endless range of needs about him he unblinkingly faces. Second. Jesus calls and sends the disciples, and empowers them, and by extension he empowers us. The gospel will have been read thus, as it is thus read by us. He instructs and directs them in their work, where to go, what to do, how to be. Learning, virtue, and piety together. Start at home, heal the sick, travel light. Third. Jesus expects and forecasts for them a less than utter victory in their work. They are to know how to shake dust from their feet. Fourth. Jesus warns that there will be a price to pay. The discipline that is the hallmark of the disciple here is named. Shall we not remember the rigors of Jesus’ ministry? Shall we ignore the call and power offered here? Shall we forget the directions given? Shall we expect to turn a deaf ear to the caution about consequences? We pray not. The main sweep of the gospel today is clear as a bell. Jesus gives power to his disciples. Hold that thought for a moment.

The devil is in the details. The Gospel in Matthew 9 sends us into a sort of foreign territory, one, that is, in which and for which we shall need some translation. The biblical language is not always our language.  For instance.  We have other words, whether only modern or both modern and more accurate, to describe unclean spirits. We recognize that the list of disciples differs from other lists.  We do not regularly meet leprosy. We carry no gold in our belts, nor silver, nor even copper. We are not pilgrim peregrinators who arrive in town and camp on a doorstep. We sense that the hard distinctions we make between disciples and apostles were not made by Matthew. We do not readily conjure up the vision of Sodom and Gomorrah. We sense that the time of Matthew and perhaps persecutions feared or present under Domitian, 90ce, may have colored all or a part of this passage.

A confusion, a lack of translation here will allow us to avoid the clear call of Christ upon our consciences in the main flow of the gospel. For the main point is crystal clear. To follow Jesus means to take up where he and his earliest companions left off, and to span the globe, and to care for the globe and its environment, and to share the spiritual care of its inhabitants with the world’s many other religious traditions.

The verses and the chapter and the gospel carry a claim. Do you love Jesus? Then you must do something for him, said Albert Schweitzer.

Jesus has taught, preached and healed. This ministry he has bequeathed to you and me, his disciples, his apostles. We have been seized by the confession of the Church; we are Christians. Now his ministry, this ministry, is ours. Which part of this ministry, today, draws you, and in which way?

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. I might argue that healing the sick has a medical degree of meaning, that raising the dead is about pastoral ministry in the Northeast where the church awaits resurrection, that cleansing lepers is about including those on the outside of the social fence, that casting out demons is reminding people not to fear, not to fear, not to fear, even, in the face of much trouble, including the twenty year shadow of 9/11. You could, rightly, challenge or augment the interpretation.

But personally, just where does your passion meet the world’s need? What are you ready to risk doing, to plan for the worst, hope for the best, then do your most, and leave all the rest?What are you going to give yourself to, to offer your ability, affability, and availability?

Who calls you, who called you, to your own real life, your vocation? Who gave you your sense of direction, vocation in life? Our colleague Robert Pinsky revitalized poetry by asking communities to gather and read their favorites. We at Marsh are trying to revitalize vocation in part by asking people to gather and remember their mentors. What about you? The world opens a bit when someone is called or reminded of a call to…preaching, teaching, healing.

Vocation…leads to an experience of God. The kingdom of heaven is at hand…when your passion meets another’s need.

Today one step.  Our step in questions of faith today, on reading the Holy Bible, is to discern our calling, vocation, that which makes not just a living but a life.   Others from history may help us, two in particular today, Martin Luther and John Wesley.

On May 24 of 1738, Mr. John Wesley, an Oxford Don and Anglican Priest, found himself in a Sunday evening service of worship on Aldersgate Street in London.  This was a rainy Sunday evening, and the weather of the moment it would seem matched Wesley’s despond.  Yet on the conclusion of the service, somehow, Mr. Wesley walked into the London fog singing in the rain.  His heart, he wrote later, had been ‘strangely warmed’.  In full he thought and felt and ‘feltthought’ that the passion, the gift of Christ, was for him, for him–John Wesley.  The moment became a touchstone in his life, and consequently, both for bane and blessing, in the movement that became the church that became the denomination that became whatever it is now to become which he and his dear brother Charles did beget.  Yet not often has Methodism looked back a little bit more carefully at the first part of his story of that fateful, eventful evening.  The service on Aldersgate Street started with Martin Luther, and with his commentary, summary, introduction to the Epistle to the Romans.  Here to hear is a part of that introduction, on the matter of faith:

Faith is a living, daring confidence in the grace of God, of such assurance that it would risk a thousand deaths. This confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes a person happy, bold, and full of gladness in his relation to God and all creatures. The Holy Ghost is doing this in the believer… Accordingly, it is impossible to separate works from faith, just as impossible as it is to separate the power to burn and shine from fire…Pray God that He may create faith in you…”

In a more personal vein, many of us have been shaped by the outworking of Luther’s thought and church, especially through the influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Our first year of seminary on the corner of Broadway and (now) Reinhold Niebuhr place was sustained by shared evening meals, one clumsy amateur cook at a time, to share expenses in the main, and to share insights and friendship, as well.  This was on the second floor of then Hastings Hall at Union Theological Seminary, NYC.  Somehow, Eberhard Bethge was invited and chose to come to join us for our evening meal, a most humble affair in every direction.  He was a most gregarious, joyful fellow, who knew Bonhoeffer better perhaps than almost anyone.  He matched, in part, the person of faith that Luther described in the Introduction to Romans—a daring confidence in the grace of God, happy bold and full of gladness.  Last week, a friend who is in retirement from work as a cardiologist, who serves on our Marsh Chapel board, and in a new mode of vocation, is studying Bonhoeffer, in depth in and in breadth, sent photos from the 1930’s at Union of Bonhoeffer.   In those years Bonhoeffer wrote: Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. (Cost of Discipleship)…. In Christ we are invited to participate in the reality of God and the reality of the world at the same time, the one not without the other. The reality of God is disclosed only as it places me completely into the reality of the world. (Ethics)

We have much for which to be thankful, given to our denomination and many others through Martin Luther, including the witness and martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Sometimes a direct encounter with a different religious tradition than our own, a different denominational tradition, a strangely and daringly distinct perspective, can bring our own vocational perspective into focus.

That is our ancient and future hope, in Scripture and in faith.  John Dewey spoke of a common faith.  Howard Thurman preached about a common ground.  Over fifteen years, in and from this Marsh Chapel pulpit, we have offered a common hope.

This is the hope of peace.  We long for the far side of trouble, for a global community of steady interaction, an international fellowship of accommodation, a world together dedicated to softening the inevitable collisions of life.  This is the hope of peace.

Without putting too fine a point upon it, this hope, the vision of the far side of trouble, is the hallmark of the space in which we stand, and the place before which we stand.  If nowhere else, here on this plaza, and here before this nave, we may lift our prayer of hope.  There is a story here, of peace.  You now, students and others, are become in presence and hearing, stewards, stewards of this story, this common hope.

For we at Marsh Chapel are like everyone else, only more so, as the saying goes—a wide and diverse community, committed to a handshake and a song, and that shared ‘creed’ of ‘that which has been believed, always, everywhere, and by everyone (so, John Wesley), a common hope of peace, a unity shall we say that protects and promotes diversity.

Mahatmas Ghandi, walking and singing ‘Lead Kindly Light’, embodied this common hope.  Ghandi wrote:  “I am part and parcel of the whole, and cannot find God apart from the rest of humanity”.  A common hope of peace.  Ghandi inspired and taught the earlier Dean of Marsh Chapel, Howard Thurman.

Howard Thurman, hands raised in silence, later wrote:  “The events of my days strike a full balance of what seems both good and bad.  Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at had the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”  A common hope of peace.

Thurman taught King, whose stentorian voice fills our memory and whose sculpture adorns our village green.  King wrote: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality”.  A common hope of peace. Martin Luther King inspired a whole generation of ministers, including the current Dean of this Chapel.

He (Robert Allan Hill) wrote:  “We are all more human and more alike than we regularly affirm, all of us on this great globe. We all survive the birth canal, and so have a native survivors’ guilt. All eight billion. We all need daily two things, bread and a name. (One does not live by bread alone). All eight billion. We all grow to a point of separation, a leaving home, a second identity. All eight billion. We all love our families, love our children, love our homes, love our grandchildren. All eight billion. We all age, and after fifity, its maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. All eight billion. We all shuffle off this mortal coil en route to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. All eight billion.”

Today, in memory and honor, with Luther, Wesley, Ghandi, Dewey, Thurman and King, we lift our hope for a day to live on the far side of trouble.  We remember our ancient and future hope, a hope of peace.  Here is a discreet question of faith.  One step, a small step. Does or will your calling evoke a hope of peace in others? or will your sense of vocation evoke a hope of peace in others?

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

Sunday
September 12

Finding Divine Sustenance

By Marsh Chapel

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1 Kings 19:48

John 6:35, 4151

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Good morning! Can I just say how amazing it is to be here, in front of people, delivering a sermon today? This year has been so difficult, and even though we managed ways to stay connected through the radio and zoom, distanced outdoor in-person services in the freezing cold, and email, nothing compares to the strength and support of physically being together. In the three weeks that we have been back indoors, in person here at Marsh Chapel I have been so happy to see your faces, although masked, and to hear your wonderful voices. Don’t get me wrong, recording your sermon ahead of time has its advantages, like starting over if you mess up at the beginning, but nothing compares to being here, with you, in community praising God. It’s such a blessing on what is a very important day for me – more on that later! 

A few years ago, actually, I think it may have been a decade or more at this point, the candy bar, Snickers, had a commercial campaign that featured Betty White. You may remember this. She was depicted playing a game of touch football with much younger men and ends up getting tackled into a giant mud puddle. When she gets grief from the other players for not playing to her potential, she lashes out at them. And then another woman presumably the partner of the person Betty White is supposed to be depicting, hands her a candy bar and says, “Eat a Snickers.” Betty White then transforms into a younger man who says he’s now feeling much better and goes off to play more football. The tagline was “You’re not you when you’re hungry.Maybe some of us have experienced being so hungry that we end up in a bad mood, sometimes lashing out at others. Your hunger becomes so great that even the smallest inconvenience becomes insurmountable. I’m sure some of us are familiar with the term “hangry” – a portmanteau of the words hungry and angry. As a person who struggles with low blood sugar at times, I certainly know that I have embodied this “hangry” position and I am certainly not myself when I do. 

Earlier this year, there was a meme going around in my clergy friend circle discussing the passage from 1 Kings today. The meme is actually a tweet from Joy Clarkson, a PhD candidate in theology at St. Andrews University and host of the Podcast, “Speaking with Joy”( @joynessthebrave). It stated: 

“Remember that one time in the Bible when Elijah was like “God, I’m so mad! I want to die!” So God said, “Here’s some food. Why don’t you have a nap? So Elijah slept and ate, and decided things weren’t so bad. Never underestimate the power of a snack and a nap.”

Of course, this is an oversimplification of the story, but we get the point, right? Elijah’s story is relatable because we know that feeling. Getting “hangry” or overwhelmed, or even just not acting like ourselves when things are not going the way we planned. We get moody. We argue with others. We hyperbolize and say, “I could just die!” The bottom line is, we just want whatever it is to be over. We’ve all had times when things seem so impossible around us that we want to just throw up our hands at God and say “WHY? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?” Some of those times may have even come up in the past year, or even the past weeks with the surge of the Delta variant, returning to school or work, and witnessing national and global news that leaves us at a loss for words. Our conversations with God often come in these moments of exasperation as we grasp for clarity.  My friends who shared the meme about Elijah’s breakdown were those who had endured a year of upended plans with their religious communities and faced continued situations of injustice throughout the world. They too were and continue to be frustrated in what they can and cannot do for others to serve them in a way that is does not completely deplete them of their own energy supply. Many of them were reaching a point of burnout 

A snack and a nap certainly are not going to fix all of the world’s problems, but when we have our basic needs met, it is easier to cope with extenuating circumstances. We cannot serve others or ourselves if we are running low on energy. Taking care of our needs can also help us focus on who and what supports us. For my clergy friends, remembering that it is okay and even encouraged by God to take care of themselves to better serve others was much needed. A silly internet meme resulted in a moment of reflection on God’s presence and guidance in maintaining one’s ability to continue the difficult work of seeking out justice in the world. In times of stress, remembering to drink, eat, and sometimes even just breathe can help us find grounding. 

Elijah separates himself from his community to express his frustration and ultimately finds that God continues to support him by providing him with his essential needs so that he can reset and return to his community. He can then go on to continue his important work as a prophet in challenging the actions of King Ahab and the cruelty shown to the people of Israel. God’s constant presence through the care shown to Elijah when he is at his lowest point enables Elijah to remember that God continues to support him, even in his darkest moments. Elijah has physical hunger, yes, but he also has a spiritual hunger that needs to be fulfilled. 

The theme of the sustaining presence of God in the world is carried through in today’s Gospel message. Jesus proclaims to the people, including the religious authorities, that HE is the bread of life and that whoever comes to him will never be hungry. Some may read this as a message meant to exclude, a condemnation of those who are not a part of Jesus’ movement. But, as one commentator put it, this is not a message of condemnation but of commendation. It is an invitation to people to come, taste and see that the Lord is good! Jesus creates a continuum between his Jewish heritage and the new message of what God offers to humanity. The Israelites relied on manna from heaven while they wandered the desert with Moses for 40 years, further establishing their trust in God. This new form of manna from heaven through the bread of life expands God’s covenant with humanity in establishing eternal life. It provides spiritual nourishment to all who come to receive it.  

In our Christian context, we immediately connect Jesus’ claim of being the bread of life for those who hunger and the living waters for those who thirst with our sacraments. Holy Communion allows us to eat and drink as Christ has instructed us, in his remembrance. Sharing together as a community in partaking in the bread and wine physically binds us to the reality of Christ’s love. As a central part of worship, the Lord’s Supper presents an opportunity for us as the congregation to share in the intimate act of eating and drinking together. Temporally and spatially, this act also connects us with the centuries of Christians throughout the world who have shared in this sacrament. Creating community around the table is meaningful because it recognizes the need to be spiritually and physically sustained in order to serve God. 

One thing that I appreciate most about the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper is the acknowledgement of the mystery that surrounds it. We take Jesus at his word when he states that the bread and the wine are his body and blood. Our faith is bolstered by the fact that we continue to receive this mystery. Even if we believe we are unworthy to accept God’s grace, it is still given to us through the promise found in Holy Communion. Our consciences are eased by the reality that there is nothing we need to do to earn this means of grace from God, but that it is given to us freely.  

Here at Marsh Chapel, last week we had our first experience with Holy Communion together in the same space after 18 months of depravation. Communion did not happen in our traditional way of intinction. We used pre-packaged communion kits rather than receiving the bread and wine from one another. While we may have fumbled to get the plastic wrappers off of our wafers or carefully pulled back the foil on top of our cup of grape juice so not to spill it on our clothes, we still heard the words of institution spoken and received the mystery of the sacrament together. It was still a special moment filled with God’s stated presence here with us, joining us together. Eating and drinking has been something  many of us have missed in these days of isolation and social distancing. Avoiding having a meal around others has been essential to maintaining our physical health in the past year, but finding a way to still partake in this sacrament in a COVID-safe way has brought back spiritual nourishment for us. 

Holy Communion has played a pivotal role in my own sense of vocation and call. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I only infrequently encountered other ministers in my youth My primary clergy person was also my dad. I witnessed my father celebrating communion almost every week in the churches he served. However, when you’re a PK, your connection with the church can be somewhat challenging. If your pastor is your parent, it’s hard to not see their vocation as just a “job” or really understand what it is that they do. For some PKs, it causes them to develop some uneasiness around considering ministry as a potential vocation. That’s why, when I went off to theology school after college I made it very clear that I was NOT going to be pastor. I figured my studies of religion and theology were enough to feed my spirituality. I had stopped regularly attending church in college and didn’t feel any sort of drive to return even when surrounded by those who were seeking out ministry as their vocation. 

In 2011, things changed. My mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that originates in the bone marrow and affects the white blood cells. Fortunately, she was diagnosed early and had access to cutting-edge care at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, which has oncologists who specialize in this type of cancer. The prospect of a loved one, or even yourself, going through cancer treatment is terrifying, however. Watching at a distance as she went through chemo, losing weight and eventually her hair, it was hard to not question: Why? Why was this happening?” Like Elijah yelling at God in his frustration, there were many times when I found myself angry with God. My family trusted the doctors, who were sure that at the very least her disease would be manageable in the future, but nonetheless it was scary in the moment.  

I finally got to visit my mom after she had her largest dose of chemo and her own treated stem cells transplanted into her body, resulting in a 17 day long stay at the hospital, from which she had just been released. My parent’s minister, the minister of the church to which my family belonged while my dad served as an interim minister for many years, came to the house to give her communion. I had never experienced communion at home before (which seems like a silly thing to say in today’s context, when some of us have now taken part in communion services over Zoom). For me, communion was always a full church experience – I connected it with being in front of the altar and surrounded by others. Sure, I knew that my dad would go out and give communion to those who were too sick or homebound, but I never experienced it first-hand, let alone from another minister. My mom, dad, and I sat in their living room as Pastor Sharkey unpacked his communion kit and asked my mom about how she was doing, comforting her in the challenges she now faced in her recovery. He went on to offer us each communion, stating the words of institution and placing the wafers in our hands followed by small cups of wine.  

Although I had heard “The body of Christ, given for you,” “The blood of Christ, shed for you” many, many times before, in that specific moment I felt a connection so much deeper than anything I had ever experienced. I felt spiritually fed. I felt supported by God. I knew that God was there to help us get through this moment. It wasn’t that my experiences in the church prior to this were not spiritual or meaningful, but it helped me to see and understand ministry in a different light. I knew that ministry involved the care of others in the most difficult of times, but I don’t think I ever truly understood what it meant to those who were hurting until I experienced it myself. As someone who has innately sought to help others in whatever jobs I take on (perhaps because of my upbringing) I began to see ministry as truly viable option for my future. When the opportunity to serve as the Lutheran Campus Minister here at BU arose after this experience, I jumped at the chance to enter into the beginning steps of a long process of discernment to pursue becoming a minister of Word and Sacrament.  

Throughout my journey of candidacy, I have continued to encounter moments of God’s sustaining presence, keeping me spiritually fed. Getting to know the ins and outs of Chaplaincy from my colleagues, learning about the experiences of my students, and providing care for others has helped me grow into my vocation. The road has not always been easy, it has certainly been long, and there were times when I had those moments with God questioning why I had to go through what I was going through. I found a community of people who support and care for me, cheering me on as I hit each milestone and encouraging me when things didn’t go as planned. Through it all, I felt God’s presence with me in this community. And now, this afternoon, for the first time ever, I will preside at the table for Holy Communion at my ordination service. I can’t put into words what that moment will mean for me. While, again, it won’t necessarily be the experience I thought I would have because of COVID, being able to help direct the congregation that will gather in this sanctuary to the mystery of God’s grace brings my heart joy. Perhaps someone will also find comfort or strength in the words of institution, being spiritually fed through the bread of life and the living waters. 

God stands with us in our hardest moments. When we yell out in our frustration hoping for something better, God hears us. God’s constant presence reminds us that we are not alone. We gather together in community with one another to find the strength to continue through whatever challenges we might face. Christ invites us to partake in the bread of life to have our hunger and thirst perpetually satisfied. We are physically and spiritually fed through Holy Communion, hearing the Word proclaimed and receiving the body and blood of Christ given for each one of us. We are divinely sustained as a community. As the Psalmist states “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God!” Amen. 

-Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Monday
September 6

A Balm in Gilead

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Mark 7:2437

Click here to hear just the sermon

Coming after 18 months hiatus to the Lord’s Supper, we announce the healing Gospel, the Balm in Gilead, in the breaking of bread, such a choice phrase:  A Balm in Presence. A Balm in Remembrance.  A Balm in Thanksgiving.

Presence

Month by month many of you gathered on the first Sunday, out on the Plaza at 8am, for prayer.  It was cold every month, including April for Easter.  Yet there were, sans heat, sans pew, sans communion.

In thy presence there is fullness of joy.

You will sense the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence by its fruit (Galatians 5:23).  Another Presence, of which you become aware, in your daily life together, by sensing the fruit of this presence.  God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through these marks, these footprints, these touches of grace.

In Love.  Love is the attentive gift of time, as in the course of a lifetime of friendship, or partnership, or marriage.  In Love.

In Joy.  Joy is happy embrace—physical, mental, spiritual, soulful—morning and evening.  In Joy.

In Peace.  Peace is the gift—all these are pure gifts of God—of real listening, listening with a full smile and a glad heart.  In Peace.

In Patience.  Discipleship needs persistence, the accelerator, and patience, the break, to make it over the mountains and through the deserts, and across the great plains of life.  Said the Buddha:  patience is self-compassion which gives you equanimity.  In Patience.

In Kindness.  Kindness is the long-distance run, the gift of a gracious long distance perspective, known in part in the openness to forgiveness.  In Kindness.

In Goodness.  Real Goodness bursts forth in generosity.  You only have what you give away, and you only truly possess what you have the grace and freedom to offer to someone else.  What you give is what you have.  In Goodness.

In Faith.  Faith is a gift, like all other signs of abiding love.  Faith is the capacity to withstand what and when we cannot understand (repeat).  When you face struggle, challenge, difficulty, may this gift be yours by divine grace.  In Faith.

In Gentleness.  Tea, sunset, backrub, quiet, handholding, prayer, worship.  In Gentleness. Where are the gentle people?

In Self-Control.  Self-Control, a gift of God’s Presence, guides you to work through any and all labors:  in care for family and extended family;  in stewardship of precious material wealth, never plentiful but always sufficient; in sensitivity in intimacy, sexuality, in preparing for an unforeseen future;  in the building of community—yes religious community, but also neighborhood, town, school, city, and a culture gradually amenable to faith.  Kenmore Square being rebuilt! In Self-Control.

You will sense the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence by its fruit (Galatians 5:23).  Another Presence, of which you become aware, in your daily life together, by sensing the fruit of this presence.  God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through these marks, these footprints, these touches of grace.

Through the year we recalled Thurman’s favorite psalm, 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Into Another Presence…

Dr. Chicka, in spiritual presence, what have we to offer our community this fall?

(Dr. Jess Chicka speaks)

Remembrance

A Balm in Gilead, in presence, and in remembrance.  Those quiet Sunday dawning taught us to take the covid quiet, or some of it, with us.  Thursday at noon I opened the front door of the chapel to leave it ajar, a physical invitation.  It was jarring, not the door, but the sight.  After months of empty quiet, with only a squirrel or an absent-minded professor crossing the plaza, there, then—throngs, hordes, multitudes, masses.  The plaza full of students.  The sidewalk full of students.  The streets and cross streets and all, full.  I wandered and one asked for directions to Photonics and another to Morse auditorium.

For students seeking directions we regularly recommend a walk on the Emerald Necklace once a month, a walk on the Esplanade once a month, a public transport and walk on the coast, the sea shore, once a month, and a look through the CAS telescope once a month.  For four years. Keep close to nature.  Remember the natural world.  Especially, Go to the ocean once a month, especially if you are from the Midwest.  The ocean keeps us balanced, as does the natural world in general, as a kind of creational Scripture.  Nature reminds us.

Low tide and high.

Storm and sun.

Winter and summer.

Heat and cold.

Evening and morning.

Sunshine and rain.

Day to day and night to night.

Easy and hard.

Good and not so good.

Seed time and harvest.

Wind and calm.

The natural world, let us recall,speaking by not speaking, can offer us balance, a reminder that not all is always well, but also that there is often a sunset even after a day of rain.

We remembered every month and do again today, Romans 12:  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[e] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Rev. Dr. Karen, in spiritual remembrance, what have we to offer our community this fall?

(Rev. Dr. Karen speaks)

Thanksgiving

A Balm in Gilead in presence, and remembrance and thanksgiving.

Eucharist means thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is the heart of faith, the marrow of faith, the sinew and bone and carne y hueso of faith.

The faith of a friend: We continue to be blessed by our God, being deeply appreciative and mindful that love and faith make us resilient and hopeful. We continue to be blessed by our God, being deeply appreciative and mindful that love and faith make us resilient and hopeful.

The faith of another friend: Maybe I will take deeply to heart my friend’s definition of faith: ‘the personal positive answer to the question whether life has meaning’. Maybe I will take deeply to heart my friend’s definition of faith: ‘the personal positive answer to the question whether life has meaning’.

The faith of the author of James, one of the earliest recorded sermons in emerging Christianity by the way, that faith is primary but works count too, and faith without them is really not vital faith at all.  Or, as the writer puts it, ‘faith without works is dead’.

The faith of a friend through writing: “Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”  (Anne Lamotte).  (Good advice for beginning the school year…)

With thanksgiving we lift the strange blessedness, the word means happy, Makarios, happy.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dr. Jarrett, in spiritual thanksgiving, what have we to offer our community this fall?

(Dr. Scott Jarrett speaks)

Coda

Here we are, at the Lord’s table.  Present, remembering, giving thanks.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

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

Sunday
August 29

Beginning A Conversation

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 7:18

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We in worship today at Marsh Chapel, Matriculation Sunday, August 29, anno domini 2021, have the privilege of worshipping alongside a new class of first year students, the class of 2025.  We bow and we tip our invisible hats to them.  For they are beginning a conversation.  It matters how a conversation begins.  We with the women and men of 2025 also are beginning a conversation, an… autumn …postcovid … thoughnotyetreallypostcovid …séance… tertulia… conversation.

How shall we begin?

*Beginning a Conversation: Includes Questions

Two friends have moved north of the border, to teach and work in Canada.  As they cross back and forth, crossing the border, they will receive and respond to questions, questions at the border (4):  What is your name? Where are you from?  Where are you headed?  Do you have anything to declare?  The border between strangers headed toward friendship in the freshman year involves just those questions, with which a conversation begins: What is your name? Where are you from?  Where are you headed?  Do you have anything to declare?  Let us learn in these years the power of questions, and the prudence of listening to the answers.  As the Letter of James reminds us: let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God

*Beginning a Conversation:  Means to Read

The advantage of an education is the freedom not to dwell only in the 21st century, or only on shores of your own home lake, or only in the dreams with which you arrive, that may need editing, or only in America, Boston or even this hallowed university.  You begin here again a conversation with antiquity and with novelty.  Is education about what is old or what is new?   Well, however you land on that one, the conversation opens with reading.  Here is a matriculation account.  One young man who would later become a significant African American leader went due north to Depauw, a small Methodist school in Indiana, led by various BU graduates.  His dad, mom, and younger siblings drove him up and dropped him off there in Greencastle, “up south”, Martin King might have said, from their home in Louisiana.  Weeping, his father said, “Son, we are not coming back until four years from now.  We just can’t do it.  You are here where your future opens.  At graduation we will be here, sitting in the front row.  This is your time.  I have one word of advice.  Read.  When others are playing, you read.  When others are sleeping, you read.  When others are drinking, you read.  When others are partying, you read.  When others are wasting precious time and encouraging you to do the same, you read.”   He did.  Read, that is.

Speaking of Presidents, Boston University’s third President, Lemuel Merlin, left Boston for Greencastle Indiana, to become the President of Depauw, nearly 100 years ago.  All of our Presidents—Warren, Huntington, Merlin, Marsh, Case, Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian, and Brown—would salute this Augustinian slogan, tole lege, ‘take and read’.

For like our gospel lesson today, they and this University, have been interested in what makes a person human, in what makes a human be human, in what lies not outside, but inside, not in measurement but in meaning, not in the visible but in the soulful, not in making a living, only, but in making a life, fully.  Matters of the heart matter, as the Gospel warns today:  This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Is about Gaining an awareness of Soul

 Your challenge in these fours years is not only to earn a BA.  Your challenge is to do so without losing your soul, to do so while gaining soul.  Your challenge is to do so gaining your soul, tending to the inside, walking in the light, becoming your own best self, finding the place where your heart, ‘the inside’ comes alive, uniting the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, and uniting vocation with avocation, ‘as two eyes make one in sight’.  So, Frost:

Yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My vocation with my avocation

As my two eyes make one in sight

Only where love and need are one

And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and the future’s sakes.

In the New Testament, each Synoptic passage is like a choral piece, including four voices.  There is the soprano voice of Jesus of Nazareth, embedded somewhere in the full harmonic mix.  In Mark 7, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisaic attention to cleanliness.  There is the alto voice of the primitive church, arguably always the most important of the four voices, that which carries the forming of the passage in the needs of the community.  Here the community is reminded about the priority of the ‘inside’.  The tenor line is that of the evangelist, St. Mark here, marking his own appearance in the record.   The baritone is borne by later interpretation, beginning soon with Irenaeus, Against Heresies:  “What doctor, when wishing to cure a sick man, would act in accordance with the desires of the patient, and not in accordance with the requirements of medicine?” (in Richardson, ECF, 377) If our church music carried only one line, we might be tempted to interpret our Scripture with only one voice, and miss the SATB harmonies therein, to our detriment.  Hence not only the beauty but the spiritual, soulful work of choral music heals, hymns and choir and organ and all.  As the Song of Songs sings: the time of singing has come.  And as the psalm directs: come into God’s presence with singing.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Means to Face Mortality

Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  Speaking of reading, pick up sometime My Name is Asher Lev.  As a boy walking with his dad—one thinks of Martin Buber imploring us in living to eschew relations that are ‘I and It’ and to celebrate those that are ‘I and Thou’—Asher at a young age wonders about a fallen bird.

Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“Yes”, I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

“Why did it die?”

“Everything that lives must die”.

“Everything?”
“Yes”.

“You, too, Papa? And Mama?”

“Yes”.

“And me?
“Yes.”, he said.  But then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and happy life, my Asher.”

I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

“Why”, I asked.

“That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom made this world, Asher.”

“Why?”

“So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.

*Beginning a Conversation: Spies Pied Beauty

Not only the true and the good, not only learning and virtue, not only the true and the good, but beauty, beauty, beauty opens a conversation, learning and virtue and piety.  Our cousin of blessed memory’s favorite poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:  
Praise him.

*Beginning a Conversation: Recognizes Virtue, too, as does the BU motto

Speaking of virtue, wrote David Brooks a bit ago: “Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed (p. xi).”

As he would agree, not all things end well.  Sometimes things end well, as Ecclesiastes hoped: Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.  Yet sometimes, sometimes things end badly.  We are thinking about this, this fortnight, about Afghanistan, and praying for as much safety, as much peace, as much protection, as much survival, as much healing as possible.  But also, we recognize an ending, when we see one.  And sometimes things end badly.  That’s why they end.  Sometimes in life, in work, in relationship, in commerce, in academia, in government, in politics, things end badly.  The very fact that they end badly is proof positive that they badly needed to end.  They end badly because they badly needed to end.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Opens Scripture

To conclude—ah, that blessed sound in a sermon or lecture…in conclusion, as I take my seat, and finally…It is Sunday.  We are in Marsh Chapel.  Part of the conversation we begin here, alongside the class of 2025, starts by opening the Holy Scripture, at least every seven days if not more often.  Augustine of Hippo did so in the late fourth century, and his heart changed, his life changed, his spirit changed, he began a truly and fully new conversation, as he remembered in his Confessions:

  1. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tole lege, tole lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So, I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Hear the Matriculation Gospel!  Beginning a new conversation includes questions, means to read, gains soul, faces mortality, spies beauty, recognizes virtue, and opens Scripture.

Class of 2025:  we are here with you because we are here for you (repeat).  We have come from many regions of the world and many ranges of your past experience in order to be present here, to share your presence, and our presence with you.  Here with you, we are here for you.

May you sense daily the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through conversations well begun—well begun is half done–these footprints, these touches of grace.

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old, searching out the new

Our Alma Mater Evermore, Hail BU!

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

Sunday
August 22

Come Out!

By Marsh Chapel

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John 11:1744

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Lazarus is dead.  Four days dead in his tomb.  His sisters Martha and Mary and many friends weep, and their greetings to Jesus when he finally arrives also hint of reproach.  From Mary:  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  From Martha:  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”.  From their friends:   “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  Even Jesus is greatly disturbed – in the Greek he “snorted in spirit”.  He is deeply moved, and himself begins to weep.  Those standing by assume that his tears are because of the great love he bears Lazarus.  But when he comes to the tomb, again deeply disturbed, he commands the stone to be taken away.  When Martha objects because Lazarus is really dead and by now his body has begun to rot and stink, Jesus reminds her that if she believes she will see the glory of God.  Then when the stone is rolled away, Jesus prays to God loudly enough so that the crowd can hear him. He thanks God that God always hears him, and thanks God now so that the crowd can hear and believe that God hears him.  In a loud voice, Jesus cries “Lazarus, come out!”.  And the dead man, no longer dead but Lazarus, shuffles out of the tomb, still bound in gravecloths, and Jesus tells his family and friends to unbind Lazarus, and let him go.

In John’s Gospel the resurrection of Lazarus is the seventh and climactic sign of Jesus’ life and teaching.  In all seven signs – water into wine, curing of the sick over distance by word alone, living water as newness of life and as revelation of Jesus as sent by God, the multiplication of loaves of bread, walking on the water, and healing the blind man – in all these signs Jesus makes claims about his identity and relation to God, and proves these claims by the seven signs.

But the resurrection of Lazarus is different.  The other signs are relatively straightforward one-time events.  People are healed, water changes into wine, people come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God, there are many loaves where before there were few, Jesus walks on the water.  But in our text this morning, there are three kinds of resurrection, all centered in Jesus.  One is the resurrection on the last day, which will happen to everyone, because in John, on the last day believers in Jesus who have died will be raised up by Jesus into eternal life, and Jesus’ teachings will judge those who have rejected them.  Another is Jesus himself, as Jesus declares himself to be the resurrection and the life, and states that “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  In Lazarus’ resurrection, however, resurrection is complicated.  Jesus clearly resurrects Lazarus from the dead – Lazarus was dead and now he is alive and walking amongst his family and friends.  Jesus is clearly the resurrection and the life here:  Lazarus responds to Jesus’ call to “Come out!” from death back into life, when he did not respond to the grief and bereavement of his loving family and friends.  But Lazarus is not resurrected as he would be on the last day, into eternal life.  While his death and resurrection prefigure Jesus’ own, and stand as a witness to the power of God in Christ to bring life out of death, there is no sense of this being a resurrection into immortality, no sense that Lazarus will not come to an end of this earthly life for a final time.  This is more like a healing, where the illness has been physical death, overridden for a time, but still in the wings.  It is a witness to the power of Jesus to bring new life into the most dire and seemingly intractable circumstances, but once Lazarus responds to Jesus’ call, his life remains physical, in a human body, subject to eventual and final earthly death like everyone else.

And, if this is a healing story rather more dramatic than the others, it is still a healing story, and we are once again reminded by Sharon V. Betcher, theologian and disability activist, that the point of the healing stories is not just the healing itself — the point is even more so the point of Jesus’ upending of the political and social realities of the time.

So in our time it is always interesting to note what the compilers of the lectionary leave out.  And this time, what they have left out is that while Lazarus is no longer dead, and is returned to his family and friends, his life now will never be the same, nor will the world around him.

In the gospel prior to our text this morning, we are told that there is great controversy over whether Jesus should be believed or not, signs and teaching notwithstanding.  His disciples question Jesus’ decision to go to Martha and Mary in Bethany in Judea, because the religious authorities there have already tried to stone him.  Thomas even rallies the others with the need to support Jesus with saying “Let us also go to die with him.”  The events after Lazarus’ resurrection are even more dire.  Through the centuries a number of commentators have suggested that Jesus was greatly disturbed, and deeply moved, and wept, because he knew that to call Lazarus out from death into life again might not entirely turn out to be the favor it seems.

Because as resurrected, Lazarus has become a celebrity, a living witness to the power that Jesus has through his relationship to God.  Many come to see him, to hear his testimony, and then they believe in Jesus for themselves.  So many believe that the religious authorities meet to decide what to do about it all.  If Jesus and his signs continue, everyone will believe in him, and they will lose their power and ability to control.  Not only that, but the Romans will come down on them and destroy their religion and holy places, and eventually their nation.  So they decide to put Jesus to death.  Of course the irony here is that the Romans did come down on them and did destroy the holy places and the nation, and Caiaphas’ prophecy that Jesus would die for the people did come true, but the “nation” would be the dispersed believers gathered together through Jesus’ death and unforeseen resurrection.

After the plot against him became known, Jesus goes into hiding in Ephraim for a while, while Lazarus remains in Bethany.  Then Passover arrives, and there is much speculation as people prepare for it in Jerusalem as to whether or not Jesus will actually come.  The religious authorities order that anyone who learns of Jesus’ whereabouts must tell them, so that they can arrest him.  Meanwhile, just before the Passover, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary host a party for Jesus, a dinner, in which Lazarus sits with him at the table, Martha serves, and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and wipes his feet with her hair.  When Judas Iscariot complains that the money should have been spent on the poor, Jesus tells him that the poor will always be with them, but they will not always have him, and he refers to his own burial.

When the crowds find out that Jesus is at his friends’ house in Bethany, they come not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus as well, the living witness to God’s power through Jesus.  Because of Lazarus’ presence and testimony many come to believe in Jesus.  So the religious authorities plan to kill Lazarus as well.  Lazarus’ resurrection is the last and climactic sign of who Jesus is and what he can do, a healing and joy and new life for many.  And, it is the precipitating event toward Lazarus’ renewed life coming under threat, and toward Jesus’ own death at the collusion of religion and Empire, and toward the trauma of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary and the other disciples caused by Jesus’ death.  For while Lazarus’ own life has been renewed and expanded, many of the circumstances and realities of his world have not changed.  His resurrection is only to a renewed and earthly life, so that his resurrection to eternal life remains both present and coming.

We can relate.  We in a sense are like Lazarus.  We are emerging into the call of life once

again, we are alive, and here together live and in person in Marsh Chapel at last.  But only some

of us, because our circumstances and the realities of our world have not changed.

Just as there is more than one type of resurrection, so there is more than one kind of death.  In the purely physical sense of death, so many have died and continue to die in this pandemic.  Many of them have been our own family and friends, some beloved members of this community, and globally our most vulnerable continue to be at risk.  Along with our grief there is reproach, and anger too, at the denial that postponed necessary practices and procedures and allowed variants to develop, at the lack of preparedness, at the inequities in public and private healthcare, and at the selfishness of ideology over scientific fact.  The traumatizing physical deaths we have seen and learned about among marginalized people at the hands of law enforcement and the collusion of religion and Empire reveal as never before the results of injustice over centuries, and our history of conscious and unconscious complicity with evil.  The deaths of our companion animals, plants, birds, and insects in creation, the loss of their gifts, beauty, and wonder due to the wildfires and floods of human-made climate change, call forth our grief and a frightening sense of overwhelm.

There are metaphorical deaths as well.  The short and long-term effects of the Covid and its variants, known and unknown.  The loss of jobs, and the economic threats to food on the table and a roof over our heads.  The challenge of the changes in work that has been or continues to be done remotely.  The loss of privacy and space as we isolated together and made workplaces in our homes.  The loss of physical contact, of making music and dance together, of community rituals and celebrations. The inability to observe the milestones and traditions of human life and death, the lockdowns, the uncertainty of trust – all the deprivations of beloved human and planetary presence and energy, all over too long a time.

Our grief, our losses, our mourning have been great, and our healing calls us to remember them, learn from them, and honor them, so that they will not be forgotten or in vain.

Not that forgetting is likely.  Today is a day that so many of us have looked forward to, and experience as a coming out of isolation, a resurrection of sorts, to be together again, live and in person, to feel each other’s presence and energy, to worship together, to sing together, to recognize God’s face and voice as God and in each other, to feel God’s presence in each other’s presence.  And today is all of that.  And, today is also a day of challenge in dangerous weather, not seen here in thirty years and part of a climate cycle that has never been seen before, that has kept some of our company at home yet again and poses real threats to those of our community in other parts of Massachusetts and New England.  Even as we are called back into earthly life by the love and power of God to bring life out of death through the miracle of the fastest-developed vaccine in history, as with Lazarus our resurrection back into earthly life – while a renewal and expansion of our lives – will still be shaped by the fact that many of the circumstances and realities of our world also have not changed.

We do not know the end of Lazarus’ personal story, or what became of the threats to his life.  But we do know the end of Jesus’s story, and so we know the end of Lazarus’ story as a person of faith, and as we are people of faith we know the end of our stories too.  The author or authors of John write at the end of the Gospel that the things written in it are written so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name.  And since this is the Gospel of John, this means that the Word of God has taken on human flesh and shares our human life, and has moved into our neighborhood.  God so loved the world that God sent Jesus, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved and flourish through his life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection.  Jesus enacts signs of healing, nurture, celebration, and power that prove his identity and his relationship to God.  On the cross he invites his mother to see his beloved disciple as her son, and his beloved disciple to see Jesus’ mother as his mother.  They come to live together as a sign and promise that even in the midst of tribulation and loss, relationships of love, hope, and even joy are possible.  Jesus and his friends have a party in the face of, in spite of, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, to torture and death.  And through Jesus, whose life of resurrection with us includes his wounds, God’s power of resurrection is brought into the reality of earthly life and becomes available to everyone, resurrection both present and coming.

The story of Lazarus invites us to consider that, in spite of the real physical and metaphorical deaths that we have experienced and grieve, and in spite of the fact that many of our circumstance and realities have not changed, we are alive.  The power of resurrection is loose in the world, and we are invited to join with God and with our companions in faith and with creation to recognize it.  We are invited, as was Lazarus, to witness to its presence and activity in our own lives as we live them.  We are invited to invite others to accept the gifts of hope that the power of resurrection offers.

Even over the last year, we have seen the signs.  The realization that the people we may have ignored in the past have actually been essential to our well-being as they cared for our health, provided food and other necessities, continued to teach our children, and worked quickly and effectively to keep and expand our safety through science and healing, often with great sacrifice and at great risk.  While our lack of mobility was often frustrating, the planet, free from the overload of toxins from extractive industry, began to rejuvenate its air and water and earth.  Many people have used the last months to make changes in their lives, to embark on new work or to learn new skills.  The creativity involved in keeping us connected virtually with people, with art, with music, with drama, and with humor has amazed, nourished, and inspired us.  Movements have arisen all over the country to claim and act for justice for those so long silenced and oppressed.  These are signs of what is possible through the power of resurrection at work in the world, even in the midst of trauma and loss.  And, we are alive.

Our earthly resurrection will be what we make it.  We can start, each of us and all of us together, to recognize and claim God’s resurrection power in our own lives.  Where and with whom or with what has resurrection been specific to us in our own lives over these last months?  Who or what, specifically, has inspired us, kept us going, brought us to laughter?  How do we most want to celebrate our earthly resurrection?  And because, like Lazarus, we have vested interests around us that intend us to stay afraid and overwhelmed and intend things to stay the same and intend to maintain their power and control, what specific changes do we need to make, what specific new skills do we need to learn, what specific new work does God invite us to do toward new life and flourishing for ourselves and for all our neighbors in creation?

Earthly resurrection is complicated.  As he did with Lazarus, Jesus calls us to Come out! of this time with a loud voice, because the call comes surrounded by the swirls of challenge and danger, and often a tomb seems to seduce with its quiet and safety.  But it is no place for us, people of faith.  For willy-nilly, we are alive.  And as in faith we accept our earthly resurrection in this place and time, so we will continue to experience it until we too rise in the resurrection on the last day.

Amen.

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

Sunday
August 15

Never Hungry

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:51–58

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable.

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

Sunday
August 8

For the life of the World

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:35, 41-51

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For our anniversary back in 2015, my wife and I stayed at a small resort on a finger lake in upstate New York. It was one of those places for us that we really only go to when special anniversaries come around. We had a splendid time. The place started as an estate for a wealthy family, was a monastery for 25 years, and underwent numerous renovations to turn into a hotel. It sits on the waters of Seneca lake and was built in the style of the Italian renaissance. At the time we went, the hotel offered guests the opportunity to see the lake on a nightly boat cruise. We went on the ride with one other couple and the boat driver. We spent the time chatting with the boat driver who made us feel that we belonged there. It was clear that he loved the water, the estate, and making guests feel welcome. He offered insights into what we were seeing and the two of us talked about church architecture. In short, he was an extremely hospitable guide focused on our comfort.

The next morning, my wife and I were waiting for breakfast. We looked at the wall and noticed pictures of some famous people who had stayed there over the years. As we looked through the photographs, we noticed that the boat driver was in many of the pictures. Through a simple Google search, we discovered that the man who drove the boat and made us feel so at home was a former owner of the estate. He and his family had lovingly restored and managed the property for decades. For years, they poured themselves into the estate, making it a beautiful and welcoming place for guests. At the time when we went, and still today, the man who drove the boat is the general manager of the hotel.

His love for the estate and for making guests feel welcome has stuck with me through the years. His kindness and non-ostentatious way of leading the nightly cruise was a bit of grace at a time when people tend to point toward themselves. It struck me, when I learned more about the man, that he was doing what I think makes him happy. I imagine there were other people who could lead the boat ride or interact with guests in such a personal way, but these interactions seemed to bring him genuine joy, so he made time to do them personally. There might have been other things he could have been doing, some of which other people might think were more important, but a trip over the fresh waters of Seneca lake with a genuine host stands as a moment of beauty in my memory. There is joy in doing what you love and in loving what you do. The whole trip, including the estate and interaction, was a reminder to search for beauty along with the good.

We have had to cling to such moments of beauty in the current state of things. We have lived off good and beautiful memories, waiting for new ones to be formed. We continue to wait with hope for a new season where COVID is the distant memory. In the meantime, though, we live in a state of paradox. We live in a time of trouble even while triumphs do exist. Perhaps, this paradoxical state can help us connect with a paradox from the Gospel of John. In a simplified manner, the paradox is, what is the relationship between those who believe and the world? Theologians are not in agreement as to whether this paradox is primarily pessimistic or optimistic. Do we reside in a irredeemable world fallen and marred by sin moving toward destruction, are do we live in a world loved by God seeking redemptive transformation? A similar paradox can be said of people and God, are people sinners in the hands of an angry God as Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermons says, or people for whom Christ has already taken on flesh to connect with the love of God?

On the one hand, the gospel account begins with a strong affirmation of creation and flesh through the incarnation of Christ, “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” John 3:16 indicates that God so loved the world. Our lectionary passage today ends with sharing that the bread of life Jesus offers is given for the life of the world. This bread is identified with the flesh of Christ. These Johannine passages suggest an optimistic understanding of flesh and the world. They connect the incarnation of Christ with the love of God in the world. They are a reminder to search for good, truth, and beauty in the world because the life of the world is the flesh of Christ. They suggest a sacramental quality of flesh and the world which draws us closer to God and companionship with one another.

The Gospel of John also uses the world and flesh in pessimistic manners. It recounts that being born of the Spirit is different from being born in the flesh, priority is given to the Spirit in these passages. Heavenly things are more significant than earthly things. Late in the Gospel, Jesus says that he chooses disciples out of this world, indicating that they no longer belong to the world. He warns that the world will hate the disciples as it hates him and prays that they be, not of this world as he is not of this world…

Tension and paradox need critical faith, not pithy pietistic platitudes. The world and flesh, according to John are not straightforward. They should not be dismissed nor romanticized. It is clear the Gospel account is using the world and flesh in paradoxical and complicated manners. It can be the place of the incarnation, the flesh of Christ with which the love of God is directed, or a place of antagonism against Christ and Christ followers. Commentators note the multi-layered uses of flesh and world throughout the Gospel. The world offers many good and beautiful things, but the world also offers evil and ugly things. It is not within our power to obliviate the tension, so we need to find ways of navigating the tension.

To explore the tension, we might turn from literal language and literalized language to the language of metaphor. Metaphors help us navigate tension because they are built on the logic of tension. Metaphors hold concepts together by creating tension between a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. This tension does not make metaphors untrue, in fact, Paul Ricoeur argues that this tension allows metaphors to say things about reality that not would otherwise be possible. Through a figurative throwing together, metaphors disclose aspects of reality and being to us; however, this revelatory process requires constant tension. Once the tension of a metaphor is lost, the metaphor dies. So long as the metaphor lives, it requires people to interpret through the tension. Metaphors allow us to peer through glass to see dimly what one day we hope we see clearly.

The central metaphor of the scripture passage today comes from the mouth of Jesus multiple times. Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life. This is a rich metaphor and one that should be kept alive. It plays with the intersections between bread being a basic food for survival and Christ being foundational to the life of Christian faith. Jesus also emphasizes part of what it means that he is the bread of life by using the phrase Ego Eimi, I am. In doing so, Jesus reveals the intimate connection between himself and his father in Heaven who said “I am” when Moses encountered the burning bush. Christ also compares himself to the manna that fed Israel while they were wandering the desert. Jesus as the bread of life is a metaphor rich in nutritive potential for the world.

Bread provides sustenance and strength for daily living. In the ancient world, bread was a staple food for families and communities. It was not just an individual meal, bread was a common food that gathered people around a table. The modern world has lost some intimacy with food and eating in many places. You might be like me, I buy my food from a store largely unaware of where the food came from in the world or all the steps involved to get it to my table. Eating has largely become individualistic, but food reveals the interdependence of life and food systems show how interconnected life is. Farmers grow wheat which requires seed, land, and proper weather. Grain needs to be harvested and milled into flour. Flour needs to be kneaded into dough which needs to be baked. Modern food systems require shipping and processing at various stages as well. It needs to be distributed to places where it can be purchased by consumers before being eaten. Each step along the way is a part of the web of life which connects all of us. When Jesus says, I am the bread of life and willing gives his flesh for the life of the world, he inspires us to see the interconnected existence of faith in the world. He invites us to make good and beautiful ripples in the web for the life of the world.

I was on the wrestling team in high school and one day my coach had the whole team start running around the mats. He took to the strongest individual on the team and gave him a gallon of water. My coach asked him whether holding the water would be difficult and my teammate said no. So, coach gave him the water and told him to hold the jug out with his arm fully extended. At first, holding the water was easy and my teammate laughed at us as we ran circles around him. As time went on though, the simple task of holding water increasingly became difficult. If you have ever had to hold something for a long time without a break, you have probably experienced that the constant tension required to hold something increases the difficulty of holding over time. As muscles get tired, it feels like more and more strength is required to hold the same amount of weight. Right before holding the water became too much for my teammate, my coach handed the water to another member of the team who at first found the task easy. When he was worn out, a new team member took his place holding the water. The lesson, my coach instilled in us that day, was how even simple tasks done in isolation can become grueling over time. When we isolate ourselves from our team or the world around us, we carry burdens and tensions alone. When we remain open to engage in community and interdependence with others, mutual thriving can take place and tension can be shared across lives. By constantly sharing in the task of holding the water galleon, the whole team was able to ensure that no individual person carried too much on their own.

When Jesus said that he is the bread of life for the life of the world, I wonder if this type of mutual interdependence was on his mind. While Jesus is bread of life for me, and for you, he is also bread of life for us. The bread of life provides nutritive sustenance in and through the webs of life. Jesus as the bread of life is a common meeting place for us to engage with one another and the world in life giving manners. In many ways, this type of being seeks to make life hospitable for everyone. Because eating is so central to our existence, it is an apt location for hospitality. Jesus as the bread of life for the life of the world can be a metaphor of radical hospitality where all are welcome. All are embraced. All are given bread for the journey. It is a metaphor where tension exists but does not overwhelm any individual because all hold a part of the tension. In contrast to forms of hospitality which are largely transactional and monetary, Christ’s hospitality is free. The incarnate Word present with God in the beginning enters the world to offer reconciling hospitality. What a gift. The bread of life is a gift. And it is a chance to see good and beauty amid a tensive world.

If you have been following the Tokyo Olympics, you might have seen inspiring examples of good acts. Two stick out to me so far. The Olympics are a great display of human perseverance, skill, and strength. Sometimes though, it takes determination, hard work, and luck to win. Athletes often spend years training and preparing to compete. This past Sunday, 800 meter runners Isaiah Jewett and Nijel Amos got tangled and fell while seeking to qualify for the final race. The two men did not respond to each other with anger. Amos reportedly apologized and Jewett invited him to finish the race together. While standing up, the two men reach out and linked arms. Citing superhero’s as a source of inspiration for how he handled the episode, Jewett said, “And that was my version of trying to be a hero, standing up and up and showing good character even if it’s my rival or whoever I’m racing, or if anything happened, I don’t want any bad blood because that’s what heroes do: They show their humanity through who they are and show that they’re good people.”

Or maybe you heard the story of the high jumpers who were tied for first place, Tamberi and Barshim. After neither had completed the necessary jump to win, they embraced each other. In their embrace, they were told they had to keep going in a final jump-off. One of the two, Barshim, interrupted the explanation of the jump off to ask if they could just share the gold medal. They were told that they could and the pair immediately backed away from the man explaining the jump off. Barshim extended his hand to Tamberi who immediately took it and the two embraced again. You can see the pure joy on their faces when they decided to share the gold medal. It does not seem that sharing gold took anything away from the moment for them, in fact, it seems that sharing added value to their experience. Barshim said, “We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done.” The two competitors, met back in 2010 and have been friends since. Their friendship now extends to sharing the gold medal.

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the bread of life for the life of the world. This bread continues to be available and expressed to us today. The most evident places are in Word and Sacrament but also in the hospitality of boat driver, wrestling teammates, and Olympians. Wherever there is goodness, the bread of life is present for the sake of the world. Where there is need, the bread of life is present waiting to be actualized. When we receive the bread of life, whether it be tasted as the bread of communion, heard through the Word proclaimed, or seen as goodness in the world, Christ’s transforming life is active and present. When we give the bread of life to others and for others, we become co-laborers with Christ.

Earlier I said that the bread of life metaphor plays with the intersections between bread being a basic food for survival and Christ being foundational to the life of Christian faith. I find that true, but the bread of life metaphor also invites us to see Christ in relationship with the world. Whether one sees the world primarily pessimistically or optimistically, Christ, the bread of life is given for the life of the world.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics, Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
August 1

Gift of the Lake

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:24-35

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As this summer we reflect on what we have been through, over the last year and more, and as we meditate together upon the mighty themes of the Gospel, we might recall earlier intimations, earlier voices, which paved our way, cut our trail, made a space and place in grace for our own hopes.

In New England now over many years we have been given a gift from the sea.  The warm welcome and friendly spirit of your presence and care has been a guiding spirit for us, here along the Atlantic coast.  In fact, you have lived out much of what Anne Murrow Lindberg described in her little book about the ocean and the soul, Gift from the Sea.  She recommends, strongly, time spent on the shore.  She wrote some years ago: “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

In thanks for these years of sea gifts, we bring you this morning a Gift from the Lake.  A fresh water gift to honor a salt water gift.  We spend our summers largely among grandchildren and their parents, alongside a fresh water lake, of which there are many in our land of upbringing, along the Erie Canal.  This lake region bears the distinction of having given rise to many women and men who heard and heeded John 6, who did not leave freedom, the self-correcting spirit of truth loose in the universe, to somebody else.  Its price of eternal vigilance they provided in very daily, very personal, very local, very immediate ways.  Today, as a Gift from the Lake, we bring some of these fresh water memories.  They may recall for us that, while there are always at of things wrong, there are also always a lot of things right.  Yeats feared that the center could not hold:  the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold. And yet, over time voices of spirit and life have emerged to hold, to hold us, together.  To hold us together as a country, as a culture, as a community.  In a time when, for some, mendacity and violence seem to have become tools in the political workbench, we can recall and broadly affirm that in and with a measure of faith, the center can hold, the center can hold, in country and culture and community.  Hear then of a Gift from the Lake.

This is the lakeside land of Hiawatha (“who causes rivers to run”).  Such musical names adorn this lakescape:  Canandaigua, Tioghnioga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Cuyahoga.  The great native leader of the Iroquois showed in the 15th century the critical need for union, for space and time in which to live together.  His leadership was focused on common space, on collegial relations, on counsel together, and so he is harbinger of all the examples of faith and freedom to come up along the Mohawk and the Erie Canal.

All your strength is in your union

All your weakness in discord

Therefore be at peace henceforward

And as brothers live together

This is the land of Harriet Tubman.  You may want to visit her home in Auburn, NY.  Her neighbor William Seward, also from Auburn, bought Alaska, considered at the time a folly, an “ice-box”.  Our 21st century theological issue is space.  Tubman’s grand niece, Janet Lauerson, was on my church staff for a time in Syracuse on Euclid Avenue, after we both migrated down from the far north country, not far from the burial place of John Brown.  His body lies moldering under a ski lift near Lake Placid.  He and Gerrit Smith, founder of Peterboro, a community established for free slaves, a short 10 miles from our summer home, were not ‘compatibalists’ regarding slavery.  As Lincoln would later say, he felt those who most affirmed slavery should start by trying it for themselves.  Brown, Smith, Seward and others were the chorus before which Tubman could sing out the life of freedom, following the underground railroad.  Remember her wisdom:  “When I found I had crossed that line (on her first escape from slavery, 1845), I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person.  There was such a glory over everything…I started with this idea in my head, ‘There’s two things I’ve got a right to…death or liberty’…’Twant me, ‘twas the Lord.  I always told him, “I trust you.  I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me, and he always did.”

You will expect to hear something of Frederick Douglass, buried in Rochester.  His burial plot is across the street Strong Hospital.  As one patient said, looking through the window, “it gives you something to think about”.  Douglass printed the “North Star” in Rochester, and through it developed a voice for a new people in a new era.  In the North Star, Douglass wrote: “ The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle…If there is no struggle, there is no progress.  Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening.  They want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters.” Or maybe we should give the honor to his colleague Sojourner Truth, calling in the same reagon for voting rights a long while ago: “That…man…says women can’t have as many rights as man, cause Christ wasn’t a woman.  Where did your Christ come from?  From God and a woman.  Man had nothing to do with him!”

Susan B. Anthony did not leave the project of freedom to others.  I wonder what sort of dinner companion she might have been.  Her constant consort with governors and senators across the Empire state made her an early Eleanor Roosevelt.  My grandmother grew up in Cooperstown and graduated from Smith College four years before she had the right to vote.  My mother was born in Syracuse only a few years after full suffrage, and taught Latin.  My wife is a musician and teacher, my sister is a corporate attorney, many of my colleagues in ministry are female.  I scratch my head to imagine a world without their voices.  In the Episcopal tradition, Syracuse produced Betty Bone Schiess, one of the first women ordained to ministry in the Protestant Episcopal church.  One of the Philadelphia 11.  We study her now in Introduction to Religion.  One rainy day when my daughter Emily was 13 and had the flu, we met Schiess, at the druggist.  The pharmacist called her name.  I clamored over to investigate whether it were she, the famous Schiess.  “Who wants to know?” she replied.  As she left, after good banter, she turned in her slicker and totting an umbrella pronounced this blessing: “One day you will be a Methodist bishop”.  I thought at first she was addressing me.  But no, she was talking to Emily. Thank you, our daughter replied.  You may visit the birthplace of women’s suffrage, the one hundredth anniversary of which we have just past during Covid, and more broadly the advent of feminism in Seneca Falls, on the shores of Seneca Lake.  Anthony’s witness stands out among the witness of so many others:  your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter, your pastor, Betty Bone Schiess, and so many others.  Who can forget the motto of Susan B. Anthony: “Failure is impossible” (on her 86th birthday, 1906).  “Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about reform.  Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation.”

Sometimes the freedom train went a bit astray across this lakescape.  Exuberance can produce minor collisions and occasional wanderings.  When we get so focused on the speedometer that we forget to drive the car safely, then trouble arises.  That is, Woodstock 50 years ago paled by comparison with the communal experiments along the Erie Canal 150 years ago. The Shaker Community and the Oneida Community perhaps can bracket our discussion.  Under Mother Ann Lee, and starting in farm country near New Lebanon (Albany area), not far from Tanglewood and our BU musical program there, the shaking Quakers firmly addressed the matter of social distancing.  They required it at all times, except in the sacred dance of Sunday worship.  They forbade it.  Women and men came together only once a week, on Sunday morning, for ecstatic singing and dancing, hence their name.  This made church attendance somewhat more than casual liturgical observance.  However, the practice did not amplify the community itself: infant baptisms lacked the requisite infant, and so were infrequent.  Consequently the Shakers moved to Cleveland where they blended into Sherwood Anderson’s new Ohio, returning to the old ways of hard work, monogamy, and frugality.  In short, they became Methodists.   But hear again the beautiful Shaker tune:

Tis a gift to be loving

Tis the best gift of all

Like a gentle rain love falls to cover all

When we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight 

When true, simplicity is gain

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed

To turn, turn, will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning, we come round right

Or you may want to read about the Oneida community in the book, Without Sin, the best review in our generation of their somewhat different experiment.  Also, along the Erie Canal the Oneida community set out to find heaven on earth, the end of all oppressions, and even the hope that, as John H Noyes read from Revelation, “death itself will be no more”.  And they abandoned any and all social distancing.  It would another three sermons to trace through the detail of complex marriage, stirpiculture, and communal life among the Oneida Community.Although I went to High School in Oneida.  They I do not recall a full lesson on the matter of stirpiculture, the heart of the Oneida experiment.  Three hundred in number at their greatest growth, the community produced bear traps and then silver, continuing, in some fashion, until just a few years ago.  Of all the utopian experiments, the Oneida project is the most fascinating.  After word got out about the doings and practices in Oneida, clergy in Syracuse banded together and ran them out of town, first to Canada and then to the Midwest.  Noyes died on the trip, and the community disappeared, except in some of  the silverware on your dinner table, in wedding gifts, and in many restaurants.  Let us remember the love of freedom, as Noyes expressed it, the aspiration to spirit and life, even if we cannot affirm his conclusion: “I am free of sin and in a state of Perfection”.

One last story in this Gift from the Lake.  Norman Vincent Peale, who began his ministry in Syracuse NY. When we were at Union Seminary in New York the faculty there, both regularly and rightly criticized the inadequate theology of his Marble Collegiate Church.  James Sanders sternly referred to this famed congregation as the “First Church of Marduke”, not an accolade.  Of course you know that for fifty years, a graduate of Boston University, and Ohio Wesleyan, and a proponent of the power of positive thinking held forth, without notes, from the Marduke pulpit.  His son in law, Arthur Caliandro, followed him, with notes.  You may not trust his theology.  I myself am a critic, schooled as I was in the dour, German realism of Tillich, Niehbuhr, and company.  You may find it too shallow.  Everbody has their criticism of Norman Vincent Peale.  Even Adlai Stevenson had gripes.  When attacked from the Marduke pulpit,  Stevenson defended his Christianity on the basis of the Apostle to the Gentiles, all this in 1956, and rounded out his peroration thus:  “Sir, I find Paul appealing, but Peale, appalling.”  You too may find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.  Yet as young man in Syracuse, University Church, hte found there a happy people.  He found there a positive people.  He found here a hopeful people, an optimistic congregation.  Why, they were so good to him that he relaxed and fell in love and married an SU coed, Ruth.  Our good friend Forrest Whitmeyer, a graduate of Boston Latin by the way, knew them both well.  It was that native buckeye spirit married to that native orange soul, and it produced the power of positive thinking, itself a form of faith and freedom not to be forgotten. Our daughter this last week affirmed her own commitment to the ‘power of positive relationships’. Well, it brought Norman to mind. The Peales, Ruth and Norman both, did not leave the project of freedom to somebody else.  It is biblical and within limits faithful to remember Peale’s seven most important words: “You can if you think you can.”   At least we could admit the contrary as true:  If you think you can’t, you probably can’t and probably won’t.

From the past, we may today receive a Gift from the Lake.  God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.  The faith of Jesus Christ and the freedom of Jesus Christ we celebrate today.  Our forebears were disinclined to leave the pursuit of freedom to others.  They lived with faitht that the center could hold. They seized freedom in their own hands and by their own lives.  They did not wait on others.  They did not pause to seek a secret blessing.  They did not wait until some ethereal sign emerged.  They did not expect some magic insight.  They preferred deliverance to diffidence. Real love means taking historical responsibility.

In earshot of our Lord’s teaching, there awaits us every Lord’s day a personal question:  as a Christian man or woman, what are you going to do to continue to expand the circle of freedom, spirit, life and love in our time?  Where is your tribal council to create?  Where is your slavery to escape?  Where is your North Star to publish?  Where is your franchise to find?  Where is your libertinism to avoid?  Where is your hope to share?  When it comes to spirit and life, as announced in John 6, will you lift a hand?

In thanks for these years of sea gifts, we bring you this summer morning a Gift from the Lake.  A fresh water gift to honor a salt water gift.  Recall what Anne Murrow Lindberg described in her little book about the ocean and the soul, Gift from the Sea, whose title has inspired this morning’s sermon.  She recommends, strongly, time spent on the shore.  She wrote some years ago: “This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy – even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide…I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

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

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

Sunday
July 25

With Fidelity and Novelty for All

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:1-21

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       A few years ago, there was a common news trope that began “Millennials are killing.” Over the years, millennials have been accused of killing many businesses or industries. Exact dates range for classifying the millennial generation but millennials were born roughly between the early 1980s and late 1990s. For a while, it seemed that millennials were killing off an industry or product every month. Listen to just some of what millennials were supposedly killing, the restaurant chain Applebee’s, starter homes, the institution of marriage, napkins, cereal, golf, diamonds, department stores, football, oil, and American cheese. Most of the news articles that began with “millennials are killing” noted shifts in general shopping trends among the avocado toast-loving generation and made predictions from those trends. Despite the plethora of articles claiming these industries were being killed by millennials, most have continued or adapted.

Attached to the writings about millennials killing thing, were articles that made even grander claims about the millennial generation. Most of these articles were quick to point out supposed flaws in the rising generation. Articles lamented that millennials have a problem with authority, reject corporations and institutions, are addicted to screens and video games, and do not possess useful skills. These types of articles become a type unto themselves. They took off the same month I graduated college with a May 2013 cover story in Time Magazine titled “The ME ME ME Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitle narcissists who still live with their parent.” The article critiques the so-called participation trophy, entitled, feelings oriented, math averse, Iphone loving generation. At least, the author of that article did mention positive attributes of millennials and ended on a more rounded note. Other sensationalist articles went further lambasting millennial culture as destructive to civilization and predicted that a collapse was imminent. With all of the claims about the millennial generation, it is sort of a wonder that we have made it to 2021 given these dire assessments.

While it is true that millennials and the younger generations are different from their parents that has been the usual way of the world throughout history. Younger generations have a harder and harder time accepting the inherited ways of being and doing. It is also not uncommon for older generations to complain about younger ones. This tradition can be traced as far back as ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow, after all. We have all likely heard the phrase, “well back in my day we did it like this” or “when I was a kid, we played outside.” Generational differences are not easy to navigate. It can be hard for waning generations to see waxing ones. Older generations tend to have nostalgia for the way things were, especially when traditions or methods worked for them.

Younger generations sometimes have a hard time listening with empathy to the perspectives of those older. In the present situation, millennials have struck back with the phrase “Ok Boomer.” The phrase “Ok Boomer” on social media and news articles was employed in divisive manners to suggest that the boomer generation was out of touch with unfolding new realities. “Ok Boomer” is a way of dismissing the perspectives and insights of the older generation. It can be hard for waxing generation to engage with waning generations too. There seems to be a present generational cultural conflict. Like many conflicts, this one thrives by arguing on uncommon ground. Talking past each other results in more clicks, likes, and subscriptions than talking to each other. The unfortunate result though, is that strained conversations around dinner tables have gotten even harder, phone calls and zoom sessions have gotten shorter, work-place meetings and memos are accompanied by eyerolls, and apathy has ensued. When apathy reigns though, everyone loses. Even when there are significant difference that need to be addressed, generational conflict should not resort to apathy. Nor should it resort to a winner take all approach.

To my mind, much of the generational angst, on both sides, revolves around anxiety over the future and questions of authority. Many are anxious about the future of the environment, the economy, the world, faith, and a myriad of other areas. This anxiety is increased because many of the traditional houses of authority have fallen in the wake of the postmodern age for younger generations, while older generations can still meaningfully cling to them. Many of the sources of comfort and hope no longer speak transgenerationally. It is almost as if different languages are being employed which speak past each other. Little effort is made to translate across differences in mutual manners. The seams appear to be bursting as what holds us together lessens and what brings us apart grows.

There is still time though. We may be in a moment of crisis but moments of crisis have a way of bringing more out of us than we otherwise thought possible. There is time to listen across the age gap for mutual understanding and mutual care. There is time to stop reading sensationalizing articles that exist for profits rather than to inform. There is time to move past indifference toward mutual accountability that empathetically listens to the perspectives of others. There is time for fidelity and novelty. When novelty meets fidelity productively, genuine encounters can take place. Both novelty and fidelity are necessary ingredients to a well-rounded culture and to a well-rounded faith.

Fidelity reminds us that a core essence of knowledge and wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. Fidelity reminds us to heed those who have walked where we walk. Fidelity is a reminder that the God of those who have gone before us, is still with us today. Novelty calls us to consider the present moment with care. Novelty reminds us that we tread on unsodden soil that has never been walked before. Novelty calls us to consider the situation which fidelity arises from and speaks toward. Novelty listens to the new things that God may be doing by discerning through fidelity what God has done. Today, no matter what generation you are born to or feel you belong to, let us listen to ancient voices from scripture with fidelity and novelty together.

Turn with me and consider with me the story of David and Bathsheba. To understand the dynamics of this narrative, we need to understand a bit about King David. King David looms large in the biblical tradition. He is most remembered as the person who killed Goliath when no one else would fight the giant. Despite coming from humble origins, he is often considered the hallmark king of the United Israel. Most of the biblical writers look upon David with favor. I Samuel tells us that God anointed David king over Israel. David is said to be a man after God’s own heart. The biblical narrative tells us that God entered into an eternal covenant with David that his line would rule forever. Christians interpret this covenant from an Christological perspective. Jesus is viewed as the promised messiah in the line of David.

But the story recounted today, of David and Bathsheba, is not a story of triumph but one of terror. It is an instance of abuse of power, position, and sex. II Samuel begins this narrative by saying it was spring when kings would go out to battle. It seems that David, the mighty warrior decided to stay in Jerusalem. Instead of going out with his army, he sent generals in his stead and stayed behind. One afternoon, he saw Bathsheba bathing and sent men to bring her to the palace. Despite knowing that she was married and with no indication that she was given any choice in the matter, the texts says she was brought to David and he laid with her. She became pregnant from David’s actions. Again, with no indication that she was consulted, David devised a plan to hide the fact that the child was his by bringing Bathsheba’s husband back from battle. His hope was that Uriah would lay with his wife and think the child was his. Rather than be accountable to or for his actions, David attempted to create a situation where Bathsheba would have to live a lie for the rest of her life. Bathsheba would have been destined to wake up every day and pretend the child belonged to her husband. David offered gifts to Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, but the plan did not work. Uriah slept at the entrance of David’s house.

David questioned Uriah about why he would not go back to his house to be with his wife. Verse 11 says “Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.’” Uriah shows his character here, which is in direct contrast to David’s. He refuses to engage in the comforts of home when his brothers are on the battlefield. Uriah even made an oath not to do such things. What intrigues me about his oath is that he involves the king to give it a stronger sense of sincerity. Uriah does not say, as surely as I live I will do no such things he says, “As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Uriah invokes an oath as a servant of the King binding himself by life the King. Uriah trusts in David’s character but that trust is misplaced. David tries to get him to break his oath by getting him drunk and when that fails, he signs death papers.

David wrote orders to his general for Uriah the Hittite to be placed where the battle is most fierce and then for the army to be pulled back. The intention is clearly preserved in the last line, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” I am no legal scholar, but the plan seems to amount to premediated murder to me, even if David is not the one holding the weapon. It seems that David got a little too used to killing on the battlefield and resorted to it as a means of disposing a loyal fighter. Uriah the Hittite who trusted David, was disposable to David. There may be a variety of reasons for why he was disposable but it intrigues me that the text preserves Uriah’s ethnicity. The text tells us so little about Uriah but it mentions multiple times that he is a Hittite. He is a Hittite, presumably from Anatolia or modern-day Turkey. We aren’t sure what he is doing in Jerusalem or what he is doing fighting for David, but his loyalty to David and his fellow soldiers is well attested in the text.

To David, Uriah was an outsider, a foreigner, someone David could more readily dispose of, perhaps, because of his status as a foreigner. No ancestral family would come looking for the body or asking questions about what happened. No protests on the street corners of Jerusalem. No chalk or candle vigils at the site of the murder. David sent him away to be killed and made the man carry his own death certificate. Cold, cold blooded through and through. In state sponsored killings, the state too often gets away free.

It is hard to sit with this David, especially when most biblical writers do not. Biblical writers gloss over these actions of David to emphasize the regal king. The story of David and Bathsheba is one that tends to be missed. Or, if it is told, it is an example of how even a great man like David can sin. It is often an object lesson on the potential pitfalls of lust and the importance of repentance. Bathsheba tends to be made out to be an opportunist, if not a seductress in these readings. These readings, like versions of history told by and controlled by the victors, gloss the perspective of victims. Rarely is this narrative considered from the perspective of Bathsheba as a real person and not an object of David’s desire. Rarely is this story considered from the perspective of a woman made a widower by a King who brought her out of her home multiple times. Rarely is this story considered from the perspective of a mother who lost her child or a husband who lost his life.

This perspective is hard. It stands in critical contrast to how much of the biblical narrative portrays King David; yet, it is a voice calling out to be heard. It is a voice that should no longer be neglected within our tradition and within history. These perspectives should not be ignored or silenced any longer. The negation of the oppressed, the drowning out of these perspectives, leads to cynicism and apathy. It leads to rejection of the structures which preserve powerful perspectives. The listening to the oppressed can lead to critical accountability. Critical accountability can be a source of change. Critical accountability may be what we need in this present age.

The younger generations are generally skeptical of power, wealth, privilege, and authority. While some of this extends from cynicism, part of it also comes from hope for more equitable ways of living. The cynicism is widely discussed and talk about. It is often a source of conflict but there is also the possibility of hope when accountability mediates cynicism and involvement. Cynicism is strong, hope can be stronger. There is strength left in the older generations for this critical accountability as a place of common ground with younger people. Novelty and fidelity are not without expression in pockets of the world, but the pockets need to be nurtured to grow. Critical accountability can be scary. It might look like challenging cherished notions and asking hard questions when it is easier to stay silent.

This summer, it is hard to remain silent concerning those people who face food and housing insecurity when we are in the midst of a billionaire space race. When some have billions to frivol away and others have little, questions need to be asked, especially when tax codes allow billionaires to avoid paying an equitable share. Wealth inequality needs critical accountability. This summer, we are also all too aware of voices crying out from unmarked graves on school and church properties. The church and history need critical accountability. This summer, we are too aware of what happens when systems and structures lack transparent accountability. Apathy and cynicism are the easy way out. Generational conflict that prevents meaningful change and dialogue serves no one. But, fidelity and novelty can meet in critical accountability through God’s liberating Spirit. This is a vulnerable place. It requires people and generations to be exposed to one another. To find common places to work together for common good.

Countries around the world, including Canada and the United State are undergoing a historical reckoning. This historical reckoning is looking at glossed over acts and policies of domination and violence that have been dismissed and covered up. While some chalk this up to generational or culture wars, it is actually an attempt to be honest about what occurred in the past and how it continues to impact the present. In the present time, we are tasked with assessing not only intent but also action. We are aware that words can be cheap and action can be costly. We assess not as judge and jury but as voices bearing witness to a Gospel seeking to be expressed to each time and place. The Gospel calls us to truthful telling and genuine justice. May we hear with fidelity and novelty for all.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics, Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
July 18

Finding Rest

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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At the Boston University School of Theology, most students pursuing a Master of Divinity degree must take a course called “Contextual Education.” This course immerses the student in field education – in a faith-based setting like a church or a nonprofit. Our regular congregation members are familiar with these students. We have had many of them help lead our weekly services over the years and participated in their growth and learning while they were here. One unique thing about this year-long course is that there is a required learning component. Each student, when they develop their learning agreement with their site, must include a Sabbath practice which they will undertake at least weekly. Some choose a traditional spiritual practice, like reciting the daily offices of prayer in the Episcopal tradition; others choose to spend time outdoors, walking mindfully in their surroundings as the seasons change; still others may choose to undergo a true 24-hour sabbath in which they do not engage in schoolwork or take a break from technology.

The point of requiring sabbath as a learning opportunity is to remind students that their vocations will require a large amount of energy expended for others in ways not encountered in a traditional 9 to 5 job. Rest and rejuvenation is an essential part of all of our lives, but for those in helping professions in which handling the emotions and spiritual wellbeing of others is an essential part, care for the self becomes a critical part of maintaining balance and boundaries. I have had the privilege of supervising and mentoring a handful of contextual education students over the years that I have served as University Chaplain. I have found that Sabbath keeping has often been the most challenging assignment for students to remember and adhere to. This is not to say that all students struggle with this aspect – in fact, I’ve had some students who have found the “requirement” sabbath keeping as part of this course to be a natural fit with their Iifestyles. However, for those who struggle with this aspect of their learning, it’s not because they don’t want to take time to slow down and connect with something larger than themselves. Instead, it is usually tied to their feeling that they must be constantly busy or productive, or that the demands of graduate school, an internship, and/or working a job does not afford them the luxury of rest. Instilling this observance of sabbath is an essential part of training those who will go into ministry, but really is applicable to any person in any vocation.

Self-care and work-life balance have become common place buzzwords today. In the events of the past year, many of us have struggled to find moments of rest and replenishment, whether it’s because of the lack of a physical separation from our workspace, an increased workload, an inability to safely travel, or simply the weight of the world’s news that keeps us from finding rest. Some of us may have been able to achieve some semblance of this balance, building in new routines (walks, meditation, time for prayer) into our new schedule. In our own ways we discovered or rediscovered means of stepping away from the difficult challenges faced in the past year. We need a break. We need to recharge. We need a new perspective, a change of scenery, a stop.

Today’s gospel reading begins with Jesus reminding the apostles that maintaining rest is an important part of ministry. You may remember that a few weeks ago in our lectionary readings, Jesus sent the apostles out, two by two, to heal and teach others in the surrounding area. He sent them out without any provisions other than their staff, a tunic, and sandals, with the advice that if they were not welcome, they should just shake it off and go to the next town. The term “apostle” here is not referring necessarily to the “The Twelve Apostles” but rather is a generalized term related to the Greek “apostello” which means “to send out (with a message).” Therefore these are the people Jesus has sent out with a message of healing and repentance, to spread among the people. Apparently the apostles had been very successful in their apostello. Upon returning to Jesus, they were so sought after by the people who heard of their ministry that they had no time to even eat! Jesus directs the apostles that they are to go to a deserted place and rest for a while. The apostles listen to Jesus because he has directed them successfully in their ministry thus far. They have built a relationship of trust in Him and his teachings. He is a successful leader, a compassionate and good Shepherd.

Their rest doesn’t last long, however. Even though they’ve made passage on a boat to go to this secluded place of rest, the people who have heard of Jesus and his apostles gather in crowds and follow them along the shorelines. For me, this description invokes that famous beginning scene of “A Hard Day’s Night” in which the Beatles are trying to hide or outrun groups of teenage fans who are chasing them in hopes of touching or being close to them. In my mind I see people clamoring for Jesus with the group getting larger and larger with each town they encounter. A growing flock of people all driven in the direction of their shepherd. Unlike the Beatles, however, Jesus assesses the situation and decides that the proper thing to do in this situation is not to hide or try to outrun the people. Instead, he forgoes his rest and addresses those in need.

In all of our readings today, we have heard the theme of shepherding over and over again. In Jeremiah, the Lord warns against destructive shepherds who fail to lead the people on a path of righteousness and compares the people of Israel to “Sheep without a Shepherd.” In Psalm 23, we hear the familiar words of how the Lord acts as our shepherd, caring for and protecting us from evil. In the gospel, Mark compares the people on the shoreline with shepherdless sheep, echoing the sentiments of the Jeremiah text that they are in need of care and effective leadership.

Shepherding is one of the oldest professions. In the agrarian nomadic culture of the ancient Israelites, it was well known as an occupation for the poor. Shepherds are not farmers – while they may be tied to a farm eventually for the economic purposes of sheep (shearing and meat production) they are independent in their task of tending and protecting their flock. Being a shepherd is a tough job. It is all consuming at times, especially when lambing season comes. It requires care, fortitude, attention, and an ability to set boundaries.

We are familiar with the imagery of the Good Shepherd. In fact, looking at the back of the chapel as I speak right now, I can see Jesus depicted as the Good Shepherd in the large stained glass window above the balcony. In one hand Jesus holds a shepherd’s staff, outstretching his other hand to the congregation, inviting them in. To the left, a window depicting women and children who gaze upon him, and on the right a mixture of other adults adoring him. “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep” it states above the images of the people. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he loves and cares for his flock. We are reminded of the actions of a Good Shepherd in the text of

Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I lack for nothing

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me to water where I may rest;

He revives my spirit:

For his name’s sake he guides me in the right paths.

Even were I to walk through a valley of deepest darkness

I should fear no harm, for you are with me,

Your shepherd’s staff and crook afford me comfort.

You spread a table for me in the presence of my enemies;

You have richly anointed my head with oil,

And my cup brims over.

Goodness and love unfailing will follow me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord throughout the years to come.

The use of the term shepherd fits for the kind of work Jesus does. He provides his sheep with what they need (see the feeding of the 5,000 which is actually contained in the verses omitted from this week’s lectionary reading). He knows the appropriate actions in the appropriate season, including when to rest and when to be active. He shows his care through acts of healing and disregard for human-created laws that interfere with the work of God. He guides and sets boundaries through his teachings. He protects his flock from evil.  Even more than that, he knows how to tend to new flocks of sheep, even if he has never encountered them before.

I see today’s gospel lesson as the story of two flocks. The first is the group of apostles. This is the small flock with whom Jesus has developed extensive relationship. They have learned from him. They trust his words and actions. They have been entrusted by him to carry the power of healing to others and to share his teachings with the wider world with the knowledge that they will continue to follow him and return to him for their continued growth and strength. The second flock are all those people who have heard of Jesus and “recognize” him from what they have been told by others. They probably do not know the full extent of his teachings. They definitely do not know that he is the Son of God. Many of them probably know that he and his group of disciples heal people. That is reason enough for them to get excited and seek him out. Imagine how the stories shared about Jesus and his miracles must have sounded after they had passed from city to city, gaining momentum as his infamy continues. A miracle man who has healed many who were on the verge of death, or had no hope for healing is making himself available to others. No wonder they flocked to see him! These two flocks still need the guidance of Jesus, but their needs are dictated by their current relationship with Jesus. The first flock, Flock A let’s call them, composed of the apostles have different needs than Flock B, the flock of the sick and uninformed.

Flock B consists of those who have great needs. Remember they are the sheep without a shepherd. They have no one to care for them, to guide them. They are literally running themselves ragged trying to find Jesus to solve their problems. If you’ve ever seen sheep without the guidance of a shepherd or a sheep dog, or ineffective shepherding, you may not realize how quickly things can go wrong. Because sheep are a flocking animal, they travel in a large group. This helps naturally protect them from predators, but it also can make it very difficult to stop them once they all start heading in the same direction. Shepherds are effective in drawing boundaries for the sheep to ensure their safety – keeping them in the good grazing areas and protecting them from predators. Without even those basic needs being met, the sheep, while having some natural inclinations for self-preservation, are more likely to find themselves in unsafe conditions. Jesus sees that these people are in danger because they lack the guidance and care of effective leadership. Even though the disciples need rest, Jesus sees that the crises these people are facing is of utmost importance. The members of Flock B also need rest, in the form of existential calming. Rest will come for all. Love must come first.

Flock A is more like a domesticated flock. They have come to know and depend on their shepherd. They have had their basic needs met (well, with the exception of being so busy that they have no time to eat). Jesus recognizes that this flock, who has been consistent, has gone out to serve others, has done their best to serve God, needs a break. One, for obvious reasons of burnout – people cannot keep working efficiently without time away from their job. But secondly, a spiritual life is one of balance. It requires both activity and contemplation. While many of us may see our task as Christians to love and serve others, we must also have opportunities for spiritual refreshment in hearing the Word proclaimed, nourishing ourselves in holy communion, and taking time to connect with our Creator through prayer and meditation. On the flip side, contemplation without action is not a fully realized Christian life either. Faith should lead to good works in service of others. In a cyclical fashion, rest and action, contemplation and service to others, feed each other in maintaining a healthy balance.

The balance of our work and life, our spiritual activity and contemplation, our outwardness and inwardness is something explored by a wide variety of writers, but perhaps none better than the great agrarian poet and essayist and devout Christian, Wendell Berry. Berry, who owns a farm in rural Kentucky, advocates for the slowing down of life, a turn away from consumerism, of reconnecting with nature, of understanding the earth and all of its cycles. As a farmer, Berry has kept his own flock of sheep, although now in diminished numbers due to his age and ability to care for them. Berry has consistently written poems reflecting Sabbath practice mixed with his agrarian lifestyle for over 40 years. One such poem, number IX from 1991 entitled “The Farm” encapsulates the rhythm of farming life through Berry’s poetic lens. In this excerpt from two sections of the poem, Berry highlights the challenges of the daily work of tending sheep and provides reflection on the need for rest and quiet in a secluded place, not unlike the messages we heard in today’s gospel. He writes:

Near winter’s end, your flock

Will bear their lambs, and you

Must be alert, out late

And early at the barn,

To guard against the grief

You cannot help but feel

When any young thing made

For life falters at birth

And dies. Save the best hay

To feed the suckling ewes.

Shelter them in the barn

Until the grass is strong,

Then turn them out to graze

The green hillsides, good pasture

With shade and water close.

Then watch for dogs, whose sport

Will be to kill your sheep

And ruin all your work.

Or old Coyote may

Become your supper guest,

Unasked and without thanks;

He’ll just excerpt a lamb

And dine before you know it.

But don’t because of that,

Make war against the world

And its wild appetites…

 

To rest, go to the woods

Where what is made is made

Without your thought or work.

Sit down; begin the wait

For small trees to grow big,

Feeding on earth and light.

Their good result is song

The winds must bring, that trees

Must wait to sing, and sing

Longer than you can wait.

Soon you must go. The trees,

Your seniors, standing thus,

Acknowledged in your eyes,

Stand as your praise and prayer.

Your rest is in this place

Of what you cannot be

And what you cannot do.

 

But make your land recall,

In workdays of the fields,

The Sabbath of the woods.

We are not all shepherd-less sheep. We have the guidance, love, and care of our Good Shepherd. He has taught us the ways in which we can reach out to others and share the good news of his life and ministry, growing our flock, bringing in those who may be lost or shepherd-less. He sets boundaries for us, reminding us where the good places to rest are and taking care of us when we are most in need through our faith in Him. Just as we must find balance in the social and physical aspects of our lives, experiencing times of activity and times of rest, we must also strive to seek the balance necessary to feed our spiritual lives as well. In Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we can find that rest.

Rest is holy. Rest is sacred. Amen.

Wendell Berry, 1991:XI “The Farm” in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979 – 1997, Washington, D.C. Counterpoint publishers, 1998. P. 137-138, 147.

-Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students