Archive for May, 2009

A Recession Theology

Sunday, May 31st, 2009
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John 16: 4-14

Preface


With most of our students now away on summer break, we may hazard a reference to Donna Reed as the sermon begins.

The Marsh pulpit, historic and delightful as a setting for preaching, demands weekly illustrations or combinations of illustrations accessible to four generations, 20, 40, 60 and 80 years of age, or thereabouts. This quadrilateral in illustration is true in other, in many other places, but heavily true here, where our youth group mailing list has 25,000 names on it. On a Sunday during the school year, I would think twice about dear Donna, and whether or not 20 year olds would know her, and whether 40 year olds would connect with her.

‘I has been a long time since any of us boys have seen a woman, so we are writing to you in hopes you’ll help us out off our situation…We would appreciate it very much if you would send us a photo of yourself’ (NYT, 5/25/09). So wrote one solder in 1944 from the Aleutian Islands. From New Guinea, a month later: ‘The boys in our outfit think you are a typical American girl, someone who we would like to come home to’. A year earlier my wife’s uncle had died on the next island over, New Britain, a hockey star and recent graduate of Mount Hermon, age 20. In 1943, someone asked her to dance because ‘I really felt like she was a girl from back home. She was from a smaller community, and we were more or less the same age, so I felt she was the kind of person I could talk to’. ‘We think you’re swell’ wrote six marine sergeants.

Other generations will know her, not by photograph, but by cinema and television. They will remember her as the bright light of George’s ‘Wonderful Life’, the woman whose stairway banister can never permanently hold its top. Or they will remember her as the woman ever standing in televised living room or kitchen, always perfectly dressed, from 7am to 7pm.

Donna Reed, it turns out, kept her WWII letters, 341 letters stored up in an old shoebox. Remembered, by so many, it turns out, she remembered many. The letters sat undiscovered for 65 years, kept in a shoebox kept in a garage. Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, discovered the letters early this recession. They made her feel ‘really proud’. Many of the letters she saved from GI’s overseas came from fellow Iowans, some from friends near her family farm in Denison, Iowa. Her daughter discovered the shoebox and letters earlier this recession. It happens that the Mary Owen was employed, pre-recession, by Bear Stearns, a company, as we know see, neither bearish enough nor stern enough, its name notwithstanding. In 1942, Reed wrote to a friend, ‘my effort to win the war has not amounted to much…I wish I could find more to do’.

In preparing this sermon, I did not fish out this newspaper story from earlier in the week only to continue my ongoing personal support for the beauty and power of the daily newspaper at its finest. Although, now that the subject has come up, the power of the daily paper to open the world, to expand the horizon, to challenge the mind and to warm the heart, it might be noticed, is a great and gracious good. When Karl Barth said, in days of Donna Reed, that the preacher speaks with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, he had little sense that one of his two hands might fall empty, or that the endangered document would be the paper. No, the sermon about the press and freedom is for another day. Nor is the point her to recall the power of a hand written letter to form memory and meaning and to call up the very presence and person of the writer to our minds and hearts. Again, another sermon for another day. I mention the story because Donna Reed’s shoebox opens up today’s gospel, a recession theology well fit for Pentecost, in two ways. The 341 letters, saved by the generous mother, and their discovery, made by the newly unemployed daughter, recall for us a recession theology that honors those in need and out of work, and a recession theology that drives us back to the glory hole of spirit, the shoebox of longing, the recessive, recessive depth of saving faith. A recession theology: we are our brothers’ keeper. A recession theology: return to the forgotten love you had at first.

One: The Spirit Helps Us In Our Weakness


Romans 8, a jewel and a beauty, reminds us on Pentecost that our voice in need is our voice in deed. When we are weak, then we are strong enough to see more clearly. The spirit helps us in our weakness. On my prayer list in these months are nearly two dozen people without work, mostly men. I look forward to their re-employment, and I look forward to a day when as a people we may more effectively mitigate the effects of recession. Then we shall rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Then we shall see what we avoid, that the person on the corner, wearing the sign, ‘jobless, homeless’, another time may be us, or our relative. Then we shall work for the common good with a shining zeal and ferocity like that you see in the photographs of servicemen in 1942. Then in the common good we shall find the moral equivalent of war.

For Romans 8, as the choice verse on hope reminds us, is yet another point in Paul’s apocalyptic desire for heaven, a heaven of earth and and earth of heaven, that which ‘we wait for with patience’. It is not, this hope, what now we see. We have miles to go before we sleep.

Maybe you do to: I keep a little statistical list in my journal. Here are some of the latest entries. They are only numbers: 47, 58, 50, 87, 10, 266, 28, 40.

40% of babies born in the USA in 2008 were born out of wedlock.

58% of male Harvard graduates who entered the work force in 2007 went into finance.

50% of recent Afghani applicants for police positions tested positive for drug use.

87,000 Iraqis have died violently since 2005.

10,000,000 species live on earth right now.

266 uses of waterboarding, a kind of torture were inflicted on 2, just 2, detainees.

28% of all US adults change their religion.

40% change their denomination.

You see? Every now and then arithmetic can be ever so interesting. Today I mention the number 84. 84% of the jobs lost this recession, thus far, have been lost by men. For all the spirit gusts of Pentecost, or perhaps precisely out of that holy wind, today upon the heart we feel the hurt of the unemployed.

Why Dean Hill do you present us this number, amid these numbers, on Pentecost? Is this not the church’s birthday, Dear Dean. Are we not to adore the birth of the early church, in red cloth and sparkling songs? What has the spirited holy catholic and apostolic church to do with a few redundant men?

Well…

A long time ago, Augustine of Hippo started into Bishop work, in North Africa. He had many troubles. He fought fundamentalism, for instance, as we do in our time, shouting,
‘love understanding wholeheartedly’. He also argued and wrestled with the Donatists, an ancient, spirited and disciplined form of Christianity. One side of the spat was the question of the extent of the church.

How much real estate is church and how much is not? How much humanity is church, or potentially so, and how much is not? Should the church focus on quality or quantity? Are only those baptized by good Bishops baptized well, or at all? What makes the hotentot so hot? What puts the ape in apricot? Is the church, as the Donatists argued, a select remnant, a pure priesthood, a leaven in the lump, a company of resident aliens, a band of holy Methodists fleeing from the wrath to come? If so, then church is always and ever separated from, alienated from the culture in which it exists. Christ against culture.

Or is the church, as Augustine argued, and as I do today, itself a mixture of wheat and tares, saints and sinners, holy and not yet holy, yet all and objectively founded upon and protected within spirit, divine grace, a set of networks and invisible relationships in the world to redeem the whole world, to transform culture, and the society from which culture comes, and the language that is the very root of that society? Christ transforming culture.

Is church us in worship or does it include unemployed men, whether in worship or not? Is the church the circled wagons of resident aliens? Or is the church found in all humanity, ‘nothing human foreign to us’? How you answer, on this Pentecost Sunday, the church’s birthday, will determine whether you think Christ and his church have anything in common with men without work.

Not all of our unemployed are people of faith. But very few are socially located very far from a baptized brow or a consecrated marriage or a social hall covered dish dinner. Not all of our unemployed are of great moral strength. But very few are living in towns and cities without good people doing good things. Not all of our employed are people who give to anything, any cause or institution, on a regular basis. But very few have received no help, support, forgiveness or grace from someone, somewhere, somehow, sometime. The parables of Jesus are almost all about men and work and troubles. I do not find Augustine invariably helpful. Yet his view of the church, in argument against the purists, and his respect for its well nigh universal, invisible expanse—this I preach, this I affirm, this I love. Nothing human is foreign to us. The issue of work, of honorable work, is as shot through with Pentecost spirit and sacramental wine as every curiosity about prayer, parament, liturgy, music or pardon. The word liturgy, in fact, means ‘work’.

I left an exit ramp in New York on Tuesday, and passed that man wearing that sign, ‘jobless, homeless’. For many men, the job is the spiritual home. His job is his home and his home is his castle. So I pull out my statistics list when I read that 84% of the job losses befell men. We can do better by our brothers in Christ, and one day, we shall have built a society that better smoothes the inevitable collisions between growth and value, and better smoothes the inevitable tensions between liberty and justice. The hurt of this recession will prod, goad, teach and inspire us to do so. One of two announcements in recession theology is this, that we are our brothers’ keeper, meant to watch over one another in love. Donna Reed symbolizes this shared effort, this common good, this love of neighbor.

Two: The Spirit of Truth Will Bear Witness to Me


Yet there is a second flame flickering in the fire of Pentecost and its, our, recession theology. For heaven and full employment are not the same thing. Heaven and guaranteed employment are not the same thing. Heaven and employment are not the same thing. Your job may be your home but it is not your soul. A friend, savingly, asked me recently, ‘have you been long enough in your new job to have a sense of humor about it?’

John 16 is striking for how strikingly strange it is. Sin is not what we do. Sin is not believing. Righteousness is not what we do. Righteousness is Jesus’ absence and the longing absence creates. Judgement is not hellfire. Judgement is the victory of things invisible over the god of this visible world. The Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth—perhaps the least historically understood figure and figure of speech in the New Testament to this day, by the way—guides us, guides us still.

There is more to life than work. Very few people, come dusk, say, ‘I just wish I could have spent another Saturday afternoon in the office’. There is more to work than earning. Very few hearses come equipped with a trailer hitch ball, neither a 2 inch or 1 ¾ inch variety. I know these are trite preacherly truisms. Yet why do we live as if all we needed were work? Yet why do we live as if our hearse will pull a trailer?

A Spanish poet: ‘while others strive vainly for impermanent authority, let me lie down in the shade of a tree, singing’.

Donna Reed’s daughter found meaning, power, memory, love, a depth she did not before know, on an unemployed day, rooting around in the garage. She found glory in the glory hole. She remembered, as she learned about her mother’s own memory lane. Maybe we can remember some things hidden in our spiritual shoeboxes, in our personal garages. Do you remember what you were taught?

See ye first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these will be yours as well.

Store ye not up treasure on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal, but store up treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust consume, nor do thieves break in and steal. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Prize your time, now you have it, for God is a consuming fire.

When she died in 1986 at age 64, Donna Reed wanted to remember that at least 341 servicemen, many from Iowa, had found comfort in her photo, counsel in her response, truth in her letters, spirit in her correspondence. Did we not just read that in John 16? I believe we did.

We treasure what we love, and love what we treasure.

I want to ask you flat out: where is your treasure? What is it that you want to keep dry, preserved for the benefit of another generation, tucked in a shoebox literal or figurative, stored in a garage actual or virtual, kept as a badge of honor in the spirit of truth? What do you hope someone, a daughter, a great–great nephew, might come upon, about your life, which might make them, as Mary Owen said of her mother, ‘feel so proud’?

For a recession theology—I am sure you guessed the turn we would make here—is a recessive one. It seeks out the recesses of mind, heart, and soul. Faith plumbs the deepest recesses of your inner being. In a recession, we have more opportunity, and more need to climb down into the recesses of our lives. In this way, recession is a necessary prelude to salvation. The Spirit is given to us in our weakness, not in our dominance, but in our recession. When we need love, we know love, and know how to love. The second announcement of good news in a recession theology is just this. Grace meets us not just when we succeed, but also and more so when we recede. And in place of prowess, to replace prowess, grace gives love.

Coda


“In thee
is the fountain of life and in thy light we shall see light. Give me a man in love: he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns. Give me one who is hungry. Give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the eternal country. Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about” (S Augustine, sermons).

-The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

An English Spring

Sunday, May 24th, 2009
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John 3: 1-17

Grace can appear, out of the mist, out of a London fog. Grace can overtake you in the mist, in the midst of an English Spring. Faith is that kind of walk in the dark. You only appreciate your faith when you get to a point that you truly need it. I wonder whether you are at a point, ready to set out on the trail of faith? Faith overtakes us in the mist, in the dark, in the fog like that interminable London fog.

We have last week passed through the ritual of Commencement, here at Boston University. Many thousands cheered at Nickerson Field, in the main gatherings. Many hundreds, school and college by school and college, heard words with which to be hooded and to begin again. Two smaller gatherings impressed me this year.

Another kind of fog, spring in England, greeted us at Faneuil Hall.

Jan and I have gone, every year, to Faneuil Hall for the commissioning ceremony for our new ROTC leaders. It is at 3:30pm in the afternoon. Each young woman or man ascends the historic stage of the Hall. They each take an oath to defend the constitution of the country. Then their parents come forward to pin the amulets for their new rank upon each shoulder. There is a little quiet at the pinning, as mom and dad find the right way to attach the rank badges. The hall is fairly full. Veterans are honored. There is a prayer and a speech. There are awards. This year’s winner was remembered for his playful temperament, his team spirit, and the fact that he still used a Chuck-E-Cheese wallet. These are young people. As mom and dad pin on the rank, it becomes shockingly clear just what sacrifice and just what cost arises when peaceful means, diplomatic strategies, fail. Then we turn to young people, some of whom are carrying wallets from childhood, and depend on their courage. There is a thick fog of unforeseeable future and a mist in the eyes as well. Every year there have been soldiers who have been regulars in worship here at the Chapel. Some of you will remember Morgan Jordan from last year. We prayed that day:

All things blessed come from Thee.

In this hour of consecrated commitment, we ask to sense Thy blessing.

Bless our country with a hunger for liberty and justice.

Bless our leaders with courage and patience.

Bless our people with a new rebirth of wonder.

Bless the parents here today with a feeling of your embrace.

Bless those to be commissioned here today with a confidence born of obedience.

Bless, O Lord, these young women and men with the graces of safety and courage.

And bless us who rely on their sacrificial service, with a deeper, truer admiration for them and for that service.

Grant us thy peace.

Another fog still greeted us on Monday.

On Monday, the day after commencement, some of us gathered for a very dignified graduation ceremony to honor the senior class of the BU Academy, our resident Preparatory High School. These students were at least four years younger than the soldiers. They came forward in robes not uniforms. A stately quiet piano rendition of Pomp and Circumstance guided their entry. Their senior orations were in Greek and Latin. The speaker of the day playfully quoted a certain mid-20century English philosopher and sociologist, one ‘J Lennon’ and his colleague, Dr ‘P McCartney’ to the effect that money cannot buy love and love is all you need. The students were admonished, with straightforward frankness, to learn to delay gratification. There were awards. And while the list of schools, fine colleges, to which the graduates have been admitted was printed, it was clear that the future was not clear. One honoree gave thanks for finishing, and remembered studying her Latin vocabulary in the shower. Again, the fog and mist of the unforeseeable future did not escape the prep school ceremony, any more than it had the ROTC commissioning. Young people, young people, such young people.

If we could see everything, we would not need trust. If we knew every little thing ahead of time, we would not need faith. If we were certain, already, about how the future would unfold, we would not need the courage to be or the confidence born of obedience. Faith is fond in the fog. Faith is fond in the London Fog. Whatever version of an English Spring you are living through right now may just the weather system and psychic mist that will evoke your faith. It has happened before.

Nicodemus presents himself to Jesus, appearing out of the misty fog and London like shadows at night, to ask the location of real authority, he who is a figure of much authority, and to seek an authoritative word of faith. Where is faith? Almost any religious text is a neighbor to this question, and here in the fourth Gospel, Nicodemus brings the question home. What is the shape of real faith?

Is it found in law, the ten commandments, the fierce fundamentalism on the rise in our time? Surely these commandments are the basis of good life, but are they the heart of life? Is faith found in order or structure, as in that of a church with laity and deacons and priests and bishops, the depositum fidei? Surely the river of life needs some banks, otherwise all would be flood, but is order at the heart of faith? Are we left, for salvation, to choose between fundamentalism and ecclesiasticism? In this monsoon, this rainy English spring, let us listen again for the Word of God.

The freedom and love in today’s Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authentic faith, finally, is found in freedom and love.

Speaking of London fog…

We once remembered that. It is the experience of freeing love, that ignited the Methodist church.

Every Sunday has four liturgical dimensions, four calendars. One is the lectionary and liturgy of the church—we use this each week, here, so our lesson and Psalm and musical recognition of Ascension. A second is the cultural calendar, Memorial Day this weekend, the traditional beginning of summer and remembrance of service. A third is the calendar of every local community, like ours here, at BU, in our case feeling the effects of the tide going out, faculty, students and staff on summer break. And a fourth is the variety of denominational dates and events, the birthdays of obscure Scottish saints, the feast days of more venerable holy ones, the needs of the larger church for funding of very sorts, and today, 5/24, Aldersgate Sunday, the 271st anniversary of Mr. Wesley’s own English Spring, his discovery of faith in fog (more on this in a moment).

Winston Churchill knew the fog of an English Spring.

At the right moment, one momentous English Spring of 1940, Winston Churchill faced down the more polished, better heeled, more popular and more experienced old Britons of his newly formed war cabinet, and steadily led his country away from their desire to compromise with Adolf Hitler. With Belgium defeated, Churchill clung to a
love of freedom. With France cut in two, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk and escape virtually impossible, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With the whole German airforce poised to incinerate England’s green and pleasant land, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With Lord Halifax ready to seek terms and Lord Chamberlain ready to let him Churchill clung to a love of freedom. Re-read this summer John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940. He concludes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War. In the end, America and Russian did. But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.” Faith is about love of freedom.

John Wesley knew something about the fog of an English Spring.

At midlife, one enchanting night in the English Spring of 1738, John Wesley heard something said in church that warmed his heart for good. He had been on Aldersgate street that Sunday evening, going to chapel service more from duty than from passion, when he heard a preacher read Romans 8 and also Martin Luther’s commentary on that passage. There is something so fragrant and so full about damp London in the springtime. As he left church, Wesley felt something new, a freeing love in the heart, which is the creation and work of the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it. Faith is about freeing love.

The sermon today is an altar call for you. I propose that you come to prayer, ready to accept Jesus in your life. So come, to experience freeing love. So come, to receive a love of freedom. So come, to give thanks for the freedom to love. For the wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes. So it is with every one who is born of the spirit.

Last week’s Commencement reminded us of freedom and love. After our main event speaker had filled the imaginations of a very responsive class with a challenge to service of others, I leaned over to Father Paul and said, ‘I am calling an audible’. I put aside the written benediction (I reserve the right to use it next year!), and remembered a New England poet and a New England poem. It seemed to fit the moment, as it does as well today:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Baccalaureate Sermon 2009

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
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Thank you, to the mighty, matchless class of 2009 of our beloved Boston University for receiving me so generously. Congratulations. You all can exhale now. You made it!

Thank you to families for the sacrifices of love you have made over the years. Hopefully, after today you can start receiving your own stimulus package.

Thank you to President Brown, faculty, staff and trustees for extending this invitation.

Thank you to my family who form the wind beneath my wings – daughter, Mariama, and her husband, my son-in-love, Rahn, our daughter, Adiya, and granddaughter, Ella Bella Boo.

Thank you to my husband, the Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, who was privileged to deliver the baccalaureate sermon 10 years ago. After 35 years, 11 months, 23 hours, he still take my breath away.

Over the years, I have been privileged to deliver other commencement speeches. This year is particularly difficult. Your class is facing the worst unemployment rate in a generation. Instead of making your way into the real world, many of you will be returning home to live with your parents.

Yet there is a word from the Lord. As we reflect on the significance of this call to persevere in the 10th chapter of Hebrews, please pray with me on the charge, Just do it!”

Today this theme is most often identified as the popular logo for Nike athletic gear. But I submit that long before Nike was a twinkle in its founder’s eye, this mantra could be found in the timeworn book that has been passed down through generations of mothers.

Where are the mothers in the house? “The Handbook of Motherhood” is comprised of all those tried-and-true statements that we promised we’d never say when we grew up and had kids of our own. My personal favorite is, “I brought you into this world, I can sno’ nuff take you out.”

“Just do it” is one of those statements.

Your mother didn’t want to say it, but every now and then, you made her go there. Can I get a witness from any mothers in the audience today? After repeatedly asking you to do something, you bright, gifted, articulate hopes for the worlds of tomorrow became the deaf, mute, blind and ignorant of our today. Right mothers?

And your uncooperative attitudes would mount up with wings like eagles and soar to a path that led straight to her last nerve. After enduring a litany of excuses, the collective wisdom of Dr. Spock, the Proverbs 31 woman and even Oprah became patently irrelevant, she blared, “No ifs, no ands, no buts – just do it!”

Surely, this logo summarizes this text in the book of Hebrews. This open letter, whose definitive author remains a mystery, was written to a group of early Christians, who faced great persecution. They endured jeers and flogging, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

By God’s grace and because of their courage, faith and determination, the early church not only survived, it had thrived. However, as we meet them in this text, they are undergoing a new wave of persecution. Some were starting to give up the faith.

The writer issues this poignant challenge: “Remember where you’ve come from, what God’s brought you through, how He made a way out of no way and do not throw away your confidence. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

No ifs, no ands, no buts, just do it!

As you seek to discern your next steps during this season of challenge, allow me to suggest three: Step up with courage; step out with faith; step forward with determination.

You must step with courage, just do it!

For the past eight years I have devoted my time, talent and treasure to advocating on behalf of the great people of Sudan, victims of genocide — not only in Darfur, which is western Sudan, but also in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan – all of which was facilitated by the current president, Omar Al-Bashir, for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for murder and crimes against humanity.

My earliest trips were fear-filled, not because of fear from external dangers associated with traveling into a war zone, but because of the fears of inadequacy that loomed large within me.

One day during my second trip was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I encountered an 11-year-old cow herder whose face was rendered utterly grotesque by his former master. Angry because the lad lost a cow, the master used an ax to chop off the boy’s nose.

That night I lay in the loneliness of my tent, tossing and turning, and yes, crying and crying out. God, get me out of here. I don’t have what it takes to confront the profound depth of this crisis. I cannot do Sudan. Father, let this cup pass from me.

God began to minister to me in the midst of my inadequacy. God said that I was exactly in the place I needed to be. And it did not feel like a good place, but it was a God place.

The God place is where you hit a wall and you have to choose whether you’ll succumb to fear or step up with courage. The God place is where you come to know that you know the truth of Mother Teresa’s observation that most Christians don’t recognize that Jesus is all they need until Jesus is all they have.

On a dark night in war-torn Sudan, God reminded me that I stand on the shoulders of heroes like Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. These women confronted hard situations with courage. They refused to shrink back in the midst of dire circumstances and set the stage for great changes in our world.

Indeed, there is a direct line to be traced from the courage of Harriet Tubman and the courage of Eleanor Roosevelt and the courage of Rosa Parks to the election of America’s first African-American president, Barak Hussein Obama.

After that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I along with others found the courage to say yes to God. We found the courage to found My Sister’s Keeper and come alongside Sudanese women as they seek justice and rebuild their communities.

We found the courage to build a national and international advocacy movement to stop the genocide in Darfur and promote peace throughout all Sudan.

We found the courage to move from that lonely tent in Sudan to the West Wing of the White House to advocate for this cause with two different presidents of the United States.

In two weeks, by God’s grace, my husband and I will join a delegation returning to South Sudan to dedicate the new campus for our primary school for girls and our literacy project for women. That campus, constructed by MSK, will serve 1,000 girls and 200 women.

Step up with courage and just do it!

Step up with courage and also step out on faith. I’m talking about a special kind of faith, what Jesus called “mustard-seed faith,” and what I so often see in the faith of a little kid. I am convinced that just as there are few atheists in the foxhole, there are also few atheists in the sandbox or on the merry-go-round or the teeter-totter.

In my second year of residency I met 5-year-old Elizabeth, from Maine. Elizabeth developed one of the worst forms of leukemia for which we could buy time but offer no cure. Curing her frequent hospitalizations, we became best buddies. That was a blessing. The problem was that the treatments for Elizabeth’s disease at that time almost 30 years ago was often as traumatic as the disease itself.

One morning, Elizabeth’s mother greeted our resident team during rounds. Through the night, she had wrestled with a sense that she could no longer put Elizabeth through the indignity and pain of this regimen. That same morning, Elizabeth awakened and independently shared that she didn’t want any more needles. The faithful mother and the courageous 5-year-old daughter stood firm and returned to their beloved Maine.

Several months later, while walking the hall of the oncology ward, I heard singing and laughter coming from one room. I peeked in to discover now 6-year-old Elizabeth and her mother, and several friends and nurses, donned in party hats and eating cake and ice cream.

Elizabeth had come for a transfusion to prevent excessive bleeding. She explained why they were having a party. She had been praying – she paused to explain to me that praying is when you talk to God and God talks back to you. God had told her that she was going to go to heaven where she would see her grandmother and she would not be sick any more.

Because Elizabeth believed what God had said to her would be accomplished, the party was on! That’s the kind of faith Christ was talking about when he said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we have to change and become like a little child. That’s the kind of faith that allows you to step out and pierce the darkness of challenging times.

Seated in my favorite chair of my study is a black Raggedy Ann doll named Dr. Gloria. Before Elizabeth died, she had willed Dr. Gloria to me. Now Dr. Gloria reminds me that as I face difficult challenges both personally and professionally that make up the package called life, that God will never leave me nor forsake me.

With courage and faith, a child-like faith, I can step up and just do it!

Step forward with determination. To be perfectly honest, the work does get wearying. That’s when God sends an angel – for this pediatrician, usually a child – to propel you to step forward with determination.

A few years ago, I came to the end of a rather frustrating day. I spent the morning unsuccessfully searching for alternate housing for an asthmatic hospitalized in the ICU again, who lived in a rat- and roach-infested third-floor walkup that was a serious hazard to his health.

My afternoon began trying to access social services for the family of a little girl who we discovered had been sexually abused. All my referral sources told me to take a number, the wait would be long. By the time I got to my last client, I seriously wanted to ask Scotty to beam me up.

Maria was a 12-year-old girl, recently emigrated from Guatemala. In order to assess how well kids are adjusting to the new culture, I encourage them to speak English with me. But Maria kept shaking her head no. Her mother explained that Maria was “muy timida” – very shy.

Sympathetically, I invited Maria to pull the curtain and undress for my exam. As she did so, Maria’s mom and I continued to talk. Her mom was a minister; so was I. A doctor and a minister? Yes. Married? Yes. With children? Two. Que bueno! Well, challenging.

Suddenly the curtain flew back to reveal Maria in her blue paper gown. With her hand on her hip, her head bobbing, a smile on her face, and her finger pointing at me, she said in perfect English, “You go girl!” In any language, that sounds like profound wisdom for graduates determined to persevere.

You go, Class of 2009 of Boston University – just do it! Step up with courage – just do it! Step out on faith – just do it! Step forward in determination – just do it! Clip the ifs, can the ands, and kick the buts – Just do it!

This I Believe – Tim Kelly

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Click here for audio of just the sermon

Good morning, my name is Tim Kelly, and I am a senior graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in psychology. As I stand before you today, I realize how many things one can fit in to four years. I have taken 33 college courses, spent over 1,200 hours in lectures, run 3 half marathons, sung more than 10 Bach Cantatas, and have given countless campus tours all since September 2005. But as I reflected on what I was to speak about today, none of these things came to mind as I considered what I now believe as a graduating senior. Actually, I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to three things.

First: God is here. What might seem like the most obvious or simple of statements suddenly becomes questioned, doubted, and sometimes forgotten in daily life. I certainly have been through my share of ups and downs, as I am sure many of you have. What it amazing, however, is that I have experienced God in all sorts of ways. Maybe you experience God through the reading of Scripture. Maybe you see God as you watch a beautiful summer sunset. Maybe you hear God in the music of a classical motet. Perhaps you experience God through people, through friends and family, or even through a loving, kind-hearted brunette in the soprano section of your choir. Maybe you give thanks today, like I do, for your mother or for someone who has played a mother-like role in your life. If you’re like me, you probably experience God through many of these lenses, but certainly I believe that God is here.

Second: we cannot do this alone. I have truly come to value the experience of community within church and Christian life. If community was not important, we’d all be listening to church services on the radio and there would be no need for pews or coffee hour or retreats or passing the peace or fellowship. While I have certainly met great people here at Marsh, I have also searched out community by finding my own separate time to worship away from singing here in the choir, and doing that has given me a wonderful, additional opportunity to grow both personally and spiritually. I truly believe that we cannot go through this adventure, this journey called Christian life by ourselves.

Thirdly: God does not always work in the ways we expect Him to. If you have ever had highs and lows, with some expectations met and some surprises encountered in your life, you, like I, have likely experienced this. I’ve learned that we can take away just as much from a seemingly negative situation as we can from a seemingly positive situation. As a freshman I came upon a quote which at the time I found interesting, and which now I find so true to my own experience:

I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brain to work.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.
I asked for everything so I could enjoy life.
Instead, He gave me life so I could enjoy everything.
I received nothing I wanted but I was given everything I needed.
My prayer has been answered.

I believe I am a pilgrim on a continuous journey through my faith that doesn’t stop next week at Commencement. I believe God is here to help me through my journey, not always in the ways expected, but through faith and community, I hope and pray that I may live out God’s will in my life.

Thanks be to God.

This I Believe – Nellie Staley

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Click here for audio of the sermon only.

Good morning. My name is Nellie Staley, and I’m a graduating law student.

When I moved to Boston to start law school nearly three years ago, I didn’t know anyone in Boston. No family, no friends, no acquaintances, not even some random person that I went to school with 10 years ago. I mean, NO ONE.

But let me backtrack a little. Growing up, I attended church every Sunday… until I was confirmed in 8th grade, and then (for various reasons), I stopped going to church. That’s not to say I stopped being faithful. I continued to attend “church camp” every summer, and I considered my faith to be a central part of my life. But I was not part of a religious community.

Sometime during my senior year of college, one of my – we’ll say “spiritual mentors” – told me that I needed to find a church, that being part of a community was part of being Christian. So I did. I found a church that I attended regularly, and I enjoyed the service, and I thought that I was doing what I had been told. But I wasn’t, because I still wasn’t part of the community.

Which brings me to Boston: I got here, and decided that I needed a church home, if for no other reason than comfort. I did not know a soul, and I needed to find some place in this city that felt like… relief. The only way I can describe it is that I felt like I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, and I was desperate to find the American Embassy.

Maybe my second week of law school, I came to Marsh Chapel. And no offense to Dean Hill, but what made me come back the next Sunday was the choir. Truly majestic. And after that next Sunday, little by little, I began to be absorbed into the Marsh community… and that has made all the difference.

I now have multiple sets of friends, and adoptive parents and grandparents, who ask me how my classes are going, let me know when they won’t be around next Sunday, and talk to me about everything from Barack Obama to Ayn Rand to the Book of John.

How moving it is to watch your brothers and sisters in Christ receive communion. How moving it is to hear them singing in the pew behind you – and how much more so when you recognize the voice. I don’t think I quite understood what Jesus really meant when he commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you” until I came to Boston.

The latest lesson in my spiritual journey – this I believe: I can sense God’s love in the flowers of the Public Garden, the water of the Boston Harbor, the laughter on the BU Beach. But all this cannot compare to the depth of God’s love that I can feel in the presence of my church community – my Marsh Chapel family.

And so I am pleased to say today, to Cecelia, Darlene, Glenice, Sandra, Barbara, Faith, Carolyn, Elizabeth, Nancy, Alice, Mel, Joanne, Bev, Jan, Victoria, Susan, and my mom who is listening in Pittsburgh: Happy Mother’s Day.

This I Believe- Jennifer Williams

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Click here for audio of sermon only

Good morning! My name is Jennifer Williams and I am a graduating senior in the College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2009. I am deeply humbled today to stand where Howard Thurman, one of Martin Luther King’s mentors during his doctoral studies here at BU, sought to forge the way for common ground throughout this university and across this nation. Their legacy lives on. First and foremost, I would like to offer a sincere thank you to some special people here at Marsh Chapel who have enhanced my years at BU. To Dean Hill and Jan Hill, thank you for your guidance and mentorship over the years. I often smile to myself thinking of the times when Dean Hill and I would run into each other on Bay State Road on our way to class or chapel. We’d exchange a nod, a smile, or a quick conversation. As you know, I have served on the Marsh Chapel Usher Team since the spring semester of my freshman year, and it has been a truly rewarding experience. I’ve enjoyed greeting all of you as you enter the chapel doors on Sunday mornings. I’ll especially miss the lively conversations with my fellow ushers: George Coulter, Jay Reeg, Mark Gray, and our newest
member Andrew Lynch. Whether it was cheering on the Terriers in hockey with George, or discussing current events with Mark or Jay, I’ve learned something from all of you. Thank you for enriching my four years at BU with friendship, spirituality, and the sharing of your life experiences. I must also thank my family and friends for
their continued guidance and wisdom.

My parents and I flew up to Boston from Atlanta the spring of my senior year in high school to make that important college decision. That flight from Atlanta to Boston happened to be the first of many for me! It happened to be a rainy day, but as we walked along Bay State Road, towards the BU Beach, near Marsh Chapel and along the Charles River, the ambiance of this city and school struck me. No where else
could I have been immersed in a school environment with such a deep connection to the city. I chose a major concentration in anthropology and a minor in sociology. My coursework presented me with many opportunities to explore beyond the campus along the Freedom Trail, The Museum of Fine Arts, Chinatown, and the Government Center area. Each year, I made time to explore beyond campus, taking memorable
trips to Salem, Plymouth, Providence, New York, and this year Washington DC for President Obama’s inauguration. Traveling is a passion of mine, so whether it was touring Nathanial Hawthorne’s home or the Mayflower, visiting Plymouth Rock and Times Square, the exposure was worth it. Through notable lectures on campus such as Dr. Paul Farmer, Christine King Farris, and at the time Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, I’ve learned and I believe that we as a human race are all interconnected and share common hopes and dreams.

During the summer of my junior year, I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad in an Anthropological Field School Program in Peru. It was a life changing experience for me because I witnessed first-hand how so many people in the developing world live each day. I became even more grateful for the privileges that we in the United States take for granted like potable drinking water, basic health care, and standard
of living. The experience made me certain that I needed to make an impact on the lives of others even if in the smallest scale. The following summer, I was selected as a Fellow in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University. The program exposed me to careers in
government service as well as graduate level coursework. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” I believe public service will be my life’s work, as it has been my calling thus far. I feel blessed to be able to pursue a Masters in Public Policy next fall at The Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at The University of Michigan. Let us continue in Howard Thurman’s footsteps to forge the common ground that unites us all. Let us not forget to hear
the cries of the needy, those who mourn, and the oppressed. May we continue to serve in our communities because there is much to be done.

I will conclude by reading Proverbs Chapter 3 verses 5 through 6, which has
sustained and inspired me through my undergraduate studies. I hope
that you are also inspired:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own
understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct
your paths.”

This I Believe – Jaime Pangman

Sunday, May 10th, 2009
Click here to hear Sermon only


I, like many of my fellow students, entered Boston University with many fears: fear of the future and my unknown place in it, of failure, of newly achieved independence. I expected college to placate these fears by preparing me for the world after I left the safety of campus and began my real life. As I arrived for my first day of classes, the future loomed large thanks to my indecision concerning my major. Of course, this hid the long term problem of a lack of direction in finding out what I wanted to do for a career. To my freshman self, the university symbolized the step between childhood and adulthood, and the lessons I was going to learn here would magically discern and guide my entire life. In essence, I hoped that the four years of education would uncover hidden truths that would do the work for me. However, at the fundamental base of my preoccupation with the future lay a deeper problem. I wanted to find a lasting happiness. It was this simple desire that lay behind all of my thoughts and fears. When looking to the future, I sincerely felt that it would not matter what I was doing, as long as I was happy doing it. Therefore, it was much to my chagrin that I realized soon after starting college that this dilemma, the root of all my fears, was not going to solve itself. Unsure of how to continue, I almost gave up when the answer came from what probably should have been the first place to look for it: my faith.

It was Paul who wrote, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider a loss for the sake of Christ.” This statement sums up the role that faith has played in my college life perfectly. The reconnection with faith that occurred during my time here changed my life completely and permanently. All of those answers on which I had tried to base my life, and thereby placate my fears (for example, finding a good job, searching for Truths in education, obtaining a secure future), mean very little when compared to my faith. Or more correctly, when observed through this faith, these answers seemed incomplete. Moreover, the fears which once loomed so large seem small and inconsequential. It is for this reason that during my time at college, my faith has moved from being a secondary force driving my actions to playing a very central role in my life. So, far from the fear I felt four years ago, I now face the future with excitement and tranquility.

This I Believe – Rebecca Marshburn

Sunday, May 10th, 2009


Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day. My name is Rebecca Marshburn and I am a graduating senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. This I Believe:

I believe in Respect.
I believe this means sincerity not apathy, personal contact not automated machines, care and not disdain, compassion and not criticism, understanding and not judgment, empathy and not pity.

I believe in Love.
I believe that love itself is pure and perfect, but it is us that pervert it. I believe it can heal, hurt, elevate, and destroy. I believe it is only us that can bring love into fruition, and only us that can take it away.

I believe in Humanity.
I believe in pain over complacency, being hurt over being numb, feeling raw over feeling nothing. I believe life and death are two beautifully complementary realities.

I believe in Contradiction.
I believe that within each of us is the power to do good and the power to do evil. I believe each of us is an individual too multi-faceted to define with any sort of label.

I believe in New Ideas.
I believe we too often confine ourselves to paradigms we just can’t seem to shake.

I believe in Failure.
I believe failure is necessary. I believe others have failed me, and that I, have failed others. I believe that the last time I failed myself, failed someone else, will not be the final time. I still believe failure is necessary.

I believe in Each Other.
I believe what we can’t find in ourselves we can find in one another.

I believe in Understanding.
I believe that the more I learn, the more I learn I don’t understand as much as I thought. I believe that my education has taught me there is a vast difference between knowledge and understanding, and that the art of understanding is not static, but a fluid and ever-changing process as we grow daily.

I believe in Compromise.
I believe we need to better learn how to sacrifice.

I believe in Gratitude.
I believe that no matter what we may do, we must do it with humility. I believe, as we go out into the world penniless and confused, we must not lose sight of the things for which we are grateful, for which we exist: our family, our friends, our dreams, ourselves.

I believe in Change.
I believe that when you change, everything changes.

I believe in Light.
I believe that everyone has the ability to shine for someone else, and, that above all, we must strive to be that light.