Archive for September, 2009

September 27

Bach and Harmony: Hearing that is Seeing

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

R: Today I invite my friend and colleague, our Director of Music at Marsh Chapel, Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, to join me in offering the morning homily. Good morning, Scott!

S: Good morning, Bob. Isn’t it a wonderful day for music, harmony, Bach, hearing, seeing and wonder?

R: Indeed it is, my gifted friend, indeed it is. Our Gospel lesson today depicts salvation, healing, in a movement from hearing to seeing, a day on which hearing became seeing, sound sight.

S: That is encouragement to our choir, and to me. Every Sunday we try to provide the setting for saving, healing worship. We sing an introit to lift the heart to God. We extend our praise, writing descants for our hymns, or guiding the congregation to sing a verse a capella. Our Kyrie brings the heart to humble contrition. The Gloria Patri brings the heart to joyful acceptance. In the anthems, we seek the true in the beautiful, beauty in truth.

R: Today, one of four such Sundays, we listen to a cantata, an arrangement meant especially for Sunday worship. But let me ask you a question, or two, Dr Jarrett. Say I am sitting in my kitchen, eating a bagel and drinking a coffee, leafing through the Globe and joining Marsh Chapel worship by radio. Let’s further say I do not really know much about Bach, although I recognize and enjoy the beauty of holiness in his music. As part of our sermon this morning, a teaching dialogue sermon (the fifth consecutive different sermonic form provided, by the way, in part as teaching examples for our seminarians, to show diversity and possibility in sermonic design), can you help me to understand, to appreciate what I am hearing?

S: I can certainly try! Recently I traveled with my family to Italy and on the way from Rome to Florence, we passed through the beautifully preserved medieval hillside town of San Gemingano. We stumbled upon the little Collegiate Church within the ancient city walls and, as you might expect, were overwhelmed with the richness of art within the church. After the initial shock of the number of paintings, we began to recognize the subjects of the paintings as Biblical stories. Instead of stained glass windows, the Collegiate Church in San Gemingano unfolds the Biblical narrative in a remarkable series of paintings. Together we traced the stories of the Hebrew scriptures on the south wall, and then the story of Jesus – from birth to the ascenion – on the north wall.

For Bach and the 18th Century Lutheran, Chorale tunes and the church cantatas served this didactic purpose. They communicated a faith and a theology, and served as aural illumination of the Word – the story of divine love, incarnate and cruciform and resurrected, by the interplay of rhythms and harmonies – and the careful weaving of Biblical and poetic texts.

R: Do you mean to say that every cantata is itself a kind of sermon?

S: In a way. But I’m not certain the relationship is reflexive. Though we have come to know that your sermons, Bob, are cantatas: your sermons have within them the soprano of Jesus’ voice, the primary alto of the primitive church’s preaching, the tenor of the gospel writer and the baritone of the church’s interpretation, beginning right in the later New Testament books.

R: I seem to remember hearing that somewhere before….

S: Yes, you see, we in the choir do occasionally listen. But there’s more. Though these cantatas of Sebastian Bach are in German, and date from the early half of the 18th Century, we can still relate and find nourishment in the story and the mystifying sounds.

Music is on of the temporal arts – it exists within a framework of time – it has a specific start and stop. But despite this defining characteristic, I’ve always been amazed about music’s ability to make time stop for the listener. It has the remarkable ability to alter our perception of time. In today’s cantata, for instance, Bach weaves his counterpoint in such a way that we are drawn to a nearly mystical state. For his text Bach incorporates verses from a chorale with the first eight verses of Psalm 130. Likely written for a funeral, the Psalmist’s text depicts the soul waiting for the Lord. Bach chooses certain words to highlight – you’ll hear them: listen for how Bach sets the word for plea – Flehen, or the word for ‘await’ – harret. But the general sense of the music is of the soul, and we ourselves, waiting for the Lord. We are caught in the wheel of life and time seems to stop as we wait upon the Lord.

R: I see. I mean I hear. I mean, well….Last week I sat with one of your best choristers, to ask her what it was like to sing the Bach harmonies.

S: Can you tell me her name?

R: No, but her initials are Ondine Brent.

S: I see….

R: Anyway, she said, and I asked permission to quote her as I always do (here too is a lesson point for the FPA, future preachers of America), that there were not really words to describe what it is like in those moment of powerful, pure harmony. When I pressed her to say more, she simply said, ‘It is a kind of elation’. Elation. Yes. That is the experience of God that comes in worship—in prayer, in hymn, in reading, in sermon, in fellowship. Elation. Is that the way you would put it?

S: Yes. I would add something else as well. The privilege to recreate this music within this service is a very special – even transporting. Bach wrote today’s cantata when we was about 22 – the age of many of our musicians here today. These cantatas are almost like an aural illuminated manuscript – their subject none other than the holy scripture, but their presentation adorned in the beauty of the harmonies and counterpoint of a great master.

As a practicing church musician, I have always been moved by Bach’s devotion to theological awareness and his regular, almost monastic sense of his own musical responsibilities. We are fortunate to have Bach’s personal Bible. One can hardly turn a page without finding some sort of commentary in Bach’s own hand in the margin. His final post in the central German town of Leipzig required him to endure three days (!) of oral theological examination before he could assume the post of music director in the Leipzig church.

Singing Bach, playing Bach, indeed, hearing Bach. Each one is illuminating, transporting, uplifting – a call to devotion, observance, kindness and greater faith.

R: I see. I mean I hear. I mean…There is kind of hearing that becomes a kind of seeing. One of my good friends, now a superannuated preacher, is named Robert Jones. A long time ago, Bob told me, he came as a guest, still a theological student, to a meeting of Methodist preachers in Buffalo. They were singing together, in good harmony, in beautiful harmony. They sang for quite a while, now one hymn, now another. Toward the end of their gathering, they sang the hymn ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’. They sang it together in such a way that he knew he had found his ‘home’, his community. No words drew him to membership in that conference, only music. It was a kind of hearing that became seeing.

S: When people hear us on the radio, or hear us on the internet, or hear us in the Chapel, we expect, we hope, that the hearing is hearing that becomes seeing.

R: Could you tell me a little more about that?

S: Yes, but not today. Tempus fugit (you see, I do know a little Latin). If you and others will come back for our second cantata, November 22, we can say a little more, then, about Bach and harmon

R: Let us pray….

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

September 20

After Thirty Years

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

In July Jan and I attended a wedding in Ithaca, NY. It happened that accommodations were provided at a motel, near Cornell, and a mile from the church we had gone to serve in 1979.

Where were you—ten, twenty, thirty years ago?

We walked one afternoon back into the hamlet of Forest Home, founded in 1794, the community in which our church was located. We walked that afternoon back into our younger life there, not so long ago.

Forest Home is an old mill town, long since demilled, no disrespect to Cecil B, and long since its founding surrounded by ‘Godless Cornell’, New York State’s land grand school, established by Ezra Cornell in 1865. The hamlet contains houses from the early 1800’s, so marked. Through the community flows a river, ‘Fall Creek’, which runs its way downhill and into Cayuga Lake. You cross a one lane bridge which spans the river gorge about 30 feet above the water. At what amounts to the only intersection in Forest Home—the meeting point of two roads, one river bank, and walkway—there was built in 195 a little Methodist church. Forest Home is an oddly and gracefully New England incursion into the Empire State, this our first appointment following seminary.

We passed by the Cornell Veterinary School barns, with some livestock therein alive. To the right the Cornell plantations and wild flower gardens appeared largely unchanged. The little walkway along the road led us downhill to the creek, and to our former home. We passed by each house, then as now inhabited by Cornell faculty, and let the mist and rain of memory descend.

We remembered a family of four whose father at fifty died of cancer, leaving a developmentally delayed daughter. We remembered a prominent scholar who came once our home, and whose name we mispronounced. We remembered a young biologist, and his beautiful family of blonde daughters and spouse, who expected tenure and, in a sudden cruelty, was disappointed. We remembered an aged couple, he dapper, she dour, and her proverb, ‘time flies, ah no, time stays, we go’. The saying in memory fit the memory of the saying. An insurance agent whose office we passed had given us gifts at the births of our two older children. From his wheel chair he had lamented our move in 1981: “It seems like the Bishop should give you a year or tow to consolidate the gains”.

At the bridge there rose up an old house, circa 1815, in which the church’s matriarch had cared for her aged father for many years. Every Friday afternoon, his law partner would come by, open the bedroom window, fish out two long cigars, and sit for an hour in smoke and silence, then leave, without speech, without speech needed. ‘How I hated that smoke’, she once said, ‘and yet what I wouldn’t give to smell it again’.

Down the road we remembered a young man with children and a business, an alcoholic who came under the influence to church and meetings. We remembered a doctor with two delightful toddlers, one of whom was later to die, at 20, rafting on white water. We remembered a poor young couple, housed above her father’s garage, whose earthly hope they had invested in Amway. We remembered a retired colonel, a Vietnam veteran, whose daughters chafed at and rebelled against his authority. We remembered a saintly professor who was later to take his own life. We remembered a sea of students emerging into adult sunlight, struggling to get a foothold, mumbling to find their voice.

After an hour we turned back, and walked out of the daydream, the remembrance we had entered.

Where were you—September 20, 1999, 1989, 1979?

On return, repassing all hurts, all the many and deep cuts and hurts we had recalled on entry, other memories step up along side us. I would not want to try to assess which were the more real, the four feet carrying us, or the four winds of memory guiding us.

The struggling students had the presence of one another in common fellowship, we remembered. Some fell in love, remembered. Some married, too. The saintly suicide had six children and a deeply loving Quaker wife, all surrounding him in life, in death, and in life beyond death. The marine corps daughter got married and settled down, quarreling instead with her mate. Of Dad, she said, ‘I grew up and he got older; somehow, we worked it out’. The poor couple clung to Amway, but also volunteered in church and led a community day of celebration, those having the least somehow managing to give the most. The Veterinarian and wife, in bitterest child-loss, a grief like no other, had the friendship of a later minister, and his presence, and the sincerest of loving prayers, lifted at night from house to house, in the twilight by the creek. The hard drinking dad climbed on the wagon and stayed seated, in the presence of Bill and others friends, and has yet to fall off. The matriarch died, surrounded by admirers and friends, and waves of students who studied her life and learned to live. The forgotten insurance agent, long dead himself, stands up from his life-long wheel chair and greets us in memory at every sighting of the china plate gifts. The aged couple, dapper and dour, squabbled happily enough, ‘til death do us part’. The tenure robbed academic took his beautiful daughters to a similar school in California, to soak up the ever present sun, and a permanent job, in a happier college. The disabled teenager acquired a piano teacher, a minister’s wife, who deeply loved her, decades beyond her dad’s death.

In July, Jan and I took a walk.

We remembered hurt. We remembered help. We realized how ferociously fast thirty years passed. Three good lessons on a summer weekend. Three words of wisdom on a fall Sunday.

For those entering the ministry, three lessons:

1. Even the smallest of churches is teeming, laden with nearly bottomless hurt.
2. Every hurt we have seen has had the friendship of help, some help, not always adequate help, but yet some help still.
3. It doesn’t take very long to go from being a young turk to becoming an old turkey.

In the Bible we read, ‘where sin abounds, grace over abounds’.

Where hurt abounds, help lingers. Nothing good is very wasted, or ever lost, in the economy of care. A formerly young ministerial couple, burdened with many remembered hurts, who thirty years ago had no idea how they would raise a family on $8,000 a year, themselves, back then, themselves since then, themselves now and then, all in a lifetime, saw help, got help, gave help, had help.

You will too.

~ The Reverend Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

September 13

People in Search of Knowledge: Knowledge in Search of Wisdom

By Marsh Chapel

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims [God’s] handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge. …
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul; …
10 More to be desired are they than gold, …
sweeter also than honey, ….

Psalm 19 then ends with a prayer which I invite you now to pray silently with me:

14 Let the words of [our] mouths and the meditations of [our] hearts
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, [our] rock and [our] redeemer. Amen.

Do you hear the wonder in Psalm 19? Can you see and taste the wonder? This is the wonder that has led Jews in some times and places to introduce their children to learning by painting large Hebrew letters with honey and inviting their children to taste the sweetness of the letters. This is the wonder that led one Jewish woman in Los Angeles to create an interactive children’s museum to encourage children to learn Jewish traditions. Children explore the museum using all of their senses, whether lighting Hanukkah candles or tasting Passover flavors or praying at a reproduction of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. These are not “pretend” practices, but practices that engage children and adults in wonder. Indeed, the prayers from the reproduced Western Wall are sent to Jerusalem to be placed in the actual Western Wall. They are later buried on the Mount of Olives with other prayers from the Wall.

Do you hear the wonder of the Psalm? The heavens tell the glory of God and the earth proclaims God’s handiwork. Days pour forth speech, and nights declare knowledge. Images – profuse and vivid – stir pictures of sunrises and sunsets, mountains and valleys, waterfalls and ocean waves – all too magnificent to grasp in their wonder. The images also evoke the wonders of ecological systems, which, however fragile, are remarkable in the ways that plants and animals and sun and rain support one another in their complex, interactive lives. The psalm even evokes the wonders of the human body. However frail and fragile the human body is, it is a wonder of God’s handiwork. Dr. Roger Yu told my husband and me yesterday when he checked my husband out of the hospital: “The exactness of the human body is truly amazing.” Yet, as the psalmist says, all of this wonder is beyond human speech and words. We can speak of it, but we cannot fully grasp the mysteries.

The psalmist wants us to know that knowledge courses through creation, but its origins are in God. God not only communicates through creation, but also through the law, through which people come to knowledge and finally to wisdom. Psalm 19 calls the law by different names – commandments, decrees, precepts, and ordinances – all of which proclaim knowledge. These God-given words revive the soul, make wise the simple, are more precious than gold and sweeter than honey.

Psalm 19, with its passion for knowledge and wisdom, is fitting to rehearse as a new academic year unfolds. Boston University, and schools and colleges around the world, are sacred sites where people meet wonder in the biology lab, the poetry class, the library stacks when they are researching the social history of a once obscure country. Universities and schools for all ages are sacred sites where people stretch their abilities to relate with others, to ice skate as they never have before, to mesh with others in a winning hockey team. However odd this comparison between academic pursuits and the knowledge proclaimed in God’s universe, it is apt.

In Medieval Europe, religious orders founded universities to educate clergy and public leaders and to spread knowledge as far as people could imagine. Between the early 17th and 19th centuries, religious leaders in the United States founded colleges and universities for similar reasons. They often built the university libraries to resemble Gothic cathedrals. The Yale University Library even has a long aisle leading to what resembles a high altar, where the circulation desk sits. Consider the awe inspired by this early library architecture of Yale University, Bowdoin College in Maine, or the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. The architecture was no accident; it was a way to honor the sacredness of learning and the wonders

We can critique these practices of interlocking religion and academic study. We can argue, for example, that such practices are Eurocentric and they have fed the hegemony of Christianity in the United States and other parts of the world, communicating that Christianity was the only religion of a land. On the other hand, the same people who were passionate in their religious lives were often passionate in their search for scientific truth, poetic beauty, and anthropological understanding, and they were passionate about the wellbeing of the world. Further, scholars who made scientific discoveries or studied ancient literature or astronomy often experienced moments of sacred awe, whether or not they associated those moments with religion. Passion for learning and passion for the Holy, more often than not, go hand in hand, and we find this in most religious traditions. The psalmist who scribed Psalm 19 understood this well.


So where does this passion lead? I suggest that the passion for knowledge leads to probing. Remember the young hospital doctor who was in awe of “the exactness of the human body.” When I asked Dr. Yu if I could quote him today, he became curious and began asking questions. He described some of his own search through theological puzzles. His inspiration about the exactness of the human body has led him to questions about God, Jesus, and the universe. Similarly, when you and I allow passion for learning to do its work, it will lead to probing, even when the probing unsettles us and seemingly chases the passion away for a time.

Probing is a natural human act that takes many forms. We probe why a tragedy happened or why someone acted the way they did. We probe frontiers of neuroscience and frontiers of the universe, searching the planets and other distant bodies. Boston University was founded by religious people who cared about clergy education and public leadership. The founders were abolitionists who wanted to further justice in the United States. Today, Boston University continues to be related to the United Methodist Church as its historic founder and as a contemporary colleague in probing; however, the University is not owned or directed by that church or any other. Indeed, it has many other colleagues as well – granting agencies, other
universities, and people in many parts of the world. Further, a large percentage of the faculty and students here are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and agnostic, to name a few, but we are bound together with a common passion to learn and a common commitment to probing. We do not exist to promote a faith, but to promote probing. This is why Marsh Chapel encourages the probing of peoples across many faiths and why the University engages with and learns from people of many faiths.

This perspective of a modern university resonates with the Psalmist’s passion to know the world and to seek understanding. A modern university, as an open institution, does not ground its intellectual probing in a theological position on God and knowledge. But the psalmist was not addressing a modern university. The psalmist addressed the people of Israel – a religious people. The psalmist wanted this people of God to know the world and to know that the source of knowledge is God. As the psalm echoes through history, it now invites modern and postmodern people to be similarly in awe of God’s work. It invites people of faith and searchers who claim no faith to quest endlessly for knowledge and to know that quest as a quest for God. To probe God’s universe is to revere God, and to revere God is to probe God’s universe. Probing is itself an act of wonder – caring enough to dive as deeply as possible into the pool of knowledge.

Probing and More Probing

Thus far, I have addressed the wonders of knowing. I have said nothing about the never-ending quest, the dangers of foolishness, or the new challenges that arise every time we learn something new. I was awakened to the challenges most recently by our four-year-old granddaughter. When her parents told her that Poppy was ill, she responded quickly, “He must be allergic to the snow.” Her parents had previously explained to her that we live in Boston, and one of their explanations included snow. That one stuck. When Kylie learned that Allen was ill, she immediately tried to understand why. She took the knowledge she had, mixed with her love for Poppy, and tried to diagnose the patient. Kylie’s response made her Mimi smile. Her parents, of course, took this opportunity to give her another lesson in geography and climatology because they do not want Kylie to stop probing. Probing always leads to more probing.

Authentic probing leads to insight, but often not to final answers. This week, we remembered the eighth anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Probing those events has been challenging because people have often been willing to accept simple explanations that place blame on one group or another, then generalize the blame to everyone associated with that group. We have been content with “probing light” in contrast to “probing heavy.” Heavy probing does not end when a scapegoat is found; heavy probing seeks explanations in every possible corner of knowledge.

Probing as Antidote to Foolishness

Why should we be so thorough in our probing? Here, the text from Proverbs is particularly insightful. It urges people to heed the teachings of their fathers and mothers and to resist the enticement of sinners who will lead them into war and greed. These sinners say: “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent” (1:11). Then they say: “We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty” (13). After giving these warnings, Proverbs continues with a plea:

15 [M]y child, do not walk in their way, …
18 [they] set an ambush—for their own lives!
19 Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.
20 Wisdom cries out in the street; …
22a ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?’

We easily fall into war and greed if we allow ourselves to settle for simplistic answers.

Probing as a Demanding Art

To this point, the texts for today highlight the beauty of knowing and the ways that continual seeking can protect against foolishness, especially the foolishness of throwing our lives into war-mongering and greed. We have one more text knit into the lections today, however, and this one reminds us seekers that knowing requires something of us. As we come to know something, we become responsible for that which we know. Here is where Mark’s gospel speaks a challenge. About half-way through the gospel, Mark tells the story of Jesus traveling with his disciples. Along the way, he stops to ask: “Who do people say that I am” (Mark 8:27). The disciples respond with what they have heard others say about Jesus. Jesus then replies with another question, “But who do you say that I am?” to which Peter answers, “You are the Messiah” (29). Jesus responds by explaining that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and killed. At this point, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying these things. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter for not setting his mind on divine things. Then, Jesus calls the crowd to him and says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” (31-35)

The picture here is that people are asked to know and to speak what they know, but they are also asked to act upon what they know; the disciples and crowd were asked to give their lives for the sake of the gospel. Here we are in 2009, watching summer close and fall open. Here we are listening to the beauty of Psalm 19, invited into the joy of learning from the heavens and the earth, the days and the nights, the laws and precepts of God. Here we are listening to the warnings of Proverbs to seek wisdom and not be misled by the foolishness of war against the innocent and greed. And here we are listening to the challenge of Jesus in Mark’s gospel: to give our lives for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the gospel. Who would have thought that knowledge could be so rich, so important, so challenging? But it is! May you be blessed with a never-ending thirst for knowledge and with the courage to accept its demands and promises!

~The Reverend Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore
Dean of the School of Theology at Boston University

September 6

Ten Point Start

By Marsh Chapel

Following Jesus’ declaration that all foods are clean, the Gospel of Mark begins to tell us about healings. These are healings done, in the main, for Gentiles. They are points of serious, apocalyptic incursion, when Spirit brings Life. They are openings, beginning points. ‘Ephatha’, says the Lord, ‘be opened’.

As the term opens, in the Spirit of the ancient ritual of Matriculation, we too are opened. We start again. I wish I had kept count this last week of the number of times someone said, ‘Happy New Year’. For our University community, this is a New Year. Be opened. Spirit is bringing Life to the community of Marsh Chapel in the heart of Boston University. Ten old refrains, ministerial proverbs, may open us further. Remember them as you start, as something truly new opens up.

1. Well begun is half done. You never step into the same river twice. Together we spent a full year, 2006-2007, on entry. We greeted and met, we visited and welcomed. The year passed quickly as we developed strategic plan. It was capped by the installation service of March 2007. It is worth the time to take the time to start well. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. (You see, as promised this is a sermon full of old sayings!).

2. Begin with the end in mind. Every New Year’s Day, one Unitarian minister goes to his own grave site, near Seattle, and sits during the better part of the day. You know Robert Fulghum as a humorist and preacher. He exemplifies, though, as serious point, to start. In your beginning is your ending (that is Eliot). We began in 2007 with an envisioned mission, to be ‘a heart for the heart of the city and a service for the service of the city’. We began with three Marsh thrusts: a return to national voice, a regard for the holy matter of vocation, and a re-entry into volume in worship. We are set among the Gentiles, among the Greeks, in Athens, nor Jerusalem. We are along the trolley line that runs from Tyre to Sidon. Just here! Just here, the Markan Jesus teaches us, just here is a new beginning, healing.

3. Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres. Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are. Mark does not need to tell his community much more than that Jesus was bested in argument by a Greek, a woman, a GREEK WOMAN, in order to show God’s love for the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner, the Gentile. You tell me with whom you spend your time, and I will tell you who you are. Better, I will tell you what sort of starting point they give you. “Keep your friendships in good repair” said Dr. Johnson. Better, attend to the gifts of good friendship that befall you. Vision in hand, we applied vision to staff strategy, and then built a new Marsh staff in 2008 out of that new strategy. Almost all our staff people, out of 36, are new in the last two years. This was the work of 2008, to see who would best ride on the bus, as Jim Collins said.

4. They need to know how much you care before they will care how much you know. We send our seminarians out, full of knowledge. (Do you know what the N on the Northeastern football helmet stands for? Knowledge). (☺) Jesus’ healing and the accounts of his healing are woven tightly around his teaching. The freedom of the pulpit is purchased in pastoral listening. If you are not listening 25 times a week, at the second level, that is, at a deep, personal level, in pastoral visitation, you will have nothing to say and no right to say it. The three rules of weekday ministry apply: visit the people, visit the people, visit the people. Last year, 2008-9 we printed our first term book. You have year two in your hand this morning (for radio congregants, there is coming a website version). The practice of faith is a communal project. Jesus’ brings an end to religion. The church is a ‘community of faith working through love’. Knowledge is good. Love is better.

5. Having just the vision is no solution, everything depends on execution. I quote S Sondheim, here, for once. Commitment to excellence means little without attention to detail. ‘If I by the finger of God..’ Jesus once said. Does God have fingers? Is God a Methodist? I cannot answer. But touch, the detail of attention, heals. Say aah… ‘He put his fingers in his ears and spat and touched his tongue’. There is hardly anything more modest in detail than saliva. Yet here is touch, and touch that heals. We want the voice of the Marsh broadcast service—the choir’s anthems, the pulpit’s challenge, the beauty of the liturgy—shared abroad. Touch. We want the vocation, the calling, where one’s deepest passion touches the world’s greatest need, explored. Touch. It is one thing to make living, another to make a life. We want the volume in worship here to soar! Touch.

6. Follow the money. Watergate taught us this. But Proverbs preceded Woodward and Bernstein. Money answers everything. For your sake, as you start, as you start a new autumn, or as you start a new life in faith, start right. Tithing, giving away 10% of what you earn, is the front step, the front porch, the front door of faithfulness. It is not a spiritual practice left only for maturity, left only for clergy, left only for times of ease. Start now, when you are unemployed. Start now, when you are a student. Start now, when your kids are students. For the JOY of it. Our advisory board, now two years old, leads by example. I love the tough, gritty response of the GREEK WOMAN! My colleague Rev. Robin Olson (a BU graduate) once preached a sermon titled, ‘There is Nothing Like an Uppity Woman’, on this text. She challenged Jesus to give. And he did. I challenge you to tithe. Not for my sake. Not for the Chapel’s sake. Not for the church’s sake. Not for the world’s sake. For your sake…You only truly have, you only truly own what you can give away.

7. Love your subject, love your students. Augustine of Hippo so summarized teaching. We are in a setting of teaching and learning. All of us are learning. All of us have something to teach. At a minimum, we need to sit in a circle, smiling, and say to one another: You are not God. I am not God. We are not God. (So, Camus). Our closest partners in this ministry are: The office of All University Events, the Chaplaincies and campus ministries (welcome Joshua Thomas), the College of Fine Arts, the School of Theology, the Dean of Students office, and the Medical Campus. No real learning occurs without a respect for the material and a respect for the student. Start by loving your students and loving your subject.

8. Preach the gospel and love the people. There are ways to summarize. This epigram summarizes the ministry of a community like ours. Preach with joy, serve with happiness! I visited occasionally an Episcopalian in our old neighborhood. She was a retired biology professor, who climbed trees in her 80’s. She served tea and offered joy, to the weary, to the clergy, to me. There once was a Pastor named Fiddle, who refused to accept a degree, for he said, ‘Tis enough to be Fiddle, without being Fiddle D D’! Jesus’ care for the health, the physical health of people, all even Gentile people, shines through the Gospel record. Health is a starting point. Ephphatha. Be opened.

9. Unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety. Now you have had ten sermons this summer, devoted to Darwin and faith, that scorched the angels’ wings, so high they were, so learned, and erudite, and powerful, and true. We turn to start the autumn. Can we join piety to this learning? Will people see vital piety, th
is week, in your forbearance, in your pastoral imagination, in your kindness, in your generosity, in your love? If not, when? Just when did you plan to make a start in faith? It is time for some of us to stop auditing the course of life, and to sign up, and to pay tuition, and to purchase books, and to take the course for a grade. And yes, if you wonder if I am talking about you, I am. Jesus did not spend every hour in the library. The moment he is located there, by the way, in the library, are relatively few. Zero to be exact.

10. Ministry is service. The word diakonia means service. Every Christian is a deacon, every deacon is a deacon, every elder is a deacon, the community of faith is diaconal through and through. Ministry is presence, but moreso, ministry is service. Let love be genuine….

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Dean of Marsh Chapel