Archive for May, 2011

If…Then…

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Click here to hear Sermon only
John 14: 15-21
Psalm 66: 8-20
1 Peter 3: 13-22
Acts 17: 22-31

Once again I find myself compelled at the outset, and even in his absence, to thank Dean Hill for his gracious offering to me of a preaching series during the late spring and early summer. Some of you may remember that we began on May 8, Mothers Day, with a reflection on life’s journeys in conversation with the resurrection story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Yes, here you are, whether you intended to be here, or more likely not, on Memorial Day Sunday, right in the middle of Br. Larry’s 2011 secular holiday preaching series. Whether you are here in person or listening over airwaves or internet signals, it is good that you have come on Memorial Day weekend, so that you may pray that what follows you might quickly forget. Speaking of prayer.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

God of memory and of mindfulness, guide our hearts and minds in these moments of reflection that they may be turned to you, to your wisdom and your grace, and that our lives may benefit from the beneficence of your most Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, we pray.
Amen.

Have you ever sat and watched as a baby, sitting in the middle of the floor, attempts to get up and go after a ball or some other toy that she has flung across the room? This attempt at locomotion is often accompanied by a facial expression of some degree of anguish. It is as if said baby wants to say, “If only I could get up and go, I could get across the room and get my toy. Alas, since I cannot get up and go, I shall have to put on a show of consternation in order to motivate someone around me to get it for me.” Amazingly, as the facial expression of anguish turns to vocal consternation, someone usually does just that.

And so it begins: life in the conditional. If the baby cries, then someone goes to get the toy. If the child pushes the button, then the screen comes on. If the adolescent breaks curfew, then the parents ground him. If the young adult gets a job, then she can pay the rent. If the politician commits adultery and his constituents find out about it, then he will be voted out of office. Well, maybe. Life in the conditional is at the heart of the human endeavor. It is so much so that the great modern philosopher Immanuel Kant put it at the heart of his articulation of the nature of knowledge and experience alongside time and space: the conditional movement of causality is constitutive of pure reason.

Actually, reality is a bit more complicated than this. And so we ask, do you live in the world of Sir Isaac Newton or the world of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr? This is an important question for us here at Marsh Chapel who seek to live faithful lives, and not merely for the physicists working in labs across the street. So, let’s have it, do you live in the mechanistic universe of Newton, where things move around bumping into each other like billiard balls such that when one thing encounters another it causes the thing it runs into to alter course? Or do you live in the probabilistic universe of Einstein and Bohr, which is to say the quantum universe, where outcomes of interactions are only certain to a degree of probability? While it is probably best for us to leave it to the physicists to demonstrate why the latter is the more robust view in the laboratory, we can confirm it in our own lived experience. After all, does the adolescent not run a rough calculus of the probability that his parents will ground him for staying out past curfew? And does the politician not calculate both the probability that he will get caught in adultery and the probability that his constituents will find out about it? Perhaps we will address the question of why it is that both adolescents and politicians are so likely to miscalculate their respective probabilities when we gather for the third and final installment of the 2011 secular preaching series on Independence Day weekend.

And so it is that we find ourselves living in a probabilistic conditional world. It should not be entirely surprising, then, that we carry the presuppositions of our probabilistic conditional world over into our spiritual lives. Our lesson this morning from 1 Peter is an excellent example of this phenomenon. “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” Transcription: If you do what is good, then you will not be harmed. The fact that the world is not merely conditional but probabilistically conditional comes into play in the next sentence: “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” That is, for those of you who are good but fall outside of the probability of not being harmed, and thus are in fact harmed, do not worry too much, because you are still blessed. This is beginning to sound a lot like the witch test: if she drowns, then she was clearly not a witch! Oh dear.

It is an interesting thing to consider that religious people figured out that the world is probabilistically conditional long before the physicists did. After all, how often have you heard stories of people praying, “God, if only you will X, I promise to Y”? How often have you prayed such yourself? Martin Luther prayed in the forest that if he would survive a thunderstorm then he would become a monk. He survived, so he did in fact become an Augustinian. Of course, it is notable that these promises tend to arise at the extremities of life. That is, these promises tend to come about when life itself is at stake, taking the form of, “God, save my life and I will give my life to you.” This has the side effect of effectively negating the probabilistic quality of the conditional. After all, if God does not save them, then we never get to hear their story of praying that they will do something if God saves them.

No, it is much better to look to the more mundane spiritual conditionals to understand their probabilistic nature. These are more wont to take the form of, “God, if you will only find me a parking spot, I promise to stop doing whatever it was that I was doing that made me late in the first place.” Here in Boston, I am quite confident that there are more such prayers offered daily in the confines of motor vehicles than all of the prayers offered in all of the houses of worship in this city combined. And multiply that number by 100 when the Red Sox are in town! This mundane conditional is much more interesting because of the fact that it frequently does not come true. How often have you seen a host of angels swoop down and carry off a car so that you can take its space? No, often as not you are left driving around frustrated that your meeting is starting in a building mere feet away and you are stuck outside trying to dispose of a massive hunk of metal.

Of course, not all non-mortal conditionals are so trivial. How many of you have offered prayers, perhaps in this very nave, for family and friends who are terminally ill? And how many of them have died? How many of you have prayed for work? And how many of you are still unemployed? How many of you have prayed for peace? And how long will we remain at war? The fact of the matter is that these non-trivial conditionals do cause some people to abandon faith and abandon God. That this happens should not be surprising. But what is truly fascinating is how many people do not flee from faith and God upon finding themselves outside the desired probability. In religious and spiritual life we are accustomed to the probabilistic conditional.

The movement from if to then that constitutes the conditional is a place of deep anxiety in human life. The probability that the if will not come about, and the probability that the then will not in fact follow, leaves a great deal of uncertainty as to how and when to move. And the fact that the probabilistic conditional figures in the literature of our spiritual heritage does not make living in the midst of such instability any easier. However, acknowledging the reality of the probabilistic conditional as one of the primary modes of human engagement of experience is not the only testimony of the religious and spiritual traditions. The good news offered in the spiritual quest is precisely a transcendence of the if-then dichotomy of human affairs. There is more to life than predicting a probability and then hoping for the best. Our Gospel lesson from John highlights this point. “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” The if-then conditional of the first sentence is not the last word. The uncertainty of Good Friday’s crucifixion is transcended, but not eclipsed, in the confidence of the Easter resurrection. The uncertainty Jesus’ departure in the Ascension is transcended, but not eclipsed, as we shall see in the next weeks, in the confidence of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The promise of the Holy Spirit is not simply another conditioned clause. It is its own indicative statement. The Advocate will come in spite of our fulfillment of the condition, not because of it. We are saved by faith, not by works.

This movement of transcendence-sans-eclipse is an important one in our spiritual lives. The transcendence of the if-then dichotomy is the source of the hope that is in us, of which we are called to account in 1 Peter. And yet, we are called to give this account “with gentleness and reverence.” This is because in this life we never fully depart from the dichotomy of the probabilistic conditional. We can never escape the vicissitudes of life. At the same time, the transcendence is not merely cast off into some future afterlife. The transcendence-sans-eclipse of our Easter and Pentecost experience is a source of real hope and transformation in our lives now.

Paul testified to the importance of this transcendence in his speech in front of the Areopagus in Athens, accounted in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul testified about the unknown god to which the Athenians had built a temple. He testified that this unknown god of the Athenians was “the God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth.” Furthermore, he testified that the creator of the world cannot be bound in shrines or works of human hands, or even served by human hands. Paul testified to a God who transcends the conditional tense of daily life. God “allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’” Our searching for the transcendent God should not lead us to place our hope in something finite, but it should also not lead us to place our hope in something to come in the future, which is, after all, also finite. No, the transcendence-sans-eclipse of the hope promised in Easter and Pentecost provides a living hope in the midst of the probabilistic conditional experience of life.

The hope that is in us is not that God will fulfill all of our desires, no matter how mundane or extreme. It is not even that we will always come out on the preferable side of the probabilities. No, the hope that is in us does not transcend the conditional character of life by resolving its dichotomies but transcends the conditional character of life without eclipsing that life as it is. After all, it is the life God gives us and calls good. Instead, the hope that is in us is the hope of life and love. “Because I live, you also will live,” Jesus proclaims in the voice of the fourth Evangelist. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10: 10). “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them an reveal myself to them.”

The good news of Jesus Christ for us today is that life and love are not faint hopes. They are hopes in the power to overcome the brokenness of life in the conditional tense. They are movements toward wholeness that draws together not only the preferably possibilities but also those we might wish to avoid. Life would not be life without death. Love would not be love without struggle, pain and loss. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” And is not the achievement of holding such disparate and diverse realities of life together in a more awesome whole far greater than finding a parking space?

Amen.

~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+
University Chaplain for Community Life

Baccalaureate

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Click here to hear Dean Hill’s introduction of Dr. Zewail and Dr. Zewail’s address
Click here to watch the video of Dr. Zewail’s address

Boston University’s 2011 Baccalaureate speaker was Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Ahmed Zewail. Later in the day, Dr. Zewail was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree at BU’s 138th Commencement. For more information about Dr. Zewail, please read BU Today’s article.

There will be no sermon text posted for this Baccalaureate address.

This I Believe

Sunday, May 15th, 2011
Click here to hear all 4 reflections with interlude music

Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

“This I Believe” Narratives

Tyler Sit

God be in my end, and in my departing.
I have spent four years at Marsh Chapel, with some hiatus in the middle for living abroad. The worship service we are sharing today has followed me through my college career, regardless the continent I was on, and for the sake of our time (which is now) and the sake of our place (which is here), I would like to frame my beliefs in the elegant rhythms of the Marsh Chapel worship service. And what better place do we have to begin but the end—from this choral response, let us step back to the prompt. God be in my head.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you…

I believe we can be a benediction for each other, and in so doing witness a gospel in the present tense. I believe the Spirit lives in the hearts of all, and we cannot begin to understand the nature of God without the participation of all.

I mentioned I lived abroad but surely the most important travel I have ever done was to visit the temples of every-body, to sit in the pews of another person’s understanding of God and glissando in reverence of another person’s chorus. The past four years gave me conversations with people who envision God from a different angle—my Orthodox Jewish brothers looking back throughout history, my Buddhist sisters looking around and within, my Catholic friends looking—well I’m not really sure, but they are indeed beside me and I cherish them like I do my Muslim classmates and Hindu roommates and the debates I have with the swell of atheism that characterizes this generation.

What a benediction they are to me, how earnestly I try to represent Christ to them.

I believe that our offertory can be a social one, that when we are with each other we can bless others just as we have been covered with blessings. For it is when we are with each other that we find our place within the Creation that has already been worshiping:

All Creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is when we walk in offering and sacrifice to God that we can hear each other, that the prayers of the people can find volume. How greatly the capacity of our hearts enlarge when, kneeling next to each other, we can support the whole world and work to end suffering that we can only touch by prayer. And for the suffering that we will encounter once we step outside of this sanctuary, we orient ourselves right, crying:

Lead me Lord (for I have lost my inspiration), lead me in thy righteousness (for we have rejected our liberation), make thy way plain before my face (Oh You, our object of adoration).

And after such contemplation I find I can’t help but preach about it. To share a gospel with my tongue but also to deliver a sermon with my living—that each song I sing can be like David that each lesson I bring can be like Paul. Not that either of those guys were particularly holy, which works out because I’m not either. The good news, though, is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, this proves God’s love for us—now all we need to do is prove that we can love each other.

I believe that each morning gives us opportunity to begin worship anew. Just like this morning, how we gather—now, here—where the dawn of the east meets the twilight of the west, and the cool of the north touches the calm of the south. We follow the same worship rhythm, but the song changes with every breath.

Amen.

Monica Castillo

I never suffered growing pains when I was younger. If you can’t see me behind the podium today, you now know why. Childhood didn’t quite prepare me for the lessons I learned in college. I wasn’t challenged out of my comfort zone often. I went to middle school with practically the same people and teachers as I did when I left for college. Change was not something I was used to, but it was something I desired.

On my own for the first time, I felt truly lonely. Seeking to keep some regularity in my life, I came to Marsh Chapel for services on a very windy, but sunny day. I dragged my parents along to a service they said reminded them of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Yes, the music was new for me too, but the message was similar. After the service, they offered a trip to the JFK Library, and I decided to tag along.

And along I stayed. It was in Marsh I found a home away from home. I ran here when news of the stock market crash hit and since then, nearly every crisis I’ve gone through has ended with me coming here for help. Within the first month of classes, I lost one of my youth pastors from home and ended up in the sanctuary crying. I wasn’t alone for long, before someone came and talked with me. I found other people just as interested as I was to find friends and stability. I started to joke that Marsh had adopted us bratty freshmen. One friend and I even made a Marsh family tree, with Dean Hill and his wife, Jan, as our grandparents, Elizabeth as our aunt, Ray as our uncle, and Brother Larry as our brother. To further the joke, I started to write the Thurman Room couch #1 as my address in the red books in the pew.

It saddens me to walk away from all this after only three years. After all this trailblazing, I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to stay here, in Boston, at Boston University. In my case, I won’t even graduate with the girls I was so closely friends with. They have still a year to go, and I am leaving early. My family is coming up from the South to see me graduate, but I want my Northern family, my Marsh family, to be there too! Perhaps this is a kind of sadness that acts like a growing pain, letting me know it’s time to move on. I fear that to graduate is to lose them. But wherever this graduation process drops me off, I hope to still have my faith in this family. Because that’s what Marsh has taught me. Not faith in the good book-I’ve had that for awhile. No, Marsh Chapel have given me back my faith in the family, faith in friendships, and restored my faith in nearly everyone around me. Perhaps I will be able to walk away from here as I did from my home in Florida, assured that even if I move or they move that we will always have the times we once shared in a place we called home. Perhaps these growing pains would at least lend me an inch or two in time for graduation.

Rachel Hassinger

Good morning!

My name is Rachel Hassinger.

Thank you for including me in your service today.

I started this journey to graduation many years ago at a diffe
rent school. Now I am finishing here at Boston University.

I am a woman of faith. I used to believe in a God that heals. I still do, but it hasn’t been easy.

I grew up a believer. I led the youth group, and studied the bible with my peers and my mentors. I joined ecumenical and other student religious groups at my previous college.
Unfortunately, my experiences with extreme antigay hatred and fear have catapulted me out of the church.

While this may not change soon, I trust, that although my student life at BU did not lead me through Marsh Chapel or other religious groups, my finals days as an undergraduate student are just the beginning of my future — grounded in a faith that knows no boundaries, a faith that transcends creed, class or nationality.

This I believe:

I believe in a goddess of suffering, a god of true life.

I believe in a spirit of justice, a father/son, mother/daughter, tree of life.

I believe in a faith that shatters and is yet still restored.

I believe in a Jesus that lived on this Earth, and suffered beyond human understanding.

I believe when an officer shot and killed Danroy Henry, a black, 20-year old Pace University student, sitting in a car outside a New York bar last year, our Yahweh mourns. And when that same cop is crowned Officer of the Year, we can hear Her wail in sadness and rage.

I believe that God created each of us in Her image – that race and gender are built by humans to explain oppression based on color, country, gender expression, sexuality or creed.

I believe that a person who steals bread is first and foremost hungry — that we as a society are accountable for acquiescing to a system that leaves that one – and a million more – starving and underfed.

I believe that God knows no boundaries; God knows no walls.

I believe if we listen to the oppressed: such as the Palestinians, whose homes are being bulldozed in Gaza, the Jews who came before whose lives were shattered, the Muslims targeted by xenophobia and bigotry, or the persecution of the brown skinned in the name of fake borders and walls — we can hear our Lord calling us to turn over the tables in our temples of greed.

I believe in a Love that seeks justice, in a love that kindles passion and purpose in those that know Her.

I believe that God does not only bless America or Boston University, the wealthy, the light skinned, the able-bodied, or the straight — god blesses all.

I believe that no matter what humans conjure up as creed, that the single most important truth resides in these words from Jesus: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

RuPaul – host of Logo’s hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race — says it another way: “If you can’t love yourself, how (in the hell) you gonna love someone else?”

“Can I get an Amen?”

Radha Patel

Two weeks left of our undergraduate education, and the first sunny day of the season upon us, a new friend and I sat on BU beach. Our professor had just mentioned the saying, “all paths lead up the same mountain” while my friend had recently heard a similar proverb, “the view is the same at the top of the mountain”. Thus began our debate on whether the two maxims had the same significance.

This moment was a triumph for me in more than one way. Not only had I picked up on a nuance in the sayings, but because I myself confessed what I believed to be true. All paths up a mountain indicates, everyone looks for a universal divineness believed to be at the top, while climbing for a view highlights a moment for contemplation at the top.

An underclassman once asked me if I ever found myself overwhelmed, depressed or confused by deciding to double major in religion and biology. It was the first time I was asked to contemplate my personal beliefs and how they were affected by studying religion and science, and I was scared. Until then, I carefully isolated what I studied from my faith. Being a student, there is an understanding that we are to be the pragmatics in society; better to be one while at the forefront of a progressive one. I wasn’t ready for my faith to confront what I was learning. I was frightened by the possibility of coming to the logical decision to reject God. And, I was ashamed to admit, if He did exist, I didn’t want to be punished by God for rejecting him.

Instead, it was easier to shunt those niggling reservations. I even thought to myself that I would reflect when I had the time- I was too busy making friends, studying and traveling to be able to peacefully think. Obviously, this wasn’t successful. Whenever there was a quiet moment, the conflicts between logic and faith screamed to be heard in my head, and so, slowly, in the sanctity and secrecy of my own mind, I began to pose questions in an assumed format: Humans are only given so much responsibility because God believes us to be capable- right? God ensures that in the end, it is a just world- right? I then became more ambitious and I asked: Is there a paramount realization experience to be had if we meditate hard enough? Should authentic reactions of hate, jealousy, and anger, though facets of humanity, be denied because they are ugly, or, are all faiths taking different paths up the same mountain?

Learning and enquiring has threatened my faith, however it is thrilling and I have developed a more nuanced view of it. Questioning is strenuous and a blessing. You are your own most judgmental critic, but in this way, once you form your fluid convictions you understand the path you took to get there.

This I believe: Having absolute static beliefs is easy. Allow yourself to doubt and form dynamic beliefs.

While it may make you feel vulnerable, it is right before then, that you see the view.

Journeying On

Sunday, May 8th, 2011
Click here to hear Sermon only

Luke 24:13-35
Allow me this morning to publicly express my gratitude to Dean Hill for giving me my very own preaching series. Yes, indeed, you have arrived at Marsh Chapel, whether in person, or by radio waves or by internet signals, for the first offering in Br. Larry’s 2011 secular holiday preaching series. We begin today, Mother’s Day, and will pick up again at the end of May with Memorial Day. The series concludes on July 4, Independence Day. I consider it the highest honor to have been invited to participate in the life of Marsh Chapel in this way, although I would encourage you to note that Dean Hill reserved for himself that pinnacle of secular holidays. Yes, the very one you are remembering just now from back in February, Groundhog Day. I can only pray that some day I will attain to such a stature in preaching as to aspire to be invited on so noble an occasion. Speaking of prayer.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Holy and Gracious God, we gather this morning of Mother’s Day and we celebrate the mothers here with us and the mothers, for some of us, who dwell far away. Keep our hearts and minds, this day and all days, in the mothering presence of your most Holy Spirit, that the thoughts of minds and the meditations of our hearts might be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surely you have had the experience of being a passenger in a car traversing the streets of Boston. You are riding along on your way to an afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts. You know where you are going. Your driver knows where she is going. You sit smiling as you gaze out the windows. Then, your driver takes a turn. “Hmmm…” you think, “this must be a shortcut. I should pay attention for the next time when I am the one driving.” Another turn. “Really. Interesting. I never would have thought to go this way,” your minds voice utters. A third turn. Now it is impossible for you to contain your words any longer. “Um, where are you going?” “Well,” your companion replies, “I am going to the MFA. Where did you think I was going?” “Yes, I thought we were going to the MFA, too, but the MFA is over there,” you reply, pointing back through the rear windshield. “Yes, dear,” says your companion, soothingly. “But this is Boston. Sometimes it is necessary to circumnavigate the entire city just to get next door.”

Amen? Amen.

“Where are you going?” There are actually two questions bound up in this one verbal ejaculation, but let us begin by taking the question at face value. It is certainly a legitimate question to ask as we consider the journey of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is another question that we might wish to ask along with Cleopas of his companion, namely, who are you? That line of questioning, however, at least at this stage, is not terribly likely to arrive at positive results. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear that our “Where are you going?” question will lead to positive results, either given that there is no clear evidence of a village called Emmaus two stadia, which is about fifty miles, from Jerusalem. This is to say that we do not know precisely where Cleopas and his friend were going, but the question remains relevant for us.

“Where are you going?” This question may be a constant, and perhaps somewhat grating, refrain for many of our graduating students here at Boston University. Family, faculty, friends, chaplains: all want to know where our graduates will be going next. Bound up in the question are clearly many other questions. “Do you have a job?” “Are you going to graduate school in the fall?” “Are you staying in Boston or moving back home or somewhere else entirely?” There are broader implications of the question as well, not merely about the immediate future but about the long term. “Do you have a plan?” “Are you career minded?” “What are you going to be, now that you are grown up?” And the questions have implications beyond merely the trajectory of career and work. “Are you going to get married?” “Are you going to have children?” “Are you going to be able to put your life together in such a way that you will both be fulfilled and able to pay the rent?”

“Where are you going?” In a time of global economic and political uncertainty, it can be especially challenging to even acknowledge the question. “Do you have a job?” “No, but not for lack of trying.” “Are you going to graduate school?” “Well, yes, but only because I cannot find a job, and by the way, I have no idea how I am going to pay for it, either now, or in the long term.” “Are you going to stay in Boston or move home?” “Well, I would like to stay in Boston, but Boston is expensive, and although I really do not want to be the graduate who spends the next two to three years living in my parents basement, I really do not see that I have any better options at this point.” Sorry, dear friends, but here at Marsh Chapel we do not preach a prosperity gospel but a Gospel of responsible Christian liberalism, which is to say that we abide in a realistic spirit with great hope for the possibilities of the future. It is in the spirit of realism that we must confess that the prospects are not what we might have hoped when we began four years ago. And it is in hope that we journey on.

It is a funny thing, returning for a moment to our pair of companions seeking to find their way to the MFA, that the question posed by the passenger to the driver, “Where are you going?” is not really a question as to the destination, but as to the route. This is to say that passenger and driver are both clear on where it is they intend to go. They are both aiming toward the MFA. It is just that the real route of the driver does not quite align with the ideal route of the passenger. Indeed, the real question the passenger is asking when verbalizing, “Where are you going?” is, “How are you going to get there?” This too is a question we may wish to bring to Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus. After all, it is a neat trick not only to arrive but merely to set out toward a village of which there is no evidence of existence. How do you get to somewhere that isn’t?

It is my great hope that there is a primacy of the “How are you going to get there?” question in the “Where are you going?” inquisition that our graduates are racked upon by family, friends, faculty, and yes, chaplains. Indeed, of the two, it is the more profound. “Where are you going?” is simply to inquire of a single point, and the final point in the series, at that. “How are you going to get there?” inquires as to all of the infinitesimal points in between here and wherever it is you may be going. Furthermore, it is not so much a quantitative question about the points themselves, but a qualitative and relational question directed more toward the person for whom those points will be constitutive of their life. This is to say that the “How are you going to get there?” question is really a question of “Who are you, and how will you be in the world?” It is not a question of doing but of being, not that the two are ever more than theoretically distinguishable. It is a question of what sort of
person you are and what manner of being you will endeavor to live into.

“How are you going to get there?” The reason that I hope that this question is the primary question implied in the “Where are you going?” inquisition is that this is the question that a university education should prepare you to answer, even if it does not prepare you to answer the “Where are you going?” question on its face. If nothing else, I pray that our graduates have uncovered something about themselves in their experience at Boston University, whether in the classroom, in the dorms, on the athletic fields and courts, in the dining halls, while studying abroad, while participating in community service, or just walking up and down Bay State Road. This is to say what Howard Thurman said much more eloquently: “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who come alive.” In the final analysis it is a sense of concrete, embodied purpose, which only comes by moving through the spiritual process of self-discovery and actualization that empowers those who change the world. To transform others, be ye first transformed, and journey on.

Now that we have winched tight the inquisitor’s rack on Cleopas and his companion, perhaps we should stop for a moment and ponder the fact that the two questions that spring immediate to mind for us, “Where are you going?” and “How are you going to get there?” are actually not the question that Jesus poses. Jesus does not ask where these two disciples are going. It would have made sense if he had. After all, we hear throughout the Gospels of how the disciples are constantly misunderstanding what they are to do, where they are to go, and most importantly, why they are to do what they have been given to do. It would make sense that Jesus would be concerned that these disciples have once again wandered off, and as the good shepherd, that he would seek to bring them back to the fold.

Instead of asking, “Where are you going?” Jesus asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Jesus is interested neither in the destination nor in the route but in the relationships built along the journey. If Jesus had been in the car making its way through the streets of Boston toward the MFA, or at least intending to be moving toward the MFA, the driver and passenger would not have been riding along silently such that the first audible sound is the inquisitor’s whip, “Where are you going?” Had Jesus been in the car, he would have wanted to know why the pair was going to the MFA. “Well, there is a new Art of the America’s wing that has just opened, and we have heard so much about it.” “Is American art important to you?” “Yes, we are particularly captivated by the expansive landscapes of the Hudson River School.” “What captivates you so?” “Well, I think it has to do with the way the artists work with light, so that parts of the painting are illuminated while others fall into shadow. In so many ways it is more real than the actual view of which the painting is purportedly a record could ever express.” “Is not this the point of art?” “Yes, seeing the world in an artistic lens tells us more about who we are than we could ever otherwise come to know.”

Of course, the conversation with the disciples fails to actualize the potential for such a conversation. After all, these are the same dumb disciples who have been misunderstanding Jesus and his purpose and ministry since the get go. They are entirely bound up in trying to reconcile themselves to the crucifixion, and now also to the reports that Jesus is resurrected. And so Jesus must turn to admonishment. “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Once again, Jesus is left trying to bring the disciples up to speed. It is clear that the disciples have a ways yet to go as they journey on.

Speaking of journeying on, it seems that this is just what Jesus is intent to do, and what Jesus would have done had the disciples not intervened to invite him to Emmaus with them for dinner. Now, it is important to remember that these two disciples did not yet recognize that this was Jesus. Is this not often our experience as well, that we fail to recognize Christ in our midst. Often as not, Christ comes to us in the figure of others, the very same family, friends, faculty, and the occasional chaplain who winch us tight on the inquisitor’s rack. St. Francis said, “You may be the only vision of Jesus Christ someone will ever see.” A dear friend of mine said it even more boldly: “You may be the only Jesus Christ the world will ever see.” It is indeed a great responsibility.

It is significant that, even though they did not recognize Jesus, the disciples invited him into their home for dinner. The saying goes that you should always extend hospitality to strangers because you never know when you might play host to angels. Well, apparently you may also end up playing host to Christ. Jesus becomes known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. Of course, the disciples later recognize that they had in fact felt the presence of Jesus as they journeyed together along the road, in the familiar sense in which Jesus had always made their hearts burn. Perhaps, not realizing that the feeling signaled the presence of Jesus, they even took an antacid. That is what you do for heartburn, isn’t it? Anyway, they had not recognized him, which is to say, the familiar sense of hearts aflame had not risen to the level of conscious awareness, but now they were aware of the connection between what they felt on the road and what they had felt as they accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry.

This is to say that as you journey on, I would encourage you to extend and receive hospitality. In the end it is neither the goal nor even the path that is truly important. It does not really matter whether or not you ever make it to the MFA. What matters is the relationships you cultivate along the way. This is the good news of Jesus Christ for us today: resurrection and salvation by relationship. I leave you today with the prayer of my order, of the Lindisfarne Community: that we may be as Christ to those we meet, and that we might find Christ within them.
And in all things, make your mother proud. Amen.

~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+
University Chaplain for Community Life

Spring in London

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Click here to hear Sermon only
John 20:19-31


1. Love Divine

Love Divine all loves excelling
Joy of heaven to earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling
All thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus thou art all compassion
Pure unbounded love thou art
Visit us with thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

2. Deeds That Speak

We hear today the ringing conclusion of the Gospel of John, the courageous Fourth Gospel, the gospel of love divine.

Notice the unique appearance of Thomas, so unlike anything else in any other gospel. Notice the power and irony that he who mistakes the gospel of believing for the truth of seeing, nonetheless announces the full gospel’s full truth: My Lord and my God! Notice the gospel writer who forever reminds us that signs and wonders are deeds that speak (Bultmann, TFG, 698). Notice the ardent proclamation of a personal faith that is not a conviction that is present once and for all but must perpetually make sure of itself anew, and therefore must continually hear the word anew (ibid, 699)…The recounted events have become symbolic pictures for the fellowship which the Lord, who has ascended to the Father, holds with his own (696). Seeing is not believing: believing is seeing. Touching Thomas tells the truth.

3. All Weddings Are Royal

Deeds that speak include weddings, royal and common.

The spring London fog lifted Friday and the spring London rain waited and we enjoyed a royal wedding, 2 Billion of us. The hymns, prayers, liturgy, vows, and spirit of the service are closely similar to the dozens of weddings we will solemnize here at Marsh Chapel this year. As the minister said, all weddings are royal and every bride and groom is a king and queen. For a moment the fog of three questionable wars, a warming environment, a cooling economy, and 400 tornado taken in the south lifted and the rain of anxiety waited and there was a dress, a ring, a carriage, a kiss, a party and a convertible. 60 million Britons had a holiday, and you got up early to watch. Why did we watch?

I hope we heard the sermon. A good word about a generous God who evokes generosity in us. A good word about a new century in which the discoveries of the past century we will need to control and manage: the emphasis on science in the 20th century may be giving way to an emphasis on religion in the 21st, a shift from discovery to community, from creation to redemption. A good word which quoted a personal prayer. A good word about seeds of devotion growing into eternal life, of which the Gospel of John eternally speaks. I hope we applied the sermon to ourselves, along with the beautifully read verses from Romans 12.

But I doubt that is why we watched. In fact, only one observer to my ear so far, among the 2 billion, has come closer to the deeper reason for our attention. Those of us listening to Bonhoeffer this spring will not be surprised.

4. Freedland

“The power of the young Elizabeth’s brief scenes in the King’s Speech is not solely chronological. It is not only that she was around a long time ago; it is that she was around then, during what Churchill predicted would be known thereafter as Britain’s finest hour. She is the last living connection to an episode—the island race standing up to Hitler—that has become the foundation story, almost the creation myth, of modern Britain…Britain alone, Churchill, 1940, the Blitz—this is the tale of unalloyed heroism that the country likes to tell and retell itself. And as long as Elizabeth sits on the throne, Britons remain tied to those events directly” Jonathan Freedlander, New York Review of Books, 4/28/2011, 30.

5. Their Finest Hour

We used to remember that. It is the courage in history of a real love of freedom, that has preserved our way of life, and that has us speaking English today, and not German. Wesley said he knew how to prize “the liberty of an Englishman”. That fierce, pugnacious, relentless, John Bull, bulldog, dog with a bone love of freedom. At the right moment, one momentous Spring in London, 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. 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 Russia did. But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.” Churchill’s mother grew up south of Syracuse in Pompey. One wonders if some of his paternal love of freedom came from the winds of the Allegheny plateau. Authority is about love of freedom.

6. Hell’s Destruction

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid mine anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s Side
Strong Deliverer, Strong Deliverer
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield

7. Aldersgate Street

The freedom and love in today’s Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authenticity, finally, is at the heart of any godly authority.

We once remembered that. It is the experience of freeing love, that ignited our church. 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. Authority is about freeing love. If you missed Easter Vigil, you missed a part of this story.

8. Resurrection Changes Us

“So let us listen to the stories of Jesus and his miraculous birth, his calling of disciples and teachings of friendship, his sharp knocks at hypocrisy and love of childlike innocence, his proclamation that the last will be first and the first last, his miracles of healing and his struggles with fickle crowds, his interpretations of history and parables of the Kingdom, his gospel of love and demands for justice, his institution of sacraments and founding of a beloved community, his bitter betrayal and corrupt trial, his bloody suffering and desolate crucifixion, his harrowing of Hell and glorious resurrection, his blessing of our maturity and gift of the Spirit, his ascension into Heaven and mythic transformation into the atonement for all sins, into the Cosmic Christ, into the Second Person of the Trinity, into the divine founder of the Christian movement, into an ever-loving friend personally available to each of us, into a reality that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All of these things are part of the deep truth that works in us when we celebrate them. Better yet, let’s sing them, because music moves the soul faster than words alone. What changes with resurrection? We do. What is that change? A closer connection with God. What is that connection? An entry into the divine life whose wildness is embraced with Easter joy. “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” You bet!! “Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Amen.” (Robert Cummings Neville, April 23, 2011)

9. Moral Lessons

Just how shall we live changed lives? I have studied, preached, taught and interpreted the fourth Gospel for 33 years, but I never tire of wonder and amazement at what John does not say. He says nothing to us about how we are to live. There is not a single ethical sentence in the gospel—not a proverb, not a moral, not a parable, not a wisdom saying, not a command, not one, no not one. For John trusts—John believes—that once the heart has changed, once our own devotion, decision and discussion are strangely warmed, then we will figure out the rest for ourselves. We shall to build Jerusalem, and then we shall do so.

Let us make a start today. Let us take communion with the promise to live the communion. Let us keep faith with our partners and spouses. Let us tithe, give away 10% of what we earn—at least 10%. Let us worship—an hour a week of careful liturgy, prepared preaching, vibrant music, real fellowship. You can do this. You can. I know you can. We should get ourselves into our own Westminster Abbeys more than once every thirty years.

10. Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning Gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.


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