Archive for July, 2011

Never Alone

Sunday, July 31st, 2011
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Isaiah 55:1-5

Matthew 28:16-20

Our Savior pronounces a directive for the eleven that they teach all nations, to glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to glorify the Divine Godhead of what we have come to identify as our Christian faith. In that day they would be known as early evangelists, as men and women of the way. What was this way? It was a declaration in time and space that Emanuel, God with us, has now completed a work in human flesh that no other man or divine could do, or would do. He had provided himself, a spotless sacrifice that we might redeemed from the separation that sin created between humankind and the divine. This sacrifice was not ritual, ceremonial, it was literal; it demanded blood, it demanded death. And now it was completed…death, completion? Yes, it was completed, but that was not the end of the story. For on the third day morning He presented Himself to the world, claiming all power in heaven and earth belonging to him. So this commissioning is a great point of ministry. We really have something to tell.

There is much Jesus taught his disciples, that confirm this spotless, sacrificial life that lived, that men and women would believe. For in belief do we understand the power of this commission. Our belief helps us to understand that in our most challenging times, we are never alone.

If one accepts Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, concerns about being alone might be best understood at the level where social concerns and needs dominate our existence. Our commission with the Christian Faith requires us to remember that in Christ, all things are now made new. This newness demands that we see, hear, and act differently. How we process the world changes. We cannot approach this task, in the glow of the resurrection morning, in disbelief, for this disbelief renders us powerless.

In our lesson today, we see that not all of the disciples believed. Mark tells us that Jesus upbraided them for this…he gave them a talking’ to! Might I say this like the old preachers I grew up with?—in my “Holy Ghost imagination” I can hear the savior saying to these fellas—Look, I have sent to you first, the news that I had risen as I said I would, but you did not believe—Is it because I gave the women this task? In like manner I gave audience to some believers out in the country, where we sat for spell and talked of eternal things. But you still did not believe. What’s wrong fellas> Are you looking for my word of instruction, my word of liberation to come only from men. Or are you thinking that only in the great edifices in the great cities will my word need to be heard?

Well, before I get too carried away in critiquing the disciples, we are likewise lacking evidence of an eternal appreciation of this good news. Breaking the bonds of death, the resurrection was the good news. No longer could we be subject to the extortions of promised life or the briberies of earthly wealth, and certainly not slaves to the creations that belong to God. God is, is central to this story. We might exhaust flesh and time our consumption of the words of the Bible. Indeed the words are life giving, but they are also pointing towards one end, to Glorify God. Psalm 19:1, “The heavens shall declare thy handiwork.” But Isaiah 48:11 gives us an understanding that God will not relinquish his Glory. So there must be a faithful reconciliation of the events on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and The resurrection, Sunday morning. These eleven, were at a Passover celebration, a supper that Jesus declares he had looked forward to eating with them. He had before spoke of his body and his blood and the necessity of partaking of such. Some of the disciples and followers followed him no more because of this image. Yet, these eleven stayed, as did the traitor Judas. One might wonder how different the passions of Judas were from the other eleven. I suggest that being open to Jesus as the Glory of God is a crucial difference. So, then we can see that this struggle is a consistent one in the narratives of the Bible.

Struggling with the central tenets of this notion of God’s Glory is the rhyme and meter of biblical literature, and we have heard this in our reading of psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” Throughout the psalm we are given I believe, important attributes of God. We have the transcendence and immanence of God. The Divine is involved in my life, and because of that I shall not want for any good thing: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly… For He is a Sun and shield” Psalm 84:11. Yet even these words are loaded with expectations and too often we miss the central ethic of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The gospel of John gives us help:

John 20:21-23

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” NIV

Providing another view of this commissioning, one which helps us to see this Trinitarian promise and the power it holds over the very notion of ministry. We understand that we are never alone. The presence of the Lord is crucial to our Christian living, our Christian Faith. It is one aspect of our attempt to understand God, and it can be a help in the increase of our faith. Many would be faithful, except for the fears of what seems like a lonely journey. It is not a metaphor, this loneliness. It can strangle your faith, just as it binds your abilities to love, forgive, and be the embodiment of all that Christ has been to you. God tells us to have faith in him; believe him; trust him; his mercies are new every morning; why are you downcast? (Psalm 42:5) he asks, Hope in God! For He cannot forget us (Isa. 49:14-16).

In these times of despair, when the poorest are least considered in the body politic,

Remember—you are never alone

When a ministry of justice seems to be a distant concern for those who say they represent Christ,

Remember—you are never alone

When few seem to have concern about the deconstruction on God’s Word, to fit popular press,

Remember—you are never alone

When success in worldly matters incite jealous attacks upon you and your character,

Remember—you are never alone

When those who say they are friends are nowhere to be found,

Remember –You are never alone

When your testimony of Christ brings rebuke and scorn,

Remember—you are never alone

When grace is viewed as weakness,

Remember—you are never alone

Summary


God’s word consistently shares with us His concern and love. He demonstrated this in the most dramatic way in human history. He came to be with His people. In our text this morning Christ has provided proof to his disciples and given instructions that they might receive the fullness of the God head with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We are never alone. The Love of God is forever with us. Christ resurrected is the greatest testimony of love the world has ever known. God’s immanence—He proves to us daily that He has not abandoned the world. He is active in the world. His transcendence is proof of his power beyond this world. And by that same power he is the center of all creation. And the resurrection is our proof of God’s abiding love and eternal power. But it is demonstrated most by his presence. His presence is the foundation of ministry. Tell the world the good news that Jesus the Christ has conquered death and has risen from the dead. It is the essential belief of our Christian communion.

~The Rev. Dr. Gregory E. Thomas, Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Haverhill, MA; Part of the 2011 Summer Preaching Series, “Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition”

For information about our summer preaching series, please contact us at chapel@bu.edu.

Speaking Our Faith

Sunday, July 24th, 2011
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Ezekiel 37:1-18
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I. Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition

It is an honor to join you for this summer’s preaching series at Marsh Chapel, which is focused on Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition. “Evangelism,” “evangelical,” “to evangelize”…these are not comfortable terms for many New England Christians. A number of years back, our family attended the wedding of some distant relatives in West Virginia. The groom and his groomsmen were clean-cut, athletic, enthusiastic young men who were all planning to serve Christ’s church as youth ministers. Over the course of the weekend celebration, they learned that I was a pastor in New England. I remember them shaking their heads in a kind of pitying admiration, and then one of them said,“Boy, New England is a tough place to evangelize.” I didn’t have the heart to tell them we don’t even like to use the word.

For those of us who preach or teach or participate in churches in New England, we know this is a tough place to evangelize. It’s a tough place to have a vital and vibrant church, its a tough place to be a Christian. According to a Trinity University study, New England has surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region of the country.

II. Grace Restaurant in Portland, Maine

We see evidence of this all around us. Someone told me about a church in Maine they attended a few months ago. They said they had a great experience. Absolutely loved it! I was intrigued, and I asked what made the experience so wonderful? They said, “I had the pan roasted Atlantic Cod with braised baby artichokes, clams, fingerling potatoes, olives, and oven-dried tomatoes. It was divine!” They had eaten at Grace Restaurant in Portland, Maine a trendy new restaurant that opened last year in a 1850s Gothic Revival-style church. The review in the local Portland paper stated: “Few of us bother to go to church anymore, so people in Maine must find ways to reuse our houses of worship, just as we do our riverside mills in this post-industrial age. Grace Restaurant’s repurposing of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church is the most impressive reclamation project yet.” There is more “repurposing” of former churches, in New England than anywhere else in the country.

III. Church Condos

A number of years ago, the Boston Globe’s Real Estate section had a cover story entitled “Converted.” It was about the many churches in and around Boston that have been converted into high-end condos. The comments from the new condo dwellers were as amusing at they were disturbing. One woman said, “I am a very spiritual person, living in this old church is like being cradled in God’s hand.” Another commented, “I love old buildings, if there were icons on the walls that would have been really fun.” I don’t know about you, but I will turn over in my grave, if years from now someone is living in a two bedroom condo in a church I attended or served saying, “you know it would be really fun if there were icons still here. If only there was an etching of the crucified Christ over the kitchen sink – that would have been really neat.” Slowly, but surely, the Church of Jesus Christ is being driven into exile in New England…what group of Christians can think about evangelism, when many communities are just struggling to survive!

IV. Culture Shift

It used to be, in the good old days, you could get a dose of Christianity just by going to school. We were a Christian nation and people just assumed everyone believed just like they did. The Ten Commandments could be posted wherever people wanted to place them. Manger scenes could be erected on town greens without creating a firestorm of controversy. In fact, our historic old New England churches we referred to as meetinghouses because the church was where the people of the town went to conduct civic business and engage in community discourse. The church was central. Sports games and practices were never held on Sunday. You couldn’t buy booze on Sunday. In the town my wife grew up in, you couldn’t even drive on Sundays. Everyone went to church – in fact, it used to be that you didn’t dare miss church because if you did, you’d be the one everyone would talk about at coffee hour…the good old days! Much has changed – the church in New England isn’t central anymore – our faith is in exile, and if Christianity is to regain it’s relevance in this region, evangelism has to become more than just a scary word we don’t dare speak.

V. Ezekiel in Exile

The Prophet Ezekiel understood exile. He was among the first group of Jews to be deported from his homeland in Judea in 598 BC, to the menacing empire of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. From a distance, Ezekiel learned of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and the sacking and burning of the Temple. All that had been, was lost. The glory of Israel was a fading memory. That is when God gave Ezekiel a powerful and disturbing vision. We are told that the spirit of God placed Ezekiel in a valley filled with countless dry, sun-bleached, lifeless bones – a gruesome sight that could have only sunk Ezekiel’s spirit more deeply into despair. When you find yourself in the Valley of the Dry Bones, it always seems as if things have gone from bad to worse. I suspect we have all had our moments when it felt as if death and destruction were all around us. Our health was failing, or our business was failing, or our marriage was failing, or our children were failing…the bones of misfortune piled around our ankles and all hope seemed to be lost. If asked by God, “Mortal, can these dry bones live?”, we might have responded with a resounding “No!”

Ezekiel’s response to God is not far off from that. When asked, “Mortal, can these dry bones live?” “Can what is dead regain life?” “Can the exiled Hebrews thrive again?” Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.” Which is a way of saying, “I don’t know.” “Things look grim.” “I’m not sure I like our chances.”

God’s answer comes in the form of a command. “Prophesy!” “Speak!” “Tell the people what is possible!” According to this passage of scripture, the first step to new life and vitality is to speak about it. Tell people about it. Proclaim that God can put back together that which has been broken apart, and then watch what happens! Dead bones, dead relationship, dead churches, dead faith – are given new life by speaking good news into unfortunate situations. Curiously, that is exactly what evangelism is – the sharing, the speaking of good and encouraging news. When people are told what is possible – that is when good things can begin to happen. The Hebrew’s hope, their faith, and their imagination had been deadened in exile – they lost a sense of possibility. The first step back to their Promised Land, was to have someone speak up and proclaim that God could lead them back from the brink of disaster. Ezekiel, standing in a deep dark valley with dead bones gathered around his ankles became that someone! He proclaimed that God could breath life into death!

VI. Good News in Exile!

As Christians across New England sit in sparsely populated church pews, as we see the role of Christianity in our culture greatly diminished, as we quietly wonder if our faith ma
kes any difference at all…it can seem as if all hope is lost. And what has really been lost is our imagination – we cannot even conceive of a vital Christian faith that captivates our lives and our culture. We don’t know what it looks like. We have no vision for it. We can see the mustard seed, but we can’t imagine it taking root and growing into an enormous bush that demonstrates the expansive nature of God’s kingdom. We can’t imagine having a faith that daily directs our actions, any more than we can imagine sitting in a church packed with people who are passionate about bringing about a better world for the glory of God. All we see around us are the skeletons of once proud churches, now repurposed into condos, or restaurants, or community centers. “Mortal, can these dry bones live?” Our first instinct is to say, “No.” “Things look grim.” “I’m not sure I like our chances.” But Ezekiel encourages us to believe that it is possible. Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed encourages us to believe that it is possible. Both of these stories prompt us to raise our voices and proclaim that God can still breath abundant, expansive life into death!

VII. Ezekiel’s Witness

The prophesy that Ezekiel dared to proclaim in the Valley of Dry Bones came true. Against all odds, seventy years after their captivity in Babylon began, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Why? We have no idea. But it happened. It is a historical fact. God said the Hebrew people would be restored to their land, and it came to pass. Given all the challenges to their survival throughout the generations, it is nothing short of miraculous that any Jews remain in Palestine today. Time and time again, when the Jews were standing in the Valley of Death, with the bones of their people literally gathering around their ankles, God brought them back from the brink of destruction into new life.

That’s what God does. God is in the resurrection business. God resurrects lives. God resurrects relationships. God resurrects entire communities. God can resurrect churches. God can take a mustard seed and turn it into a powerful image of heaven. God breathes abundant and expansive life into death – it has been true for the Jews, it was true for Jesus, it can be true for us and our churches. And something of the resurrection message, which is found throughout the bible, must be at the heart of evangelism. Resurrection is the good news we are called to share – in the Valley of the Dry Bones, in desperate lives and situations, and in dying churches. “Yes,” we are encouraged to believe, “these dry bones can live!” A mustard seed of faith can produce a kingdom full of possibility. Resurrection is real!

VIII. The “E” Word

In truth, as New Englanders, the word evangelism freaks us out a bit. It conjures up images of theologically disturbing religious tracks on car windshields, or hellfire and brimstone preaching yelled trough a megaphone by a guy wearing a sandwich board sign licked with flames, or roadside billboards that proclaim a Judgment Day that came and went without much happening. That is what we think of when we hear the word evangelism – so we choose not to have anything to do with it whatsoever. We have come to believe that evangelism means telling people they are doomed if they don’t change their ways. It’s about telling people how bad things will get because of their sins – and as thoughtful people who are aware of our own failings, we don’t want any part of that.

However, according to this story of Ezekiel, evangelism is just the opposite. Evangelism is not about bad news, but about good news. Evangelism is standing in the midst of difficult, perhaps even desperate situations, and getting up the courage to tell people that God intends for things to get better. Evangelism is not about hell and fire, but about hope and faith. It’s about how seeds become giant bushes, and giant bushes can become powerful symbols of God’s abundant and expansive love. Simply put, evangelism is about sharing good news like that with others!

IX. Speaking of Faith

So, given this story of the Dry Bones, what might evangelism look like today in New England? I think, like Ezekiel, as Christians, we are called to stand in the dry and barren and desperate places of life and proclaim words of hope. We are called to speak up – and to speak words of encouragement. In disheartening situations we are called to be the ones who proclaim what is possible, even if we hold some doubts ourselves. In the midst of broken dreams and broken promises, broken relationships and broken churches, and broken budgets and broken political discourse, we are called to ignite people’s imaginations by reminding them that we serve a God – we follow a Lord – who is in the resurrection business. Time and time again, our God breathes life into death. God takes what is broken, and puts it back together again. That is who God is, that is the essence of God’s character. Our Lord is a life-giver, and that is good news. And when we gather up the courage to share that good news with others…that’s called evangelism. That is what evangelism looks like in our tradition, and that’s something we all can do!

Amen.

~The Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner, Pastor of United Church of Christ, Norwell, MA; Part of the 2011 Summer Preaching Series, “Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition”

For information about our summer preaching series, please contact us at chapel@bu.edu.

The Spirit’s Sway

Sunday, July 17th, 2011
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Acts 8:26-39
Psalm 23
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Fifty years ago finds me on one side or another of my ninth birthday, I am sitting shotgun in my Aunt’s 1960 Buick Le Sabre, a tank of a car, white exterior, red interior, huge fins in the rear, floating above six round taillights. The Buick is a year plus old, but it probably doesn’t have 5,000 miles on it because we don’t go anywhere. Our family owns and operates a small motel in a small town, which requires around the clock attention all year long.

My aunt and I are leading a family from New York to a tourist home for the night’s lodging. This family drives an expensive car, is very well dressed and very well spoken. They are also very African-American, and this happens in Kentucky, where the Jim Crow laws of segregation rule the day. Like every other business in that town, we, reserved the “right” to refuse service to, well, you-know-who. Reaching the black section of town, my aunt found the tourist home, knocks on the door, speaks to Mrs. Johnson, the proprietor, and holds the door as the family carries their luggage inside.

Without saying a word, my aunt taught me that we were on a journey of injustice. I could read it in her worried and sad face. We were Christians for goodness sake, But she, along with my uncle and many others, felt powerless to change things all by themselves. Which is to say, while my family contained no civil-rights heroes, there few, if any, villains, either.

I serve as pastor of the Anchorage Presbyterian Church, established in 1799 on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. From its beginning, that congregation faced some major challenges to the prevailing wisdom, and passed through some excruciating changes. One of the earliest of these, according to our records, was the introduction of a Melodeon into worship. A Melodeon is a household-quality pump organ. Foot pedals work bellows which push air through metal reeds, giving the Melodeon pitch and volume. The musical tradition for most Presbyterians at that time was voices singing Psalms, not hymns, unaccompanied by any instrument. That practice went back to the 16th century, to John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin.

Thus a scandal was created with this instrument which some unnamed soul or souls brought to church one weekday. When the faithful gathered on Sunday, there it was.

The Session, the church’s governing body, was infuriated at this breach of both authority and tradition. It ordered that the Melodeon be removed forthwith. And lo and behold, the Session was ignored. The Melodeon remained in place. The Elders grumbled. but they apparently got used to it, and accompanied music, complete with harmonies, a choir, hymns, anthems, contemporary music and even a few praise songs have been the tradition ever since.

We laugh and wonder how it could ever have been controversial to have instrumental music in worship, and most of us — if not all of us — are perfectly pleased with this turn of events. But in those days, many people considered such a new way of doing music to be worldly and sacrilegious, and they would not put up with it, and it split congregation after congregation in those years in that part of the world.

But still the risk taken to bring in that Melodeon was nothing compared to the risk Philip took when he and the Spirit climbed into that chariot and treated that Ethiopian Eunuch as if he were a child of God.

In the Ancient Near East, it was not all that uncommon to have castrated males serve in special roles, especially in service to a Queen, especially when it involved money. The idea was that sexually neutralized men would be less aggressive and more trustworthy. This man might have been neutered by an accident, or, when he was young, could have been neutered on purpose and sold into indentured servitude. In either case, it was not a life that one would choose.

Be that as it may, we read that he was on the return trip to the Ethiopian region, having worshipped in Jerusalem. In biblical times, the place-name “Ethiopia” referred to all places is Africa outside of Egypt. It is possible that the man was Jewish, but not likely. It’s more reasonable to assume that he was a Gentile. Maybe he was in process of conversion to Judaism, or maybe he was a “God-Fearer” who worshipped the God of Israel and undertook many of the practices of Judaism, but, for whatever reason, became only what we might call a “friend of Judaism. So he’s an insider in own culture. But he’s an outsider in the culture of Judaism. It’s hard to say where he fits.

This is all pretty amazing. He’s rich enough to ride in a chariot, educated enough to read the Greek of the Septuagint, devoted enough to travel all the way to Jerusalem for worship, and humble enough to admit that he did not understand what he was reading. He is also a man of gracious hospitality, When Philip asks if he can hitch a ride, the Eunuch invites him to hop aboard. The welcoming inclusion in this story works both ways.

The church I serve sits next door to the Bellewood Presbyterian Home for Children. It’s one of the oldest church-sponsored children’s homes in the country, beginning with the years after the Civil War, when orphans of veterans north and south filled its beds. In the mid 1960’s, the board of the Children’s home voted to integrate. You would have thought that the whole world was going to end right then and there. Dissenting board members resigned, and good Christian members of the church were in an uproar.

It all seems so silly today that we fought over such things, but it was a serious business in those days. In this culture, angry words were spoken, families were torn apart, violence, bombings, and murder occurred much too frequently.

As a near-eastern native, Philip himself had dark, olive-toned features. The Ethiopian he approached had even darker skin, since his genetic origins placed him closer to the equator. But the skin color was probably not as bothersome to Philip as was the fact that it marked the Ethiopian as a Gentile, as a foreigner, as “the other.” And his being a eunuch marked him as being twice cursed. As a castrated male, the Bible (Deuteronomy 23:1; cf. Lev. 21:17-21). forbids him to enter the temple. He can never be part of the inside circle of the faith he admires so much. And perhaps it is the Eunuch’s personal situation that draws him to Isaiah’s passage about the suffering and outcast servant, which in turn draws him to Jesus. When the Eunuch’s story of humiliation is seen through the lens of the cross — and the resulting death and resurrection of Jesus, — it becomes, under the sway of the Spirit, a story of redemption and hope.

In fact, nothing happens in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch that is not under the pervasive influence of the Holy Spirit. Philip doesn’t choose to walk the wilderness road to Gaza; the Eunuch chose neither the accident of his birth nor his castration nor Philip to come along as his interpreter. And the words of Isaiah lie flat and inert on the page until Philip, by that same Holy Spirit, is enabled to interpret the words of Isaiah.

Words, by themselves, are just words. Even biblical words are confusing and unintelligible without the Spirit to give them loft and meaning and energy. Spirit-infused, they just leap and dance and fly off the page into the rarefied air of new life and fresh purpose, and connection to
all that is real and loving and true. As the Good Book says, The letter killeth; the Spirit giveth life (II Cor. 3:6).

In the late sixties and early seventies, it was hard for the church I serve to accept women as equal partners in the business of being the people of God in a particular place and time. People tended, in those days, to emphasize biblical texts that excluded women from leadership, such as I Timothy 2:8ff and Ephesians 5:21ff. They also tended to underplay biblical passages that included the ministry of women, such as Galatians 3:23ff, and Luke 10:38-42.

I am told by an eyewitness that when our first female ruling elder served communion for the first time in our sanctuary, there were several people who walked out. They excluded themselves from the table fellowship of Jesus Christ because they were more threatened by the gender of the server than they were attracted to the promise of communion with God. Now, in the life of that church, women serve communion all the time and nobody gives it a second thought.

In all these cases, certain readings of Scripture can be used to justify positions and practices firmly held by well-meaning Christians in the past. In all these cases, other readings of Scripture point to more open, inviting attitudes. Sometimes we move toward the Ethiopian Eunuch, so to speak. Sometimes we move in the opposite direction. But no matter how we move, the movement of God’s living Word flows toward acceptance for all because for all Christ lived, died, and was resurrected into eternal life.

In many ways, the human story is one of tragedy and sin. Part of that sad story stems from our tendency to divide ourselves up in opposing camps based on race or gender or economic status or educational achievement or religious affiliation or native tongue or sexual orientation or personality type or physical ability or country of origin or what-have-you. Such separation diminishes the whole as much if not more than it diminishes the parts. And it tells an ugly lie about our faith in the one sovereign and universal Lord of light and love. We are one, not because we look alike, talk alike and act alike, we are very different. But we are nonetheless one because of one blood we were created by the grace of God. Just as importantly, we were redeemed into one human family through the faith of Jesus Christ.

That’s why, every now and then, our human story takes a turn toward the holy and the just. A few short weeks ago, the people of Anchorage Presbyterian Church baptized a little baby whose skin was as soft as velvet and as black as coal. I mean complete, unmitigated black. His father was one of the lost boys of Sudan, and his mother was not a lost girl, exactly, but still a Sudanese refugee from oppressive violence. In biblical times they would probably just be called Ethiopians. It was the most amazing sight to behold. It would have sent some of our former church members spinning in their graves if they had not been reborn into eternal life and eternal loves themselves.

I’m here to tell you this morning, that as that beautiful black baby was baptized and brought into the community of God’s faithful people, we were caught firmly yet tenderly in the spirit’s sway. We stood on ground we had not occupied previously. It was the kind of ground that makes you want to take your shoes off. If just for one glorious moment, we breathed the air of grace, we saw with the eyes of the broken yet healed heart, and we were convinced that we were following smack dab in the middle of the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ. There was water in the font, and nothing in heaven or on earth could have prevented us from baptizing that boy that day.

Here, with you, in this neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. studied and in this sanctuary where he worshipped the Lord his God, I am privileged to make this humble proclamation of hope:

May such moments flourish in all of our communities of Christ-followers, in all places where God’s people gather, and whenever the Spirit of God soars on eagles wings,the wings of love, love pure and sweet.

Amen.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. (Eph. 3:20,21)

Amen.

~The Reverend Dee H. Wade, Pastor of Anchorage Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, KY; Part of the 2011 Summer Preaching Series, “Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition”

For information about our summer preaching series, please contact us at chapel@bu.edu.

The Binding of Isaac

Sunday, July 10th, 2011
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Genesis 22:1-14

A few weeks ago we were shook our heads at the story of a 44 year-old Long Island woman who was arrested for threatening bodily harm to a Little League baseball coach and his family. It seems that her son was not selected to play on a traveling all star little league team. She was outraged that anyone would reject her son for such an important opportunity, and she was not going to take this insult lying down. In a letter addressed to the coach, she wrote, “I will personally make it my goal to make sure that you and your family will suffer dearly. You will rot in hell soon.” The woman sent another frightening letter to the coach’s 14-year-old son. A sentence read, “Think about it, if something terrible happens to your dad or mom or sister, you can blame your dad for not taking my threats seriously” (WABC, channel 7, NYC).

Closer to my home in Louisville, another mother was arrested when her two children, ages 2 and 5, were found wandering alone in a grocery store a half-mile from their home. They had infected bug bites, hadn’t eaten in a long time and the two year old hadn’t had a diaper change in eight hours. Police found the mother at home, sleeping, and was charged for being in possession of a controlled substance as well as two counts of wanton endangerment, criminal abuse, and endangering the welfare of a minor (The Louisville Courier-Journal, 2 July 2011, p. B-4).

It’s a sign of our times. The culture in which we live toggles between child over-indulgence one moment and child neglect the next. We are at least conflicted about the way we accept children into our lives and prepare them for lives of their own.

It is a fairly recent phenomenon for parents to worship their children to such and unhealthy extent, and it is also a recent phenomenon in the precise way we abuse children these days. People in the past — especially in the Ancient Near East — did not have the luxury to create
either child-centered families or child-ignoring families. However, in the time of Abraham and Sarah, the antecedents of our present ambivalence about children can be found. And as I hope we will see, this passage is not just about the care and feeding of children, but also about the broader, deeper relationship between God and ourselves.

I imagine Sarah wondering what these four men and one donkey are up to as she watches them walk away toward distant mountains. I see the old woman is standing in an anachronistic kitchen (from the 1950’s, before dishwashers and microwaves and Vulcan stoves and stainless Zero-King built- in refrigerator/freezers). She’s at the sink, washing the breakfast dishes, looking out her anachronistic kitchen window as these 5 figures recede ever so slowly from her sight, getting smaller and smaller and smaller, becoming dancing dots against the desert floor, until they disappear over the horizon.

“Men!” she grunted. “If they let anything happen to my boy, they will have to answer to me.” We appreciate her concern. Isaac was the golden boy, the son of her old age, her sole sources of comfort, the child of blessing, child of promise. She knew that life was fragile enough when a child is kept close to home, with its thousand ways to die, from snake-bite to whooping cough. So why would that old coot husband of hers tempt fate by carrying off the child that was the literal answer to their literal prayers to a desolate, god-forsaken mountain. When she had reminded Abraham about the need for a lamb to take with them for the sacrifice, he mumbled something about God providing the sacrificial lamb. And that comment spun her mind into a crazy place she could not countenance for more than a second or two before seeking distraction with her work.

When the first of his three daughters were born, Frederick Buechner remembers filling pure elation, fulfillment of the proud poppa kind. She was the hope of the world, she was a living, breathing article of faith, squalling in that hospital delivery room, she was another child, another chance that one human being at least, could get it right, and be good and do all things well.

Reflecting over that birth years later, as a parent who had raised real children in a real world rather than dreamy children in a dreamy world, Buechner noticed that joy that children bring is often matched — and sometimes overmatched — by the pain they sear into our hearts. If we don’t want the pain, we must push back the love, or more effectively not have the children. To love any one is to suffer — for them, by them, with them. He or she who would avoid pain and suffering should also attachment of any kind.

But, Buechner asks, if we knew that the love for our children would take us to the depths of despair, would we still have them? Yes. It is the one worthwhile feature of our species, evidence for the grace of God running though our lives. Because children represent life to us, and life is all about love and love is all about God who is the Lord of both life and love.

And it may be trite but is is nonetheless true: the giver of life is to be worshipped over the gifts of life. And that is what Abraham is sifting through as he trudges along toward the far mountain, where he will meet his destiny, and the destiny of his son and the destiny of his people, indeed, we believe, the world and the whole created order. For out there, in the bleak beyond, Abraham is not just tempting faith, he is tempting faith: the faith his has in God and the faith he believes God has in him and this whole project for the redemption of humanity which begins with Abraham being asked to go to a land God will show him and Abraham’s simple act of commitment: “And Abram went…” The one chosen to reveal God’s will for redemption, the progeny of whom will bless not just Abraham and his family, but the whole wide world.

The question Abraham mulls over and over again, trudging along the dusty, rocky of existence is this: do I love the God for God’s own self, or do I love God because of all the blessings God gives me? Do I love God purely and utterly, or is my love and commitment to God a desire to manipulate God into answering my prayers the way I want them answered? If I do love God purely, then I wall obey God’s command to go and offer my son, the Son of Promise, as a sacrifice to God. I will obey God even as I trust that God will, in truth and in fact, provide a sacrifice that is not my beloved Isaac.

That is Abraham’s test of faith, and it is much like Job’s test. In turn, it is much like our test of faith, too. It is easy, is it not, to love God when you credit God with a wonderful marriage, 2 kids with straight teeth, good dispositions and academic scholarships to Whatever U and a townhouse in the city and a vacation home by the sea and great big fat 401K’s on tope of pensions and guaranteed health care and besides social security.

But replace all that with a rotten marriage to a sad and angry person with whom you have two challenged and problematic and therefore very expensive children with little or no prospects of independence and only your credit card balances are great, big, and fat, and periodic unemployment and perennial underemployment have consigned us to a medicaid-based future dependent upon the largess of government or family or charity or none of the above. If you take that as God’s will for your life, can you still love God and trust God?

Sarah, back in the kitchen at home, is being tested as well. Even if only three return form this strange journey they are on, three men minus one boy, will she still be grateful for having Isaac, the child that brought her laughter,
even for a short time? I don’t know, but I think she will. Oh, she will be angry with God for a long, long time, and even angrier with Abraham fort having listened to God, but I’m betting she will still be grateful, for her one period of love for love’s sake, and in that gratitude will reside God’s everlasting grace, God’s saving act.

Even God is tested in this passage. Are the promises of God true or false? As human as our story teller here casts God, is God a victim of the divine ego? Like we are trapped by ours? Apparently not, though God bumps up against a limit in Genesis 22. God needs to know something, seeks to learn something. At story’s beginning, God didn’t know if Abraham would be willing to give up his son for the sake of God’s love. At story’s end, God finds out (Brueggeman, 187).

At others times in the sequence of events between Genesis 12 and Genesis 22, Abraham fails miserably in his trust of God. Not once but twice does he offer his loving wife Sarah into the hands of a competing tribal leader just to save his own skin. He is the cowardly lion without prospect of gaining a strong heart. But, here, on Mt. Moriah, he trusts God completely. He offers up the one thing on earth he loves more than anything else, and God provides and alternative sacrifice, a ram who was caught in the thicket, not by chance, but because God put him there, a God who trusted Abraham perhaps more than Abraham trusted himself.

Across-current within the biblical stream was always suspicious of the sacrificial system. The prophets — like Isaiah and Micah — are particularly hard on the hypocrisy that comes from using religion, using God, as a means to self-seeking ends.

So God makes good on the divine Word — a sacrifice is provided, and the bound Isaac is unbound. Not only that, the blessing is unbound too. Earth can breathe again; the world is offered a fresh start; humanity has a reason to hope. The story line of redemption continues though Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, down to kings David and Solomon and forward through time to Jesus of Nazareth and Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene and the rest of his disciples. Now the story of peace and reconciliation is ours to tell and to live.

God provides, God gives, because is savior. God is gracious and loving and an ever present help, who refuses, time after time not to give up on the people God has made. Even when those people give God every reason to abandon them to their own devices.

God tests because God is Lord, sovereign over all. God wants to know who the people of God really are, whether they are able to love God for the right reasons, not just because of the goodies God drops their way.

Oddly enough, the testing of Abraham and of us pays him and us a huge compliment. God wants to work with people who are more or less mature and responsible and reliable to carry through on their commitments. God seeks out Jesus followers, the Christ-like among us, to be God’s agents out there in the world, doing God’s work, being God’s people, not for our sake, and not to make the church a more successful, more powerful institution, but for the the peace, the love, the justice, and the joy that only God can give.

God just wants to put us through a little some continuing education, to teach us that we only possess what we are willing to give away, and we only love those whom we are willing to grant freedom from our control.

Week after week we pray, “lead us not into temptation; do not put us to the test,” since we are not sure that we would be up to the challenge. And knowing our limitations, week after week we pray for God’s provision: “give us each day the bread we will need for our journey.” Because we know we will be tested, sooner or later, we need sustaining food for our bodies and our souls.

As she grew up, one of Frederick Buechner’s three daughters developed a nasty case of anorexia nervosa, and she was quite literally starving herself to death. She just about starved her her whole family to death, too. Her illness dragged on for years. Nothing Buechner and his wife tried worked. Doctors were baffled. Finally, she was committed to a hospital because a judge determined that she was a danger to herself.

Buechner rush to her bedside, breathless with the desire to help, but he was turned away by wise doctors and therapists. They finally convinced him that the more he tried to help his beloved child the more her case worsened. He could not make her well; she would have to choose health herself. The only way Buechner could really help her was to stand back and let go of her, even if that meant that she might die. So he backed off, and over time, she began to eat again, reaching for life and love over darkness and death (Buechner, “The Dwarves in the Stable”).

It the hardest, therefore the most important lesson of all, the lesson of letting go and putting all faith in God. It is the first and last lesson of lesson of discipleship. Jesus said, For whoever will save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s sake will save it (Mark 8:35).

Meanwhile, back home, with Sarah in the kitchen, looking out the window six days after her menfolk began their strange journey, she notices a few specks on the far horizon. They grow and grow until they look like people — four people and one donkey. Sarah is witnessing resurrection. They are all — not just the boy — back from the dead. The joy is returning to her life, the laughter will yet ring within her household.

And across the world as well, for God does not just heal family troubles and answer personal pleas for provision. God also provides for the healing of the nations, the renewal of the entire created order of things. To borrow a current expression, that’s how the God of heaven and earth God rolls, a promise spoken from Genesis to Revelation and at many points in between.

Centuries later another man would climb a mountain, and like Isaac carrying the wood for the altar, he would carry his cross But there would be no ram in the thicket for him. When humanity, the world, the creation really needs a sacrifice to be made, God says, “let me do that for you. For if am am going to command you to love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, maybe I need to show you what that looks like, that I am willing to go to hell and back for your love.”

The man carrying his cross was a true child of Abraham. He was Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our gracegiving Savior and our righteousness-commanding Lord.

Amen.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are God’s judgments
and how inscrutable God’s ways!
For from God and through God
and to God are all things.
To God be glory forever.

Amen.

~The Reverend Dee H. Wade, Pastor of Anchorage Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, KY; Part of the 2011 Summer Preaching Series, “Evangelism in the Liberal Tradition”

For full bibliographic information on the citations integrated into this sermon text, or for information about our summer preaching series, please contact us at chapel@bu.edu.

Freely, Humbly, Honestly

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It is good to begin in a spirit of gratitude, and so once again it is incumbent upon me to begin this sermon with a word of gratitude to Dean Hill for his gracious offering of a preaching series in the late spring and summer of 2011.  Yes, whether you like it or not, you have managed to arrive in the nave of Marsh Chapel for the final installment of Br. Larry’s 2011 Secular Holiday Preaching Series.  Some of you may remember when we began, back in May, on Mother’s Day, and then a few weeks later continued on Memorial Day.  And now, here we are, once again, this time on Independence Day weekend, at the conclusion of the series.  For those who, at the conclusion of this hour, will have withstood all three installments, you have my sincerest condolences.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Holy God, Holy and mighty, Holy and eternal, have mercy on us this day, that we may come to live freely, humbly and honestly in the communion of you most Holy Spirit, in whose unity you dwell with Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.
As parts of speech go, adverbs tend to fall at the, “Well, okay, but only if we must,” end of the spectrum.  To be honest, the trendiest aspect of grammar these days is punctuation, as evidenced by the passionate debates on Twitter in the past few days about the use of the Oxford comma.  The bedrock of grammar, of course, is the noun.  Nouns have substance.  We can see, hear, taste, touch and smell their referents.  Verbs help us talk about what nouns do and adjectives help us distinguish the blue nouns from the red nouns.  All adverbs do is to qualify the manner in which nouns do the things their attendant verbs indicate.   We even go out of our way to find ways of avoiding adverbs.  After hearing a politician or a preacher we are likely to say, “Well that was a stupid thing for him to say,” as opposed to saying, “she spoke stupidly.”

It is little wonder, then, that so many in our time struggle to find their spiritual voice, since religious and spiritual life dwells in the land of the adverb.  To be religious or to be spiritual is to be concerned with the manner in which life is lived.  Life is the noun, live is the verb, and the manner in which life is lived is expressed adverbially.  The reality of the adverbial nature of religiosity and spirituality is found in our Gospel reading this morning.  In the first half of the pericope, Jesus is frustrated by the lack of understanding of the ministries he and John the Baptist undertook.  This lack of understanding is situated in the focus placed upon particular actions, or inactions, undertaken by Jesus and John, namely eating and drinking.  Then, the members of the generation Jesus’ critiques ascribes particular connotations to the states of being of Jesus and John, respectively, based on those actions or inactions.  The members of the generation observe the verbs and then classify the nouns according to those observations.  In the second half of the pericope, Jesus indicates that the generation has missed the point, and that what is really important is hidden from them.  Later in the pericope Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  We may ask, what makes people weary?  Too much activity.  Too many verbs!  And those carrying heavy burdens have too many nouns, or too much of a given noun.  When we learn from Jesus, we come to understand that it is not about how many activities we can undertake or how much we can carry.  It is not about nouns and verbs.  It is about the manner in which we do whatever we undertake.  To follow Jesus is to learn to live adverbially.  Not that adverbs are easier than nouns and verbs, just lighter and less frantic.  No, the challenge of living adverbially is garnering the focus of attention required.

There are many adverbs in religious and spiritual life.  On this Independence Day weekend, we will consider three: freely, humbly, and honestly.  First, and the adverb most closely keyed to the holiday, freely.

The notion of living freely as a spiritual manner of life flies directly in the face of how moderns, Westerns, and particularly we in the United States generally think about what it means to be free.  Most often we speak of freedom, a noun, a substance.  Freedom is something we have as a possession, and one of the reasons we celebrate Independence Day is to celebrate the substance of freedom that was won as a possession in the wake of the colonies declaring independence and fighting the Revolutionary War.  It is a bit odd to think of freedom as a substance.  After all, have you ever tried to put freedom in a bag and carry it down the street?  Can you walk up to a street vendor and say, “I’ll have a large cup of freedom with sprinkles on top?”  Admittedly, for a time you could order Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast from restaurants and snack bars run by the U.S. House of Representatives, but that is a whole other story and a whole other sermon.

No, the modern western concept of freedom is not a noun like “book” is a noun, namely something you could carry down the street with you.  Instead, most often what we mean by freedom in the modern west is both the capacity to act as we choose or desire and the lack of impediment or constraint resulting from the actions of others.  This double concept of freedom is epitomized in Isaiah Berlin’s lecture, Two Concepts of Liberty, in which he distinguishes freedom “to” and freedom “from.”  Of course, the two may conflict.  After all, every action I undertake may impede the actions of another or constrain them from acting at all.  If I hold a large rock concert on Marsh Plaza in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, this will likely impede the ability of scholars in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Law School, and the School of Theology from being very productive, and will be a significant distraction to students studying there, to say nothing of the Chapel Choir rehearsing in the nave here in Marsh Chapel.  My freedom to hold the concert runs counter to the freedom of others from distraction.  The conflict between freedom from and freedom to, and various approaches to managing the conflict, is the source of much of political, social and legal controversies of our time.

Our religious and spiritual traditions, however, teach us that to be free is not to possess the substance freedom but rather to live freely.  To live freely is to cultivate the capacity to behave in ways that avoid the turn to the frenetic and overburdened.  As Saint Paul tells it in our reading from Romans, to live freely is to live in concert among head, heart and body.  Of course, the way Paul tells it belies a rather unfortunate dualism between body and spirit, but that should not inhibit us from retelling it in a way the expresses the truth of our common desire with Paul to live integrated lives.  Such integration is a prerequisite to living freely.

The Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment is a correlate to this living freely.  It emphasizes that in moving beyond frantic activity and heavy burdens we are able to be more fully present in the present moment.  In doing so we are able to bring our full attention to the reality of the here and now without needing to control for every possible future outcome.  This is not to say that we should neglect future outcomes; that would be irresponsible.  It is to say that living freely means freely receiving what comes and offering back the best synthesis of what we receive in gracious generosity.  We should not become too attached to what we receive, or we will not be able to offer it back generously.  We should also not become too attached to the outcomes we intend in making our offering, as we are never fully in control of those outcomes.  We do our best with what we have, and when our best is not good enough, we offer what we have received and what we have offered up to God in penitence and thanksgiving.

When living freely, it is very possible that the conditions in which we live, some of which are brought about by other people, will resist our best intentions.  In religious and spiritual life, as we work toward living freely, we should not be too concerned when our best intentions cannot be realized.  The religious and spiritual traditions testify that freedom-from is an illusion at best, and a trap at worst.  At the same time, they teach that freedom-to is never absolute and is always constrained by the conditions at hand.  The generation that so frustrated Jesus frustrated him precisely because they thought that the Messiah would come to bring their freedom from the political, social and religious oppression of the Roman Empire.  The Messiah Jesus, however, came to teach them instead how to live freely under the conditions in which they found themselves, which living he believed would eventually restore them out of oppression, as the prophet Zechariah had promised.

What does living freely look like?  Perhaps we should take our cue from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who said of the late Reverend Professor Peter Gomes of Harvard Memorial Church, “He was the freest man I ever knew.”  I have quoted Governor Patrick on this several times, and many people have looked at me quixotically.  I think that what Governor Patrick meant is that Reverend Professor Gomes lived freely.  He cultivated a way of being that allowed him to be fully present wherever he found himself.  When he found himself faced with a crisis at Harvard over the status in the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, he calmly stood up, taking up the authority of his revered position, and announced that he was gay.  Furthermore, he said that the secret to his ministry of over forty years at Harvard was “ubiquity, ubiquity, ubiquity.”  Reverend Professor Gomes lived freely, and that empowered him to be fully present in situations where he was wanted, challenging those who said they wanted him along the way, and fully present in situations where he was not wanted, opening up avenues of dialogue toward finding common ground amidst difference.

So too, those of us who seek to live religious and spiritual lives seek to live life humbly.  Just as freely the adverb is a far cry from the noun freedom, so too the adverb humbly is a far cry from the adjective humble.  In our gospel today Jesus says that he is “gentle and humble in heart,” but I would submit that the qualifier “in heart” would indicate that he means that he seeks to live his life adverbially humbly.  After all, it would be hard to say the Jesus was entirely humble, riding into Jerusalem as he did on the back of a donkey in kingly fashion, fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah.  This is not what we would associate with a humble person, which is to say one whose entire way of being, one whose life-substance is qualitatively humble through and through.  To be humble is to be of small stature, to be one who refrains from entering the fray, to suppress the desire for the better, to say nothing of the best.

The problem with being humble is that it holds back the integration we already saw was a prerequisite for living freely, which is also a prerequisite for living humbly.  This is precisely the problem with the dualism that Paul sets up by seeking to humble his body that his spirit might be free of sin.  The humbled body can never be integrated with the spirit, which is to say cleansed or justified.  More than simply being integrated as a prerequisite however, living humbly also requires recognizing and respecting the integrity of others.  Integrity requires deference.  To live humbly is to live in such a way that our own pursuit of religiously and spiritually fulfilled lives comes about in concert with the pursuit of religiously and spiritually fulfilled lives by others.  At the same time, living humbly recognizes that religious and spiritual fulfillment for any one person cannot come about at the expense of such fulfillment by any others.  If my salvation can only come about by the damnation of others, it is not salvation, but also, if the salvation of others can only come about by my damnation, it is not salvation.  If the salvation of the mob can only come about by arresting, trying and crucifying Jesus, it cannot be true salvation, but neither can the salvation of the world come through the killing of the mob, as one disciple set out to do by cutting off the ear of the slave of the high priest.  Living life humbly recognizes the integrity of others and so empowers us to resist that which would oppress us, often as not by submitting to that very oppression.

The nonviolent activism of Mohandas Gandhi and Boston University’s own alumnus the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exemplifies what it means to live life humbly.  It is in recognizing the integrity of others that Gandhi and King sought to organize those others to resist the attempts on the part of a wider society to oppress them, while at the same time teaching the others to recognize the integrity of the others who made up the wider society.  What it means to live humbly is embodied in the three points of Gandhi’s philosophy, summarized in E. Stanley Jones’ biography of Gandhi, that inspired King to take up the practices of nonviolence:

1.     that nonviolence is the method of the strong, not the method of the weak and the cowardly
2.     that it is better to fight than to take up nonviolence through fear or cowardice
3.     that by using the right means, the right result will follow

We should note that the last point is a summary of the principle that religious and spiritual life is concerned with the adverbial character of how life is lived, and that life lived adverbially is the good life, not life lived frantically and overburdened.

Now, what is this integrated self that we have been speaking of as a precondition for life lived freely and humbly?   It is life lived honestly.  If we are to have any hope of the many parts of ourselves abiding together wholesomely, then they must first be acknowledged honestly.  Just as life lived freely is to be distinguished, even opposed, to freedom, and just as life lived humbly is to be distinguished, even opposed, to being humble, so too life lived honestly is to be distinguished, and even opposed, to truth.  Truth is something that is established and stable for all time.  Life lived honestly recognizes that we ourselves are not established and stable, that the way we are now is not the way we always were and is not the way we always will be.  Furthermore, the situation of our lives is not established and stable, is not the same now as it always has been, and will not be in ten days either what it is now or will be tomorrow.  If truth is once and for all, then living life honestly is a way of being in constant discernment of who we were, who we are, who we will be, in light of ever changing circumstances.

Of course, it is the very instability of living honestly, the very continuous and ongoing cycles of change, that gives rise to the adverbial character of religious and spiritual life.  All of those nouns and verbs that pervade our speech and our thought about what is most true and good risk making us participants in the very generation Jesus bemoans in our gospel reading today.  Take, for example, the extraordinarily vitriolic language all too prevalent on the tips of the tongues of politicians and pundits, to say nothing of friends and family, aimed at Muslims and the Islamic world.  Such vitriol can only arise from a clinging to a truth that claims an exceptional character for the United States and a demonic character for all Muslims based upon the actions of a few.  Today, in the midst of Independence Day weekend, we would do well to seek to live more honestly.  How quickly we forget that the modern western world of science and technology would not exist except for the rediscovery of Aristotle, transmitted through the Islamic world back into the west during the late Middle Ages.  How quickly we forget that the Roman Empire once thought itself exceptional, and now it is dust.

Today, in the midst of Independence Day weekend, let us live according to the good news of life lived adverbially.  Let us live according to the good news that we can live integrated and wholesome lives when we seek to live honestly with ourselves and each other.  Let us live according to the good news that we can live humbly, recognizing the integrity of everyone and everything around us.  Let us live according to the good news that we can live freely even in the midst of the constraints brought about by chance and by the free lives undertaken by integral others.  And in living freely, humbly and honestly we experience salvation.  Clinging to a substantial freedom will leave us conflicted socially.  Clinging to a humble nature will leave us conflicted personally.  And clinging to absolute truth will leave us ineptly groping about in a constantly changing and complex world.  Nouns and verbs are the substance and motion of life, but they are not the fullness and fulfillment of life.  For fullness and fulfillment, long live the adverb!  Amen.


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