Archive for March, 2012

Think Globally, Act Locally

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

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Click here to hear the sermon only.
John 12: 20-33

Preface

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Today, John gives us the marrow of GMHopkins’ hope:

Thou mastering me

God giver of breath and bread;

World’s strand, sway of the sea;

Lord of living and dead;

Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,

And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?

Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

(GMH)

We turn to the poetry of experience and Scripture and tradition and reason to help us.  For five Sundays, concluding today, we have journeyed together, from activity to awareness, from motion to mindfulness, from sensation to reflection.  In particular we are trying faithfully to gain some ground, some purchase, in the interplay of technology and faith, of culture and Christ.

Over six years, in Lent, from this pulpit and nave, together we have tried to engage the best thought of those whose own expression of faith may differ from ours:  those who affirm a Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura) understanding of authority, though we do not here; those who lean more toward Paul and less toward the Gospels, though we do not here; those who privilege the death tradition of Jesus over the life tradition, the cross over the cradle (fit considerations for Lent in any case), though we do not here.  In 2007, then, we grappled with John Calvin in Lent; in 2008 with St. Paul; in 2009 with Derision and Decision; in 2010 with Atonement; in 2011 with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and this year with Jacques Ellul, who coined the phrase, think globally act locally.

1. Experience

First, we look again to our own experience, trusting our experience.

This week a radio listener sent me a cartoon.  God is sitting on a cloud, holding a computer and talking to an angel.  God says, ‘I just answered a prayer and mistakenly hit ‘reply all’.

Park your car.  Save your money.  Do not ‘reply all’.  So you will have good influence on the environment, the economy and the culture.

In our own experience, we are testing the spirit of truth, trying to move from fingertips to mindfulness, from sensation to reflection in the heart of the digital age.

Midway from sensation to reflection, we test ourselves by practice this coming week:

  1. On Monday, aver: wherever you are, be there.
  2. On Tuesday: before you check your face book, face your checkbook.
  3. On Wednesday, decide: orders need borders:  respond to voice in one day, email etc in three days, writing in one week.
  4. On Thursday, choose: make a Lenten exception: answer your non emergency email all on Wednesday each week.
  5. On Friday, raise the bar: respond to facebook and twitter with text, to text with email, to email with voice, to voice with letter, to letter with visit.
  6. On Saturday, remember:  electronic communication  is international, irretrievable, immutable, eternal, so whatever you write make sure are happy to have it appear on the front page of the Boston Globe or chiseled on your tombstone.
  7. Come Sunday, of course:  attend or listen to Marsh Chapel.

We have come into a time when, across wide stretches of common life, it is thought that sending an electronic communication alone constitutes doing something lasting or fruitful.   Yet no one is born or dies on screen, literally or spiritually.  No one connects with someone, in a heart sense, on screen.  No one sees through the window of the soul on screen, nor feels a touch of physical love on screen, nor senses the breath and closeness of being human on screen.  Most significantly, no one speaks by email.  There is no speech nor are there words, their voice is not heard. Language, your mother tongue, takes years to acquire, even at an elementary level.  The use of language, your mother tongue, in the company of others, takes even longer to learn.  You cannot learn in front of a screen how to hear.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, as the Scripture affirms.  How do you watch the mind and tongue play forward and backward with a thought aborning when there is no tongue to hear, no head to see, as the shifting and sifting occur?  How do you learn the habits of deep listening, when all you do is scan?  How do you experience the delight of unexpected humor, the force of interruption, the concentration of heart to heart with an unforeseen agreement?  Honor your father and mother (tongue) that thy days may be long upon the earth.

2.  Scripture

Second with reverence we listen to the Holy Scriptures.

Our gospel is from John 12. In John, Jesus demarcates the limits of individualism during a wedding in Cana.  Jesus pillories pride by night with Nicodemus.  Jesus unwraps the touching self-presentations of hypocrisy in conversation at the well.  Jesus heals a broken spirit.  Jesus feeds the throng with two fish and five barley loaves.  Jesus gives sight and insight, bifocal and stereoptic, to a man born blind.  Jesus comes upon dead Lazarus and bring resurrection and life.  He brings the introvert out of the closet of loneliness.  He brings the literalist out of the closet of materialism.  He brings the passionate out of the closet of guilt.  He brings the dim-witted out of the closet of myopia.  He brings the church out of the closet of hunger.  He brings the dead to life.

Here the Gospel affirms Jesus’ coming crucifixion as his glorification, one of the most important and repeated emphases in the fourth gospel.  The seed falls, dies, is buried, and wondrously comes forth with fruit.  In our community, here at Boston University, not a day goes by that I do not rub shoulders with this Gospel.  Those who teach the younger do so in a generative mode.  They are willing to let a seed fall, be planted and die—a lecture given but perhaps not appreciated; a suggestion made but not heeded; a great hope proferred but not embraced.  To teach is to die, hour by hour, in the hope that a long time from now—decades from now—the seed will bear fruit.  That takes faith.  That takes a cruciform self understanding.  So you who learn and teach may hear John today.

But why are we hearing John today?  Because we used the lectionary, a shared schedule of readings, used by most Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches.

For five reasons we continue to use the lectionary here.

First, both the ecumenical consensus and the United Methodist history of Marsh Chapel encourage us to do so.  Particularly this choice and golden gift to present and future church unity is a treasure to be protected.

Second, the readings provide a basis for coherent development of an hour long service—20 minutes of sermon, 20 minutes of music, 20 minutes of liturgy—on a common basis.

Third, Marsh Chapel provided some of the influence and early work on the lectionary itself, which history and labor we want to honor.

Fourth, we preach to some 50,000 radio listeners per week, many of whom have already attended their own church—or are about to do—wherein the same lessons are read;  this gives us a vital connection to our virtual congregation.

Fifth, it keeps thematic preachers like this one speaking to you today, from only riding his or her favorite themes and texts, say Grace and Love, and avoiding less attractive themes, say Hell and High Water. We intend to continue to utilize the common lectionary here.

There are nonetheless serious problems with lectionary use.  Let us name five of these, too.

First, and speaking as non-lectionary preacher, the small bits of scripture make difficult larger preaching lenses—a sermon on the book of Jonah, for example, or a great theological topic like Redemption, or, as we are doing again this lent, a series of sermons on a major theme—our Faith and Technology theme say—which encompass more than four fragments of scripture.

Second, the lectionary greatly aids those who already know their Bible, but confuses those who do not.  If you know that Genesis is the first book in the Bible, is part of the Pentateuch or Books of Moses, is the origin of thought on creation and covenant, and precedes all the other 65 Biblical books, you have a way of hearing a snippet from Genesis 17 in a way that makes sense.  But if you have no idea about Genesis, the passage is opaque.  First you have to have arithmetic—the six portions of Scripture (OT:  Law, Prophets, Writings; NT: Gospels, Letters, Apocalypses), the names of the books, the flow of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation—before you can do algebra (compare Numbers to John, Psalm 107 to Psalm 100, and so on).  The lectionary cannot teach you the Bible.  For that you need to study one book at a time (so, our study of Mark with Rev. Yoon following worship here), or study the whole Bible in a year (so, the still excellent UMC DISCIPLE Bible Study) or read the Bible, a passage a day, from cover to cover.  You need to add and subtract before you take on quadratic equations.

Third, there is more than one lectionary.  Yes, the churches’ selection of readings and seasons is one, and we could say primary.  But there are others.  Every local congregation has its annual ‘lectionary’—from annual meeting to stewardship Sunday to children’s day.  For us here this includes monthly luncheon, fellowship in September, on Parents’ Weekend, at Christmas, in Hymn Sing (this Sunday!), at Easter Breakfast, and on Patriots Day (in addition to various subgroup gatherings for Adult Classes, for Men, for Women, for Students, for Families with Children, and people shall we say ‘at mid life’) and Bach Sunday.  Also, every congregation has a denominational lectionary, provided by the prevailing judicatory (so for Methodists that includes annual conference, student Sunday, one great hour of sharing, and Aldersgate Sunday).  At Marsh Chapel, our judicatory is Boston University, so we observe Matriculation, Parents’ and Alumni Weekends, Lessons and Carols, Martin Luther King Sunday, This I Believe, Baccalaureate, and Commencement.  Yet there is still another lectionary—not Liturgical Calendar nor Local Calendar nor Denominational Calendar, but national calendar.  Like it or not, the fourth of July has symbolic and liturgical meaning, as to some degree do Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Ground Hog Day.  Think of last year: ‘9/11’ needed attention. Consequently, the Scriptural lectionary is in creative tension with these other three.

Fourth, it is usually difficult fully to interpret three or four lessons in one 22 minute sermon. So, some are either lightly or under interpreted.  This can leave people puzzled, leaving church tangled up with a dark psalm, or an apocalyptic prediction, or a gender unfriendly proverb, or the pronunciation of Methusela.  If you do not teach people, for instance, that the Gospel of John includes an ancient form of anti-semitism abhorrent to real Christianity, (so well recounted in last evening’s program for the brilliant St John Passion) they can leave church, or the hearing of the sermon, mistaken about the gospel.  One great failure of our pulpits in our time is the failure of our preachers regularly and creatively to root our sermons in the known history, the understood sociology, and the particular theology of each passage.  But to do so takes sermonic time (and much more time in sermonic development).

Fifth, and last, as my old Navy chaplain assistant minister used to say: How can somebody in Nashville know what passage my congregation most needs to hear this week?  The lectionary makes lazy preachers, who do not regularly sift and scour the whole Scripture. One size does not necessarily fit all.

3. Tradition

Third, we turn to our tradition.  Our Lenten interlocutor this year, similar in choice to those over the five previous years, has been Jacques Ellul, whose writing on technology and theology foreshadowed a generation ago some of our own current experience.  By ‘thinking globally’ in this over used phrase which has become his grave marker, Ellul meant that we should think sub specie aeternitatis, think eternally if you will.  Hence the importance for him of Scripture and of his favorite interpreter, Karl Barth.  By ‘acting locally’ Ellul meant for us to live as salt, light and sheep, as those who practice Christianity;  it captures our sense of hope. Faith offers:  1. Transcendence 2. Promise 3. New Creation (present now).  Here is the last and briefest of the Lenten litanies offered to evoke Ellul’s thought.  Hear it as you would a psalm or an aria, listen with the ear as well as the mind:

In our time intelligence is set free from dogmas but has become a slave to means.

‘In my own life, I confronted the demands of Marx and the demands of the Bible and put them together.’ Marx spoke to the economic situation.  Yes.  But he did not have all the answers to the greater matters—life, death, love.

I set up a Parallel (camping) university, and focused my volunteer work on  1. Delinquent youth  2. Environment.

A person needs to become someone who can use the technologies and at the same time not be used by, assimilated by, or subordinated to them…prepare to live in technology and at the same time against technology…develop a critical awareness of the modern  world’ 83

‘The Christian is one who brings as much free play as possible into the parts of society …that are linked to one another’ 110

Two strong teachers from my own past embody this same dialetic:  Lloyd Easton at Ohio Wesleyan, a BU PhD and fifth generation personalist philosopher, and expert on the writings of the young Marx on society and culture (so his book of that title); and Christopher Morse of Union Theological Seminary, a great student of both Calvin and Barth, who taught them in a place and time when they were all but forgotten in the hey day of Cone, Guttierez, Harrison, Koyama, and liberation theology in general

4. Reason

Fourth, we set our reflective reason to work.

On a personal level, something triggered for me one night last week, in the grace of table fellowship.  That is, the emergence in a welcoming home, over a nice meal, in a meaningful setting, of a combination of fellowship, education, and service, in a natural, organic way (not to say without preparation, planning and work) is an apocalypse of what the grace to which the church bears witness is all about, I think.  There was something real and really afoot, and for that I was really thankful.  In every dimension this radiant table fellowship militated against impersonal communication.  It is the communion, the companionship for which we hunger.

Let us be mindful.  Let us reason together.

Hit and run electronic communication produces a mindset that tends to emphasize the short run.  (Mayor Bloomberg in NYC said as much this week). Aerial bombardment forms of electronic communication tend to draw the mind to the very present.  Click and stick rejoinders, used repeatedly through the day, from screen to screen, voiceless and voluminous, can produce a mind, or absence of mind, that then can influence ranges of behavior beyond the technical.  That is, our forms of electronic interaction can have a coarsening effect on our culture.  Such communication, as silent as deadly, can enfeeble our relations, make us unprepared and ill practiced in the art and so in the voice of acquaintance, friendship, and love.

We are so sensationally habituated to distanced, cold, hard, electronic, visual, voiceless intercourse, that our human and even most intimately human intercourse—ourselves ostensibly at our warmest and best—becomes itself distanced, cold, hard, electronic, visual, and voiceless.  Where is the voice of the Song of Solomon in our residences and dwellings?  Or the voices of Juliet and Romeo? You may not want to hear this or trust it unless I send it by email.  But it is still the case.  Our technology is swamping and drowning our theology.  And it is the youngest, most nubile, those moving from nubility to nobility, and so most innocently vulnerable among us who are most harmed.

We at Marsh Chapel have both an avuncular and a pastoral role to play in teaching and helping, by how we live and by what we say and by how we say, and what we live for.

As we at Marsh Chapel attempt to model dimensions of health and safety, across our community and campus, and particularly in a time fraught with difficulty in the areas of sexuality and violence, let us persevere in three discreet directions.  Ellul would identify them as salt, light and sheep.  First, let us keep the feast, and be present on Sunday to witness to faith, and to be nourished together by the salt that brings savor.  Your bodily presence in worship helps others.  Second, let us walk in the light, come to the light, and walk in the light, by listening for God’s word, for good, and naming and claiming the good.  Third, let us make of this sacred space a safe place, sacred space—safe place, as those who have a Shepherd who knows and loves his sheep.

Coda

Experience, Scripture, Tradition, Reason. You have taken a road less traveled, a path from sensation to reflection.  May the mindfulness of Lent prepare you for the mystery of Easter.  We turn to the poets to help us.  John Henry Newman:

“Let us preach You without preaching;

not by words but by our example;

by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,

the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.” (J H Newman)

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

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

Coming to the Light

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Click here to hear the full service.
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John 3: 14-21

Preface

My grandmother’s way of expressing faith took an interrogatory form. She asked of herself, and others: Are you walking in the light?

My favorite phrase is ‘I don’t know’.  It is small but it flies on mighty wings.  It expands our lives to include spaces within us, as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny earth hangs suspended…(Wislowa Simborka)

We are on a Lenten journey together, from sensation to reflection.   We want to be and become mindful, mindful of who we are, who are meant to become, what we are doing.  We want to match our eager activity with an equally vibrant awareness.  We hear the words of Scripture, so let us also come to the light and inwardly digest them.  We respect the tradition behind us, including our Lenten conversation partner Jacques Ellul, so let us learn there the things in whose light we see light.  We reason together, here and now, so let us reflect on the here and now, on ourselves in community, as we walk in the light.  We have experience, sometimes surprising experience, of moments of light, and we shall name one here today.

Scripture

The third chapter of the Gospel of John places the Incarnation of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, at the heart of the Gospel.  God loves the world—not just the church, not just the disciples, not just the religious, not just religion.  God loves the world.  The Bible tells us so.

The two basic historical problems of the New Testament are ancient cousins, first cousins to our two spiritual issues, the two existential battles in your salvation today.

The first historical problem behind our 27 books, and pre eminently embedded in John, is the movement away from Judaism.  How did a religious movement, founded by a Jew, born in Judea, embraced by 12 and 500 within Judaism, expanded by a Jewish Christian missionary become, within 100 years, entirely Greek?  The books of the New Testament record in excruciating detail the development of this second identity, this coming of age, that came with the separation from mother religion.

The second historical problem underneath the Newer Testament is disappointment, the despair that gradually accompanied the delay, finally the cancellation, of Christ’s return, the delay of the parousia.  Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.  Paul expected to be alive to see the advent of Christ.  Gradually, though, the church confessed disappointment in its greatest immediate hope, the sudden cataclysm of the end.  John led the way.  John is the most courageous Gospel.

Let us move slightly, right now, from sensation to reflection.  How does it happen that we hear from John today?

We hear from John today because of the lectionary.  The lectionary is a shared selection of Biblical readings, used by most Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and mainstream churches.  For each Sunday one Old Testament lesson, one Psalm, one New Testament Epistle, and one Gospel reading are chosen, and used, as regularly we do here at Marsh Chapel. Next week we shall reflect further on the lectionary.

We pause here on the trail from sensation to reflection in order to reflect on our own sensible experience—including in worship, here and now, in the hearing of the Scripture.

Tradition

From Scripture we move to tradition. This Lent we are in conversation, at the intersection of Christ and culture, and particularly of faith and technology. One voice from a generation or more ago may help us:  that of Jacques Ellul.

Jacques Ellul was born in 1912 in Bordeaux and spent most of his life there. He was a professor of law and history at the University of Bordeaux, and lay theologian in the French Reformed Church.  During WWII he was active member of the French Resistance and later became mayor of his home town. He authored three dozen books on law, culture, technology, theology, faith, prayer, the Bible and history.  Like Bonhoeffer and Barth, he opposed the Nazis.  Like Bonhoeffer and Barth, he held firmly to a high and rugged Christology.  Like Bonhoeffer and Barth, he decried the willingness of more liberal theologians in Germany and elsewhere to knuckle under first to the Kaiser and then to the Fuhrer.  Like Bonhoeffer and Barth, he saw in his own experience the dire need for a Christ against Culture, as well as a Christ transforming Culture.

Ellul, though far less well known than Barth and Bonhoeffer, nonetheless well suits our annual Lenten attention to theological voices and perspectives more conservative than our own here.  Ellul identified Karl Marx and Karl Barth as two lifelong conversation partners, and the importance inherited from both of a dialectical or spiraling hermeneutical manner of thinking and speakings.

That is, you can learn a great deal from those with whom you disagree—sometimes more from them than from your fellow travelers.  When it comes to opponents, as Yogi Berra said, ‘you can observe a lot just by watching’.

Ellul predicted the cultural impact of emerging technology.  He bears some re-reading in our time.  Most of what he predicted early on (1964 in English Translation) in his The Technological Society, has become the shared air we breathe.  Listen as we did last week to a second Ellul litany of sorts, in more autobiographical tones, a compilation and exemplification of this thought, placed here in the form of a psalm or an aria, and to be heard in the manner in which we hear those
The man of the present day does not believe in his own experiences, judgment or thought.

Our age is distinguished by a Lack of awareness, and by Enslavement of the intelligence to technical methods.

We need to Rediscover the meaning of the neighbor, of the ‘Event’ and of the Holy: The intervention of God in human history in Jesus Christ.

In youth I was  poor, and our home had no music, but…

‘I learned what unemployment is with no assistance, with no hope whatsoever, with no help from anywhere.  I learned what it is to be sick with no government medical care and no money to pay the doctor or the druggist.  I remember my father spending his days looking for work.  Given his abilities, I felt that was an absolutely stupefying, incredible injustice that a man like him was unemployed.’ 5.

Dialectics includes contraries, does not exclude them.  A new historical situation emerges, integrating the two preceding factors with one another…both have vanished giving birth to a radically new situation.

The goal is to live the human freedom within the freedom of God. Logically the two cannot be reconciled, but dialectically, one can live with them.

Our own growth here at Marsh Chapel has affinities with these lines from Ellul.
Our emerging ecclesiology at Marsh Chapel blends a Tillichian rapport with culture with a strong view of the Word, the Sacraments and means of Grace, and the Sabbath.  We protect Sunday and its emblematic, exemplary, epitomizing gifts, but within a fuller six days of grace—service, education, and fellowship—embedded in the culture at large, and particularly the University culture.

Our emerging pneumatology at Marsh Chapel blends a regard for the movement of Spirit in art, music, science, theater, poetry, and all the lasting gifts of civilization, with a strong and protective sense of the church:  the church challenging the failures of culture, applauding the heights of culture, entering the heart of culture, enjoying the graces of culture.

Our emerging pastoral theology at Marsh Chapel blends a high regard for the myriad gifts and services available, near and far, for those in need, with a limited but irreducible affirmation of the sacramental rites and sacerdotal duties shared in the community and lead by the clergy.

Our emerging ethics of technology at Marsh Chapel blends a full use of all the means of production available to us (we are nearly completely paperless, with the exception of the printed Sunday bulletin and the printed semester termbook, both of which could be replaced in the future, though we are not currently planning to do so), with a profound recognition, more reflection than sensation, more awareness than activity, more mind than fingers, of the need to harness these tools to the benefit, not the belittlement, of the human being.

Reason

Let us apply our Lenten theme to ourselves here in the intersection of actual and virtual congregations that is Marsh Chapel.  While we do not stop usually to x-ray the body of our divinity here, we are nudged to do so today.  Marsh Chapel is both like and unlike other churches within the Great Church of Jesus Christ around the globe.  In the same way that you and I are both unlike and like each other (unlike say in gender, race, ethnicity, age, shoe size and bank balance; like say in mortality, fragility, longing, need, sin, salvation, service), so Marsh is both like and unlike other communities of faith.

We are most similar on Sunday.  John Wesley identified the true church as the place where the Word of God is rightly preached, the Sacraments are duly administered, and service is rendered to the neighbor.  Our life here strives to reach his definition.  So a 60 minute of worship.  So means of grace in Adult Study before worship, in Bible Study and fellowship after worship.  We hope that the thanksgiving, confession, affirmation and dedication of our worship service exemplify, define, epitomize, perfect and guide our living for the next six and one half days.  In addition, these gifts are extended around the globe and across New England by internet and radio.  While this series of sermons seeks to challenge us to be mindful about the intersection of faith and technology, there is hardly a place or community more actively, regularly committed to their mutual enhancement than Marsh Chapel.  Hence, we who are so invested in the newer forms of technology—radio yes, but also podcast, Facebook, texting, twitter, and all—have the most responsibility to see such use become as faithful to Christ as possible.

We are most dissimilar during the week.  Let me be specific.  We fear the danger of sitting on a whale fishing for minnows.  The whale is Boston University, and we are riding its torso.

Take teaching, didache, a crucial matter in most congregations.  Yes, I could as I have done elsewhere offer three Monday nights of instruction on a theme, say Judaism in the modern world, following a light dinner.  Or, I could offer a light dinner three Monday nights in November, and then take you to hear Elie Wiesel on Judaism in the modern world, some 100 yards away, and for free.  The first is fishing for minnows, the second is riding the whale.

Or take service, diakonia, a crucial matter in the life of faith.  I could organize a schedule of service days for our students and encourage attendance.  Or, as we have just finished doing, we could send our students for seven days of community service through the Office of Community Service, which by the way grew out of the Chapel, during the tenure of Dean Thornburg 25 years ago.  Our own—minnow; the Universities—whale.

Or, take fellowship, koinonia, a crucial matter in church life.  We could sequester ourselves—Monday night men, Tuesday women, Wednesday children, Thursday couples—or we can grab the whale by the ears and sail, taking men to a basketball game, women to the Sloan House, children to a Palm Sunday event.   We can immerse ourselves in the life of the full community, so that the boundaries between church and society, faith and culture, Christ and community are ever more blurred and fluid.  The other night ten of us were at a University dinner.  All had some connection, from active to peripheral, with Marsh Chapel.  Afterword one creative soul lead us to some further, not fully Methodist, refreshment.  There were people in that circle who never in a month of Sundays would have engaged fellowship with a church group on a Saturday night.  But in that organic and genuine invitation, even the least ‘churched’ fellow had true koinonia, true shared fellowship, with some of the most faithful people in Boston.  Didache, diakonia, koinonia—these crucial inherited forms you are renewing, week by week.  The Marsh Chapel experiment in church renewal is happening on your watch.  It is quite distinctive.  If you are not watching you may miss it.

Will this relatively or somewhat unique model of church growth work?  We are seeing strong evidence that it can and will—in worship attendance, in annual giving and tithing, in deepening relationship, in experiences of vocation, in  recognition of the chapel’s voice.  There are dangers and challenges.  This model inevitably takes a long time—it is covert, it is shaped by a University calendar, it is very free.   You do not have to come to an Administrative Council meeting for three hours on Tuesday, by the end of which, in exhaustion, you will vote for anything just to get home.   You do not have to raise funds by a rummage sale, or argue about the pastor’s health insurance, or vote on a budget.  But you do have to ride the whale.  And that means seizing the moment to learn, to serve and to love.  After the postlude today, take a minute in or near your pew to greet someone and speak a word.  You may learn something.  You may serve some cause.  You may help someone.  For someone else that three minute conversation may be their most personal and healing of the week.

This Monday night, in a dinner that included learning, service and fellowhip, I saw, I mean I saw what the model of renewal at work in Marsh Chapel today can be.  But it will take a heap of time.

Experience (Frank Deford, NPR)

The light of Scripture, of Tradition, of Reason illumines also our own experience.  We know it when we see it.  When reflection outpaces sensation, when thoughtful mindfulness embraces action, we know in experience about coming to the light, whether in church or in culture.  College athletics are a crucial part of higher education.  One can learn, grow, improve on the court as well as in the class.

An apocalypse of grace can arise outside of church, right in the heart of the culture.  Athletics, college athletics, instituted as important part of college experience on the basis of the Roman proverb, ‘mens sana in corpore sano’, can provide the setting.  Maybe you heard Frank Deford’s story last week:

When last we left the NCAA, it was February madness, colleges were jumping conferences, suing each other, coaches were claiming rivals had cheated in recruiting — the usual nobility of college sports.

And then, in the midst of all this, the men’s basketball team at Washington College of Chestertown, Md., journeyed to Pennsylvania to play Gettysburg College in a Division III Centennial Conference game.

It was senior night, and the loudest cheers went to Cory Weissman, No. 3, 5 feet 11 inches, a team captain — especially when he walked out onto the court as one of Gettysburg’s starting five.

Yes, he was a captain, but it was, you see, the first start of his college career. Cory had played a few minutes on the varsity as a freshman, never even scoring. But then, after that season, although he was only 18 years old, he suffered a major stroke. He was unable to walk for two weeks. His whole left side was paralyzed. He lost his memory, had seizures.

But by strenuously devoting himself to his rehabilitation, Cory slowly began to improve. He was able to return to college, and by this year, he could walk without a limp and even participated in the pregame layup drills.

So for senior night, against Washington, his coach, George Petrie, made the decision to start Cory. Yes, he would play only a token few seconds, but it meant a great deal to Cory and to Gettysburg. All the more touching, the Washington players stood and cheered him.

That was supposed to be the end of it, but with Gettysburg ahead by a large margin and less than a minute left in the game, Coach Petrie sent Cory back in.

Nobody could understand, though, what happened next, why the Washington coach, Rob Nugent, bothered to call time out. The fans didn’t know what he told his players there in the huddle: that as quickly as they could, foul No. 3. And one of them did. And with 17 seconds left, Cory Weissman strode to the free-throw line. He had two shots.

Suddenly, the crowd understood what Coach Nugent had sought to do. There was not a sound in the gym. Cory took the ball and shot. It drifted to the left, missing disastrously. The crowd stirred. The referee gave Cory the ball back. He eyed the rim. He dipped and shot. The ball left his hand and flew true. Swish. All net.

The crowd cried as much as it cheered.

The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”

Cory Weissman had made a point.

Washington College had made an even larger one.

Coda

My favorite phrase is ‘I don’t know’.  It is small but it flies on mighty wings.  It expands our lives to include spaces within us, as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny earth hangs suspended…(Wislowa Simborka)

We are on a Lenten journey together, from sensation to reflection.   We want to be and become mindful, mindful of who we are, who are meant to become, what we are doing.  We want to match our eager activity with an equally vibrant awareness, rooted in Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.

My grandmother’s way of expressing faith took an interrogatory form. She asked of herself, and others: Are you walking in the light?

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

Christ and the Presence of the Kingdom

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Click here to hear the full service.
Click here to hear the sermon only.
John 2: 13-22

Preface

‘The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.’ (Ps 19:1)

Together we are on a Lenten journey. We are moving from sensation to reflection, from the depths of a technological culture to the heights of a reflective faith. We in Marsh Chapel today are on this journey. We listening from afar are on this journey. We around the globe in later audition are on this journey, all together. We are climbing, hiking, marching together. We are moving from activity to awareness. We are on the way from sensation to reflection.

Experience

“Let us preach You without preaching;
not by words but by our example;
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.” (J H Newman)

In CC, 7/1/08: ‘One of the main goals of most religions is to open up self-absorbed individuals and connect them with a broader community and with the source and goal of all reality’. (M Volf)

In particular, this Lent, we are trying to announce the Good News of the Gospel, the gift and grace of faith, in a way that creatively redeems the technological culture of our time. We are moving from cyber sensation to careful reflection, from fingertip activity to spiritual awareness. We want to be aware of who we are and what we are doing. On this journey we may run into trouble, now and then.

One day you encounter e-trouble.  My son knows I think the world gets better one conversation at a time, and worse one email at a time.  He clerks for a federal judge.  One morning my son called me with this story.  “I knew you would enjoy it Dad”, he said.  “It involves trouble and email”.  Well, apparently in the judicial employment system, when one falls ill and runs out of sick days, others can take from their account and give to the need.  A worker received days from about twenty others, healed, and went back to work.  The colleague who organized the sick day bank support assayed to write a thank you note, which she did.  It was a very simple note, graciously thanking the donors, reporting on the healing, and wishing all well.  This would have been no problem.  Except that in mailing the thank you note, she hit the wrong key, and sent to the wrong list, not a list of twenty donors, but a general list of 200,000 judicial employees. Here is a trouble, a day’s own trouble, organically designed for the tweeter, list serve, email, website 21st century.  Oops.  Yet even this would also have been no problem.  Except that a lawyer in Arizona took umbrage at the e-incursion, and said so in a curtly written note:  ‘not my issue, not my problem, you invaded my space, thanks but no thanks, plus I really do not agree with this whole socialist sick day swapping anyway.’

Which would have been alright, too.  Except that she hit ‘reply all’, and, in the next hour, said my son, he had 100 emails in his box.  Yes, Sick Day Bank! No Arizona! Yes Thank You Note! No To Rude Response! Yes to Liberty, No to Obama (I have no idea how he got in there)…Until one kindly attorney from the St Lawrence River area shouted out:  “STOP.  This is what makes people suspicious of lawyers in general and federal workers in particular.  We have better things to do with our time.”  This also would have been no problem.  Except.  Except that before he signed off he wrote:  “PS, while I have your attention, I want you to know that I am an amateur chef, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you all MY FAVORITE RECIPE FOR COOKING SALMON”.  Yes, he hit reply all.  And on the day went:  Salmon Yes! Salmon No! Amateur Chef Yes! Email recipe, NO!…

Remember the way the Bible begins. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And… God… (what?)…God…said…Speech creates, redeems and sustains. God speaks in Genesis 1and creates a world. God promises in Genesis 17 and creates a people. God commands in Exodus 20 and defines a Decalogue. God authorizes through the judges and admonishes through the prophets and teaches through the writers and prophecies through the seers. To Elijah, we recalled last week, he speaks in a still, small voice. God…speaks…God’s word. In the parables of Jesus. In the sermon on the mount. In the thunder outside Paul’s Antioch.In the child’s voice in Augustine’s garden. In the silence of the dark night of St. John of the Cross. In the lectures of Luther, the sermons of Calvin, the hymns of Wesley, the shouts of the Baptists, the wails of the Pentecostals, the prayers of the Anglicans, and the quiet of the Quakers. Day to day pours forth speech. All the way to this moment, this morning, this sermon.

You know, you do not know where this sermon will end. After an early sermon my Dad commented, critically, ‘well it had two of the essential ingredients of a good sermon—a beginning and an ending’. Where this ends, and how, you do not know. You hope I do. Me too, though we leave a measure to the Holy Spirit. You do not even know IF this sermon will end! (It will.)

There is a sonorous mystery to speech, all speech, to words, to voice. Voice can frighten. S Terkel interviewed a 20 year old who abhorred the telephone, because, said he, ‘I just don’t know how to end a conversation.’ That is the way with speech. You cannot scroll ahead to the end, or read the last chapter first, or speed through the sub headings. You don’t know how it will turn out. You do not know how or if the sermon will end.

I wonder what the mystified congregation in Duke Chapel, May 1975, thought when they heard William Stringfellow say the following?

Technocracy cannot tolerate human creativity because that cannot be quantified, programmed and forecast; so it must be suppressed, destroyed or displaced. As often as not, it is substitution which happens, and then the nomenclature of the art is misappropriated and applied to the anti-art, so as, after a generation or two, to even deprive human memory of the art. Meanwhile, it barely requires a footnote, a ridiculous parody of this whole process is technocratic totalitarianism by which the disciplines are corrupted and dehumanized as rendered in the realm of sports, both in the university and in society generally, especially in the political use assigned to commercialized sports to supply distraction or vicarious involvement to habituate persons as spectators to fill up the time, or otherwise to nurture public passivity and enforce ignorance. (William Stringfellow, May 1975, Duke Chapel (Willimon, 163))

Scripture

This year we will scale a far greater promontory, the highest peak in the Bible, which is the Gospel of John. With every cut-back trail, at every rest point, atop every lookout, with every majestic view, this spiritual gospel will address you with the choice of freedom, with the ongoing need to choose, and in choosing to find the life of belonging and meaning, personal identity and global imagination. More personally, this Gospel helps those who struggle with dislocation and disappointment. The Bride in Cana experienced dislocation, and so have you. The Bride of Christ experiences disappointment, and so have you.

John features Jesus in mortal combat over all of these. Jesus demarcates the limits of individualism during a wedding in Cana. Jesus pillories pride by night with Nicodemus. Jesus unwraps the touching self-presentations of hypocrisy in conversation at the well. Jesus heals a broken spirit. Jesus feeds the throng with two fish and five barley loaves. Jesus gives sight and insight, bifocal and stereoptic, to a man born blind. Jesus comes upon dead Lazarus and bring resurrection and life. He brings the introvert out of the closet of loneliness. He brings the literalist out of the closet of materialism. He brings the passionate out of the closet of guilt. He brings the dim-witted out of the closet of myopia. He brings the church out of the closet of hunger. He brings the dead to life.

The two basic historical problems of the New Testament are ancient cousins, first cousins to our two fundamental issues, the two existential battles in your salvation today.

The first historical problem behind our 27 books, and pre eminently embedded in John, is the movement away from Judaism. How did a religious movement, founded by a Jew, born in Judea, embraced by 12 and 500 within Judaism, expanded by a Jewish Christian missionary become, within 100 years, entirely Greek? The books of the New Testament record in excruciating detail the development of this second identity, this coming of age, that came with the separation from mother religion.

The second historical problem underneath the Newer Testament is disappointment, the despair that gradually accompanied the delay, finally the cancellation, of Christ’s return, the delay of the parousia. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Paul expected to be alive to see the advent of Christ. Gradually, though, the church confessed disappointment in its greatest immediate hope, the sudden cataclysm of the end.

Two problems, historical and fascinating, create our New Testament: the separation from Judaism and the delay of the parousia. In the fourth Gospel the two come together with great ferocity. What makes this matter so urgent for us is that these very two existential dilemmas—one of identity and one of imagination—are before every generation, including and especially our own.

How do I become a real person? How do we weather lasting disappointment? How do I grow up? How do we become mature? What insight do I need, amid the truly harrowing struggles over identity, to become the woman or man I was meant to become?

What imagination—what hope molded by courage—do we need to face down the profound despair of nuclear twilight and break free into a loving global future? More than any other document in ancient Christianity, John explored the first. More than any other document in Christianity, John faced the second.

Tradition: Jacques Ellul

Here is an Ellul Litany:

Christian: salt, light, sheep
It is impossible for us to make the world less sinful, and impossible for us to accept it as it is
Ethic: temporary and apologetic
Every moment of man’s life is not historic but apocalyptic
A Bomb: fact that had to be accepted
Present time judged in virtue of a meta historical fact, the incursion of this event into the present
Lordship is objective; hope subjective
‘A thing is only good or bad in its own time, according to its situation in the light of the Kingdom fo God, according to its conformity to the work of God for the coming of the Kingdom, an according to its possible us for the glory of God
Become aware, first
Live don’t act

‘Thus man who used to be the end of this whole humanist system of means, man, who is still proclaimed as an ‘end’ in political speeches, ha s in reality himself become the ‘means’ of the very means which ought to serve him: as for instance in economics of the state. In order that economics should be in a good condition, man submits to t he demands of an economic mechanism, becomes a total producer, and puts all his powers at the disposal of production. He becomes an obedient consumer, and with his eyes shut he swallows everything that economics puts into his mouth. Thus, fully persuaded that we are procuring the happiness of man, we are turning him into an instrument of these modern gods, which are our means. 51
Technical means become more important than the search for truth.

1. Man is no longer to any extent the master of his means
2. Technics extends to all spheres of life
3. Ends proposed are useless
For the Christian what actually matters in practice is to be not to act
Real action is simply the testimony of a profound life
Life is not efficient
Thus what we need is to rediscover all that the fullness of personal life means for a man standing on his own feet in the midst of the world, who rediscovers his neighbor because he himself has been found by God. 78
The man of the present day does not believe in his own experiences, judgment or thought.
There is no discussion with the radio or the press (or email)
Technics: precision, rapidity, certainty, continuity, universality—which are all characteristics of efficiency
The intelligence of modern man is no longer nourished at the source of contemplation, of awareness of reality and is more and more absorbed by the instrument which it has created, an instrument whose principal aim is the control of the material world
Intelligence is set free from dogmas and is a slave to means
Lack of awareness. Enslavement of the intelligence to technical methods.
Rediscover the meaning of the neighbor, of the ‘Event’ and of the Holy.
The intervention of God in human history in Jesus Christ.
What the church ought to do is to try to place all people in an economic, intellectual—yes also in a psychological and physical –situation, which is such that they can actually hear this gospel—that they can be sufficiently responsible to say yes or no, that they can be sufficiently alive for these words to have some meaning for them.

Reason

Who was Ellul?:

Youth: poor, no music. ‘I learned what unemployment is with no assistance, with no hope whatsoever, with no help from anywhere. I learned what it is to be sick with no government medical care and no money to pay the doctor or the druggist. I remember my father spending his days looking for work. Given his abilities, I felt that was an absolutely stupefying, incredible injustice that a man like him was unemployed.’ 5.
Dialectics: includes contraries, does not exclude them. A new historical situation emerges, integrating the two preceding factors with one another…both have vanished giving birth to a radically new situation.
The goal is to live the human freedom within the freedom of God. Logically the two cannot be reconciled, but dialectically, one can live with them.
Marx: economic situation. Yes. But not all the answers—life, death, love.
‘In my own life, I confronted the demands of Marx and the demands of the Bible and put them together.’
Then, Barth: ‘once I began reading Barth, I stopped being a Calvinist…obviously I could no longer be a Calvinist once I understood the dialectical movement of Barth’s thinking…Calvin constantly offers answers, solutions, or a construction, while Barth launches you on an adventure…
Parallel (camping) university. 1. Delinquent youth 2. Environment

In reasoned measure, by the reason, he reminds us of our capacity to neglect.

We succumb to willful neglect of vast stretches of reality. We are complicit in willful ignorance of broad swaths of actual human experience. ‘Nothing human is foreign to us’ may be our hope but it is not our reality. Yet a sober Sunday morning moment of contrition is quite enough to show us our willful neglect of vast stretches of reality.

We willfully neglect the amount of time each of us will be dead. In fact we live as if we are ‘temporarily immortal’. Yet regarding flesh and bone we shall each of us be dead an extremely long time, a vast long length of time when compared to the three score and ten years of our living. Our life is limited, but our death is limitless. We live though as if the opposite were the case. Given such a willful neglect of this one stretch of reality, it may not then be surprising to note how much more we also find ways to ignore.

100,000 Iraqis have died since 2003, as a consequence of our actions then, full of mixed motives. 4 million Iraqis are today refugees, many of them children, as a consequence of our actions then, full of mixed motives. We have spent $1 trillion dollars on this macabre misadventure. A trillion is a million millions or a thousand billions or a billion thousands. A trillion dollars is real money. And we wonder why our economy is sagging, shrinking, weakening?

There are 20 million other than legal alien residents of our country today. That number begins to approach 10% of the US population. But other than remembering that three of them twice mulched Governor Romney’s lawn, we are blithely ignorant of them, unless we have need or a run in.

Coda

Together we are on a Lenten journey. We are moving from sensation to reflection, from the depths of a technological culture to the heights of a reflective faith. We in Marsh Chapel today are on this journey. We listening from afar are on this journey. We around the globe in later audition are on this journey, all together. We are climbing, hiking, marching together. We are moving from activity to awareness. We are on the way from sensation to reflection.

In particular, this Lent, we are trying to announce the Good News of the Gospel, the gift and grace of faith, in a way that creatively redeems the technological culture of our time. We are moving from cyber sensation to careful reflection, from fingertip activity to spiritual awareness. We want to be aware of who we are and what we are doing. On this journey we may run into trouble, now and then.

The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.’ (Ps 19:1)

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

Justifying Grace

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Click here to hear the full service.
Click here to hear the sermon only.
Mark 8: 31-38

Preface

H Thurman:  the ocean and the night

Journey from sensation to reflection

Seven days a week discipline, faith and technology

Justifying grace:  in trouble, at connection, by humility, as abandon

Scripture and Struggle

Mark 70ad

Disciples ‘behind’

Moderate Critics (Weeden), Critical Moderates (Marcus)

Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?

Thou with a scornful wonder

Cruciform character of divine love

A little rain, Ecc. 9:11

Church always both a representation and distortion of divine

Starkness of cross

Sterness of cross

A friend in need

Faith finds us in trouble

Grace in trouble is justifying grace

Tradition and Connection

To this place, our part of the parade

Hello again, Hello

Faith and technology, faith and culture

Absorb and Utilize

10 BU presidents

Alexander Graham Bell

Connection! And with new media too

Crackling connection

Grace in a moment of connection is justifying grace

Reason and Humility

Others faith, and my own?

Old teacher who speaks to but not for and so not to

From independence to dependence (life, friendship, faith, love, hope, heaven)

Margaret Fuller’s 4 questions

God be merciful to me, a sinner

V Havel, 2 quotes

Intelligence unleavened by kindness is dangerous

Dangerous piercing, tattooed by compunction

I Kant:  Critique of Pure Reason

M. Robinson, E Kohak

Grace in a sense of humility is justifying grace

Experience and Abandon

Oceanside, Pelican

Waves, Surf, Tide, Surfer, Swimmer, in and out, in and out

That undulating, grounding, supportive grace

Dad, Malibu, walking, nourished by the waves, in and out, in and out

Teaching beginners:  square knot, English idioms, Greek alphabet, swimming

Prone Float:  Justifying Grace

Altar Call:  first time, or in a long time, or on the long journey

The beginning of faith is learning to float, trust, depend, believe

Coda

Summary: trouble, connection, humility, abandon

New Beginnings

Invitation to justifying grace, to Eucharist

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent

H Thurman:  the ocean and the night

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