Archive for November, 2012

Te Deum

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Revelation 1: 4b-8, Psalm 93, John 18: 33-37

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May we pray.

We praise thee, O God:
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee,
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud;
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth,
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honorable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man
thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting.

O Lord, save thy people
and bless thine heritage.
Govern them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name ever, world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us
as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted;
let me never be confounded. (“Te Deum,” Book of Common Prayer)

Amen.

The great hymn of the church known as the “Te Deum” is perhaps the greatest Christian hymn of praise ever penned.  It is certainly the oldest still in regular usage, attributed variously to Saints Ambrose, Augustine, and Hilary, and to Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana, in any case dating to the fourth century.  The text, in any of myriad musical settings, is frequently programmed in worship services that extol the greatness of God as reflected in the greatness of some human personage.  The election of a pope, the consecration of a bishop, or the canonization of a saint are all highly appropriate occasions for a “Te Deum,” and it has been known to be used on secular occasions as well, such as the announcement of a peace treaty or the coronation of a king or queen.  You may be interested to know, particularly if you are Catholic, that a plenary indulgence is available if you are present in a recitation or solemn chant of the “Te Deum” on New Year’s Eve.

Given the many images of the kingship of Christ in the “Te Deum,” with attendant symbols of judge, governor, and lord, it is also highly appropriate to sing this great hymn today, on Christ the King Sunday.  Thanks be to God for liturgically sensitive church musicians!  Indeed, for the offertory today, the Marsh Chapel Choir, under the direction of Dr. Scott Alan Jarrett, and with Mr. Justin Thomas Blackwell at the organ, will offer a setting of the “Te Deum” hymn by Franz Joseph Haydn.  Commissioned by Empress Marie Therese, wife of Franz I of Austria, this particular setting is notable for being an entirely choral work, lacking in the virtuosic solo lines characteristic of Haydn, and for its setting in the key of C major, often associated with music for great feasts of the church.  Furthermore, this setting is in the hallmark form of the classical era, namely the concerto, with two sprightly passages surrounding a central slow movement.

Okay, end of music history lesson.  What does any of this have to do with anything?  The “Te Deum” is textually a hymn of praise, and this has deep resonances on this day when we extol Christ as king.  The feast of Christ the King is celebrated interdenominationally among Catholics and Protestants on the last Sunday of the Christian year, which is to say the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent.  Furthermore, Christ as king has deep resonances with the Eastern Orthodox symbol of Christos Pantokrator, which may be translated as Christ almighty or Christ in judgment, and is depicted here at Marsh Chapel in our rose window at the front of the sanctuary.

Praise is, ultimately, the most appropriate response of subjects for their rulers.  This is both because rulers provide so many benefits to their subjects and because rulers are in their very nature majestic and glorious, and thus deserving of praise.  It is little wonder that in the pre-Christian Roman Empire the emperors were understood to be gods.  When Christianity came along, the Judaic emphasis on the sovereignty of God over against all earthly temporal powers meant that emperors, kings, and other rulers could no longer be gods in their own right, but could nevertheless rule by “divine right.”  Of course this also meant that God could, in theory, and according to the historical record apparently in practice, withdraw the divine favor of a particular ruler and bestow it upon another.  This is how you get changes of dynasties in medieval European feudalism.  Kingship in Christendom, as it turns out, has its ups and downs.

Jesus certainly knew about the ups and downs of kingship, as evidenced by the texts read today from the gospel according to St. John and from the Revelation to St. John.  On behalf of Dean Hill, allow me to remind us that these are not the same John!  In the passage from Revelation, we get the upside of the story.  Jesus is king of the kingdom of Christians, and in fact ruler of the kings of the earth, i.e. king of kings.  Here is not the historical Jesus but rather the cosmic figure of Christos Pantokrator, Christ who rides in out of eternity on the clouds in judgment of the tribes of the earth.  In the Gospel of John we get the downside.  It turns out that being a king is a significant part of what got Jesus killed at the hands of the rulers of his day.  The problem, it turns out, is that Jesus finds himself out of his kingdom, and he is not the king of the world in which he finds himself, but this has not stopped people from attributing kingship to him, making the rulers of the world highly anxious.  Let this be a lesson to you kings out there: if you are a king, stay put in your kingdom!

I would hazard to guess that many of you are feeling quite ambivalent about all of this talk of kingship only a few short weeks after we in the United States of America have participated in that hallmark of our democratic republic, namely electing our leaders to office.  Indeed, what could the notion of kingship possibly mean for us in the land that rebelled against King George III?  We noted earlier that kings are to be praised both for the benefits they bestow on their subjects and for their innate majesty and glory.  These notions are nonsensical amidst the logic of our democratic republic.  Surely, here in the USA we believe that people are personally responsible and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps so that they are not dependent on the beneficence of government.  And recently disclosed improprieties of a certain general turned spy-master only serve to remind us that our leaders all too frequently fail to achieve even the standards of basic morality, let alone ever being considerable in terms of glory and majesty.

Or do we?  Do we really believe in rugged individualism and the fallibility of our leaders, or in our heart of hearts do we aspire to something more like the kingship model?

Hanging out in stained glass toward the rear of Marsh Chapel on the pulpit side is the stentorian statesman Abraham Lincoln.  He made it into stained glass here because he fulfilled the abolitionist vision of the founders of Boston University through his work to abolish slavery.  The recently released feature-length film Lincoln chronicles his political machinations and negotiations eventually leading to the passage of the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude.  The Lincoln memorial in Washington, DC, dedicated in 1922, was designed by Henry Bacon in the form of a Greek Doric temple containing a large, seated sculpture of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French and inscriptions from Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses.  In some states, Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated as a holiday.  Or should I say holy day?

So, is Abraham Lincoln a king?  Applying a strict definition from political theory, certainly not.  The new film is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  The title of the book makes it clear that Lincoln was not a king in the political sense, as it is his ability to get things done amidst competing interests, and despite the limits of presidential power, that makes Lincoln exceptional.  But in other respects Lincoln may best be interpreted as a king.  His rhetorical skill inspired hearts across divisions of race, gender, class, and religion.  His assassination made him a martyr and bestowed upon him mythical status in the United States and abroad.  Looking back across time, Lincoln may be understood as a king in the two senses outlined above.  He achieved great benefit for his people by virtue of his political skill, particularly for slaves, but for the United States as a whole also through his projects of reconstruction and vision for reintegration of the divided union.  And his soaring rhetoric and towering stature have been imprinted on the American imagination as signs of majesty and glory, as evidenced in stained glass, film, and monument.

There are other figures in U.S. history who might be considered under this rubric of kingship: George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is not the case that any of these men was perfect or otherwise unambiguous.  However, the particular focus afforded by the lenses of history has left us with visions of them that are truly praiseworthy.

I wonder if, political predilections for democratic order aside, there might not be something far deeper in the human condition and psyche that desires a king to rule over us.  I have a sneaking suspicion that there is, and that the “Te Deum” text points to this something deeper in the symbols of judgment, governing, and lordship.  Judgment is the measurement of the difference between the ideal of grace and the reality of sin.  Governance is the ordering of relations such that grace might be maximized and sin minimized.  Lordship is the power to make changes based on judgments and to bring about rightly ordered relationships.  Judicial, legislative, executive.  Far from the supposed American ideal that we do not need government because we are self-reliant and because governments are made up of other humans just as fallen as we ourselves, the “Te Deum” gives voice to that part of us that desires just what we proclaim to deny.

Peter Berger, University Professor Emeritus here at Boston University, wrote forty-some-odd years ago about religion as masochistic.  By this he means that in religious life we give ourselves over to something else, something greater, that can in some way effect an overarching meaning amidst a sea of seeming meaninglessness otherwise.  Indeed, that is at least one of the things that we do when we gather together on Sunday mornings.  We give ourselves over to God, who benefits us by providing us with a sense of meaning, order, and purpose, and who is majestic and glorious, and therefore praiseworthy.  This probably seems at least somewhat okay in relation to God.  Much more troubling for most of us is the fact that we essentially do the same thing with government.  We give ourselves over to a state that we believe can guarantee us some benefit and that seems to us in some way to be glorious and majestic.  This is the social contract.  In the case of monarchies, that glory and majesty is connected to the divine right of royalty.  In the democratic model, the glory and majesty of government derives from the glory and majesty of the human person, perhaps instilled by God.

The problem with a truly democratic government is that in order to fulfill our desire for kingship in terms of justice, governance, and lordship, 100% of the people must be 100% responsible 100% of the time.  In a monarchy, only one person must be 100% responsible 100% of the time, but if he or she screws it up, or at least if people find out that he or she screwed it up, it’s all over.  The problem is that there has never been a single human being, let alone a whole population of them, who has been able to be 100% responsible 100% of the time.  As the apostle to the gentiles tells us in the epistle to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Modern democratic republics have tried to mediate this problem by allowing for minimal levels of irresponsibility that can be counterbalanced by the checks and balances built into the governance model.  Sadly, as evidenced by the general turned spy-master mentioned earlier, we seem not to actually be able to tolerate the minimal levels of irresponsibility our system of government seeks to afford.  We aspire to more.  We aspire to perfection.  We seek a guarantee of order and meaning over against our uncertainty of each other and ourselves.

This past summer we heard a series of sermons on apocalyptic.  The apocalyptic worldview, that says that the guarantee of order and meaning is not possible in this world but is readily available in the next, is one Christian response to the problem of irresponsible government.  Another is the shift from the divinity of emperors themselves to their ruling rather by divine right, which could be taken away.  A third is the perspective that the image of God in human nature is obscured by sin, thus negating the possibility of fully effective human institutions.  In all cases, the Christian witness is that it is God who is our guarantee.  Ultimately, it is God who is our king, who judges us with perfect justice, governs us with perfect wisdom, and rules over us with perfect power, and so who is glorious and majestic.  No worldly power could possibly aspire to God’s perfection.  And so today, Christ the King Sunday, we give our sinful and broken selves over to God who alone can help us, can save us, can redeem us, can lift us up forever, and open the kingdom of heaven to us.

Amen.

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

A Thoughtful Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

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We are not always as thoughtful as we could be, not as mindful as we should be…

 

I can bear witness to this in my own experience…

 

Then let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.

 

Let us be mindful of the goodness of God, as sung in the 100th Psalm…

 

Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.

 

Let us be mindful of the blessings of God, as sung in the beatitudes…

 

Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.

 

Let us be mindful of friendship, as was our friend Max Coots…
“Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are….

For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.”

by Reverend Max Coots

 

Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.

 

Let us be mindful of the good earth, of the fruits of harvest, of the fruits of years of labor and love, as one remembered in the figure of her grandmother…

 

Sitting by my window—looking out at the field

This chair has been such a comfort for so many years

Rocking—rocking

All the children were comforted in this chair

All grown and gone now

Babies—growing year after year

‘Til they could go to the field to help

The fields—so green in the spring

Then the plough broke it up into beautiful brown earth

Worked over and over

Until the seeds had a wonderful bed in which to grow

Week after week growing

And then harvest.

We all went to the field for the harvest.

Sunrise to sunset

Day after day

Finished at last

Ready for winter

Now looking across the field at beautiful virgin snow

Like watching a baby sleep.  So peaceful.

Happy for the quiet.

Anxious for the awakening

Start again

Sitting by my window

Rocking Rocking

By Carol Zahm

 

 

Let us be mindful of the faithfulness of God, as we affirm at eventide…

 

 

 

If we believe that life has meaning and purpose

And we do

If we believe that the Giver of Life loves us

And we do

If we believe that divine love lasts

And we do

If we believe that justice, mercy, and humility endure

And we do

If we believe that God so loved the world to give God’s only Son

And we do

If we believe that Jesus is the transcript in time of God in eternity

And we do

If we believe that all God’s children are precious in God’s sight

And we do

If we believe grace and forgiveness are the heart of the universe

And we do

If we believe that God has loved us personally

And we do

If we believe in God

And we do

Then we shall trust God over the valley of the shadow of death

And we do

Then we shall trust that love is stronger than death

And we do

Then we shall trust the mysterious promise of resurrection

And we do

Then we shall trust the faith of Christ, relying on faith alone

And we do

Then we shall trust the enduring worth of personality

And we do

Then we shall trust that just deeds, merciful words are never vain

And we do

Then we shall trust the Giver of Life to give eternal life

And we do

Then we shall trust the source of love to love eternally

And we do

Then we shall trust that we rest protected in God’s embrace

And we do

Then we shall trust in God

And we do.

 

 

Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving, mindful of the daily gifts.

 

Let us be mindful this Thanksgiving, as was Howard Thurman, who was a hundred years head of his time fifty years ago.  His poem:

 

 

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:

My mother’s arms,

The strength of my father

The playmates of my childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives

Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies

And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;

The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the

Eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day

I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;

The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I

Feared the step before me in darkness;

The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest

And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;

The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open

Page when my decision hung in the balance.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:

The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,

Without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp

And whose words would only find fulfillment

In the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,

The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,

Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;

The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream

Could inspire and God could command.

For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment

To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:

The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,

My desires, my gifts;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence

That I have never done my best, I have never dared

To reach for the highest;

The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind

Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the

inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the

children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

 

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

The Color Purple

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Mark 12: 34-48

Click here to hear the full service.

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Two weeks after Halloween, 2012

 

My Dear Wormwood,

 

Again it is my pleasure to write your annual review, you devil you.  No uncle was ever prouder of a nephew than I am of you, Wormwood. Look at the excellent, successful year you have had making devilry among the good people of planet earth.  As chief representative of the fallen angels in this part of the universe, I have a close relationship with the Prince of Darkness Himself, our Father below.  You may rest assured that news of your various nefarious victories will sink to his hellish level.  You have a dark future ahead of you, Wormwood.  Congratulations.

 

In particular, your work in the United States of America, over the last decade or more, Wormwood, has been nothing short of masterful.  I take my horns off to you, one devil to another, and salute your negativity.  You have kept them fighting among themselves, morning to night, like children in a marketplace, solely sighting their own interests, assured that the one truth they each hold is the only truth in the box.  Excellent, Wormwood, excellent.  I could not have done better myself, even when I wore a younger devil’s tail.  Keep at it, nephew, keep at it, set them one against the other, a man against his own house, rich against poor, red against blue, radical against fundamentalist, personal ethics against social justice, doing against being.  Oh the thrill we have to observe such mayhem!  Good boy.

 

With this letter, this annual post Halloween performance review, I enclose your official promotion, commendation, and ribbon as sub-demon of the year, with special commendation for inciting needless division.  I bow my horns to you!

 

Now, Wormwood, it would not do for me, your affection Uncle, Screwtape, Superintendent of demons in the near Milky Way, to let you go without a little avuncular advice.  Call it a little devilish Dutch uncle advice, to keep you on your way.

 

Down below they celebrate this weekend, remembering those who protected the great hope of a land of the free, and a home of the brave, a community with liberty and justice for all, a place where those who have much might not have too much, and those who have little might not have too little.  They remember their veterans, their self-sacrificing forebears and relatives.  They reflect on those who road the waves of military service, and they do so with grace and affection.  Ouch!  Wormwood, my little devil.  We cannot have this continue.  It cools the fires of hell to hear such loving rhetoric.  So, here are some bits of wisdom, for your future devilry, sent from your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.

 

Be most careful, Wormwood, not to let any of these groups you have so carefully set upon each other, with daggers drawn, get the idea that wisdom is justified by all her deeds, that wisdom is justified by all her children, that wisdom comes in more than one color.  Make sure the blue stay blue, and the red stay red. Make sure people from Nebraska never talk to people from Rhode Island. Flee the color purple, Wormwood, with its recognition of dialectical thought, its movement toward full truth, its bow before the sin they all share.  Keep them fighting.  Keep the Presbyterians denouncing pride, and forgetting about sloth and falsehood.  Keep the Methodists denouncing sloth, and forgetting about pride and falsehood.  Keep the Lutherans denouncing falsehood, and forgetting about pride and sloth.  Yes.  Excellent.  Purple is dangerous to us.  If the blue start seeing that the red have a point, here and there—your cause is lost.  If the red start seeing that the blue have a point, here and there—your cause is lost.  Keep them shouting at each other, like children in a marketplace, one group wanting to play weddings and another wanting to play funerals, pipes vs. wails, dances vs. weepings. Their Lord really had your number, there, my nephew.  Take the purple out of their crayon boxes.  You want gated communities, the demise of public schools, lines of suburban\urban separation, racial disease and distrust, class separations, ideological fences, and a verbal war of all against all.  Children in the marketplace, as their Savior, said, yes, Wormwood, well done.

 

Here is an example.  I hear the good hearts of their leaders saying many and caring things about children and the poor, those left out.  Like that poor woman in the Bible, who gave all she had.  Wormwood, this is peril for us!  Be on the qui vive!  If that country ever got behind that idea, and every one had medical care, education, and respect—oh, it worries me.  Keep them pinned down, keep their leaders pinned down, Wormwood, in tragic conflict, in financial red ink, in culture wars.  And be vigilant!  Sometimes they get the idea! I read in one of their papers about an 11 year old Boy Scout lost in the mountains.  (Did you have something to do with that, Wormwood?  Creative move there,  my boy).  But after all astute creative devilry, 3000 searchers looked for four days until they found him!  The lost was found.  That really frosts me.  Oh, the joy they had in it, too.  It frosts my preserves, Wormwood.  It is like the joy a Christian has at bringing a friend, relative, or neighbor to church to experience love.  There is no greater joy!  It makes my blood freeze.  The rescuer said, “I feel relieved and happy.”  Oh Lordy.  That really takes the cake.  See, if they really start watching over one another in love, like that old Englishman John Wesley said, we would be out of business in your part of the hemisphere.

 

Another example, Wormwood.  We head devils hate to hear about people moving from poverty to well-being.  All this generosity talk—perish the thought!  All this liberty, equality, fraternity palaver—I thought we rid ourselves of that in the 19th century.  My boy, we want a permanent underclass, so that we can then use it to foment revolution.  But this country and its churches, especially those pesky Methodists, have always championed social mobility, like that in the churches of Paul, way back when.  His urban Christians were status inconsistent, and so are the living churches today.  That Paul was a thorn in my flesh, that Apostle to the Gentiles, but we got him at last.  We need to keep people in their place.  I tell you, nephew, it bothers me when I read about a young woman, Della Mae Justice, who was a 15 year old foster child living in a hut with a dirt floor, until her uncle came and found her and took her into his own home.  He was an attorney in Kentucky.  She said it was like little Orphan Annie going to live with the Rockefellers. Listen to this Wormwood, and see if doesn’t freeze your blood:

 

“It was not easy.  I was shy and socially inept.  For the first time, I could have had the right clothes, but I didn’t have any idea what the right clothes were.  I didn’t know much about the world, and I was always afraid of making the wrong move.  When we had a school trip for chorus we went to a restaurant.  I ordered a club sandwich, but when it came with those toothpicks on either end, I didn’t know how to eat it, so I just sat there, well, staring at it and starving and saying I didn’t feel well.”

 

Her uncle educated her at Berea College, a school set up especially for hard working, children of the poor who want a fine education.  Now she is an attorney in his firm.  Wormwood!  Be on the lookout!  This kind of story will find its way into a pulpit if it is not snuffed out.  See who have on our side in the newspapers.

 

A story like that brings a tear to the eye, a warmth to the heart, a willingness to give, even if you only have a widow’s might.  Such gospel is our undoing.  A story like that is your undoing, Wormwood.  Come on my boy, have you begun with flesh to end with the spirit?  You can do better, I mean worse, I mean, well you know what I mean

 

What would happen down there if this kind of idea, took hold?  You would have middle-aged parents whose own children have grown up adopting others!  Starting new families!  Taking the poor into their homes!  Giving like that poor widow did! You would have adoption outpacing abortion, so that abortion was not only safe, legal and rare, but rare, rare and rare!  You would have liberty and justice!  There would be understanding and space for gay children! Our lost cause would be lost.

 

Wormwood!  Perish the thought, Wormwood, perish the thought.

 

And this matter of war.  Good bit of work, there, Wormwood.  Now, if you can just keep the purple crayon out of the box.  My own fear is that there will emerge a consensus across the land on how to fix this problem.  Here is my thought:  keep the blue critics stuck in their anger over things, they judge, should never have happened—that will keep them from facing clearly new situations with resolve, humility, and imagination; and keep the red supporters stuck in defense of past confusions, misinformation and misjudgment—that will keep them from finding the resolve, humility and imagination needed to change course to attend to new duties.  Especially– keep them from talking with each other to find the purple ground—divide and conquer, Wormwood, divide and conquer.  Otherwise they may find a way to gather the will of the nations to bring peace to their world and time.  That would be our purple defeat, the defeat of all our devilry.  Confusion, and miscommunication, and mistrust—these are your best allies, my shrewd nephew.  They must not be allowed to remember history and its lessons.   When Elie Wiesel said two weeks ago, ‘we face the enemy with memory’—Wormwood, he is talking about. Get at that work on weakening memory! You help them forget the lessons of the past.  The last thing on earth the Prince of Darkness (who writes my performance review, as you know) is just, participatory, and stable world community.  Peace abroad would let America would be free, purple crayon in hand, to draw a picture of a nation where all, meaning all, have a place.

 

Or look at their stumbling around about their country’s budget.  I have to hand it to you, you young devil you, you have even made them forget that to balance a budget you have to raise more and spend less money!  How did you accomplish that?  But now, I hear rumblings, Wormwood.  I have a sad feeling that they will find a way to work together, to compromise, to see the larger picture, to work for the good of the whole—oh, you know how I despise all this sappy, caring, loving, pragmatic, effective public leadership!  How much more savory, and sour, a fiscal cliff!

 

Let me be blunt, Wormwood.  When you see red and blue talking to each other, get moving!  When you see a red woman and a blue man determined to think together, learn from each other, and work side by side, and they have lunch at a table adorned in purple, burn the restaurant.  We just cannot have that kind of synthesis going on! Thesis, yes.  Antithesis, yes.  But no Synthesis. Red we can stand, blue we can handle.  It is the color purple that is our downfall.  We cannot afford that kind of creativity, new creation, new thinking.  I read that Cornel West and Billy Graham were going to have lunch to talk theology.  That’s what I mean, Wormwood.  Burn that restaurant.

 

Let me be blunter, Wormwood.  When you see a church, the last place people actually gather if they gather at all, that is both red and blue, and putting on a robe with a purple hue, weaken that church.  A denomination that stands for children, for the poor, for social mobility, for justice, but also for personal morality, financial responsibility, moral strength, individual piety–for Biblical, dialectical thought, not just the thunderbolts from far left and right–drain that saving swamp, Wormwood.  What you have done to the Methodists in the Northeast, eliminating half their membership in a generation, you need to do across the country.

 

Let me be the bluntest I have been, Wormwood.  I have one specific request, dear nephew.  Keep your eye on that chapel in Boston, Marsh Chapel.  They look purple to me.  They are growing.  They are building.  They are blue and red together.  They love students.  They are learning to tithe.  They are starting to invite.  Work on them, Wormwood.  Make them fear the unknown. Make them tentative.  Make them forget the student programs.  Make them accentuate gender, race, ethnic, class divisions. Make them disagree wherever they can.  Set them on each other, red on blue, blue on red.  I will check your work at our next annual early November, post-Halloween review.

 

Remember our theme song from William Blake:  When Satan first the black bow bent, and the moral law from the gospel rent, he turned the law into a sword and spilt the blood of mercy’s Lord.


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

Living With Love

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Mark 12: 28-34

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In three days one half of these United States of America will be profoundly disappointed and personally despondent.

 

We just don’t yet know which half.

Half of all advertisement is wasted.  We just do not know which half.  $1 B of the $2 B spent on this Presidential election was, if not wasted, at least offered in a losing cause.  Again, we today do not know which half.

A herd of elephants, a pride of donkeys, a country of these United States, more States and less United, these days.

You will, faithful listeners to Marsh Chapel, on WBUR, and otherwise, you will vote.  I have no doubt about it.  Good.  And you have endured the preaching of the gospel this fall, from a venerable pulpit, and from a fallible preacher.  Those especially who responded to the sermons on Biblical Justice, 9/16/12, and on Generosity, 10/14/12, both in harmony and dissonance, have, like love, ‘suffered long and been kind’.  Thank you for your forbearance.

Given though the division, not to say war, between the states, or better said, within the states, or more precisely put, in the heart of Franklin County, just north of Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio Wesleyan University, a small Methodist college for small Methodists and others, incorporated in 1842, we may wonder, come this Sunday, whether the Gospel–love of God and love of neighbor–speaks to our incipient disappointment.

By the way, in case you had not heard, the whole election comes down to the single vote of one persona, of a young mother, a 2001 OWU graduate, with two children, who themselves will soon attend OWU, living in anti bellum home, four bedroom, shared driveway, on North Sandusky street, in Delaware, Ohio, across from the old ATO house, who attends Asbury Methodist Church, and is vice president of the Junior League.  I believe her name is Mary.  Or Martha.  Or both.

Let me suggest that the Gospel speaks, to us, right now, in love.  That is one thing about love, divine and human.  It never ends.  Campaigns will cease.  Candidates will emerge or retire.  Slogans will be put away, to be unearthed again.  War chests will empty.  Celebrations will come and go.  Discouragement will be reborn into denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, then, it may be, acceptance.  Some who are elected may learn that the position for which they graciously offered themselves is not exactly heaven on earth.  Some who are defeated may discover that in losing they were not so much denied as spared.  Not so much denied something as spared the actuality of it.  We can be proud of those who will offer themselves for leadership and service, knowing the odds against them.  Especially those who come up short, 49% not 51%.  We owe them far more than we usually admit.

What would love of God and love of neighbor look like, Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the day after a national slugfest?

Well, who knows?

 

But, in part, I believe that the Markan Jesus’ summary of the decalogue, evokes something particular in us, this Sunday.  Love.  Love God.  Love.  Love your neighbor.  Love.  Now, there is also a neighboring verse that affirms love of enemies, of contestants and opponents, the consequence of love of God and love of neighbor.

Those who have listened to Marsh Chapel sermons these years, my own and those of my esteemed predecessors, know full well that this pulpit does not take lightly the consequences of political learning or lack thereof, social virtue or lack thereof, and spiritual piety or lack thereof.  I refer you to the sermons just mentioned and preached some weeks ago.  Real, dire, real, dreamlike, real decisive matters are at hand Tuesday.  So, go and vote.  The freedom of the pulpit encourages you, your own true identity in faith exhorts you, today’s Gospel itself leads you.

 

And what a Gospel reading!  As was beautifully rehearsed from this pulpit last Sunday, Mark is a Gospel of Conflicts.  In particular, Mark is a gospel wherein Jesus argues, with vehemence, with disciples and with opponents (scribes, Pharisees, and others).  Since the river Jordan in Mark 1, Jesus has been at daggers drawn with the scribes, in particular. In 1:22, in 2:6, in 3:22, in 7:1, in 11:18, in 11:27.  And we haven’t even gotten to the Pharisees yet.  All of sudden, today, SURSUM CORDA, HEAR THE GOSPEL, Jesus meets a peacemaking scribe, an irenic soul, a kind opponent.  Matthew and Luke will twenty years later erase, as if using an ‘etch a sketch’, this memory of kindness.  Their scribe is a testing, testy type.  But not here in Mark.  In the heat of the battle, there is a quiet, kind conversation.  Like those stories of Union and Confederate soldiers, across the line of battle, pausing to sing Christmas carols together, on Christmas eve. Like a Republican governor and a Democratic President finding something shared, something in common, in the teeth of a great storm.  Something deeper, even than conflict, than power, than hatred, than self, is here.  In the presence of a scribe!  Of whom Jesus says, of this good scribe Jesus says, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’!  I don’t know about you, but most days, if I could go home with that report card, I would rest my feet and rest my case.  ‘The scribe sees with insight and hears with understanding’ (Marcus, 842).  In love—and the scribe sees this—God is grabbing ahold of the world, and of us, again.  A little Deuteronomy, and a little Leviticus, and a little love of God and neighbor.  ‘Neither tragedy nor triumph, but trust’, we heard last week.  And again today.  ‘Fall in love with the world again’ we heard last week.  And again today.  ‘The healing of our faith is still possible’ we heard last week.  And again today.
Hold onto free speech.  Hold on to your own-most identity.  Hold on to peace, like a river.  And go and vote your conscience.

But after the voting, there remains the living, and, by our gospel, the loving in the living. What can this truly mean, come Wednesday? How shall we love God?  By loving our neighbor.  How shall we love our neighbor?  By loving our opponent.

Let me propose an exercise.  Its details may lack something, one point or another, from your point of view.  Fear not.  Add and delete your own spices and ingredients later.  Remember this:  Jesus and the good scribe talk.  They talk.  They listen, and speak.  The summary of the law they affirm, as we know, was also affirmed by Rabbi Hillel, and as a way to condense to the two tablets of ten, five each, is not unique, or even remarkable, though quite portable, and useful.  What is striking, here, is the relationship between the good teacher and the good scribe.  They relate.  The listen, and speak.  In that manner, vein, and spirit, come Wednesday, consider an experimental exercise:  consider why the other half votes the way they do.

So.  You are a liberal.  Good for you.  I commend your liberality.  But let me ask you something.  Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, disagree with you enough to vote for the other guy?  For you liberals let me suggest three ‘l’s to consider.  I mean, if we are to love God, love our neighbor, and love our contestant, then we might want to consider why the other side votes the way it does.  Love is for the wise.

Life.  Those more to the right of you in the choir loft tend to have a strong and particular view of the sanctity of life.  Have you, Mrs. Liberal, really heard, I mean really deeply heard, this conviction?  Now, we know there are manifold ways to be pro life, as a columnist well wrote the other day.  But I wonder if, at some gut level, you have yet to appreciate, to approximate, what those to your right in the pew of life, think and say and believe, here?  It will help us, all, down the road, if you can, at least, acknowledge, in detail, that with which you do not agree, in full.

Liberty.  Those more to the right tend to have a fierce and protective sense of freedom, of liberty.  O, I know that liberals love liberty and life too.  My relative asked me once, though, why I thought conservatives did not want taxes taking their money. ‘Because they believe it is THEIR money’, I said. Individual responsibility matters.  Personal holiness matters. Have you, Mr. Progressive, truly heard this?  What you do, justly or not, deserves just response and reward.  He who does not work, let him not eat, 2 Thessalonians.  For freedom Christ has set us free, Galatians 5.  Give me liberty, said Nathan Hale.  Or give me…It will help us all, down the road, if we can, at least, respectfully and sincerely say that liberty is precious.

Limit.  Those more to the right of you in the balcony are suspicious of large bureaucracies and big government.  They see waste, where there should be frugality.  They see ineffectiveness, where there should be fruitfulness.  They see laziness supported, here, free ice cream given, here, a lack of rigor, discipline, and effort rewarded, here.  Who governs least, he governs best, they think.  Most of all, they see debt, endless and dangerous.  They prefer to support private non profit groups, like the Salvation Army, or churches, or private missions.  They have not even usually resorted to quoting John Wesley–get all, save all, give all you can–though they might have done so.  Have you, Messr. Dreyfusard, adequately, honestly sized up the need for limits?

Love your contestant by knowing her view, and affirming the parts of if that you can.

Or.

You are conservative.  Good for you.  I commend your conservation.  But let me ask you something.  Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, are voting for the other guy?  For you conservatives let me suggest three ‘c’s to consider.  If we are to love our contestant we might want at least to practice saying out loud why they vote the way they do.  Love is for the wise.

Choice.  When the chips are down and hard decisions need to be made, where is the liberty to be placed, where is the confidence to be invested?  Those to your immediate left in the choir loft privilege liberty, in the sense of personal choice.  The same affirmations under liberty, made a moment ago, might simply be inserted here.  We recognize varieties of pro-choice positions.  We know not everyone buys every party line.  But, Mr. Conservative, have you truly, deeply considered what it would mean–I am speaking right now mostly to the men–to have your own health choices, of the most personal and most powerful kinds, made by others?   Just how long, Mr. Mr., would you really put up with that?  At least, can you see, why, from another perspective, choice is a deal maker or breaker?

Community.  Those to your left in the pew tend to have a high view of what the common good should be.  Maybe, way down left, they are reciting lines from ML King about the beloved community.  They believe in building community, in doing things together, in sharing time and space and energy and resources.  Or maybe they just have a memory of when their own family needed housing, needed food, needed health care, needed employment, or suffered through a Hurricane, and they think that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.  They underscore that one’s own health finally requires a healthy population, that one’s own love of country requires a love of all the people, that one’s own security and freedom finally require a modicum of the same, provided for the whole.  These lefties may have had a searing experience, up close and personal, with pain and poverty and peril.  Let those who have much not have too much, and those who have little not have too little, they whisper.  Liberty, yes.  But justice, too.  For all, in these United States.

Compassion.  Those to your left in the balcony emphasize compassion.  Their sense of pride, sloth and falsehood is heightened.  There but for the grace of God, go I, they think.  Their sense of hypocrisy, idolatry, and superstition, is heightened.  They carry an acute memory of where and when things have gone badly wrong, in dispassionate ways.  Children.  Children in poverty.  Children without primary health care, who sometimes become obese.  Children in distress.   Those just to your left, they are willing to forego a bit of frugality for the expansion of compassion.  It matters deeply to them, this fall, whether or not another 40 million people, many of them children, will have access to health care, after Tuesday.  Yes, they would rather spare the rod and spoil the child, if that means all children are fed, clothed, housed, taught, and healed.

Love your contestant by knowing his view, and affirming those parts you can.

Now let me close by moving from preaching to meddling.  Maybe you think I have already been meddling!

Preaching since 1976, and my May 1976 departure from North Sandusky street, Franklin County, Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio, and a year living across the street, in the old ATO house, from the one person, Mary Martha, or Martha Mary, whose single vote will decide this election, my impression is that in practice we liberals are not always all that liberal and we conservatives are not always all that conservative.  Here is what I mean.  So, as a conservative, you believe in limited government, and think the private sector, including churches, should care for the poor.  Fine.  So, do you tithe?  The average pledge in churches is 1% not 10%  If you are so keen on limited government, a worthy goal, and think the civil society can carry the work, then why are you so limited in your giving to the churches and other eleemosynary institutions? (See what I mean about meddling?) So, as a liberal, you believe in community, in communal benefits, in the common good, the good of all.  Fine.  Do you build community? Do you take the time to participate in all those fallible, time consuming groups?  Do you worship?  Do you take the time and energy to build up the community, starting with the community of faith?  Or do you lie in bed, or play golf, or something else, come Sunday.  (See what I mean about meddling?)  Here is what I mean.  Let each be convinced, in his own mind.  But practice what you preach.  That is:  I’ll expect a tithe from the conservatives and 100% worship attendance from the liberals, or, better yet, both from both!  Devotion and service, love of God and love of neighbor, worship and generosity.  Friends, these are things, right and left, over time that will last.  Do these, and you will hear a divine whisper, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’.

 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

By the way, my name is Bob Hill, and I approve of this message!

 

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel