Birdsong

Matthew 2: 1-2

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Frontispiece

The gospel is the beauty of a bird in song.

 

We begin.  As J Edwards said, ‘Resolved:  to do nothing I would be afraid to do in the last hour of my life.’

 

I don’t believe I quite heard or overheard your seasonal resolution(s).

 

You still may be hunting, searching.

 

The gospel is the gift of the Christ child to us, God’s gift of faith, of fellowship, of freedom—beyond thought and beyond intuition and beyond demolition.  If God is for you, who is against?  The gospel also is our gift to the Christ child.  Odd, no?  The gospel heard and spoken and lived is our gift to Christ, like the story which Matthew narrates, Mt 2, is his gift to wordflesh.

 

Search and hunt they did, these wise men.  The very presence of the wise at the outset of the gospel is the rejection of fundamentalism near and far.  Swinging like an angel sword before the garden of Eden, here come the magi, making sure that any gospel worthy of the name fears nothing human, fears nothing known or knowable, fears nothing true.  Biblicism be gone, say the kings.  Their presence is the celebration of the liberal gospel, the gospel of liberality, your birthright, Marsh Chapel.  The gospel (not that there is any other) that honors what we know, while admitting what we do not.  The gospel that remembers our history, including its horrors.  The gospel that eschews easy measures of the divine, which by definition is un-measurable.  The gospel that has arms big enough to embrace the big bang, and evolution, and real random chance, and the unknowable God in whose love, alone, we are at all known.  To be good news, the gospel must be true, all truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Otherwise it is not good, and not news.  Searching can exhaust the searcher, star at night, out to the east, following forever.  Truth. Science. History. Psychology.

 

Our five grandchildren and their overseers visited us at Christmas.  The oldest is five, leader of the pack.  I heard them playing hide and seek.  She taught them a song, a birdsong.  When they ran out of hunting energy, and were stumped, humans at the edge of knowledge, ministers at the edge of energy, she would call out, in song, ‘can you give a little tweet-tweet?’ And repeat, and repeat.  Then, from under the bed, would come the birdsong response, ‘tweet, tweet’. The gospel is not only the Christ gift.  The gospel is our gift to the Christ.

 

 

1. Gold

The gospel is our spoken gift of faith.

 

Every bird sings faith, over the globe, through all time.  Thurman loved penguins, odd and remote.  Listen.  Along the Charles, in the spring, make way for goslings and ducklings.   Mid-island in Bermuda, I hear the song:   Early in the summer mornings, out in the land currently under the death cloud of possible fracking, where we live, at dawn a rooster.  Two eagles—they too mate for life, as in Christian marriage—soaring, I only imagine their music.  The owl at night.  A swan song, a silver swan, who living had no note.  The gospel is a bird in song, and all nature sings.  Even if or when the preaching of the gospel by human imperfection abates, as it does threaten to do, birdsong will carry the tune.

 

Just as there are so many, sorry, reasons to skip church, so too there are many, sorry, reasons, in the space of 4000 earthly Sundays, to skip faith.  Faith is only real gold, real faith, when it is all you have to go on.

 

The first of December was covered with snow.  The next line?  Good night you moon light ladies.  Rock a by sweet baby James.  The next line?  Can you give me a little tweet tweet?

 

Ignatius would love the star, but Luther would mark the voice, the sound, the birdsong of searching, inquiring, wise, questing, serious, real faith: ‘Where is he, who has been born king of the Jews?’

 

The first to find Him are not Jews at all.  Gentiles, they.  Some of our most natural gospel hearers and speakers today are atheists.

 

Matthew, though usually (mis) understood otherwise, is a Gentile gospel.  The magi come first. Light centrally shines, chapter by chapter. The book is written in Greek.  Its mound sermon celebrates greek wisdom and greek discipline. The wise man built his house on rock.  A ruler’s daughter is healed.  The Sabbath is overrated.   The only sign the natives deserve is that of Jonah.  The disciples dish traditions of elders.   The greatest faith is the gentile woman willing to take the dog crumbs that the table guests despise.  The faithful followers will judge the 12 tribes.  And, by the way, make sure to render your taxes to Caesar. (J). Matthew’s endless explanation of kosher requirements is made for greek ears.  I will not even pause to recite the damnation of woe given to scribes and Pharisees.   Its concluding universalism would make Plato blush.  Matthew?  Jewish?

 

2. Frankincense

We begin.  As J Edwards said, ‘Resolved:  to do nothing I would be afraid to do in the last hour of my life.’

 

I don’t believe I quite heard or overheard your seasonal resolution(s).

There are no free-lance Christians.  If nothing else, for sure, the child the wise visit makes space in life for real fellowship.  The church is a working fellowship.

 

Isaiah foretold it.  Here in third Isaiah, who remembers the birdsong of second Isaiah, and carries the tune back into Jerusalem, after the return from exile, after 538, when another wise Persian, Cyrus, set the people free.  The birth of the Christ, by symbol of gold and frankincense, is connected to a universal liberation.

 

We are here to ring the bell, to sing the song, to sound the trumpet, to lift the voice.  You may need, this week, to see the examples in salt and light, of faithful people. Here are some in these Marsh pews.  Kind people.  Kind women.  Kind men.  Doing unto others, as they would have done to themselves.  Seeking.  Seeking lasting wisdom.

 

With joy.  Come on MLK Sunday, and hear our friend Dr Fluker, and on Monday and celebrate the King of Marsh Plaza.  Come February 9 (our usual Ground Hog festival, date and place moved) and ice skate on Marsh Plaza.  Come and sing hymns in the Lynn home of Alice and Yrjo—a midwinter delight!  Come for brunch and the marathon on Patriots day, to our home.

 

Resolve this, 2013:  I will be in church on Sunday.  Wise men still seek Him.  You find faith in fellowship, and vice versa.

 

St. John of the Cross: En una noche oscura…

 

At Marsh we minimize meetings, committees, structures, organization.  We find our fellowship, across the University, as above.  We take our education in the University.  We partner in service with our schools and colleges of the University.  We refuse to sit on a whale and fish for minnows.  Come and join us!  It is a great way to give, to live, to give and live, the gospel.

 

Here gay people are people.  Here lay people are people.  The eight words Methodism will need for survival:  gay people are people, lay people are people.  I refer you to the sermon coming January 27, 2013.

 

 

3. Myrrh

 

We begin.  As J Edwards said, ‘Resolved:  to do nothing I would be afraid to do in the last hour of my life.’

 

I don’t believe I quite heard or overheard your seasonal resolution(s).

 

Resolve, 2013:  to leave behind debt and regret.

 

On January 1, 1863, here in Boston, at the Boston Music Hall, F Douglass and many others sang.  The Handel and Haydn society sang.  One of their members, Harriet Beecher Stowe, sang.  Why their birdsong, good news of great joy? In the cradle of liberty?  Emancipation.  Real change is real hard, but change does come.  Lincoln said (12/62): ‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present’

 

Stowe wrote:  he is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave…

Regret is the shortest definition I know of hell.  Let your regrets be few.  Prize your time, your body, your heart.  ‘To thine own self be true’ (that’s Shakespeare by the way, not the Bible).  Let us leave behind the regret of gun violence, the regret of dehumanization of gays, the regret of environmental predation, the regret of children in poverty, the regret of unruly rouge nations, the regret of selfish living. Let your freedom be not only the freedom of the will, but the freeing of the will, to love.

 

Debt is the surest measure I know of hell.  Debt is an actuarial prison.  ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’ (again, Uncle Will, not the Holy Book).  An undergraduate degree is a wonderful thing, but not worth a mountain of lasting debt.  Travel light, cloak and staff.  Go where they will pay you to study, if you can. (J)

 

Yes, I am concerned about national debt.  I am.  A $4T budge with $3T income—this does not compute.  Even churches balance their budgets (I have 35 Decembers of fist fights, I mean finance meetings, to show).  Debt is a bad gift to grandchildren.  But I am even more concerned about your personal debt.    Lord forgive us our debts!

 

Get rid of your debt.  Get rid of your regret.  This year.

 

Find the freedom to live in love.

 

You are hiding out there.  I know you are.  I am hunting for you.  You are out there.  In a Beacon St. apartment. Up on the north shore.  Munching bagels on the Cape. Out in Newton, enjoying the Marsh Choir.  I have been searching for you, for six years.  Against the fierce New England wind of post Christian secularism, righteous anti religious fervor, mixtures of bad Calvinism or Catholicism, Sunday hockey, and a kind of intellectual life that is always just a bit short–of wonder, mystery, and magi wisdom.  I am hunting for you.  But I don’t find you yet. I search,but you are too well hidden.

 

CAN YOU GIVE YOU ME A LITTLE TWEET TWEET?

 

Congregation? Clergy? Choir? Radio?

 

CAN YOU GIVE YOU ME A LITTLE TWEET TWEET?

 

 

Coda

 

The father of neo Biblicism, Karl Barth, said:  ‘the gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight.’

 

We sing it this way, in our faith and our fellowship and our freedom:

 

The gospel is the beauty of a bird in song.

 

The gospel is the beauty of a bird in song.

 

The gospel is birdsong.

 

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

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