The Bach Experience

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For those new to our service of worship, present here or listening from afar, we warmly offer an especial word of grace and welcome, on this blizzard weekend Sunday.  Your own church may have been closed today, and so you are listening.  Your hockey game, or neighborhood gathering, or personal commitment may have been cancelled due to weather, and so you are with us.  In other words, snow, like grace, may have interrupted or intervened or interceded into the otherwise well laid plans of life.  Good! Welcome.

 

New to all this, you may not have heard our regular dialogue sermons, come Bach Cantata Sunday.  Allow, then, a brief explanation.  Our envisioned mission at Marsh Chapel, to be a ‘heart for the heart of the city and a service in the city’, extends by radio and internet to the whole globe, the heart and service of the city of the whole earth.  We lift the praises of God with the guidance and support of JS Bach.  Why Bach?  Because Bach is the best.  Bach is world regarded as the very best.  In Europe, in Asia, in the Americas, around the globe, Bach is the best, and we want the very best for our service of worship.  Bach brings the globe together.

 

In order then to make the Holy Scriptures read for the day, and the Cantata for the day, as meaningful and accessible as possible, to as many as possible, from the 19 year old undergraduate in the third pew to the 89 year old widower listening in Scituate, Dr Jarrett and I have over several years now offered a dialogue sermon on these Cantata days, meant to merge music and word in the very Gospel, the word of God.  This form of preaching is, if not unique to our Marsh work, at least unusual and special, and in that we take great joy.  It is one gift we lay upon the altar, in heart and service.

 

Today we bring you a word of faith, a word about faith, a word in faith for those who may, like the Samaritan of old, feel themselves outside of the formal community of faith.  Faith is God’s gift to you today.

 

Yet if there are 60,000 people now listening to our radio broadcast service, 40,000, it may be, well identify with a phrase from this past week’s Washington prayer breakfast.  The speaker (President Obama) inclusively addressed those of various faith traditions, and those ‘of no faith that they can name’.  It could be that 2/3 of our listeners faithfully and honestly understand themselves as people ‘of no faith that they can name’.  Of a faith that has no name.  Is that you?

 

This past Wednesday many of us gathered, undergraduates with the Dean of the Chapel, to discuss ‘God on Campus’.  If there has been a more spirited, honest, and enjoyable conversation among 20 people recently, in this area, that would be news.  One young woman, speaking for thousands, said, ‘I just don’t have that kind of rote faith anymore’.  It could be that 2/3 of our students faithfully and honestly understand themselves as young people ‘of no faith that they can name’.  Of a faith that has no name.  Is that you?

 

Over the course of ministry in four decades, nine pulpits, one brief superintendency, one briefer presidency, and one delicious deanship (the best job anywhere by the way), various defeats and victories, and Thursday evening meetings of the cradle role committee, the greatest thrill and joy has come from those who are just outside the visible community of faith.  Prospects, constituents, the unchurched (such an uncharitable phrase)…call them neighbors.  To spend time with those just outside the bounds of religion so called is the pure joy of ministry.  It could be that 2/3 of our neighbors, from Brookline to Bar Harbor to Bangladesh, faithfully and honestly understand themselves as people ‘of no faith that they can name’.  Of a faith that has no name.  Is that you?

 

It could be that 2/3 of our actual and virtual congregation faithfully understand themselves as people ‘of no faith that they can name’.  Of a faith that has no name.  Is that you?

 

Outside Israel there lies Samaria.  Along the road from religion to life, from Jerusalem to Jericho, there lies a man in pain.  Love lifts him in the person of a person of no faith that he can name.  The hero of our cantata this Transfiguration morning, the Samaritan, later called GOOD, stands, in this passage, as a person of a faith that has no name.  In a moment, the waves of musical beauty will roll over us.  What, we may wonder, shall we hear, shall we listen for, shall we await….?

 

To the faithful, honest, prayerful agnostic, to the various goods and various Samaritans around about, we offer, in brisk and brilliant revelation, come Transfiguration, a way of thinking and feeling, a thought feeling, a felt thought, a form of faith where there is no faith.

 

Our experience of the Samaritan, as his gift of love attends us, is the faithfulness of God.  Where others profess too much and too quickly, where others believe blindly and shallowly, where others pronounce themselves holier, humbler, more religious than thou, where others rush in where angels fear to tread, behold the goodness of the northern Samaritan.  His life, in loving and giving, in knowing and loving, in giving and knowing, has become his faith, a faith that has no name. Yesterday he shoveled the widow neighbor’s walk, uncovered a neighbor student’s car, brought milk and eggs to a homebound neighbor’s kitchen, chipped ice from an elderly neighbor’s roof, included in family sledding a busy neighbor’s son.  Come blizzard weekend,  a faith with no name may be the truest faith of all.  Is that faith yours?

 

A generation ago, our dear teacher Paul Tillich called such faith the state of being ultimately concerned.  Are you deeply concerned?  Do things concern you? When we come upon a man whom bandits have stripped and beaten and left by the side of the road for dead, does your heart quicken?  You see this victim of violence, harmed by others who have since disappeared, as with wily politicians who are ‘eager to dominate but reluctant to offend’ (so, FDR, NYRB, 1/13).   Before gun violence, or unfettered drone flight, or children untutored, or wayward greed, or amoral sexuality, or steady drunkenness, or moral indiscretion—somewhere the road from religion to life, from Jerusalem to Jericho—are you concerned?  Your concern is your faith.  In deep concern you discover grace and freedom and love.  Your concern is your faith.

 

But now Tillich is long dead, and his concern may not fit twenty year olds.  In our generation, then, we might call such a state of faith the state of being ultimately connected.  Are you deeply connected?  Does life connect you to others?  When you come upon a man whom bandits have stripped and beaten and left by the side of the road for dead, does your heart quicken? When a fog surrounds you brought on the collision of the warm winds of love and frosty glacier of wrong—what?  Do you connect?  Do you text, then, or tweet, then, or post, then, or email, then, or call, then, or write, then, or visit, then?  Does the plight of another move you toward others?  Along the road then from religion to life, from Jerusalem to Jericho—are you connected?  Your connection is your faith. In your deep connection you discover grace and freedom and love.  Your connection is your faith.

 

Live your faith.  Live your faith.

 

No other God, no graven image, no name in vain

Remember Sabbath, honor father and mother

Do not kill, commit adultery, steal, witness falsely or covet

Live your faith.  Live your faith.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength.

And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

 

As did the Samaritan….

 

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

 

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