Archive for May, 2013

May 26


By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Please, be seated.

Remember with me, will you?  If you are seated here in the nave of Marsh Chapel you may want to find a comfortable posture, if such is possible in wooden pews, and fold your hands in your lap and let your eyelids drift downward just a bit.  If, on the other hand, you are driving a motor vehicle on Interstate 90, I think it would be better for all concerned, and on Interstate 90 there will be many concerned, if you just kept your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes open!  Let us, together, then, as a congregation called into fellowship on this Memorial Day weekend, remember.

We remember one year ago on a sunny Memorial Day weekend walking over to Boston Common and seeing a sea of American flags that had been painstakingly pounded into the soft earth.  A bride and a groom were making final preparations for their nuptials.  Nails were polished, shoes were shined, suits were pressed, dresses were shaken out, hair was done up, and yes, small vials of bubbles were unpacked and laid out in baskets for guests to retrieve and blow after the ceremony.  On that sunny Sunday afternoon, the bride and her father made their way down the aisle, this aisle in fact, and she joined hands with her betrothed.  Declarations were made, readings were read, a sermon was preached, Bach was sung, vows were vowed, rings were exchanged, prayers were said, and the priest proclaimed, “You are husband and wife!”  Yes, one year ago today Holly and I got married right here at Marsh Chapel on the glorious Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  It has been a year of delight, of learning, and most of all, of loving.  Happy anniversary, love!

If only all of our memories of the past year could be such happy ones.  For us here at Boston University, there has been far too much tragedy.

We remember on a cool November evening when Chung-Wei Yang, known at the University as Victor, who had come to BU from Taiwan to study international relations, collided with a bus while riding his bicycle and was killed.  His family arrived in Boston and on a Saturday morning, again here in the nave of Marsh Chapel, hundreds of students, friends, family, and members of the Taiwanese community in Boston joined to remember and pray.  Again, readings were read, a sermon was preached, music was sung, prayers were said, memories were shared, and tears, oh so many tears, were shed.

Then, only a couple of weeks later, the phone rings: “I’m driving down Commonwealth Avenue.  There’s a body in the road.  It’s not another one of ours, is it?”  Christopher Weigl, a graduate student in photojournalism in the College of Communications collided with a tractor-trailer just in front of the CVS across from Student Health Services.  Again on a Sunday afternoon, students and family and friends gathered, this time in the nave of the First Congregational Church in Holliston, Massaschusetts, in whose fellowship Christopher grew up.  BU alumna and senior pastor of the church, Rev. Bonnie Steinroeder, who pastors three generations of the Weigl family, led another service of readings and prayers and memories and music and tears.

We made it through January and February unscathed, but then on the first Saturday of March, in the wee hours of the morning, Anthony Barksdale died after attending an un-registered, off-campus party.  He was a freshman engineering major from Amherst, New Hampshire.  Due to the cold and the rain, a vigil was held indoors in the George Sherman Union.  Students gathered in the Towers dormitory to share memories.  A memorial service was held in his high school.

April 15.  Tax Day!  Patriots’ Day.  Marathon Monday.  You remember, don’t you?  Just a little warmer than the runners may have wanted, but perfect for spectators who came out in droves to line the course, particularly the last few miles as the runners came down Beacon Street, through Kenmore Square, and then zigged and zagged over to Boylston Street to the finish line.  Some of us gathered in the Deanery, that is, the residence of the dean, for a brunch of eggs and fruit and Dunkin Donuts.  Dean Hill recited Longfellow and the Gettysburg Address, as he is wont to do sometimes.  Out we processed to Kenmore Square to watch the elite runners come through, thinking that we were only taking our lives in our hands by boarding the rickety elevator down to the ground from number 10.

How little did we know.  My wife and I walked from Kenmore Square back home and I lay down to take a nap.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I detest being rudely awoken from a sound sleep.  So it was that when Holly shook my shoulder and announced, “there are bombs at the marathon!” all I could think was, “That’s ridiculous.  Bombs don’t belong at marathons!”  I looked at my phone: missed calls, missed texts, missed email.  We called our parents.  “I have to get to the chapel,” I announced.  “How?”  Good question.  How do you get from Beacon Hill to Boston University without going anywhere near Copley Square?  Thank God for Hubway!  I grabbed a bike, carried it over to the Esplanade, and rode hard.

You know, when you stop a race before it is completed and throw the runners off the course, it gets a bit confusing.  Runners came over to Commonwealth Avenue from Beacon Street, many of them hoping to catch the T, only to find that the T was shut down.  What did they find?  A church!  Marsh Chapel.  In they came and hospitality we provided: water, food, blankets, phones, rides, directions, counsel, prayer, patience.  We planned a vigil for that evening.  News broke that there was an explosion at the JFK library.  We cancelled the vigil.  The vigil finally happened the following evening and hundreds gathered on Marsh Plaza in front of the chapel for readings, and prayers, and words of comfort and strength in times of trouble.  Another evening hence we gathered here in the nave for readings, prayers, sermon, song, hymns, and Eucharist as we continued the search for healing.

“Is there a student at Boston University named Lu Lingzi?” Dean Hill asked.  I typed her name into the computer.  “Yes.”  “Oh.”  Lingzi was no longer missing.  She was at the morgue.  One of the three killed by the bombings.  The media frenzy was intense as the news broke.  Over 400 students, most of them Chinese, gathered in the Burke Room at Agganis Arena to share memories and process together.  Her parents arrived from China and were greeted at the airport by the Ambassador from China and a delegation from Boston University.  1400 people, including many dignitaries, gathered in the George Sherman Union for Lingzi’s memorial service.  4000 watched a live stream over the Internet.  $560,000 was gathered in the course of a morning by the Trustees of Boston University to begin a scholarship fund in her memory.  Her father gave a poignant and moving eulogy.  Her mother was inconsolable.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

The phone rang.  “Br. Larry, I know it’s Sunday morning and you have services, but there has been a fire, and a student has died, and several are in the hospital.  Can you go to the hospital?”  More death.  More trauma.  Binland Lee was a senior in the Marine Science program at the College of Arts and Sciences.  This time, students traveled down to Brooklyn, New York for a Chinese Buddhist wake and memorial service in an Italian Catholic funeral home.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

Remembering a wedding is wonderful.  The heart soars as the feelings of love and joy and belonging together, so intensely felt on that day, return to the forefront of the mind’s eye.  Remembering death and violence and vigils and funerals is hard.  It is painful.  It is rubbing salt in a wound of the spirit.  Each one of those American flags pounded into the common might as well have been pounded into the flesh of those who loved the one whom the flag represents.

Remembering a dead loved one is painful precisely because we know that the person cannot be re-membered.  It is not possible that grandma or grandpa or mom or dad or brother or sister or, God have mercy, son or daughter should be re-membered, brought into membership again, in the family.  It is not possible that friend or neighbor or colleague or teammate or pew-fellow should be re-membered, brought back into the fellowship of the community.  Our grief and our pain as we remember those we have loved who have died arises from the helplessness we feel and the loss of control we experience when we recognize that there is nothing we can do to re-member them.

There are bombing victims in Boston who are struggling to re-member themselves right now.  Some lost arms and legs in the blasts of the bombs and they grieve the loss of their limbs as they remember what life was like before.  Thankfully, many of those who lost limbs will be able to re-member not their own arms and hands or legs and feet but prosthetic limbs that will empower them to reclaim at least a portion of the life they had before.  Nevertheless, the sense of helplessness and the terror of being out of control without the ability to walk or the ability to pick up a fork is something that will haunt many for the rest of their lives.

So too, there are those who lined Boylston Street on April 15, and especially many who worked in the medical tents, and many of us who perhaps were not there and yet somehow feel that this happened to us.  We too struggle to re-member.  We remember what we heard: explosions, screams, cries.  We remember what we saw: fire, broken glass, blood.  We remember the smell of smoke, the taste of bile, the touch of those jostling to get to the wounded or away from the area.  Holding together the pieces of the mind is a struggle to re-member in a spirit of hope what we remember of a time of terror.

Why do we remember?  Why bother to become involved in the work of memory with its attendant pain and grief?  Why not just forget?

We remember because we have hope that we ourselves will be re-membered.  Today is Trinity Sunday, and in the life of Christianity this is the day we remember that God in Godself is a community of members.  One of those members became incarnate in Jesus Christ and was thus, for a time, dismembered from God.  Today, on Memorial Day weekend and Trinity Sunday, readings and prayers and sermon and song teach us that God knows the pain of dismemberment as God experienced the pain of the passion.  And yet, God also knows the healing and joy of re-membering in the glory of the resurrection.  The Holy Spirit of God testifies today that it is not the passion of Christ that defines the Person of Christ, but the Person that defines the passion; that it is not suffering that bears meaning, but a sense of meaning that bears up under suffering; that it is not the cross that carries the love but the love that carries the cross; that it is not crucifixion that encompasses salvation, but salvation that encompasses even the tragedy of crucifixion.  In the life of faith the work of memory is part and parcel of the work God does in us, in the example of Christ and in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, that we may withstand what we cannot understand.

So far, so good, but we cannot stop there.  The testimony of the church on Trinity Sunday is that the love of God, and the grace of God, and the forgiveness of God, and the healing of God, and the redemption of God that re-members us into relationship and partnership and family and community and society and world belongs not to us but to God who extends the partnership of Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all peoples and all times and all places, and not only to people but to the whole of creation.  It is out of this belief that Howard Thurman said that “people, all people, belong to one another, and those who shut themselves away diminish themselves, and those who shut another away destroy themselves.”  Just this week Pope Francis said in a weekday Mass sermon that, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this [one] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”  You see, by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  The hard work of remembering prevents us from shutting ourselves away and from shutting others away that we may all be re-membered together.  It is in the work of remembering that the Spirit draws us in her tether that we might touch the garment hem of God and be healed and re-membered.

It would probably be wise for me to stop there, but the wisdom of faith is foolishness to the wise and on Trinity Sunday, when I remember my ordination to the priesthood four years ago, we are reminded that we are called to be fools for Christ.  For you see, if we believe with Howard Thurman that all people belong to one another, and if we believe with Pope Francis that God has redeemed all of us, then it cannot be the case that we are re-membered, returned to fellowship, having left anyone or anything behind.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the bus that collided with Victor.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the tractor-trailer that killed Christopher.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the students who threw the party that Anthony attended.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with those responsible for the conditions that led to the fire that killed Binland.  And dear friends in Boston, we cannot be re-membered as a city and as a community and as a society until we are re-membered with Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev.  All people belong to one another, not merely the ones we love or who love us.  It was a sinful, sinful thing to attempt to deny Tamerlan the small dignity of burial, and we must all repent, for until we can confess that we belong to Tamerlan and Dzokhar, and they to us, we cannot be re-membered, and our search for healing continues.

Lingzi’s parents buried her here in Boston.  They did so because they believe that her spirit will help to bring peace to our community.  She will certainly abide here in our memory, and in remembering all of those we have lost, may we be re-membered, returned to fellowship, with one another, with all people, with all creation, and ultimately, with God, whose re-memberment we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.  Amen.


~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+

University Chaplain for Community Life

May 19

University Baccalaureate

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the service, including the Baccalaureate Address.

Click here to watch the video from BU Today.


Boston University’s 2013 Baccalaureate speaker was Bishop Peter D. Beaver, Retired Bishop of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. Additionally, he served on the Board of Trustees of Boston University from 2004-2012. For more information, please see the BU Today article.

There will be no sermon text posted for this Baccalaureate address.


May 12

This I Believe

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the This I Believe Talks only.

Brittany Schwartz is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts in environmental analysis and policy, with minors in earth sciences, biology, and international relations.  She has been a leader on the Servant Team here at Marsh Chapel throughout her time at Boston University and was given the University Service Award for her extraordinary contributions at the Community Service Center.


I didn’t plan on getting involved with religious life at BU.  I planned on going to mass but that was going to be about it for me, like it always was.

But I was browsing the BU calendar on the evening of one of the very first days of classes freshman year and saw an event for that night that really caught my eye: capture the flag.  I didn’t pay much attention to the group running the event and was simply eager to participate in a game I loved to play with friends back home.  Turns out it was hosted by Marsh Chapel.  Hmm…

Once I found my way to the Thurman Room in the basement, I was greeted by some of the craziest, coolest, most-passionate people I had ever met, along with my very first of many free meals from Marsh.  Those folks I met that night made me feel unbelievably welcome as they asked meaningful getting-to-know-you questions and genuinely listened to my answers, pointing out little pieces of common ground between all of us along the way.  Within these new friends I found comfort, I found family, and I found home.

And so it began.  After that night and some other first-week events I was hooked on this open, accepting, lively place and the even more dynamic people found inside of it.  From service projects with Servant Team to discussions with Interfaith Council to community dinners on Monday nights, the Marsh family has unrelentingly reminded me how amazing it is that while we each hold our own different beliefs we can share in so many of the most wonderful aspects of life.

I believe we as humans can all unite with the image of a world that is kind, just, and wholesome, one that revolves around compassion for others and treasures each individual’s unique perspective, experiences, and voice.  A community like this one here at Marsh, one that is founded on indiscriminate love and cherishes common threads, allows me to put incredible faith in the thought of such a place.

Looking at it as a whole, my journey here at Marsh is kind of just like that capture the flag game I went to freshman year.  Both are about working with others and searching, looking into things in ways you hadn’t before and taking risks along the way as you propel across that safe line of comfort, trusting others to have your back.  Each quest requires perseverance, attention, and a deeper understanding of yourself.  Both are exhilarating and challenging, especially when you’re sometimes left confused in the dark as the unexpected strikes.  The diary of neither adventure is perfect – you can get tagged and sent to the tree or come across incomprehensible struggles in life – but both are always more than worthwhile.  One thing that’s different, though, is that when working on finding yourself and your beliefs at Marsh, everyone has customized flags – many of them in common with others, some not – and we’re all on the same team.  Plus, at Marsh we all get flashlights – that is, amazing people that teeter the perfect balance of guiding us and pushing us to discover things ourselves.

I am incredibly blessed to have been a part of this community for the past four years and don’t just believe but know that the deep friendships I’ve made here at Marsh will forever be a home-base for me as I search and reach for the flags life after BU will bring.

Thank you to all who have supported, inspired, and simply loved me while I’ve been here.


Molly Flanagan is graduating magna cum laude from the College of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Music in Brass Performance, specializing in French horn.  She has been a faithful member of the Marsh Chapel choir throughout her studies at Boston University.


I attended Sunday school regularly as a child, and came away with two things from that experience: 1.) Jesus apparently likes to drink a lot of wine and 2.) God looks like everyone.  I accepted the first one without much internal struggle, but the second one threw me for a loop.  Our teacher told us that God makes everyone in his own image, so He looks like a little bit of everyone… or something like that.  I tried to picture what every person in the world looked like, and how you could mash all of those images into one.  There are only so many features on a face, and who got to decide what color the eyes were, or what size the nose was?  And if He looked like everyone, then wouldn’t He really look like no one?  I don’t like thinking very hard about things, and I was no different at age 7, so I ended up letting it go.

Years later, I began my freshman year of college.  I crashed, and badly.  It took me a long time to get used to being at BU, and I hated myself for that.  I joined the Marsh Chapel choir my second week of school and hung out with people from CFA, but I could never really make it work.  Every time I felt myself becoming comfortable with what I was doing, or actually feeling okay for a moment about where I was, there was always something that would overwhelm me, like it wanted to remind me that I was not allowed to be happy or at peace.  The feeling gradually disappeared the longer I stayed in school, and I assumed that “it” was just normal freshman adjustment difficulties that I’d left behind me.  However, “it” came back numerous times until about 18 months ago, when I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed me with Depression and started me on medication that gave me my life back.

During those tumultuous years when it felt like the ground could slip out from beneath me at any time, the one thing that remained consistent was the people along the way.  There was my teacher, who noticed that something was off my second lesson and, much to my surprise, spent an entire hour talking to me instead of playing.  There was the friend who l was able to confide in and vent to more comfortably than I could with anyone else, a friend who I only met because he just happened to be the roommate that year of another good friend of mine.  There was the teacher I had during a semester abroad whose kindness helped me find my way thousands of miles from home.  There was also the group of people who, maybe without knowing it, provided a safe space for me every Thursday night and kept me going even through those days when I seriously considered dropping out of school.  Whenever anything happened, whenever I had a setback or got into trouble, someone always just happened to be there to help me along the way.  Four years later, I am still here; four years later I now believe that those numerous acts of grace and kindness that kept me here came from God working in the form of the people I come in contact with.  So even though I am leaving Boston after this week, I believe that wherever I end up, God will be there with me, and He really will look just like everyone around me.

Serrie Hamilton is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics.  She has been a faithful member of the Servant Team throughout her time at Boston University and served on the ministry staff here at Marsh Chapel in 2011-12.


I have been a part of the church since before I can remember. Growing up a blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian girl in the heart of the Midwest, I narrowly avoided Lutheran lutefisk dinners, but was always up for a tater tot hot dish. Growing up as a church musician’s daughter, I lived and breathed church; marching on over to my dad’s office every day after school, singing in children’s choir, having my classmates tease me, saying that I had a microphone in my earring because that was the only way I could know all the answers in confirmation class.

Then, I fled to Boston University. I was convinced that I had to get as far away from what I thought of then as the stifling Midwest and my identity as my “father’s daughter.” I was convinced that I didn’t need church and that living and breathing church was the same thing as faith.

I kept that mentality up for about a year until I met Br. Larry and Dean Hill. It was not long after that that I wrote to Br. Larry while sitting in my darkened dorm room on Bay State with the realization that church for me could exist outside of my childhood world; I wanted to be involved at Marsh, and did I ever get involved! I ushered, I co-chaired Servant Team, I worked in the office, I worked as a Ministry Assistant; I was back to living and breathing church, which I again, was confusing with faith.

It was then that I decided to take a step back from all these commitments. In the past year, I have learned so much about myself and my faith. I came to Boston, convinced that I would change the world. Has that happened? No, but I have made my mark, giving friends advice, engaging in academic conversation, smiling at strangers as they pass by. As I grow older and wiser, I realize that these are the things in life that matter, these are the things that grant me the ability to have faith in God – the little things that reveal God’s presence in our daily lives.

After an almost 23 year long journey with its twists and turns, for better and for worse, I have barely scratched the surface of what faith means, but here is what I believe today:

Today, I believe that having faith in God allows me to be unsure about my faith in myself. God picks up the slack, and is there, even in the depths.

Today, I believe that God works through each one of us so that we may support and love one another.

Today, I believe that, in the words of Dean Hill, wherever you are, be present. Breathe, listen, smile, love, hear, lift, be there.

No matter what happens, when I question my abilities, when I doubt my choices, when my faith falters, I look to words from the Dean:

Life is good.  Morning is good. Prayer is good.  Grace is good.  Love is good.  Family is good.  God is good.  All the time.

In this, I will always believe.


Sami Hamdan is graduating summa cum laude from Sargent College with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science and will begin a Master of Public Health in health policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health in the fall.  He has served as a Student Health Ambassador at Student Health Services for the past two years.


Faith is at times a tricky concept. In the small, dark moments of my life, faith felt like leaning against a wall of mist. But that was before I came to college, before I fully understood what faith meant to me. I have found that my faith was tested in my time at Boston University, and in the end, strengthened. When I began college, I was not entirely sure what faith meant. I knew what religion meant, and I accepted Islam as my religion wholeheartedly, but a deep and intuitive faith took time to discover. As my understanding of faith began to develop, I found that it is far more than a litany of dogmatic do’s and don’ts. While ritual is important, my time at college has shown me how faith can be cultivated in many ways, not simply through one system of belief. Of course, actively embracing Islamic prayer and ritual has helped channel and grow my sense of faith. But for me, faith gained a far more fundamental meaning. In so much of the world today faith is portrayed as a divisive issue, but I have come to believe that true faith is a common denominator more than a common divider. For me, faith is living deeply, by meaningful action and through meaningful connections with others. For me, faith is not about arguing over the details; my faith is about embodying the core principles of Islam, and spirituality in general: acting decently, forgiving before judging, and looking for the good in people. During my time in college, I have found this sense of faith in many surprising places, and it can be a source of great inspiration and strength. I have found a sense of faith in my dear friends who have supported me in times of need and celebrated the successes of my college career. I have found a sense of faith in a graveyard on the first beautiful day of spring, when so much else seemed to be missing from my world. I have found a sense of faith in the joy of a child’s smile while recovering from a surgery that gave him a fresh start to life. And I have found a sense of faith in the quiet solitude of a sunset on a fall day, when all the small concerns that can occupy my time are swept away by the simple grandeur of life. In the midst of sorrow or happiness, in the grand moments and especially in the little ones, faith has become my core and my guide. Faith is about embracing the unknown, with a sense of clarity and purpose. It is my deep sense of a greater meaning and order to life; a purpose to my existence, even it seems beyond me at times.


Prayers of the People

We now come to the time in our service when we turn our hearts and minds to prayer and lift up our lives and ourselves to God.  As we pray together this morning, I will conclude each petition “God, in your mercy.”  Please respond, “Hear our prayer.”  Please assume an attitude and posture of prayer by either remaining seated, standing, kneeling, or coming to the communion rail as we sing together our call to prayer, “Lead Me, Lord.”


God of serendipity, we give thanks for those moments in our lives that we could not have planned and yet which, in the surprise of grace, exceed our every hope and aspiration.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God of hospitality, we are grateful for the communities in which we have received the joy of fellowship, and we invite your Spirit to guide us to be a people of extraordinarily hospitable grace.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God of peace, we pray for a world that is kind, just, and compassionate amidst diversities of perspective, experience, and voice.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God of adventure, we pray for the perseverance, attention, and self-knowledge to take the path of spiritual seeking that, while risky, promises a deeply worthwhile reward.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


Invisible God, we who have never seen your face pray for the grace to see you in the faces of all those we encounter this week, and to display in our faces the radiance of your glory.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God of wholeness, we give thanks for those in our lives who accompany us back from darkness and despair to health and vitality of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


Ever-present God, we are grateful that even when we try to flee from your presence, you remain alongside us, and provide us companions and comforters to lead us into more truth.  Grant us grace also to accompany and comfort those we are given to walk alongside in the path of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


Faithful God, remind us this day and each day that life is good; morning is good; prayer is good; grace is good; love is good; family is good; and you are good; that we may embody goodness and light in your world.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God who calls us into community, help us to live as communities that embody the richness of prayer and ritual that we may nurture and grow faithful people for lives that will be transformative in society and the world.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


Merciful God, help us to find the resources in our faith to be people of common ground, living deeply, practicing meaningful action, and cultivating meaningful connections with others.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


God of grandeur, help us to embrace the unknown that in the quiet solitude of a sunset, when all of the small concerns that can occupy our time are swept away, we may enjoy the simple grandeur of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.


And now, with the confidence of children of God, we are bold to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

May 5

Living Grace

By Marsh Chapel

John 14: 23-29

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.


Come with me for a moment, if you will, and by the mind’s eye, by the imagination, as we walk a little bit across our beloved city.

We can leave Marsh Chapel and head to the left, due east.  The trees and flowers are fragrant and in bloom.  We will saunter and wander down the Commonwealth Mall, past the statues and benches and people enjoying a free Sunday.   At Dartmouth we will turn right, due south.  Now you will want to pause at Copley Square.  Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our sister congregation at Trinity Church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.   Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our brother congregation at Old South church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.  Take a moment with me to read the cards and notes, see the flowers and gifts, in the people’s memorial, there, across from the library.   Remembrance, thanksgiving, presence—you feel them all, these emotions of living grace, these sacramental emotions of living grace.  I want to give us a moment to pause here.  By the living grace of God we can face grief with grace, hatred with honesty, and death with dignity.  There is a spirit of truth loose in the universe, to guide us on our walk this morning.   Many of us have already, personally or individually, made this same hike, but we have done so together, until now, and now we do so, together, by the mind’s eye, by the imagination.  There are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Now we will head back to Marsh Plaza, walking west on Boylston.  These blocks have become brick to brick familiar to the whole globe, not just to those of us in the ‘hub’.  It is important for us to take this walk, and it is important for us to take this walk together.  You may want to look at some running shoes in Marathon Sports.  Or if you like the gracious narthex of the Lennox Hotel, we could rest there a moment.  We will stand for a moment in front of the Forum Restaurant, and there, look for a moment, at another makeshift memorial.  By the living grace of God we can together make our way into the past, in memory, and into the future, in imagination.   We see ourselves being filmed from the camera atop Lord and Taylor.  We greet a friend who is seated in a nearby restaurant.  The eyes film over, somehow.  But we are walking together, and we can walk on.  You can walk fast, or, like me, walk slowly.  It is after all your own imagination.  Take things at your own pace.  Coming back, up Boylston, across Hereford, left on Commonwealth, and on to the Chapel, there are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Two young men of limited abilities, armed with the Internet, $100, and some kitchen utensils, brought the fifth largest metropolitan region in the country to a many day standstill.  Coffin:  God gives us minimum protection and maximum support.  In our neighborhood.   Loss of life and limb, of property and security.  Here.  Present together to receive the living grace of God in Eucharist, present together across the airwaves to receive the living grace of God in the spoken word, we face together all the potentials of an open future and the extent of human freedom.  This is our shared situation.  We need to level with each other about this.


Our Scripture, today in particular and every day in general, promises the presence of the spirit of truth, loose in the universe.  The potential for harm is, like death itself, ever present.  The potential for living grace, like life itself, is ever present.  The psalmist sings of a living grace.  Lydia embraced such a living grace.  John, ever unique, names this grace with a new name, the paraklete, the counselor, the advocate, the holy spirit, who abides in the experience of peace.

For all the familiarity of these lines from John 14, the actual meaning, in history and theology, is darkly or obscurely understood.  In particular the novel figure of the paraclete, related in some manner to the holy spirit, to this day is a source of wonder and perplexity for those who study these passages.  We are standing on high precipice, ice beneath our feet, wind swirling about our temples, as we receive the promise of the counselor.  The living grace of the living God we know in living.  Our scripture assumes that we shall be in need of some counseling, some advocacy, some aid.  We are.

Today such sustenance is given in a living grace, a lively grace that teaches and reminds.  Let me show you.  Let me remind you.  We need to learn and remember, though, the clear statement here.  You will be taught, reminded.  This is you plural, friends.   You all.  The gift of the living grace is made to the gathering, the community, the whole.  Not to you but to YOU.  These things I have spoken to YOU (plural).  While I am still with YOU (plural).  The spirit sent will teach YOU (plural).  Reminding of all that I have said to YOU (plural).  Peace I leave with YOU (plural).  My peace I give to YOU (plural).  Not as the world gives do I give to YOU (plural).

Living grace makes of us a community by making of us an addressable community, speaking to us together:  speaking us together. We may deconstruct the Scripture, but Scripture reconstructs US.  The gospel, spoken and heard, reshapes us into a living grace.  Reclothes us in our rightful minds…That is, in our situation, our SHARED situation, we are promised something, but the promise is to the plural YOU.  YOU, YOU ALL, ALL YOU ALL.  Our way forward, that is, on the strength of this Gospel, lies in forms of partnership—meaning is found in community, belonging is found in fellowship, empowerment is found in friendship.  Each one’s death diminishes me for I am a part of humankind.  The dark mystery of the Counselor remains, but there is nothing unclear about the spirit’s attention—focused on the common, the commonwealth, the common good.

The far too familiar lines of this strange moonscape of a passage come to a crashing conclusion.  ‘Let not your hearts be troubled’.  Heart-S.  We are, at heart, gifts of one another to one another, hearts whose heartbeats are felt by one another, souls whose soul is born in soulful connection to one another, meant to live for one another.

On television sometimes I hear some commentator say, ‘Let not your heart by troubled’.  I want to write in the S at the end.  It changes everything.  Heart-S.

Living grace is the grace to live together, which takes wisdom, power and goodness.  This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.  Together we search for wisdom, power, goodness.

Wisdom forms design, power allows action, goodness does good.  Research, policy, practice.  Teaching, deaning, pastoring.  Preaching is over all.  Eucharist is over all.  Grace is over all.

Let us receive some wisdom about anger.  Our anger is real, and needs to be felt, seen, heard, understood and processed as real.  I refer you to the sermon of April 21.  You will not get away from the marathon bombing without facing your anger, your hatred, even, for those who did this.  Be angry, the Bible says, but let not the sun go down on your anger.  Hate what is evil, the Bible says, but overcome evil with good. We need to acknowledge that anger, even confess it, even speak it, so that we do not repress it.  Beware, my friend, beware the return of the repressed.  You have reason to be angry. Oklahoma, Nineleven, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Boston.  But you also have resources with which to deal with it.

Let us receive some power regarding hatred.  Romans 12: 9 I get…It is the later verse, 20, ‘feed your enemy…and so pour burning coals on him’ that is harder to interpret.   We may in part finally understand, at a gut level, Paul’s admonition.  Is there any other way to channel the anger and honest hatred of evil that we feel?  What a wise leverage, a Syracusan, a Archemedian leverage of anger for good, of hatred for love.  Let us together try it.  We have the possibility of regeneration right here, a living grace.  Shmuel Eisenstadt distinguishes irreversible collapse from ‘collapse with a possibility of regeneration or renewal’ (eg UMC)…’ability to reflect on themselves…reference to shared, lofty visions…allows reshaping…allows continuity…eg Roman Empire and Han Dynasty’ This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.

Let us receive some goodness for the journey.

One wrote: We just wanted to thank you all for your kindness and hospitality.  On Marathon Monday, when our race came to an end at Mile 25, we were so disoriented about what was going on.  Without any cell phones or money, we wandered the streets a while confused about what to do and worried about our loved ones at the finish line.  We met wonderful people that day,.  Some gave us money to get a taxi, but there were none to be found, others told us to go to the chapel and walked us to your doorsteps.  Everyone at the Chapel was so nice and helpful, bringing us food, hot tea, and letting us use your phones.  We felt safe!  You helped us to reunite with our families.  Thank God that they were OK and thank God for all the wonderful and kind people who we met that day at Marsh Chapel.  With love…

Another wrote: I want to express my gratitude and that of my entire family for the comfort and care provided to us on 4/15.  We sought refuge and we received that and more…Your staff was wonderful and their comfort was most appreciated.  It is hard to understand how someone can cause so much pain.  The benefit of being reminded in tangible ways of the goodness and kindness of others helps to create a sense of balance—thank you for that.  Sincerely…

It will take the wisdom, power and goodness of another generation to design, build and desire a better world.  Here is our prayer for them, the class of ’13, but it is truly a prayer for us all:

Seniors:  “13 prayers for the class of ‘13”

May you finish your papers, wake up for your finals, and pass your courses

May you find a job when you are hunting for one, and be found by a calling when you are not (hunting for one)

May you remember your mom on Mothers’ Day, seven days from today

May our recall that there are two ways to be wealthy:  have a lot of money, or, have  very few needs.

May you honestly face death, as we have done this spring, and so discover the precious value of every breath, as we also have done this spring.

May you, with the Greeks, see in tragedy the seedbed of nobility.

May you bring a sense of purpose to days and events which lack both (sense and purpose).

May your return your overdue library books.  May you find your overdue library books.

May you with Samuel Johnson keep your friendships in good repair, with John Wesley and Mother Theresa remember the poor, with Lord Baden Powell do a good turn daily, and with Bill Coffin take yourself lightly so that you may fly, like the angels.

May you have a life long, rapturous, torrid love affair—with Boston, dear old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, and take your first born to Fenway Park, and remember the radiant, sun-dappled happiness of this morning all your days.

May life be good to you, and may you be good to life.

My dear ones, my dear friends, who so resemble my own dear children, may you be safe, may you be well, may you be happy.

May you as a generation find the wisdom to design a better world, acquire the power to build a better world, and have the goodness to want a better world.

May it be so.


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