Archive for September, 2013

Spiritual Imagination in College

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Luke 16: 19-30

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Life

In college—and indeed in life, all of life—a moment of quickened spiritual imagination is at hand.

 

One such may enliven you today, in the ancient story of Lazarus and Dives, a harsh, a tough, a dark tale.

 

Let me ask you a question.  Do you want to do well, or do you want to do good?

 

Here is a fresh-woman, from another country, not sure whether to stay in school, watching the strange behaviors of classmates enjoying their own well-being, and not aware let alone concerned about global hurts and doing good.

 

Here is a young man studying theology and wondering what his future in the world will be and what his future in the church will be and whether in one or the other he will be doing well or doing good.

 

Here is a newly wed couple emerging from the film, ‘the Butler’, jolted by the reminder of deep racial animosities, and wondering about a balance, for the rest of life of achievement and service, of acquisition and generosity, of being well and being good.

 

Here is a woman whose neighbor, just a boy, was killed in April and she wonders what good in the end it is to do well, and what doing well means in the shadow of such a day.

 

Here is a man who has done well, a successful businessman, who lingers in the shadows of the church, listening on the radio, longing for some fuller something, and disappointed in the ministry of the church, so focused as he thinks on being right rather than on doing good.

 

Do you want to do well?  Do you want to do good?  And if rightly you surmise that some balance of the two is what you seek, how in such seeking will you find?

Luke

Through this summer and fall it has been the career of St. Luke to probe your spiritual imagination, at the intersection of well and good.  The gospel, at least as read if not as preached though we hope too as preached, has been circling you, surrounding you, out to capture you with pointed parables and probing questions.  You have every right to be alert.  Listen to Luke…

 

With the dust of the Jericho Road swirling, your spiritual imagination hears, ‘Who do you think proved neighbor to the man who fell among thieves’?

 

With tears on the fatherly cheeks abounding, your spiritual imagination hears, ‘This my son is found.  Should I not have celebrated his return?”

 

With a green visor in front of you, your spiritual imagination hears, ‘What shall I do?  I am too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg?’

 

With a full barn waiting, your spiritual imagination will hear, ‘These possessions, now whose will they be?”

 

With a field of flowers fluttering, your spiritual imagination hears, “Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his life”?

 

With fear and anger floating forward, your spiritual imagination hears, “Do you think I have come to bring peace?”

 

With coins jangling in the pocket, your spiritual imagination hears, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

And were not 10 healed—where are they?  And what a Zaccheus given—half his estate?  And would I not say to the servant, ‘your field work is no substitute for your domestic duties’?

 

The parables of the Gospel According to St. Luke, these holy words and holy reminders of the holy One, the Son of God, are tapping, tapping at your spiritual imagination…And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me filled with fantastic terrors never felt before

The parables of Jesus, the gospel of Luke, the books of the New Testament, the witness of the church, the saints of God, the preaching of the church, the ministry of Marsh Chapel and this sermon itself are hunting for your soul, are searching for your soul, are chasing you, are pursuing you—to ignite your spiritual imagination.

 

Soon, like Lazarus, you will be dead.  Soon, like Dives, I will be dead.   Time flies?  Ah no. Time stays.  We go.  What you are going to do, as Jesus said to Judas, do quickly.  Your incessant quest to do well will not go well unless you do good, too.

Lazarus

Here is Lazarus, whose name means ‘God heals’.   He has had no earthly blessing, no purple robe, no fine linen, no sumptuous meal every day.  Here is the rich man, traditionally known as Dives, from the Latin for ‘rich’.  He has known no earthly bane, sores, hunger, dog bites.  This old, old story, probably predating the Christian era, perhaps coming up out of Egpyt, is out to get us, to quicken the spiritual imagination.

 

The parable accosts us with a stark forecast of death, proximate and personal, as does the benediction in every Marsh Chapel service of worship.

 

The parable accosts us with a ringing reminder of the irreversibility of time, the permanent loss of time past, as does the sung Kyrie in every Marsh Chapel service of worship.

The parable accosts us with a plain, unvarnished harsh admonishment about economic justice—the divine economy in which those who have much have not too much and those who have little have not too little—as does the offertory, offering and offertory prayer in every Marsh Chapel service of worship.

 

The parable accosts us with a direct assault on the soul, on the human soul, on your soul and mine, as does the sermon in every Marsh Chapel service of worship.

 

The parable means to awaken your spiritual imagination.

 

Do you want to do well or do you want to do good?  Granted that the answer is ‘both’, then where is the balance, where the bridge, where the dialectic, where the dialogue between the two.  Can we do well by doing good?  Is there a way to do good on the basis of doing well?  If you have not done well at all your capacity to do good will be limited and if you do no good what is it to have done well?

 

There are two ways to be wealthy:  have a lot of money or have very few needs.

 

At age 19, I was taught how to help sail a sail boat, a ‘Flying Dutchman’.  The elderly lawyer whose boat it was, due to age and to a compromised leg, needed someone to crew for him.  I knew nothing about sailing and must have endlessly frustrated him as I learned.  His world—a yacht club, the boat, different clothing and cars and refreshments than I had know in a parsonage growing up—was all new to me.  Gradually we improved along the ten mile inland lake.  We even started coming in ahead of dead last on the Saturday races.   The lawyer by the way had done well but he had also done a lot of good, including in his tutelage of me.   One day when we had mastered the mainsail, down and up, and had mastered the jib, up and down, and the wind was full in our back and the sun bright and hot he shouted:   ‘now for the spinnaker’.    That third sail made us fly.  It depended on the set up of the other two and a good wind from the stern.  But it was the addition that made all the rest ‘sail’.

 

I think some of our institutions, when they have done well with two sails, might want to think about doing good by putting up the third, by directly doing good without intention of gain.  I think some of our colleges, when they have done well with two sails, might want to do good by putting up a third, a kind of spiritual spinnaker, by directly helping others without intention of gain.  I think some of our professionals, who have done well with in life, mainsail and jib, might want to do good by putting up a kind of spiritual spinnaker, by directly helping others without benefit of gain.  I think some of our bright students, who have done well, from SAT to MCAT to LSAT, might want to do some good by putting up that third sail to catch the full wind of the full spirit of the full presence of God.

 

Even in college you may find a moment when a word spoken, like this parable, quickens, enlives, saves, heals and makes your spiritual imagination whole.  This—right now—may be that moment.  Right now.

‘Lege’

 

Or, the maturation of your spiritual imagination may come later, as you read, study and grow.

You are in college.  You are here to read.  “Take and read.”

Hunt for the quiet places.  Find yourself in front of the sculpture of Arthur Fiedler, on a bench.  Sit farther along the river, as the sun sets.  Make permanent friends with the quiet pews of Marsh Chapel and the hidden crannies of the library.  Locate that 2am diner like the one at breakfast that helped Fred Craddock become a preacher.  Find the Public Library reading room, a beautiful spot. When others are at war with the administration, you read.  When others are cursing their professors, you read.  When others are finding fault with faculty hairstyles, you read.  Learn with to “sanctify ambition, not crucify it” (A Pierson).  A close distinction in a careful reading of life.  Learn with Hildegard of Bingham to “become one’s ownmost”.  Learn with 19th century Methodism the lasting danger of poor financial planning.  Learn the merits of disciplined sacramental observance.  All this and more, you can read in the books of your teachers in this finest of Methodist schools.  Read what you want, what you need, when you want, as you need.

And what relationship shall the reader have to the read?  Who among us does anywhere near enough to deconstruct our own various contexts?  Is the text to have the sole divining voice, or is the reader king?  What of the relationship between the unsaid and the uttered?  In reading, how do ranges of power dance with colors of truth?  Is the truth of Scripture the sole truth?  Or one truth among many?  Or primus inter pares?  Or an anachronism altogether?    How then do you read?

Carefully.

Misreading intelligence can land a nation in the soup of a civil war.  Misreading tests can land a patient in the wrong surgical suite.  Misreading accounts payable can land a business in bankruptcy.  Misreading a traffic signal can land you in the ditch.  Most of these have healing solutions available within one generation.  Spiritual misreading lasts for several generations.  It takes three of four generations to bring correction to a sincere or not so authentic spiritual misreading.  Be careful how you read, for how read is how you think, and how you think is how you act.

Here is an October Saturday in the sun.  Read in the city! Take, Read.  Read along with those who also rose to preaching amid the ruins of the church. You rise, books in tow, and walk the Emerald Necklace.  You walk.  At Emmanuel College you read a new book on.  Bunker HillYou walk.  At the Riverway you read A Bavevich, The Limits of Power.  You walk.  At Jamaica Pond you read  M Proust,  The Remembrance of Things Past.   Then you read Vaclev Havel, on almost anything.  But perhaps this fall you read his thoughts on suicide…sentinels… You walk, and you lunch.  After lunch you read H Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited.  Boston is your campus.  Then, resting at Jamaica Pond, you pull out a chapter from the Confessions of St. Augustine.

Augustine did well for a long time—eminent scholar, teacher of rhetoric, African philosopher, admirer of Ambrose.  As a student he did very well.  His Confessions is the primer, the original, the prototype for student life ever since, from 400ce until today.  But like Dives, though sooner, Augustine found his spiritual imagination was kindled…

Now when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. That I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that even his presence was no restraint upon me. This was the way I felt at the time, and he realized it. I suppose I had said something before I started up and he noticed that the sound of my voice was choked with weeping. And so he stayed alone, where we had been sitting together, greatly astonished. I flung myself down under a fig tree–how I know not–and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: “And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities.” For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tolle lege, tolle lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Do you want to do well or do you want to do good?  The gospel addresses you, addresses your spiritual imagination, today.

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

 

Spiritual Health in Change

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Luke 16: 1-13

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Opening

 

Before us today stands Jesus Christ, robed in mystery and announced in a strange parable.  There is no easy interpretation for this parable.  Why is its hero, my favorite accountant, commended for dishonesty which is a breach of the ninth commandment? We do not know.  Why is his master happy to be cheated?  We cannot say.  Why is an accountant’s swindle upheld, in this parable here attributed to Jesus, as a preparation, somehow, for heaven? No one can tell.  What, please, does verse 9, as tangled in the Greek as it is in your bulletin, intend (“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations”? )We do not see.  What possible connection is there between the story, and the four trailing proverbs?  Little at all, except that they all deal with money.  How did this story make it into Luke’s travel narrative?  It is not clear.  Is this dishonest manager our role model, in the church, as we try to “manage wealth in the direction of justice?” (Ringe)  Perhaps!  And, most of all, where is Jesus, The Divine Mystery Incarnate, to be found in our reading today? The parable of the dishonest steward has really just one meaning, and it is very good news: Faith gives spiritual health in the midst of change, including the transition into college life.

 

1. Mysterious Presence

Let us recall the mystery of Christ, the Stranger in our midst.  We can announce his presence today, again today.  He is among us:  dealing with issues we dismiss…speaking with people whom we dislike…considering options we disdain…selecting vocations that do not yet fully exist…expanding spaces that we constrict…accepting lifestyles that we reject…attending to possibilities that we ignore…approaching horizons that we avoid…healing wounds that we disguise…questioning assumptions that we enjoy…protecting persons whom we mistreat…making allowances that we distrust.  So, strangely, is He among us.

 

Strangely his voice addresses us.  You may mistake is strange presence for absence.  Then a voice you have not heard for 50 years, since Vatican II arises.  You open the newspaper, as perhaps you did on Friday, to read the statement of the Bishop of Rome, Francis: It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time…We have to find a new balance, otherwise (we will lose) the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel…When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? The church is the home of all…We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our own mediocrity (NYT, 9/20/13)

 

For the mystery of Jesus Christ falls upon us, approaches us, and enchants us, when and where we least expect Him.  In the strange world of the Bible.  In the midst of the community of strangers that is the Church.  Hidden in the brutal estrangement of our personal life.  Here, behold, the Lord Christ Jesus, “L’Etranger”, “The Stranger”.

 

Contrary to some preaching, even televised and popular preaching today, his presence is neither simple, nor surface, nor easy, nor fundamental, nor shallow, nor ideological, nor one dimensional, nor ahistorical, nor primarily political.  He draws us, lures us, and enchants us.  So he sets us free.

 

For St. Luke in chapters 9 to 19 has captured a collage of portraits of Jesus, “On the Road”.  We are on a journey, as Luke reminds the church.  We are making a trip to the promised land.  We are headed in a certain direction.  With our spiritual forebears, we are traveling, on a journey.  Israel left Canaan to go to Egypt to find bread.  There they became the slaves of Pharaoh.  But Moses led them out, parted the Red Sea, and guided them through the wilderness.  He brought them the ten commandments.  At last, he sent them forth, with Joshua, to inhabit the land flowing with milk and honey.  In such a glorious land, they hunted and farmed.  They even built a temple, and chose a King.  Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon reigned, but were followed by others less wise and less strong.  Although the prophets did warn them, the children of Israel left their covenant and their covenant God, and at last suffered the greatest of defeats, the destruction of Jerusalem and the return to slavery in Babylon, 587bc.  On these hundreds of years of history depends the cry of Jeremiah, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep, night and day, for the slain of my poor people.” (9:1)  Like Israel marching in chains to Babylon, and then trudging home again two generations later, we people of faith are on a journey, from slavery to freedom.  Faith heals, manages, handles the hardest of change.

 

Luke’s mysterious Christ meets us today, hidden in the maelstrom of wild, unexpected change and economic crisis.  On the road, the journey of faith, the Gospel of Luke has most to say, and Jesus most regularly addresses, the issue of money.  Remember how Luke traces the Gospel.  Mary in the Magnificat honors the poor.  John the Baptist preaches justice, in the great, unique tradition of the Hebrew prophets, from Amos forward.  Isaiah’s words and hopes are affirmed.  Jesus blesses the poor, not just the poor in spirit, in his ‘sermon on the plain’.  Remember the parable of the ‘rich fool’, “tonight is your soul required of you, and these riches, whose shall they be?”  Luke sets Christian discipleship at odds with, in contest with, anxiety about possessions.  And, by the way, great ready in conclusion, to meet Lazarus and Dives.  Jesus Christ calls us to manage our possessions toward justice, both as a community and as a community of faith and as individuals.

 

2. Personal Application

 

But you may wonder whether this parable speaks to you, especially if you are in financial calamity.  Along Luke’s Jerusalem road, Jesus has a healing word to say about possessions, money, and wealth.

 

To me it is clear that the chief communal issue before Luke’s (Antioch?) congregation was the management of wealth.  This means that they had money.  This also means that they did not immediately throw it away.  This further means that they reasoned that the apocalypse of the end was not so very near that no financial planning was necessary.  This additionally means, as Luke’s writing shows, that they were trying to learn to become prudent, astute, imaginative, shrewd, clever, insightful, accountable, enterpreneurial managers.  So they are reminded, in argument from less to more:  “Keep faith in the little things, to be ready for the big ones.”  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  “Be faithful with money, which belongs to God, so that you will become faithful in soul, which belongs to you.”  A stitch in time saves nine.  “Do your pre-season training with possessions, so that you will be ready for the regular gridiron season of the spirit.”  Look before you leap.  Be penny wise, not pound foolish.

 

In other words, “use possessions so as to gain, not to lose, your future” (Craddock).    Be creative.  “For all the dangers of possessions, it is possible to manage goods in ways appropriate to life in the Kingdom of God” (Ringe).  Remember that you are a manager of someone else’s accounts, an absentee landlord who has a claim.  And go ahead, be clever.  Be creative and loyal, but if you have to choose—be creative.

 

In other words, whether you are 18 or 98, attention to, stewardship of, care for resources matters, and matters greatly.

3. The Gospel of the Dishonest Manager

 

The deeper truth in this passage, though, is simply that faith heals and handles change.  Faith carries the power to master the vicissitudes of change.   Ultimately, this parable cannot be interpreted along moral, or economic, or even political lines.  So read, it makes no real sense.  Luke has gone ahead to read the parable so, in part, by appending the four proverbs about fiduciary fidelity.  We have honored his teaching.  But the parable itself says something else.  Like the mystery of Christ itself, the story is not moral but mystical, not theoretical but theological, not law but grace.  It is good news.

 

The good news is that faith heals and handles change.

 

A man gets the pink slip, and leaves under suspicion, with the sheriff on the way.  He is looking at doing time. He is on the lamb. He is headed for jail, prison, the lockup, the pokey, hoosegow, calaboose, the slammer, the joint, the tank, in stir, goin’ up the river, doin’ time, in the brig, the gray bar hotel, the big house, the can.  (Isn’t language wonderful?  As the steel magnolias said, “accessorize—it’s the only thing that separates us from the animal kingdom”.  I would add speech.)  He is not a moral exemplar. But just as his ingenuity handles the sudden change in his circumstance, so the powerful grace of faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, handles the constant change of life.

 

Faith manages change, masters change.   So Paul can shout, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20).  The faith of Jesus Christ, working heteronomously through life, handles change.  Faith is nimble, not flatfooted; agile not stolid; creative not programmed; shrewd not complacent; quick not quiescent; fast not slow.

 

Notice what my favorite accountant does not do.  He does not only, merely, just, pray, go to temple, seek ministerial counsel, bellyache, celebrate his victimhood, join the choir, or leave it all up to Jesus.  He does not say, ‘let Go let God’.   He does not claim that God has done this to him.  In fact, the faith here acclaimed has no religious clothing at all. No, he does none of that. Rather, he responds, shrewdly.  He finds the faith to handle change, and lives the faith that handles change.  Change is real hard, and real good.  Like life, like love, like faith, like…any of the things of God.  I think back, with the joy of faith when grace is present, to all the times I have seen spiritual health emerge, as faith handled and healed change.

 

Last week, around September 11, I could not help think of the way people responded on that fateful autumn day, 12 years ago. In August I had driven across the George Washington Bridge, filled with emotions still present, a dozen years later I think of a young father and others on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.  Somehow, amid sudden and calamitous change, they found the courage to act in a way that, at least in part, handled change.  They even had the presence of mind to call home first.  Faith handles change.

 

I could not help think of the men in New York who carried a person in a wheelchair down dozens of flights of stairs.  Faith handles change. Faith handles change. The faith of Jesus Christ, our salvation, does not fear to change, nor does faith fear change.  Faith manages change.

 

I think of all the meetings I have attended in the last three decades.  You know, there is a grace and beauty to meetings, at their best.  You can see this ordinary grace at work in most group, staff, university, church, community meetings, where faith is called upon to handle change.

 

It makes you wonder whether there is collectively an unforeseen, creative, shrewd response to our changed circumstance as a people, now contemplating our response to Syria.  How to meet violence with patient justice…hmmm…in the trust that faith handles change.  This is the faith of Jesus Christ, apart from which all else is sin.

 

Returning to Boston after the summer, walking on Boylston Street, I could not help but think of the women and men, on April 15, who found the faith, as first responders, as innocent bystanders, as people on the scene at the finish line of the Marathon, who found faith that brought healing to radical, horrific change.  I think I saw some of your there.

 

Watching students, particularly freshmen, navigate the waters of student life, I cannot help think of the ways, with help and faith and encouragement, that so many have found healing ways, faithful ways, to handle the change, to find spiritual health as college begins.  On the crowded noontime paseo along Commonwealth I think I hear some whispering:  I will study hard.  I will say no when I need to.  I will take a daily walk in Boston and monthly trip to the ocean.  I will explore the world around me.  I will have some fun along the way.  I will invest in the joy of making lasting, lifelong friends.  You can remember this week:  Faith heals, faith heals by handling change.

 

Keep this portrait of the shrewd manager in your wallet, especially for the days your wallet is empty.  Especially for those days when your heart is heavy, your spirit is sour, your souls is sagging.  This accountant meets the report of his mismanagement, itself possibly false, with calm.  He does not try to change the world, or this news.  He raises the basic question with courage:  “what shall I do?”  He thinks creatively, acts entrepreneurially, communicates astutely, relates cleverly, strategizes shrewdly…and lands on his feet.   When times change, he does too.

 

And Jesus commends him, I guess.

 

And Luke commends him, I guess.

 

And even his old boss commends him, I guess.

 

You can’t help but love the guy…

 

Oh:  And I have no idea what verse 9 means.

 

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

Lost and Found

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

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We at Marsh Chapel are committed to the lectionary. We stray from time to time, of course, but on the whole, we stick to the Revised Common Lectionary. Following the lectionary helps to order consistent worship, it serves to educate children and adults week after week, and it is an excellent spiritual discipline, but I will admit, when I saw the lectionary readings for this Sunday, the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, year C, I strongly considered scrapping the lectionary altogether. I mean, come on, it’s only two weeks into the school year, do we have to read Jeremiah already?

Of all the Prophets in the Hebrew bible, major or minor, Jeremiah is the only one to get his own word, jeremiad, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “A lamentation; a writing or speech in a strain of grief or distress; a doleful complaint; a complaining tirade.” The prophet Jeremiah is remembered as so down, so distressed, so doleful, so complaining, that the Vulgate, Jerome, and Origen all attribute the book of Lamentations to him.

Have you ever been to the Boston Public Library? If you are new to Boston, and have not yet made your way to Copley Square, do go. Walking among endless stacks of books can be as meditative and relaxing as, say, a walk along the beach. Boston’s common temple dedicated to the free and public access to the intellectual fruits of human history is blessed with a room full of John Singer Sargent murals, entitled “The Triumph of Religion.” The east wall has a frieze of prophets, sixteen life-size portrayals, and John Singer Sargent tailors each to the specific character of the biblical figure. Isaiah stands, arms at shoulder height, hands and eyes reaching upwards, his features caught somewhere between despair and dawning hope. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, hides behind Isaiah, face ducking, turning away from the viewer. And Jeremiah, Jeremiah stands wrapped in a washed out white robe, hands hidden, body hidden, with his chin down, mourning. His posture is far less theatrical, far less posed than the other figures. The dark gash of his mouth and the shadows around his eyes make it seem as though he has been captured mid-sob. As you scan the frieze, other prophets look angry, ashamed, even tortured, but only Jeremiah looks so completely and utterly lost.

And feeling a little lost is actually a pretty appropriate place to be two weeks into the school year. I’m sure most of us, especially if it is our first year at Boston University, have lost SOMETHING or gotten lost sometime in the past few weeks. You might have gone to the wrong classroom, lost your student ID, felt a little lost in your organic chemistry lecture, felt lost without your high school friends around, or maybe, just maybe, you got lost in the GAP. Not the gap between the T and the platform, or the apparel store, but the GAP. You know: Gardner, Ashford, and Pratt streets.

My freshman year at Boston University, I lost an umbrella in the first two weeks of school. Not too bad, you might say. But I lost my umbrella in such spectacular fashion that it left me feeling lost and adrift for weeks and months into my freshman year.

With no social prospects for the weekend, feeling a little lonely and a lot uncertain, I went with a small group of people to a house in the GAP. Someone lent me $5 because I didn’t know you needed $5, and I was suddenly handed a red cup and ushered in the door. It was rainy, and a little cold, but the girls had dressed up, so we deposited our coats and umbrellas in a large walk-in closet, and were quickly ushered to the unfinished cement basement. The steps were rickety, wooden, and I thought they’d give way any moment under our teetering high heels. There were almost no lights, so it wasn’t until I made it to the bottom that I realized just how crowded it was; there were more than a hundred people, shoulder to shoulder, jammed in like a can of sardines. Music was blaring and the crowd moved with it. With more people trying to get down the stairs behind me, I saw no alternative but to enter the flow of the crowd. I immediately felt claustrophobic, uncomfortable, overheated. I suddenly realized this basement had no doors except the one I’d just entered, no windows, no way out except those rickety stairs. My mind began to race; what if the cops came? What if everyone panicked and tried to leave at once? What if I got separated from my friends? I wanted to leave, but the movements of the crowd forced me to make a long, slow, procession around the edge of the basement, passing luge, pong table, and sound system. Thirty minutes later, I was finally able to fight my way out of the basement. Our group decided to leave before things got too out of hand, and we worked our way against the flow of traffic back to the coat closet. Except when we got there, the door to the closet was now closed. A handwritten sign claimed the closet as the VIP room, and heavy, sweet smoke wafted from under the door, accompanied by the kind of soundtrack best left off the radio airwaves. My friend’s wonderful boyfriend gallantly volunteered to retrieve our things, sucked in his breath, opened the door, and disappeared. He emerged a few minutes later, looking positively shell-shocked, but with our coats in hand. I looked plaintively at him and asked, “My umbrella?” “I’m NOT going back in there,” he said.

And that is how I lost my umbrella my freshman year. But I really did only lose an umbrella. It could have been much, much worse. I wasn’t arrested, the building didn’t catch on fire, I didn’t blackout. Losing an umbrella, no matter how dramatically, does not register on the scale of human history or even my own life. But the feelings of my experience that night lingered. I felt, in a word, lost. And from there, my emotions became entangled in an increasingly knotted mess; Was this the only way to meet people in college? Maybe I just wasn’t cool enough for BU. Other people must have been having fun at that party, right? I mean, people looked like they were having fun. Why did I have to be lame and leave? Did my very new-found “friends” judge me for leaving?

I hardly left my dorm after that weekend, even avoiding the tame, University-sponsored Halloween party in my own brownstone a few weeks later. I felt too lost, too alone, too overwhelmed. As you can imagine, it was a very lonely semester for me in my dorm room, and it took a long time before I didn’t feel so lost.

 

If we’re honest, students, especially freshmen students, often do one of two things when confronted with the GAP, when they feel that initial pang of discomfort. They either do what I did; they avoid getting involved on campus, they stay in their dorm room on the weekends, g-chatting with their high school friends and retreating into the digital world of Facebook and Twitter. Or, they force down that discomfort, along with some cheap liquor, and throw themselves into the only cultural option they believe exists: party culture. Either way, alone in a dorm room or with a hundred people in a crowded basement, you feel lost. Self-conscious, adrift, directionless, alone, despairing, frustrated, numb, lost.

The human experience of feeling lost is universal, but the expression of that feeling is boundless in its possibilities. When people feel lost, they sometimes say and do terrible things to themselves and one another. And feeling lost is not only a solitary experience. It only takes a quick glance at our newspapers, at the dialogue and debate surrounding Syria, to notice a creeping feeling of “lostness” in the way we talk to and about one another. When diplomatic, non-military options come not from reasoned consideration or genuine dialogue but from angry, off-hand remarks at a press conference, you can’t help but feel we’re a little lost. Our reading from Jeremiah today, our little lectionary jeremiad, is a very human expression of that same lost-ness. The book of Jeremiah is set in the period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian empire in 587 BCE. Jeremiah, looking around, knows something is wrong. He feels as though the people of Jerusalem are lost, headed down the wrong path. This reading is full of personal and collective despair, personal and collective loss. This angry, ranting prophecy, this imagined rush of hot air from on high, is a very human response to a very human feeling of lost-ness, that same feeling that wreaks havoc on college campuses every fall.

But how do we move from lost to found? I think we’ve already heard the answer, preached two weeks ago at our matriculation service by Dean Hill, with his hand on the altar, the table of the Lord’s Supper: history and mystery. I choose two different terms, though, for this day, for this set of lectionary readings, for this moment, two weeks in to a school year: Memory and Grace.

That memory is a solution to lost-ness is, of course, obvious. When we lose our way on campus or lose our student ID, we really should only need to access our memory, to overcome an unfortunate mental block. I lose my keys far more often than anyone my age should lose anything, and my husband will often ask, “Well, where did you have them last?” How frustrating! As if it were that easy! Memory is not some magical switch you can turn on or off, it is a difficult process of digging, sifting, sorting. It is some of the hardest, most mind-breaking work there is.

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate who passed away just a few weeks ago, wrote a poem in 1966 which hauntingly encapsulates the intersection of memory and loss. It’s called

 

 

“Digging:”

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

 

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

 

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

 

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

 

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

 

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

 

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.
This is a poem, in one sense, about vocation. Heaney only discovers a sense of his vocation, who and how he is called to be in the world, through a process of memory. The words only pour from pen to paper as he recalls the hard, physical labor of his father and grandfather, digging in field and turf. It is only through remembering that he is able to move from a sense of loss and being lost “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them/” to found: “Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.”

What memory work do we need as a country? How can we dig around, in the collective recesses of our minds, to find a way to engage in civil discourse and diplomacy? What memory work do we need to do as a church? How can we dig around, in tradition and scripture with reasoned discipline to address our experiences today? What memory work do we need to do as a school? How can we dig around in our institutional memory, our history of openness and inclusion to answer real, hard questions about who is included and excluded today? What memory work do you need to do? Where do you need to dig in your memory to find your ownmost self, your sense of call, your vocation?

What memories should we dig into in order to begin to find ourselves?

Now that’s a fascinating phrase in American English parlance…we often talk about “finding ourselves.” You’ll often hear something like, “Emily is backpacking through Europe to find herself,” or “Josh chose that college because he really wanted to find himself.” The implication is that we can find ourselves in exactly the same way we would find a lost set of keys or a misplaced ID. The onus is all on us. This is a guilt-inducing turn of phrase; if we somehow end up feeling lost, it must be our fault; perhaps we haven’t had the right experience, we haven’t looked in the right place. I’ve studied a few languages in my years of school, and I’ve never studied another language where the verb “to find” is used reflexively the way we often use it in America.

The gospel message this morning pushes back on this colloquialism, speaks back to a cultural parlance where we must find our own way out of feeling lost. Our Gospel this morning tells us that we are sought out; we do not and cannot find ourselves on our own, but instead can be found. In the parables this morning of lost sheep and lost coin we are neither shepherd nor woman but rather beloved sheep and precious coin. God seeks us out with the urgency of a shepherd climbing frantically on a mountainside or a woman frantically sweeping under the furniture. Grace is the serendipitous moment of being found.

And doesn’t this ring true with our experience? I know I didn’t venture out of my dorm room again on my own. I stopped feeling lost when my roommate dragged me to the dining hall, night after night, dragged me to the movies, dragged me to the theater, dragged me to a dance. And, on the other end of the spectrum, so many students caught up in a cycle of self-destructive behavior are only able to break the cycle when a friend says, “I’m concerned,” a faculty person says, “You’re grades aren’t where they could be,” or an administrator says, “I know you have something to contribute to campus life.” These moments are grace-filled. From the wisdom of others who have walked the way before us, we learn that there are many ways to belong on a college campus, many ways to have fun without buying into the myth of party culture, a myth that teaches that you can only find yourself by losing yourself.

So, if you’re feeling a little lost two weeks into this semester, start trying to remember who you are and where you’ve come from.

And if you’re not feeling quite so lost, take a look around. Is there anyone you can help find their way? To whom can you offer the gift of grace that you have experienced, that has brought you safe thus far, and the grace that will bring you home.

As a first overture, a first step, here is my top ten list of things you can do, even as a Freshman, with a group of friends, late at night, on a budget, without falling into the GAP. These are all above and beyond the hundreds of university-sponsored events occuring on-campus during any given week. You might find yourself, or be found, by doing one or more of the following:

  1. Walk along the esplanade, cross the Mass Ave bridge (follow the smoots), walk along the river along memorial drive, and see BU’s campus from the other side of the river. Pass the BU boathouse, cross the BU bridge, stopping at the middle to admire the skyline.
  2. Play mafia. See me after worship for the rules if you don’t know how to play. Or apples to apples, cards against humanity, etc. etc.
  3. Take the T to the north end. Buy pastries from both Mike’s and Modern. Compare.
  4. Host a microfridge Iron Chef competition. Pick a secret ingredient. $5 buy-in. All food must be prepared in a dorm microfridge.
  5. Go to a midnight movie showing at the Coolidge Corner Theater. Or go to a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  6. Make a “parkour-style” obstacle course using the permanent work-out equipment on the Esplanade. The winner gets bragging rights.
  7. Spring for some classy late-night dining on the cheap; try Finale, the late-night menu at Eastern Standard, or many others.
  8. Go to a poetry reading, an improv show, or an open-mic night at an 18+venue.
  9. Rent Hubway bikes (wear a helmet!) and bike somewhere you’ve never been.

10.  Get cultured: get $15 Huntington theater tickets, check out Third Thursdays at the Isabella Stewart Gardner, or even see some Shakespeare like you’ve never seen Shakespeare before by going to the Donkey Show (the 70’s disco performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, hosted at the “Oberon.”)

Lost and Found. Memory and Grace. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to end there, but it’s always worth getting trusted feedback when you’re a little unsure or when a task is particularly difficult, whether it’s a paper, a job application, or a sermon. Faced with a difficult lectionary and an even more difficult theme, I got a little input, and I was asked, “You talk a lot about party culture. Do you have a theology of partying?”

I will end, then, with a working draft of my theology of partying. “When you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “Does this help me to find myself, or am I doing this to lose myself?”

Amen.

~Rev. Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate

 

Spiritual Fulfillment in College

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Luke 14: 25-35

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

 

Your spiritual fulfillment in these years may come from an honest, full reading of Scripture, an earnest, full exercise of reason, and an ample, full appreciation of tradition.

Scripture

Consider a verse of scripture:  “Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33)

You may have occasion to take a quiet walk this week. On the Esplanade.  Down through the Public Garden.  Along the Emerald Necklace.  Out on the beach.  (Your monthly ocean visit, which you promised last Sunday), As you walk, wander, and wonder, as you saunter with a saintly step, along the Commonwealth Mall, say, ponder our Scripture today.

Luke’s collection of sayings here, Luke 14: 25, in the middle of ten chapters or so, Luke 9-19,  that are Luke’s own developed composition, including many of the most memorable teachings of primitive Christianity that are nonetheless not found elsewhere (the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and Coin, the Prodigal Son, and other), are, in all honesty, somewhat inelegantly jumbled together, in ways that do not necessarily fully harmonize.

(Following Augustine’s advice that a sermon in form should resemble the form of the Scripture on which it is based, you here are offered in this sermon a collection of teachings that in all honesty are somewhat inelegantly jumbled together, in ways that do not fully harmonize (J)!)

Luke 14: 25ff. is composed near the end of the first century, the dating of Luke being somewhere between the writing of Mark, and Luke’s first citation in other sources—a wide berth to be honest.

The passage carries a hyperbolic dominical saying, not unlike the hyperbole in ‘if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out’, setting distance, a disciplined existential distance, between self and parents, self and spouse, self and progeny, self and family, self and security.  (Following in faith will include loss and conflict.)  Striking, isn’t it, how this prediction of leaving kith and kin, leaving home, intersects with the experience of coming to college?

Our text is perhaps best understood in Matthew’s rendering, (Matthew and Luke both have received the sayings from a shared earlier document, known by scholars as ‘Q”) ’‘whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matt 10:37)

The use of the image of the cross probably means it was originally composed in the preaching of the church, not in the teaching of the Lord, whose cross was not yet, after all, at this point in the gospel narrative, on the horizon.  There is not a direct line, if there is any line at all, from Luke 14, in 90ad, to Jesus’ teaching, in 30ad.

Luke 14 is addressed to men (notice the absence, as S Ringe reminds us, of husbands in the list of those to be hated), a further indication Luke, largely inclusive of women, is using a document he has inherited, Q.

The reading does not reject the significance of every day economic, social, familial, political and even military life—the mini parables of tower and king keep our feet on the ground.  That is, there is a real respect here for what we might call common sense.  “Prudent action is the essential theme” (Ringe, LUKE, op. cit).

Luke 14  asks, in a serendipitously timely and direct way for us, considering Syria, that we count the cost.  The cost of a project.  The cost of a plan.  The cost of a conflict.  The cost of going to war.

Strictly speaking, the collection of sayings and mini-parables,(again, some written by Luke, some coming to us from the collection we call “Q”, then perhaps shaped by Luke) do not come to a neat conclusion in vs 33, the need to renounce all possessions.  The general point is clear enough though:  discipleship costs.  Nor, in sum, is this a call to asceticism, but more a ‘simple readiness for God’s demand’ (R Bultmann).

Syria

Consider a second verse of Scripture: “What king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Lk 14: 32)

On your walk, you might be thinking about Syria.

You might be quietly thankful to live in a great country like ours wherein the uses of power, with responsibility, are considered and discussed.  Where a president turns to a congress for deliberation, debate and vote.  Where women and men in military service serve others by serving the cause of peace, and the keeping of the peace.

If I were with you I might chime in with a heartfelt gratitude for the freedom of the pulpit, and of this pulpit.  Our community has graciously over time listened to what it did not always like, and protected the statement of what it did not always affirm.  That is truly gracious.  We should bluntly repeat that on these things, grave issues of war and peace, people of good heart and mind, of good will and spirit, can honestly differ, and disagree.

You might also be thinking about religious teaching about war and peace. (I notice by Google, by the way, that there is exactly one book of sermons, in print, addressing the war in Iraq, 2001-2007.  I can tell you the ISBN number, if you like (J). )

From several rehearsals here, others with you might remember that our tradition has two sorts of teachings here, pacifism and activism.  On the left hand, we have the earliest teaching, Matt. 5 and elsewhere, not to resist the evil one, a pacifist tradition with far support than just the Mennonites, Quakers, Amish and others.  In fact this chapel and our school of theology, including my namesake Allan Knight Chalmers, embraced pacifism over many years, years ago.  ‘If anyone smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’.  But our debate today is more on the other hand, the right hand if you will, Rom. 13 and elsewhere, of just war theory.   Here is the recognition, speaking of wisdom and innocence, serpents and doves, that justice for the lamb sometimes means resistance to the wolf.  It will be easy, finger by finger, for you to remember the issues and questions in this second form of Christian teaching:  is the action responsive not preemptive?, multilateral not unilateral?, ameliorative not imperial?, foresighted not unforeseeable?, proportionally limited not potentially limitless?

In the particular case of Syria 2013, grateful for presidential leadership that is war wary if not war weary, and willing to engage discussion, other questions may touch you, as, now studying in a great University, you exercise your reason.

What is the exact desired outcome?;  what the possible unintended consequences?;  why 90 days for a 1 to 2 day missile shot across the bow?; who quietly or silently, and for what reasons, is propelling this?; for enforcement of an international norm to be real, must it be military, or are there credible other options? Just what would a limited, proportional, meaningful deterrent be?;  have we exhausted every serious form of serious diplomacy?; what sort of precedents are we setting?.

Alternatively, what are the costs to peace and order of inaction in the face of 1400 gassed to death?; does not such a ‘brazen breach of an important norm’ require response if such a norm is not completely to unravel?; is the country war weary or war wary or both?; can we say and do more for refugees, some 2 million today from Syria, than we have done?;  why have the Arab League, European countries, NATO, the EU, the UN and so far congress been unwilling to enter a coalition of the willing?; is what is popular necessarily what is right?; how are we truly and best to ‘deliberate carefully, choose wisely, and embrace our responsibility’ (B Obama, 9/6/13)?;  what are we going to do about this?.

For now, we here will raise these questions, and watch and listen as the debate ensues this week.  We shall affirm, though, listening to Luke 14, as well, that the skeptical voices need carefully to be heard, both from within the church and from within the culture.

Sunshine

Consider a third verse of Scripture: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27).

Your walk may bring you back past Marsh Chapel.  Think if you do about our time here two days ago, on Friday.

It was a beautiful, sun-dappled, bright Friday on Marsh Plaza.  Thanks to the College of Arts and Sciences, ice cream was served from four formal stations, and hundreds came to partake.  The chapel organ was booming, as musicians prepared for a busy weekend.  The Charles River glistened beyond ‘the beach’.   Blue sky, cool air, communal gathering—and ice cream.  A happy hour or two, on September 6.

I watched as Terriers older and younger sample the ice-cuisine.  Some looked into the chapel—named for a Methodist minister, our fourth president, Daniel Marsh, as is the plaza itself.  Some squinted up at John Wesley, above the front chapel door, in a robe, reading his Bible—the founder of Methodism, an English Protestant movement, in the 1700’s.  A couple, finished with their cones, looked in at the Connick stained glass windows, glanced at the Methodist hymnals in the pews, and peer at Abraham Lincoln (not a Methodist himself, though his biography—personal faithfulness, and social responsibility—epitomized the best of Methodism in his nineteenth century).   Three young men ringed the Boston University seal, next to the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, and, avoiding stepping on the seal, read its motto, crafted long ago by Daniel Marsh, a thoroughly Methodist triad:  learning, virtue, and piety.   I wondered:  how could I briefly say to these hundreds just what lasting meaning the Methodist provenance of Boston University continues to have?  What difference does it make that in 1839 John Dempster—at Methodist minister from upstate New York—founded the theological seminary that later became our University?  After all, BU today is a large, urban, non-sectarian, northern, private, research university, which includes women and men from the whole inhabited earth.  What lingers from its birth out of Methodism?

Learning. The seal tells the story.  From its inception in America, Methodism, more energetically than any other tradition, established schools and colleges, from Beacon Hill in Boston all the way to route 66 and Claremont in California.  Today 128 universities, seminaries, and other schools adorn America, all fruit of an early love of learning, exemplified by John Wesley himself—an Oxford Don, a classics scholar, a biblical theologian.  Speaking of his beloved Bible, said Wesley, ‘I desire to be homo unius libri’, ‘a man of one book’.  Methodism never invested all authority in the Bible, because learning about the Bible pointed Wesley and his followers to other truths, in history and in reason and in experience.  Learning was the key.  My namesake, Professor Allan Knight Chalmers, a mentor to ML King and others, implored his graduate theological students to read ‘a book a day’.  The old saying that, nihil humanum, that ‘nothing human is foreign to us’, expresses the love of learning inherited from our Methodist past. Recognizing, with John 8:32, the crucial treasure of learning, of knowledge, we drank education with our mother’s milk at the birth of BU.

Virtue. But Methodism has more than academic rigor to offer us, in reflection on our past.  Learning and virtue and piety—knowing and doing and being, if you will—all are part of becoming fully human.  Methodism emphasized, and emphasizes, the shared experiences in life:  ‘that which has been believed always and everywhere by everyone’; ‘in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in things charity’; ‘a people happy in God’; ‘the best of all is, God is with us’.  Our BU history comes out of a movement of ‘doers’, in the main—dreamers, yes, and doubters, too, but largely doers. They put a church in virtually every county in the country.  They split, north and south, ahead of the civil war, over slavery.  Having been poor, they ministered always and fully with the poor.  They tithed (as most still do—giving away 10% each year of their earnings).  Wesley put it this way: ‘do all the good you can… Faith without works is dead.  Our modern BU work with the Chelsea schools can stand as an example of a dozen other great BU transformative gifts, which well up out of the ancient Methodist bone structure of the school.  BU over 170 years has defined itself, not by whom it excluded, but by whom it included—the children of the poor, the working class, former slaves, people of color, different religious traditions, women—and in our time, the otherwise abled, the gay and lesbian community,  internationals, and others.

Piety.  I admit this is a superannuated word.  It sounds vaguely and curiously cloistered.  But what it means is vital and crucial for you, and me.  That is, what we learn and how we act finally shape who we are.  There is a lasting, soulful dimension to the human being, an own-most self behind the public persona, a multi-dimensional person (in the tradition of Boston University’s own philosophical tradition of Personalism) down deeper than the one-dimensional surface.  At heart, for the Methodists, piety meant love, to love one another, even as God has loved us (1 John 4:7).  If we are not both lovers and knowers, both learners and lovers, we have left behind part of our souls.  But if we do love one another, these Methodists taught, God abides in us.  There are many ways to keep faith.  The tolerant, magnanimous openness of Methodism, at its best, reminds us so.  ‘If thine heart be as mine, give me thine hand’, said John Wesley.  Under the seal on Marsh plaza, on a sunlit, gleaming day, there lies the wonder and promise of love.  And after all, without love, and an experience of love, what is life for?  Charles Wesley, John’s 18th century musical brother sang it this way, in a hymn written for the opening of an elementary school in 1762:  Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety…,

I have to think that all these long dead forebears would smile with delight at the next generation coming alive—knowing, doing, and being—in a happy gathering, in early September, on Marsh Plaza, Boston University.

Your spiritual fulfillment in college may include a leisurely walk or two, meditating on Scripture, considering the current quandary of Syria, stopping in the sunshine of Marsh Plaza to think again about our inheritance. Your spiritual fulfillment in these years may come from an honest, full reading of Scripture, an earnest, full exercise of reason, and an ample, full appreciation of tradition.

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

 

Set Sail

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

The text for today’s sermon is unavailable.

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