Archive for October, 2013

October 27

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

Ms. Chicka:

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the Chapel associate for Lutheran Ministry, and a two (hopefully three) time alumnae, and a former musician, it is a great honor to be in the pulpit on Alumni Weekend, Reformation Sunday, and during our Bach series. After all, Bach was a Lutheran, even if the piece today is a Catholic Mass.

I’d like to share a personal achievement with all of you. Two weeks ago, I posted a Facebook status about forgoing the gym to eat an apple cider donut. That status received 51 likes. 51! That’s the most likes I think I’ve ever gotten on a single status update. It was a proud day in social media for me. As many of us in the congregation, I utilize Facebook and Twitter to update my friends, family, and acquaintances with the exciting, confusing, joyful, upsetting, and sometimes mundane aspects of my life. And I look to see what my other friends are up to, liking and commenting on their daily adventures and mishaps, keeping me connected with people I would’ve otherwise forgotten or lost touch with had it not been for social media.

I am at the elder end of Generation Y, the Millennial Generation.  A generation that has been able to engage with thoughts and ideas from all over the world through the internet. A generation that is accustomed to screens, would rather text than talk, and is not afraid to share information with others. A generation that is often referred to as the “Me” generation because of how frequently we reflect upon ourselves, and often what we expect for ourselves from society. A generation that can carefully craft and edit their lives to alter how others perceive them online. As a generalization, we are not well known for our humility or our privacy.

The Pharisee in the Parable today’s Gospel is an exemplar of orthopraxy – he does everything he is supposed to, and sometimes even more, like fasting twice a week. Can you imagine what his status updates would look like? His prayers are thankful, but they fail to show any sense of humility. In addition, he degrades those whom he perceives as sinners in his prayers of gratitude, setting himself up as one who should be exalted for his behavior. If he were truly humble before God, he would be able to relate and emphasize with the needs of those who are “sinners,” seeing them as human beings who deserve respect and may actually need his assistance, instead of setting himself apart from them.

The tax collector, on the other hand, exemplifies humility. He does not boast about his accomplishments or his status, he only asks for God’s mercy. He is an example of a marginalized member of the Jewish community perceived as a traitor because of his association with the Roman Empire. He is not expected to act in a humble manner, but in doing so in this parable emphasizes the importance of a humble attitude. Jesus uses the examples of the Pharisee and the tax collector to warn the disciples against becoming too full of themselves.

Much like the Pharisee, we have no problem patting ourselves on the back. To further our egoism, we anticipate those red notification balloons that let us know our friends “like” our statuses, or that we’ve been retweeted, or favorited.  We like, no, we crave attention from others. Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of the book, Being Alone Together, points out that our self-identity has become so closely tied with our online identity, that we’ve fallen into the trap of “I share, therefore I am.”[1] She explains that we don’t feel like we’re living unless we’re sharing our lives through some other media. We also have the ability to self-edit in an online world, meaning that we can shape the way others see us – leading others to never truly know our real selves if they only encounter us online. As a fellow alum of Boston University, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would say, we suffer from the “Drum Major Instinct,” “to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.”[2] It’s just that today we have more opportunities to gain this recognition and receive feedback from others that let us know we are as important as we hope and think.

Humility, coming from the Greek word “humus” meaning ground or dirt, lowers one’s self importance. It is a challenging virtue to cultivate, especially in a society that encourages selling yourself and enables some of our deepest desires for recognition through immediate gratification systems, like social networking. Additionally, we’re told that as individuals we are responsible for our own futures, making it difficult to see that help from others and selflessly helping others is essential if we’re going to make it through our lives. We are relational beings and to refuse to recognize the other is to fail to fully live into our human existence.

Religious life has a special way of emphasizing the need for humility, especially before God. In worship, we set aside a time in which we humble ourselves before God – during the confession. Dr. Jarrett – how does today’s piece tie in with this idea of humility?

Dr. Jarrett:

Well Jessica, all these answers will be revealed in the first volume of my forth-coming book Humility: And I How I Achieved It.

Joking aside, I’m delighted to spend a moment with you to explore our musical sermon of the day. First I should say that any encounter with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is as humbling as thrilling a prospect to any musician. Today, we present the first of four installments in our Bach Experience Series on his greatest masterpiece The Mass in B Minor. Long hailed as the ‘greatest piece of music of all time’, the B Minor Mass is something of a Holy Grail for musicians and music-lovers. In its pages, we find music’s apogee, a musical Everest and from these heights, we find that perspective only gained from awareness of the ultimate.

But let’s back up just a moment. Today we hear the entryway in this great musical cathedral – the Kyrie, with its three movements. Through its sounds, we are struck by the solemnity, the grandeur, the urgency, and the humbling scope of God’s mercy. And, in the second movement, as we implore Christ’s mercy, we find assurance of pardon in the ease and bounty of God’s redeeming grace through Christ Jesus. Cast as a duet for two sopranos, sung today by Carey Shunskis and Emily Culler, the joy, variety, and contentment of life’s sojourn through Christ’s mercy practically leaps from the score. The lovely (and dare I say Human) Christe, is book-ended by two grand and noble Kyries. Here is where Bach teaches us about his kind of humility.

With the possible exception of a Beethoven, I can hardly think of a bolder composer than Johann Sebastian Bach. As with Beethoven, we are aware of the presence of extraordinary genius. And though we may not be able to articulate the reason, the music of both composers has the capacity to embolden the listener, to encourage vitality in our living, to inspire a zeal for humanity, in the way that only music can. But the music of Bach pushes a little farther for me. Bach reveals our possibility, who we know we can be.

A year or two ago, President Clinton spoke down the street at Symphony Hall. And one of his themes was that of ‘Framework’. In his context, our system of government, our social contract, our order of society creates a ‘framework’ by which we can excel at citizenry. And when this breaks down, we lose our model, our framework, to serve and help one another.

For Bach, the empowering framework is form. He might have said, the framework for Love is the Law – or rather, the Law is fulfilled by the Love of Christ. And Love is fulfilled best when informed by the Law. You see, Bach’s shows us how to live, how to express, how to engage, how to be joyful, how to be thankful, but the key to that freedom is found only in humbling ones-self before the source of that grace. If we lose sight of our source – God’s communing grace – we diminish our possibility to make a difference. The Dean exhorts us often to live fully as an engaged people, people of salt and light. Bach provides a path for us, fully authentic, fully committed, forged and humbled by the framework of God’s redeeming love.

Ms. Chicka:

It is important for us to humble ourselves before God, recounting what we have done and what we have left undone. How we’ve supported others, and how we’ve left others down. However, we must claim a balance between our humility and our pride. We can still be confident in ourselves, but we must temper that confidence with self-awareness. We can be proud, but we must temper that pride with modesty. Humility does not mean that we must always be meek and subservient to others, but that we recognize that there are appropriate times to do both.

This sermon would be incomplete without mentioning Martin Luther. It is Reformation Sunday, after all. The great reformer led the way for many Protestant movements by questioning whether the Church’s practices truly reflected God’s will or were corrupted by human desire. Luther is not particularly known for his humility, but he valued humility as one of the foremost virtues of Christianity. Humility enables us to serve God in the best way possible. It allows us to serve our neighbor in a way that our neighbor deserves to be served: not for our own benefit, but out of love and the needs of the other. In “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther reminds his readers that in having faith in Christ and receiving the grace of God, one becomes a “little Christ,” whose actions should seek to serve others. Our faith enables us to receive the grace of God and frees us to choose to serve others as Christ served us.[3] It is only through the recognition of the self in relationship with God that one can find a sense of contentment that removes egoism and promotes humility, opening the individual into deeper relationship and fellowship with others.

MLK, Jr. agrees with Luther’s idea. He states that our Drum Major instinct is best used in serving others. By possessing a heart that is filled with the grace of God, our desire to be “the drum major” is found in God, through our Christian love and devotion toward others. It is a self-less love that attempts to improve life for others not because one is coerced into doing so, but because one recognizes the value and worth of that other human being and his or her right to live in a just and loving world.

I’ve been pretty hard on my generation up until now in this sermon, but I’d like to close with some good news. Although we are called “generation ME” we are also called the “Civic-minded generation.”[4] These two labels do not seem to go together, but increasingly, individuals in my generation are concerned about the status of others as well as themselves. Participation in community service organizations, volunteering, and vocalization on social issues are hallmarks of our generation. Our worldview has been shaped by major events – 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic meltdown, and most poignantly for those of us here in Boston, the Marathon Bombings last April.

Our reliance on technology not only allows us to express ourselves, but it allows us to see ourselves on the global landscape – having the opportunity to interact and react to global issues from our laptops, tablets, or smartphones. Social media enables us to maintain connections, and in times of crisis, make sure our community is safe and that those who need assistance can find it. We are more connected than ever, and in some cases, more willing to help than ever.  Serving others through volunteerism and activism requires a sense of humility in order for it to work. One must be willing to listen to the needs of another in order to truly serve them.  BU is a great example of service-minded individuals, as 4600 volunteers participated in over 100,000 hours of community service last year alone.[5] And even today, the Servant Team of Marsh Chapel is exemplifying this desire to serve others through their drive for goods for the homeless that will be assembled into “We Care” packages right here in the Chapel this afternoon.

So a call to action for my generation: let’s make our legacy known as the Civic-minded Generation, not Generation Me. I’m not saying that we have to completely give up on the self-reporting we do in social media, but perhaps we should pare it down and instead use these platforms as means to spread awareness. We need to strike the appropriate balance between our online lives and our real lives, making sure that these two not only align, but enable us to maintain our humility. We can only truly make connections with others at a basic level if we see them as people, not just names or pictures on a screen. We can only ensure the health of our communities by being willing to be open to others. It is only through humbly listening to and interacting with our brothers and sisters that we have the opportunity to learn and grow into a community of “little Christs.” Amen.


-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music


[1] Bill Moyers, “Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together,” TV segment, Moyers & Company, PBS, Aired October 20, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2013

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon, delivered February 4, 1968, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed October 20, 2013.

[3] Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim, First Principles of the Reformation, London: John Murray, 1883. Accessed October 20, 2013.

[4] Sharon Jayson, “Generation Y Gets Involved,” USA Today, October 24, 2006. Accessed October 20, 2013.

[5] Boston University Community Service Center, “Mission and History,” Accessed October 20, 2013

October 20

Rules of Engagement

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

I am a parent today. Yes I stand in this pulpit as a Pastor whose head and heart have been claimed for years by the joy of ministry with young adults.   But, today, the title I claim is MOM. I am here for Parents’ Weekend, and I welcome members of my parent posse who have travelled across the country to spend some time on campus with our sons and daughters.  Dean Hill tells me that this day is special because we have been granted visitation rights. Welcome to campus, parents.

If you’ve had a conversation with me for longer than 5 minutes this fall, you know that my son is a freshman here at BU. All right, let’s be honest, it’s probably more like 2 minutes into our meeting. OK, you have to tell the truth from the pulpit- it’s been a message of my heart emblazoned in neon on my sleeve for the world to see. “My son is a freshman here!” I’m kind of a proud Mom, who is very close to her son, who’s had a hard time letting him go – I  know –go ahead and laugh- I am letting go all the way from my work place here at 735 Comm Ave across the street to his residence at 700 Comm Ave.

As a chaplain I’ve led many events over the years for parents dropping their kids off at college.  But there is a profoundly different experience when it is your own child…… I am a parent today. Did I mention that?  Has it been 2 minutes into our conversation?

I’ve been rereading some of my higher education books on college transitions, specifically passages for parents. I haven’t read so many parenting books since the infancy years. But I am honoring this unique time of transition. And trying to get it right on my end.  Our lesson from Jeremiah today has a pithy proverb about first generations not getting it right for the next generation.  Jeremiah admonishes that “the parents ate the sour grapes, and the children got a stomachache.”  I thought- parents – we can do better than that.  And Jeremiah thinks so too- he envisions a day when an individual’s actions will have consequences for that person.  You eat a bad apple, and you get the stomachache. Mistakes of the elders need not be passed on as problems for the children. Of course it goes both ways, and we have not a little bit of attitude in a couple verses from our Psalter toady- – did you note the line when a young writer says – “I understand more than the aged.” Just an FYI: I wouldn’t recommend students quoting that one to your parents over lunch today.

Since we parents really are trying to get it right, let’s name a place of origin for us.  I quote from my Fall Canonical literature: Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years “We all know intellectually that this is a time for our children to separate and assert their own independence.  But long after they have become taller or stronger than we are, our primal protective feelings are easily unleashed.  We carry images in our heads of the curly haired toddler, the gap-toothed 6 year old, and times when a hug could make their world all better.  The mature, rational part of us wants them to solve their own problems and believes they can- but another part of us wants to stay connected, be in control, protect them from any pain they will have to face.”  End quote.

When our son announced to us, complete with drumroll, that he was choosing BU from the 10 schools at his horizon, we were thrilled. Not the midwest college we thought he might choose, some 12 hours from home- but 9 miles, we were ecstatic.  ….My husband and I love this university, having met here, both earning our first graduate degrees here, both now working here on campus.

Our highly literate son could read the excitement in our faces.  He even read that chapter in our minds, that went something like “maybe the nest won’t be so empty with our youngest living a block away from our offices.”  Our son then presented us with a carefully premeditated, bullet pointed speech that he coined his “Rules of Engagement” for attending BU.

Our biblical scholars will recognize that These Rules are apodictic in nature- all the lovely thou shalt not commandments. MOM, You will not greet me with your usual outgoing enthusiasm.  No unsolicited hugging.  If we pass by one another on Comm Ave, you may greet me with restraint, IF I have first acknowledged you.  This acknowledgement will be in the form of a nod of the head, perhaps a smile. No Acknowledgement, no greeting.

If we see each other in the GSU, and you are looking for a table at which to eat lunch, and I give said acknowledgement, you may come over just to say hello, even to my group of friends, but NO “honey how are you, I miss you, I love you” talk.  Communications will be occasional texts and phone calls, and I will be home for Thanksgiving.

I thought for a moment and said, “So, you want us to pretend you‘re in college in Ohio.”

“Exactly!”  was his reply.

My son is here in the sanctuary today. My son, who has been raised by 2 United Methodist clergy parents, is a PK squared.  My son, who has been the object of many a sermon illustration in many a church. My son, whose classroom building shares a Plaza with this chapel. My son, who shares DNA with a BU Chapel Associate and a Professor.  So my gift to my beloved, amazing, wonderful son is that I will let him be anonymous.  But I have to call him something, so I’ve been calling him HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED . “You know who” is in the house today.

Now, “You Know Who” grew up book by book with Harry Potter and the Hogwarts posse.  YOU KNOW WHO is a reference to Lord Voldemort himself, the source of all evil and fear and chaos in the world.  This is where the pseudonym loses some of its utility, because my son is not the Dark Lord. But it’s the best I’ve got. Students, you gotta trust us, we parents are doing the best we can to let go and to set you free for like Robert Browning we know that “the best is yet to be.”

So, ‘You know who,” while I applaud your disengagement from your parents, I have 3 Rules of Engagement of my own I would like to share today.  Without “thou shalt not”

  1. Look Up.         2. Get Lost              3. Be Unrecognizable.

Look Up. In my first parish there was a framed Norman Rockwell print, that featured St. Thomas Episcopal Church on 5th Avenue in NY –  a gothic revival beauty of a church. Numerous Urban pedestrians are passing by the church, each downcast, slumped over in cement gazing routine.  Not a one is looking up. The rector is outside on steps in full vestment, and he has just posted his sermon title on the church sign entitled  “Lift Up Thine Eyes!”  You can sense both his Jeremiad admonition, What are you doing ,people, and his Jeremiah vision for life that could be lived so much more abundantly.

Dean Howard Thurman, who served this Chapel 1953-65, stands on the steps of Marsh Chapel 24 -7, calling out “Come Alive! Figure out what makes you come alive and go do it!”  Lift Up thine Eyes. Look Up around you. That will help you to look deep to the hunger within you.  Look up. look in. That sounds a little bit like Albus Dumbledore wisdom, what do you think You Know Who?

Look up! Yes, the Mom here does want to mention, please look both ways when crossing Comm Ave- 57 bus, BU shuttle, cars, taxis, T, bikes, students on skate boards, not so smart pedestrians glued to smart phones .

LOOK Up. Be attentive to your splendor. Live mindfully.  With intentionality put down your virtual world so that you may live into the incarnational world of God’s people right here, right now.

When my generation went to college we were exhorted to do this newfangled  thing called Study Abroad. For this globally connected generation, in a post- modern flattened world, I have no doubt that you are engaging the world.  But I exhort you to engage the person right next to you.

Sharon Daloz Parks who writes about emerging adulthood and faith, notes that young people are hungry for “hearth places.”   Hearth places are places where people linger with one another, with invitation to pause, to reflect, to be. They offer an exquisite balance of stability and motion. They are places of contemplation- defined by Quaker Douglas Steere as “A continual condition of prayerful sensitivity to what is going on.”  Be attentive to what is going on. This can be in a Marsh Chapel fellowship meal when you discover that inquiring minds really belong in this place, on your dorm floor when your friends throw you a surprise 18th birthday party , when you look up on your walk to class and smile at everyone you meet.

Hearth times can happen on the T in serendipitous conversation with a fellow sojourner , at a meal in the Dining Hall when you open your table up to greet a student from another country, studying another discipline, and Common Ground morphs from a phrase of Howard Thurman to a discovery of your heart.

This is where we parents must nuance one of previous Rules of Engagement we taught you in grade school,  notably “Stranger Danger.” You know how to be smart and safe, but our faith urges us to engage the stranger in our midst  – in addition to your 1,452 Facebook friends.  Did you know that in class of 2017, right here on campus, there are students from 66 different countries? Look Up.

Daloz Parks says that the “hunger for hearth-sized conversations persists, and it can be ignored only at the cost of a malnourished life.” Eat well at the banquet of BU community! Be attentive to the Splendor along Commonwealth Avenue.

Rule #2 for He Who Shall Not be Named and all our beloved students.  Get Lost. Sometimes we need to get lost on purpose, sometimes we just need to stop the ego car and admit that we need directions.

Now, this is going to sound counter-intuitive to this GPS dependent generation.  Where a satellite can talk to the gadget in your palm and your friend Siri can guide you wherever you want to go.  Our wisest spiritual guides tell us that pilgrims on adventures get lost a lot of the time- so we best value the process, not just the destination.  When  you are lost and must rely daily on the kindness of strangers.

In our worship life this fall we’ve been travelling through exile with Jeremiah. . .Displacement.  Separation from home. Dislocation. Life on a foreign avenue.  Following political defeat, Jeremiah travels with Judah from home field advantage of Jerusalem to refugee life in Babylonia.   At first there is the shock and lament of arrival in a new place. Then last week Jeremiah recognized that the Babylonian exile would last a long time –so he advised folks settle in- to build houses and plant vines, to thrive, even to do their part to benefit the welfare of the foreign city in which they now live.

Students, you are not here because you are lost, or exiled. You are here by privileged choice to study at this fine University. But what student has not felt the burning loneliness of banishment from all that is familiar, or the paralysis of fear during these midterm evaluations.  Am I good enough? Can I do this? Confessed or not, there is a moment of longing for the cocoon of unconditional love at home.     It’s not only OK to be lost, it’s a condition of our humanity.  To deny our moments of exile is to deny our moments of restoration.  And here’s the lavish joy of life. My colleague the Rev. Jen Quigley expressed it beautifully when she preached that “Grace is the serendipitous moment of being found.”

Sometimes it’s good to Get lost on purpose. Spend a day away from your determined efficient production, and wander.  Wander to the shoreline with Dean Hill, wander through neighborhoods of Boston, wander into colleges other than your own, wander beyond your syllabus and get lost in the thrill of an idea. Chase a footnote down its rabbit warren of antecedents until you look up at the clock and an hour has passed.  It’ll probably have nothing to do with the thesis of your current project- but it may lead you to the very thesis of your life. To Vocation. Get lost in what you love.

Over the years I’ve led numerous Alternative Spring Break trips for service and vocational exploration.  At each trip’s orientation I name that it will be a week of “intentional dislocation.”  We are purposefully leaving what is known and comfortable, in order to see ourselves in a new way, to become a joy-filled Christian community in that long fun van ride.   We must separate from homefield advantage so we may be fully open to the communities we will serve.  Kenda Creasy Dean calls it the place of “creative disequilibrium,” a liminal principle of the Gospel – that the reality of being off kilter may precipitate growth and transformation.

Getting Lost is like Falling in Love.  You are lost and you are found. Fall in love on purpose. Listen to this short poem by Ignatian priest Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.


Look Up, Get Lost, and my final Rule of Engagement:

Be Unrecognizable

When You Know Who went off to FYSOP community service the week before classes, he was still 17.  I had to fill out special BU Rules of Engagement forms to surrender my minor’s care to the University, including my own cell number.  There was a slight miscommunication and apparently my number was confused with YOU KNOW WHOs number.  I started to get texts that week. They didn’t sound like messages that my son would write to me. “Hey DUDE, meet at the Plaza at 10 tonight to start our night out.”  I wanted to write back “Hey Dude, I’m the Mom; I’m headed to bed at 10.”  But instead I wrote, ”I believe you want You Know Who’s number. Here it is. Text him.”

After about 3 messages from my Dude friend- who was so very friendly and polite- I thought we had it nicely worked out. Until the second week of classes and I got a text that read,  “I’m on the Quidditch Team, I’m a chaser,  I am a member of Dumbledore’s Army, and  I have 2 interviews for staff writing positions.”  Oh great, it’s Dude again. Who is this person writing me???? Until I studied the number, and realized this indeed this was HE Who Must not be Named.  Unrecognizable to me in two weeks.  Fabulous!

Students, Reinvent yourself.  Or as a friend of mine, Nora Bradbury-Haehl writes in her new book called the Freshman Survival Guide,  “Shed you skin, not your skeleton.”      Do something so different that your parents have to google it to figure out what you’re up to.    I had to Google “chaser” (it’s a quiddtich position)  and I did some research to learn that “Boston University Dumbledore’s Army is a chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance. We will harness our love for Harry Potter to bring about change in the Boston community through volunteering and fundraising.”  Wow.  I love it!

Finally, Jeremiah dreams of a day when we are transformed from the inside out. When our hearts are strangely warmed, and our new lives of justice and joy are practically unrecognizable . Jeremiah gives us these famous words -“The days are surely coming when I will make a new  covenant… I will put my law within them, and I will etch it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

Beloved students, this is our deepest and most important dream for your engagement.  That the love and grace of God will be so close to you that it is tattooed  on your heart.  That you will be in relationship with this God in Christ who accompanies you through exile and into homeland.

Friends, Be careful crossing the street. Thank you for visitation rights.  And, Fall in love with God, it will make all the difference.


~The Reverend Dr. Robin Olson, Chapel Associate

October 13

An Ocean View

By Marsh Chapel

Psalm 107:23

Jeremiah 29, 2 Timothy 2, Luke 17

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.


We stood upon a promontory, at the ocean’s edge, this late spring past, south of Portsmouth.  A slight sea breeze lifted spirits, and kites, and moistened the morning air.  Below, hunting among the seaweed, the rocks, the sand, hunting for clams and crabs and fish, we watched an elementary school class at play.  Blue shirted boys, yellow bloused girls, teachers free in the sun to walk and talk, and the steady ocean wind around enveloped us on the continent’s eastern doorstep.  The wind blew in the memory of a verse.


Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters.  They see the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.  For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea (Ps 107:23).

Today we pause.  Ours is a restful sermon, today.  We are ready, come Columbus Day weekend, across the campus and country, for a spiritual siesta, a personal paseo, a moment along the ocean for Sabbath rest.  He leadeth me beside the still waters…

That spring seaside day, one boy was fixing a kite.  Red haired, freckled, pensive, enthralled.  Then he looked up and out and east, out and across the great deep.  Now 7 soon 17 soon 47 soon 87:  there he looked out and east and waited as the wind wrapped him in quiet.  For a moment, an early summer moment, outside class, alongside surf, beside friends, for a moment, he took an ocean view.  We do too, at least we should.  Today, with him, for a moment, we pause ‘to see the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep’.  Look.  Look east and into the sea breeze.  Let the salt fill your lungs.  Let the waves lap your toes.  Let the blue sky and the blue sea widen your eyes.  Let the roar of the surf give rhythm for your eyes, your heart—your blues.  An ocean view.  What do you see?  An ocean view is a view of beauty and goodness and truth.



Do you see beauty?  “Who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters’ (Ps 104:3).  This week we recognized and celebrated the Higgs Boson.  We recall, especially in such a week, that over 15 billion years have now passed since ‘the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep’ (Gen: 1:2).  The blue on blue line at the horizon sky on sea, sea on sky, air on water, water on air, oxygen on hydrogen, hydrogen on oxygen, light on life, life on light.  Hurricanal terror lies beyond that horizon.  Tidal crests powerful to destroy may there arise.  ‘Leviathan’—shark, octopus, whale, all—there dwells.  The beauty is terrific, to be sure.  Captain Ahab’s eye, hunting the great white whale, limping upon a leg lost, crazed by the fury at the horizons of death and life—his eye too is ours.  Our ocean view, to be true, views the entire ocean, its present blue horizontal perfection and its wild, violent, creative-destructive, hurricanal power.  Beauty is not entirely subsumed under placidity.   Sometimes, as Jeremiah admitted, you have to accept and improve upon what is not good but given:  ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jer. 29:7).   Sometimes the historical redress to wrong you seek is still some years hence.   In some beauty there is a time to embrace, and in some there is a time to refrain from embracing—to run for cover, if you can.  On that spring morning—see!—a gull drifting on the waves, a ship listing starboard in the sun, a fish jumping—clap!, a swimmer in the great salt sea.  Job:  ‘he has planted the circumference of the earth’.  Beauty, pure and powerful, there is in an ocean view.


In Le Recherche des Temps Perdue, M Proust  has given us written beauty, set inland in Paris and then at Balbec by the sea.   The beauty he sees encompasses both.  Proust can see the ocean and its beauty in the fields by which he drives, but also can see the beauty of the fields in the ocean he loves.  He wrote: The contrast that used then to strike me so forcibly between the country drives that I took with Mme. De Villeparisis and this proximity, fluid, inaccessible, mythological, of the Eternal Ocean, no longer existed for me.  And there were days now when, on the contrary, the sea itself seemed almost rural.  A tug, of which one could see only the funnel, was smoking in the distance like a factory amid fields while alone against the horizon a convex patch of white, sketched there doubtless by a sail…made one think of the sunlit wall of some isolated building, an hospital or a school…all this upon stormy days made the ocean a thing as varied, as solid, as broken, as populous, as civilized as the earth with its carriage roads over which I used to travel…

Behold, beauty.


Do you see goodness?  Walk slowly, down to the water’s edge.  ‘He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkenss’ (Ps 104:9).  The mighty ocean provokes human courage.  ‘They that go down to the sea in ships”.   The account of the lepers healed, wherein only one returns thanks, is St. Luke’s way of painting the portrait of such goodness.  Goodness in creation and life.  Goodness in redemption and healing.  Goodness in sanctification and thanksgiving:  ‘Rise and go your way.  Your faith has made you well.’ (Luke 17: 19).   Gratitude is the attitude best suited to faith, and life, and eternity.   Gratitude brings a responsive human creativity, responding to the divine.  There is a responsive human redemption, responding to the divine.  There is a responsive human holiness, responding to the divine.  Leif Erickson, in a sloop, paddling from Iceland to Greenland to New Scotland.  Christopher Columbus, the Nina and Pinta and Santa Maria at sail, our namesake this weekend, coming ashore from three little boats.  Magellan rounding the tip of South America.  Captain Cook circling Hawaii.  The Gloucester fishermen whose names sit ensconced in their statue on the coast.  The four chaplains, painted and framed into our window here at Marsh Chapel, a rabbi, a priest, and two ministers, who gave their life jackets, and so their lives, to others in the Atlantic in 1944 .


The tide comes in and the tide goes out.  Real change for real good is real hard.  It comes by increments.  Alice Munro’s Canadian stories, honored this week, exhibit the progress of love.  The progress of love.  It comes by increments.  Some of Jim Crow died in the Civil War, but not all.  Some of Jim Crow died in Reconstruction, but not all.  Some died with Voting Rights Act, but not all.  Some of Jim Crow is running scared in the face of expanded health care for the poor in the south, but there will be some left, even after this.  The Social Security Act of 1935, remember, excluded farm workers and domestics.   Real change for real good is real hard.  It comes by increments, like the glory of the morning on the wave.   Bit by bit, wave by wave.


But it comes.  JFK:  “I believe that America should set sail, and not lie still in the harbor”.  An ocean view is a long view.  An ocean view is along view when it comes to the potential for goodness.  The struggle, the wrestling, for the good is not progressive only, successful only, victorious only.  There is regression, amnesia, selfishness, sloth.  Ebb.  Flow. Undertow.  All.  Hume:  “Man is a fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant.  It is only by tradition and organization that anything decent can be gotten out of him”.  If a Norseman though in the 13th century or so could sail a rowboat to America…lf an Italian sea captain sailing under a Spanish flag could boldly sail where no one since Erickson had sailed before…If we can land a man on the moon…Goodness has as much of a shot as evil.  Bill McGibben is alive and well.  Holding the horizon in view and sailing for the north star by night will give us guidance.  Micah:  ‘God will again have compassion on us.  God will tread out our iniquities under foot.  He will cast our sins into the depths of the sea.’  Good.  Goodness.  Across the tides of time.  In an ocean view.

Behold, goodness.


Do you see the truth?  Hold the sextant, true, true north.  Measure by the stars.  Others have sailed this circumference before.  The variations of the sea coast are a warning.  Walk the beach.  Students!  Once a month, in your time in Boston, get to the ocean.  Sand and mud.  Craggy rocks.  Cliffs.  Inlets and outlets.  The detritus of seaweed, barnacles, shells, mollusks, driftwood, shells and stones and pebbles and sand.  All higgledy piggledy, at sixes and sevens, messy, disordered, quirky, oblique, out of alignment.  Sand gives way to marsh.  Marsh to wetland.  Wetland to stone and cliff.  Cliff walk to tide, ebb and flow and undertow.  We are not in Kansas anymore, as a great American, Dorothy Gale, once said.  On an ocean view, life is not all rectangles, all flat, all squares.  Nor is truth all rectangles, all flat, all squares, all right angles.  ‘New occasions teach new duties.  Time makes ancient good uncouth.  One must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth. Truth is messy, like the seacoast.  One must upward still and onward who would keep abreast of variegated, seaside, truth. Listen again to a part of our morning’s epistle:  I am suffering and wearing fetters, like a criminal.  But the word of God is not fettered…If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; but if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself…Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:8ff). Sometimes the fetters themselves bespeak the truth of freedom.  John Lewis wrote that he finally felt free when he was placed in jail in Nashville in 1960, in the struggle for civil rights.


Allow if you will a penultimate, pastoral word.  It is six months since Marathon Monday.  I know we are Boston Strong.  But we are also Boston Healing.   Life has ebb and flow to it.  And undertow.  There is more than meets the eye in life.   Sometimes, in grief, sometimes, in trauma, sometimes, in loss, the real work comes later, later on, five months later.  Many there are, right here, ready to help.  An ocean view may help.  Remember Thurman:  the ocean and the night surrounded my little life with a reassurance that could not be affronted by any human behavior.  The ocean at night gave me a sense of timelessness, of existing beyond the ebb and flow of circumstance.  Death would be a small thing, I felt, in the sweep of that natural embrace. Take the sweep of that natural embrace with you, this Lord’s Day, as with the benediction at the close of service, we mark together again both our fallibility and our mortality.

Behold, truth.


And in application,  a personal coda, for the day’s restful, seaside homily, about the view from Portsmouth, from Balbec, from Cape Cod, from the shoreline:


Our summer pilgrimage to Spain this year included the ocean view from the shorelines of Mallorca.  On Mallorca we had an interview with the ghost of Frederik Chopin and the spirit of George Sand.  At every turn on those beautiful Ballearics one enjoys an ocean view.  We carried that ocean vista with us in a return visit and retrospective journey to the haunts of college study in Segovia.  The spiritual offering, the ocean view, of my Spain, just the lovely enjoyed part, can be summarized in two gorgeous Spanish nouns:  siesta and paseo.

Siesta.  At noon in Segovia, still, though the grace is receding in Madrid, all activity (work, study, commerce, all) ceases.  At noon, one returns home, after a half-day of work, home to family, home to food, home to conversation, home to relief from heat, work, boss, responsibility, home to a massive, savory meal of wine, pasta, vegetables, wine, lamb, soup, rice, wine and pastry.  After said repast, all go to sleep.  It is 1:30pm and 100 degrees Farenheit. It is time to beat a hasty retreat from mad dogs, Englishmen, and the noon day sun.  The common decision to leave behind ‘getting and spending in which we lay waste our powers’ is a radical cut into life, a separation, an existential liberation.  Where finally do you find life?  How much in work and how much in love?


Paseo.   Shops in Segovia reopen at 4pm and work recommences then.  Somewhat grudgingly, the labor force returns in force.  But by 7:30pm or so, the ‘tiendas estan cerradas’.  And then, throughout the town, the population enters into an evening parade, a daily stroll, the ‘paseo’.  The walk.  The evening walk. Chopin, maybe following his paseo and ocean view, said: ‘I came to stay in a wonderful cloister, in the most beautiful place in the world’. The common decision to leave behind ‘getting and spending in which we lay waste our powers’ is a radical cut into life, a separation, an existential liberation.  Where finally do you find life?  How much in work and how much in love?  And given all we have been given, are we not for a moment ready to turn and give thanks to the Giver of every good and healing gift?


A nap and a walk and an ocean view, a reminder in gratitude of the beautiful, good, and true. Beginning with Whittier, we shall end with Tennyson.



Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

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

October 6

Coastal Grace

By Marsh Chapel

Luke 17: 5-10

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.



Dean Hart once reminded us:  Jesus is our beacon not our boundary.


In a Chinese restaurant at 110th street and Broadway, April 1978, George Todd hired us to work at the World Council of Churches in Geneva Switzerland. “Heat, light, running water—that is what I need, basic support work”, he barked.  His favorite verse was from 1 Peter 5:  ‘be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour’.  He usually smiled having recited the verse.


George had been one of the founders of the East Harlem Protestant Parish in New York, 20 years earlier.  You want to know something about that lightning crash experiment in urban ministry, all things material in common, service to and with the poor, Acts 2:44, Presbyterians and others, at 110th on the other side of   from our Chinese lunch.  Thence he took several jobs, finally in the office of urban and industrial mission for the World Council.  He, and later we, lunched there with Paolo Freire, Emilio Castro, Philip Potter, Connie Parvey.  Jan was more useful to him than I, as it happens, for they needed music and piano in the mid-week worship service, held Wednesdays in that beautiful, hopeful, open space.  He later confessed that he really hired young people, then, not so much for help but to plant seeds of goodwill for the future of the church, the future of the ministry, the future of the WCC.  Something like our hidden strategy for staffing at Marsh Chapel.  It worked.  I mention him, I honor him, this morning, 35 years later.  And I still mourn the tragic death of his son, Sam.


This year Marsh Chapel expands our mission, a heart for the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city, explicitly to span the globe.  Our broadcast worship service, a if not the leading University Ecumenical Protestant weekly worship service in music, liturgy and homily in the world spans the globe.  Our new chaplain for international students, Rev. Longsdorf, the first position of its kind in the country, spans the globe.  Her students baked the bread for this morning’s eucharist. Our vocational offspring—Brian Hall in the middle east, David Romanik in Texas, Rebecca in South Africa—span the globe.  Our paraments, chosen by Rev Dr Olson, help us recall the global character of our vocational offspring.  Our emerging partnerships with the University of Tokyo, the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, and, yes, a UCC church in Miami Beach, span the globe.  (That is the thing about Miami Beach:  it is so close to the USA that you almost feel like you are in the country.)  Yours, yes, is a mission in global community.  But mainly in another way:  yours is the announcement of a coastal grace.  A coastal grace:  freedom, peace, and love, from sea to shining sea.  John Dewey wrote about a common faith.  Howard Thurman preached about a common ground.  You are announcing a common hope, from sea to shining sea.  A coastal grace.  And you don’t have to travel the globe to live a coastal grace.  As my friend says, ‘I don’t have to drink the whole ocean to know that is salty’.


Now.  I have a bone to pick with our undergraduates.  A month ago you affirmed, I believe, you promised, I think, to get to the coast, to walk the beach, once a month during your time in Boston.  You promised.  Didn’t you?  I think so.  Even if it is just a T ride to Revere: go.  See the horizon.  Feel the salt breeze.  Listen to the ocean and its roar.  Many of you will never, never be so close to the coast, again.  I guess, because I am a fresh water fish myself, I am unfairly passionate about it.  You know, some people live in Buffalo, and never have seen Niagara Falls.  Some people live in the Dakotas and never have seen the Black Hills.   Some people live in Spain and have never tasted Rioja.  Some people live in Kenmore Square and have never seen the Red Sox.  And George Todd lived for a decade in Geneva, even visited Gruyere, I was with him, but never learned to like cheese.   Go east, as far as you can.  Walk down to the harbor, take a boat to Provincetown or Salem, while you can.   Behold a coastal grace.  While walking, memorize a psalm or two, like my favorite as it was Thurman’s, 139.


This land—yours and mine—desperately needs the vision, the memory, the perspective, and the world-view of the shoreline.  ‘The greater the ocean of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it”, once said Ralph Sockman, OWU graduate in theater arts.  A coastal grace.  Here is beauty:  the blue on blue line at the horizon, sky on sea, sea on sky, air on water, water on air, oxygen on hydrogen, hydrogen on oxygen, light on life, life on light.  Here is goodness:  if Norsemen in the 13th century could a sail a rowboat to this continent, there is potential, possibility, for us too.  Here is truth:  craggy truth, messy truth, quirky, oblique out of alignment truth.  Here the land is not set out all in squares, the roads make no sense, except to follow the coast, things are not at right angles.  There is difference, there is wetland, stone, cliff, ebb, flow, mist, all.  And danger, dangers.  See the Gloucester memorial:  “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters.  They saw the deeps of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.  For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.”  Your moral imagination, much needed today, in church and society, with which to address endless contention and intractable difference, will develop, will mature, in earshot of the tide.  Not all issues fall out in 90 degree patterns, like cornfields in Iowa.  The fresh water voices—I am such a fish remember—need the ocean spray, the salt breeze, the coastal grace that heightens a recognition of variety, yet along the great shoreline, the mighty horizon of hope, of beauty, truth and goodness, of hope.  A common hope.


With others in communities around the globe, we gather at the Lord’s Table this morning.  It is fitting the ‘wings of the morning, and the uttermost parts of the sea’—the coastal grace illumined in our favorite psalm—is balanced, as now we come to Table, with the reading from Luke 17.  Your field work is not a substitute for your domestic duties, the gospel affirms.  Your evangelism and outreach are not a substitute for your congregational tasks, the gospel affirms.  Your horizon of hope and coastal grace are not in place of serving at table.   Hope all you want, become a great leader of institution or three, good for you:  all of it is no substitute for service in the Lord’s house.  People have such shaky reasons for not going to church.   You are to wait at the Lord’s table.  To pray.  To read.  To go to church.  To tithe.  To invite someone else, once a week or once a month, to join you.  To make sure all God’s children, all, are fed.  Your service to the University as a chaplain or dean or professor is not a substitute for your service to God by serving your neighbor.  You have domestic work to do.  Right here.  Come Sunday.  Here, to remember some word that is true, in the joy of faith when grace is present.  Here to greet someone who is good, in the joy of faith when grace is present. Here to hear something that is beautiful, in the joy of faith when grace is present.  We walk past Sunday morning with a yawn and think we have all the time in the world.  Not so.  I celebrate your field work, your professional prowess, your vocational success, your straight A’s so far.  They are not a substitute for your soul.  ‘Le couer a sais raison que le raison n’comprende pas’. Timothy says much the same:  yours is not a spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and self-discipline (interesting trio), and the promise is the very promise of life. And by the way, you don’t get a ransom for just doing your job—‘so you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘we are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done’.  You don’t get to demand a ransom just for doing your job! (J)


When our work with George Todd ended in Geneva, we came back to New York.  George sent us back with some domestic duties.  A basket of them.  (He carried his office around in plastic and paper bags, two or three together, brimming with books and papers).  He said that he had learned in East Harlem that shoe leather was the most important part of ministry.  Visit the people.  Visit the people. Visit the people.   That office in Switzerland dealt with world leaders who made requests.  The month we were leaving one came from the Rev. Canaan Banana in Africa.  I leave his story and biography, and what they say about Africa and Methodism, for another day and another sermon.  In 1978 he had learned that his name was mentioned in a new book, Remarkable Names of Real People.  Could someone get him a copy?  So we got of the plane at JFK and the next day or so went down to 5th Ave and 18th street, where there was a big bookstore.  And sure enough, there was a new book of the title identified.  And many remarkable names.  Cardinal Sin (Archbishop of Manila).  Memory Lane.  Shanda Lear.  I. O. Silver.  A. Moron.  Groaner Digger (an undertaker).  Preserved Fish (of New Bedford).  Dr. Blood (an internist).  Mrs. Toothacre (whose husband was a dentist).  Nita Bath.  Buncha Love.  Katz Meow.  Evan Keel.  Horace and Boris Moros (twins).  Solomon Gomorrah.  Never Fail.  And, page 77, Rev. Canaan Banana.


Friends, it is a big world.  There are varieties within diversities within pluralities within multiplicities.  Our country has a motto:  e pluribus unum.  Our New Testament shows us that in earliest Christianity diversity preceded unity.  There are many ways of keeping faith.  Many ways there are to keep faith.  As that most liberal Gospel, of John, teaches:  in my Father’s house there are many rooms…wherever there is a way, a little truth, a bit of life…there I AM. And there are many names by which faith is named.  Including yours.  The author of 2 Timothy remembers Eunice and Lois, by name.  The book of life includes remarkable names of real people.  Like you.  We need maybe to remember that when we decide we want to box out some of the differences, and box out some who are different.


This is where a monthly walk along the seacoast can help.  A big sky.  A long shore line.  A rolling tide.  An infinite horizon.  A wind, like the breath of God.   A chance to look out!  To look up!  To look long!  To look high!


I last saw George in 1983, along the seacoast in Vancouver.  There was a big tent set up on a cliff, in the sunshine.  I was late getting there.  My Uncle David Laventhol, then editor of Newsday and creator of a New York Newday—‘truth, justice, and the comics’, had gotten me a press pass to attend.  This was a General Assembly of the World Council of Churches.  Philip Potter was set to preach.  I had to stand in the back, under the drip line of the tent.   On that coast, that day, people of faith from the world over stood to sing.  But it wasn’t the singing of the words, it was the people singing the words that carried the grace:  ‘In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth.  In Him shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find.  His service is the golden chord close binding humankind.’


Jesus is our beacon not our boundary!  He is not ours to measure, but gives the measure himself of all things, and to us, ‘not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace’.


O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me…


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