One Means of Grace

Matthew 17: 1-9

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Frontispiece

 

            Walk with me for a moment, if you will.  You are saintly souls, so you will smoothly saunter along.   Our seminarians want to think about the way they walk, through the town of their service.  People can tell a lot about you by the way you walk.  Is she approachable? Always in a hurry? Open to interruption (ministry is interruption)?  Able to kick up leaves or snow?  You as a community know how to saunter.  You do.

 

Our walk is the journey of faith.  Faith is a gift.  The gift is the gift of a journey, of travel, of motion and movement and progress and regress.  It may be that in a lifetime we create more problems than we solve.   Who is to say?  Yet we do learn, step by step, whether in progress or not, whether in fruitfulness, or not.  After failure, after defeat, you can always ask yourself, or another:  ‘what did you learn from that’?  ‘For all that hurt, what did you learn?’  That can be as healing as anything, for those with whom you walk.

 

Ahead of us on the trail—just take a moment to lift the gaze and train the eyes—we can see or foresee some trail markers ahead.   You will come walking, sauntering, the saints of God to feast on the holiness of God, down the aisle in a moment for One Means of Grace.  You foresee Holy Communion.  You will walk further and later this week into the forty days of Lent, starting Wednesday.  You foresee preparation, discipline, study, fasting, come Lent.

 

You see out more than a month, and just at the end of Lent, too, another marker.  A return, one year later, to Boylston Street.  A return, step by step, a year later, to Marathon Monday.  A return, just about Easter, to the horrific violence, the unspeakable and damnable bombing of our New England family picnic.  A return to the death of Lu Lingzi, our BU student.  We are preparing services and vigils and gatherings, including at 10am Monday April 21, here.  Hold those hurt in prayer, those hurting in prayer, those who helped in prayer, those healing in prayer.

 

There is something, one step two step, something of heart beating as we walk along, lub dub, lub dub, the beating of the heart as we beat along the path in the journey of faith.

 

Thanksgiving

 

            Take one step.  You are coming into One Means of Grace, which it the holy meal of Christ, the Eucharist.  Eucharist means thanksgiving.  Eucharist is thanksgiving.   As the years pass, the gospel of Transfiguration becomes so dear, does it not?  In a lingering moment, a poetical beauty, the three disciples without Andrew, high on a mountain, are entranced, enthralled, enchanted.  They worship.  They truly worship.  They give thanks and worship God, bowing to Moses (law) Elijah (prophets) and Jesus (grace).  Love—how can you not?—the painting Matthew does:  a face of sunshine, a deference (‘if you wish’), a bright cloud, falling on the face, filling with awe, the vision.

 

Follow the trail of this text, Matthew 17.  Its seedbed is in Exodus 24, by the way.  Its roots are in Mark 9, which Matthew has appended and amended.  It has its own beauty, right here right now.  It is preached upon, early, in 2 Peter.  The gospel itself steps along, moves along, makes progress.

 

The world does not lack for wonders but only for a sense of wonder (Chesterton).  Your life does not lack for mystery but only for a sense of mystery.  Your week does not lack for worth but only for an hour of worship.  “I love the silent church, before there is any speaking” (Emerson).  To a friend last week:  “I am aware of the increased attention to Calvin and Calvinism, even in newspapers (N.Y. Times, others).  I believe the attention is in part due to the overall substantial theological material therein, and in part to what you allude to below, which is the gracious grandeur of the creator behind the creation, so emphasized in Calvin.  It is striking to me that Calvin, working in the beauty of the Alps, and Robinson, growing up in the beauty of the Rockies, have a kindred sense of the mountainous greatness of God.”   Pause just a moment on the mountain.

 

When you come to worship you place yourself in earshot of beauty.  When you come to worship you stand and sit in the company of real courage, heroines and heroes of old.  When you come to worship you at last find a way—language, imagery, symbol, all—to express an ultimate concern for ultimate reality. When you come to worship you see the whole horizon, the whole ocean, from birth through love to death.  When you come to worship you place all the rest of your life in the loving embrace of Love.  When you come to worship you are reminded that you are a child of God, no matter what else or other your boss, co workers, neighbors, family, friends or roommates have said or intimated.  When you come to worship you enter the space of Grace.  People have such ragged reasons for skipping worship.  Make it your plan, as you walk along, to find a church family to love and church home to enjoy and a church service to attend at least one hour a week.  To be thankful, Eucharist.  To give thanks, Eucharist.  To sing a song of thanksgiving, Eucharist.

 

Opposition:  Yet sometimes worship goes wrong.  When it does, for you, say so, to whomever.  If it does so regularly or spectacularly, go elsewhere, pronto.  Life is short.  We need make no excuses for prizing our time.

 

Remembrance

 

            Take another step. You are coming into One Means of Grace, which is the holy meal of Christ, in remembrance.  This do in remembrance of me.  To remember and to recall are not the same things, but memory and recollection are cousins, at least.  Do you ever have conversations with loved ones who are now ‘in a greater light and on a farther shore’?  The bath of baptism and the meal of communion, simple gifts, remind us of who we are and whose we are.

 

There is here bread for the journey.  But some of that nourishment is found not in the meal but in the mind.  You are walking now, or soon, up the sawdust trail that is our center aisle, or imagining that walk from your breakfast nook, your front seat, your living room, or your desk.  This One Means of Grace reminds you of your best, own most, truly faithful self.  Such a reminder can be blinding, joyous, painful, and costly.  Your social location does truly matter.

 

Boston University invited students and others to apply to run the Marathon, this year, in memory of our student, Lu Lingzi.  200 applications came for 7 spots, a process well ordered by our Dean of Students office.  Some of us read through the applications in order to select 7.  They are private so they are not quoted, here.  But moving?  Emotional? Wonderful? Real?  All, and more.  This do in remembrance of me.  All 200 wanted to lace their sneakers and don their running togs and endure the 27.3 miles—to remember.  In a way, these worthy applications were themselves sacramental.  This do in remembrance of me.  In our congregation we have others who are running, this year especially in remembrance.

 

Such kindness, such reverence, remind us who we have set out, and sauntered on, to be.   Good people can differ about real and big things, people of faith can see things in varieties of ways.  There are many ways of keeping faith.  Yet, when one hears the call to exact the death penalty, even for such heinous and miserable violence a year ago, one wonders, in remembrance.  This is not really about two brothers, one dead and one heading to trial, is it?  This is really about us, about you and me, about what kind of community we are, and want to be.   Taking life as a way of protecting life—is this who we want to be?  Opposing killing by killing—is this who we want to see when we stand in the mirror of judgment?   You may well feel the real and raw urge for vengeance.  Who would not feel some at least of this?  But who are we?  This is about us, about the people of Boston, and who we most want to be.  It is something to think about on the long walk, the journey of faith, from Eucharist to Lent to Easter to the marathon.

 

Presence

 

Take a third step. You are coming into One Means of Grace, which is the holy meal of Christ, in real presence.  In, with and under the humble elements of bread and wine, changing nothing and changing everything, we are met in presence. ‘You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’.  2 Peter is the latest document in the New Testament, written in the name of Peter more than 100 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Jude is its second chapter!).  The tradition and memory of the Transfiguration lives on, and lives on well, here.  We need not fear the dark.  We need not fear death.  Death is not like a candle snuffed, but like a lamp turned down because the dawn has come.  Eliot poetized that we humans are ‘fear in a handful of dust’ and so we are, full of anxiety—existential anxiety, survivors anxiety, performance anxiety, emotional anxiety.  Into fear and anxiety intrudes a sense of presence.  For your journey of faith, take along a hymn of thanksgiving, take along a word of remembrance, but take along as well a sense of presence.  For all the forms and understandings of disenchantment around us, there lingers, here and now, a sense of presence.   Presence is all about.  Immediacy.  Inwardness.  Experience.

 

We are coming to communion.  My grandmother, born in 1893, spent five decades as communion steward of her little Methodist church.  Four times a year she filled tiny shot glasses and carved small bread cubes, juggling the trays into church, and waiting anxiously through the hour to see whether she had prepared sufficient elements.  I do not remember her remembering to me a single communion homily, by the way, though she will have heard more than fifty years’ worth.

 

At communion I remember her.  I am thankful for her.  I sense her presence.

 

After graduating from Smith College she went to teach school in Tivoli NY, a little town on the Hudson River, east shore.  There later she met my grandfather, in a boarding house for single teachers and others, run by his mother.  His first wife died very young.  One cold winter day—it may have been 100 years ago this winter—she skated on the fully frozen Hudson (rarely so fully frozen), from Tivoli down (south) to Poughkeepsie, 14 miles.  Then she skated back, 14 miles.  Here she is, a young woman, free of the farm, teaching German, meeting young men, falling in love, and skating 28 miles on the rarely so frozen Hudson River.  I see her lacing her skates, in the bright cold air.  I imagine her arranging her coat and cap and scarf and mittens.  I watch her push off, across the clear smooth ice, like that on the Charles this morning.

She pauses, mid skate, looking up into the blue tinted evergreens on the shore line, smiling, happy, free.  All the wonderful Olympic skating of Sochi pales by comparison.  She skates in the Presence.  A real presence, in, with and under all else.

 

At communion I remember her.  I am thankful for her.  I sense her presence.  She embodies what the greats have taught:

 

Tillich: ‘such a degree of entanglement between worldly wisdom and divine revelation that culture is considered the form of religion and religion as culture’s depths’

Kelsey: ‘God actively relates to us to create us, to draw us to eschatological consummation, and to reconcile us when we have become estranged from God’

Neville:  Live the Ultimates.   Be Just.  Develop Wholeness.  Be Compassionate.  Accomplish Something.  Be Grateful.  Honor the universality of value in anything that has form.  To be is to have value.

M Robinson: ‘Our civilization believed for a long time in God and the soul and sin and salvation, assuming, whatever else, that meaning had a larger frame and context than this life in this world (Adam, 84).  We hope to acquire rather than to achieve.  We still believe in the seriousness of being human, while we have lost the means of acknowledging this belief.  We are spiritual agoraphobes.’

Coda

 

            William Sloane Coffin offered his generation ways of thinking and living One Means of Grace.  With happiness we may call one another to the walk, the journey of faith in remembering his wisdom (from the Faces on Faith series)

Faith:  faith is being grasped by the power of love.

Safety:  God provides minimum protection and maximum support.

Adversity:  We learn most from adversity.

Sin:  Sin is a state of being.  When the triangle of love, GOD SELF NEIGHBOR, is sundered, there is sin.

Guilt:  Guilt is the last stronghold of pride.

Will:  The rational mind is not match for the irrational will.

Mercy:  There is more mercy in God than there is sin in us.

Justice:  Pastoral concern for the rich must match prophetic concern for the poor.

Love:  The religious norm is love.

Trouble:  It is what is known and unspoken that causes the most trouble.

Truth:  Faith gives the strength to confront unpleasant truth.

Journey:  Faith puts you on the road.  Hope keeps you on the road.  Love is the end of the road.

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

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