Calvin for Lent: Love in Mind

Matthew 22: 34-40

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‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and soul, and mind’

 

Patriots’ Day

 

Almost a full year ago, many of you gathered in our home for breakfast on Marathon Monday.  You came with clothing fit both for sun and cold, sol y sombra.  You received a recitation of the Gettysburg Address, the reading of a Longfellow poem, and sang together a couple of familiar, patriotic hymns.  You sang well, by the way.  You prayed over a simple breakfast and enjoyed eggs, bacon, juice, toast and coffee.  In order to see the race completed, you walked a block over to Kenmore Square, and basked in the sunlight of Patriots’ Day, the thrill of the Boston Marathon, and the convivial consanguinity of our annual Boston family picnic.

 

Some then went home.  A few were tempted into study.  Others of you walked down Commonwealth Avenue, had some lunch, and enjoyed lollygagging along the Commonwealth Mall.  Two of you had volunteered to work in the medical tents, healing blisters and skinned knees and heat exhaustion.  One couple turned right on Exeter and went over to Boylston, and next to the Fire Department, so important to us this week, a fine Richardson Romanesque building, and rather than going down Boylston, you chose a quieter path, past the hotel and onto Huntington Avenue.   Odd, loud sounds, blasts of no identifiable origin, you heard, and then you walked back to Massachusetts Avenue.

 

By then someone had told you what had happened.  Some of you came to the chapel.  With the rabbi and others, you opened the doors and gave shelter, blankets, water, facilities, land lines, prayers and hugs to hundreds who were walking back west, without benefit of trolley.   The BU police came to take us to BMC, where a BU student lay critically injured.  She survived, praise God.  But the next day, awake, she asked, ‘where is my friend, where is Lu Lingzi’?

 

T.U.L.I.P.

 

         You could see depravity, even total depravity, in bombs that killed a child and our student and others.   You could see randomness, election, strange if not unconditional, in the sheer random horror of some hurt and some spared.  You could really for once recognize limited atonement—not just every one, not all have been captured by the gospel of Christ, the love of neighbor.  You could also observe grace, an irresistible grace, in the two who went to the tent for bandage and stayed for tourniquets, and in so many first responders like them, and in those who ministered from the front steps of Marsh Chapel.  From that day, a year ago, you have watched perseverance, a perseverance of the saints, through grief, through trauma, through amputation, through restoration, through renewal.

 

Yet in our experience, especially our Boston Marathon 2013 experience, the hard realism of Calvin’s TULIP formula was visible—evil, randomness, hatred, yes, but also grace and perseverance.  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, yes, but also irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints.

 

Calvin had a friend in Faulkner.  In January William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses stood out from others on a bookstore shelf.   A sort of novel, it is, as powerful as it is impenetrable: ”they can learn nothing save through suffering, remember nothing save when underlined in blood”.

This Lent we engage as our conversation partner in preaching, the great Geneva Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564).   We have found it helpful, in this season, to link our preaching here at Marsh Chapel, an historically Methodist pulpit, with voices from the related but distinct Reformed tradition, which has been so important over 400 years in New England.   The Methodist tradition has emphasized human freedom, the Reformed divine freedom.  In Lent each year we have brought the two into some interaction, both harmonious and dissonant.  It is fitting that we began with Genesis 2.  Genesis 1 is a more Anglican chapter, if you will, representing the goodness of creation.  2 and 3 are more Calvinist, if you will, representing the fallen character of creation, known daily to us in sin, death and the threat of meaninglessness.  Both traditions, English and French, make space for both creation and fall.  But the emphasis is different, one more garden the other more serpent, one more creation the other more fall.  (With Calvin we encounter the chief resource for others we have engaged other years—voices like those of Robinson (2013), Ellul (2012), Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin)(2011), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008).)

(A friend wrote recently:  It seems to me impossible to speak of Calvinism without mentioning the famous/infamous acrostic for the 5 points of Calvinism—TULIP  Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). 

 

With due respect we honor the divine freedom affirmed in Calvin’s TULIP form.  More, we honor the divine freedom in his vision of the glory of God, the majesty of God, the beautiful nothingness of God, the indeterminate mystery of God.   Yet alongside this divine freedom we place the human freedom given us in the Gospel, given the church, that capacity to define loyalty or as exit or as voice, that wonderful communal living letter of recommendation, that deep thirst for the divine, and tradition that keeps love in mind.

 

For all our warlike failings, there is still grandeur to the human being, a grandeur personally known in love, and that love modeled after its partner in the divine love, love divine, all loves excelling! (Excelling but not erasing).

 

A real celebration of the Gospel will depend upon a common hope. T. Something temporal. A heart for the heart of the city—a longing to heal the spiritual culture of the land. U. Something universal. An interreligious setting.  L. Something lasting  of love in mind. A developed expression of contrition.  I. Something imaginative. A keen sense of imagination.  P. Some real power. An openness to power and presence.

 

Love in Mind

 

Our gospel lesson today, Matthew’s curt summary of the Markan teaching, gives us a way forward, a way to live out such a common hope.  Unlike some philosophy and some religion today, the gospel does not separate head from heart, does not separate, mind from faith, does not separate the spiritual and the cerebral.  In fact, here, to love with heart and soul means, emphatically to love with the your mind.  Do you?  Do you have love in mind?

 

Matthew has shortened the passage from Mark.  He has taken out the positive reference to the Jewish interlocutor.  He has winnowed the narrative structure of the text.  He has emphasized mind.  Especially he has removed the kind response Jesus makes in Mark to his questioner:  ‘you are not far from the kingdom of God’.  What he has added is an introduction that describes a conniving collusion of the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘test’ Jesus.  In Mark Jesus is invited to help, and he does.  In Matthew he is put to the test.  Love of God.  Love of Neighbor.  On these two depend all the others.  That is, even in the darker condition of the church, perhaps in the fear of the terror of Domitian, reflected in Matthew, the gospel stands.  Love means love in mind.

 

And ‘mind’?  Almost every NT use of the mind, is in Paul, as this morning in Romans, a measure of his Greek outlook.  There, in Paul, and here, in Matthew, the word refers to the breadth of human intellect, ingenuity, and creativity.  But in Matthew there is a prefix, and  the word gives a breathing, process, dimension to the root of the noun, which you will recognize, nous.  Here:  Not so much thought, as thinking.  Not so much mind, as minding.  Understanding as gerund:  “if I am understanding you…” A disposition.  A manner of thinking, like ‘after a manner of speaking’. (BGD, loc cit).

Let us live with love in mind.

 

Something temporal.

 

Boston University under the leadership of President Robert A. Brown and former Mayor Thomas Menino gave last week a day of reflection and instruction about last year’s Marathon bombings in which four people were killed, one a child and one our student, and several hundred were maimed and injured.   The immediate crisis response, medical response, security response and civic response, in retrospect, proved to be stellar, superior, and ultimately life saving for many.  Some of you in this room were part of that heroic effort, and many more of you, listening from afar this morning, were also a part of that heroic effort.

Something temporal.

Something universal.

 

Love in mind!  Use your head for something more than a hat rack!  You cannot be both good and stupid!

 

And be very careful about mindless misinformation:

 

In the film, Doubt, Father Brendan Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, told this story:

 

A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’ ‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’ So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. ‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’ So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you cut the pillow with a knife?’ he says. ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘And what were the results?’ ‘Feathers,’ she said. ‘Feathers?’ he repeated. ‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’ ‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’

And from another rooftop, in Poland in 1982, recently deceased Solidarity leader, and physicist, Zbigniew Romasewski, broadcast for a minutes a day Radio Solidarity, sending worldwide, feathers of freedom:  ‘Solidarity is not a name only, it is a value’ (NYT, 3/28/14)

 

Something universal.

 

Something lasting.

 

You will need it.  You will need your wits about you to navigate the swells and tides of what Christian Smith describes in Lost in Transition:  The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.   A generation caught up, to a great degree, in amoral sexuality, steady inebriation, rampant drug use, limitless greed, self celebration and adulation, and an almost complete lack of empathy for the hurts of others.   This generation reminds you of their parents.

 

You will need love in mind.  You will need your wits about you to navigate the swells and tides of millennial culture, what Charles Blow calls the ‘self(ie) generation’ (NYT, 3/8/14):  unaffiliated with religion, distrustful of politics, heavily indebted, largely unmarried, distrustful of others, digitally native:  all in all we seem to be experiencing a wave of liberal minded detachees, a generation in which institutions are subordinate to the individual and social networks are digitally generated rather than interpersonally accrued. 

 

You will need love in mind. Learning that begets virtue and virtue that begets piety.  Knowledge that begets action and action that begets being.  Love in mind—your thoughts, your understandings, your perspectives.

 

Geena Davis, BU\CFA 1979, spoke to us Friday.  She remembered being told that 1% of theater majors find lifetime work acting, and reflected, how sad for those other 99!

 

In the New Testament as a whole, the full gospel, another sort of TULIP, inverted if you will, is expressed:

 

T. In the Gospel, Jesus loves and teaches love.

 

U. In the Gospel, Jesus recognizes the choices that inevitably make us who we are.  Choice is relational and conditional, and makes us inspect what condition our condition is in.  These people, and we too, must have not been unconditionally elected.  Look at David, whose foibles and faith, together make him the man he was, in conjunction:  David and Saul.  David and Goliath.  David and Jonathan.  David and Bathsheba.  David and Nathan.  David and Solomon.

L. In the Gospel, Jesus gathers everybody, all, all, like a hen with a brood.

 

I. In the Gospel, Jesus faces, heartsick, the brutal truth, that these people, and we ourselves, can and do resist the invitations of love.  They must not have been powerless.  Jesus’ grace was resisted, steadily and effectively, to the path of the cross.

 

P. Here Jesus himself does not persevere, not at least in Jerusalem, or in the spiritual culture of our time, nor does his cause, at least not in this passage.  Persecution not perseverance awaits this holy one.

 

Something lasting.

Something imaginative.

 

You need love in mind!  Deuteronomy had ‘heart and soul and strength’, but the gospels prefer ‘mind’.

 

John Calvin put it this way:  Only the free service of our wills is acceptable to him… in Hebrew the word heart often includes mind…

 

Augustine:  “What are kingdoms without justice but large bands of robbers”.

 

Coffin:  “Be loyal to a truth that is good for all.”

 

Daedalus:  “I go forth to forge in the smith of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”

 

Norman Maclean:  “you can love completely without complete understanding”.

 

Erazim Kohak:  “A life wholly absorbed in need and its satisfaction, be it on the level of conspicuous consumption or of marginal survival, falls short of realizing the innermost human possibility of cherishing beauty, knowing truth, doing the good, worshiping the holy”

 

A Wilder:  ‘life is more volcanic than we thought…art provides human beings with the incentive to go on living…Theopoetic ‘reversing the process of disenchantment…the modern world has lost the sense of the sacred…a more general awareness of the mysterious and unpredictable in life’.

 

None of April 15 2013 was God’s will.  Not the grace and not the depravity, not the perseverance and not the limitation. No, all this was the will of man, for ill and good, not the will of God, the freedom of man, for ill and good, not the freedom of God.  God gives freedom but does not dictate its use.  Gabriel Vahanian:  ‘The will of man is more inscrutable than the will of God.’  Perhaps you are an apophatic, but if so, be an emphatic apophatic.  God is mystery, wonder, spirit, presence, and lies beyond all reason.

 

Dag Hammarskjold:  “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal Deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason”.

 

 

Something imaginative.

 

Something powerful.

 

American higher education is the envy of the world.

American higher education has, however, one glaring deficiency: it does not teach its undergraduates how to live. It teaches them when the French Revolution was, what the carbon cycle is, and how to solve for X. It does not teach them what to do when they feel confused, alone, and scared. When they break down after a break-up. When they are so depressed they cannot get out of bed. When they drink themselves into unconsciousness every night. When find themselves living on someone’s couch. When they decide to go off their meds. When they flunk a class or even flunk out of school. When they get fired. When a sibling dies. When they don’t make the team. When they get pregnant. When their divorced parents just won’t stop fighting. When they are too sick to get to the hospital. When they lose their scholarship. When they’ve been arrested for vandalism. When they hate themselves so much that they begin self-mutilating. When they’re thinking about suicide. When they force themselves to throw up after every meal. When they turn to drugs for relief from their pain. When they’ve been assaulted or raped. When their mind is racing and cannot stop. When they wonder about the meaning of it all. When they are terrified by the question “What do I do next?

Something powerful.

 

Coda

 

This world is not going to get better only with the comforting aid of sentiment, feeling, emotion, and things of the heart.  It will take a hard headed realism, and a hard minded love to transform this TULIP world.  That is where you come in.  You have gained admission to a stellar university.  Smarty Pants.   Good for you, smarty pants.  When you write your history of John Wesley, summarize please his teaching in TULIP formula.  The future, God’s future, needs your mind:  T. Something temporal. A heart for the heart of the city—a longing to heal the spiritual culture of the land. U. Something universal. An interreligious setting.  L. Something of lasting love in mind. A developed expression of contrition.  I. Something imaginative. A keen sense of imagination.  P. Some real power.

 

From this day forward, will you live with love in mind?

 

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

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