Means of Grace

Luke 24

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New Creed

 

We believe in God

Who has created and is creating

Who has come in the true person, Jesus, to reconcile and make new

Who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

God calls us to be the church, the Body of Christ.

To celebrate Christ’s presence

To love and serve others

To proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen

Our Judge and our Hope

In life, in death, in life beyond death

God is with us

We are not alone

Thanks be to God

 

Karen Daly

            Karen Daly spoke at Sargent College last week.  She is a courageous nurse.  In the ER one afternoon she was accidently stuck by an infected needle, contracting Hepatitis C and Aids, some twenty years ago.  She spent many years then successfully combating these diseases, both in her own body and also in the halls of congress.  This Sargent lecture each year is one of the very best moments available at BU for pastoral preparation.  It is theological without being theological.  She told her story.  After living with the realization that she was infected for some days, in a kind of stupor, she received a phone call from her new doctor.  Somehow he found her, though she was thousands of miles away.  He said:  “I am your new physician.  You are going to be fine”.  She said for the first time she began to feel human again.  Weeks later the doctor gave her his home phone number.  He said, “If you cannot sleep at night and are worried, don’t worry alone.  You call me.  We will talk”.  She said that for the first time she began to think she might get better.  Salvus is the latin word for health.  Salvation is healing.  Healing comes through words and through fellowship, preaching and sacrament.

 

 

Luke 24

            Our gospel summarizes resurrection to preaching and communion.  Not to try to boil us down to grandchildren of Rudolph Bultmann, but this long narrative depicts Jesus Risen as the telling of the good news and the sharing of the bread and cup.  The difference resurrection makes is the possibility of preaching and the availability of sacrament, both means of grace.

I remember an Anglican cleric, whose journalist interrogator asked about the precipitous numerical demise of the Church of England.  “What will happen when there are almost no members left and all the buildings are sold?” he was asked.  “Well, I guess then we will find a Bible, a table, a cup, a plate, some bread, some wine, and we will start over”.

What happens in Luke 24, as you have just heard, is what happens at Marsh Chapel on Sunday morning.  People on a journey gather.  The Scripture is read, and more importantly, interpreted in preaching.  The table is set and the meal is served.

That’s it, folks.

Not much to go on, you might and rightly say.  A simple meal and some fairly simple words.

Seniors

This morning we gather up in prayer the experiences of four years:  the learning, the growth, the change, the gladness, the adventure, the losses, the tragedy, the trauma, the friendships, the successes, the mistakes, the loves, the heartaches, the happiness, and lift them all in a spirit of grace and peace.

This morning we embrace the young graduates of 2014, as they commence with the rest of life, in a world ever a stage, with men and women merely players, in a lifetime taking many parts:  infant, schoolchild, lover, soldier, judge, retiree, convalescent, and we lift them all in a spirit of grace and peace.

This morning we open ourselves to the world around us, to all its great gifts and all its crying needs, mindful of other young people who in this hour lack raiment, lack shelter, lack nourishment, lack health, lack freedom, and pledge ourselves to live not only in this world but also, and more so, for this world, in a spirit of grace and peace.

Our prayer:  four years, one class, our world.

As the grace for our meal I invite you to join with me in a prayer written by John Wesley.

Wesley was the founder of Methodism, the religious tradition that gave birth to Boston University in 1839.

His breakfast prayer exemplifies that tradition:

The words are simple:  that is significant

The language is universal:  that is significant

The tone is thankful:  that is significant

The phrasing is memorable:  that is significant

It is a prayer fit for use in a call and response manner, as we shall this morning:  that too is significant:

Gracious Giver of all good

Thee we thank for rest and food

Grant that all we do or say

May in thy service be, this day

Voices

            Flanner O’Connor:  “I would like to be intelligently holy.”

DJHall:  ‘ours is a religion that must share spiritual nurture of the world with many other faith traditions…

Paul Theroux, advice to writers:  “1. Leave Home.  2. Go Alone.  3. Stay on the Ground… “

Dag Hammarskjold:  ‘God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal Deity, but we die on the day our lives cease to be illumined by a radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder whose source lies beyond all reason.’

St.Chrysostom:  “A just, useful and suitable intercession…The poor are necessary for the spiritual well-being of the rich…Your brother is more truly God’s temple than any church building…Show a natural compassion…To make you humane for your own salvation…Enjoy luxury in moderation, give the rest away…God:  Scripture, Sacraments, Poor…Those who are sent out to be dependent upon the hospitality of others: the apostolic ministry…’Ministry is mendicant’…The sign of the mendicant church calls forth generosity…Serve the poor under all conditions and circumstances…The poor are the bearers of God’s spirit in the way that the rich are not…All goodness in the world is a reflection of God’s grace…”

Two Friends

           I recall two friends, recently deceased:  Jim Burchett (69); Bill Hardoby (62).  My pastoral ministry to Jim, a corporate leader, and to Bill, a psychiatrist, is finished.  Whatever it is, it is over.  Did they receive grace?  Were their souls healed, saved. ‘If anyone is damned, Jesus has failed…I can tell you how the world works.  But we still have to decide what it means…The world is absurd, but faith is an act of faith.’ (R Cooper).  Did they live?  Did they live before they died?  Did they know love? Were they loved?  Did they love?  As they died, did they have care: personal, physical, pastoral?  Did they die in fear or trust?  Were they practically ready?  Did they have a will, funeral plans, a burial plot, finished conversations? (OOPS).  Did they die in fellowship with God?  Did they die in friendship with God and others?  What regrets did they harbor, what unshared hurts, what secret sermons, what despair, what deferred desire?  What models for dying, for a good death, did they have?  Did they die in belief, believing in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?  In their last months, or days, when they wanted to talk, was there anyone there?

These two men worked hard, played by the rules, achieved and succeeded.  They took big responsibilities for their long marriages, gifted children, extended families, communities of fellowship and meaning, and to some degree, their environment, legacy, and world.  They were men.  Good men.  They ‘did their duty’.  Were they happy? At peace? Centered? Satisfied? Contrite? Humble?

Did my friendship and pastoral care provide the right space, depth, meaning, hearing, word, example to ‘bring them home’?

For Jim, the church was central.  For Bill, the church was peripheral.  For both, the church was meaningful.

Ancient Creed

Said Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’.  Our faith, expressed in the creed, says much the same

1.  I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth

A light angelic voice, a crisp little line.  The ancients said only what they needed to, here.  God made the world.  God set the conditions for the world to be.  God created.  Heaven—things invisible.  Earth—things visible.  There is no attempt to explain the fallen darkness of the world, here.  There is no avoidance of the absolute mystery, here.  There is a just an abrupt statement:  God created.

2.  And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried…

A clear voice, narrative and personal.  Jesus is our guide, our measure, our Lord above all Lords.  His life is the line of God in the sand of time.   Sent with the love that only a Dad can know and give to a Son known and loved.  Conceived with the joy of passion in spirit.  Born of the best of women, like every birth an absolute miracle itself, a smoking cradle.  Who suffered, and suffered in a social political matrix, under the thumb of the ruler of the age—suffering particular, local, individual and unappreciated.  Who died an ignominious death, stretched out as a common criminal among others common and criminal.

…The third day he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

A trumpet angelic voice, sonorous and somber and serene.  Heaven is His.  He is ours.  What else shall we take with us?  Who else could we ever expect to judge us?  Easter is the victory of the invisible heaven or the visible earth.  There is a judgment for life and for death and for the living and for the dead.  And Love has the last word.

3.  I believe in the Holy Spirit:  the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

A sweet voice.  Placing you at the global table.  Feeding you with the fellowship of greatness.  Steadying you with mercy, mercy, mercy.  (If you take no other clue from Easter, take along an inclination to forgive).   The capacity for renewal of the church, and so by extension of your spirit, soul and body.  The confidence that life outlasts death within the mystery with which we began.

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

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