Archive for August, 2014

With All Your Mind

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Matthew 22: 34-40

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‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and soul, and mind’ (Matthew 22: 37)

Preface

In 1762, John and Charles Wesley opened a school in Kingswood, England.  Charles wrote:  ‘unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety’.  He had love in mind.

In college you develop habits of mind.  Will love in mind be one?  Will you find a way to love God with all your mind?

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? 

 Matthew 

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.

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 word mind is in Paul.  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 love the lord with all our mind.  But how?

T.U.L.I.P.

We send you home with a tulip, as a way to think about love andmind. We will follow from our Presbyterian siblings.  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). We shall use our Presbyterian siblings’ acrostic, in a different manner, to engage Matthew 22: 37—T, true; U-universal; L-lasting; I-inspired; P-personal.

A real celebration of the Gospel will depend upon a common hope. T. Something true. 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. Something personal. An openness to power and presence.

Something true.

To be good news, the gospel must be true—true to God, to world, to self, to others.

We know this with regard to the full humanity of gay people.  Bigotry against sexual minorities is not the gospel.

We know this in our treatment of others, especially in our personal and professional relationships.  If you play fast and loose with someone’s identity—in a professional relationship, say—you risk doing permanent harm.  You will not the full effect of this until it has happened to you.

Pray for a spirit of truth this year, beginning today, Matriculation Sunday, with this prayer:

Thou who loves us into love and frees us into freedom

We bring forward our thanks today for the freedom to study at Boston University

For the study of medicine, dentistry, physical therapy

Whose fruit is public health

For the study of law

Whose fruit is justice

For the study of management, business and economics

Whose fruit is community

For the study of art—music, dance, drama, all

Whose fruit is beauty

For the study of communication

Whose fruit is truth

For the study of engineering

Whose fruit is expanding safety

For the liberal, metropolitan and general study of art and science

Whose fruit is freedom

For the study of hospitality

Whose fruit is conviviality

For the study of education

Whose fruit is memory and hope

For the study of military and physical education

Whose fruit is security and strength

For the study of social work

Whose fruit is systemic compassion

For the study of theology and the practice of religion

Whose fruit is meaning, belonging and empowerment

In this year may the 40,000 member family of Boston University—students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, neighbors all—become, by grace:

healthier, more just, more connected, fairer, truer, sturdier, freer, gentler, deeper, safer, more compassionate, and more aware

O Thou who loves us into love and frees us into freedom.

Amen

 

Something true.

Something universal.

Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but Jesus is not all the God there is.  We are not Unitarians of the second person of the Trinity.  Nor are we alone as the sole religious tradition on the planet.  We shall need to share the spiritual nurture of earth’s 7 billion inhabitants with others.  With Muslims, like Anwar Sadat; and Hindus like Mahatma Ghandi; and Jews like Elie Wiesel; and Buddhists like our BU student killed in last year’s Marathon, Lu Lingzi.  True peace is found in Jesus but not exclusively in Jesus. Lu Lingzi’s memorial service last year in Boston made this fully clear to those of us present.

Our friend and colleague Dean Kenn Elmore said during a recent conversation, and in a truly Howard Thurman-like way, ‘sometimes we lose our capacity to reach for, to grasp, to hold onto the universals’.  To love the Lord with all our mind.

Something universal.

Something lasting.

As we minister with the students this year, we will need today’s gospel.

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.

At Erwin Church in Syracuse NY several years ago we had some memorable failures in ministry.  But sometimes the things that seem less than successful turn out better than you think.  Like the dinner we gave in 1985, hoping for 20 or 30 students and none came, save one young woman, Pam Brush.  But she was all it took, she and God’s grace, to grow, over time, a vibrant neighborhood young adult ministry.

And now at Marsh Chapel.  I wonder if Pam,  or someone like her, is here this year?  Here at Marsh Chapel.  A place with 2000 years and more of traditions, embedded in stained glass, a 1000 year old gothic architecture ‘built to last’, a 175 year denominational legacy, a 60 year old building and congregation, and a handshake, a hand to hold onto that is lastingly steady.  You may need that hand and handshake someday this year.

Something lasting.

Something inspired.

A bit of wonder, a bit of wonder.

Ralph Sockman:  ‘the larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it.’

GK Chesterton:  ‘the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder’

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 like the 139th Psalm (recited)…

We are focused this year on spirit.

Something imaginative.

Something personal.

Robert Frost taught us about personal things, about invitation and compassion and vocation and aspiration.   Our ushers, lead by Mark Gray, and our hospitality ministry, lead by Ray Bouchard, need your help with invitation.  Our student ministries, lead by Br Larry Whitney, need your help with compassion.  Our vocational discernment program, lead by Revs Hessler and Quigley, need your help with vocation.  Our global international ministry, lead by Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, and our musical ministry, lead by Dr. Jarrett, need your help with aspiration.  There is on this little island of Marsh Chapel in the great sea of Boston University, an island of peace and safety, of challenge and inquiry, of thought and meditation, of decency and health, there is on this little of island of Marsh Chapel, a place for you, over these four years.

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 world.  That is where you come in.  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 true. 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.  I. Something imaginative. A keen sense of imagination.  P. Something personal.

In the spirit I call you to love the Lord with all your mind.  In conversation, memory, and exercise.  If you have not had a real conversation once a day, you have missed something.  If you have not memorized something once a week, you have missed a chance to be mindful.  If you have walked along the sea shore, near Boston, once a month, you have missed the cleansing of the spirit.  If you have walked down to the harbor and back to BU once a year, you have missed something.

I can not speak to you if I have not spoken for you and I cannot speak for you if I have not spoken with you.  To needs for and for needs with.

From this day forward, will you love the Lord your God with all your mind?

John and Charles Wesley did so in 1762.  John Dempster did so by founding Boston University in 1839, just a few years later: 

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old

Searching out the new

Our Alma Mater evermore

Hail! BU!

 

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allen Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

Learning Together

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Matthew 16: 13-20

Romans 12: 1-8

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Frontispiece

                        It is good to be home.

We have missed you, your smiling faces, your singing voices, your radio responses, your stories, daily appended, of our shared journey in faith.  We have missed being with you in worship.

Although we did join you last Sunday.   The Sunday free, after a joyful itinerancy north and south through the summer, we became radio\internet listeners to your service.  Under a blue sky, before a blue lake, on the deck of a federal blue cottage, cooled by a light breeze, a spirit wind, we worshipped with Marsh Chapel.  The sprightly hymns.  The crisp readings.  The magnificent choral and organ music.  The word of God rightly spoken in the sermon.  Moments of prayer and communal celebration.  You gave us all these.  Jan and I thank you.  As the final hymn was lifted I thought, ‘I could go to that church’.  I said so to Jan.  She said, ‘you do’.  She is always so right.  ‘You will be there next Sunday’.  Right again.  Such a beautiful and highly recommended marital utterance:  ‘You are so right’.  I commend it to you.  It will bless you.

With you, in the blue, blue sky blue house blue lake, we prayed to the Blue God, and were fed, and nourished and satisfied.   Your witness here, virtual and actual, lasts, matters, counts and is real.  You help us and others learn, as we learn together.

Learning in Voice

                        We have been learning this summer in voice, through voice.  Our 8th annual national summer guest preacher series has brought you emerging adult voices on the theme, ‘the gospel and emerging adulthood.’  Rev. Dr. Walton served as my teaching fellow for the course on the Gospel of John—for seven years.  And lived!  She has heard me say everything I know about the fourth gospel, seven times.   She has heard me say more than that!  Like the woman who went Niagara Falls in a barrel—and lived!  Her ‘batting cleanup’ voice lingers in our memory as do these all.  A diminutive priest,  more David than Goliath, more Zaccheus than Caiaphas,  she was told by a radio listener, ‘in the Marsh Pulpit who sound like you are 5’7”! Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, our sister and friend and colleague in ministry, occupies a position unique in the whole country, a university chaplaincy devoted to international students as a whole—not a role carved out of the petty narcissism of small religious differences, but a common ground spiritual ministry with Buddhist and Bahai, Muslim and Hindu, Confucian and Secular, all.  Your dean celebrated and spoke next, preceded a week by our dear partner in University Church ministry, from Harvard, the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Walton, whose partnership in gospel becomes ever more meaningful to us here, across the river.  Dr. Echol Nix come up all the way from Furman College in South Carolina, to honor his alma mater, and gather with friends here in Boston, and bring us the voice of a philosophical theologian in the pulpit.  Br. Larry Whitney, who guides our ministry with students here at Marsh, and never complains to preach on July 4 weekend, brought his own voice in sermon and celebration.  My son in law from Rochester,(a newly minted Princeton PhD, a student of the Rev. Dr. Kenda Dean, whose theological conversation partner for the dissertation was Howard Thurman), Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady, brought his voice and the singing voices of his wife and 3 children, or, the voices of our daughter and grandchildren, depending on your perspective.   Our own Rev. Dr. Robin Olson, probably the most expert and knowledgeable minister in New England regarding emerging adulthood, brought her voice way back in June, ‘our lead off hitter’, as she said.  That is, we are learning with and through the voices of others.  Proud of their varieties of perspective, of their varieties in gender, race, background, denomination and ethnicity.   Their ministries, and their personal gifts over many miles and years, to me, are exceedingly sweet and precious, precious jewels, voices of the present and future beloved community.   And all, with one notable decanal exception, themselves in or very near emerging adulthood!  Voice that themselves are echoes of a gospel not yet fully spoken. Comparisons are odious, and all 8 series have brought height and breadth and depth.  This summer’s though brought just a little more height, all the way to 5’7”, and beyond.  Spend an evening reading or listening again to the nine sermons, and we shall continue learning together, in voice!  And mark the learning:  there is new generation of excellent preachers, emerging in and around Marsh Chapel.  Amazing Grace how sweet the sound!

Learning in Thought

                        And what did we learn?  My dad, before he died 4 years ago, a proud alumnus of BU 1953 by the way, for whom our coming to Marsh Chapel meant more initially than it meant to anyone else on planet earth I think, partly because he knew the history more fully and felt the potential more keenly, (and I am so eternally happy that he could be here himself, for worship with us, for some years), used to ask me, and others, following high or in some cases low moments:  ‘and what did you learn?’

We are learning in thought, we are learning to learn and think, together.  Not one generation instructing another only, or another reconstructing another only.  Not GI\Silent\Gen X\Millenial\Gen Y in verbal or other competition, though creative tension is often creative, but together is this confluent space of Marsh Chapel and environs and extended community, a hoped for community, an aspirational desire to live, learning together.  So what did you learn this summer?

I ask graduate students to learn to summarize a book in a page.   What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  So, we will here summarize a summer in nine sentences, one per sermon, June to August., and then in a word each. 1.  A capacity for wonder bursts from the faithful witness of emerging adults.  2. Emerging adults want love of neighbor, learned and taught in substantive even traditional worship. 3. Development for emerging adults is misunderstood if it is linear only, and benefits from a non-linear perspective.  4.  The gospel, particularly for the college years, is about the transformation of the mind.  5. Emerging adults benefit to remember Bonhoeffer and the cost of discipleship (both these themes quite fit for our readings this morning.  6. Wise leadership is humble leadership, all other appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.  7.  Higher education is wonderful but alone cannot finally teach emerging adults how to live, cannot feed all alone, especially in the most difficult experiences.  8. Be quiet.  Silence!  Silence is golden, and emerging adults know it, and teach it by example.  9.  Emerging adults were recently children, and children are full participants, fully fellow itinerants, on the journey of faith—especially when it comes to worship.

For those of you who tuned out one or all summer Sundays, I offer, free of charge, like the grace of the gospel itself, this humble nine word summary of the emerging adulthood gospel :  wondrous, hospitable, non-linear, transformative, costly, humble, nourishing, quiet, childlike.  Listen or read through the sermons again.  They have fed us this summer 2014

Learning in Conflict

                        We have needed the nourishment.  Our thirst, our hunger, have needed the slaking, the feeding of the gospel this summer—grace, freedom, love, forgiveness, pardon, peace, acceptance.   These are your middle names. John Grace Smith.  Mary Freedom Jones.  You are children of light.  And if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.   That is who you are.  You are a child of God.  Pray in the morning remembering that.  Read Scripture at noon remembering that.  Visit a lonely neighbor in the afternoon remembering that.  Send a check in the evening remembering that.  And come to church—here or elsewhere—come Sunday, remembering that.  You are a child of God.

We need that steady reminder.  For our summer has been one in which the background of violence all about us has spilled into the foreground of existence nearer to us.  You list the summer 2014 background conditions…Gaza and Israel: Phyrric victories; Europe and Ukraine: collective effort;  Ferguson and Race, second summer: continued trauma;Iraq and Syria: islands of decency; Planet and Warming: Bill McGibben calling us to compunction; College women and campus safety:  our failure, our shame at 1/5 assaulted; Tornadoes and Fires:  natural disaster;  Debt personal and debt national:  $1T in student loans alone.

We lift only one, and briefly, this morning, Ferguson.

Rev. Earbie Bledsoe, on Ferguson: “No, I don’t think things have changed much. Not enough to write down,” he said.   (msnbc.com 8/19/14)

Not enough to write down.  

By your measure, what percentage of slavery is still with us?

The wiser and more sensitive see in Ferguson a moment of judgment and revelation, an eschatological incursion into the present time, of harm from the past and hope for the future.  As with Treyvon Martin last summer, we are brought up short, chastened, brought to compunction and to lament.  Our desire for justice, an even handed, common justice, common to all without privilege or prejudice, is not what we see in the mirror of events in Ferguson.

A sermon is often a mirror held up before a community, so that as a community we can see ourselves, as we are together.  In a sermon we are learning together, and learning to be together.   There we see ongoing distrust, ongoing fear and distance, ongoing hatred that boils up into violence.  We also learn together about the amount of military weaponry and equipment that has somehow found its way into otherwise small, sleepy communities.  As with the violence and loss in Gaza, we are learning the hard way, learning together.  Ferguson is a sermon.

Now, one thing a town of any size can use, can benefit from, is a strong, loving church. This will bring us in a moment to Matthew 16.  It is noteworthy that the clergy in Ferguson, of the black churches and of many churches, were a part of the leadership for compassion and civility last week.  Pastors who make home visits know people, their voices, their needs, their fears.  They have a built up and built in trust, or credibility, when they have been doing their pastoral work.  So when, in the course of events, some of that pastoral capital needs to be spent and invested in the free market of peace and justice, there is money in the bank.  You need to have some of that spiritual money in the bank, in order to lead a community out of stranglehold and suffocation.  You need some institutional traction.  In its clergy and churches Ferguson had some of that.

This too is something our bright, compassionate emerging adults are struggling with.

“It is no surprise, as Pew reported, that the millennial generation is skeptical of institutions — political and religious — and prefers to improvise solutions to the challenges of the moment. “  ( 8/17/14 NYT)

Yet…

“Empathy was a theme sounded repeatedly by some of the millennials photographed for this article, and interviewed in an online slide show that accompanies it.”

For empathy to be real, to be learned, to be experienced, and then to be a source of action, and hopefully of transformation to justice, for there to be traction in history toward good ends, you need institutions, particularly political and religious ones.  Empathy without institutions is dead.  King and others needed the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund.   Wesley and others needed the annual conference, and its systematic itinerant appointments.  Thurman and others needed Marsh Chapel, the Church of All Nations, and Rankin Chapel.  Frederick Douglass needed the North Star.  Abraham Lincoln needed the Republican Party.  Dorothy Day needed the Catholic Workers.  Kate Millett needed NOW, whether or not fish needed bicycles like women needed men.  Bob Hill has needed:  the Methodist Church, Camp Casowasco, Ohio Wesleyan, UnionMcGillColgateRochesterBostonUniversity, and yes, Marsh Chapel.  And Matthew needed the church, the ecclesia. Faith without works is dead and empathy without institutions is, too.  Slavery is still 30% with us, and to be rid of it we shall need INSTITUTIONAL reform—education, employment, health, public safety, and, yes, strong liberal southern and Midwestern churches.  Rev. Earbie Bledsoe has been pastor at his church, built with his own hands, for 43 years.  And the gates of hell have not prevailed against it.

Learning in Scripture

                        To conclude.  A healthy institution of any sort, particularly of any religious sort and certainly of any Christian sort, is a community that is learning together.  As Camus said, the healthy society is a circle in which all are seated and each reminds the other:  ‘You are not God.  I am not God.  You are not God.’

We are disciples.  The word means student.  Disciple means student.  Save Discipuli.  Save Magistra.   Discipleship means studentship.  The model of faithfulness recommended, particular in Matthew, and especially in Matthew 16, is the model of the student.  Perhaps if we simply said ‘studentship’ rather than ‘discipleship’  we would do better.

Living right means learning together—in voice, in thought, in conflict, in Scripture.  Learning together.

It is this driving kerygma that causes Matthew to eviscerate Mark here.   Matthew has taken a passage from Mark 8 and turned it upside down.   It is not so much the detail, by the way, of the manner in which Matthew and Luke revise Mark, which is important.  What matters is that they happily regospeled the gospel for their own day, to a fair thee well.

No?  No?  Oh Yes.  Yes indeed.  Yes.

Mark in the passage calls Peter ‘Satan’.  Matthew calls him Rock.  Mark has no mention of any church of any kind, staying still within the community of Judaism.  Matthew uses the word, ecclesia—not easily something Jesus would have said, and gives Peter keys to the kingdom.  Mark has Jesus tell the disciples—the students—to keep it all secret.  Matthew rejects that secrecy, except for the title, messiah, and says, ‘preach it’.  Why?  Why does Matthew gut Mark?  Answer:  he and his community are learning together.  From voices.  From thoughts.  From conflicts.  And Matthew sternly tells his people:  you need institutional grounding, support, protection, and sustenance.  And let me be clear about it:  the gates of shall not prevail against it.

Coda

                        Just more thing, as are learning together in voice, thought, conflict and scripture.

Like Peter Falk used to say, in his character as Colombo, the absent minded professor like detective:  ‘Just one more thing…’

Who do you say He is?  Notice the passage crashes away from the general and the philosophical—what do others say (general) about the son of man (philosophical).  Some say (general), the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the Prophets (philosophical).  Notice the move to the specific and the personal.  Who do you say I am?  Meaning for you today:  how are you going to live?  A life of studentship, or not?

Said Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

And you?

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

The Grown-Ups of God vs. Mustard Seed Faith

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Genesis 26:12-18

Psalm 84

Luke 18:15-17

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

 

I’m thrilled to be back among you this morning at Marsh Chapel, and I want to thank Dean Hill for the invitation to, in his words, “bat clean up” in this summer’s national preaching series. I’ve had a chance to listen to the fine sermons that have been preached in this series, and they are available on the Marsh Chapel website for you as well.

I must say, though, the last time I preached here, I was a lot less nervous in preparing my sermon, because I really had no idea just how many people listened to this broadcast. But then the following week people kept coming up to me or emailing and saying, “Hey, I heard you on the radio!” In fact I’ve learned that there are people out there right now listening who went to church this morning and heard one sermon already, and now they’re listening to another service on their way home.  If that describes you, I just want to say, “Wow.” That’s like what the Puritans did, two sermons on a Sunday. It’s wonderful to think of what an eclectic Communion of Saints this service brings together over the airwaves; God bless you all.

The theme for this series has been “The Gospel and Emerging Adults.” That’s a category used to refer to younger adults, 18 to 29 years of age, or sometimes more generously 18 to 35. Sometimes even beyond that, though I feel like by the time you hit 40, you’ve emerged, for better or worse.

So the preachers in this series have reflected on many important virtues and values: on wonder, wisdom, simplicity, silence, hospitality, and how these relate to ministry with emerging adults. This morning I want to go in a bit of a different direction, and talk about how the church understands young adults. This topic has some urgency, as so-called emerging adults are leaving the church in record numbers, a phenomena sometimes called “the rise of the nones,” N-O-N-E-S, those who do not identify with any particular faith. This is a fast-growing group and includes a third of all Americans under thirty.

But “emerging adults” emerge from somewhere; I actually want to go back even further and meditate on how the church understands emerging emerging adults: what we usually call “children.” I want to suggest that many of us who are followers of Christ, despite our best intentions and our desire to welcome children, youth, and young adults into faith and into our churches, have a flawed paradigm of spiritual development. And this flawed understanding is helping to bring about the opposite of what we desire, namely, young adults abandoning the church in record numbers. (pause.)

A few weeks ago my family was vacationing in Maine, and I decided to do something that many of my parishioners do all the time, but that I, as an Episcopal priest serving a church, don’t get to do very often: go to church and sit in the pew with my children. My husband and son decided to sleep in, but I found a church nearby and went with my three-year-old daughter, Cecily. We brought a small backpack full of My Little Ponies to aid Cecily’s worship experience. She was very excited to go.

But the people who were already in the pew when we arrived seemed . . . less excited to see her. No one said anything, but when we sat down, their mouths were set in the stiff lines of those who must endure. We were in the back, so there was room to unpack the ponies. The usher brought us another box of books and crayons. Cecily had a great time at church. She liked the hymns, she loved the stained glass windows. We stood in the back in the aisle for Communion so she could see the priest consecrating the elements. She noticed the paschal candle, and the font where babies are baptized. She was so eager to receive Communion, that she suggested we cut to the front of the line. When I said that we needed to wait our turn, she complimented some people near us on how patiently they were waiting. She talked about Jesus, in her best stage whisper (which, admittedly, is not great as whispers go). Cecily was worshipping in her way.

But we didn’t get much of a welcome. At the end, the other people in our pew left as quickly as possible. No one really spoke to us, and I felt how I imagine the parents of many young children feel at the end of a service, like we had “pulled something off” or “gotten through the service.” Like airplanes and fancy restaurants, worship at church is one place parents of young children can feel acute anxiety, as if we’ve brought our kids somewhere that they don’t really belong.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke tells us, “People were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.” Parents wanted their children to experience Jesus’ blessing. They wanted to bring them close to the presence of God. But the disciples decided to act like bodyguards, and send them away. There are two reasons this passage is surprising to me: first, because, think of all the other kinds of people who were permitted open access to Jesus: reviled tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers, people possessed by demons. But really, no babies? What were the disciples afraid they would do? And the second surprising thing: these are the disciples, not the Pharisees. These are the people who have left everything to follow Jesus, to align themselves with his message. These are the people who love Jesus the most—and yet they totally misinterpret what response best expresses the kingdom he is preaching about.

Jesus tells the disciples to “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them or hinder them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” And then he adds, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

This story appears in three of the four gospels; it is a cornerstone of Jesus’ teaching. A passage in the gospel of Matthew contains an even more pointed warning: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (pause.)

Now, the Bible doesn’t contain any stories or references to the Grown-Ups of God. They don’t exist! We are all, always and forever, children of God. The disciples didn’t understand this. But understanding this is key to following the way of Jesus. The Greek word for “change” that Jesus uses in Matthew also means to turn or to convert, to make a dramatic change of direction. “Unless you convert and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I’ve observed that many of us today who follow Jesus don’t have proper perspective of the faith lives of children. Pretty much all churches I know of say they welcome children and families with young children—in fact, these families are highly sought-after, since a church full of children is taken as a sign of health for the future. But we must ask ourselves: are we valuing children for what they represent, especially in terms of institutional vitality, or are we valuing them because of who they are, and what we can learn from them? Are we welcoming children, but not honoring them and the unique contributions they make? Are we truly considering them as spiritual equals, and full members of the church, with real, meaningful and regular opportunities to worship, to learn, and to serve?

John Westerhoff wrote a wonderful book many years ago called Will Our Children Have Faith, that I highly recommend to you. He had a term for what I’m talking about. He said that in order to transmit and sustain faith, there must be “Shared experience, storytelling, celebration, action, and reflection between and among [what he called] equal faithing selves.” Equal faithing selves. (p. 89)

Children don’t want to know about God. They want to know God. That is a line from Jerome Berryman, the developer of a method of Christian education called Godly Play, which is based on Montessori educational practices. Children don’t need Grown-Ups of God acting as mediators to the divine. They need companions on their journey. They don’t need ministry for them, but ministry with them, that includes them fully. Children want to learn, children want to serve, at church and in the world, and children want to worship. However, adults often act towards young people in church as if children don’t want any of these things, and in fact are incapable of anything but a poor imitation of them. (pause.)

There was a little boy named Joel in a previous parish where I served, and when he was three, his mother began to let him help her usher at church. Or, rather, I think, Joel insisted that he be allowed to help usher. He loved greeting people and handing out bulletins. He never once dropped the offering plate. He saw a place where he could serve, and he did serve. His mother, Emily, taught him how. One Sunday, Emily told me that during the week he had been misbehaving in a store, and she said to him, “Joel, if you don’t calm down right now, I’m not going to let you usher with me on Sunday!” And that did the trick instantly.

Faith is taught, and faith is caught. Emily knew that. The Greek word that the early church used for teaching is “catechesis,” like catechism. Catechesis literally means echoing, echoing back. But for our children to be able to echo back, that means they have to be within earshot. That means they have to be alongside us, worshipping, learning, serving.

John Westerhoff, in Will Our Children Have Faith, writes about how in the last fifty or so years, the church did something it had never done before, in its whole history: it began separating children out of the main congregation, putting them out of earshot. The larger culture changed, with the generations becoming more separate from each other, and the church, for the most part, changed along with the culture. But it wasn’t always so. (pause.)

Of course, Jesus didn’t say just to include children, to honor them, to welcome them: he tells us to convert and become like them! To receive the kingdom of God as they would! To learn from them; to echo them in our lives of faith. What can this mean?

First of all, it means humility. In the ancient world, there was no romanticizing of children as paragons of purity or innocence. Children had no status; they were the lowest in the pecking order. Children are aware of their own vulnerability. They trust and rely on those who care for them. We are called to have this same kind of trust and dependence on God. We are called to be humble in heart. We can learn this from children.

Second, awe and wonder. Children revel in the newness of everything around them, in the natural world, in new experiences, in beauty, in friendship. My son said to me yesterday, “Look at this awesome drop of milk sliding down the side of my cup.” Children recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary. We can learn this, or re-learn this, from children, and our souls can grow in wonder and gratitude and appreciation for the lives we’ve been given, and the world in which we live.

More virtues: curiosity: knowing that we don’t know, and wanting to know more. The ability to give oneself over to joy, and to mystery, and to silliness and fun. All these things we can learn from the children in our midst—but they have to be in our midst.

And this brings us back, by the long road, to “emerging adults.” I am not a sociologist, though there are some fine sociological studies of why so many young adults are leaving church after college and not coming back. But here is my hunch, which is backed up by some of these studies: young adults are leaving the church, in part because: they were never really invited into a full life of faith as children. They were not really given authentic opportunities to worship, to learn, and to serve. They were not immersed in the stories of our faith, and told that these stories were about them. Instead they were told to be quiet during church, given coloring worksheets, and asked to put some pennies in a cardboard box during Lent. They were given a sanitized gospel, like one of the toddler children’s bibles we have at home, where every story ends before anything bad happens: so Adam and Eve are happy in the Garden, and Joseph gets to keep his beautiful coat, and baby Moses sleeps in a basket. The end. No sadness, no pain. But no redemption, either. They were given a kiddie-sized faith, without the language of death and resurrection, and new beginnings out of calamity. And so if calamity ever happened to them, faith had nothing to say about it. No wonder they lost interest.

I’ve noticed over the years how the church takes an interest in adolescents that it never had in children. After all, adolescents can reason abstractly. They are somewhat better at sitting still. They can go on service projects and mission trips. They are on their way to becoming a Grown-Up of God.

But by then, it is usually too late. They have been out of earshot too long. All those best years of echoing back the faith are past, and of course the desire for closeness with adults has waned with this new developmental stage.

But there is a new paradigm of faith formation. Which is really an old paradigm, from the parables of Jesus. Jesus tells two of his pithiest parables about a mustard seed: the first one says, if you have faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains. The second one says that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds that grows into the largest of shrubs. (I always like the anti-climax there—the largest of shrubs!)

With Jesus, humility always wins the day. This is why children are the best receivers of the kingdom. Faith like a mustard seed: the smallest amount of faith, is still faith! The faith contained in the smallest of people, is still faith! And it can grow and flourish continually. This is truly good news, not just for youngsters, but for us oldsters, who are still trying to figure out who we are in God.

We are not called to be mediators or gatekeepers to the youngest among us. We are called to be fellow pilgrims who learn from each other. That means spending time together, learning together, listening to each other, serving together, wondering together, worshipping together, young and old. It’s not always easy. It takes practice and patience, this echoing and echoing back, this sharing, this mutuality. But this is how, together, we receive the kingdom of God, as children of God, still growing, wherever we are on the path—with or without My Little Ponies in the pew. In God’s name, Amen.

~The Rev. Dr. Regina L. Walton

The Sound of Silence

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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The task before us this summer-the theme-the musings-the rumination is “The Gospel and Emerging Adulthood”. Typically, amongst scholars the emerging adult is classified as a transitioning stage of life that aligns with the ages 18-35. As an emerging adult myself, who is married to another emerging adulthood, with good friends and colleagues all living into emerging adulthood-I find that this topic is profoundly important and near to my heart. Furthermore, in this generation of emerging adults, we find ourselves emerging out of the cusp of the millennial nomination. This is an era that comes with its own unique set of graces and struggles. I, like so many other 18-35 year olds find myself wading through emerging adulthood just trying to make for myself a personal and spiritual home. As an emerging adult, I want to tackle a subject that is not talked about much amongst our generation, and perhaps even the generation before us: Silence. And yes, believe me, I realize the irony in writing a whole sermon-a whole speech-about Silence. But if Simon and Garfunkel can write a song about silence, I figured it was high time for a sermon about it.

I, like many of my peers, have long struggled with silence. Particularly with unplanned silence, as in a silence that wasn’t scheduled for me in prayer, meditation, etc.; but silence that would creep up on me in conversation and make feel almost like I was suffocating under the pressure to find things to say. The elongated pause, the awkward silence, the thoughtful moment would typically make my skin crawl and I would immediately feel the urge to fill the silence with some witty statement or new topic of conversation. Research shows that this cringing feeling amidst silence is not only about me, but is a common trait of many young adults in this generation. We are the generation, after all, that created special hand gestures to alleviate the awkwardness of silence-if you have ever done the “awkward turtle” you know exactly what I am talking about.

And even in the planned silence, we still feel squirmy. I have practiced meditation for nearly 8 years now, and my first teacher-a Buddhist monk from rural Iowa and a big believer in silence-accused me of having a ‘monkey mind’-that whenever the stillness or silence of the moment crept in-my mind would reach out and grab new topics, images, and ideas to fill what I was considering a void. As it turns out-a lot of emerging adults struggle with monkey mind. In our image driven, digital over sharing culture, where there are constant outlets of expression, speech, thought, and opinion-silence is often viewed as a weakness, as a vulnerability, a lack of concern or input; even as a lack of intelligence. We tweet, we post, we instagram, we text, we call, we email, we chat, we share, but do we do silence? It seems that even times for intentional silence is becoming more rare and scarce and the only minute long ‘moments of silence’ we share together is in grieving for loss. For us silence signals sadness, not joy. Silence shows inconsideration, not thoughtfulness. It hasn’t always been this way.

There are reasons for this cultural shift about silence. George Prochnik, in his book “In Pursuit of Silence” shares research that in the current American society-sound signifies a good time. When something is loud, our minds immediately jump to ‘fun’ ‘party’ ‘enjoyment’ etc.  Restaurants are using this research to drum up business-the noisier the place, the more business they get. And even when we attend these riotous restaurants, we fell an immense amount of pressure to shout conversations across the table to each other over the din of sound until our voices go raw. We shout, we laugh, we sing, we converse animatedly to show our interest and delight in community. Noise is constantly surrounding us and defining how we live. Sound through music and movies are now streamlined into our pockets via phones, tablets, and electronic devices that enable us to be immersed in sound from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night. I myself have formed the bad habit of turning on the radio as soon as I wake up, and falling asleep to the sound of the Jimmy Fallon on my TV at night.

This over exposure to sound is not only bad for your mental and spiritual health, but it an be detrimental to your physical health as well. Prochnik goes on to say in his book that long has over-exposure to sound been associated with hearing loss as many of you know, but newer research states that it also effects your cardiovascular system-your heart. Trying to sleep in a noisy environment (say by listening to the TV or talking a lot before bed) your blood pressure can rise through the night and stay high all day. He also mentions about excessive outside noise that is often unavoidable can also be damaging. Prochnik says that in the United States, “many times subways that haven’t been maintained are already running at a decibel that is dangerous.”-those of you who have ever ridden the MBTA green line through Boylston station can relate to this, methinks.

Furthermore, too much noise can damage our mental and spiritual health. While constantly expressing through words, we often don’t pause for true introspection and discernment. We get so caught up in speech that we can’t even hear ourselves clearly. Emerging adults and our culture at large has been thoroughly steeped in an opinion sharing age, an age that values speaking up, standing up for something, civic activism, speaking truths, poetry and protest in full force. While these are beautiful trademarks of who we are as a culture; I find that the lack of silence makes us lack in many thing-not the least of which is our spirituality and relationship to the Divine. The ancient Egyptian proverb of “speech is silver but silence is golden” is bandied about but do we really find Silence golden? Perhaps our generation would rewrite the proverb to say “Silence is Golden-but Speech is platinum”.  Do we cherish silence anymore and practice it the way we should? Still in our every day lives, more often than not-we choose sound over silence. Why is that? Because for many of us: silence is scary.

In our scripture today of 1 Kings 19:9-18, we see Elijah, a broken prophet, standing on a mountain waiting for God to pass by. At this point in the Elijah narrative, Elijah is running away from his life and his responsibilities-after he demolishes all of the false prophets that belonged to Jezebel, the angered queen sends him a message that she is now coming after him to take his life personally. He is scared, failing at his prophetic duties, feeling alone and abandoned,  Elijah goes and hides in a cave on a mountainside and waits for God to pass by. This great rattling theophany approaches him and Elijah witnesses a great storm with crackling lightning and earthshaking thunder-but he does not find God there; then comes a tumultuous earthquake that shatters rocks and uproots trees-but God is not there; then a roaring fire ignites and consumes the world around him-but still God is not there. Through all of these terrors, Elijah stands firm and waits for a true revelation from the Divine. Finally the scene is enveloped in an eerie and total silence. A silence felt down in the core of your being. A silence that fills up the heavens. This silence is so profound, that over the years Hebrew scholars have struggled to bring it justice in translation-in the KJV it is called ‘the still small voice’, and in other interpretations it is called ‘a soft murmuring’ or a ‘deep silence’. Modern Day Hebrew Scholar, Dr. Choon Seow says that it is so difficult to translate because the phrase is an oxymoron in Hebrew-the literal wooden translation is ‘the sound of fine silence’. God chooses a discourse through the sound of silence.

It is in this distilled silence that Elijah encounters the Lord.  What does Elijah do? He hides. He physically pulls up his mantle-a bit of his cloak-over his face in fear; much like a child may pull the covers over their head in fright. Elijah stood through the storm, through the quake, through the fire, and shutters in the silence-because-silence is scary. In silence we find ourselves vulnerable, disarmed, and naked. In silence we fear that we may not be understood, or perhaps we will not understand. In silence we worry that our innermost expressions will be exposed, and not guarded by our carefully crafted words. Silence opens up in us a sacred space that we are not always familiar or comfortable with.

But the Sacred One comes in the silence-God chooses the mode of discourse-god is not in the fire, the quake or the storm, but God chooses silence to communicate with Elijah in that moment. Though silence may be intimidating, we stand a lot to gain from practicing it. In silence we are offered a chance to examine those vulnerabilities and truths we were once afraid of. We gain insight into ourselves, and introspection into our souls.  In resting in quiet, we become more comfortable with our own vulnerabilities and truths and know ourselves better. WE become less dependent on sound as a protective barrier and embrace self-awareness, which also makes us more accessible to others. Howard Thurman reflected on his need to abandon speech at times and accept silence, he said, “ I abandon all that I think that I am, all that I hope to be, all that I believe I possess. I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the greatest silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul.” The silence that surrounds great introspection allows for thoughtfulness and rest.

In silence, we become better listeners and thus better friends-stronger members of our community. Dr. Robert Dykstra, a pastoral care professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and longtime pastor, would often share with his classes a story of what he found to be his most profound moment in pastoral care.  When a fellow faculty member and dear colleague of his lost a spouse during the school year, Dr. Dykstra repeatedly asked if there was anything he could do, if she would like to talk and process, or if he could bring her anything. The faculty member thanked him but refused him every time. Finally, Dr. Dykstra called her up and asked her if she would like him to just come sit in her office in the afternoon-she accepted. Similar to the way that Job’s friends sat with him in silence during his anguish and agony, Dr. Dykstra sat on the floor of her office in complete silence, sometimes grading papers, sometimes drinking tea, or simply sitting-every afternoon for nearly two weeks until his colleague told him she was fine to be on her own again. He never offered advice or verbal comfort, but simply sat in a billowing, comforting, intimate silence. Months later-his colleague told him that through all the grief, casseroles, and weeping conversations, that those afternoon hours in silence and companionship had meant the most to her and offered the most healing. Silence is just good pastoral care, Dr. Dykstra would say, silence makes us better friends and better companions through life.

 

Silence often offers us clarity-provides us a chance to perceive things more clearly. Rainer Rilke, my poet companion this year as many of you know, wrote, “Since I’ve learned to be silent, everything has come so much closer to me.” A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents in Southern Illinois-they live among the great plains and cornfields and deep blue skies wider than the earth itself. My Dad, Husband, our family dog Riley, and I went for a hike through a patch of woods and a prairie land. For the majority of the hike we chattered away about the mosquitoes, where we wanted to go for dinner, how are jobs and lives were going. We got to one point near the center of the field and my Dad called abruptly for 60 seconds of silence. He set a timer and we stood amongst the tall grass and wildflowers in the blossoming silence of the moment and as Rilke said, I did feel that everything was somehow coming closer to me-the smells of the honeysuckle, the buzz of the insects, the deep green of the oak trees.  It is in silence that the things that have become far away from us often return, and we can feel closer to the universe, to our loved ones, and to the sacred presence all around us.

 

In fact, not only in the Elijah narrative, but also all throughout the Scriptures do we see God communicating intimately through the sound of silence. It is often in silence that we can develop a more intimate relationship with the Divine. As Elijah did, we often ask again and again for God to answer us-to hear our prayers and respond in clarity and sound-but sometimes God is the sound in silence. Sometimes God’s silence speaks. God’s silence spoke profound volumes while Elijah stood on that mountain awaiting reprieve, God’s silence in the story of Job defines the entire interaction and discourse that becomes Job’s revelation and foothold for life. God’s silence is just as profound as God’s words. When a young unwed mother gave birth to a savior in the manger, God was silent. When Jesus in agony dies on the cross, God is silent. In these profound moments of silence with God-it does not mean that there is a lack of communication with the Divine. God is sharing in those moments with a chosen discourse of meaningful, intimate silence. God’s silence speaks volumes to us, Gods quieting of our souls is a priceless companionship. God’s silence is an invitation-a deepening-a ripening of one’s own intimate relationship with the Divine. Sufi Poet, Rumi, says “silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” Sometimes it is in the silent moments that the sound of God is felt deep in our bones.

 

Beloved, we are called to live into this sacred silence. In our emerging adulthood amongst the clatter, twitter patter, and banter of noise, let us make time for silence in our lives. 5 minutes of quiet with a cup of tea in the morning. A prayer and 3 minutes of silence before we sleep at night. 10 minutes of peace as we walk along the Charles River or the Harbor. Do not be afraid, as Elijah was, do not pull your cloak over your face, for God often reaches out in the silence. In the conclusion of his book the “Power of Silence” Prochnik states that nowhere can complete silence be found-even monasteries and Quaker meeting houses have background buzzing, murmurs, subtle noises. We must redefine silence for ourselves, carve it our and shape it in our own lives. When we create for ourselves an intentional silence, quiet space, Prochnik says become injected with ‘the fertile unknown”.  Enter into that fertile unknown and take heart that God is there. Spend a little time in that fertile unknown every single day. Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation. Make yourself a home in the Divine sound of fine silence and may you find holy companionship, insightful clarity, and a dwelling place in the presence of God.

Amen.

~Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, University Chaplain for International Students

All Fed

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Matthew 14:13

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The Feeding

 

 

                        Our Holy Scripture starts out so far from our immediate experience that it is perhaps by apocalypse, by revelation alone that its cargo of good news may be delivered upon the shoreline of our souls.

 

All are fed.  All are satisfied.  All are commanded.  All are responsive.  All are addressed.  All are addressable.  All consume under the voice like none other and all are consumed by the presence like none other.

 

His voice.  His presence.  Like none other.  Jesus withdraws by boat.  Jesus sees, has compassion, and cures.  Jesus commands.  Jesus rejects the disciples pragmatic suggestion that the crowd find ways to ‘shelter in place’.  Jesus gives something to eat.  Two fish and five loaves (or vice versa?).  2. 5. 12. 5k.

 

Here is lasting and ultimate nourishment for all.  Here is an audible trustworthy voice for all.  Here is a meal set for all.  Here is a gathering around a common need and a common prayer for all.

 

No division, here.  No separation, here.  No doctrinal, religious, political, historical, ethnic conflict, here.  One Lord.  One voice. One gathering.  One meal.  One mysterious communion.  All fed.  All.  ‘All ate and were filled’.   That all were fed is astounding.  That all were satisfied is miraculous.

 

We are closer in experience to the rest of chapter 14.  John the Baptist’s head delivered on a platter, at the request of a young woman prompted by her mother, produced in the middle of a feast as a gift consequent on beautiful dance and an uttered oath—the brutality of the act, the tragedy of unexpected consequences to heartfelt offerings, the loss of prophetic voice, the portent of violence yet to come, the relative aplomb with which the news of his death is conveyed—these we recognize from our own world.  Likewise, not before but after our reading,  the anxiety and terror of those who are stumblingly trying to follow Jesus,  the sinking of Peter as we tries to walk on water—the Rock sinking like a rock, the evaluation of his faith as little faith, the failed return in soaking wet to the bark, the nave, the boat of the community (our walk on the Lord’s day week by week)—these we recognize from our own church.  We are closer in experience to what comes before and what comes after.

Here, in the mist, here, in the gathered community, here, in earshot of his voice like none other, here, now, we wonder at all fed.  Voice.  Command.  Compassion. Presence. Prayer. Nourishment. Astonishment.

 

In this way we are like Jacob.  Jacob is more at home with his experience before and after the angel.  He has swindled Esau. He has feared his recompense from Esau.  He has schemed to be returned to good graces with the one whom he fears will come and kill him.  He assembles a massive bribe of animal husbandry.   Then, after the angel, Jacob and Esau make a kind of peace, settled with gifts and pledges, even though Jacob is virtually certain that Esau has come to rid the earth of him.  Fear and miscalculation, fore and aft, Jacob knows, as do we.

 

Yet it is from the nighttime tussle that Jacob gets his name, and not from the long trail of endless drama and conflict over land, progeny, cattle, and money.   All night, that night, Jacob has wrestled with a man, a presence, a being, who gives the blessing of a name but also the curse of suffering.

 

Week by week we too struggle to remember our rightful mind, our right name, known in presence, a presence that seems like absence alongside our getting and spending, fore and aft.   One who strives, one who struggles, one who wrestles with….Voice, Presence, Compassion, Command, Prayer, Nourishment. Astonishment.

 

Matthew has again fixed up Mark’s earlier version of this account, as he does also in the next chapter with the second feeding story.  Matthew gives a terse summary, a curt, shortened account, in his use of Mark.  Every rendering of the gospel, unto this very morning and this very hour, takes the measure of a particular moment, location, community, and ministry.  Matthew quickens the dramatic pace, tightening the introduction, shortening the story, moving quickly to the point:  all fed, all satisfied.  The terror in the reign of Domitian, perhaps on Matthew’s horizon, near the year 90, may have influenced our gospel writer.   In moving to the conclusion, Matthew leaves out the ordering of seating, the throng’s Markan self-selected arrangement by 100’s and 50’s, and refers to the guests as crowds not people.  So doing, he further highlights the ordering command of the host.  Is his sense of the church’s own development on Matthew’s horizon?  In one sense, it is not so much the details in the changes that Luke and Matthew, writing 15 years later, inflict on Mark, as it is the very act of changing itself that carries the meaning.  There is, there needs ever to be, freedom in interpretation, a freedom given and guarded by the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Holy Scripture.  Given and guarded both.

 

Our reading today is one of very few found in all four gospels.  John too carries a roughly congruent account, with 5 and 2, loaves and fishes.  Our gospel today formed a center, one hesitates to say THE center, but a center in the earliest church’s pronouncement of the gospel.  All fed.  All.  All means all.  All satisfied.  All.  All means all.  Week by week we too struggle to remember our rightful mind, our right name, known in presence, a presence that seems like absence alongside our getting and spending, fore and aft.

 

 

Two Applications

 

 

All fed.

 

We may venture to apply the gospel today in two ways, one related to our Marsh ministry and our national summer preacher series this summer, and one related to our global experience of violence this summer.

 

Emerging adults need, deserve, receive, consume, and depend on Presence that seems like Absence.  They are leading courageously faithful lives over against a panoply of chilling, prevailing winds.  As a community of faith, we live and work in community with emerging adults.

 

Some will more easily and more readily avail themselves by their own volition of the means of grace offered here.  Familiar words, music, hymns, architecture, time, place mode aid them on arrival.  For others, and they are a part of the all in all as well, for our doors to be fully open will require a loving creativity, an earnest invitational spirit for us all.

With courage, our soon to arrive guests navigate the swells and tides of what Christian Smith describes in Lost in Transition:  The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, (amoral sexuality, steady inebriation, rampant drug use, limitless greed, self celebration and adulation, and limited empathy for the hurts of others. )

With courage they 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.” )

We have a meal to prepare.  Learning that begets virtue and virtue that begets piety.  Knowledge that begets action and action that begets being.   For some, the offering may be the intervening word between illness and health, danger and safety, failure and achievement, loss and life.  Salvus, salvus, salvus.

An Atlantic Monthly article this spring ended this way:

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 they 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?

                        Remember, revere, the presence that seems like absence, in community with young adults this year.  Remember a promise of all fed.

We could use a measure of this gospel this summer as well.  If your religious perspective and posture, if faith, if the community of faith mean anything, then surely they mean a voiced, steady rejection of the taking of innocent life, the slaughter of children, youth, women and men who become collateral damage in the course of violent conflict.  At some visceral level we all can connect with what it would mean to have our own 7 year olds killed in the mayhem of warfare.   When we pause in the presence of the Presence, a presence that very much seems like absence, we are chastened, numbed, brought to our very knees..   One of the great and lasting shadows upon human history and experience is our common, shared ready willingness, time and again, to try to apply short term solutions to long term problems.  Women, men, families, communities, colleges, businesses, governments, religions, and yes, nation states are all prone to think short term solutions will avail for long term problems.  They will not.  We are tempted to think that a hidden tunnel on one hand or a drone missile on the other that partly hobble an enemy will bring some solution, when the long term issues lie in the structure of relationship across and among divided peoples.  Short term victories can be truly pyrrhic ones.  A short term ‘solution’– that is no solution– to a long term problem –that has only become a greater one.

Our gospel today promises nourishment for all.  All.   All fed.  All satisfied.  All.  There are not expendable children, expendable only because they happen to be housed across some invisible line.  It is the towering and powerful genius of today’s ancient and central narrative in Matthew 14:31 that restores us to rightful mind, to a steady hope.  All fed.  Our gospel affirms gathering of all in the face of separation for some, a command to all in the face of desire to exclude some, a blessing of all in the face of arguments to limit such blessing to some, a nourishment of all in the face of a shared human proclivity to make that all ‘all of our own not theirs’.  It is the towering and powerful voice of Jesus, and him crucified, whose own compassionate presence in absence feeds us still, feeds all still, feeds all to hasten the day that all, truly all, truly all, are fed.

We sat in Lincolnville, Maine last Sunday, following worship, along a misty seacoast.  We read the paper and were nourished in an old port side restaurant.  Paper and food, word and table.  Word and table, word and table, word and table.  The news of the day, of these days, you know and well.  You wonder sometimes, what is real and for real, what is the final realism.   A familiar voice, with a familiar tune, carrying a familiar poem came over the simple, inexpensive, medium of the radio (the medium of the poor, and our choice of media here at Marsh Chapel, in part for that reason.  Our proud participation with and support for NPR for that reason.  “The lamp of the poor”, recently deceased Canadian novelist Alistair Macleod once recalled, is the translation for the Gaelic term meaning “moon”, ‘lochran aigh namb boch’.)  
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace



Take heart.  Lift your hearts.  Hatred does not kill the possibility of peace.  Terror does not eliminate the potential for change.  The collapse of civility today does not do anything to the lived memory and experience of past civility, except make it more precious.  The unspeakable tragedy of innocent death does not mark the end of the capacity for co-existence, for managed, enforced co-existence.  Imagine—a common faith, common ground, a common hope.

Do you believe this?  Will you live in such belief?

 

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled.”  Matthew 14:19-20.

 ~The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill,

Dean of Marsh Chapel