Archive for September, 2014

September 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 21:23-32

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We are entering a new year, whether with the academics at matriculation, or with those following this season’s autumnal sports, or with the hikers and campers as fall arrives.  Our Holy Scripture and our Cantata this morning both offer us insight for a new day.

In particular, those of you who may find yourself outside of the religious traditions around you, or the tradition, if any, in which you were raised, may be heartened to hear the music and word this morning.

Our community of faith at Marsh Chapel, Boston University, shares with other such communities, far and near, an alertness to the meaning in beginnings.  Jesus shall be my everything.  Jesus shall remain my beginning.  Jesus is my light of joy.  So the duet affirms in just a few moments.  Beginnings remain.  The start of something new stays with us long after the newness has been spent.  We recognize the power of new beginnings.

Look at the few days of this week and weekend.

Thursday, hundreds of students and other gathered within the Jewish community to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings were deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in the return of the year’s opening.

Saturday, many hundreds of students and others gathered for feasting and dancing at the celebration of Raas Lela, the seasonal and communal recognition of what is new this autumn.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings were deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in the return of the year’s opening.

Boston University is proud to host the largest Hindu student association in the country.  Their yearly Saturday evening festival provides a colorful, fervent, rhythmic opening to the rest of the year.  The dance and the meal seem to pray, as does our cantata: bless all faithful teachers, bless hearers of the word, may peace and loyalty kiss each other, thus we would live this entire year in blessing.

This evening, this Sunday evening, yet another several hundred students and others will gather to share a common meal, a common table, a common reading, a common address, a community of fellowship.  The event is the feast of Eid, in which our Muslim community completes Ramadan and enters the year following those days of discipline.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings will be deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in a sort of return to the year’s opening.  Let us complete the year to the praise of the divine name.  So the meal suggests, as the cantata affirms.

All of these events this year will have been located in the same space, in the same week, in the same University, on the same street.  They happened and will have happened in the very same room.  In engaging difference, in embracing alterity, we do well not to minimize the variations present.  We also do well to recognize the common hope present.  Community emerges from diversity when diversity is longing for unity.  Without that common hope there will be no common faith and then over time no common ground.

In addition, the Christian community will be gathered for worship, here in the nave of Marsh Chapel and across the airwaves, and later in through the afternoon and week for other Christian services—three Catholic masses, an Evening Ecumenical Sunday Eucharist, prayer and devotion preceding the Inner Strength Gospel Choir practice, a Monday evening Orthodox communion, a Wednesday evening ecumenical and Episcopal Evening Prayer, a school of theology service, a moment of Thursday silent prayer, a Common Ground Thursday communion service, and other services, all located here in the Chapel.  Next Sunday afternoon we will celebrate at 2pm the baptism of Nathan Hutchison-Jones, one of several infants baptized this year.  It is an hour of new beginnings as well.  Beginnings remain.  Beginnings reverberate.  Beginnings resound through time and space.  And every dawn, every morning awakening, is one such new beginning.  How seriously, studiously, and curiously, famously wondered Howard Thurman, have taken our moment of waking from slumber, morning by morning?

Keep a list this week of beginnings, new year celebrations of different kinds.  A first paper submitted.  A first date enjoyed.  A first real conversation in friendship.  A first blistering failure.  A first day on the job.  A first ache in the bones to hint at the advent of autumn in life.  A first handshake.  A first argument.  A first genuine disappointment.  Whatever ‘years’ begin in the next week, take a moment to savor them or at least to consider them.  You can do so with confidence, as we hear in a moment: His good Spirit, which shows me the path to Life, guides and leads me upon a level road, therefore I begin this year in Jesus’ name.

Dr. Jarrett, you have been our guide to the heart of the music brought us by choir and collegium, over these past several years.  How best should we listen, receive, give ear to word and music this morning?

Bach (Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett)

Thank you, Dean Hill. Today’s cantata was first performed on New Year’s Day in January of 1724 for the Feast of the Circumcision and the Naming of Jesus. It may seem an odd choice for the end of September, but the text of the cantata celebrates the start of the new year, and contains all the hopes for God’s blessings and guidance in new endeavors. It seemed particular appropriate for the new beginnings all around us. In particular this morning, we welcome our newest choir members, and four new Choral Scholars, two of whom – Ethan De Puy and Kim Leeds —  sing their first solos in our Bach Experience this morning.

Just as our Gospel lesson from Matthew 21 finds Jesus in the temple teaching, the Luke 2 lesson that occasioned this cantata finds Jesus in the temple just eight days after his birth for the celebration of his official naming. It is a moment of great joy and promise, and Bach provides music full of fanfare and flourish.

Like so many of Bach’s opening choral movements, Psalms of praise are used to ring in the new year: Sing to the Lord a new song; The company of Saints shall praise Him; Praise him with drums and dances; Praise him with strings and pipes, and finally, All that hath breath, praise ye the Lord, Alleluia. Scored for full festival forces with three trumpets and timpani, three oboes and the usual complement of strings, Bach engages the full range of the concerted style. The opening movement is cast in three contrasting sections. The central text, ‘All that hath breath, praise the Lord’,  is treated contrapuntally as a fugue, but offset from the outer sections by grand unison statements from Luther’s setting of the Te Deum, ‘Lord God, we praise you’ and later, ‘Lord God, we thank you.’

The second movement introduces the three soloists in personal and contemporary petitions. And with the choir’s interjections of the Luther Te Deum texts, the movement serves as an extension of the opening chorus. There are two arias in today’s cantata. The first, sung by alto soloist Kim Leeds, is an elegant dance-like movement for strings with characteristics of the polonaise. After a recitative seeking God’s guidance in the new year through the Jesus’s name, tenor Ethan De Puy and DJ Matsko sing a duet, again in spirited dance rhythms. Listen for the outline of the melody in the opening solo played by Ben Fox on the Oboe d’amore.  Bach dresses up the otherwise mundane chorale tune with trumpet and timpani flourishes, rounding out a festive work brimming with hope and expectation.

And if I may be permitted, Dean Hill, on behalf of the musicians, we wish to offer you and the Marsh community our sincerest thanks for supporting our continued study of the fifth evangelist and his astonishing repertoire. Over the years, we have taught, explored, and performed more than 30 cantatas, with regular performances of the St John and St Matthew Passions. Last year’s survey of the B Minor Mass kept us on the mountain-top from September to April. As we begin the eighth year of the Bach Experience, please know how truly grateful we are for your support.


This is a day of new beginnings.  As by potential at least is every day, and every Lord’s Day.  Now is the acceptable time.  Today is the day of salvation.

Our love of Holy Scripture impels us to listen, again, just a bit more closely, to the new beginning announced in Matthew 21.

One portion of our passage explores the perennial religious issue of authority.  The pages of the New Testament themselves were composed and collected in no small measure as a way of exploring authority.  ‘By what authority?’ is the question Jesus parries with another question which puts his interrogators on the horns of a dilemma.  When something new is on the horizon, this question invariably arises.  In a new year setting, a day of new beginnings, when something big and new is in the offing, it may be worth asking:  On whose authority shall weighty and consequential decisions be taken?  It is at least worth thinking about: by what authority?

Another portion of our passage tells of two sons and the opportunity to work the vineyard.  It is easy for us to hear the acclaim reserved for the first, who goes ahead and does the work, and to hear the criticism of the one who pays lip service to the stewardship of the vineyard, but goes another way.   For Matthew, at least, here, at least, the surprising gospel is that those not attired in the formal clothing of faith, those even who are engaged in the most secular and ancient of professions, seize the day, and take up the labor and tend the vineyard.  Not the membership list, but the prospect list.   Not the clergy, but the laity. Not those at the center, but those on the periphery.  Not the nominally present, but the actually absent.  Not those who have cleaned the outside of the cup, but those who have had the inside washed and laundered and pressed and put to service.  Not those who say a comfortable yes, but those who say an honest no, yet whose lives say yes, when others’ lives say no.  Here, at least, to the extent one understands the phrase, one hears an initial encouraging word for those who may be ‘spiritual but not religious’.   The vineyard awaits those who will tend it.  This perhaps is what John Wesley meant to say as he preached, ‘if thine heart be as mine, then give me thine hand’.

Paul says it clearly:  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

It may be that on reflection, the first son had a vision of what such a vineyard could look like over time, what such an unusual kind of labor could feel like over time, what such a new start to a new year in a new way could become over time.  It may be that on reflection you will have a vision of what such a vineyard, God’s garden, could look like over time, with a little effort, what such an unusual kind of labor, faith working through love, could feel like over time, and what such a new start to a sober and loving life this autumn Sunday could become over time.  If so, you may silently whisper, walking or driving home, Lord God we praise you, since you with this new year send us new fortune and new blessing and still think upon us in grace.

– The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

September 21

Remembering Robert Hamill

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 20:1-14

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Our sermon today remembers Dean Robert Hamill and reflects upon the Matthean gospel of divine generosity.  The latter ennobled the former, and the former exuded the latter.

Robert Hamill served in his last ministerial appointment as the Dean of Marsh Chapel, Boston University, from 1965 until his death in 1975.   During his tenure, here, the University and the country were convulsed in the throes of struggles over civil rights, over racial relations, over war and opposition to war, and over the authority of those governing and the responsibility of those governed.  He was third in the line of six deans here, alongside a number of others who served in interim capacities.   He was a Methodist minister.  He was a preacher. He was a teacher and author.  And his first name was Robert.  In short, he was fully qualified for the position (J).

Dr. Hamill came here following a long and distinguished ministry in the mid west, including work on campuses and in college communities.  He wrote regularly for MOTIVE magazine.  He helped Howard Thurman in the last years of Thurman’s ministry here, without much recognition in that era.  He had the task of following an iconic figure, filling big shoes, and carrying forward the work of Marsh Chapel in a turbulent time.  He died of cancer on the job.


Meanwhile, now, in Matthew 20, in the vineyard, our parable represents the ‘undifferentiated rewards of the Kingdom of God’. (Bultmann) The parable affirms divine generosity, and inscrutable divine goodness and generosity.  Its point:  behold the divine generosity, do not begrudge the divine generosity.

Consider the parable (found only in Matthew). All the workers are paid the same.  As in life, so here in Scripture, there is no sure, consistent justice.  To be sure, the landowner has paid what he agreed to pay.  To be sure, hour by hour, the workers have received what they agreed to receive.  To be sure, the daily needs of all for the day to come are met, from each according to his stamina and to each according to his needs.  To be sure, the added proverb, about last becoming first and first last fits the parable awkwardly if at all.    The parable acclaims God’s bounteous generosity, not God’s impartial justice.

When a job truly fit and meant for you goes to another, on a shaky or unjust premise or process, you know the feeling of the early workers.  When an illness unearned and unexpected afflicts your loved one, you know the feeling of those working among the grapes and feeling the grapes of wrath.  When a day begins and ends as an existential illustration of Shakespeare’s 66th sonnet, you know the resentment addressed in the story from Matthew 20:1-16.


On Alumni Weekend each year, we have remembered one of our forebears—like Franklin Littell or Daniel Marsh or Allan Knight Chalmers or Howard Thurman, and others.  This year, Robert Hamill.

Hamill’s time in the vineyard was long and difficult.  His years in this pulpit were long and hard years.  He did not come into his labor at evening, or even at noon, but early in the day, and did not find his rest until he found his eternal rest at the day’s end.  He worked, here, in the time my friend yesterday, a visiting alumnus, referred to as the time of ‘the troubles’. Unlike his predecessor, he did not enjoy quite as wide a range of recognition, nor quite as strong a national following, nor just as steady a range of response to his pulpit work.  Unlike those who had worked in the fifties, a time of relative peace and prosperity, his era 1965-75 was fraught with conflict, with anxiety, with discord, with strife.   A Christmas Sunday 12/24/74 sermon in his last year, whose recording was found and heard earlier this week, decries the war in Vietnam, and a bombing campaign in progress.  A 1970 sermon on racial justice and black power, preached some years earlier, became required reading for work in racial justice on campuses in the south.  An earlier book of sermons on the theme of freedom, exhibits clearly the clouds gathering all about of constraints.

In other words, Robert Hamill lived within the rhythms of some comparative difficulty and injustice.  On more than one occasion, you could perhaps surmise, he might have paused to wonder aloud, crossing Commonwealth Avenue, about the justice of it all, the unequal distribution of generosity, the unfairness of circumstance, the pain and pained crucible of disappointment.   He did not live anywhere near long enough to see that particular war ended, to see the gradual amelioration of some racial injustices, to see the still expanding circle of his great and beloved theme of freedom.  He got to work before dawn, labored through the noon day heat, and went to eternal sleep after dusk, with no retirement to enjoy, no decades of cruises and tours, no relaxed season to hold the grandchildren, no sunset years.

For instance, in October of 1970, early on a Sunday morning, 200 federal marshals, Boston Police, and FBI agents entered the chapel in which you are sitting, and arrested an AWOL Army Private whom the chapel congregation had given sanctuary.  Students keeping vigil in the nave were awakened and cleared from the aisle.  Rev Hamill later led a Sunday service of worship here that morning, broadcast on WBUR.

The fissures and fractures that were fragmenting the country as a whole, epitomized May 4 1970 at Kent State, were visible and tangible right here.  One can imagine that Hamill and his wife may well have wished that the timing of their ministry here had been other than it was.  Yet when Deda, whom I knew, (Hamill’s second wife whom he married after the death of his first wife, Hannah,) herself died two years ago, a mutual friend brought us the guest book used in those years at the Hamill residence.  What is striking is that for all the turmoil of the times, worship continued on Sunday mornings, and the Hamills regularly offered hospitality over a traditional Sunday dinner in their home.  The book contains the personal signatures of their guests, over the months and years, after church on Sunday:  Takako Shimo, James and Eunice Matthews, Robert and Pat Nelson, Walter and Martha Muelder, Robert Luccock, Max and Betty Miller, Merle Jordan, F Thomas Trotter, Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman, Ruth and Paul Deats, Earl Kent Brown, Joe Bassett, Edward Carroll, Marjorie Metcalf, Harrell Beck, Peter Bertocci, Joe Polak, Kathryn Silber, John Silber, Loumona Petroff, and many others.   The work in the vineyard continued, in season and out.


Let us return for a moment to Matthew.  Meanwhile, back in the vineyard, the undeniable difference between equality and justice faces us, as it did Jesus, Matthew, the Rabbis and others.  Jesus, loving the amahaaretz, the poor of the land, may have been telling the Pharisees to broaden their embrace.  Matthew, among Jews and Gentiles, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, may have been admonishing the former to honor the latter.  The Rabbis, in the same period, used the same story, but added that the later workers did in two hours what took the earlier ones all day.  Oye ve (J).

Our landowner, through Matthew’s rendering, is called an ‘OIKODESPOTES’, a person of some power.  The allegory is clear.  God is obliged to nobody.  Further, the timing of God’s grace and generosity is God’s own affair, only without prejudice either to the early or to the late.  In this way, Matthew concurs with Paul in 1 Thessalonians that the living will not precede the dead, in the hour of judgment.

Our parable does not rely on the famous passage from Exodus 16, read a moment ago.  (This is a passage you should know and know about by the way.)  Yet the acclamation of divine generosity in both is the same.  Evening comes, and morning, and in the morning there is a sweet hoar frost covering all the ground, a layer of dew under which is the ‘manna from heaven’.  ‘The bread the Lord has given you to eat”.


The steadiness, the weekly, seasonal consistency in Robert Hamill’s hospitality at table, Sunday by Sunday, continued throughout his years here.

Some here will remember that no graduation service was held at Boston University in 1970.  Here in Marsh Chapel in May, 2010 we gathered for a service of remembrance before some of those received their diplomas, forty years later, the next day.  The chapel was packed, hot, and tense. The pianist played Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Let it Be, and We Shall Overcome.  Midway into the proceedings a spirited woman stood up and interrupted the Dean’s remarks.  From the back pew she began to preach her own sermon.  Somehow, it did seem to fit the time, class and occasion.  After a bit I told her I could not hear her, and went on.  James Carroll, now a married columnist, but in 1970 the Catholic priest at BU, offered a powerful pastor meditation, remembering Hamill, the Armory, the war, and concluding as he asked:  What are we doing here tonight?  Have we not come in order to face, and thereby to let go, of a troubled time long ago?

            The recording of Hamill’s 1974 Christmas Sunday sermon includes his admonition to those listening to join him in rising on Christmas Day and before presents and fellowship and turkey dinner and all else sending a letter to the White House demanding an end to the war.  His voice is raspy but his challenge is clear, six months from death.  In his sermon book HOW FREE ARE YOU he noted:  When you get into the fight for freedom, you encounter trouble for sure.  One of the notable preachers of our time who consistently fought for free men in a free society was Dr. Ernest Fremont Tittle.  One day I asked Dr. Tittle how he handled controversial material, and he gave three rules of thumb:  ‘Be sure of your facts.  Speak the truth in love.  Then be unafraid of the consequences.’  (Freedom, 77). Hamill may have been thinking of Tittle coming toward his own last Christmas day.


Meanwhile, back in the vineyard, we have again to ponder the labor at the heart of life and the labor at the heart of faith.  Faith comes by hearing, but it is an active, ‘employed’ listening that allows for that hearing.  Faith is a gift, but is a gift like any other that requires receipt, and response, and embrace, (and a thank you note, too).  (If faith comes by hearing it help if you are in earshot.  You truly have nothing better to do for an hour on Sunday than worship.) Faith comes as a gift at the time of God’s choosing, but to labor and live in faith requires of us a steady, even fruitful, practice of faith.   Here is what Paul is driving at in his letter to the Philippians:  live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.

You may have been impressed this week by Ken Burns’ ever engaging latest documentary on the Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin and Eleanor.  Eleanor as an orphan was raised by drunken uncles and others in the small Hudson River village of Tivoli, a little town where my grandparents met and where my grandfather is now buried.   It happens, I learned this week, that a great aunt, Ella Lascher Coons, my mother’s aunt, with some others in Tivoli sewed Eleanor’s wedding dress.  We are that is, neither in space or time, all that very far from Tivoli and the New Deal.

All three of these iconic American leaders suffered—Theodore in childhood illness and adult defeat and early death, Eleanor in childhood loneliness and adult betrayal and isolation, Franklin in polio.  Whether they would have taken Paul’s formula as theirs, he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well, one cannot say.  There certainly is no justice to any suffering as such, and certainly not to theirs, intimately and poignantly depicted in Burns’ fine film.  Yet there is something underneath the grumbling of the workers, the hiddenness of the landowner, the various and capricious deposits of weal and woe, in the Matthean parable, in the Roosevelt lives, and, more to the point, in our very own.  Call it a different light, a refraction out of a different lens, of the divine generosity, and what happens when someone seizes—or better is seized by—that glorious, mysterious divine radiance, divine goodness, divine generosity.

There is a scene in Burns’ film inwhich the camera shows polio afflicted children swimming in the Warm Springs Florida pool.  This is the pool that finally allowed Franklin, buoyed and warmed in its water, to stand after months and years of utter torment.  The camera scans the children, playing, swimming, dunking, and laughing.  Then the camera closes in on the biggest of the children, the six foot tall future president, who is right there, soaked and joyful in the midst of them.  It was unmistakable, even at this distance of years and miles and technology, to see the glint and gleam in his eye.  The divine generosity was splashing through him and out onto all the similarly afflicted children round about.  Something happened to him, in all the injustice and unfairness and inscrutability of his hours in the existential vineyard.  Something happened that made a difference—to the poor of the depression, to the nearly conquered in Europe and Asia, to the women and people of color and otherwise abled whom Eleanor prodded him, cajoled him, and implored him to aid.  He found a part of himself able to help, really help, others similarly afflicted, and somehow that part, once raised to life, opened his life to all the rest.

I wonder about you? and me?  Has the unfailing light and love of divine generosity worked on us at all this week?  Are we better people than we were last Sunday?

John Calvin (for once) on this parable:  We may also gather that our whole life is useless and we are justly condemned of laziness until we frame our life to the command and calling of God.  From this it follows that they labor in vain who thoughtlessly take up this or that kind of life and do not wait for God’s calling.  Finally we may also infer from Christ’s words that only they are pleasing to God who work for the advantage of their brethren. (loc cit 266)


I think back, or try to think back, fifty years—a flick of the wrist, a batting of eye, no time at all.   Here is Robert Hamill, walking toward us in the memory, this Alumni weekend 2014.   He knew the labor in the vineyard.  Yet Sunday dinner he offered every week.  He knew the unheralded service in ministry during a time of tumult, a time of trouble.  Yet Sunday dinner was served every week.  He knew the unwelcome unfairness of the difficulty on his watch, the intractable conflicts therein, the lack of resolution thereof, and, to top it off, early death at an early age.  Yet Sunday dinner’s hospitality, the Hamills’ form of faithfulness, never lagged and never flagged.  Around that table, come Sunday, with china and linens and silver and meal, one feels, there was, amid all the pain of the ‘troubles’, a refraction of glory, a reflection of the divine generosity.

Somehow, knowing Robert Hamill’s labor in the vineyard, somehow I think I, and I expect we, can find the energy and courage generously to live, so generously to live, as well.

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

September 14

Being and Belonging

By Marsh Chapel

Romans 14:1-9, 13

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Please Pray with me: God, you are the great homesickness we can never shake off, the one who urges us to be and tells us that we belong, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight-amen.

Thank you to Dean Hill and the Marsh Chapel staff and community for inviting me to preach this lovely September Sunday. As the chaplain for International students here at Boston University, my heart is overjoyed by the fall chill in the air and the mass of Students walking up and down Commonwealth Avenue in the autumn sunlight-I find it a particular privilege to share my sermonic thoughts with you for the beginning of the school year.

As a Chaplain for International students I am privileged to work with students from all over the world who speak a variety of different languages. This is a particular treat for me-as I love to collect interesting, funny, and intriguing words from other languages. I made friends with a German graduate student last year who taught me three of my new favorite German words that I think are perfectly hilarious and worth sharing with you now: The word in German for ambulance is Krankenwagen-which I think might possibly be the most fun word to shout out loud, and is quite appropriate in a description of the ambulance-as a cranking wagon. Another great German word is Kummerspeck, which in English would translate to stress eating-that instance when you might be sad, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed and then eat too much to compensate-but in German this word literally translates to ‘Grief Bacon’, which provides even deeper meaning to my own life. But the German word that I think is particularly helpful in understanding our letter from the apostle Paul today is fremdscham-we don’t really have an English equivalent of this expression, but it is the notion of being embarrassed for somebody else, and then consequently silently judging them. Perhaps, you hear someone talking loudly on their cell phone on the train about personal matters, or you see someone slopping food down their front unknowingly at a restaurant-you might feel fremdscham towards them. In your mind forms a quiet critique, a passing of concise judgment and a twinge of embarrassment at the things your neighbors are doing.

In our passage today in Romans, we see the apostle Paul addressing a community in conflict. The church in Rome is newly budding and as all new communities form-so do regulations and standards-those regulations and standards are also typically followed by conflict. In the Roman church’s case-Paul has heard hearsay of gossip and judgment towards one another about what they are eating and what days they find it most appropriate to worship. More specifically-some people are eating meat, while others are refusing to eat meat on religious ground, and some choose to keep Saturday as Sabbath while others keep no Sabbath at all. Due to Paul’s more gentle language used in this section of the letter, historical scholars conclude that no harsh physical confrontation has broken out over these disagreements-but there has been a good deal of whispering on these topics:  sly judgment from one group to the other, that critical sense of embarrassment about one’s neighbor-each group in Rome was feeling very fremdschaum towards one another-embarrassed by the other’s unorthodox eating practices and judgmental towards their choices in worship.

Now, I would love to say that this is an ancient ridiculous argument that we have far surpassed today-why bother or fight about what your neighbor Christian is eating? –but unfortunately, similar debates continue today, 2,000 years later. There are still little church scoffs and scuffles about whether to drink grape juice or wine at communion, to eat wafers or pita bread, and in our society there is a robust debate about health style superiority: being vegetarian or eating meat, vegan, paleo etc etc.  Paul identifies that the issue at hand is not solely about food and drink, worship and Sabbath, but it is about judging each other, deeming one’s own group as ‘true’ and the other group as an ‘imposter’.  Each group fears that they are in the wrong, that they are the community at fault, and thus jumps to persuade Paul and other church leaders of their self-righteousness, and correctness. Afraid of being discovered as the ‘imposter group’ in this early development of the church, gossip slowly becomes a battle of wits and slander to create regulations and rules for the community.

This fear of being an imposter, and thus judging others or feeling judged, is rampant in our society, and especially (I would say) on our college campuses at the start of the new school year. Young adults are particularly prone to what is commonly called “imposter syndrome”. I know that I have felt this way numerous times in the past few years, as my life has transitioned. When I was first accepted to Princeton Theological Seminary, I found myself on the first day of orientation standing among the gothic buildings and the ivy and thinking to myself “Everyone is going to find out I am not smart enough to be here.” I fervently scribbled notes about fire drills, codes of conduct, and scholarships during our orientation sessions just to look like I was keeping up and fitting in, in my fear others would discover my true identity-as a Midwestern girl from a tiny school in Iowa who read more fiction and poetry than theology in her undergraduate. And then, in our first chapel service of the year, the campus chaplain, Rev. Jan Ammon, sat down the entire freshmen class and told us all to get over our ‘imposter syndrome’. I had never heard this term before, but she went on to explain. Imposter syndrome is when you live in a constant state of fear that the people around you will find out that you aren’t as great as they think that you are. That you aren’t really smart enough to be at Princeton-or perhaps in your case, BU. That you are the Admissions Office’s big mistake. That you don’t really make enough money to live the lifestyle that your colleagues think you do. That you aren’t as nice as everyone thinks you are, or as thoughtful. That someone might find out that you aren’t as talented an athlete as your reputation leads them to believe. That you aren’t as faithful or disciplined in your spiritual life as you lead others to believe. Or that you don’t work as hard or as fast as others in your office. Most of us deal with this fear each and every day of our lives. We are so afraid of being ‘found out’ for all of our faults and failures, that we occasionally begin to judge others. Like the churches in Rome, we feel tempted to call out the faults of others to mask our own faults, worries, imperfections -to hide the imposter syndrome that we feel in ourselves.  Occasionally, our anxiety of letting our faults be known creates distance between ourselves and our communities, as we feel we are being judged and respond by judging others. This is a vicious cycle that upholds perfectionism and rejects humility, imperfection, and disregards the notion that fault actually creates growth.

I once heard a story about a Catholic Priest named Father Joseph. A new member of Father Joseph’s monastic order once committed a fault. A council was called to determine the punishment, but when the monks assembled it was noticed that Father Joseph was not among them. The superior sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So Father Joseph got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. When the others saw this they asked, “What is this, father?” Father Joseph said to them, “My faults and imperfections run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another?” When we judge each other in order to cover up for our own imperfections, we are at jeopardy of truly becoming an imposter-instead we are called to acknowledge the worth of all people, accepting others for exactly who they are and encouraging our most authentic selves to be expressed. When we accept and encourage others to be-just who they are-we develop a truly beautiful sense of hospitality and build compassionate communities.

In my first few weeks of Chaplaincy for International students here at B.U. I started an International Student Fellowship Dinner. This was a group for International students to come to feel more connected with each other, to process through all of the adjustments of living to a foreign city, and to create deep and lasting friendships across cultures. Every week, we gather in the lower level of Marsh Chapel and we cook cultural foods together-things that the students miss from home. We’ve had Italian students teach us how to make lasagna, and Taiwanese students teach us how to make miso soup, Indian students teach us how to make a spicy apple curry-and as we eat our comfort foods we talk about what its like to be living in Boston, what our lives are like, the things from home we long for, and the things in Boston we wish we could share with friends and family back home. Attending this group in the middle of the fall semester last year was a young graduate student who was from Nepal and living in the United States for the first time in her life. After her second week in a row of attending International Student Fellowship, she asked if she could speak at the end of our discussion, she said, “I just wanted to thank this group. I was so afraid of saying something wrong or messing up my words, but you made it ok. In the last two hours I have spoken more than I have in my last two weeks of being in Boston.”  That imposter syndrome that our this student had of being ‘found out’ debilitated her from speaking for nearly two weeks- for students in the start of the school year the pressure to be perfect is immense, and it seems that imposter syndrome goes hand in hand with fear of being judged. Luckily, our Nepalese friend was able to shake off that imposter syndrome and find her own voice. She then went on to be the president of her International student Organization in her graduate program and spends her days creating safe spaces for others to talk, try out their voice, discover who they are and feel that they truly belong.

The good news we find in this letter from Paul to Rome is that there is no such thing as an imposter when it comes to God. In Romans 14:3, Paul writes don’t judge each other, who are you to pass judgment? What you should know is that God has already welcomed everyone and God has welcomed us for being exactly who we are. Every single one of us-from the early church in Rome to the people sitting in these pews today-Jew and Greek, meat eaters and vegetarians, people who worship on Saturdays, people who worship on Sundays,–you are welcomed: whether you are southern, northern, western, new Englander, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Taiwanese, Nepalese, African, Columbian, Mexican, European-you are welcome here, you are not an imposter, you are fully known and accepted for being just who you are. Paul writes that you should simply BE YOU. In everything you are, be authentic, hold true to your values and the goodness and compassion seated within your heart-hold on to that. He writes that we all live and we all die, but as long as we live and die with holiness, with God with truth, with goodness, and with beauty in our hearts then we have the Genuine welling up with in us urging us to be. Just be. My favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote a poem about God calling us to be-Rilke wrote, “Live you said out loud, and die you said softly, and over and over and over again you said be.” Just be you, let go of your imposter syndrome and your fear, let go of the temptation to judge yourself against others, let go of your embarrassment-for you have been called over and over again to be.

And in your being-discover that you belong. Paul writes three times in this passage that all are welcome. I want to add to my collection of intriguing words the Greek word that Paul uses for ‘welcome’ here-which comes from the root word Lambano-we only see this word used 11 times in the New Testament and it is so multi-dimensional that the interpretations tend to vary-but they always have the essence of hospitality. Lambano, literally translates to receive or to take in. In the ancient world, there was a formalized system of hospitality for taking people into your home, offering them food, water, but also protection-and thus to welcome somebody was to take them in as one of you, as one of you own clan, as one of your own family. This is the Greek word Paul chooses to describe God’s nature. Amidst the judging, and the fremdscham feelings among these two groups people in Rome, Paul silences the scrapple about food and Sabbath and instead he beautifully makes statements about the character of God. Paul says that whoever you are, be you, be your truest self, and God will lambano-will welcome you-God will take you into gods own family, gods own self and offer you comfort, hospitality, protection-you belong with God and God belongs with you. This is an ultimate gift of belonging and welcome. If there is ever a moment when you feel that you are a stray, a wanderer, an unconnected human being-take comfort! Take rest! God has already welcomed you and made you a part of the holy household of spirit and presence and compassion. You have been taken in, you are not an imposter, you are not alone. God calls you over and over again simply to be and to know that you belong.

Paul challenges the Church in Rome one step further-saying it is now our responsibility to offer that same welcome to others, whether we disagree, eat different foods, speak different languages, etc.-we all belong in the eyes of God, and thus our hospitality should reach out to each person we meet. WE are now destined to share this lambano of god in our churches, in our lives, in our university, in our actions every single day. As God has created a home for us, we too must create a home for others. As the spirit of God lives within and among us-so we belong to one another.  Let us welcome with open arms those who differ from us in culture and lifestyles, let us extend our own hospitality, comfort, and protection in love. Ask a fellow student who is far from home to have coffee with you, invite your neighbor to go to a hockey game, take a long walk on the esplanade with someone you just met, reach out your hand and ask the person next to you what their name is and where they are from, show signs of welcome everywhere you go.  I challenge you, all of you, but especially our Boston University students- As the school year starts, find courage to be You, exactly as you are, and know that you are taken in, you have been received and warmly welcomed by God. Know that you are welcome in Marsh Chapel, feel that you have been welcomed into this house of god by god and let your heart fill up with a sense of belonging.  Know that you are welcome here in Boston University, this is a place for you to thrive, grow, belong, and in turn reach out with open arms of hospitality towards others. Discover who it is that you are, be a part of this compassionate community and then extend your own sense of welcome to everyone you meet. This school year, and every year henceforth may you find the courage to be you and know that you belong.


-Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, University Chaplain

September 7

The Marsh Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 18: 15-20

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 Ecclesia.  Symphonison.  Pragmata.  Church.  Agreement.  Issues…

Welcome to the ministry of Marsh Chapel!   Here you will find a heart in the heart of the global city, and a worship service in the service of the global city.   Here you will find passionate interest in matters related to gospel voice, personal vocation, and congregational volume.  I look forward to knowing your name!

Please take advantage of the opportunities here for ministry, for music, for hospitality and for international engagement.  Find your way to your own true interests in our midst.  Get to know Br. Larry, Dr. Jarrett, Mr. Bouchard, and Rev. Longsdorf.  I look forward to their knowing your name!

For Marsh Chapel to be a if not the leading liberal pulpit in the country, an if not the exemplary collegium for vocational discernment in our time, and a if not the largest University congregation in the country, we need you.  We need your Sunday presence, your tithing generosity, your acceptance of service roles, your prayer before worship and night and day, and mainly your own best self.

Our preaching this year, September 2014 to May 2015, will cycle around and through an engagement with Spirit.  We will of course follow the common lectionary, and offer ordered 11am Sunday worship in the Marsh tradition.  The sermons will test the spirits (1 Thess. 5) to see if any be of God (1 John 4).  The sermons will speak with those who are ‘spiritual but not religious’.

In particular, the first Sunday sermons, normally delivered from the chancel, will explore ‘The Marsh Spirit”.  What is the particular, soulful spirit of our community here, over 60 years?  What makes Marsh Chapel, Marsh Chapel?  Then, also, once each month a theme sermon, will explore what the Spirit is saying to the Church on issues of moment (the moral equivalents of war, religion on campus, safety and student life, drones, law and love in the United Methodist Church, and other).  Advent and Lent will give us seasons of Spirit cycles.  In Lent, we will debate Jonathan Edwards, but on the matter of Spirit.

So find your way to the Paraclete.  Open your door to the Spirit of Truth.  Study a little about the Holy Spirit.  Channel your inner Third Person persona.  And get ready.  The word this year: Spirit.

We began in a more general way a bit last week.

The Spirit offers grace in invitation, compassion, vocation, and aspiration.

We are a people alive in welcome to others, because we have been welcomed.  Frost:  You come too…

We are a community attuned to hurt, for we have known that pain.  Frost:  Treason, to go with the drift of things….

We are a congregation that has developed a culture in which a sense of calling is celebrated.  Frost:  Yield who will…

We are a gathering of women and men who look out, and look down, but who regularly look up, to aspire to height and heaven and wholeness.  Frost:  It asks of us a certain height…


Our spirit at Marsh Chapel is one of inquiry.  We are learning together:  from each others’ voices, through each others’ thoughts, out of each others’ conflicts, with each others’ histories and mysteries.

The Marsh Spirit includes the experimental creativity honored by Daniel Marsh, by Howard Thurman,  by Huston Smith, by Floyd Flake, by Robert Neville, and by our learning together in these years.

The Marsh Spirit, which we explicitly explore, this year, on our Eucharist Sundays, is an unabashedly liberal one.   Compassionate, not permissive.   Curious, not fearful.   Coherent, not chaotic.   Traditional and Scriptural, but not unreasonable or impersonal.   ‘Test the spirits, to see whether any be of God.’  Scriptures of every religious tradition direly need to be fettered by our experience and our reason, alongside our traditions of understanding.

Liberal in the Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Bostonian, Personalist manner.

Theologically liberal, that is, not necessarily politically so, all the way.  For instance, often you have heard our voice inquiring about the health of gambling.  Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts might want to inquire about virtue and vice in publicly embraced gaming.  Have you lived near Atlantic City or in Oneida NY?   You might want to inquire of those who have, what the consequences have been.  We have lived near a major casino:  blighted neighborhoods, children left for hours in back seats, people with cash to use for slots but not for heath care, a few solid jobs and many, many poor people made poorer and poor children made poorer.

Our College of Arts and Sciences has a hospitality table in the main hall for the first week of classes.   Here is a place where information of moment and meaning may be given over to those in need.  Call it a sermon table.

Three students were discussing the heat and humidity, the first week and first weekend, causes curricular and extra curricular.  Said one, pointing down the hall:  I had a class in that room.  It was terrible.   A passerby asked:  Which was terrible—the room or the class?   Well, in this case, it was the room.

But there along Commonwealth Avenue, inside a great Cram and Ferguson building, there arose a momentary insight into the troubles of interpretation.  Which—room or class?  In order to know, to hear properly, you have to dig a little deeper, ask a question or two, probe and inquire.

Our spirit at Marsh Chapel is one of inquiry.  We are learning together:  from each others’ voices, through each others’ thoughts, out of each others’ conflicts, with each others’ histories and mysteries.

We inquire after truth.  That which has been believed always and everywhere by everyone, as John Wesley put it.  Nothing human is foreign to us—nihil humanum, as Terence put it.

How shall we do so?

 One:  Talk

In verse 15, Matthew begins to give advice about how to life in community.   Community involves difference, but also can involve hurt.  Communication makes community.  Matthew’s Jesus teaches us to speak to each other in our presence and not of each other in our absence—to each other in our presence not of each other in our absence.

This week I received a triangulating e-mail.  It came from the leader of organization I dislike, seeking support for a person I do like.  I loathe one and love the other.  The triangulation in the communication forces me either to support an organization I do not like or to disappoint a person I do like.  What do you do in such a situation?  The kinder approach from the organization would have been a visit, or a phone call, in which sensibilities could be explored.  But now we have the e-document:  eternal, irretrievable, international, indelible.  And the tangled triangle.  It will take 3 hours or more to unbind and loosen this knot.  You know, there was time when people had to come and see you before they so complicated your life.

I think on inquiry, that Matthew 18: 15 teaches me how to respond.  I shall not send a steaming reply, tempting as that would be.  I shall not reply from a distance at all.  I must go and see my interlocutor.  I must make a visit to the author of the e-mail and find a way through the horns of the dilemma, the Scylla of support for an organization I dislike and the Caribdis of hurt to a person I do like.

In verse 17, Matthew provides a further suggestion, to use if the earlier ones fail.  Tell the whole church, his Jesus says.  We are clearly hearing overtones of what was needed in Matthew’s community, toward the end of the first century.  Jesus may well have taught in such fashion, though the use of a Greek word like ‘ecclesia’—twice here—probably indicates this is later material placed on Jesus’ lips.  But the import remains—gather the community for deliberation.  Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

Two:  Remember

In verse 16, Matthew quotes from Deuteronomy 19.  That is, he goes back to the basics, back to the starting point, the Old Testament, back to kindergarten, if you will, as many of gone this week.

New York City has more than doubled, from 20K to 55K, the number of 4 year old children in free universal pre-kindergarten.  Who says things cannot change for the better, and quickly?  In Albany our four year old granddaughter entered a similar program and her Dad wrote:

“According to Anne, Sally’s drop off went very smoothly.  True to form, Sally walked into the school confidently and eagerly and, unlike many of the other kids, refused to hold her mother’s hand.  She knew right where her classroom was and where to go, found her cubby right away, put her things in it, greeted and hugged her new teacher, and then found a book, sat down on the carpet in the spot marked for her, and started to read quietly while the other kids filtered in.  I’m so proud of her!!!”

Robert Fulghum had it right a generation ago:  Everything I have ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten:

1. Share everything.

2. Play fair.

3. Don’t hit people.

4. Put things back where you found them.


6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.

8. Wash your hands before you eat.

9. Flush.

10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.

12. Take a nap every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

15. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

 Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Three: Walk

In verse 18, Matthew strongly affirms the lasting power of such church considerations, even saying, similar to our reading two weeks ago, in the phrase, ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’,  that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is forgiven on earth is forgiven in heaven. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 19, two or three, when truly together, suffice to form a judgement.   Our English words ‘symphony’ and ‘pragmatic’ are rooted in the Greek here for agreement and matter. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 20, to conclude, the gospel further celebrates the precious joy of common life in the present, in the here and now, and it only takes a few, ‘wherever two or three ARE gathered in my name, there I AM as well.’ Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

This is the announcement of presence, in word and table, in audition and celebration, in pulpit and altar.

In the spirit I call you to the Marsh Spirit of inquiry.  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.

So the Apostle had made us an urgent appeal, an appeal to love one another.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Wind is a gift of the sea.  Salt sea breeze is a gift of the great oceans deep.  Spirit, a spirit of inquiry, is a gift of God, our gift to share.

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