Archive for December, 2014

December 28

A Glimpse of Christmas

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 2:22-40

Click here to listen to the sermon only

My thanks to Dean Hill for the generosity of the opportunity to preach, and to my husband Soren for the generosity of letting me preach the lectionary texts on the day they were actually assigned; he took on the far more difficult preaching task this Gospel lesson a few weeks ago.

Did you catch a glimpse this Christmas? A glimpse of light? A glimpse of glory? A glimpse of salvation?

Perhaps, out of the corner of your eye, this Christmas, your vision was warmed by the hazy glow of stringed lights, and you felt the Light of God well up in you for a moment. A glimpse of the light of the Star over Bethlehem.

Perhaps, in the quiet hum of a carol over the percussion hiss of the radiator and crackle of the fire, your ear caught a tune both new and familiar. Perhaps you caught a note of angel song. A glimpse of the glory of the heavenly host singing.

Perhaps, in the sticky embrace of a child with candy cane-stained hands or in the cool, dry kiss of an elderly parent or grandparent, you felt a sense of connection, communion with the past and the present and the promise of the future all at once; perhaps you caught a brush of a King’s cloak or a  shepherd’s homespun. A glimpse of salvation offered to all, prince and pauper alike.

Perhaps you caught a glimpse this Christmas. I hope and pray that you did. It’s what we wait for, what we long for in the preparation of Advent. We wait and long for an experience of the presence and power of God in humanity; we wait for Christ.

And the author of Luke-Acts introduces us to Simeon and Ana, adding narrative to a long wait for consolation and redemption. In Luke-Acts we have a gospel that grasps for hope in the aftermath of a failed real and apocalyptically imagined political revolution, struggles for some kernel of identity in the midst of real or imagined rejection, and wrings its hands over real and imagined competition from fellow Jews, fellow philosophers and fellow cults. And lurking in the background of the composition and compilation of this text, a growing anxiety over fellow Christians who believe differently and are unafraid to say so. In the gathering of this text and these stories, we find early layers of polemics, perhaps against Marcion, as Joseph Tyson has argued. So just as the writers and compilers of Luke-Acts wait and hope for a crystallized Christian identity that will resolve theological conflict, so Luke-Acts crafts characters who wait and hope for a crystallized, or perhaps we should say, incarnate figure who can bring heft, weight, reality to the longings of Israel. Simeon waits for consolation, and Ana waits for redemption. These are personal stories but they are universal hopes, and both Simeon and Ana are rewarded for their long wait with a glimpse of Jesus. And for them, a glimpse is enough.

Even Paul, in the midst of his grumpiest letter to the assemblies in Galatia, in his long wait, manages to catch a glimpse of Christmas. The previous sentence needs some unpacking on several levels. First, the letter to the Galatians is undoubtedly Paul’s grumpiest letter, although that is hardly a formal New Testament studies term. In this letter, Paul forgoes his usual epistolary custom of giving thanks. For example, the beginning greetings in Romans are followed by, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” In Philippians, Paul and Timothy write, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” In Galatians 1, we move right from the greeting to “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all,” and things go downhill from there, until Paul finally resorts to name calling in chapter 3, “You foolish Galatians!”

Paul does not seem to know or, if he knows, to care about the infancy or birth narrative of Jesus. For Paul, his primary focus is on the glimpse of the risen Christ that has caught him up in a transformed hope for the reconciliation and consolation of God to all people, including and especially the Gentiles. However, this passage in Galatians 4 is the closest we get to a Christmas message in Paul, “In the fullness of time, God sent God’s Son, born of a woman…” But I would argue that Paul’s real glimpse of the meaning, consequence, and yes, incarnational theology of Christmas comes in verse 7: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Because we have caught a glimpse that God lives among us, and because we can call Jesus brother, we are able to be called children of God, and because we are children, heirs of the promise of God. This is Pauline incarnational good news.

But let’s be honest: Paul is caught in an apoplectic and apocalyptic waiting game, and I’m not sure that for Paul, that one glimpse of Christ is enough. And, if we’re honest, too, about our own Christmas experience, there might have been a little Galatians-time in the midst of our waiting for our next glimpse of God. Gratitude left unoffered, frustration over expectations unmet, tensions or infighting amidst family and friends, and perhaps even a little name-calling. Or worse, the deep tug of disappointment, the gnawing absence of those gone. Paul knew these feelings, too. An uneasy waiting. They, too, are part of the Christmas story, because a glimpse is just that, a glimpse.

Momentary, fleeting; the briefest flicker at the corner of vision, a single strain of music, the quick brush of a hand. So often, our religious experiences, those saving moments, are a mere glimpse. Christmas comes and goes, a blink of the eye, it seems, and five Christmases have flown by. A theological question lies before us today, modelled by Paul, Simeon, and Ana: How can these glimpses be enough?

We might expect that someone like Mother Theresa, Saint of Calcutta and founder of the Missionaries of Charity, who worked with the poor, sick, and dying in India and around the world, must have regularly experienced the light of God in her life. She must have had such a constant vision of God to do the work she did for so many decades of her life!

In reality, the exact opposite is true. In Come Be My Light, an autobiographical collection of writings compiled and edited posthumously by her closest confessors, we find that after a powerful experience of a call to serve the poor, Mother Theresa experienced decades of silence, loneliness, and darkness. In the midst of the explosion of her work and ministry and the rapid expansion of her order, she never once caught a glimpse of God like the one that so inspired her.

Writing to one of her spiritual directors, she recounted, “Now Father – since [the age of] 49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss – this untold darkness – this loneliness – this continual longing for God – which gives me that pain deep down in my heart. Darkness is such that I really do not see – neither with my mind nor my reason. The place of God in my soul is blank. – There is no God in me – When the pain of longing is so great – I just long and long for God.”[1]

Mother Theresa’s story is not some happy-ending fairy-tale where after a call experience and a brief narrative tension of divine silence, a light from heaven breaks in to provide resolution. Rather, Mother Theresa’s story is a very human tale of waiting, and of finding enough in the glimpses of God to sustain us for the work of faith, for the process of sanctification.

We have a theological term for this; you’ve probably heard the phrase, “A dark night of the soul.” The phrase comes from a poem and exposition (La noche oscura del alma) written by St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish mystic. John describes the crisis that people of faith sometimes encounter, those periods of absence, longing, and confusion. We who live in New England, who have just passed through the solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year, know this experience intimately. But John of the Cross writes:

INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners—which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road—and begins to set them in the state of progressives—which is that of those who are already contemplatives—to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.

Now, I don’t know if John Wesley read or knew John of the Cross’s poem, but I think this is about as good a description of sanctification as I have come across. The salvation process, the process of being made well, of being made salvus, well, whole, the process of receiving balm for our sin-sick souls, is the work of our entire lives as we continue to grow more open to the grace of God flowing into us. Salvation, a glimpse of Christmas, does not mean that we wake up the next morning feeling spiritually whole and perfect. The Christmas season, through Paul and Simeon and Ana, also teaches us that faith is about waiting.

The question still lingers. We have a little comfort from Theresa, John of the cross, Simeon, Anna, and yes, even Paul, but the catch in the throat is still there. How can this glimpse of Christmas be enough?

Theresa washed, fed, and cared for the dying alongside her fellow sisters in the Missionaries of Charity; silent John worked closely with St. Theresa of Avila to found the barefoot Carmelites in Spain, Simeon reaches out to a young family scraping enough together for the offering for their son in the temple; Anna, widowed for decades, spends her days in the temple sharing conversation and hope with those who enter; Paul has his beloved assemblies, whom he writes to and longs for even when he is at his grumpiest.

A glimpse of Christmas is enough when we join in with others in a community of faith. A glimpse of Christmas is supported, encouraged, and perhaps even sustained through the regular rhythms of a life in the family of God, through the interconnected feeling of participation in the body of Christ. You might not feed the physical and spiritual needs of thousands, but you can bring a homemade dish to our potluck next week and get involved in our abolitionist chapel group. You might not punctuate your contemplative life with communal, daily participation in the full liturgy of the hours, but you can be present in worship come Sunday. You might not be a prophet, but you might share a good word with a member going through a difficult time or a visitor overwhelmed by the space and service. And you might even write someone a letter, a physical letter, opened with a proper line of thanksgiving. When a community of faith shares its glimpses with one another, these glimpses, seen at different angles, heard with different pitches, and felt with different textures, begin to coalesce into a clearer sense of God’s vision.

I hope and pray, brothers and sisters, that you have caught a glimpse of light, glory, and salvation this Christmas, and I also pray that those saving glimpses you have had are enough for the work of Christmas to begin in this community, in your community of faith.

Or, as Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, former Dean of Marsh Chapel, put it in the Christmas poem we read here every year:

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.

Have you caught a glimpse of God this Christmas? Is it enough? Enough to sustain the work of faith and faithfulness, enough for an assurance of things hoped for, enough for a conviction of things unseen?

May we pray?

Come, Lord Jesus, give us a glimpse of you this Christmas. Sustain us for the work ahead, so that the glimpses we have had of your light, glory, and salvation are enough, by your grace and the support of a beloved community. Come, be our light. Amen.

[1] Come Be My Light, 1-2.

– The Reverend Jen Quigley, Chapel Associate

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

December 21

Born to Give Us Second Birth

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 1:26-38

Click here to listen to the sermon only


Let the Christmas moment hold you.

Look around.   Notice the candle.  Touch the Bible.   Hear the organ.  Sense the evergreen.   Taste the happiness, the joy, and the conviction that life is good.

Let the Christmas moment hold you.

Christmas evokes stories.  See what you remember of the Christmas stories.   In those days there came from Caesar Augustus. House and lineage of David.  Shepherds abiding in the fields.  An angel of the Lord appeared.  Wise Men from the east.  Gold, frankincense, myrrh.  They went home by another way.  The Word was with God, was God, was in the beginning with God, all things were made through him.

Let the Christmas moment hold you.

You notice though that none of these stories are in our Gospel of Mark, whom we follow this year.  In fact, we have had to retreat from the high ground of Mark for these Sundays, come Christmas, for there was no Christmas in the earliest Gospel, no room in the inn of Mark 1 for birth stories.  Or in Paul, earlier still, who says only, ‘born of  a woman, born under the law’ (Gal. 4).  The stories came later than the gospel they narrate.  Why did they come at all?  Because people want to know about these things, and so a gift wrap of history and theology, memory and art came to pass.

Let the Christmas moment hold you.

This moment gives birth to stories.  Including your favorite.   Leo Tolstoy’s Where Love Is, God Is.   Raymond Alden’s Why The Chimes Rang.   O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.  And some films too:  Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, Home Alone (J). 

Perhaps the shock of Incarnation requires us to mask our befuddlement, to muffle our astonishment at presence, mystery, divinity here and now, by and through the telling of stories.  That God would choose to enter our condition…That God would stoop down to us, to walk about us…That God would immerse Godself in our terror and horror:  Antietam, Flanders Field, Nagasaki, Auschwitz, Dresden, Pakistan, Newtown, Boylston Street, World Trade Center.  That God would stoop to take on our grief and loss:  a friend moved, a relationship severed, a parent buried, a marriage ended, a job removed, a dream deferred.  That God would decide to enter our duplicities and disguises:  best foot forward when the other one is the real one; saint at home, devil abroad;  suppression of our own foibles, but accentuation of others’.  That God with man is now residing, yonder shines the infant light?  What sort of news, what sort of gospel, is this?

Let the Christmas moment hold you.

Exemplum Docet

We have never been far from academia—Colgate, Syracuse, Ohio Wesleyan, Cornell, McGill, Lemoyne, U of Rochester, now BU.

Bob Fisk worked at Syracuse University for four decades.   He and his wife Connie started coming to our church out of an old family connection, on her side, and because his Boy Scout troop met in the building, on his side.   She was an architect, community leader, financial developer, and outgoing spirit.   He was quiet, kind, soulful, and real.   I could swap stories with him about Eagle Scout courts of honor, about trading neckerchiefs at the National Jamboree, about Philmont Scout Ranch and the Tooth of Time.

Bob worked in a small office on campus.  We will need some archaeological tools to describe his life’s labor.  He supported students who needed AV and other equipment.  In the chaos of his little nest, he could find for you all manner of treasures:  carbon paper, white out, typewriter ribbon, film strip projectors, carousel slide projectors, screens, amplifiers, ditto paper, pens and pencils, and virtually anything else you, dear student, might need, some decades ago, for your class presentation due in two hours, due early tomorrow morning, due in 10 minutes.   In the joyful freedom of pastoral ministry, as the church grew, I could go and visit Bob, and watch the nearly endless stream of orphaned students stampeding their way to his little room.  He didn’t preach at them:  your lack of planning is not my personal crisis, proper planning prevents poor performance, be punctual and do everything at the appointed hour.  No.  He just helped.  He just quietly and joyfully helped.  One winter a middle aged former minister, working on another master’s degree, came by to speak about Bob:  “I watch him.  He is salt and light.  He would give you the shirt off his back.  He is there for students.”

On weekends he took his scout troop to be enveloped in the natural world, usually deep into the Adirondacks.  There he taught a love of the created order, a respect for the history of places, and the rudiments of leadership:  ‘affirm in public, criticize in private’, and other lasting truths.  Big eyes covered by big glasses, a big smile, and silent except for laughter—I can see Bob right now.  He never bought a thing on credit.  Not his house, not his car, not his camping gear.  He taught his four children that same frugality.

Connie predeceased him by some years, but until Bob died last winter I knew and smiled to think that at least one Christian walked the earth.

A Christmas Story

As we trying to get that urban churching rolling, we one year arranged a dish to pass dinner.  We sang some carols, maybe 100 of us or so.  I had asked three of our people just to tell a Christmas story, as our fairly humble program that snow covered evening.  Bob’s was the last.

As a 20 year old he had gone to England, as part of a bomber crew in 1941.   He told us, simply, about being away from home for the first time.  About having a photo of his girlfriend, Connie.  About his mom and dad and two sisters.   He said that his only thought was to hope that he would see them all once more.  Connie.  His Mom.  His Dad.  His sisters.  “I would like to get home alive”.  This was his prayer, as it is for many today.  Christmas came, but the service men were not allowed any decorations.  No candles that might be lit and so shine and so guide enemy bombers.  Bob noticed that their rations came in cardboard boxes with a coating of paraffin on them.  So, when he had time, he would sit in front of Connie’s picture, that December, and using his scout knife he would peel off the paraffin, storing it in a number 10 can.  By Christmas Eve Bob had enough for three candles, each with a short wick made of shoestring in the middle.   That night as the plane after the plane took off, he set up a little table in the rear of fuselage.  When they leveled off, he and the crew, except for the pilot, gathered at the little table.  He was afraid maybe the paraffin wouldn’t work.  But after a while, all three candles were lit, burning now in the dark sky over the cliffs of Dover and over the English channel.  After a long silence, one of the men recited a psalm.  Then they said the Lord’s prayer.  Bob prayed his hope to get home.  Then together, without much singing talent and without any practice, they sang two verses of Silent Night.  “I would like to get home alive”, Bob said, as the candles dimmed, flickered and went out.

From that personal Christmas remembrance, I caught a glimpse of the origins of Bob’s humility, kindness, and integrity.

Redeemer Judge

As the years in ministry roll on, the Christmas season becomes heavily populated with such narratives.  I find my worship time with you—lovely the music, exquisite the spirit—haunted by ghosts of Christmases past, like that of Bob Fisk.  At Lessons and Carols, the opening prayer states, Let us remember before God them who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.   This year I thought of Bob’s recent death, and of his Christmas memory, as we prayed so.  But the Lessons and Carols service also has a closing prayer, O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ:  Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge.  This year I thought of Bob’s faithful life, as we prayed so.  And I wondered:  how will I be judged? And by what measure, and in what way, and for what account, and to what end?  Our Redeemer, that is Christmas.  Our Judge, that is Easter.   By grace we are assured Who will judge us, the same Lord Jesus who by faith has redeemed us.  But by what measure, standard, purpose, or metric?

That is, just what is the just point of life?

We should simply state, come Christmas, what, by grace, we judge to be the point of life.

What is the point of all this birth, death, activity, trauma, tragedy, success, failure, health, disease in the span of three score and ten years, or if by reason of strength, four score?


The purpose of life is to love God and love neighbor.

The point of life is to learn to love to learn love to know Love, love divine and love human.  If that is not the point, then what is?  All the rest—achievement, successes, earnings, power, education, family, legacy, all (and these and other things are of course quite important in their own right) are meant to help us to learn to love, and have meaning if they help us to learn to love.  Are we lovers?  Are you loving?  Are we lovers any more?

To see and live such a purpose in life requires a second birth.  Not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man but of God, to become children of God.  It requires a new birth, which may take 9 decades of life, or 9 months of gestation or 9 minutes of a sermon.  One way or another, faith comes by hearing.  Christmas forces you to make a choice.  What is the point of your life?  Is it to love your God and love your neighbor?  To such an end the Redeemer is born.  By such a measure the Judge is raised.  Are you going to wholeness?  Do you expect to made whole in love in this life?  If not, just what are you going on to?  9 minutes is plenty of time for that question to be posed in the pulpit and answered in the heart.  Are you here on earth to love?  If not, what are you are here for?

Three Magnificat Thoughts

Our Holy Scripture surrounds the nativity with a memory of God’s care for David, and with a single sentence summary in Romans, and with the announcement of a great portent from the angel\messenger Gabriel.  But mainly the Holy Scripture impregnates the birth of Jesus with the voice of Mary, in the Magnificat, following 1 Samuel 1 and 2, almost to the letter.  A soul that magnifies the Lord, and spirit that rejoices in God.  Mary sings of the lowly, for the lowly, to the lowly.  She has her eye on the next generation.  She has her mind on those now left out.  She has her heart on the fallible, the tardy, the hasty, and the self-occupied.  Her hope is in the ancient God of Holy Writ, the God of Jonah, the God of Hannah, the God of Deborah, the God of Sarah, the God of Moses, the God of the poor.  Just like there are many ways to be rich, so there are many ways to be poor.

The Gospel bears a regard for those of low estate.  The Gospel lifts up those of low degree.  The Gospel spreads a blanket of mercy.  The Gospel feeds the hungry.  A regular birth, no less or more miraculous than any other (see S Ringe, LUKE, 32-33).

To connect with a Greek culture, the Christian scribes found birth stories befitting the miraculous arrival of the divine.  But the songs are old and Jewish, the psalms here are eschatological and Hebrew.  They portend the arrival of the Messiah, and await the advent of that Day.

Humble among tardy students, Bob Fisk loved God and neighbor.

Kind among hasty students, Bob Fisk loved God and neighbor.

Self-giving among self-occupied students, able to crucify his own projects in order to resurrect theirs, Bob Fisk loved God and neighbor.

He did aim at humility, kindness and integrity.

And you? And I?  I could sure use your help, your example, your companionship and your good humor along the way.

Thurman Christmas

Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.

It is the time of lift to the spirit,

When the mind feels its way into the commonplace,

And senses the wonder of simple things: an evergreen tree,

Familiar carols, merry laughter.

It is the time of illumination,

When candles burn, and old dreams

Find their youth again.

It is the time of pause,

When forgotten joys come back to mind, and past

Dedications renew their claim.

It is the time of harvest for the heart,

When faith reaches out to mantle all high endeavor,

And love whispers its magic word to everything that breathes.

Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.



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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

December 7

The Marsh Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

To listen to the full service, click here

Isaiah 40:1-11

To listen to the sermon only, click here

1. The Marsh Spirit is one of patience.

To get to Bethlehem you first have to go down to the river.

Patience—purposeful longsuffering.  In the dark, the dank, the misty quiet, out in the wilderness.  We know: loss, injustice, violence, misunderstanding, miscommunication, misapprehension—mistake.

Sin, death, meaninglessness.  Pride, sloth, falsehood.  Superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy.

2.  “River Cruise:  Change your Views”

See the shoreline.  Boston.  New York. Islands.  San Diego.  The Charles River.

All of the landscape is the same.  Kenmore.  CAS. West Campus.  Commonwealth.  Bay State.  Esplanade (down to the river on grass).  Our existence is the same.  Situation.  Location. Station. Temptation.  It is all the same.  Except.

Except our angle of vision, our point of view, our perspective—these are utterly different.  On the river.  We see, perhaps, as others outside see us?  As the past and future see us?  As heaven sees us?

Every sermon is such a change in perspective, as is every service of worship.  To re-clothe in the rightful mind.

Come Sunday, every Sunday, here at Marsh Chapel:

The Chapel’s gothic nave, built to lift the spirit, welcomes you

The Chapel’s sixty year history, at the heart of Boston University, welcomes you

The Chapel’s regard for persons and personality, both in its Connick stained glass windows and in its current ministry, welcomes you

The Chapel’s familiar love of music, weekday and Sunday, welcomes you

The Chapel’s congregation of caring, loving souls, in this sanctuary, welcomes you in spirit.

Welcome today as we enhance our endowment.


It is an endowment vocal not visible, audible not audited, psychic not physical, moral not material.

Listen for its echoes…listen…listen to the voices of Boston University and of Marsh Chapel…

All the good you can…

The two so long disjoined…

Heart of the city, service of the city…

Learning, virtue, piety…

Good friends all…

Hope of the world…

Are ye able, still the Master, whispers down eternity…

Common ground…

Content of character…

3. Vivian Benton Skeele

In a personal mode, let me offer a remembrance of patience.

3.  Mississippi and Hudson River Views

In a pastoral mode, let me offer three overtures in reflection upon the events in Ferguson, MO and New York city this past few weeks.   These brief thoughts follow on sermons delivered this fall at Marsh Chapel, which already have addressed the tragedy in Ferguson (8/24, 9/7, 10/12, 10/26, 11/23, 11/30), and on the Marsh Chapel forum held here on 9/3, and on several other group and individual conversations.

First, it may help us most, and this counter-intuitively, to place ourselves sub specie aeternitatis, under the gaze of God, and approach this particular but revelatory event from a spiritual, and theological perspective.  In prayer.  In thought.  In worship. In gathering.  In conversation.  To remember that we and all whom we encounter are children of the living God.  We are not economic engines, solely, nor political operatives, mainly, nor cultural agents, centrally, nor partisan players, primarily.  We are angels in waiting.  And those whom we greet and consider are so, too.  As children of the living God, grounded in grace, sustained by spirit, we may have food for the work and bread for the journey.  General calls for ongoing conversation are well meaning but misdirected without daily rations.  Theologically then we will again brood over sin, death, meaninglessness.  Theologically then we will confess pride, sloth, falsehood, hypocrisy, sloth and idolatry.  Theologically then we will return to admission of evil, both banal and horrific, to admission of the enduring hardness and hardship of injustice, to admission of our complicity, hate to say so as we do, in the gone wrong part of life.  Isaiah Berlin would agree.  If nothing else, a spiritual, theological perspective will perhaps improve our capacity to listen.

Second, it surely will help us, and this more obviously, to read some history, some good, probing history.  Ferguson comes 200 years or so after much of our American economy, politics, culture and struggle were forged in cotton.  You can read Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.  But the calculation is closer to home.  30% or 40% of slavery is still with us today—in economy, culture, politics, and struggle.  From 1810 to 1860 a  quarter-million slaves from the Old South were re-sold into the New South (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and, yes, Missouri).  Mothers had their babies torn from their arms on the now beautiful Baltimore harbor.  Husbands were whipped away from wives, and marched to Birmingham.  Children were held up like pumpkins and sold to the highest bidder, then sailed down to New Orleans.  They were herded into what had been Indian land (the Native Americans having been either slaughtered or ‘re-located’ to Oklahoma).  With cost free land and cost free labor trees were cut, fields were plowed, cotton was planted and harvested, mills in the north were set to work, all or almost all funded by a tsunami of credit, legitimated by the US government and various banks.   You know, you, even you, I, even I, can make money if you pay nothing for land and pay nothing for labor.  But the bills do accrue into the future, not just for the enslaved, but also for the enslaver, and for all those, both north and south of the Mason Dixon line, who benefitted from slavery and the torture it took to keep people chained. If nothing else, a historical perspective will perhaps improve our capacity to lament.

Third, we need to act.  I do not mean re-act.  To act we need a moral compass.  To find a moral compass you need a community of faithful women and some men, acquainted with wonder, vulnerability, and self-mockery, with mystery, generosity, and, yes, morality.  You need a church.  I am glad to host a vigil, as we did Tuesday night. But my interest in your presence will be quickened, made real, if I see you in church, praying, tithing, teaching children, visiting the sick, studying the Gospels, singing hymns, living a life in which you are really alive before you die.  Go somewhere once a week to gather with others, admit your mortality and fragility, and grow up, Sunday by Sunday.  The kinds of labor that it will take in this country for us to live down chattel slavery will require a moral compass rooted in ancient faithfulness.  Over time, then, you with others, over much time, will gain the footing, find the leverage, provide the strength to make real change in real time.

How should you respond to Ferguson?  Spiritually, historically, and morally.

4.  Marsh Geist

In a preaching mode let me invite you to breathe in the Marsh Spirit of patience.

Particular.  Different.  University.  Protestant.  Interdenominational.

Worship:  1/14 of your week (1/2 of one of seven days).

Discipleship.  Hill or Wiesel?

Fellowship.  Yes, Sunday (Open House, regular meal, other).  But otherwise?  Basketball, Brittain War Requiem, Interfaith Evening, Hockey, GSU.


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Give on line or mail a check to 735 Commonwealth.

As we prepare to receive the morning offering, we especially encourage our radio and internet listeners to take this moment to go to the Marsh Chapel website (\chapel), click on the giving link, and make a generous contribution to support our ministry.  You may also simply send a check to Marsh Chapel, 735 Commonwealth Avenue.  Your tithes and generous gifts will strengthen our Marsh Chapel ministry, a heart in the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city.

5.  The Beginning of the Gospel

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sin

Ring the bell, sing the song, tell the tale

The beginning of the good newsa of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.b

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,c

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,d

who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight,’ ”

John the baptizer appearede in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you withf water; but he will baptize you withg the Holy Spirit.”

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.