Archive for May, 2015

May 31

Sweet Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

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John 3:1-17

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Strange Spirit

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.  So it is with every one who is born of the spirit.

Scripture and tradition depend on reason and experience.  Spirit involves reason and experience.  A question for you, day by day as mortality approaches, is whether you can find the courage to trust your own experience and whether you can find the capacity to rely on your own reason.  Opportunities to subcontract both are amply available.  But in order to live a life that is yours not almost yours, Spirit is needed.

We feel a measure of this spirit every year at Commencement.  Especially in one of the latest and very smallest of graduation exercises each year.   Monday last week, May 18, was a gracious sun kissed beautiful Boston day.    The morning was cool and bright, gracious and breezy, with more than a hint of salt in the sea air.  Gracious and salty, as the Bible says our speaking ought to be:  ‘let your speech be gracious, yet seasoned with salt’.

19 young women and men stood up, in Faneuil Hall here in Boston, the cradle of liberty.  They stood to take a vow, to make an oath.  And though their numbers and their simple ceremony were not as large as the great winds of pageantry on Nickerson field, or traditional liturgy in Marsh Chapel, or hooding and hand shaking in the 17 schools and colleges in the days preceding, there is something in this spirited moment, small and modest, that takes the measure of all the others.  As if, with these 19, the question is posed for all the rest, whether what we are doing is worthy, and worthy of these few.

With their loved ones all around, they promise to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States—if need be, with their lives.   In the quiet, among families and friends, there are waves of tears, waves like those lapping at the shoreline a few hundred feet away.   With reason, and in their experience, they are bearing witness to a hard decision.  So tears flow. ‘Different are the languages of prayer, but the tears are all the same’ (A Heschel).   Every year this is the smallest but the finest moment in all the graduation ceremonies at BU.  Stumbling in tears and emotion, loved ones place shoulder boards upon the newly minted Army second lieutenants.  It is awkward to figure out how to button these shoulder boards–but the fumbling is more about water and eyes and a spirit moment.  Water and spirit. And then the photos of the 19—male and female, black and white, short and tall, gay and straight.  It is an induction utterly and fully inclusive.  And a prayer and song and a salute.  And it is beautiful, and powerful.

Nicodemus finds himself, at night, in such a spirited moment.

The Jesus of John counsels Nicodemus to be born of spirit and water, to be born from above, to be like the wind.

Wind at midnight.  Wind from the sea.  Summer wind came blowing in.  The wind blows where it wills.  Wind of God.

Nicodemus appears two other times in the Fourth Gospel, two tantalizing entries into the flow of the Gospel.   He is there to remind us of our growth in spirit.   Our understanding of Jesus’ teaching with Nicodemus, his later appearances remind us, requires the whole gospel.  Especially when it comes to spirit, strange spirit, John Spirit, Night Spirit, Sweet Spirit.

The strangest of strange outcroppings of Spirit in all of Scripture is located on the windswept steppe of John 14, the ice covered snow peak of the Bible, the haunted moonscape of planet Gospel.  Once you have ascended John to the last discourse, John 14ff, you are clearly in a strange, strange land and landscape.   The venerable preacher who originally spoke to the late first century community in Ephesus (say) if nothing else had absolute confidence in his own experience.  It lead him, and thus his church, to establish a different religion, what became later emerging Christianity.  He did not let the door hit him as he swung out. Here, Nicodemus.  Here, a Samaritan Woman.  Here, blind man healed.  Here, Lazarus—raised.  Here, Beloved Disciple.  Here, Thomas.  Here, Logos. Here, especially, Spirit, by another name.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you…These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Spirit in John

John had the courage to face the awful disappointment behind the New Testament:  Jesus did not return, not on schedule, not as expected, not soon and very soon, not maranatha, not yet.  But John looked at his own experience, and in biblical measure, with traditional tools, reasoned.   In place of apocalypse, he celebrated the artistry of the everyday, and in place of the speculation about the end, he celebrated the Spirit of truth, and in place of parousia, the coming of the Lord, he nominated Paraclete, the presence of the Lord.  He sang: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.   One way to solve problems is to face them, to name them, to admit them.  No parousia.  Paraclete.

The stark strangeness, the utter difference of John from the rest of the Bible we have yet to admit.  My beloved advisor, perhaps the greatest John scholar of our era, Fr. Raymond Brown, got only as far as saying that John is best understood as ‘an embraceable variant’ emphasis on embraceable less emphasis on variant.  But when we get to the summit, John 14 and following, we see chiseled there in ice and covered fully with wind snow, an enigmatic, mysterious riddle:  Spirit, sweet Spirit, Paraclete.  The endless enemy of conformity.  The lasting foe of the nearly lived life.  The champion of the quixotic.  The standard bearer of liberty.  The one true spirit of spirited truth.  Yet we cannot even give the history of the term, nor fully define its meaning, nor aptly place it in context, nor finally determine its translation.  Paraclete eludes us.  Paraclete evades us.  Paraclete outpaces us.  Paraclete escapes us.

Notice that the Spirit is given to all, not just to a few or to the twelve, definitely not.  Notice that it is Spirit not structure on which John relies.  Notice it is Spirit not memory which we shall trust (good news for those whose memory may slip a little).  Notice that Spirit stands over against  what  John calls ‘world’ here—another dark mystery in meaning.  Notice that the community around John’s Jesus is amply conveyed a powerful trust in Spirit.

Other parts of the New Testament take another trail.  The Book of Acts offers confidence by way of hagiographical memories of Peter and Paul, and of false but loving assertions of the utter agreement of Peter and Paul.  Trust your memory and when you cannot create a new memory.  The Pastoral Epistles—and to some degree 1 John in opposition to his gospel namesake—rely not on memory or memories and not on Spirit, but on structure:  presbyters, faith once delivered to saints, deacons, codes of conduct, stylized memories of orderly transmission of tradition.   We need memory.  We need structure.  Neither can hold a candle to Spirit.  That is, for John, what Moses, the Law, the historical Jesus, the Sacraments or anything else can not ever fully offer, Paraclete provides.  By Spirit we hear the word God.  God reveals by Spirit.  God self-reveals by Spirit.  Here the stakes are very high.

Again, Raymond Brown:  This is the ultimate self-revelation of how the word of God gets translated as God.  To a community living in time and space, the Spirit of Jesus is proving the world wrong.  People who live by the spirit is the only way others will be convinced of the victory of Jesus (Hill, Courageous, 82).

Night Spirit

When we come to Nicodemus, we come with our own reason and experience, like that of the great poet Henry Vaughn.

Henry Vaughn lived from 1622 to 1695.  He fought on the Royalist side during the great war.  (Vaughn is known as one of the best followers and imitators of  George Herbert.)  In 1649, Charles I executed Oliver Cromwell.  The Church of England was disestablished and the Book of Common Prayer was outlawed.  Vaughn lived during a dark time, and his poetry evokes his time.  He recalls the great Pseudo-Dionysus and the Cloud of Unknowing.  He celebrates night and the darkness of God, in a way that connects truly to our time as well.   It is no accident that he bases this poem on Nicodemus at night.

The Night

Through that pure Virgin Shrine

That sacred veil drawn o’er thy glorious noon

That men might look and live as glow-worms shine

And face the moon:

Wise Nicodemus saw such light

As made him know his God by night.


Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes

Thy long expected healing wings could see,

When thou didst rise,

And what can nevermore be done,

Did at mid-night speak with the Sun!


O who will tell me, where

He found thee at that dead and silent hour!

What hallowed solitary ground did bear

So rare a flower,

Within whose sacred leaves did live

The fullness of the Deity


No mercy seat of gold,

No dead and dusty Cherub, nor carved stone,

But his own living works did my Lord hold

And lodge alone;

Where trees and herbs did watch and peep

And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.


Dear night! This world’s defeat;

The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;

The day of Spirits; my soul’s calm retreat

Which none disturb!

Christ’s progress and his prayer time;

The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.


God’s silent, searching flight:

When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all

His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;

His still, soft call;

His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch,

When Spirits their fair kindred catch.


Were all my loud evil days

Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,

Whose peace but by some Angel’s wing or voice

Is seldom rent;

Then I in Heaven all the long year

Would keep, and never wander here.


But living where the sun

Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire

Themselves and others, I consent and run

To every mire,

And by this world’s guiding light,

Err more than I can do by night.


There is in God (some say)

A deep but dazzling darkness; as men here

Say it is late and dusky, because they

See not all clear;

O for that night! Where I in him

Might live invisible and dim.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.  So it is with every one who is born of the spirit.

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

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

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May 24

The Gospel According to Elmo

By Marsh Chapel

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John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15

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Norman Rockwell could have painted the scene: Two parents and a child at the dining table, hands held, heads bowed, thanks given: for home, for family, for food. At the end of the prayer the parents say a solemn amen. Then, with gusto, verve, and vigor the child enunciates: Elmo!

Now, for most parents, this might be cause for amusement or even delight. But when one of the two parents is a priest, the thought that immediately crosses the mind is “Oh dear, what will the congregation think!?” Upon further reflection, however, there are certainly far worse models of God roaming around in human psyches than that of the soft, red, furry Sesame Street character Elmo. Perhaps this episode might even make a good sermon illustration!

To be sure, Elmo wins the sweetheart award on Sesame Street. Big Bird is anxious, Grover is inept, Cookie Monster is fixated, and Oscar the Grouch is, well, a grouch. Elmo is sweet. Elmo wants everyone to be kind to one another. Elmo asks forgiveness when responsible for something going awry. Elmo is deeply attentive to relationships and feelings and the wellbeing of everyone in the neighborhood. Elmo assiduously avoids pronouns, speaking exclusively in the third person.

Today is Pentecost, the celebration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Easter and the birthday of the church. The liturgical color of the Holy Spirit is red. Is not Elmo, the red Muppet, very much the embodiment of what God the Spirit is for us? The Holy Spirit is the comforter, who reconciles and renews, and the advocate, who attends to the building up of the community of the church.

Our poor, soiled, broken world is desperately in need of such reconciliation and renewal. Our world in which a train crashes, quenching the lives of eight and derailing the lives of hundreds. Our world in which felons on Wall Street seek to impoverish instead of enrich their clients, saying that “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Our world in which radical Islamists rape women and children in the name of God in order to produce more radical Islamists. Our world in which the president of a university cannot even bear to look at, let alone shake the hand of, a graduating student because she carries a mattress. Yes, we desperately need an advocate and a comforter.

Of course, all of these situations, and the very predicament of the human condition if we are being honest with ourselves, are hardly unambiguous. Ambiguity makes the ministry of the Holy Spirit hard to discern; it makes the Gospel according to Elmo hard to apply. How, for example, are we to balance kindness with justice? How can we ask forgiveness when doing so requires admitting culpability, which could get us sued? How are we to attend to relationships, to the feelings and wellbeing of all in our community, when our own feelings and wellbeing are far from secure? How are we to speak when seemingly any word we might say will inevitably offend, hurt, or otherwise piss off someone?

Human life is ambiguous. Consider Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Michael was unarmed. Michael was black. Michael’s family said he was a good man. Michael stole cigarillos and shoved a store clerk. Michael was wrestling with an experience of the divine, and his rap lyrics revealed his struggle to reconcile an experimentum tremendum et fascinans. Consider Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo. Eric was unarmed. Eric was black. Eric’s friends described him as a “gentle giant” and a “neighborhood peacemaker.” Police approached Eric on suspicion of his selling loose cigarettes that had not been taxed. Eric was unable to work as a horticulturalist due to health problems. Consider Freddie Gray, who was arrested and placed in the back of a police van under the supervision of six police officers, and by the time he arrived at the police station, he was dead. Freddie was arrested for carrying a small knife. Freddie was black. Freddie was remembered at his funeral as loving, caring, and respectful. Freddie had been involved in twenty criminal court cases at the time of his death. Freddie was a childhood victim of lead poisoning. Three ambiguous lives. But if living an ambiguous life is a crime punishable by death, then who among us can be saved?

In addition to the plague of ambiguity, the human condition is also plagued by the inability to cope with ambiguity. Just as Cookie Monster fixates on cookies, we human beings fixate on the worst parts of one another and reduce each other to those parts. Much of the focus on the personal lives of Michael, Eric, and Freddie in the media fixated on their criminal pasts and the criminal circumstances that caused them to encounter the police. In most cases, these three men were reduced to being criminals. Clearly, thugs one and all, and there can be nothing ambiguous about a thug. This fixation is only exacerbated by the projection and transference of the taken-for-granted criminality of black persons onto each and every black life and black body even as white lives benefit from the projection and transference of the taken-for-granted competence, integrity, and nobility of white persons onto each and every white body. Any perceived fault, no matter how inconsequential, makes a black person a criminal, while white privilege covers a multitude of sins.

Reduced to criminality, Michael, Eric, and Freddie, among so many others, have been cast as monsters. Their faults have been taken as constitutive of their whole being. Regardless of any good they might have done in their lives, regardless of the love they might have shared with family and friends, regardless of the circumstances they may have endured, the sum total of their lives is assigned the label of monster. Now a monster is an aberration, a sign of something deeply wrong with the world. Monsters are evil. Monsters are morally deformed. Monsters do not belong, cannot belong, must never belong because their very being is incompatible with the goodness of the world and the moral order.

It is under this banner of rooting out and destroying monsters that millions of black men have been disappeared from American society. The New York Times got their reporting wrong here. They report that there are 1.5 million missing black men. Further, they report that “more than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.” The problem is not with their statistics. It is with their rhetoric. They make it sound like there is no cause for these absences or that these black men simply disappeared of their own volition. Poof!

NO! Here, for once, it is necessary and right to use the passive voice. These black men have been disappeared. They did not disappear all on their own; their disappearance was done to them. Because they were identified as monsters they were killed or incarcerated. It is convenient for us in northern North America to think that the phenomenon of “the disappeared” is a result of the metaphysical realism of Latin America. On this weekend when Oscar Romero is beatified we are attentive to the pervasive plague of disappeared persons throughout most of the twentieth century in Latin America. As it turns out, the phenomenon is home grown as well.

You too are part monster. You too have monstrous parts of yourself. We all do. Boston College philosopher Richard Kearney notes that the English words hostility and hospitality share a common root in the Latin word hostis, which in turn has the ambivalent meaning of either enemy or host. What hostility and hospitality have in common is that they are both possible responses to strangers, to others, to those we have not encountered before, to those we cannot account for, to those we do not understand. Hospitality assumes the best but is prepared for the worst whereas hostility assumes the worst and cannot comprehend anything else. We have the capacity for both, for hostility and for hospitality, within each of us.

Right now Oskar Gröning is on trial for three hundred thousand counts of accessory to murder for his activities during the Shoah, the Holocaust. This may very well be the last trial of a Holocaust-era Nazi. How is it that so many people could be convinced to participate in such cruelty, such inhumanity, such systemic evil, such gross monstrosity? It turns out that we all can. We are all susceptible to the ideas that if others are doing it, it must be okay, that if an authority is ordering it that it must be okay, that we are not the monsters, they are, and that the monstrousness of others justifies our own monstrousness in return.

The conviction that we are not in fact monsters creates the need to somehow cope with the experience of monstrosity in life. A typical human response is to create a scapegoat. In ancient Greece, a criminal or poor person was cast out of society in appeasement of natural disasters, which were taken of signs of divine displeasure. Some things never change, it seems. In ancient Israel, the sins of the Israelites were ceremonially placed on an actual goat, which was then driven out into the desert. Both cases are example of the human inability to cope with our own monstrosity and so the need to cast blame elsewhere.

Here in the city of Boston we know something about monsters. For the past five months our city has relived the monstrous actions and reactions of the 2013 Marathon Bombing. We have collectively empathized with the pain and suffering of the victims of that day, including Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi. We have explored the motivations, influences, and acts of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of thirty counts stemming from the events of that day and sentenced to death for six of them.

In the coming weeks Dean Hill will have more to say about Tsarnaev and his sentence, but today we must ask whether sentencing him to death, or even to life imprisonment without any pretense of rehabilitation, has as much to do with his being a monster as it does with our own need to insist that we are not monsters? Surely a central function of scapegoating, of shifting the locus of the monstrous, is to assure that monstrosities reside elsewhere and not with us. No, we are not monsters, we have killed all of the monsters. No, we are not monsters, we have a special place for the monsters over there. We are not monsters because we did not do anything as bad as what he did. We are good, he is evil, no ambiguity, end of story.

Do not forget, friends, that the Holy Spirit can be monstrous too. The Holy Spirit is not scaled to human life, to human interests, to human desires, to human ideas and concepts. In explaining the chaos resulting from the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Peter identified the coming of the Holy Spirit with the words of the prophet Joel:

And I will show portents in the heaven above

and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Our Psalm affirms that the creation of all things is accomplished in the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, including the creation of the Leviathan, a great sea monster often associated with Satan himself. Contrary to calling us to cast out the monsters from our midst, the Holy Spirit calls us to convert hostility to hospitality and to recognize God in the playful sporting of the Leviathan.

This vision of God as wild, capricious, and dangerous is hardly comfortable. The conversion of hostility to hospitality requires resisting some very basic human impulses in order to attend to the unruly, uncouth, disruptive, monstrous presence of God. Christian faith in fact teaches that the inability to resist the impulse to hostility is sinful, and moreover is the very sinfulness that resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion, the crucifixion of the unruly, uncouth, disruptive, monstrous incarnation of God. But we have not learned. We continue to fail to convert hostility to hospitality. We persist in the sinfulness of hostility that cannot embrace the Gospel call to kindness, forgiveness, attentiveness to relationships and the wellbeing of others.

And so on this feast of Pentecost I ask you: Shall we then also crucify the Holy Spirit? The Gospel of John promises that the Holy Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” In spite of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we persist in sin, unrighteousness, and judgment. We continue to cast others into the totalizing category of monsters while failing to recognize our own capacity and actual practice of monstrosity. Just as human sinfulness, unrighteousness, and judgment resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus, is it unreasonable to wonder if we are not, in our persistence in hostility, participating even now in the crucifixion of the Holy Spirit?

For much of Christian history, the Holy Spirit has been identified with the church, largely on the basis of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles read today. Theologically, the idea is that the Holy Spirit calls the church into being to enact God’s ongoing work in the world. The problem is that too often the church becomes convinced that the logic of this theological view works in both directions such that not only does the Spirit call the church to enact the work of God, but also whatever work the church does is therefore the will of God.

Anathema! The church is just as capable of distorting, rejecting, ignoring, and even inventing what the Holy Spirit calls it to be and do as any other flawed human institution. Thankfully, quite a few people have come to realize that this is just what too many churches have done and continue to do. Just last week the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life reported that the percentage of the population who do not identify with any particular denomination has grown by over 3.5% in the past seven years, from 12.1% in 2007 to 15.8% in 2014. The hypocrisy of too many churches in claiming to know the will of God, who is a saint and who is a monster, is increasingly incredible and intolerable to many. Thanks be to God! Are these folks giving up on God? Perhaps, but I would venture to guess that it is more likely that they are giving up on the flawed human institutions that hypocritically claim to have a handle on God and attempt to tell the Holy Spirit that she may blow where she wills so long as it is through the eye of their needle. Churches too can be and sometimes are monsters.

The good news of Jesus Christ for us today: the gospel according to Elmo. Do not forget that Elmo too is a monster. If you look on his Wikipedia page, under “species,” Elmo is listed as a “Sesame Street Muppet Monster.” Like the call of the Holy Spirit, the gospel according to Elmo to be kind, to forgive, to attend to relationships and the wellbeing of others, to convert hostility to hospitality, to confess that we are usually wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment, is monstrous good news. From the perspective of human brokenness, ambiguity, and inability to cope therewith, this good news must seem a monster. Shall we crucify Elmo? Shall we nail his furry little hands and furry little feet to a cross, as monstrous human sinfulness brought about the crucifixion of Jesus, whose Gospel was just as unruly, uncouth, disruptive, monstrous as Elmo’s? For my daughter’s sake, I pray we do not.

Shall we crucify the Holy Spirit? Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand and we are wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because we do not believe Jesus; about righteousness, because Christ ascended to the Father and we see him no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world is condemned. Convert your hostility to hospitality: the gospel according to Elmo, and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

-Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC +, University Chaplain for Community Life

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

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May 3

The Marsh Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

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John 15:1-8

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The Marsh Spirit…


We are a learning community, a teaching and learning community of faith.   As branches to a vine, we attach ourselves to Way, Truth and Life, Learning, Virtue, Piety, Knowing, Doing, Being.  Notice the great teachers held with permanence in our Connick stained glass windows.  Select your favorite:  Comenius, Alexander Graham Bell, Osmon Baker, Borden Parker Bowne.  Perhaps best Augustine of Hippo, whose heart was restless until it found rest in Him.   Theological Inquiry asks about God, the nature of God, the essence of God.   Our services this year, in pursuit of spirit, have utilized a prayer response, in that spirit, written by Robert Cummings Neville.  We feted this week Ray Lee Hart, and his teaching and his scholarship.  We heard again Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty.  Learn something every day, at whatever age!  Read a book a day!  Yours is a spirit of inquiry.


We are a singing community, those who sing to pray twice, qui cantat bis orat.  As branches to a vine, we attach ourselves to Way, Truth and Life, Melody, Harmony, and Diction.  Notice the musicians about you.  Carved into the chancel wood.  And about me.  Here is Handel.  Here is Bach.  And last weekend we heard Handel.  And two weeks before, Bach.  And in between?  Gospel!  Our ISGC sang, filled the room, mid April.  I have in my possession photographs of the dinner our church matriarchs—Sandra, Cecelia, Carolyn, Melvena—served the choir before their performance.  Not just pulpit, nor just sermon, not just preaching, nor just proclamation:  yours is a musical spirit, a spirit of hymnody.  Sing when the spirit says sing! Sing lustily!  Sing with the saints of glory!  Yours is a spirit of hymnody.


We are a remembering community, a place with history, a future but also a past.  As branches to vine, we attach ourselves to Way, Truth, and Life, and Justice, Righteousness, and the better angels of our nature.   Stands down there, as I walk toward him, Abraham Lincoln.  Those who recommend slavery might try it for themselves.  Those who ignore brutality might think, try to imagine, being bound hand and foot, and thrown headlong into the back of a closed van and driven not to three but four separate places, and to arrive, at last, dead.  We began this school year with a forum on Ferguson, right here.  Autumn sermons and winter addressed the need ‘to strive on to finish the work we are in’.  We read Jesus and the Disinherited.  Our summer preacher series acclaims The Beloved Community.  We learned about business ethics from our esteemed Questrom Dean.  Many of you have commented on the blog about Ferguson, slavery, response, and the need for investment in community, particularly worshipping community, as we slog on toward freedom.  Cornell Brooks, head of the NAACP spoke here in Marsh Chapel in November.  He will speak for us again two weeks from today, Baccalaureate Sunday, right here in Marsh Chapel.  Where else would or could possibly place yourself, social location being so important, at 11am on May 17?  You will want to be here, right here!  Many things are optional.  Not worship.  Worship is not optional for the person of faith.  Come Sunday, Come!  Here.  Yours is a spirit of recollection.


We are a longsuffering, a patient community.  As branches to vine we attach ourselves to Way, Truth, and Life, Creativity, Organization, Expanding the circle of freedom.  Daniel Marsh has his own window in his own chapel.  And well he might.  It took him a generation to get to build the building his most wanted, this one.  He came in 1926.  Marsh was built in 1949—after arrival, after depression, after World War.  At last.  Labor Omnia Vincit.  Think about that, working for 25 years at last to get where you want to go.  Academic communities do tend to have lengthened cycle times, it is true.  But all of us benefit from patience.  You come for prayer before worship, and patiently sit.  You pause for postlude after worship, and patiently sit.  Friday, honoring the Hubert Humphrey scholars, we heard Humphrey’s niece speak, in ‘the Castle’, about his patience.  Hubert Humphrey.  His voice is one we need today.  ‘There will be no hedging.  We need come out of the long dark shadow of states’ rights and into the bright shining sunlight of human rights’.  That is Philadelphia, 1948.  Could someone whisper that to the nine justices in Washington today?  It is every bit as apt.  ‘People have a right to health, education, employment, protection, and a peaceful old age.’  Humphrey worked on Medicare for 20 years before its adoption in the mid sixties.  Yes, he could excoriate his opponents:  ‘uh uh, o no, go slow, veto—that is the way of our opponents’, he could rant.  But he also had patience.  To build coalitions.  To create alternative structures.  To legislate.  He worked at it.  No surprise.  He was a Minnesota Methodist, grandson of Methodist preachers.  And he lives on this campus, in the program given his name.  I mean he really lives in these scholars from all over the globe!  Yours is a spirit of patience.


We are a living community, tracing the spirit of life, in this and every new dawn.  Even when weary feet refuse to climb.  As branches to vine, we cling to life, the spirit of life, Way, Truth and Life, Children, Students, All.  It is the life of Jesus Christ, the Living One, which is our true vine, and we the branches.  James Bashford—bishop, college president, preacher, watches us from his balcony window every Sunday.  I have stood beside his in Oak Grove Cemetery, Delaware, Ohio.  A kind man.  Our commencement speaker will be Meredith Vieira.  You know of her roots in Rhode Island.  You know of her honest, happy form of journalism.  You know her face and voice.  Her celebrity.  But we think of her differently, in our family.  She is a close friend of a close friend.  Our step father, who adored her, and who has been ill, until his recent death, received, unexpectedly, a signed photograph from her, a lengthy note, a personal greeting, which stands still above his desk.  Ministry is service.  Ministry is to place oneself at the disposal of others.  Ministry is to give life by giving life, beginning with time and kindness.  Don’t you have a phone call you might make?  Don’t you have a letter you might send?  Don’t you have a visit you might offer?  Don’t you have a check you might write?  Yours is a spirit of life.


We are a secular community, tracing the sacred in and within the secular.  As branches to vine we affirm that nothing human is foreign to us, and hold onto Way, Truth, Life, Community, Fellowship, Culture.  Notice The Star of David.  In his spirit, stretch your legs and walk Commonwealth Avenue, wonder and wander through the commonwealth of the Gospel.   The Marsh Spirit awaits a faith amenable to culture and a culture amenable to faith.  Yours is a cosmopolitan spirit, one that envisions Christ transforming culture—not just Christ against Christ above or Christ in or Christ across culture.  Christ who brings not just theological reformation but also cultural revolution.  Christ the Extraordinary incarnate in the ordinary. There is a particular spirit of this place and community. You honor both the lectionary of the church and the lectionary of the culture.  You know that there are many ways of keeping faith, as our THIS I BELIEVE Sunday again this year will emphasize.  Our Hillel community at BU is in a season of resurgence, in part through a reconnection to the community, the society, the culture of Boston and Boston University, through its Director, David Raphael.  Yours is a spirit of secularity.


We are a rigorous community, unwilling to let the pale cast of thought completely overcome the native hue of resolution.  As branches to vine, we cling to Way, Truth and Life, Courage, Change, Heart.  One of my favorite windows is that of the four chaplains, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, who gave their life jackets and their lives that others might survive a naval tragedy in WW II.  Their tradition in chaplaincy, and in self-giving, was continued here a generation later by James Carroll.  You know him as a writer—Boston Globe columnist, esteemed novelist, historian and cultural critic.  But as he told us this week, he really came alive here at BU, and found his way here.  He left the priesthood, but not the church.  He married and raised children and grandchildren, but also stayed wedded to his faith.   He directly and valiantly opposes religious wrong, but also rejoices in religious right (though not THE religious right!).  He was our Catholic Chaplain here for six years, through 1974.  With Robert Hamill, third Marsh Chapel Dean, he brought the weekly Catholic Mass from Morse Auditorium to this nave, where it lives still today.  Couples, one Protestant and one Catholic, can come to Marsh Chapel for 11am Protestant worship and 12:30pm Catholic Mass, and be home by 2pm.   Your remember his elegant pastoral sermon here, for the class of 1970, in 2010.  With rigor he has followed in the footsteps of the Master.  And, as he reminded us, God is Compassionate Love.   You can believe in God as Compassionate Love!  You can worship at that altar.  And you do.  Yours is a spirit of rigor.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Morning Prayer

15 prayers for the class of ‘15”

May you finish your papers, wake up for your finals, and pass your courses

May you find a job when you are hunting for one, and be found by a calling when you are not (hunting for one)

May you remember your mom on Mothers’ Day, nine days from today

May you recall that there are two ways to be wealthy:  have a lot of money, or, have  very few needs.

May you honestly face death, as together we did two springs ago, and so discover the precious value of every breath, as together we also did two springs ago.

May you, with the Greeks, see in tragedy the seedbed of nobility.

May you bring a sense of purpose to days and events which lack both (sense and purpose).

May your return your overdue library books.  May you find your overdue library books.

May you with Samuel Johnson keep your friendships in good repair, with John Wesley and Mother Theresa remember the poor, with Lord Baden Powell do a good turn daily, and with Bill Coffin take yourself lightly so that you may fly, like the angels, and with Martin Luther King have a dream

May you as a generation live a common hope,  find the wisdom to design a better world, acquire the power to build a better world, and have the goodness to want a better world.

May you have a life long, rapturous, torrid love affair—with Boston, dear old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, and bring your first born child to Fenway Park, and remember the radiant happiness of this Senior Breakfast all your days.

May life be good to you, and may you be good to life.

My dear ones, my dear friends, who so resemble my own dear children, may you be safe, may you be well, may you be happy.

May it be so.

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

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