Archive for June, 2015

The Unimportance of being Earnest

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

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Mark 5:21-43

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The text is not available for this sermon.

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

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Still Point

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

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Mark 4: 35-41

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As we gather in worship this morning, along with countless others in countless churches across the country and beyond, our hearts and minds are brooding over the tragic slayings in Charleston, what Cornell William Brooks, President of the NAACP, who spoke from this pulpit one month ago, has aptly called ‘racist terrorism’.   We think of these nine lost lives.  We lift them and their families in prayer.  We lift their AME church, and the AME connection itself, in prayer.   We wonder just how to say something that is both honest and hopeful, both hopeful and honest.  Honesty about the storm.  Hope in the Still Point who is ‘the Teacher’, our Lord.

Others have done so before.  In Rome, about 70ad, a preacher, it may be, stood before a small group of men and women, gathered in a home or courtyard.  Though varied in aspect, they who gathered were similar, for they came from various margins, the margins of life.  Some were women.  Some were Jews.  Some were slaves and former slaves.   Some were rich, but most poor.  Some were educated, but most not.  They shared Jesus Christ, crucified.  They shared Jesus Christ, risen.  Together they had already been seized by an allegiance to him, the still point in a turning world.  They were walking in faith.  As we are.  But they were alarmed, angered, frightened and saddened.  As we are today.  They were haunted, perhaps by the memory of the Emperor Nero, who famously fiddled as Rome burned, but who found time for an Empire wide persecution of those on the margins, including the early Christians, and if legend serves, including to martyrdom both Peter and Paul.  We are not haunted by Nero.  We are though haunted by months and years and memories of violence, racism, terrorism, gun culture and untimely death.

In this borrowed upper room or small courtyard, it may be, the preacher acclaimed Jesus, whose word is Peace and whose voice says Be Still.  The raised crucified, the still point in a churning world.  The preacher, perhaps,  remembered from of old and from afar, his days on the Syrian sea, Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee.  He imagined in his sermon a night scene.  He offered in stylized memory an account of a boating mishap.  Some recollection of the book of Jonah may have stirred him.  The preacher looked straight into the hurt and heart of his storm tossed church, if you can use that word for that gathering at that time.  He could see their fear of drowning, of perishing.  He painted into his story portrait other ‘boats’, boats always a symbol of the church.  He told of Jesus sleeping.  He fixed his hearers’ anger and sadness right in the belly of the whale of the sermon: ‘we are perishing’, they cried.  We know that cry, that crie de cour.  Then he stood solemnly.   Facing all storms, offering in a prophetic spirit the very voice of Christ, he said, ‘Be still’.  And the sermon ended.  And there was a fullness.  And there was a dead calm.  A word had been spoken and heard, in resurrection time and space.  Around the Still Point, they paused, in silence.

Jesus meets us today right in the teeth of the gale, in the heart of the storm.   He speaks to us the eternal word.  Peace.  He speaks to us the saving word.  Be Still.  He is the still point in the turning, churning world.

Eliot:  ‘At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is’

His is a timely word, a fit word, a word fitly spoken, for us.  For  we are a people drenched in sorrow, anger, worry, and exasperation.  The boat is heaving from side to side, stem to stern, port to starboard.   Newtown, Marathon, Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore, North Charleston, and McKinley.  And now this Charleston church killing, this unspeakable horror, this malevolent mixture of guns and illness and ideology and racism.

This one verse in our Gospel today that we have no problem understanding is the angry cry of Jesus’ frightened fellow travelers: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

Here we are.  The storm is raging.  The winds are blowing.  The waves are swamping our little ship.  The raging tide of racism.  The towering undulation of gun availablity.  The windstorm of violence pressing upon us from all sides.  We get this today.

Like the little Roman church addressed in today’s Gospel, for whom the lakeside story, the nature imagery, the threat of drowning, the savior’s voice, the mysterious and miraculous heeded command, Be Still, were offered in the soulful, caring preaching of the early pastor, if one can use that title, we too dread drowning.

We dread drowning in a sea of guns.  We dread drowning in a tide of deeply embedded, persistent, perduring, encultured racism.  We dread drowning in a great windstorm, with waves beating upon us, and the boat half swamped as it is.  After a week like this, it is hard to know what to say, if we truly want to be both honest and hopeful.

For these nine dear Methodist souls in Charleston, praying in church, died because of a persistent, pervasive racism that covers this land like a flood tide.  They died because of a sea of guns, available to anyone, well or ill, well intended or ill intended, at any time, without any consequence, financial consequence, to the seller, the procurer, those who profit.  These nine died because of an ongoing ignorance about the pervasive continuing impacts of chattel slavery 150 years ago, impacts measurable in economic, social, educational and civic life.  These nine died because of a fiercely advocated and heavily funded broad agenda to privilege states rights over human rights, gun ownership over human survival, and individual freedom over the common good.

Charles Pierce wrote honestly this week:

What happened in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unthinkable.” Somebody thought long and hard about it. Somebody thought to load the weapon. Somebody thought to pick the church. Somebody thought to sit, quietly, through some of Wednesday night bible study. Somebody thought to stand up and open fire, killing nine people, including the pastor. Somebody reportedly thought to leave one woman alive so she could tell his story to the world. Somebody thought enough to flee. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unthinkable is not one of them.

What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unspeakable.” We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was.

We should speak of it as an attack on history, which it was. This was the church founded by Denmark Vesey, who planned a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey was convicted in a secret trial in which many of the witnesses testified after being tortured. After they hung him, a mob burned down the church he built. His sons rebuilt it. On Wednesday night, someone turned it into a slaughter pen.

Yes, at least this one verse in our Gospel today that we have no problem understanding, the angry cry of Jesus’ frightened fellow travelers: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

But the gospel does not end there.  Maybe it would be easier if it did. The Scripture brings us both honesty and hope.  The hope is harder to hear and to live.  The hope requires of us ears and minds to discipline ourselves, to prepare ourselves with a spiritual discipline against resentment, to train ourselves for the long distance run, to hope against, for hope that is seen is not hope.  Who hopes for what he sees?  We hope for what we do not see.

In the ancient sermon, in Rome, in 70ad, a still voice, a voice to still the storm was heard.  Can we hear that voice this morning?   Can we hear a rumor of angels?  Can we at least hear that none of this historical tragedy is inevitable?  It is not inevitable.  Because it is not, it can be changed, changed for the better, changed in the future.  You can lend your voice to that of the man who stilled the water, to that of the man who calmed the sea.  You can make a difference.

You can continue to pray, to vote and to act.

By pray I do mean daily meditation, including the shouting, actual or metaphorical, of lament in the face of horrific evil.  But I also mean the intentional gathering, come Sunday, with others who seek a measure of meaning, belonging and empowerment.  You can do this.  One of our members, a native of Charleston, asked to read a lesson today, which he did.  You can engage and support others.  You need the pew fellowship, the breathing community of different others.  If week by week you only regularly see family, co-workers, or those who share your own interests, you will not meet with difference, which you need in order to grow, and which this great land, full of latent goodness, needs in practice and for practice.  But in the pew you have every prospect of meeting with others who are not relatives, not employees or employers, and not inclined to your own particular enjoyments.  Not your mom, not your boss, and not your golf partner.  Others–who are other.  Somehow as a people we think that we can muster the will to address communal issues on the grand scale, when so often our communal orbits of relationship are with people who are like us, are like ourselves.  This is like desiring to recite Shakespeare without knowing the alphabet, or diving into the Calculus without mastering multiplication tables, or running a marathon without first jogging two miles.  This summer our preaching series considers Martin Luther King’s ‘beloved community’.  But to stretch toward that Johannine, Roycean, and Kingly vision, we have to start by sitting for an hour near people who are other than we, in the presence of God.

King:  “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

By vote I do mean election-day ballots.  One of our BU administrative leaders here, when asked at year end what advice she might have for graduates of 2015 said, simply, ‘vote’.  Yes, go to the polls.  But I also mean the direct engagement with elected officials and others over time that makes a difference.  Personal engagement.  Susan, one of our most beloved and vivacious friends here in Boston died suddenly of cancer four years ago.  How we miss her.  One day we were walking together on the Esplanade.  We were talking about gun violence.  In the middle of the talk, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed her congressman.  She said, in her usual spirited voice:  ‘They know me there.  I have them on speed dial’.  She poured out the contents of our conversation to some staff person.  Well that may not be your style, or mine, but it was hers, and she voted every day with her time, her energy, and her money.  She was a great person.  We need to be speaking and listening, in person, by voice, to and with one another, to a degree well and far beyond what we are doing now.

By act I do mean doing something, within your sphere of influence.  Several gathered here on Marsh Plaza for a vigil on Friday noon.  Others attended other events.  A pastor gathered a multi faith service in Medford last night.  There is another at Charles Street tonight. You may have decided to attend an AME church one Sunday this summer, to be present, to be in communion.  Good.  Tell them Dean Hill sent you.  So, let us find ways to act.  There is a danger of freezing in the face of seemingly intractable difficulties, in the face of seemingly endless unsolvable contentions.

You can recite the litany.  300 million guns there are across the land.  The top 20% send 84% of their children to college.  The bottom 20% send 8%.  The average asset value of the majority household in this country is $110,000(car, house, savings).  The average asset value of the minority household is $9,000. The number and percentage of young men of color imprisoned, at all levels, is itself a crime.  The agenda of individual rights, like gun possession, and states rights, like denial of health care, has seized control of state house after state house across the middle of the country.  Look sometime at a photo page of elected officials in Kansas.  Yes.  Yes.  I know.  These and other facts of the present can freeze us, if we are not careful.  But you know, life is full of change, even surprising change.  In her late 80’s my grandmother had a sign up on her kitchen door.  It read:  ‘Do one thing.  There.  You have done one thing.’  I have a voice, and I will use my voice.  You do too.  Use it.

You can continue to pray, to vote and to act.

A couple of weeks ago a woman in our community sent me a prayer.  Prayer is much on my mind, just now, as a form of action as well as contemplation.   It gives me some measure of hope to have received this prayer.  I asked permission to use it, with attribution, and with its honesty and hope we conclude.  Here is Terry Baurley’s prayer:

Adonai, we pray that all may come to the understanding that one person’s grief is a shared experience that we will all face, one person’s love is a love that all will someday experience, one person’s exclusion or shunning is one that we all hope never to experience. One person’s success does not in any way diminish us. Friendship with someone new does not change the friendships that are already part of us. A person being praised and appreciated does not mean that we are not, it is just not your turn, or that there are reasons why they needed those words more at that moment. Consequences of actions born of love have a way of transforming who we are. Until each human being realizes that inflicting harm to another either intentionally or unintentionally or participates in such group dynamics that do, we will not have peace on this earth. Yet when a whispered prayer reaches out to you Adonai, and you reach back to us. We have reached the center where we know that we are loved, and nothing on heaven or earth can change that. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. (TERRY BAURLEY)


-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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A Grain of Mustard Seed

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

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Mark 4: 26-34

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Our little boat motor idled well and even carried the pontoon boat forward, but at a snail’s pace.  All boats disappoint just like all dogs bite.   The summer on our like is a series of boat breakdowns.  I wondered.  Old age finally taking the motor?  Carburetor?  Choke?  Throttle wires?  I am no mechanic.  This usually means taking the boat out of the water and towing it 30 miles for repairs.  The motor casing came off easily.  In a few minutes, it was apparent even to a non-mechanic that a single connection, throttle to gas line, had slipped undone.  Just as easily, without tools, it was reconnected.  The motor purred, and purrs still.   Small things, little things, can make a big difference.

We have no cable TV.  We have no dish.  We have no outsized antenna.  We get what you get with today’s equivalent of rabbit ears, a free-standing antenna.  Four channels not four hundred, and hardly anything worth watching.  But we like the local news, some for content, more for delivery.  One evening the TV stopped connecting with anything.  And we worried again about another expense, task, day of home repairs.  But it happens that in the wind the antenna sometimes moves, slightly.  Just a little jiggle to the south, and all channels darken.  Which means, as you guess, that a little jiggle north brings our motley four channels back.  Small things, little things, a slight little shift can make a big difference.

Our out cottage, a broken down old fishing camp, built probably on weekends by one guy with tools, a six pack and a rod and reel, has a pump.  On that well and pump depend cooking, eating, cleaning washing, showers and other forms of relief.  It is outside, so subject to weather and other beings.  The pump stopped one afternoon.  I am no plumber, but I know a good one.  We called him.  You worry when your family needs water and you have no way to provide it.  A new pump?  Line problems?  Dry well? What is wrong?  But it was something very little.  Ants had found their way into the electric box and broken the connection.  Two minutes of expert attention, ants erased, problem solved.  Small little things can make a big difference.

The dock itself is new, partly brand new.  The dock is our island into the lake, our portal into boating, our entrance into swimming, our bridge into fishing, our outpost of land in water.   It is just a wonderful territory in itself.  But in order to get from the hillside down onto the dock, a makeshift staircase is required.  It is a fraction of the size of the dock, a farthing compared to a pound.  It is a humble set of six stairs in wood reaching out onto the majesterial dock.  Without the stairs, though, the dock is useless.  All the weight, all the space, all the expanse, all the expense of the four piece dock lies permanently adrift from the mainland without the simple steps.  Small things, little things, make a difference, and open up the possibility of much, much greater things.

Back from the fishing camp, and a warm water pumped shower there, now out on the dock beneath the stairs, ready to board the boat for a motor powered rid, our 7 year old granddaughter caught something in her younger brother’s rhetoric.  Brother said, “Eric told me yesterday that he would take me tubing behind his boat today’.  Sister said, “I know that is what he said, but that is not what he meant.”  There is a short, short way from birdie to bogie, from right to almost right, from what is said to what is meant.  To be able to hear that difference is a spiritual gift, a small, little, powerful, spiritual gift.  “I know that is what he said, but that is not what he meant!”  Small things, little things, make a difference, and open up the possibility of real understanding

It is a Sabbath reminder for us.  Little things can change the world.  Think about the Archduke Ferdinand.  Read about Asa Kent Jennings.  Look again at the events in Boston of 1775.  Recall the old lines:  For the want of a…nail, shoe, horse, rider, battle…Read once more Barbara Brown Taylor’s A Preaching Life.  Or return to read again Arthur Ashe’s memoir, Days of Grace.   Remember when someone said something to you that intervened, helped, saved.  Sometimes the best medicine is whatever gives you the courage to take one more step forward.  You have the mind, heart, faith and voice to speak such an intervening word this week.  You also have the mind, heart, the faith and will to hear such an intervening word this week.  Will it make any difference?  Small, little things, make a difference, and have the power of faith, like a grain of mustard seed.

A grain of mustard seed.  Our Lord meets us today within his chosen realm of discourse and rhetoric.  The realm of nature.  The realm of story or parable.  The realm of nature parable.  Notice, as a clue to the intimacy of these words and Jesus himself, the odd phrase ‘birds of the air’.  A redundancy, a connection it may be, to the Aramaic of Jesus’ own speech.  What other kinds of birds are there, anyway? He taught them nothing, without a parable.  Most of those, at least those not dealing with money and labor, are nature parables, like ours today.  Jesus has used the memorable image of the tiny mustard seed before.  ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’.  He has used the mustard seed before.  He has used hyperbole before.  He has used parable and nature and nature parable before.  Our Lord meets us at the intersection of parable and nature today.

Faith is a little thing.   It is not as easily measured as some other things.  Faith is like a grain of mustard seed, in and through which, over a long time, great and big changes come.  You may disregard such a little thing, at least for a time.  After all, it is the smallest of all seeds.  Faith is a little thing.  Yet in the odd mysteries of secrecy and of growth, of growth in secret, of which nature and the parables of nature do remind us, in Jesus’ teaching, we are given again an intriguing hint of faith.

An old hymn, sung with sincerity, authenticity and a sense of irony, can give that kind of hint of faith, in worship.  An anthem, true and fine, offered to the praise of God, out of a different time and clime, can give that kind of hint of faith, in worship.  A strange story, of a boy become king on the credit of his ruddy cheeks and the spirit of the Lord moving, can give that kind of hint of faith, in worship.  A cascading waterfall of tumbling words in ancient writ, a warning that we walk by faith not by sight, and that outward appearance is nothing compared to the heart, and that we see no longer by flesh only or by spirit only but according to the cross of a new creation, in which the old is gone and new is come, can give that kin of hint of faith, in worship.  A friendly word on entry, a gentle greeting on departure, an example of another’s compassionate faith from another place in the pew, all can give that kind of hint of faith, in worship.  Compared to the great assemblies of the age on the screen or on the stage or in the ballpark or on the green, a little mustard seed, a tiny little seed for the future, a moment in worship, come Sunday, must seem so very small.  Yet it carries a hint of faith, which may be, some dark night, all that you need and all that you have to go on.

That difficult hour may be upon you today, or this week, or this summer.  In decision, in change, in struggle, in loss, in despair.  Faith isn’t faith, in a way, until and unless it is all you have to go on.  Jesus meets us today with a word of hope.  In a nature parable, in the chosen medium of his diction.   Watch.  Take heart.  Look.  Listen.  You matter.  You count.  You are for real.  You can do this.  You can.

That difficult hour may be upon us today, or this week or this year.   In Boston, we are still struggling through the trauma and consequences of April 2013.  How could we not?  The court verdict for the person responsible for the killings and injuries continues to reverberate in our collective conscious and unconscious.  How could it not?  In America, we are still struggling through and with shocking reminders of majority power and minority pain, sometimes bubbling to the surface of our shared consciousness by means of little things, like photos, like videos, like cell phone recordings.  How could we not?  We are not finished, but unfinished as people, and as a people.  Across the globe we are still struggling with containment of conflict emerging from religious and economic and cultural difference.  How could we not?  These and other struggles can have the capacity to freeze us in place, to keep us from moving well and forward into an unseen future, unless we are freed up, given flexibility, creativity, and hope, through a tiny measure, an abiding sense of faith.  Faith has the audacity to say ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’.

Difficult hours may be upon us today, or this week, or this summer.  In decision, in change, in struggle, in loss, in despair.  Faith isn’t faith, in a way, until and unless it is all you have to go on.  Jesus meets us today with a word of hope.  In a nature parable, in the chosen medium of his diction.   Watch.  Take heart.  Look.  Listen.  You matter.  You count.  You are for real.  You can do this.  You can make a difference for good, in what you say, in what you do, in what you choose, in where you go.  Sometimes, by the dominical saying before us today, it is the little things, these very little things, that are hints of faith, and that make, over long time, manifold difference.

A grain of mustard seed.  Sometimes a bit of the future is hidden in a little change.  In your marriage or family life, is there one small change for the better which might lead to a great harvest later on?  In your work life, is there one small change you could engineer for the better, which might lead to a great harvest later on?  In your community life, is there one small change which, by odd and untraceable influences, might make all the difference over the long haul?  In your personal life, is there one summer alteration, one slight step forward, that might with the gathering momentum of time and season, pave the way for a peace that passes understanding, a meadow into which you can go in and out and find pasture, a joy that is closer and closer to becoming complete?  Think about it.

With what may we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

-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.

We Are Family

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

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Mark 3:20-35

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“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5: 5)

Ride On

At conference, over lunch, a pastor from Buffalo told us about children at church camp.  One 9 year old in pig-tails chose horse camp last year.  I didn’t know Methodists ran horse camp.  We do.  But on Monday she fell off, or was frightened or something.  She cowered through the week, unable to get back on the horse and ride.  Her counselor just kept on encouraging.  Friday was the rodeo.  I guess that is horse camp graduation.  All week she wrestled, her fear of falling grappling with her desire to be in the rodeo.  Dawn broke on Friday, as it does.  I loved, really loved, the way the minister told us about the rodeo.  The girl in pig-tails put herself on the horse.  This was an old horse, not American Pharaoh. The old glue factory mare stumbled around the little circle made of six orange cones.  First the girl hugged the horse’s neck and kept her eyes closed.   But then, after a little while, she opened her eyes.  Then she looked up.  Then she sat up.  Then she leaned back.  Then she straightened her back.  Then she dug her knees into horse flesh.  Then she clicked her tongue.  Then she slapped the reins.  The old glue factory mare plodded along.  But the jockey beamed.  She waved to the crowd.  She nodded response to her counselor’s encouragement.  She rode around the circle again.  And again.  And again.  She wouldn’t stop.  The rodeo went 30 minutes over schedule.  With a little encouragement, a little girl grew up a little.

All of us ride better when we’re loved.

Swing Batter

It made me think, later that day, about encouragement.  A few years ago somebody came up with the idea that the Little League champs should play their dads on Labor Day.  A picnic was arranged, with watermelon and chili dogs.   The right fielder’s dad tried not to come.  He was just terrible at baseball.  First he said he had to work.  Then a trip was planned.  Then he felt ill.  But his son kept after him.  Dad was at middle age and he had always been a simply lousy batter.  He could not hit the broad side of a barn, when he was young.  Now he was bald.  And his glasses were thick, very thick.  And, speaking delicately, he carried frontside a bit, let us say, of a paunch.  The thought of facing fast pitching made him squirm.  His son, though, was not to be stymied.   Dad prayed for rain, or a hurricane, or untimely death.  Anyone’s.  But dawn broke on Labor Day, as it does.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Not a breath of wind.  72 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.  It could have been San Diego.   Distraught, Dad went.  The dreaded moment came, his “ups”.  He stood in the box, remembering every strike out of 30 years ago.  He thought of running.  He adjusted his coke bottle glasses, and sweated.  All of a sudden from right field he heard, in the full throated innocent confidence of his son’s voice, “Come on Dad, you can do it, I know you can.”  He took a ball, and stood tall.  “I know you can!”  He took a strike and felt a little better.  “Come on Dad, I know you can hit it.”  Over the plate came a fast straight pitch.  Do you know how good he felt to see that little Texas leaguer dropping in behind second base?  Rounding first, and stopping, he wiped his glasses.  He felt good.  Behind him, from right field, a whisper, “I knew you could, Dad, I just knew you could.”

All of us swing better when we’re loved.

Be Like 43

After thirty years of losses one High School basketball team competed in sectional semi-finals.   It is a mystery how this happened.  A team shorter, skinnier, weaker, smaller, and less experienced than nearly every opponent, somehow succeeded.    They grew steadily in ability and confidence.  They failed and lost, and in this they learned.   Sometimes they won, and in this they learned, too.  Every so often you would see, as visible as a cocoon giving way to a butterfly or a snake shedding its skin or a calf standing after birth, one of the players find himself on the court.  It was something to behold.  The parents, as ever, attributed all losses to bad officiating, and all wins to marvelous genes.  Before the post season, the coach sent a personal, hand written note to every one of his players.  He thanked them for their willingness to play.  He honestly commended their improvement.  He admitted how much he enjoyed their company.  Then he challenged them to rise to the post-season challenge.  They did.  He wrote personally to one young man, number 43 on the team, “my own son is growing and learning to play ball, too, and when he asks me how to play and how to be, I just say, you look on the court and you watch 43 and what he does you do –be like 43”.  Be like 43.  Dawn broke on the day of the sectional game, and they won.

All of us rebound better when we’re loved.


One October my brother and I trained to run in the Washington DC Marine Corps Marathon, around the Pentagon twice, through Georgetown, past every good monument, and out onto the peninsula.  The day before I had breakfast with two dear friends, encouragers they, at the Pentagon City Ritz Carlton, infamous in another, Presidential and relational connection.  Dawn broke on Sunday, a rainy cold morning.  I thought I was ready.  I was wrong.  Maybe it was the driving 40 degree rain, or maybe I was just older than I thought.  My brother finished more than an hour before I did.  I hit the wall at mile 16.   In the rain, I was passed by young men, young women, old men, old women, waddlers, cradlers, wigglers, people in wheel chairs, moms, soccer moms, and man from Denver running backwards.  It was not pretty.  Somehow though, I finished.  In part, looking back, through the encouragement of anonymous curbside exhorters.  I was wearing a red Ohio Wesleyan sweatshirt.  It was encouraging to hear a shout, “Go red guy!”   It was more encouraging to hear, “Keep going Ohio!”  It was even more encouraging to hear, “Good going, Ohio Wesleyan!”  But most encouraging of all were the occasional alumni voices, “Go OWU!”   The more personal, the more particular the encouragement, the more powerful it is.  I made it to the Iwo Gima monument.  My son and I bade farewell to my brother and we drove home.

All of us run better when we’re loved.

A Real Community

At dawn I was thinking of our President and Provost who were here a few weeks ago.  They led and read in service.  Mostly, though, they listened and watched.  Their presence encouraged us.  Then they had some kind things to say.  On email, this week, from afar we received a kind encouragement.  In a note this week, from a visitor last week, we received a kind encouragement.  They said, all the above said, in a word, “good for you.”

It takes a lot of love to build and maintain the community of faith.  A worship service doesn’t just happen by accident or magic or dream.  You build it.

It takes someone to print the bulletin.  Good for you.

It takes someone to bake the bread.  Good for you.

It takes someone to rock and hug babies.  Good for you.

It takes someone to send notes to shut-ins.  Good for you.

It takes someone to usher.  Good for you.

It takes someone to visit the ill.  Good for you.

It takes someone to write the e newsletter.  Good for you.

It takes someone to go to meetings.  Good for you.

It takes someone to speak.  Good for you.

It takes someone to listen.  Good for you.

It takes someone to help others up the stairs.  Good for you.

It takes someone to recruit someone for all the above.  Good for you.

It takes work, and a decision to role out of bed on Sunday and come.

If you think marriage is hard, try church.

A question, respectful but serious, for us:  how are we ever going to grapple together with the great, tragic and unsolved problems of our time, without real community?  How will we find the courage and strength to wrestle ahead with the Tsarnaev verdict, with the balances of security and freedom, with police protection and the protection of our urban youth, with the environment and the middle east and the distribution of wealth and education, without a restorative community of meaning, belonging and empowerment?  For all these issues, the real point of departure, this said with respect and love is this:  where are you on Sunday at 11am?

All of us serve better when we’re loved.

Paul Writes to Rome

In similar apparently and beguilingly simple terms, Paul wrote to the Romans, in chapter 5.  Our reading today could well be memorized and recited, daily, for the course of a lifetime.  Our reading this morning might properly be printed and framed for the office desk or the kitchen counter.  Our reading this Sunday could rightly be imprinted upon the heart, written on every human heart.  This is the great watershed of the faith of Christ, simply stated for you and me, for the dying.

What dim reflections we find of Love, here in the dark, come from the death of Christ.  The great peaks in human history dimly reflect this love:  Alexander snf the glory of Athens, Augustus and the pride of Rome, Michaelangelo and the beauty of Florence, Franklin and the birth of a nation.  The great peaks of spirit do too:  Dionysius the Areopagite,  Augustine’s mother, Katie von Bora, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila.  Love is not for the simple, only.  Love is for the wise.  One of our dear friends, a poet, Carol, now dead, alone caught the humor of a single phrase, years ago:  we think of ourselves as ‘temporarily immortal’.

You remember the basic points in Romans:  1:16, the Gospel of which Paul is not ashamed…2:21, our condition, foolish faithless, heartless ruthless…8:33, hope that is seen is not hope…10:9, if you confess with your lips…12:9, let love be genuine…

You hear and receive Paul’s basic terms in this central high peak, chapter 5:  faith, the gift of God in Jesus Christ;  peace, the closeness of faith and the absence of barrier; hope, not seen; glory, heaven yes but also the full humanity for which we were made; spirit, that which confers and conveys and conducts all the above, and all of them circling agape, the initiative of God loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.  So Mark 3 similarly acclaims, after its several apocalyptic terms (Beelzebub, demons, Satan, house divided, strong man, and the unclean spirit) it is the will of God, the divine love, and love’s outworking in life, that make us together, family.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Our business here is dying.  Life is about learning to die.  Call it, with the ancient church, meditatio mortis.   How are we ever going to manage?  Our almost interminable avoidance will not, in itself, cut it.

John Knox: ‘to be saved is to be incorporated “in Christ”, that is , to belong to this new and heavenly order, primarily eschatological but even now proleptically present, just as the day is present in the dawn’

It is Love alone that justifies.  Love alone that brings peace.  Love alone that provides space in grace.  Love alone that hints at glory.  Love alone that outlasts suffering.  Love alone that is stronger than death.  Love alone that stoops to reach out for the weak and lost.  Love alone that  bleeds on your behalf.  Love alone that reconciles enemies.

To our young adults, our millennial generation, so searingly formed in 9/11 and the Great Recession, we might say, love alone has the grace and power savingly to soften the inevitable collisions (Isaiah Berlin) of personal and social life.

The first Christians even found in suffering something productive.  It was their manner of suffering that impressed others. It was their manner of dying, it was Paul’s manner of dying, perhaps in Rome, that others noticed:

All of us live and, especially, die, better when we’re loved.

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

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

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