August 2

Personal Faith and the Beloved Community

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:24-35

Click here to listen to the sermon only

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

Among the powers that drew us here to Boston, was the chance to labor in the shadow of Howard Thurman and to preach from the pulpit he once filled. Thurman was the Dean of Marsh Chapel, 1953-1965.  This summer, read his autobiography,  With Head and Heart.  In the work of grieving and departing from one setting, Rochester, and entering another, Boston, I was telephoned by a friend and parishioner.  She wanted to set an appointment to talk, before we left Rochester. A saintly woman, Donna Adcock, made an appointment, a good formal appointment, to see me.  ‘A chat after church won’t do for this’, she averred. That Wednesday she brought in a poem which she had typed out from an original handscript.  Typing is an ancient technology, no longer in use, but some years ago, even, still around.  (I do not linger to define keystroke, white out, ribbon, carbon paper, or Smith Corona (not a beer, by the way)).  ‘This poem Howard Thurman your predecessor at Marsh Chapel recited in a sermon in Kansas City, my home, in 1950’, she said.  ‘I was years old, 56 years younger when that sermon changed my life.  I spent the next 50 years in ‘full time Christian service’, through the YWCA.  I heard something that summer day, in Kansas City, in 1950, that changed my life.  I want you to have this poem.  You do not need to live in New England to love it, but it does help. The fact that I heard it through Howard Thurman’s beautiful voice adds to it for me”.

The ‘little duck’ is a poem about the freedom of a duck floating on the waves, written in 1947 by Donald Babcock. Here are verses from that poem…

There is a big heaving in the Atlantic

And he is part of it

He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic

Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is

And neither do you

But he realizes it

And what does he do, I ask you? He sits down in it

He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity—which it is.

That is religion, and the duck has it.

He has made himself part of the boundless, by easing himself into it just where it touches him.

I like the little duck.

He doesn’t know much.

But he has religion.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

Three years ago we hosted the memorial service for Dr. Ken Edelin.  Marsh Chapel was full.  At one point we asked the congregation to recite together the 23 Psalm.  Family and friends in the first pew did so.  Colleagues and physicians across the nave did so.  Leaders of national organizations near and far did so.  In the balcony, twenty white coated medical students together did so.  Either at that point or another in the service they stood silently together, to honor the life and faith of the deceased.  That day I met a friend a personal physician of Arthur Ashe, whose life, prowess, faithfulness and service have always so inspired me.  Read again this summer his autobiography, Days of Grace.  “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

In the collation following the service, Charlayne Hunter Gault introduced herself.  You will remember her, as we did, from her many and fine contributions to the News Hour, with Jim Lehrer.  She said, ‘I need to talk to you later about the 23 Psalm’.  I was so pleased to meet her, and then so worried that I had somehow offended her, that the collation time passed anxiously.  It needn’t have done.  She wanted to recall a memory.  A memory of her younger self.  At 18.  The first African American to integrate the University of Georgia.  The daughter of a Baptist minister.  Alone in a big place, a strange place, a new place.  Walking home the third night, there were taunts and threats.  The University that day had suggested she might want to go home, at least for a while.   She went into her room.  She closed the door.  She turned out the lights.  And she waited, until quiet came.  And then—it was the only thing that came to her mind—the prayer of David in Psalm 23 came to her.  And she spoke the psalm, alone, afraid, uncertain, at night.   ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.’

Sometimes words are all we have.  A regular radio listener from Rhode Island telephoned a few weeks ago.  He said, ‘sometimes words are all we have’.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

In late June from this pulpit we invited those moved to consider the possibility, to spend a Sunday worshipping in an African Methodist Episcopal Church this summer.  ‘Take with you the greetings of Marsh Chapel’, we suggested.  This sort of visit is not for everyone, and can take many forms.  It has been interesting, and encouraging, to see that this summer some of you have done so.  One friend, regular in attendance here, did so a few weeks ago.  He has a story to tell, and has made a personal connection or three.  One radio listener, virtually present by radio or podcast week by week, went further.  She is arranging a neighborhood gathering, she hopes, and hopes we can help her.  Real change is real hard but happens in real time when real people really work at it.  There is a latent goodness, a common faith a common ground and a common hope, all about us, like the ocean holding the duck, like the still waters that restore the soul.  My friends, you are bringing a personal to bear upon the emergence of a beloved community.   Look at what Robert Gates has done, in the right time in the right way, in leading the Boy Scouts of American in a new direction.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

Coming to communion you come with your lost loved ones in mind and heart.  This last winter we bade farewell to a father in law, Charlie. When we receive the Lord’s Supper we do so with the communion of saints all around us.  Charlie was a lover.

He loved nature.  Garden.  Seed time. Harvest. Planting. Weeding.  Watering.  Like the parables of Jesus.  He had a green thumb.  Most plant benefitted by the touch of his hand.

He loved work.  With his hands.  Carpentry.  Also some good company in carpentry, if I remember the Bible that they had us memorize at church camp.  14 features of our cottage have known the touch of his hand.

He loved the poor and the other.  In his study group. In work with Abraham House, Retired Teachers, and Habitat for Humanity and various churches and causes.  He loved others, and I mean others.  Of other religions, other places, other races, other backgrounds, other orientations.  He loved.  Others, and they felt the touch of his hand.

He loved his country.  He was not a member of any organized political party.  His patriotism, his love of country was not only liberty and justice, but liberty and justice FOR ALL.  And with his own hands he lived that.

He loved his church.  Its committees, its pastors, its building needs, its study groups, its quirks and oddities.  Especially he loved the reading he did with others.

He loved his family, and expressed that love in rocking horses and tools given and evergreens planted and windows replaced and sincere, repeated words of love.

He touched us in the most touching of ways.

He loved God by loving the things of God, the creation of God, the tasks of God, the people of God, the church of God.

He was our ‘dad’ and we learned from him.  We all need models of personal faith, people who can show us by example the dimensions of spirituality we so desire.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called…

Some years ago, Jan and I went out onto the bay in Mallorca one Sunday. Once a year we try to go somewhere, alone, together.  In that bay a boat called the ‘Marco Polo’ will take you ten kilometers or so south, or north, dock for a half hour swim, then bring you back to port.  We embarked covered with sunscreen.

In the stern a dozen Germans were gathered, stoic, and after a while they began to sing, in German.  Sort of like our Marsh choir sings some Sundays.  Madrilenos, Catalans, Natives of Andalucia, other Spaniards, sat up front with the youth, maybe a dozen young people.  Thence much laughter.  Sort of like our Marsh Community lunch.  We sat under cover, mid-ship, with the British enfrocked in bonnets, sweaters, long stockings, sunglasses.  We sat against an open window, beautifully open to the sea in the middle of the earth.

Like a large sea gull, we bobbed along, in the summer beauty, summer sun, summer heat, summer grace and freedom and love.  An earnest relationship with work you may find in America, among Americans.  Vacation belongs to the Europeans.  A hearty relationship with vacation they have.  Anne Murrow Lindbergh, a European at heart, to paraphrase, said, ‘A vacation is a month, at least.  Take a month, at least, or don’t bother’.

Above us in the ‘Marco Polo’ was a roof covered with life jackets, an old anchor, some rope, other flotsam and jetsam.  We sat with the dour British—Spanish laughter a fore, German song aft, and watching the tide role away.  There is just something about the ocean.

A gull floated along with us.  Wind, sand, stars—ocean.  St. Exuprey.  Of a sudden, to the right appeared several feet!  Small feet, young feet.  Left foot, right foot, hay foot, straw foot.  The young had commandeered the roof, dangling their feet, kicking, drumming, jostling, lounging and lifting their feet out toward the sea in the middle of the earth.  Then, gone.  The lifeguard must have appeared.  It made me think of Paul, in Corinthians, ‘shall the head say to the feet, I have no need of thee?’  And of Isaiah, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings’.  And of Jesus, washing in humble service the feet of 12 men, disciples, whom he called ‘friends’.

Of a sudden! To the left, across the cabin, outside the other window, feet, numerous feet, numinous feet, kicking and leaning and pushing.  Young people can take the world and make it young again.  Dangling feet, dangling prepositions, dangling thoughts—you will make the world playful, youthful, happy, hopeful.  Just don’t fall overboard, but that is another sermon.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

One of our fellow seekers of the beloved community offered this prayer, with which we conclude.

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

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