Archive for February, 2016

Sunday
February 28

Calvin for Lent

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 13:1-9

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Frontispiece

Lift up your hearts:  Amid the furious, random hurts in life, which fall upon us without respect of person and without divine intention, in random chaotic violent abandon, there remains, over time, a chance for growth, the possibility of good change, a capacity for faithfulness, over time.  Learn sympathy.  Cultivate patience. Give it just a little more time.  Give it just a little more time.  Give it just a little more time. Let it alone, Sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure.  And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you may cut it down.

Calvin Again

This Lent we again, one last time, engage as our theological conversation partner in preaching, the great Geneva Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564).   We have found it helpful, in this season, to link our preaching here at Marsh Chapel, an historically Methodist pulpit, with voices from the related but distinct Reformed tradition, which has been so important over 400 years in New England.   The Methodist tradition has emphasized human freedom, the Reformed divine freedom.  In Lent each year we have brought the two into some interaction, both harmonious and dissonant. For example, Genesis 1 is a more Anglican or Methodist chapter, if you will, representing the goodness of creation.  2 and 3 are more Presbyterian or Calvinist, if you will, representing the fallen character of creation, known daily to us in sin, death and the threat of meaninglessness.  Both traditions, English and French, make space for both creation and fall.  But the emphasis is different, one more garden the other more serpent, one more creation the other more fall.  The English tradition emphasizes human freedom, and the French divine freedom.  (Both traditions are with us today, even embodied, as it happens, in our current Presidential campaigns, wherein still there is at least one Presbyterian and at least one Methodist (☺)). With Calvin we encounter the chief resource for others we have engaged in Lent in other years—voices like those of Jonathan Edwards (2015), Paul of Tarsus (2014), Marilyn Robinson (2013), Jacques Ellul (2012), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin, (2011), Karl Barth (2010), and Gabriel Vahanian (2007), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008).  

    2016 marks the tenth and last Lent in which from this pulpit we engage the Calvinist tradition.  Over the next decade, beginning Lent 2017, the Marsh pulpit, a traditionally Methodist one, will turn left, not right, toward Rome not Geneva, and we will preach with, and learn from the Roman Catholic tradition, so important in the last 200 years in New England, and some of its great divines including Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola, Erasmus, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, and others, one per year.  Perhaps you will suggest a name or two, not from Geneva, but from Rome?

Calvin Interpreting Luke (1)

Let us listen, now, to John Calvin interpreting today’s Gospel, Luke 13: 1-9.   In brief, we might judge, his interpretation, utterly typical of his work on the whole, is both right and wrong, both true and false.  First true, second false.

First, Calvin rightly and directly applies the passage to our self-concern, wherein we tend to be more self-centered than centered selves.

Calvin: “The chief value of this passage springs from the fact that we suffer from the almost inborn disease of over-strict and severe critics of others while approving of our own sins…Whoever is not shaken by God’s hand sleeps soundly in his sins as if God were favorable and propitious to him…(Commentaries, loc. cit.)

Calvin judges, rightly, that we do not easily sympathize with others’ hurt.  We sleep.  We sleep in our sins, unless somehow roused.  This gradual awakening to random hurt is at the very heart of young adulthood, and at the very heart of a college education.

Speaking of education:  You hear Elie Wiesel, in the death camps, saying that God is swinging on a rope in the face of the hung child.  You hear Arthur Ashe, dying of Aids, saying that the experience of racism is far worse than his mortal illness.  You hear Werner Klemperer bear witness to the slowly tightening noose around his Jewish neck in the Germany of the 1930’s. You hear Frank McCourt tell about licking greasy newspaper to survive childhood in Ireland.  You hear Agate Nasal tell of unspeakable horrors inflicted on defenseless women on the eastern front in the 1940’s.   You hear Tim O’ Brien remembering ‘The Things They Carried”.  And these all bear witness to hurt in history—with another list needed for hurricane and earthquake and tornado and plague, nature’s own force against innocent life.   You are becoming educated.

Speaking of emerging adulthood:  All of us learn in these years. In junior high school you often look in admiration at those just older.  Being with you takes us, daily, back to those fairer days.   One remembers…

When the senior youth gathered in the church or parsonage, we just younger watched and listened.  Our retired assistant pastor (he died suddenly at a church dinner a few years later) had a red haired son, Tommy.  He was a favorite for all—happy, a prankster, kind.  The next fall the group gathered at Christmas, the spring graduates now home from college for the first time, and enjoying the firelight, the tree, the chocolates, and the mistletoe.  That Christmas Tommy stood out for his red hair, but also for his green uniform.  Bright red hair, sharp green private’s Army uniform.  Red and Green.  He was headed to Vietnam.  He came to mind last week, getting the sermon ready, in a quiet moment of reading Tim O’Brien’s memoir, The Things They Carried.  A few years later, the war now over, some of us came home from our first year of college, too.  The pastor said, he teaching meager sympathy in a violent world, ‘You might want to go over to the V.A. in Syracuse sometime this break.  Tom Mallabar is there.  He lost his legs, you know, in the war.’  We did not know.  We did go.  The pastor knew how easy it is, Calvin was right, absent an act of sympathy, absent a readiness to stop, to look, to listen, to look past the tragedy of lasting hurt.  We sleep, unless roused. How human it is to look past hurt, someone else’s anyway.   Some of in the years of emerging adulthood, includes waking up to others’ hurt.  You are becoming adults.

And a Lukan word from Ernest Tittle: Perhaps we, too, would do well to reject the way of military force and violence, placing reliance instead on efforts to combat hunger, misery and despair, to lift from anxious peoples the burden and threat of armaments, to abolish racial and religious discrimination, bring industry under the law of service, and assure to all (people) everywhere the opportunity of a good life (39)…(E.F. Tittle)

Calvin Interpreting Luke (2)

Second, however, Calvin misinterprets by a wide margin the fuller meaning of the Gospel today.  His penchant for judgment occludes his vision of grace.  On a regular basis.

Rendering not the stories now but the parable of the fig tree: “The sum of it is that many are tolerated for a time who deserve destruction…They do not realize their sin unless they are forced…”

But listen to the parable, Brother Calvin!  Here in Luke, not judgment, but grace is affirmed, not death but life, not authority or force, but growth and change.  In Luke 13, the question of ‘Why?’ is set aside in favor of the challenge to repent.  Governmental terrorism, in the hands of Pilate, and natural accident, in the case of a Tower in Siloam, are simply admitted to be what they are—utterly random in impact.  

In the parable, the gardener points away from past performance and points toward future potential.  Time.  Time is given.  A time of reprieve, a time of reckoning, a time of recollection, a time of restoration.  Time heals.  There is impending judgment, but there is time for change.  This is Luke’s own material.  This is Luke’s own toddler, budding attempt to deal with what John, alone, in full adult fashion, addressed, the church’s abject disappointment that the expected return of Jesus, on the clouds of heaven, ‘before this generation passes away’ (Luke 21:32) has not happened.  The first century is ending and Jesus has not returned.  In the main, Luke simply continues to hold out hope, soon and very soon, of the traditional expectation.  Not here in the parable of the fig tree.  Here he finds, channeling his inner Fourth Gospel Spirit, the possibility that more time may be a good thing.  We would all say so, 20 centuries later, since more time has become our time!  The Greeks taught us that life is long.  Give it just a little more time.  Here Calvin, wrongly, misses Luke’s point and power, as much as earlier he caught both.  Too much TULIP and not enough fig tree.  Especially, and perilously:  too authoritarian and too inflexible, and too inerrant, a view of the Holy Scripture.  Scripture alone, not Scripture in tradition by reason with experience.  No, says Luke, change, over time, can come and can become lasting goodness.  

Friday last week we sat in the southern California sunshine, the daily environment of our son and daughter in law, paradise, San Diego.   Imagine our surprise as we opened the New York Times, the paper of record, that morning, in the blue-sky light breeze warm water SO CAL sun.  One of two letters to the editor was written from the pews of Marsh Chapel.  Written out of your community, sent to the great city of New York, printed, and passed on to the needs of the world around, including those of us reading 3,000 miles away, on Pacific Beach.

Our friend, Advisory Board member, retired BU Academy Headmaster, Mr. James Berkman addressed the country, in four paragraphs, regarding the life, death and legacy of Antonin Scalia, and the matter of interpretation. The letter complimented recent Times reporting on Scalia.  The letter affirmed the ‘inarguably brilliant’ aspects of the judge’s work, and its pervasive influence.  The letter recalled a question raised by the author to Judge Scalia, in Cleveland, years ago, and the creative ‘dissent’ the judge offered in response: ‘he sidestepped to deliver a powerful answer on a facet he cared more about’.   Yet, the letter, in true honorable fashion, also recognized the limitations and dangers of ‘originalism’:  ‘if we were to follow (Scalia’s) philosophy, where would women and blacks be today:  still treated as second class citizens and slaves of our founding fathers?’

Interpretation of an ancient text, whether the US Constitution, or the Holy Scripture, does indeed require acute appreciation for what the venerable text originally meant. Without that mooring, we are adrift, forever at sea with our own proclivities alone to guide us.  But truth was meant to set sail and not merely to lie still in the harbor!  The bark needs both anchor and sail, both mooring and wind.  Interpretation, that is, also, and more so, requires of us the courage to exact from the text, not only what it meant, but also, now, what it means.  Our teacher Father Raymond Brown, said often, and taught repeatedly, that the full meaning of a text is not always best given in its mere wooden repetition.  In fact, the conservative Roman Catholic Father Brown taught otherwise:  what most resembles faithfulness to the ancient tradition may look very much like change, growth, something new, today.

In life and in interpretation things take time.  Time.  Let the fig tree have another year.  Time.  Let me nourish the tree with water and nutrients.  Time.  Give this scrawny plant some time, and see what happens.  As the letter to the editor said, ‘it is appropriate to weigh the balance of legacy’.  One of the real, lasting dangers and perils left to us by a certain perspective in the Calvinist tradition, still strong and at large today across parts of this great land, is the shadow of Biblicism, even of Bibliolatry, the mistaken preference for the text over the very Lord to whom the text bears witness.  And the Lord is the Spirit.  And where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  Over forty years of ministry now, and over forty years of the privilege of teaching the Bible, which I love with all my heart, which I love with my very life and time and work, the terrible, stinging memory stands out, of ways the Bible has maimed children, women, men, families, others, when wrongly rendered.  Calvin and Luther may have needed all the weight and power of the Bible, without its aporia, nuance, variety and depth, to break from Rome.  Sadly, some of that weight, without time without water or nutrient, and without proper, educated, informed, disciplined interpretation, falls like a millstone upon the weak.  A case in point, of course, is current Methodist use of the Scripture to support bigotry against gay people.  When one brings to mind all the children in all the churches in all the pews in all the years, who know at age 8 that they are gay, and what they have heard from men in black robes, ministers respected and revered even by their parents, it causes one to tremble.  On one hand, asked how well I know the Bible, I can respond, ‘The real truth is not how well I know the Bible, but how well the Bible knows me’.  I love the Bible.  On the other hand, when the weight of holy writ, and the power of tradition, by bad–originalist?–interpretation—six verses from Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians as opposed to whole New Testament, the whole Pauline corpus, and the whole letter to the Galatians, see the whole of its chapter 3—falls like a millstone on the necks of children in the minority, and that with the blessing of many who should and do know better, but say nothing, and many of them educated at Africa University, and riding Methodist dollars into prosperity on that continent, then I do not love the Bible.  Calvin bears some responsibility here—though of course, not alone.  One of the two great failings we inherit from Calvinism we see just here:  The Bible become a millstone around the neck.  (The second we shall address March 13.)

Coda

Amid the furious, random hurts in life, which fall upon us without respect of person and without divine intention, in random chaotic violent abandon, there remains, over time, a chance for growth, the possibility of good change, a capacity for faithfulness, over time.  Learn sympathy.  Cultivate patience. Give it just a little more time.  Give it just a little more time.  Give it just a little more time. Let it alone, Sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure.  And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you may cut it down.

Bring sympathy and patience to bear.  Can you do that this week? Where in your life will a little sympathy and a little patience bear a lot of fruit? Paul Scherer, a fine Calvinist, wrote in a much more sympathetic and patient era:  “I know the things that happen:  the loss and the loneliness and the pain…But there is a mark on it now:  as if Someone who knew that way himself, because he had traveled it, had gone on before and left his sign; and all of it begins to make a little sense at last—gathered up, laughter and tears, into the life of God, with His arms around it!”

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

Sunday
February 21

A Heavenly Citizenship

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 9:28-36

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Good morning! I am always humbled at the opportunity to stand in this pulpit, where so many past and present great preachers stand, and I am always grateful to Dean Hill for extending the invitation to be with you again this morning.

The lectionary is a lovely discipline, but it also can be pretty terrifying, especially when your limited preaching schedule is determined by those far above your pay grade. J

The regular rhythms of ordered worship, including regular lectionary preaching, can have as much of the wild movement of the spirit in them as any other form of worship and preaching. Case in point: I recently had an extended conversation with the Dean about my in-progress dissertation on Philippians, and a large part of the conversation focused on the question, “will it preach?” I ask this question because I am concerned with ethics just as much as history; that is, I would like to do history ethically but I am also concerned about the ethical implications of our shared Christian histories. I am concerned with communities long gone just as much as those living and moving and having their being today; that is, I take the communion of the saints both in heaven and on earth seriously. Our fraught, fragile, humanity is entangled in its own histories, and the past is no more dead than the present is alive; that is, the gospel is both good and news because it is and has been told, retold, studied, shared, spoken, preached, taught, written, shared, translated, and lived not in a vacuum, but by real people.

So I felt a sense of the spirit, or at least of Deanly intervention, when I found my annual preaching assignment falling on this Second Sunday of Lent, where our epistle lesson is from Philippians. And lo and behold, it’s a text I have studiously avoided dealing with in my dissertation! So here I am, dealing with it this morning, in sermonic form.

Knowing that, my sisters and brothers, I ask for your indulgence to let me lay aside, for today, Luke’s lament for Jerusalem, to gloss over the courageous question of the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”, and to let me focus instead on Philippians. And, perhaps worse, I’m not even going to deal with our whole reading today, but instead focus on a single clause, “our citizenship is in heaven.” [This by the way, is how people write whole dissertations about a single, four-chapter letter.]

So I invite you to meditate with me this morning upon “A Heavenly Citizenship”

The best way I can get at what it means to have citizenship in heaven is to think about the koinōnia of the gospel, the commonwealth of the gospel, which is, I think, the central theme of this letter. In other letters to other communities, Paul calls them ekklēsiai, assemblies, churches, but here, in Philippians, in a letter full of love, imitation, friendship, and calls to like-mindedness, Paul claims that he and this beloved community are in a koinōnia in the gospel.

Koinōnia is far too frequently translated as fellowship today, a term which calls to mind at once our beloved coffee hour and some sort of men’s glee club meeting, but our community is not only our coffee hours and our hymn singing. My best way to describe a koinōnia is as a joint venture. Paul and the Philippians, and you and I and the whole of the community of faith, we are in a joint venture in the gospel together.

This might make you a little squeamish because it sounds a little business-y, doesn’t it? And, actually, it is really an economic sort of term. In antiquity, people used this term, koinōnia, venture, in all sorts of business transactions. From land-leases, to marriage contracts, to joint investments in flax-seeds businesses, this terms springs up again and again in ancient papyri and epigraphy, little scraps of ancient paper and scratchings in stone. When there is a sharing of both risk and reward, there you have a koinōnia. And that, beloved, is what I think Paul means by modelling the community of faith as a koinōnia, a venture. For together we take on the risk and reward of the gospel.

If this were my dissertation (it’s not), I’d share with you some ancient inscriptions to help illustrate my point, but I’ll spare you here. I think I can explain this with a more contemporary example.

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate student, I stole a BU mattress. Technically, I didn’t actually steal a mattress, but the university thought I did, and I ended up paying exactly 1/3 the cost of a bright-blue, fire-retardant, twin X-long mattress, $90, which to the university is basically the same thing as acknowledging that I stole a mattress.

How the heck did this all happen? My freshman year, I won, or thought I won, the housing lottery. Instead of a crowded, stinky large dormitory, with its shared bathrooms and cinderblock walls, I was placed in a triple in a brownstone on Bay State Road. I was destined for wall sconces, a non-working fireplace, wood paneling, and other features that suggested a classier college experience. Imagine my and my roommates’ surprise, when, moving in, we found ourselves in what can only be described as one of the smallest triples on campus. Two of us slept a mere 2 feet apart from one another perpendicular to the wall, and the third had to set up her mattress against the wall apart from us. To squeeze between the space left in the middle of the room, you had to turn sideways and shimmy, or you’d bang your legs against the metal bedframes. Somehow, we also squeezed three dressers, and three desks into this oddly shaped room. The windows looked out, not over Bay State Road, but the alley, including the delivery entrance for Sargent, where they deliver the cadavers for the Human Gross Anatomy Lab. The rest of the building had spacious doubles and triples, but we, we were clearly in the worst room in the place.

The three of us made do for the year, but when room selection time rolled around, we began to eye the room across the hall. None of us really wanted to be in a triple again, but we weren’t confident we could get a lottery number high enough to snag a double or single. So, we entered a pact to move together as a triple, and we managed to get the room across the hall. The following year, we would be moving into a giant triple, facing the trees of bay state road. We had room to bring in a futon in addition to the BU furniture, and there would still be room to move about. There were 11 windows, We would have a large walk-in closet, and each of us would have a large corner of the room. With proper dresser positioning, we could each even have some modicum of privacy.

Except, that summer, we each received notice that one of the mattresses from the tiny triple was missing upon final inspection of the rooms. Before our accounts could be settled, before we could move in, before we could reach the promised land across the hallway, each one of us would need to pay for 1/3 of the mattress, that is unless one of us fessed up to taking the mattress. At first, vague accusations and mistrust flew. Who had checked out last, anyway? (We couldn’t remember.) Was one of us lying? After all, how well did we know one another anyway? Perhaps it was the impossibly chic roommate from Paris who had landed a hostessing job through charm and charisma. She was always staying out late for fascinating parties, poetry readings, gallery openings; maybe she took it for a lark or an art project. Or perhaps it was the roommate who had just gotten her first college boyfriend a few weeks ago. He had been hanging around quite a bit lately, and college students do things with mattresses all the time. Or maybe it was the quiet one who didn’t spend as much time with the other two. Who knew what she was thinking? None of this, of course, got us anywhere, because none of us had actually done anything with the mattress in question. Somehow, through bureaucratic red tape or facilities error, or other great mystery, we were all on the hook for this single, solitary mattress.

So, to reach the promised land across the green carpet and the original hardwood, we all eventually ponied up $90.

Beloved, my roommates and I were in a koinōnia; we shared together the risk, the hardship, and the reward, and we all shared in the joint cost of that mattress.

So Paul’s letter to the Philippians is chock full of financial language, including this central theme of a koinōnia in the gospel. This koinōnia, this venture, is not only how we relate to one another, but it is part of a much larger divine economy. Unlike my college roommate story, our koinonia is under God’s supervision; thus Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Our gospel venture is not worked out in a vacuum, but in the confidence of faith we know that God has begun a good work in us and is able to bring it to completion. In a divine economy, God’s oikonomia, God’s house-rules, our relationship to one another is a joint venture, but this joint venture has God as its ultimate investor and site supervisor.

And now, to return to what it means to consider “A heavenly citizenship.”

Too often, when we read this passage, we imagine heavenly citizenship as endorsing an outlook that is solely otherworldly. Our heavenly citizenship is used to comfort us in suffering, our heavenly citizenships overlooks our human frailty in this life in hopes of the world to come. This is not necessarily bad theology, and it might sometimes be good pastoral care, but it is not a complete picture of our heavenly citizenship. Or heavenly citizenship is used to wash our hands of the troubles and challenges of this world. We invoke a kind of quietism because the world is just too messed up, too mired in sin to have any hope. Our denomination takes 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on LGBTQ inclusion. Our American political rhetoric has descended to a nadir of demagoguery, fear-mongering, and division. Our personal, student, and national debt seems too overwhelmingly large to ever possibly address, so we just keep putting off payments. Too often we throw our hands up, or wash our hands of these matters, despairing of this world, looking to our heavenly citizenship, to a long moral arc of the universe without any willingness to ask whether we or the universe need to be bending just a little, right now, to participate and move toward that long moral arc.

Too often we think of our heavenly citizenship as our passport. As Christians, we’ve got this little blue book which we can show upon arrival on the far shores of the stormy Jordan. No trouble with our border crossing, no wall to cross, we’re bound for the promised land, because we have our heavenly citizenship.

But passports aren’t the only part of citizenship. Citizenship comes with a participation in the bigger system, in the divine economy, and with that comes some obligations. Citizenship is not only about the benefits you get out of it, and that’s as true today as it was when Paul exhorted these Christ-communities in Philippi that they and we have a citizenship that is in heaven. Rome wasn’t exactly known as a tax-free haven, and the empire had significant judicial, financial, and bureaucratic systems that affected citizens and non-citizens alike. Paul couldn’t have conceived of any form of citizenship that didn’t also have participatory obligations attached to it, so I’m surprised when Christians think of heavenly citizenship as simply a “get out of hell free card.”

Perhaps as Protestants this makes us nervous because it sounds a little too much like works righteousness, but I don’t think that an expansive view of our participation in the broader divine economy in anyway contradicts a reliance upon God’s grace for salvation. As citizens of heaven we are in a koinōnia in the gospel under God’s supervision, and it is only by the grace of God that we are participants in this joint venture. This is how Paul can write that despite his current imprisonment, he and we can be confident that we are all shareholders in God’s grace. (Phil 1:7) We didn’t and we can’t earn those shares, they are a gift freely given, but our larger participation as a result of that grace demands our use of those gifts in full participation of our venture in the gospel.

I realize these are deep, and perhaps swirling, theological waters that might be crashing over your head, and probably mine, too, right now, so I’ll offer another more contemporary example.

The other day I came home from a productive meeting with my advisor after a short day of teaching to find Soren sitting on the couch, surrounded by a 6-foot radius of piles of paper. He had begun filling out our taxes. Soren has always done our taxes, but this year they are extra complicated, because we purchased a home in Portland last year and have been renting it on AirBnb. Asking him how it was going, he gave me the kind of look that communicates that I didn’t even have to ask. He told me that because of our AirBnb rental and because we are married, we are declaring ourselves a “qualified joint venture,” which means for tax purposes we would split all of the cost deductions and all of the profits equally. “That’s awesome!” I said, “Do you know what this means? In the eyes of the federal government, we’re in a koinōnia!” Soren was less thrilled, because he still has to do our taxes, but he did share my enthusiasm for a brief moment.

Beloved, our heavenly citizenship means that we participate with one another in God’s economy, and that participation is not without risk, reward, and obligation. Perhaps a theological orientation that is more wholistic, less self-oriented, and, I think, makes more sense, is to ask not what your heavenly citizenship can do for you, but what you can do for your heavenly citizenship.

And I think meditating on that sort of question is an excellent practice for Lent. Do not ask what heaven can do for you, but what you can do for heaven. I think this letter, this line of communication back and forth, binding together Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and the saints at Philippi, offers a roadmap, an examination of conscience, a way into prayer for you this Lent as you consider your heavenly citizenship. As much as we tend towards the heroization of Paul, he’s a part of a larger community, entangled with one another, bound together in the spirit. We’re a big community here at Marsh Chapel. We’re bound to one another across the vast expanses of time and distance, and we are together entangled in these moments of ordered worship that overcome these distances.

So, as a Lenten practice, I invite you to imagine Paul and Timothy writing, perhaps Epaphroditus carrying and reading aloud, and these named and unnamed saints listening to these words:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full discernment to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Do you pray with joy, and thank God for those whom your remember in prayer? Are you confident that God is at work in you and that God will bring that work to completion? Do you hold one another in your hearts? Do you share in God’s grace with one another? Are you confident in your share in that grace no matter what your current circumstances? Do you long for better connection with those around you? Do you pray for others? Do you pray for their love to overflow more and more? Do you pray for them to have knowledge and full discernment? Do you help one another produce a harvest of righteousness for the glory and praise of God?

If, as the hymn says, I am bound for the promised land, where do my possessions lie? Where do I invest my wealth, my time, my energy, my life, and my very self? Do I invest myself in that which is most lasting, most true? Do I invest myself in other people, in their growth in faith and faithfulness?

And if I am bound for the promised land, whom do I invite to go with me? For, beloved, we are together in a koinōnia in the gospel.

We are, together, citizens of heaven.

Amen.

–The Reverend Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment

Sunday
February 14

The Practice of Prayer

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 4:1-13

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Listen

Acquire, this Lent, a practice of prayer.  One of your own, some way to pray.  Make of this Lent a time for the practice of prayer.

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, and there within a small village school, 16 kindergarten students were guided into the merits of learning, the rhythms of education.   Kristen George Kollevol.  Craig Risley.  Merilyn Loop.  Herbie Jones.  Robert Hill.  Jill Hance.  You could walk home for lunch, if you were in town, which many were not, coming from the farms nearby.  The day’s highlight was nap-time, a most precious practice, as those of you know who have lived on the Iberian Peninsula.  A respite. (At 10 below zero you trudge to church.  You find yourself in a warm sanctuary, under a familiar altar, wrapped in a comforting liturgy, alongside loved ones.  The Scripture is read.  The sermon begins.  And in the warmth, let us say, in the sheltered embrace of a particular grace, you find yourself drifting, sliding like a sled downhill, deep in the arms of Morpheus, the God of sleep.  Following the sermon some arise inspired and others awake refreshed.)  Those 16 5 year olds found nap the zenith, nadir, apex, pinnacle and crown of the day.  This is in the last year of the Presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower.  This is ten years nearly before the first woman is admitted to Colgate University, the beloved college on the town’s far hill.  This is in a land far away, a long time ago.

February that winter brought its gifts, and every winter brings its gifts.  The peace of Groundhog Day.  The justice of Lincoln’s Birthday.  The joy of Valentine’s Day.  And a cherry pie for George Washington, the father of our country.  One other day that month, the 16 5 year olds were assembled on the street corner with Mr. Hess, to practice crossing Broad Street.  Mr. Hess was large man with a round face, ‘duchy’ face our great aunts from Cooperstown would have said.  He was a farmer who fell in a grain elevator, and was hurt badly.  He became the elementary school traffic guard.  There was hardly any traffic, then or now, on Broad Street, but he justly performed his duties.  One by one he marched the class across Broad Street, with the three cornered admonition:  stop, look, listen.  Come February, rehearse again, learn again, and practice again.  We have our guide, as well, not Mr. Hess, but a physician, if legend serves, from long ago and far away, the most compassionate of the evangelists, and also the most inclined toward prayer.  Luke.  Luke who teaches by precept and example that we are meant to develop a prayerful meditation, a prayerful observation, a prayerful audition.  Catch his tenor tone today.

The Lukan Difference

Luke brings a different look.  Luke is our tenor guide this year.  He asks us, at virtually every turn, to find our way into a practice of prayer.

So, today in the shadow of our Lord’s temptation, we are invited to a prayerful resistance to the blandishments of wealth, power and fame.  Perhaps you are not ready to resist blandishments.  Maybe though, say at age 19, or at age 79, we may be ready, for different reasons, to observe the limitations, the fairly severe limitations, truth to tell, of wealth, power and fame.  If nothing else, a worship service, on a sleepy University Campus, in the frozen month of February, as all year, is meant to ring this bell, sing this song, tell this tale, recall in prayer that we are utterly mortal and lastingly fragile.

One shall not live by bread alone.  You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.  You shall not tempt the Lord your God.

You have noticed that here, again, Luke has amplified the story of Jesus he inherited from Mark.  Mark has only a couple of lines about wilderness, temptation, wild beasts, Satan and Angels.  But Matthew and Luke have both added in another story within the story, a spiritual temptation to accompany the physical deprivation.  Jesus cites here Deuteronomy 6 and 8.  Jesus models spiritual dimensions of spiritual temptation and struggle.  Not bread, alone.  Not power, alone.  Not glory, alone.  Not the blandishments of wealth, power, and fame.  But the struggles, the spiritual struggles, the tragedy that lines its way through life.  The tragedy that so impersonally and unfathomably upends life.

For example.  You could this Lent re-read Arthur Ashe’s autobiography, Days of Grace, as you have this month the poems of Robert Hayden and the story of Jackie Robinson.

A Religious Turn

Lent offers you a religious turn.

S. Eliot: “It is in fact in moments of moral and spiritual struggle depending upon spiritual sanctions…that men and women come nearest to being real.  If you do away with this struggle, and maintain that by tolerance, benevolence, inoffensiveness and a redistribution or increase of purchasing power, combined with a devotion, on the part of an elite, to Art, the world will be as good as anyone could require, then you must expect human beings to become more and more vaporous.”  After Strange Gods.

We turn this Lent to prayer.  To religion and not merely theology.  To religion and not merely administration.  To religion and not merely music.  To religion and not merely ethics.  We return this Lent to prayer.  To prayer, not merely theology.  To prayer not merely administration.  To prayer not merely music.  To prayer not merely ethics.  We turn or return this Lent to prayer.  A good thing:  it’s later than you think…

Our attention can be quickened, in all this, by focused concern for hurt, for others hurt.  Syria, today, comes to mind.  4 million immigrants.  6 million re-located.  Tens of thousands killed.  Today, along the Turkish border, children, old people, women, the sick, all.  Without presuming to possess a solution, we nonetheless have every prayerful reason to lament the hurt, and to do so publicly, in worship.

Lent offers you a religious turn.

Ernest Fremont Tittle: The only way really to get Christianity across to the people is to act out in daily life the faith and compassion of Christ (40)…Luke in particular emphasizes the inner life of Jesus, his habit of prayer, his experience of the presence and power of the Spirit of God.

Lent offers you a religious turn.  Said Wesley, Preach it until you believe it.   We could add, Practice it until you accept it.  Sometimes the bending of the knee forges the turning of the heart.

Kate Bowler, Duke theologian, diagnosed with 4 stage cancer at 35, practiced prayer, to stop, look and listen, when she wrote, movingly, graciously, and personally, this week:  The most I can say about why I have cancer, medically speaking, is that bodies are delicate and prone to error.  As a Christian I can say that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully here, and so we get sick and die.  As a scholar I can say that our society is steeped in a culture of facile reasoning…I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole.  I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: “Life is so beautiful.  Life is so hard” (repeat).  (NYTimes, 12/14/16)

Lent offers you a religious turn, a return to the practice of prayer.

A Lenten Practice of Prayer

You have grown to practice prayer—a quiet hour a day, a Sabbath day a week, a week of reflection a quarter, and a quiet quarter a year:  7am, Friday, Thanksgiving\Christmas\Spring Break, and summer.

You have come to pause before meals, to offer, if no other, the John Wesley table blessings, prayers before meals.

You have pressed ahead to commit treasures to memory:  Psalm 46, the Commandments and Beatitudes, selections from Corinthians, Romans, Philippians and John, the Apostles’ Creed, a modern (say the Canadian) affirmation.

Yours is a prayerful life, lived in the aspiration and expectation to become ‘whole’, made ‘holy’, perfected, if you will, through this life which is a valley of struggle, exercise, exacting and perfecting practice.

Good.

This Lent 2016, you might add a Marsh Chapel self-guided 7 stop prayer journey:

  • Begin in front of the chapel and consider learning, virtue and piety, embedded in the BU shield.
  • Ascend to the balcony, find there a copy of THE CHARM OF THE CHAPEL and read the account of the Four Chaplains.
  • Now walk downstairs and sit in the nave beneath the Abraham Lincoln Window and pray to live ‘with malice toward none.’
  • When ready, walk to the rail, kneel beneath the pulpit and before the interred ashes of President and Mrs. Marsh, a moment in gratitude for all who have come before us.
  • Then, take a seat behind the pulpit, there open the red Bible and read Luke chapter 15.
  • Next, descend to the Chapel’s ground floor, enter the Marsh Room, take down, at random, a book from the shelves, open to a random page, and read.
  • Last, in the Robinson Chapel, kneel before the altar, read a page or prayer from CHARLES RIVER: ESSAYS AND MEDITATIONS FOR DAILY READING.

 

Add your name, if you like with help from the office staff, to the list of those fellow pilgrims who have made the Marsh Lenten Self-Guided 7 Stop Prayer Journey.  Those so doing receive a small gift.

Man shall not live by bread alone.  You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.  You shall not tempt the Lord your God.

Acquire, this Lent, a practice of prayer.  One of your own, some way to pray.  Make of this Lent a time for the practice of prayer.

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

Sunday
February 7

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to heard the full service

Luke 9: 28-36

Click here to hear sermon only

Lukan Mountain

Our apprehension of Bach’s cantatas this year highlights resurrection. The day of transfiguration is perfect for such an acclamation. It may be that Mark, first, and then Luke, following Mark some two decades later, entwined this marvelous and mysterious moment into the life of Jesus, when it had originally been an experience of his resurrection following Easter. It may have been replaced, or placed ahead, to argue that what the primitive Christians found in their own experience, and acclaimed in their own preaching, and felt in their own hearts had, here it is suggested, been known even in his lifetime, if only to a few, if only in the rarest settings, if only up on a mountain. ‘Many interpreters hold that the narrative was originally an account of an appearance of the Risen Christ to Peter James and John that has been moved forward and made an incident in the life of Jesus” (IBD loc cit.) Belief in Jesus’ Messiahship, it may be, grew out of belief in his resurrection. Whether pre or post Easter, then, the Transfiguration is either a premonition of resurrection or a recollection of resurrection, and both finely fit our music today. Resurrection is the preaching of the gospel of love, spoken and heard. The Gospel is the word and possibility of love in unloving, unlovely, love-deprived world. Resurrection is the experience of love divine, all loves excelling.

“We want to mark the places and preserve the moments where we have encountered God’ (Ringe, loc cit). On the mountain, on the mountain, on the mountain…

You are following Luke well this year. Notice how roundly he changes Mark, here, too. Notice Luke’s Additions: the admonition to pray; the use of the term exodus (departure); the allusion to coming death and ascension; Peter is heavy with sleep; Jesus called not rabbi but master; not my Beloved but my Chosen (not beloved); the reminder and explanation that the disciples kept silence (as in Mark’s messianic secret—an admission in a way that the story only emerged after the resurrection.)

The other alternative is Matthew, who copies Mark nearly word for word. No, Luke has gone his own way, and given us the Lukan view of Transfiguration, later than that of Mark, different from that of Mark, fuller than that of Mark. What do Luke’s additions amount to?

What others have seen and heard is meant to inspire us to see and hear, in prayer. Luke regularly and steadily supplements the narrative with additional moments of prayer. The most activist of the gospels is also the most passive, the most prayerful. Likewise, the whole ethos of exodus is emphasized in Luke. Yes, life is a journey. Yes, the journey of faith includes risk, distress, and pain. Yes, the sojourn in the wilderness is a cost of leaving the fleshpots of any Egypt, just as winter is the cost for summer. Then, Peter awakes (the KJV has it better). He wakes up to the Resurrected, who, for Luke is not merely teacher (rabbi) but master (Lord), a metamorphosis from Mark to Luke that is similar in shape to the internal metamorphosis in John alone. He is the Chosen, emphasizing purpose, intention, mission, and election—emphasizing the church. It is a rare titular depiction of Jesus—Chosen. Chosen from many? Chosen for reason? Chosen as a celebration of divine will? In favor of viewing this story as originally a remembered experience after the resurrection which has been transplanted into the life of Jesus to show that the experience of the church really did have historical antecedents is the explanation that know one really knew about this because the disciples kept the secret. Luke is settting things right for the long haul. Prayer to nourish for the long haul. Journey as a metaphor for struggle over the long haul. Lordship, a higher and hierarchical Savior, to strengthen weakened knees and souls for the long haul. The presence of the divine will, soon for Luke to emerge in the body of the Church, to guide all for the long haul. Luke advises us to be ‘in it for the long haul’ whatever ‘it’ is. Luke gives Divine confirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship. It places into the history of Jesus what the later church believed, believes, knew, and preached. See: even during his life a few people knew and saw what we know and see.

One wonders, Scott, how best to hear resurrection in today’s music?

Bach

When I read the stories of Jesus, I am constantly struck not by Jesus’s actions but by how the people around him react: I remember Simon when I think of Jesus in the temple; I remember Peter when I think of Jesus in Gethsemane; I weep with the beloved disciple and marvel with the Centurion when Jesus is on the cross; my own inner-Thomas is revealed when I hear of Jesus in Emmaus. And here, too, it’s not that Jesus enjoys a nice visit with Moses and Elijah while on a mountain hike, but rather that Peter misses the point, requiring the Lord to set him straight in a cloud. And then my mind wanders to the notion of God speaking through the fog of Cloud. Should I listen for God more on cloudy days??

Well, now I’m just like Peter on the mountain top, wandering and missing the point, and in my own sermon!

As Dean Hill mentioned in his opening, our series this year survey’s Bach’s musical sermons celebrating the Resurrection Story. Today’s Cantata, No 31 “Heaven laughs, Earth rejoices’ was written early in Bach’s career during his period in Weimar. He takes full advantage of Weimar’s instrumental possibilities and the literary gifts of resident poet Salomo Franck.

The structure of the Cantata may be understood in three distinct sections: The Resurrection Story retold by Chorus and Bass; The Charge to the Believer heralded by the Tenor; and finally, the Believer’s Affirmation of the Charge. And just as in the Biblical stories, we move quickly from Jesus’s resurrection to our own foibles and possibilities in relation to Jesus. The central images to watch and listen for are that of Vine and Branches; Tree of Life with limbs and branches; Christ as head, we as limbs; the cross as ladder to heaven; and, of course, the grave of sin. Typical of the theology and imagery of the time, our life on earth is depicted as the grave, a chamber of the sin of Adam’s inheritance. We eagerly await the final hour in which we shed the mortal coil of sin, and, through resurrection by the spirit, reach life everlasting, arms outstretched to the risen Savior at the gate of Heaven.

Musically speaking, brilliance is everywhere on display in our cantata today. Festival scoring for trumpets and drums, joyous opening sinfonia paired with a thrilling opening five part chorus, three diverse arias proving the composer’s gifts and skills, and a sublime and delicate final chorale with heavenly descant.

Once again, Bach brings us to a mountain top, his own Castle of Heaven. Bach’s music offers a glimpse of that moment when we, too, will be transformed, joining heaven’s angels in the radiant, joyous glow of Christ Jesus.

Today

                        The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   We want to bear that mystery in our present, in our person, do we not? Tittle: ‘as he faced the possibility of suffering and death his mind reverted to the great figures of Israel’s past…let us place ourselves under the influence of Christ and even we sill be transfigured…something of his glory will shine in our hearts and appear in our faces and show forth in our lives’.

The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   Sometimes, later in life, we realize what was going on, earlier in life. So, Robert Hayden, African American poet, in the line of Hughes, Baldwin, Ellison, and all, writes and remembers and rejoices. Here is a poem written by Hayden, remembering his youth and his father:

Sundays too my father got up early

And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

Then with cracked hands that ached

From labor in the weekday weather made

Banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

And slowly I would rise and dress

Fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

Who had driven out the cold

And polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?

(By Robert Hayden)

The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   The necessary freedom, and the disciplined grace, of Luke’s gospel firmly accosts us with the daily need, the daily task, the daily prospect, the daily adventure, the daily promise, the daily existential, lonely, windswept mountain top liberty of faith in the resurrection. Back at home, it may be, for those present this morning, or there at home, it may be, for those listening today there is transfiguration awaiting, a resurrection beckoning, a faith and gospel lying in hiding, ready for action. Write that letter. Sign that check. Make that call. Read that verse. Forget that hurt. Watch. Fight. Pray. Live rejoicing every day.

He comes to us as one unknown,

a breath unseen, unheard;

as though within a heart of stone,

or shriveled seed in darkness sown,

a pulse of being stirred.

He comes when souls in silence lie

and thoughts of day depart,

half-seen upon the inward eye,

a falling star across the sky

of night within the heart.

He comes to us in sound of seas,

the ocean’s fume and foam;

yet small and still upon the breeze,

a wind that stirs the tops of trees,

a voice to call us home.

He comes in love as once he came

by flesh and blood and birth;

to bear within our mortal frame

a life, a death, a saving name

for every child of earth. 

He comes in truth when faith is grown;

believed, obeyed, adored:

the Christ in all the scriptures shown,

as yet unseen, but not unknown,

our Savior, and our Lord.

(Powell)

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

& Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

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