Archive for April, 2016

Take Care

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

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Acts 11:1-18

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Good morning! It is a pleasure to join you again from this historic pulpit. My thanks to Dean Hill for this opportunity to speak with you again on the weekend of Earth Day 2016. It’s become tradition that I preach on a Sunday near Earth Day because of my academic interest in social and ecological ethics. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share my passion with you today.

Like some young adults who live quite a distance away from their nuclear family, I try dutifully to maintain contact with my parents on at least a weekly basis via phone call. Some weeks it’s more than once a week, some weeks go by and I realized I haven’t called them in x-many days. Of course, my mom still keeps up with what I’m doing by checking Facebook for my latest status updates, or chatting with one of my siblings whom I’ve texted or messaged in the past few days. But nothing compares to taking the time to sit and verbally communicate with my parents for a half hour, or an hour, or more. By the time we reach the end of our conversation we say our typical goodbyes…”Alright. I hope you have a good week/It’ll all work out./I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.” However, my dad almost always ends our conversations with the same two words “Take Care.” “Alright, talk to you soon, take care, bye.” “Take care” itself isn’t unusual in this context. It’s a common phrase to use when saying goodbye to someone, especially someone that’s close to you. But I like to think of it as my dad’s way of saying “I love you.” “Take care” is a shortened version of “Take care of yourself,” a directive that not only indicates that the person you’re leaving or ending a conversation with wants to you to be well, but also that you continue treating yourself well. It indicates that because you will not be together that other person will not be able to physically care for you, but he/she wishes that you will carry with you the emotional care he/she sends you with.

Taking care of ourselves is hard, and often we must rely on others to help us do it. Or at least we need them to remind us to take care of ourselves. A recent article I came across on 101 ways to practice self-care linked from the website “the Mighty” puts our human situation succinctly: “Being a human can be a messy, hard, confusing, painful experience sometimes.” We can become so driven by outside forces – like getting good grades, or advancing in our workplace, or earning more money – that we lose sight of the need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Friends and family can often be helpful in reminding us to take care of ourselves when we need it most. To be gentle with ourselves when things don’t go the way we want. To take a break when we need it. We can be pretty terrible at cutting ourselves some slack when we need it because we think there are standards or goals that everyone else is somehow accomplishing, and we’re failing to do so. Often all it will take to gain some clarity is to step away from the situation, give ourselves 5, 10, 20 minutes to breathe, hydrate, eat, be silent, engage our bodies rather than our minds, or talk to someone who can remind us of who we are and that we have value by just being us.

For example, I have a good friend who encourages her close friends to periodically (once or twice a year) to have a “decadent day.” She offers to help you plan whatever your day of “decadence” might look like. You know, treating yourself to those things that you love to do and relieve your stress, but that you never find the time to do on your own. Fans of the television show Parks and Recreation may think of this another way – a “treat yo’ self” day. It might be going to get a massage, or watching Christmas videos all day while you bake cookies, or going to a place you haven’t been to before because you don’t have a car (but she does), or it could just be hanging out all day in pj’s, coloring, and taking naps when you feel like it. Taking one day, every once in a while to focus on what it is you REALLY want to do and having a friend there to remind you that this day is not meant to be stressful or guilt-inducing, can help you hit the pause button on the rest of your life for a little while. You should care for yourself, and often others can be the gateway to help you recognize that.

In today’s gospel reading, we encounter another instance of a “take care” directive. Let me set the scene for you – we’ve traveled back before Easter, just after Jesus has washed the feet of the disciples and shared in a last meal with them. The “he” referred to at the beginning of the scripture – “When he had gone out…” – is Judas who has just departed to betray Jesus to the Roman authorities. Jesus knows that the time is coming when he must give away his life for those that he loves, and that one of those that he has loved is turning against him. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of what is to come, Jesus turns to his disciples and issues them a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is slightly different than the older love commandment found in the book of Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This love is a mutual love that will strengthen the disciples in service to one another once Jesus is no longer with them. Not only will it help to strengthen their community, it will come to define their community, and Jesus knows that. Jesus serves his disciples both physically and spiritually in this one night. He washes their feet, showing them care in a way that was typically done by someone in a lower social standing. He also tells them what he has been demonstrating to them all along, and will culminate in doing through his crucifixion – that mutual care and love for each other is God’s will for them.

Jesus is essentially saying “take care” in this message to the disciples. He is about to leave them, but before he does, it’s important to emphasize to them how they should continue on without his physical presence when he is gone. However, the “take care” here is not “take care of yourself” like the version we often use today. Instead, it is “take care of each other.” Care for the other in such a way one thinks and puts the need of the other before oneself, bringing the community closer together.

But there’s more to the love commandment Jesus issues. Martin Luther, upon reflecting on this passage of John states, “To love does not mean…to wish someone else well, but to bear someone else’s burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear.” As Luther highlights, Jesus’ command to the disciples is not easy or should be taken lightly. It’s hard to love in the way that Christ wants us to love. So many of us don’t love in that way. We don’t put others’ needs before our own. We fail to have empathy for those who are in difficult positions. We try to advance ourselves at all costs and neglect to see how that might impact others around us. One doesn’t need to look far to see how individualism and egocentrism runs rampant in our country and even in our world. While it is important to value ourselves, we cannot do it to an extreme that excludes others to the point of oppression. Instead Christ’s love, Christ’s form of taking care, requires us to take on the burdens of others.  We must help those who need it.

Just as Jesus meets the practical needs of the disciples by washing their feet, we might meet the practical needs of our community by bringing a covered dish to share on the first Sunday of the month for our community luncheon or by helping a new person in our community locate something as simple as the restroom. But the spiritual support that we supply for others is also a part of this. We can be a listening ear, we can provide prayers, we can offer spaces for people to laugh or cry, be there for moments of joy and of pain.

Today, “Taking care” cannot just be about being in community with other human beings, though. If you’ve noticed any of the movements among Christian denominations toward environmentalism, the discussion is usually framed around “Creation Care” or Caring for Our Earth. In fact, the denomination to which I belong, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s social statement on environmental care is found in a document entitled “Caring for Creation.” In it, the ELCA states that “Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf on the whole creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the Earth.” This stewardship model, which places responsibility to tend and care for God’s creation with humanity, emphasizes the notion of care. We are a part of God’s creation, created from the same materials as the rocks, water, air, and creatures with which we share this planet. Even more than just caring for the planet that God created, we must recognize that we are in a relationship with the world around us by the very nature of our dependence upon Earth’s natural systems that sustain us.

Care is a verb that we can wrap our minds around when we talk about the earth. We have a sense, even if we don’t actively practice it, of what care should look like. Care is also easier to understand or grasp than the idea of loving creation. Love has too many different connotations in English to make a clearly identifiable action. So in this case, when we talk about our relationship with the Earth, care seems to make more sense than love, but the sentiment is very similar. Care means that we should have consideration for another that is in relationship with us. Care means that we want what is best for the other. Care means that we claim our responsibility to a much larger network of others. Us taking care of the earth and the Earth taking care of us is a mutual relationship that we share.

The earth cares for us in many ways. We might automatically think of all the practical and physical (utilitarian) uses that we have for the Earth, but we might not think of them as care, initially. The oxygen we breathe is a direct result of the respiration of the trees and other plants around us. The food we need comes from tending to the land and raising crops. The water we drink, although processed through water treatment plants, originates from the same water cycle that supplies our lakes, rivers, and streams. While we may not consider this care in the same way that we would through expressions of love from other people in our lives, we cannot exist without the essential natural goods that the Earth provides for us. We are connected to the Earth. These practical ways that the Earth supports us should be considered as care, and we tend to take them for granted. That is, we tend to take them for granted until things go awry.

When water becomes undrinkable, like it did in Flint, MI, when crops are decimated by drought, like during the great drought felt on the West Coast of the United States, when our air becomes polluted by industrial practices, like methane release or coal-burning power plants, we become acutely aware of the ways in which our connection with the earth is essential for our health and well-being. Even aesthetically, when nature is disrupted by human activity that destroys ecosystems and displaces other creatures, taking away its beauty, we lose the renewed sense of awe and wonder nature can give us that can inspire us to be more creative and feel more connected to others and with God. When we fail to recognize the ways in which we need to love the Earth, to take care of the Earth in the ways we need to for mutual support, we all lose and fail to meet God’s will.

If we are truly to take care of ourselves and take care of others as Christians, then we must also make sure that we expand our notion of care beyond the human community. In fact, many of the systems that create oppression and harm to other human beings are also harmful to our environment. The impacts of global warming, which is caused by a global reliance on fuels, tend to disproportionately harm those who are the most socioeconomically vulnerable. Members of developing nations, particularly women and children, face greater challenges than those of us in developed nations because we have the capital to develop technologies that will mitigate some of the effects created by this global problem. But in addition to these impacts on other human beings, we are also damaging the ecosystems that support all life on earth, and the quality of the Earth’s health as well. It is important to draw out the impacts of ecological degradation on other human beings, but it is also important to remember that the “Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” We are connected in a vast web of creation that finds its source in God. As we’re reminded in today’s Psalm reading:

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

We are only a small part of the whole earth that is called to praise God, the creator and sustainer life. Through our connection we have a responsibility to care for the Earth. We must pay attention to the ways we impact it. How often are we reusing items we possess instead of using disposable items? Do we walk or bike instead of driving to a nearby location? Have we thought about where our energy comes from and how its source may be impacting the world? These are burden some question to ask ourselves – and it would be easier to continue in the way we have been acting. But eventually, our actions will come back in a negative way and impact us. Our time to act in a caring way toward the Earth is now, not at some point in the future

In the gospel reading we are told that followers of Christ need not state who they are, because people will know them by their actions of mutual love. To be Christ’s disciple is to love each other as Christ loved us. We do this not necessarily for our own benefit, but because it benefits the other. Although we must care for ourselves, we are often reminded by others why that care is necessary and are often helped to see the ways in which care can be expressed by the care offered to us by other people. All of these ways of caring are connected to each other. Ourselves, our human community, our world – we are all interconnected and our care must be connected as well. If our Earth is cared for, it will care for us. If our friends are cared for, they will care for us. If we care for ourselves, we are capable of caring for others.

So like my dad when we end our phone conversations, I will leave you with these two words – take care. Take care of yourself because God cares about you. Take care of those around you because it helps to share your burdens with someone. Take care of the earth because we’ve already done so much to harm it, and it’s the only one we’ve got. Take care.

Amen.

Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

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

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

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John 10:22-30

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Dean Hill

So let us keep the festival whereto the Lord invites us; Christ is himself the joy of all, the Sun that warms and lights us.  By his grace he doth impart eternal sunshine to the heart; the night of sin is ended.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

You will see down the street a block, outside the BU Academy, a new photograph commending the Academy.  A young woman, with face upturned, radiantly smiles and casts a long look, eyes beaming, into an unseen future.  It is a striking, even staggering image, the look of Easter.  Behold there the look of promise, hope, freedom, openness, courage, excitement, joy, and peace.

Lent is for preparation and discipline in living.  Easter is for living.  We are not meant to live in Lent.  We are meant to live in Easter.   For this reason itself and alone, it will have been excellent practice for us to have heard all Easter cantatas all year, here at Marsh Chapel, where we are blessed with the finest University Chapel music anywhere in the country.   Your life is made for and meant for and marked for meaningful freedom, joyful growth, loving service, and personal peace.  You are a child of God, one for whom Christ died, and in whom His resurrection is intended to dwell.  If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved.  Confession is an act, uttered by the lips, and lived in the spirit.  Belief is a matter of the heart, embraced in the dark, and carried forward in the light.   

Think about the novelty of Marsh Chapel Community Ecclesiology, one of several ‘new ways of being church’.  You are in one sense‘The Church of the UnChurched (students, radio listeners, occasional attendees, those returning to faith, pod cast people, all)’.  God is doing a new thing.   You come Sunday, you listen Sunday.  Sunday opens the rest of the week for living.   Then you live in community and University in the three other ‘ships’, other than worship—discipleship, fellowship, and stewardship.  This wide berth of freedom can be a great challenge, but is also a magnificent gift, for those with ears to hear.  As WS Coffin so often said, ‘God gives us minimum protection and maximum support’.

Our Holy Scripture, the prototype of every type of struggle in life, breathes us life.

Psalm 23 forever proclaims a Good Shepherd, a shepherding goodness forever available, always possible, eternally present.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life.  But such shepherding, incarnate, requires human time, effort, voices, notes and donations.

Acts 9—we still are reading Luke, but have jumped to the second season for a time, his full history, the Acts of the Apostles—accounts a dramatic healing, a raising like that of Lazarus, but this time at the hands of Peter, not of Jesus.   Our teacher reminded us that the one-to-one things are the most important, the personal things count most.  Tabitha!  Rise!  Please do not become lost in the mystery or magic of these multiple acts in Acts.  Here the Scripture attests strongly and simply to real healing, the potential for real help, in real time.

Revelation 7 begins with tribulation, suffering.  There will be a time, a place, a setting when the Shepherd will guide the thirsty to springs of living water, when the Shepherd will meet the sorrowful and wipe away every tear from their eyes, when the Shepherd will find the hungry and feed them all, when the Shepherd will embrace the thirsty and slake their thirst, when the Shepherd will wash with mercy and peace the robes of tribulation and suffering.   Now this is aspiration not actuality, right now.  We are hoping for what we do not see; we are seeing in a glass dimly; we are holding treasures in earthen vessels

John 10:22-30 makes audible the voice of the Shepherd, and so the sheep may know that voice, they may hear and they may know and they may follow.  This Spiritual Gospel of John is so lastingly redolent with the Divine Presence!  We are in good hands, and so we are able to bear one another’s burdens (H Smith).

John Wesley taught us: “Do all the good you can, at all the times you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”….and… “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

Dr. Jarrett, for what shall we listen, this Eastertide, as the beauty of Bach’s Cantata addresses us?

Dr. Jarrett

Our cantata this morning is one of the most famous in all Bach’s output. One of his earliest cantatas, Christ lag in Todesbanden, or Christ lay in Death’s Bonds, sets all seven verses of Martin Luther’s 1524 hymn in a remarkable display of invention and variation, within an overall symmetrical design of proportion and elegance so familiar to us from this composer.

The text depicts the epic battle of life over death, redemption versus destruction — the Paschal lamb roars as the Lion of Judah. Bach scored his cantata for strings only, including two viola lines, and achieves an astonishing degree of variety and color with such limited instrumental resources. Here are few things to listen for this morning:

  • Each verse ends with a refrain of Hallelujah. Note the variety and possibility of emotion explored with each of these refrains, from the frenetic energy of the first alla breve, the doleful Hallelujahs of the soprano and alto, the chorus’s scurrying refrain as the epic battle falls away; or the pealing, rounded Hallelujahs of the soprano and tenor in the final festive duet.
  • If you follow a translation or word book, note the opportunities to stay fixed visually, aurally, and theologically on the Cross. The Cross becomes the ultimate emblem of victory over sin.
  • In the central choral movement, listen for the fantastic depiction of the battle: soprano, tenor, and bass voices scrape and thrash around each as Death Gobbles Death in scathing mockery.

In many ways, Christ lag is the best connection of  the joy of Easter with the glory of Christ’s passion. The focus is not on the disciples, mourning the loss of their leader, nor is the focus on our human frailty clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment. The victory of the cross and the triumph of love is our theme, Christ as Victor.  

“So we celebrate the high festival with joy of heart and delight, which the Lord radiates upon us, He himself is the Sun, that through the splendor of his Grace illuminates our hearts completely, the night of sin has disappeared. Hallelujah!”

Dean Hill

The few Bach Easter works, as Mr. Kostrzewski reminds us, exude and exemplify ‘an air of humility that remains ever present, the music and the libretti constantly referring to the Passion as the gateway to the Resurrection’.  Yes.  The Resurrection follows but does not replace the Cross.  Luther: crux sola nostra teologia, the cross alone is our theology.  Mr. Wesley was converted to full faith under the hearing of Martin Luther’s exposition of Romans 8, on rainy Sunday evening in London, May 23, 1738.  We still live in two worlds.

We live in a glorious, wonderful world. There are at least 100 billion galaxies besides our own (NYRB, 3.16).  The universe is expanding, and the rate of that expansion is increasing.  Every second over 600 billion particles called neutrinos penetrate every square centimeter of your body. The visible universe is the sideshow:  the important stuff is invisible.  We live in a glorious, wonderful world.

We live in a suffering, violent world.  Examples abound. Dr. Jonathan Haidt ‘denies that reason ordinarily plays any part in motivating moral judgments, seeing it rather as a post-hoc means of justifying the intuitions we form quickly and unreflectively.’  He reminds us that we struggle with:  Care vs harm; fairness vs cheating; loyalty vs betrayal; authority vs subversion; sanctity vs degradation; liberty vs oppression.  Our world sometimes boils down to Hobbes’ single hope, during a life that is ‘solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short’:  avoid conflict.  After 83 waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah, what was the result?—NOTHING.   70 million in USA have some form of criminal records (Globe 4/12/16). 30% of NFL players suffer dementia.  We live in a suffering, violent world.

Easter, in Gospel spoken and sung this morning, Easter in resurrection and cross, cross and resurrection, resurrection and cross, promises us that we can do what we need to do: we can live in both worlds, transforming the latter and translating the former, transforming suffering and violence by translating glory and wonder into insights for healthy, happy living.

In a season when our country seems to be going through a form of political and cultural psychosis, we may be able to help others by modeling together this balance, living in both worlds, with this Resurrection song, bell and tale: ‘The worst thing is not the last thing’ (F Beuchner).  The Marathon survivors in worship on Friday at Old South Church, so attested, and so heard in the sermon by former Governor Duval Patrick.  Balance.  As Pope Francis argued last month:  the conscience of the believer is inviolable, so we want to form consciences not replace them; Eucharist (say worship, say faith) is not a prize for the excellent, but nourishment for the weak.  Balance.  As Luther wrote, ‘faith holds the door against death’.

It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.  Stripped of power, no more it reigns, and empty form alone remains; death’s sting is lost forever.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

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

& Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

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

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Breakfast With Peter

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

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John 21:1-19

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In pastoral work, day by day, we come back to a familiar story.

One man asked another, ‘Tell me, in just one word, how is your life?”

His friend replied, slowly, “In one word?  In one word, my life is, well…good”.

Sensing something, the man asked again, “Then tell me, in just two words, how is your life?”

His friend replied, slowly, “My life, in two words?  In two words, my life is, well…not good”.

Both the brevity of life and the strange estrangements of our experience in life, place us, if we are honest, come Sunday, somewhere between the first and second replies, between good and not good.

We know the thrill of victory and the agony of betrayal.  We know the joy of birth and the pain of death.  We know the exuberance of growth and the hurt of departure.

The Gospel of John ended last week, with its concluding sentence, ‘These things are written that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”  Jesus:  Lord and God, doorway both to allegiance and to reverence.  Jesus:  word incarnate, good shepherd, feeder of thousands, alchemist of water and wine, healer of the blind, raiser of the dead, doorway to grace, freedom, love, spirit, community, and friendship.  Only believe, only believe.  Live in tune with the universe.

Startling then, today’s lesson, added ten or twenty years after the Gospel’s original conclusion.  A simple meal, of 153 fish, breakfast with Peter.   Different language and imagery here.  A different, now heroic role, for the robbing and disrobing Peter, here.  A different voice for the beloved disciple here.  A different reflection on death and life here.  A different prediction of Peter’s martyrdom here.   What is the meaning of this strange breakfast?

Just this:  for all the grace, freedom and love, all the spirit, community and friendship rightly trumpeted in the Fourth Gospel, people are still people.  This chapter is about fishing and farming, about catching and tending, about boats and fields, fishermen and shepherds.  In church language, that is, 21 is about evangelism and pastoral care.  

You are leading a Christian life, you are committed to the way of discipleship, the path of love.  Then, and so, you will need to receive and give invitation and comfort.

Life

In a word,  resurrection.  In two words, evangelism and pastoral care, work and structure, laity and clergy, world and church.  

Breakfast is a simple meal.  The worst hour of the day, the worst food of the day, the worst attitude of the day, everything and everyone more human than not.   Carried by resurrection, we re-enter the world of invitation and compassion, the world of the preacher and the pastor.  Every week, you are encouraged to make one invitation to another about what you find lastingly good.  Come to worship with me.  Every week, you are encouraged to offer one compassionate word to another from the source of lasting compassion.  I will pray for you.

Public worship places us in the necessary presence of others who are not our own kith, kin and kindred.  With the child behind us, the student beside us, the professor ahead of us, the widow across from us, we worship God.  We perceive again the utter variety and actual need of others.  It is a cautionary move against the prevailing winds about us, including tornadoes, including dehumanizing techno-communication and distance drone aerial bombardment.  A woman will receive that email.  I might have seen her, or her kith, kin and kindred, in church.  A child could be harmed by that weapon.  I might have seen his kith, kin and kindred, in church. Public worship places us in the necessary presence of others who are not our own kith, kin and kindred.  So crucial, saving, significant, then the simple invitation: join me for worship.

Compassionate pastoral care, personal kindness, a willingness to listen—feed, tend, sheep to sheep—connects us to the deeper dimensions, those for which life is given.  Fifty years ago M L King sat writing in a prison cell in Birmingham Alabama.  He wrote the famous Letter, which bears your re-reading this afternoon, addressed to pastors, fellow clergy, who could not or did not or would not hear: “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness”.  While most of us will not regularly write such a momentous letter, in our pastoral that is personal correspondence, we will write.   You know of another’s inattention, another’s pain.  You can sit down, put pen to paper, and select some caring words—sorry, condolence, hope, help, prayer.  You can imagine another opening the mailbox, holding the letter, seeing the penmanship, removing the page, reading the card.  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.

It is not  that the Fourth Gospel diminishes or discounts invitation and compassion, evangelism and pastoral care, laity and clergy.  It is just that the writer(s) had bigger fish to fry and sheep to tend of another fold.  So along came—someone—who wrote 21 for us, to remind us.  In a word—good.  In two words—not good.  Your life in Christ requires invitation and compassion, beginning again every day at breakfast.  The good news is that a restored Peter is there at breakfast with you.

Jesus

Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.  His voice, although we often mistake or mishear or misunderstand it, carries over from shore to sea, from heaven to earth.  For the  souls gathered here today, that voice—His voice—makes life worth living.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary nights or days or catches of fish or meals or questions or answers or friendships or loves or losses.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary moments.  When the Master calls from the shoreline, “children…have you…cast the net…bring some fish…have breakfast”, no one who hears will dare ask, “And who are you?”.  We dare not.  For we know.  Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.

His disciples stumble through all the magic and grit of a fishing expedition.  Many of us still find some magic in fishing, though few of us have had to depend on this sport for sustenance.  Still—we know the thrill of it!  And the disappointment.  The roll of the boat with each passing wave.  The smell of the water and the wind.  The feel of the fish, the sounds of cleaning, the sky, a scent of rain:  this is our life, too.  All night long, dropping the nets, trawling, lifting the nets with a heave.  And catching nothing.  The magic comes with the connection of time and space—being at the right place at the right time.  How every fisherman would like to know the right place and the right time.  It’s magic!  The tug on the line!  The jolt to the pole!  The humming of the reel!  A catch.  And woe to the sandy-haired, freckle faced girl or boy (age 12 or 90) who cannot feel the thrill of being at the right place at the right time!

John Stewart Mill once wrote that understanding the chemistry of a pink sunset did not diminish at all his profound sense of wonder at sunset beauty.  In fact, we might add, real understanding heightens true apprehension.

Easter is a season of new beginnings. The promise of resurrection is upon us.  Resurrection disarms fear.  Resurrection ignores defeat.  Resurrection displaces and replaces loneliness.  Resurrection will not abide the voice that whispers, “There’s nothing extraordinary here.  There’s no reason for gaiety, excitement, sobriety or wonder.”  Resurrection will not abide the easy and the cheap.  Resurrection takes a day-break catch, a charcoal fire, a dawn mist, fish, bread, and hungry, weary travelers, and reveals the Lord present, and Peter at the table.

The failing of this world, whether we see it more clearly in the superstition of religion, the idolatry of politics, or the hypocrisy of social life, has its root in blindness to the extraordinary.  Because we are unholy, we think God must be, too.  But hear—and today taste—the good news!  The King of love his table spreads.  And the humblest meal becomes—Breakfast with Peter!

Therefore Christian people, as we work and fight, play and pray this week, let us resist with joy all that cheapens life, all that dishonors God, all that mistakes our ordinary sin for the extraordinary love, power, mercy and grace of God.

New Beginnings

Real change is real hard but it happens in real time when real people in real ways really work at it.  Or, at least, that is the good news of John 21, a late addition to a late edition of the fourth gospel, and its menu of freedom over Breakfast with Peter.

Take a look at the soteriology next door.  You may be at a point where a different chapter or a different verse may bring healing.   You have been raised Roman Catholic and left the church, but now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  You may have been raised an evangelical and left that church, but now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  You may have been raised in a mainline church but having left that fold now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  Good for you.  Find your way forward.  Sometimes a new look at salvation, for a new need in life, is the very gospel.   John 21, if nothing else, gives biblical currency to such courageous change on your part.  We are with you, and we are for you, as you walk up the steps to another house within the lasting, loving neighborhood of salvation.  There are many faithful ways of keeping faith.

Hear the good news that forgiveness is about the future, not the past.  Stephen Bauman reminded me of this last week.  The past is finished, and unchangeable.  There is no changing what has happened.  We may revisit, by memory travel, and we may relearn by historical excavation, but the past is what it is.  Done.  Forgiveness is not about the past.  That is what the church discovered at Easter.  Easter is not about Mary’s misunderstanding, nor about Thomas’s doubt, nor about the disciples’ fear, nor about the worst of horror, the cross.  All that is set,  forever, in the past.  Forgiveness opens the future.  Forgiveness does not change the past, but opens up a new future, a free future, a joyful future, in spite of the past.  That is what makes Easter such a miracle.  That is what makes Peter fit company at breakfast. He is good company over the fish.  He has a new life, a new open future.   He has a new future, in spite of, in spite of, in spite of, the past.  Hear the good news that forgiveness is about the future, not about the past.

Reclaim the power of conversation in a cyber held world.   Would that we could, including breakfast, understand the power and lasting meaning of fellowship at tables.   Our bodily nourishment requires this pause, this consumption, this energy.  Our spiritual nourishment requires the words spoken and heard during this pause, this consumption, this energy.  If you have been recently, around a convivial meal, around a conversational table, around a gathered companionship—well, you know.   Friendship is conversation.  Love is conversation.  Marriage is conversation.  Community, real communion, community, real consanguinity, is mightily  and in some ways totally conversation.  So the disciples are around a fire, charcoal fire, eating breakfast, 153 fish, with a restored leader, Peter.  If you are not indulging in at least one decent conversational meal a day you are missing the mark.   Fast food is real, but not fast conversation.  Reclaim the power of conversation in a cyber held world.   

Feel free to shake the dust from your employment feet and find another job.  You know, now that the economy is a little better, at least for some, it is a little easier to say what needs saying in any case at any time.  You have one life to live.  You need to make a living, but you need to make a living in a way that makes a life.  If what you are doing with your body is killing your soul, it is time to quit.   There are sixty ways to leave your employer, as Paul Simon said, sort of.  Make a little plan, Stan.  Easter breakfast with Peter is just the time to converse about this, in a forgiving mode, in light of the soteriology next door.

Real change is real hard but it happens in real time when real people in real ways really work at it.  Or, at least, that is the good news of John 21, a late addition to a late edition of the fourth gospel, and its menu of freedom over Breakfast with Peter.

-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.       

Exemplum Docet

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

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John 20:19-31

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There is no text for this sermon.

-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.