Archive for August, 2016

August 28

A Special Guest

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 14:1, 7-13

Click here to listen to the meditations only

We have a special guest with us today.  He has made his way into our midst, through a long and arduous journey. Our guest over a great expanse, has come our way.  Because his presence has come at significant expense in time, labor and effort, and because his presence is precious to us, in ways both known and unknown, both speak-able and unspeakable, we pause to honor him.

Many thousands of miles separate us from his homeland.  In fact to travel here, he travels over land and sea, over continent and sub-continent, over mountain and valley and hill and molehill.  The very fact alone that we have him here is cause for delight, wonder, celebration, reverence, awe and joy.  Many hundreds of years separate us from his family of origin, from the time and times of his time.  To travel here he has to engage in a sort of time travel, like that involved in every day, in every hour, in every moment, in every memory and in every hope.  Here is the future:  ah, it has slipped into the present.  Here is the present:  ah, it has slipped into the past.  Here is the past:  ah, it has slipped into memory.  Here is memory:  ah, it has been lost, or reborn in hope.

Peer into his eyes for a moment, eyes aware of a numinous divine humility.  Our visitor awaits your recognition.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Can one acquire humility without enduring humiliation? It is a serious question.  Discomfort, we ignore.  Pain, we obey.

Our visitor emerges from the strange world of the Bible.  In these weeks, in case we might have tried to avoid the mysterium tremendum, in worship, we have had the lava flow of Hebrews to terrify us, the ringing prophetic voice like no other in Jeremiah to rivet us, the heart wringing prayer of David in the Psalms to stop us in our tracks.  Our visitor emerges from this kind of strange world—Hebrews, Jeremiah, Psalms—the strange world of the Bible.  Strange. The Bible is very different, up to and including its most distinctive different difference, the Gospel of John.

Yes, wee have a special guest with us today.  He has made his way into our midst, through a long and arduous journey.  Because his presence has come at significant expense in time, labor and effort, and because his presence is precious to us, in ways both known and unknown, both speak-able and unspeakable, we pause to honor him.

Our guest began life as a story told perhaps among shepherds and wanderers.  His is the kind of story beloved of the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the lame.  His is the kind of story beloved by you, at 3am, with troubles.  His is the kind of story audible to the mortal, the sick, those in need, and those beyond help in need.   Our guest brings a Sunday story.  Six days shalt thou avoid your impending death and your ongoing fragility and your endless fault lines, but the seventh shall be a Sabbath unto the Lord.

Allow me to present him to you, if you will.  You may greet him with a Methodist handshake.  He already knows you, as the Bible knows us where and when we know ourselves not, as God knows us, though we were to know ourselves not at all—what sweet truth!   That is, you need no introduction to you.  He knows you.  But allow me to present him to you, perhaps for the first time, but more likely for the first time in a long time.  Isn’t it happy to have such a guest today?

In his younger days, he was a story told along the highways and byways of life.  It may be that he was a Palestinian.  The fifty by one hundred and fifty mile rectangle of ancient Judea was probably his home in his growing up days, though as for that, we cannot be entirely sure.   As a story goes, he is an old one, from the time of his youth until today.   Remember we piped to you but you did not dance, we wailed to you but you did not weep?  That account earlier in the gospel of children playing games in the marketplace, one group wanting to play the game called ‘weddings’ the other wanting to play the game called ‘funerals’?  Pipes?  Wails?   Of course life is much more than weddings and funerals, isn’t it? Or is it?  Our guest was in the mix of these sorts of stories and games and reposts and conversations and imaginative utterances.

As a Palestinian, spoken in Aramaic, our guest found his way to Jesus, or to someone close to Jesus, or to Luke, or to someone close to Luke (by then translated if that is the case, into simple—koine—Greek).   You see he has quite a pedigree (Lk 11:43, 20:46).  What an honor for us to have him here.   (Note:  if I were presenting to you a human guest who is 2000 years old, who has traveled from the ancient Middle East to us in our modern experience of the ongoing middleeastification of American life, who has consorted with Jesus and Luke and all, who has been a compinche, compadre, companion to Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich and Georgia Harkness and Mother Teresa and Mother Olga and your Momma and mine, who has been spoken and spoken of since before Polycarp was a pup—would you not be astounded?)  We venerate the venerable, in worship:  ringing out for us are sturdy words, millennia old.

Greet him please.  Our guest is our Gospel reading, an ancient manuscript.   We rightly stand, at his reading in the service, to honor him.   In worship, he stands among us, VERBUM DEI, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, St Luke, Chapter 14, vss. 7-11, though before his life in ministry he was simply an ordinary businessman, walking the dusty trails of Bethlehem and Nazareth and Capernaum and Jerusalem.   He is the everlasting account of a wedding banquet, which, like all social moments, is one full of both treasure and treachery, a feast to which you—YOU!!!—have been invited.

Peer into his eyes for a moment.  Our visitor awaits your recognition.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Can one acquire humility without enduring humiliation? It is a serious question.  Discomfort, we ignore.  Pain, we obey.   The preaching of the gospel is the utterance of the word of faith in the hope, and in the trust, that such a word may become, by God’s grace, an intervening word, a saving word, a word that enters and changes the course of life.   Can humility so conveyed and so acquired protect us from humiliation, learning the hard way, learning from experience?

You may be curious about our guest’s features, temperament, personality, and resume.  His extended family includes a hero from Proverbs: Claim not honor in the presence of the King, Nor stand in the place of great men; it is better for you to be told, ‘Come up hither’, than to be humbled before a noble (25:6).   The question of whether you are seated ‘below the salt’ or not abides.  His face is present also in Luke 18: 14 (everyone who…) and Matthew 23: 12 (everyone who…) and James 4: 6 (God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble).  He has a second cousin or two in Luke’ ‘sermon on the plain’ (Lk.  6).   His is a familiar face, one you recognize even though you cannot place it immediately:  Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.  Our guest has many colleagues in traditional Jewish wisdom literature, and shares its characteristics of artistic language, hyperbole, paradox, metaphor, and (here) similitude.  Our guest is not really a parable, though Luke kindly affirms him so.  He is a simple tale, with a proverbially twist.  The story he tells warns about humility, in the mode of a wedding feast.  The twist, at the end, announces a turning in the world, from high to low and low to high.  And here, he shows his true colors.  He is an introduction to the Christ of God.  Luke 14: 7 intimates, whispers, a reverence for the divine humility, the hiddenness, silence, absence of God.

Luke has included, here, a wisdom saying fit to the voice of Jesus. To honor others, to count others in higher esteem, to give credit where credit is due, to develop a capacity for wonder and vulnerability and self-mockery, to take ourselves lightly that we may fly like the angels, to acquire a capacity for humility—such a process of development in life, here, in this wisdom saying, fit to the voice of Jesus, is offered us as a way of life, of health, of salvation, of peace.

Peer into his eyes for a moment.  Our visitor awaits your recognition.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Can one acquire humility without enduring humiliation? (repeat) It is a serious question.  Discomfort, we ignore.  Pain, we obey.

For us, as part of a national culture now careening toward and into an apotheosis of hubris, the similitude of Luke 14 hits home.  The way of the long future is along the path of humility.  But we get tired of humility, because it is a tiring and tiresome talent to hone.  We get tired, and if we get scared when we get tired, if a portion of fear is laden into a potion, poisonous potion, of pride, and if that fear potion is potent enough to carry us, we forget who we are.  We forget Emma Lazarus and prefer demagoguery.  We forget Lincoln and support nativism.  We forget King and accept narcissism.  We forget Jesus the crucified and cleave to the cry of triumphalism, out of fear and out of exhaustion and out of amnesia.  We forget the advice of the author of Hebrews: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.  We turn aside from the prophetic voice of Jeremiah, Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Can we acquire a modicum of humility, that measure we will minimally need as a people, without enduring humiliation?  Can we learn without learning the hard way?  Can we see the pending consequences through the lenses of humility, without needing, in order to learn, a full experience of humiliation?  Or, as so often in history, will we need to drink the bitter cup of full cultural and national humiliation, in order for humility to return?  I would like to be optimistic… Sometimes people just have to learn the hard way.  To learn what?  Pride goeth before a fall.

For us as individuals, who have known more than our share, as our guest reminds us, more than our share of elbowing our way to the head of the table, the similitude of Luke 14 hits home.  Narrow is the gate and straight is the way that leads to life, and few there be who go therein.  We all, one way or another, get born on third base and think we hit a triple.  We all see a turtle on top of a fence post and think he got there by climbing.  We all preach our version of the sermon, Humility and How I Achieved It.  We all have one set of arithmetic for our own deeds and misdeeds and another for others, one abacus for our own intentions and another for those of others.  We all can stand a little and more than a little house cleaning when it comes to the rooms marked off by what we think we did when we didn’t and what we think we didn’t when we did.  There is, that is, still a place in the pilgrim faithful heart, for the quiet Yankee voice of self-criticism. There is still a value in the teacher who began every class bowing to the students, not knowing what range of genius might already be present.  H R Niebuhr in the evening hunted up a student whom he had chastised in the morning, asking forgiveness.  Can we learn without learning the hard way?  Can we see the pending consequences through the lenses of humility, without needing, in order to learn, a full experience of humiliation?  Or, as so often in history, will we need to drink the bitter cup of full personal humiliation, in order for humility to return?  I would like to be optimistic… Sometimes people just have to learn the hard way.  To learn what?  Pride goeth before a fall.

Mahatma Ghandi, whose favorite Christian hymn we have just sung, in sandals and Sari, walked four miles a day, among all his people.  He knew the English court, the banks of the Thames, the style and rhythms of British life, but went home.  Ghandi reminded us that for the hungry God will present, if at all, in bread.  To listen to the hurt in others, to pause before the hidden courage of others, to accept the grace to celebrate the good in others, to spot the one thing needful in the need of others—herein, behold, a humility, a divine humility—today’s special guest.   Shakespeare:  There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. (He) ‘who came not to be served but to serve’…who today occupies the supreme place in history…to whom has been given the name that is above every name’. (So E F Tittle, Commentary on Luke 155).

Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom

Lead Thou me on

The night is dark and I am far from home

Lead Thou me on

Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still

Will lead me on

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent till

The night is gone

And with the morn, those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost a while

Sursum Corda:  Lift up your hearts!  Great this Lord’s Day a Special Guest, Luke 14: 7, and shake his hand: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

August 21

The Lukan Horizon

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Come summer in the north, we are closer in some ways to nature, than we are otherwise.   You may be listening this morning, toes in the surf or sand, or high up a mountain trail, or along a lakeshore, or in the back lawn, coffee in hand.   We need the summer to survive the winter.  You are wise to embrace it.

In the evening hour, with a tenebrous cool after a long, hot day, you may have, this summer, looked out on a horizon, blue and pink and moving.   The day has a beginning at sunrise, and an end at sunset.  To know the day you need to know both, as to know a person you need some information regarding whence and more regarding wither.   To know people, and to know a people, the far horizon, tenebrous at dusk, is keenly, crucially meaningful.  Quo vadis?  Where are you headed?  Dime a donde andas, y te dire quien eres.

A question for those to be married:  where will you be ten years from today?  A question for those to matriculate:  to what end is your education?  A question for those entering retirement:  are there now different shores on which to land?  A question for those newly diagnosed, suddenly alone, shorn of routine, anxious about the unseen:  what is the ‘telos’, the point, the soul forming meaning of your disappointment, dislocation, or departure?  Our gospel affirms lasting meaning in life.

In particular, the Gospel of Luke paints a compassionate horizon.  The third gospel has a passion for compassion. In a broad compassion Luke locates our ultimate destination.

The National Preacher Series

Today concludes the tenth year of our annual Marsh Chapel Summer National Preacher Series.  Our intention has been to bring the best preachers—the best whether or not the best known—to address, either in some indirect or in some more linear fashion, a shared theme.  Listen again, on the website to some of our past sermons.  Consider ‘the Gifts of Summer’ in 2007, including the missionary witness of Mark and Lynn Baker.  Hear again (now) Bishop Mike McKee on the Call to Ministry in 2008.  Pick any of the ten sermons on Darwin and Faith from 2009, say that of Wesley Wildman.  Receive the Gospel from (now) Bishop Ken Carter, on the theme of Grace in 2010.  Hear Rev. Dr. Robin Olson on student ministry in 2011, or enjoy again the venerable voice of our saintly (now)deceased friend and neighbor, Professor Peter Gomes, earlier that year.  Learn about New Testament Apocalyptic, say with Dr. David Jacobsen, in 2012.  Enjoy the Peter Falk like voice of Dean Snyder, so wise and true, on Hope in the Church, 2013.   Reckon with Professor Jonathan Walton, summer 2014, on Emerging Adulthood.  Or reflect again on the Beloved Community, from last summer 2015, with the Rev. Dr. Regina Walton.  Our is a University Pulpit, and with your aid, support and engagement we shall continue to unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.

The Summer Series 2016

Your 2016 series made some news earlier this summer. Our local reporter, Mr. Richard Barlow of BU Today wrote about the 2016 series:

The series kicks off Sunday, July 3, with the first of seven sermons on Luke’s Gospel and its central theme of compassion. The Lukan Horizon, as the series is named, seeks “to remember the compassion—the passion for compassion—in the person of Jesus the Christ,” says…dean of Marsh Chapel. The Gospel stresses humanitarianism and forgiveness; it’s the only one of the four Gospels with the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and it is full of sympathetic portrayals of women.

This message… contrasts with the “less than appealing and frankly appalling conditions of some parts of our culture that have been revealed in some ranges of (our recent experience).”

The compassion motif also echoes several recent Commencement addresses, Hill says, including the Baccalaureate talk this spring by Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (CAS’79, Hon.’16), who called on BU graduates to “embrace the cause of humanity with optimism and enthusiasm.” (BU Today, June 2016).  (We could quickly add the magnificent speech given this spring at the Boston University Humphrey Scholars graduation program May 9, 2016 by Hubert Humphrey’s niece, Dr. Ann Howard Tristani, who quoted her uncle’s famous 1948 spell binding Philadelphia aspeech: ‘There will be no hedging, no watering down, of the instruments and the principles of the civil rights program.  My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say we are 172 years late…To those who say this bill is an infringement on state’s rights, I say the time has arrived in America.  The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow states rights and walk forthrightly intot he bright sunshine of human rights.’  It is both stunning and tragic to recognize how much of what he addressed then is still with us this great, but troubled land, in today’s issues of urban violence and its state level address, in affordable health care usage (or not) state by state, in the lasting not just lingering formative power of slavery in the making of American Capitalism, in the willingness or lack thereof of those who have much, to provide for others who have little, in the use of a word like ‘liberty’ to mean its opposite, its very denial to tens of millions of poor children.  

Luke 13: Gospel and Tradition

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 90 of the common era (in fact, possible much later).  Traditionally ascribed to Luke the physician, its author and that of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is finally unknown to us.  We know him only through the writing itself.

What do we find?  

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark.  An example is the memory of our passage today, Luke 13.  Like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earlier gospel of Mark.  But he made changes along the way, or construed the gospel according to his own desires and emphases.  This is hopeful for us, in that it is an encouragement for us to take the gospel in hand, and interpret it according to our time, location, understanding, and need.  In fact, we are summoned and ordered to do so, and not free not to do so.  Second, Luke uses a collection of teachings, called Q, as does Matthew.  An example is our Lord’s Prayer, later in the service.  Luke’s version is slightly different from that in Matthew, as is his version of the beatitudes and other teachings, found in the ‘sermon on the plain’, rather than the ‘sermon on the mount’.  Third, Luke makes ample use of material that is all his own, not found in Mark or elsewhere.  The long chapters from Luke 8 or so through Luke 18 or so, where we find ourselves this morning, are all his.  Examples include some of your favorite parables, like the Good Samaritan, and like the lost sheep, and like the Prodigal Son, and like the Dishonest Steward.  We have Luke to thank for the remembrance of these great stories.  Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.

What does Luke say?  

This will take us the rest of the fall and more to more fully unravel.  We shall do so, on step at a time, one Sunday at a time, one parable, teaching, exhortation, miracle, or, as today, one traditional episode at a time.  Still, there are some outstanding features of the Lukan horizon, which we may simply name as we set forth.   First, Luke displays a commitment to and interest in history, and orderly history at that.  Both Luke and Acts are cast in a distinctive historical mode.  Second, Luke employs and deploys his own theology, or theological perspective, including this emphasis upon history and the divine purpose, or better said, divine meaning, in history—on this more in a moment.   Third, Luke highlights the humanity and compassion of Jesus in a remarkable way.  The Christ of St. Luke is the Christ of magnificent compassion, embodied in the humility of a birth among shepherds.  The poor, women, the stranger, the injured, those in dire need all stand out in Luke, as the recipients and subjects of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace and compassion.  Fourth, Luke carries an abiding interest in the church.  Ephesians says that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principles and powers’.  That catches the spirit of the author or the third gospel and of the Acts to follow.   It is this feature of Luke, the Lukan Horizon, the Lukan passion for compassion, upon which our preaching has centered this summer.  So we are taught:  know history, think for yourself, love the church, have compassion.

Compassion in interreligious dialogue framed and formed the sermon by Br. Lawrence Whitney on July 3: ‘ritual restrains our tendency toward indifference and causes us to recognize one another’. Compassion for those at the margins of society, including those who have suffered in this year’s tragic killings of various sorts and in various places, inspired the sermon of Chaplain Jessica Chicka on July 10: ‘the Samaritan does not allow himself to be constricted by rules or fear’.  Compassion for those searching for meaning, and a direct challenge to find such in spiritual inwardness, self-discipline, and struggle gave the heart to Dean Lawrence Carter’s July 17 address.  Compassion for those of  ‘another flock’ gave wings to his July 24 acclamation—the witness of Ghandi, the voice of King, the advice of Thurman, the wisdom of Buddhism, the mothering of Hinduism and the stark reminder:  it is not Christian belief but its realization that finally matters.  Not belief but realization! Compassion and concern for our shared home, our natural habitat—a worthy and frequent theme in this pulpit—empowered Dr. Davies’ homily on July 31:  dominion is not domination, both optimists and pessimists can at least be meliorists, our children’s children will ask questions of or to us, about how we have cared for our environment.  Compassion of a substantial, material, physical, even financial kind—‘forgive us our debts’ carried the burden of the Communion Homily on August 7.  And last Sunday, beginning and ending with Tutu, probing the power of relational rather than authoritarian power, finding examples in hospitality near and far, the Rev. Susan Shafer, in the heat of the day, interpreted a tough passage from Luke and memorable line from our Vice President:  ‘the world needs from us not the example of our power, but the power of our example’.   It happens, perhaps providentially, but certainly in a timely way, that our lectionary readings this year hail from Luke.  Toward what horizon are we hiking?  Onto what shore do we hope to land?  By what compass and map, what star, what conscience call, what soulful spirit shall we be guided?  ‘Quo vadis?’  Whither?  Where are you headed?   Is yours, at twilight, a compassionate horizon?

Today’s Gospel, it happens, presents this theme under the cloud of smoke and pillar of fire of a familiar, pan Gospel, episode, Jesus’ compassionate willingness to heal on the Sabbath, to judge the Sabbath by its human or humanizing effect, to forever trump tradition with gospel, and to make religion necessarily subject to judgment in the categories of pride, sloth, falsehood, superstition, idolatry and hypocrisy.  Is religion a good thing?  It can be.  Is the weather a good thing?  It can be.  It depends.

In our passage from St. Luke chapter 13, the Gospel writer has sharply implanted his own emphasis, on compassion.  The similar Sabbath passages are in Mark 2, Matthew 12, and John 5.   Luke explicitly heightens Jesus’ authority by placing him in the synagogue, in the synagogue teaching, and in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath.  Luke changes the gender of the afflicted person, from male to female.  Luke quantifies the hurt, to 18 years of suffering. Luke accentuates the verbal condemnation, ‘hypocrites’.  Luke connects the healed one to Abraham, and amplifies the size of Jesus’ legal victory, shaming adversaries and causing rejoicing by all.  Clearly, this is a story that has developed, that has lived a while, that has been marinating in the sauce of the church’s own growth, advance, and expanse.  Sadly, there is here the hint, the glimpse, the clear though far-off hymn, that hails—triumphalism.  Not Jesus the minority view rabbi, arguing uphill against a majoritarian Torah tribe, but rather Jesus the conqueror, the great debater, the winner of arguments about Torah.  We might do well to re-hear and rehearse Elie Wiesel’s lecture on this from 5 years ago.

The Far Horizon

One final note about Luke today.   The gospel itself, and its sibling book the Acts of the Apostles, written also by Luke,  make heavy use of a short, Greek verb.  The three letters, delta-epsilon-iota—not a fraternity or sorority as far as I know—mean simply ‘it is necessary, it is needful, it was necessary, it was needful’.   For St. Luke there is a necessity at work in the church’s expanding involvement within the culture around, and hence its need for story as legend, for leadership in unity from Peter to Paul, for organizational forms, bedrock heroes, and ways of thinking about others, and others within others.  Yet Luke’s spirit is one of compassion.  His theology is determinist to some degree.  He sees purpose, necessity, even fate if you will, behind most trees, and behind many bushes.  You may not see things that way, as many in late modernity do not.  In interpretation, you will then perhaps need to hear Luke’s song of necessity transposed into the key of meaning.  Purpose in the sense of meaning, not in the sense of destiny.   Not so much ‘God has a purpose for your life’ as ‘God has life for your purposes’.   

At Marsh Chapel we have the privilege to solemnize weddings on a regular basis, especially come summer.  You need summer to survive winter, here in the north.  There is grace in every wedding.  There is unspoken, volcanic power in the hearing and speaking of the vows in every wedding.  There is real change, which is real hard, heralded in every wedding.  A privilege—what a privilege—to be present at the creation, nay the new creation, of such a moment.  In a play otherwise precious and beautiful, Thornton Wilder had his dour New England minister say, as he prepared to marry Emily and George, speaking of his wedding experience, ‘Once in a thousand times it is interesting.’  That is the very opposite of my experience.  Over 40 years at 20-25 weddings a year on average, I have not reached, but may be closing in on his number.  Every one in the thousand was not just interesting but unutterably so.  A while ago we married one couple, who were standouts in spirit and soul.  Their four parents rose to greet them after the vows.  Her parents, the mother from Japan and the father from England.   His, the mother from India and the father from Italy.   Buddhist, Methodist, Hindu, Catholic.  Sometimes it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams.  And then you go to a wedding, and, as every other time in a thousand, it is not only interesting, but unutterably so.  This world can work.  It may take a little compassion.  But it can work.

Which brings us back to the very beginning.  Your purposes.  Your horizon.  Your outlook, perspective, your end point and its hope.  The offer of the Third Gospel, the horizon in Luke, is the possibility of a life of faith, girded in compassion.  Will such a life be ours?

My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far off hymn
that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

More:  Will you consider—it is offered with love and care—perhaps reconsider, maybe accept an invitation to lead a faithful life?  To practice—nay, realize—the Christian faith?  To walk steadily toward a horizon of compassion–a Lukan Horizon?

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

August 14

Power by Example

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 12:49-56

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There is currently no text available for this sermon. We apologize for the inconvenience.

– The Rev. Susan S. Shafer, Senior Minister (retired), from the Asbury First United Methodist Church, Rochester, NY

August 7

Heart’s Treasure

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 12:32-40

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Last Sunday we worshipped in a Baptist Church, the Mother Church of Colgate University, in Hamilton, NY.   The pews, windows, edifice, organ, and structures have not overly changed in fifty years.  The kindness, grace, joy, reverence, humility, and care of the congregation roundly resemble those from decades ago.   It is a rare chance, a gift of some significant dimension, to be welcomed into a community of faith, come Sunday, particularly when such opportunities each year, given one’s vocation, are limited.  The Baptists welcomed us, mere Methodists, as they have regularly in the summer in the past in the Spirit.

It should be noted that the welcome required the welcome of six children/grandchildren as well, who happily explored the pews, hummed the hymns, joined in the children’s moment and, with some sharp exceptions, impeded not the liturgy of the day.  It takes courage to open your doors in a Baptist church, or any, come Sunday, not really knowing what sort of Methodist others might descend upon you,  a baker’s dozen with their kids.  

The children are immersed in summer, with its changed schedules, alternating child-care systems, and various other forms of mayhem.  They are busy with 8 year-old things, and the things of childhood, wonderfully overheard in their jokes.  You know these, but maybe you have forgotten.  What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence? What is the biggest pencil in the world (or biggest boss or biggest ant)?  Why is six afraid of seven?  And endless ‘your momma’ jests.  See me following worship if you have forgotten these.  Those who care for children, such a noble and beautiful career and calling, deserve our salutes, particularly come summer.  Thank you.  Thank you Aunt Millie.  Thank you Uncle Fred.  Thank you in the day care.  Thank you at home child care.  Thank you Mom.  Thank you Dad.  Thank you Gramma.  And thank you for those who agree to work at summer camp, especially church camp.

The bell tolled, as it does on the hour, every hour, in that small town.  We sang familiar hymns—Crown Him, Seek Ye First, O Zion Haste.  We heard the interpretation of the Scripture from a venerable pulpit known to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Adam Clayton Powell and Colgate students beginning in 1819. (Colgate that began with ’13 dollars, 13 men, and 13 prayers’.)

In the prayers for the day was included the Lord’s Prayer, as you would expect.  Also, by tradition, the wording was slightly different therein to the venerable usage employed here at Marsh Chapel, and elsewhere.  That is, we prayed forgiveness for debts, not trespasses.  Forgive us our debts.  And following worship, we returned home, as we say, the Baptists to their debts and the Methodists to their trespasses. (☺)  Except that there is something truly good about hearing a familiar prayer in a different mode.  These good American Baptists use a version of our shared prayer that emphasizes the substantial, material, physical nature of what is to be forgiven.  Yes, it misses the larger, varied multiplicity of the more common translation—trespasses—it is more narrow, more hedgehog than fox, say—but, for all that makes a strong point.  There is a treasure, a heart’s treasure, a treasured physicality in the grace of the gospel.  When you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court, it is a great gift to experience that mercy present to you in all its substantial, material, physical nature.  Speaking of which:  We are coming to the Lord’s Table, to bread and cup, to thanksgiving, presence and memory, after all.  Forgive us our debts…

A Lukan Horizon on Treasure

Given the cultural prominence in America this year of the rhetoric of racial hatred, religious animosity, and rhetorical ugliness, the ‘gift’ to our time and culture from one particular candidate and now, sadly, too, his party of record which has disowned what can only be disowned, a grand, even an old party, we may be open to a reminder, a gentle one, about the heart’s treasure, about treasure in and from, from within the heart.  Life is brief, rounded by a little sleep.  What we say lasts longer than what we do.  So, damage already done, it is a travesty and a tragedy to have a beloved culture arrested and assaulted this this year by the rhetoric of demagoguery, birtherism, demagoguery, America Firstism, demagoguery, misogyny, demagoguery, racism, demagoguery, xenophobia, demagoguery, bigotry.   You perhaps remember that this candidate, given to vitriol, recalled demolishing his earlier adversary, saying, yes, that was great, I really got him, with one phrase, ‘low energy’, that phrase destroyed him, that was ‘a one day kill’.  A one day kill.  And then: words are beautiful things.  My, oh my.  And people seem to like it.  One wonders what the children in New Hampshire and Ohio and elsewhere will hear, remember, and make of this, and how they will think of their parents and grandparents, regarding this, in years to come.  ‘Grandpa, what did you say, what did you do, in 2016?’

The Gospel of Luke, a multi-layered Gospel of compassion, today takes us to a moment of preparation, and to a holy call, to a holy calling, to a holy experience, to a holy readiness, estando listo, a word for you today,  to a quickened courage even in the face of dark death, cultural and existential.  Luke has prepared us.  You know how to live.  Fear not.  Sell and give.  Hold onto what lasts.  Foxes have holes but the Son of Man no place.  A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves.   Give us this day our daily bread.  Woe to you, if you neglect justice and the love of God.  This night your soul is required of you.  So we are not entirely surprised by today’s gospel.  The way has been prepared.

Treasure is important to life.  The heart’s treasure is the importance of life.  Treasure has its place in life.  The heart’s treasure is the point of life.  Treasure makes a way for life.  The heart’s treasure is the way of life.  Eternity gracing time—here is the heart’s treasure.

Horizon and Shadow

Purses that do not grow old…treasure in the heavens that does not fail…so you also must be ready…

We are cleaning through, now, the papers and photographs in our mother’s home, since she has been moved to assisted care.  Many of you have done the same.  Which pictures do you save?  Which documents?  Which furniture?

When I was 13, my mother chastised me for something I had said to our neighbor, a woman of her own age.  The infraction itself is blessedly forgotten, but not the cure.  ‘You must go and apologize to her’, she said.  I did so, reluctantly.  But I did so, at her direction.  ‘You must tell her that you are sorry’.  I did so, not happily, but in person, up the porch, to the door, knocking and speaking.  (Later she became quite a good family friend.  In meeting the couple, my parents went to dinner in their home with others.  The host was carving a turkey, having no success.   To make light of the moment my mother said, ‘What we need is a surgeon.’   Silence followed all around followed by my father’s laughter and honest whisper:  “He is a surgeon”.  (☺) ) All the materials in our mother’s house, letters and books and yearbooks and newspaper clippings and cards and Christmas cards and photos and photo albums, all of it, and all of them, and we are still moving through them, are as nothing compared to that word—go, apologize.  Forgive us our debt.  There is a word that is substantial, material, physical.  

The heart treasures forgiveness, either given or received, because pardon comes by grace alone.   Like the gift of life, and like the promise of eternal life, forgiveness is the gift of God’s grace.   This gift we receive again this morning in Holy Communion.  Whether the forgiven is debt or trespass, the forgiveness is lasting treasure, treasure buried in a field, the imminent and immanent presence of God.

Your Treasure

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Sometimes the forgiven is substantial, material, physical.  Even financial.

This summer, near and far, people are giving of their time, energy, talent and money to give children a week at summer camp.  

And what a gift it is!   To see a boy or girl learning to swim, learning the prone float for the first time; to see a girl or boy who has never held a fishing pole before, catch a fish or two or three; to see a boy or girl view the whole firmament at night for the first time; to see a group of young people across many divisions of background, race, gender, orientation, class, temperament and personality come to friendship; to hear prayers and songs and hymns and psalms lifted in young voices morning and evening—what a privilege, what a gift.

Our granddaughter spent her first week at camp, at a campground at which her great grandfather, her grandfather and her mother had worked long before her arrival.  A place, you might say, for the discovery of the heart’s treasure.  It is not a small thing for a nine year old to go away for a week, to sleep away at camp.  It requires levels of trust, confidence, and assurance in multiple directions.  

She went with a friend, whose family had only recently become involved in church.  Her friends parents themselves had an experience at camp.  It happened this way.  The parents went to pay their bill.  Like many, they had paid half the tuition, but had to complete their payment.  So they stood in line in front of a desk, out on a lawn, looking on a beautiful long lake.   In front them was a mother, alone.  Her turn came.  They watched as she went slowly to the desk, and stood, silent.  The camp worker waited.  The mother said nothing, but finally held out her hands, empty.  She had paid the first half, hoping to have enough to pay the second, but, as happens, pay check to pay check, something happened.  She couldn’t pay the bill.  But she had brought her daughter, hoping.  Hoping that her daughter could go to camp like others were going.  Making the drive, taking the chance, hoping against hope, that there might be a way.  Love has a hidden strength.  Or, she might have reasoned, it is a church camp, even a Methodist camp.  When you throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you just hope there is some mercy there.  She just stood, hands out, and whispered, ‘I’m sorry’.  

In a fast motion, the woman at the desk came forward, took her arm, saying, ‘This is no problem.  Just come with me.   Your daughter is going to camp this week.  You come with me.  What is your name?  Where are your from?  Do you have a home church?  We will take care of this.”

I have a lover’s quarrel sometimes with my church.  But then, sometimes, sometimes in the summer, sometimes in the simple things, sometimes there is a reminder of who we hope we are, who we think we are, who we have promised to become.   Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  Do you know God to be a pardoning God?

I know you can’t run an economy on these terms.  I know people have to pay their bills.  I know you can’t run a business or a school or a city, or even run a church if people don’t pay their pledge.  You can’t keep a campground open very long if that is the way things go.  I got it.  I know.  But you know what?  Sometimes people need a little help.  Sometimes there needs to be a space made, an opening, a little forgiveness.  I am really proud of that church camp, Camp Casowasco, where we grew up, worked, learned, and over three summers lifeguarding chose to go into the ministry, because of the ministers we met there.  ‘Somebody let you grow up’ my parents would say.  There was room, there.  There was a place, there.  There was a forgiveness, there, not just of trespasses, whatever they are, but also, sometimes, of debt.  Forgive us our debts.   

It was the story of the bursar line, by the way, the account of a passionate moment in the lineage of faith, like that in Hebrews, the moment of a mother’s faith when faith is really faith which is when faith is all you have to go on, her faith that somehow her daughter would get a bunk and take the swim test and sing at campfire and be like the rest of the kids, it was that account that her friend’s parents recalled and retold.  ‘No problem.  We will take care of this.  Come with me.’

What is going on with us in this country, anyway?  Have we forgotten who we are?  A cultural amnesia?  A Christological amnesia?  Have we forgotten the love we had at first?  Have we forgotten how to make a place for someone left out, someone somewhat different, someone ‘other’?  Have we mixed up our heart and our treasure?  What is our heart’s treasure?  What do we stand for, when push comes to shove?  There is a reckoning coming for us, as people and as a people.

If you leave that camp ground on Owasco Lake, and drive southeast for a while, either on the road four hours or in the mind’s eye four minutes, you may come down to the Hudson River, and then right out toward the Atlantic Ocean.  There is harbor down there.  In the harbor there is a statue.  On the statue there is a statement.  It reads as follows:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The restless refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the lost, the tempest tossed to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.