Archive for September, 2018

September 30

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Those who have paused, here, or now, to worship with us at Marsh Chapel in the last decade, are aware that we lift the Gospel, come Cantata Sundays, in word and music, together, juntos, in harmony.

Bach brings us the reach of beauty around the globe, a global sphere of orientation.  Bach brings us a stretch toward the universal, the reach up and out to what fully lasts, truly matters, and really counts.  Bach brings us an artistic angle of vision, rooted in Scripture and in an earlier Lutheran garden, nonetheless known by heart and in the heart, far and near, with those, today you and me, who will pause for the offering of the gift of faith.  Bach brings us beauty, a paean for sure to the true and the good, but no avoidance of the beautiful.  In our time, this hour, especially this week, we can truly appreciate, benefit from such a global orientation, a high universal reach, a feeling in faith, and the bathing of such beauty.

Given the maelstrom of this moment in our current culture, the wind blasts of charge and counter charge, the examples of courage and also the instances of failures in courage, near and far, we, come Sunday, maybe especially this Sunday, look for the God who is a rock in a weary land.  Said Dr. Emilie Townes, last Tuesday, ‘we want to cultivate a vibrant community of hope… we hope to beget an ever more piercing faithfulness’.  An ever more piercing faithfulness.

Today we receive the gift in memory of the faith of the church, and we give ear to the beauty of our first Bach Cantata of the year.  We are truly ‘blessed’ as our Gospel affirms.  All the senses—sight, sound, scent, touch, taste—are enlivened today.

This is truly good news, especially for those who may be in mortal need of a living reminder, as the Scritpure says, that we are ‘children of God’.  For we can sometimes acutely need such a reminder of belonging, meaning and empowerment.  We are acquainted with the night.  You are acquainted with the night.  As our New England poet memorably put it:

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.


I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.


I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,


But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

O luminary clock against the sky


Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.  

To such acquaintance does our worship this morning minister, and our affirmations of faith, and the beauty of Bach.  Tell us, if you will Dr. Jarrett, how best we can listen for the gospel today, in and within this marvelous cantata.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

Today’s cantata represents a high water mark in the Baroque expression of the anxious tortured soul. Bach surpasses himself in each movement of this musical essay, a sermon-in-song. From the outset, the scope of the opening chorus presents a people in supplication – a people yearning for mercy in the countenance of God’s promised judgment. Presented in two contrasting sections, the opening chorus depicts the many facets of our anxiety. After a pleading alto recitative, the soprano aria gives pitch and rhythm to our angst in the form of trembling sixteenth notes in the upper strings. The foundational voice of the continuo silenced for this movement,  the soprano and oboe are left to wander alone. The voice of wisdom and New Covenant in Christ’s Cup consoles and comforts in the baritone recitative which follows. The sixteenth notes here take on a caring and supporting motive. Drawing on the security of promised Redemption heard in the baritone recitative, the voice of the tenor with obligato horn professes a confident assurance. The cantata concludes with the expected chorale setting. The trembling sixteenth notes of the soprano aria reappear, but as the chorale proceeds, phrase by phrase the trembling anxiety is calmed – sixteenths become triplets, triplets yield to duples, until their final concluding quarter notes – Indeed Bach’s musical signature of promised redemption and divine grace.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

This moment:  in word and worship, in memory and hope, in voice and instrument.  We are blessed.  We are recalled as children of God: who enter the kingdom of heaven and receive comfort in mourning, and gentle the earth, and crave goodness, and trade in mercy, and see divine grace, and pave with justice the path of peace, and see out to the far side of hardship.  Said Howard Thurman, ‘Come Sunday the church says to one and all, the church says to you:  you are a child of the living God, you are a child of the living God, you are a child of the living God.

We gather our bits of hard won wisdom:  ‘The only way of achieving any degree of self-understanding is by systematically retracing our steps’. ‘One can know fully only what one has oneself made.’ ‘I was once a philosopher, but joy kept breaking in.’ ‘What we borrow, we also bend.’ ‘To surrender the actual experienced good for a possible ideal good is the struggle.’

Somewhere, sometime, it may be, you will find yourself in receipt of the gift of faith.  It may be a faith recounted in the Niceaen creed.  But it also may be faith as simple, and pure, and true, as the courage to be, the real courage to be.  To be and speak.  To speak and bear witness.  To bear witness, for all the dangers about, and to tell the truth.  To tell the truth, and to get up again the next day.   Your restoration in faith may be as Lutheran and Scriptural as the substitutionary atonement of tradition, ‘the sacrificial death that wipes out guilt’.   Or it may be faith shorn of religious clothing, clean and clear: ‘a courage welling up from a deep and hidden place’ (Senator Blumenthal quoting Senator Graham, from Graham’s book about work with brave witnesses as a lawyer with sex crimes (9/27/18).   Either way, you have, say today, a restoration in faith.  Faith you can remember, return to be, rely on, when faith, being faith, is, finally all you have left.  Receive the gift of faith in music and word this Lord’s Day.

Then go and live!

As one said: ‘I have only just a minute, 
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to me to use it,
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute’.
But eternity is in it.’

Our music sings it so:

Now, I know, You shall quiet in me

my conscience which gnaws at me.

Your faithful love will fulfill

what You Yourself have said:

that upon this wide earth

no one shall be lost,

rather shall live forever,

if only he is filled with faith.

 -The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean. & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music.

September 23

It’s All About Peace

By Marsh Chapel

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James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

-The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and Professor of Religion, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA

September 16

Hope that is Seen is not Hope

By Marsh Chapel

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James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

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Hope that is seen is not hope.  Who hopes for what he sees?  We hope for what we do not see, and what for it with patience.

Our denomination bade farewell to one of its great matriarchs this summer, Barbara Steen, who with her husband the Rev. Tom Steen mentored generations of clergy, especially regarding invitation in outreach and fellowship.  Chuck Foster (Educating Clergy)Is an example.  Their example teaches us about hope.  In fact, Barb lived out the sense and substance of the Letter to the Romans, chapters 1,3,5,8,12,15 (here verses are recited in the sermon). 

What gracious good news to recall in this era of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, irresponsibility, perversity, rapacity, and, especially, mendacity. Listen again to James, and to Mark.


The Tongue

If ever there were an age that could hear, and appreciate, the teaching of James about the tongue as a fire, it is our own. You know, the preacher here does not need to bring exegesis to bear, or to give explanation for the wisdom proffered, or to bring examples, many or few.  We know in our evenings of listening to the cable news.  We hear in our mornings of commuting with the radio on. We read and learn and inwardly digest what speech can do for ill.  We are coming to a point where even James 3 is too tepid, too mild to describe our national condition.  At some point we will need to repair to Amos, and to drink the hard cold medicine of his teaching.  When we wreck the use of words without pause, you do come to a time when words no longer work.  You have stripped the gears.  You have shredded the fabric.  You have cut the muscle.  And no one can speak the truth and no can hear the truth any longer. 

Behold the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line’.  Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;  I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac will be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid to waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword’. Amos 7: 7-8.        

‘Behold the days are coming’ says the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.’ Amos 8: 11-12


Mark 8: 24-37

To renounce oneself, said John Chrysostom is ‘to treat oneself as if one were another person’ (Marcus, II, 624). Consider oneself as every day on the edge of death.  Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  We live at the intersection of present advent and future hope. What good is the greatest possession if there is no possessor to enjoy it?  ‘Take up the cross’ is a reference to the beginning of the journey, and the next part, ‘follow me’ refers to the ongoing life of faith. Baptism, first, you could say, Communion, second, you could say.

We like Peter have aversion to suffering, as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus is more than a prophet.  But he is not less than a prophet.

Mark’s harsh portrayal of Peter as ‘Satan’ is too much for Luke, who omits it later, and that reaction was probably not unique, for we can understand it too.

Hope that is seen is not hope.  So your preachers this summer reminded you:  Br. Whitney, Dr. Walton, Rev. Gaskell, Dr. Coleman, Rev. Donahue, and the dean, speaking about hope and righteousness, hope and freedom, hope and disappointment, hope and children, hope and lying, hope and listening, hope and the sweet aroma of the bread of life, hope and blending blue and red into purple (ok, maybe it was more like violet!), hope and faith.

Seek the Lost: Outreach

Barb and Tom Steen lived out of a desire to seek and to save the lost.   That is old language, for sure.  But it catches the fire and flavor of their, of her, faith.  Many of us have had several helpings of faith, Sunday by Sunday.  But for some, for some others, the first meal has yet to be served.  That is where some of our youth work, some of our outreach and evangelism, some of our willingness to open the church to others who may at some point need community comes in. AFUMC did this to national recognition in August this year.

Barb loved the camping programs at Watson Homestead and Casowasco.  This summer, driving along Route 90, our granddaughter counted up the number of times she will be at, she will have been at Casowasco, this year and next.  Many times.  Barb would have smiled.

We knew her many years ago, along the lakeshore of Owasco Lake, in the parlors of the building there aptly named ‘Galilee’. We saw there the effect that loving community, caring presence, modulated teaching, all in a naturally beautiful setting can have.

One summer, toward the end of the season, we had a young man of about 15 as a camper.  He had never been to camp before.  He was a rugged, stout fellow, who could and did pass the swim test, but barely.  He was just full of life, and not overly attuned to boundaries.  He had to sit out every now and then, but was quite affable about it, not minding the light discipline.  He was such an exuberant fellow, it was hard not smile at his various antics.  He was having a whale of time, all week long.  I was working as the lifeguard so I don’t know how much Scripture he learned, or how much praying he did, or how fully he could articulate his sense of faith.  But he was every bit alive, all week.  And the meaning of life is in the living of life anyway, isn’t it?

Come Friday, after lunch, our young friend disappeared.  He did not show up for rest period, and the later class, nor the swim at 2pm.  His counselors were rightly worried.  We formed up a search group, and trekked up to Mt Tabor, and hunted across the road in the Highlands, and looked through the gorge and the woods surrounding.  No luck.  By dinner we were plenty worried, even looking through the waterfront.  Then early that evening, I was walking up the railroad track, to the south of the camp, still hunting.  There he came, shuffling along.  He told me why he ran away.  He said that he did not want to go home.  He said that the week had been the best one of his life, that he for once friends, that he loved the hiking and meals and swimming, even the evening vespers. He just had never known anything like it.  And he did not want to go home, to what he had to go home to.  He told me about that, too.

That night, as he had some late supper, he came to something of realization.  It wasn’t so much that he could put everything into words.  The gist of his thought was along the line that he would go home and he would make the best of it.  But he would do it with memory of the week he had had, and that he would not forget, and he would not let the memory of the week fade. He would have to go home, but he could take something new home with him.  Another way, another experience, another perspective, a little hope. 

That is an example of what Barb and Tom were aimed at, in that part of their ministry.  A first helping of faith, shared genuinely, shared authentically, with those who had not yet had a chance to sit down at the table of fellowship and faith. It is what inspired her regular phone calls to our home, in Rochester, as our growing up children would hear, rattled out rapidly, ‘Hi Hon, Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is school, is your mom there, thanks’.  She made her list of 5 or 10 calls she would make every day, and she made them.

Welcome the Stranger: Fellowship

We left New York City suddenly, in 1979, to take a church in Ithaca, in the snows of February.  Jan was ill, with child, and both the mother and the in utero baby had survived surgery for an ovarian cyst.  The doctor at St. Elizabeth’s in NYC had been unsure whether he could save either.  Our conference and Bishop had an open Cornell neighborhood church and we had every need to be in place, be employed, be able to heal and prepare.  Ordination—and with it health insurance as a conference member—were months away, in mid-June, near the due date for the birth.  As it happened, the child, our first, arrived two weeks late, a gift for some in the family, and a task for others.

We knew no one really, of our age, in the conference at that time.  Those were hot, lonely months, with all the pure joy and utter confusion of parenthood’s sudden arrival.  The birth of the daughter, that day, July 5,1979, was and remains the happiest day of my life.  Whatever joy is, it is not something I can think about without the sight of that little beautiful baby, that beautiful young mother and the delivery which was deliverance too.  So we began to stumble around in ministry, writing sermons, making visits, trying to make sense of personal and church budgets, a salary of $8K a year, plus a house. 

In early September the phone rang in our little parsonage cottage in Ithaca, at the end of Forest Home Drive.  ‘Hi Hon Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is the ministry, Ithaca has enough committees for everyone to be the chair of at least one, these people don’t want faith they want a graduate course in religion—ugh!—is your wife there?’  We knew Barb and Tom by reputation only, a part of which we were about to see in real time, their commitment to small groups, to welcome, to hospitality, to invitation.  She called to invite us to a brunch two weeks hence in the Newfield parsonage, then occupied by Gary and Jeannie Judson.  Later in ministry our Syracuse predecessor Rev. Wayne Archer, his wife a Fenton of Fenton glass, reminded us that the Newfield church burned down during his ministry there. Oddly, the DS had said, ‘Archer, light a fire under that church’.  Well, Wayne also had served a church in Pennsylvania that hard burned, hence his nickname, ‘the Arson Parson’.  But Newfield UMC was rebuilt, and parsonage, as the older ones do, had a big parlor. 

Barb had gathered a dozen twenty something couples, including the Judsons and the Hills, who didn’t know each other form Adam’s house cat, for a meal.  Half or more had little babies in tow.  We sang and prayed a little, ate a little more, and laughed a whole lot more about the oddities of life, young adult life, parenthood, ministry and the loneliness lurking behind and above and underneath them all.  She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other. She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other.  We came alive.  The next week the phone rang. ‘Hi hon Barb Steen here, how is the ministry, how is life, how is that beautiful little ‘Emly’ how are your folks Marcia and Irv, wasn’t that a great brunch at Judsons, is Jan there?

From that one gathering friendships formed. One minister then took me to lunch. Another suggested a round of golf. A third saw my car and told to me to come over so that he would teach me to how to change the brake pads.  ‘You don’t want to spend money on that.  You can’t afford it on $8K a year. I’ll help you’. A fourth came and preached on Christmas Eve, making reference, in earshot of Rudolph, to the blessed taste of venison.  Thanks to Bob, to Duane, to Gary, and to Dale.  Tom Steen himself got me into a clergy study of the Psalms that lasted two years until we moved north.

The habits of visitation, the habits of welcome, the habits of outreach, the habits of hospitality, the habits of Christian charity and love, all so dearly central to any genuine form of ministry, are not necessarily permanent gifts.  They have to be remembered.  To be remembered they have to be modeled.  To be modeled that have to be practiced.  I give you Barb Steen.

Peter Berger (Rumor of Angels) reminded us that the very sense we have of lasting, earthly injustice, of wrongs not and never made right, a real and palpable sentiment, is itself a rumor of something more.  Which we cannot see, of course, and of which we do not know, of course. But maybe a heavenly breakfast will again be served, at which the table will seat the resurrection of the just. We hope for what we do not see.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

September 9

Begin With The Hope In Mind

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 7: 24-37

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Begin with the hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.  Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.

         Since her cousins and sister had already jumped into the cold lake, right off the end of the dock, Jane too headed that way.  It was her turn to jump.  The air was warm but the water was cold, she knew, from wading earlier.  She wanted to jump but she feared the cold.  She had some hope, but it had a cousin called fear. She longed to proceed as others had but she feared the pain, the jolt, the cold of the water.  So, she paused, she pondered, she hesitated, she equivocated, she moved left and right. Then she asked to take a moment to go down into the water, wading, to get her feet wet, and to get herself wet before the jump.  Up she came, but still, she stood still.  ‘Jump, Jane’ called her cousins. So since that light moistening didn’t work she asked to go down into the water to submerge in full, and be all wet before the jump.  Surely that would do the trick. But that didn’t work either.  Finally, she negotiated an end to the hostilities by deciding to wait until the next day.  She went up the hill dry and warm, but unsuccessful and downcast, her fear mollified but her hope deferred.  She had it right, though, both ways, didn’t she?  Yes, it would feel good to jump and yes, it would not feel good to jump. Both.  At the same time.  The sheer, public full honesty of the dilemma, the horns of the dilemma, is something we adults somehow learn or manage to disguise.  One is always better than the other, when it comes to choices, we suppose.  Right? Is that right? Well, not really. Yes, it feels good to jump, but yes it feels bad to jump.  Both. At the same time.  And there was evening, and there was morning, another day. And the next day, a whole day older and wiser, she took her usual place, fourth among six, and sauntered to the end of the dock, counted to the ritual three, uno dos tres, and, without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped.  She came up smiling.  Now less fear, now more hope. Choices in real time, choices in our experience, choices in freedom, for young and old, are strange things, dialectical and multi-dimensional.  We want what we fear and we fear what we want.  We hope for what we do not see, and we do not see the way toward that for which we hope.  And, sometimes, the air feels better, and sometimes the water.  The meaning in life and the meaning of life is in the living of life.  Choose. Choose!  And then choose again.  But as you begin, begin with the hope in mind.  There is fear, but there is hope.

         For the Gospel of Mark, it is ever a question, put to us again today, whether we can learn to see through Jesus’ eyes, to begin with the hope in mind.  To be honest about our fears, for sure, and, in due course, to give them their due.  But when your child is ill, as was the child of the Syro-Phoenician woman, to begin with hope in mind.  But when your body needs healing, as did that of the Gentile without hearing, to begin with hope in mind.  Hope is the spiritual air we need to breathe.  It is not so much that where there is life there is hope, but more that where there is hope there is life.      

         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.  The second records a healing of speech and hearing, brought along by Jesus in the region of the Sea of Galilee, the healing of a deaf mute, whose ears are opened and whose tongue is set free.  There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own unable to hear and so unable to talk.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these things become real possibilities, the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken. An old story this, it carries an Aramaic word into the Greek language and world of Mark’s written Gospel and Roman community: Ephphatha!  Be opened.  May it be so.

         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.   The first story, if ever there was to be one story truly accurate about Jesus’ earthly life, carries us to Jesus’ worn tunic side, to Jesus’ young man’s body, to Jesus’ somehow power to heal, to Jesus’ willingness to be corrected, to stand corrected.  Mark and the early church had every reason to forget such embarrassment, the Lord of life brought to terms by a poor woman, a fearful and fretful mother who would do anything for her daughter, a GENTILE woman, an outsider, not truly religious, who challenges him.  Yes, Lord.  Yet even…There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own mistaken about the universality, the breadth, the magnanimity of the mighty God and his God begotten Son.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these errors become real possible pathways to full healing, to a child brought back from the brink, to the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken.  An old story this, it carries a woman’s harsh rebuke of Him the church and Mark’s Roman community proclaim Risen Savior, Son of God, Lord and Christ. 

         Both stories are shot through with magical, exorcistic language, so much so that Matthew in retelling the Gospel on the basis of Mark, two decades or so later, eliminated them. The language can cause us to miss the meaning of the stories: they are meant to be understood symbolically, metaphorically.  The hope that Jesus brings, announces our Gospel, can be spoken and heard by those not originally religious, those not within the accustomed heritage of faith—the Gentiles.  Why Jesus even loses the one argument he loses in his whole ministry, here, to a Gentile, a Syro-Phoenician woman, a wily, crafty, Gentile woman.  The hope that Jesus brings can be spoken and heard by those not naturally inclined to such speech and hearing, those not gifted say with a religious gene or a spiritual gene.  For some music comes easily, for others not so.  For some faith comes easy, for others not so.  It is in the nature of things, this difference. Yet the hope in the healing that Jesus brings, here, overcomes both cultural and the natural barriers.  Jesus is still working miracles of speaking and hearing, of ‘loosening tied up tongues’ (J. Marcus, Anchor Bible, I, 480). 

         Salvation is a Latin rooted word, stemming from salvus, which means health.  The hope of salvation is the hope of healing.  Where there is healing, there is the Risen Christ, as if He were to say, I am the hospital, I am the diagnosis, I am the medicine, no comes to healing but by me, and wherever healing happens there I am also. 

         Every day this fall, begin with hope in mind.  Every week this fall, on the Lord’s day, come to church, and begin with hope in mind. At every turn, with every challenge, in every season, begin with hope in mind.

         You heard the hope of healing again in Senator McCain’s memorial last weekend.  Yes in the trumpets and traditional American music of the Navy Hymn, and in Boston’s My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the nature hymn, How Great Thou Art.  Yes in the wise voices of Presidents and Senators and family and friends.  Yes in the Gospel of John, with attendant, lesser Scriptures.  Yes in the organ, the gothic nave, the robed choirs, the solemn liturgy.  Yes, yes. But primordially you heard the hope of healing in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s two verse poem, with which the sermon that morning began: 


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myselfit speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.


I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.    

…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his…


Many of us had left campus last spring before the full ‘beginning’, the full celebration of ‘commencement’.  Those days offered great hope in beginnings.  Our Commencement at Boston University in 2018 was a new beginning that began with hope.

We heard hope in the voice of the Deans in conference who spoke about ‘What constitutes ideal student life?’   Here are some of the words used.  See if they sound to you like they sound to me:  meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting.  That all sounds to me like religion.  All require a leap of faith.  Jump, Jane!  You cannot get within earshot of meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting,apart from religion.

We heard hope in the voice of those honored by induction into the Scarlet Key.  This has been donefor 105 years.

We heard hope in the honored faculty member in the School of Dentistry.  He remembered his own graduation and having six family members stay with him in his one bedroom apartment.  Then he said to the graduates:  work for the cause not the applause work for the cause not the applause. 

We heard hope in the voice of Professor Nancy Ammerman preaching from this pulpit during the STH hooding ceremony.  She fully acknowledged the difficulties in ministry and in life which bedevil our time, indeed which shadow and make anxious every day.  Then she quietly and strongly spoke the gospel and spoke about the gospel.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt. And her sermon was leaven, light and salt.

 We heard hope in the voice of the the tenor soloist at the Boston Pops singing from Leonard Bernstein’s magnificent West Side Story:  Maria…Do what you love and love what you do!

 We heard hope in the voice of Carmen Yulinda Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, who simply asked what you will do when you are faced, as she and her people were last year, with choices of life and death.  How will face that?  Then she broke down briefly and beautifully in emotional remembrance of what her parents had sacrificed to send her to Boston University, including mortgaging their house twice.

We heard hope in the voice of John Lewis at the biggest of our gatherings, 20,000 of us at Nickerson Field, after Lewis had worshipped here at Marsh Chapel.  He told about his first correspondence with and first conversation with Martin Luther King more than fifty years ago.  Then he challenged the 20,000 present at Nickerson Field.   So, good for you, you have a degree.  And then what?  You will get a good job.  And then what?  You buy a new car.  And then what?  You will build a new house.  And then what?  You will advance in your career.  And then what?  You will make money.  And then what?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?

 We heard hope from Colonel Thomas M. Stewart at one of our smallest but most meaningful gatherings, the ROTC Commissioning, annually at Fanueil Hall, but this year at City Hall: Speaking of Ego, Royalty  left the Army when the British left Boston.  You put your mission first.  You focus on your people always.  You be adaptable.  You practice life-long learning.  Then their parents stood beside them, placing upon their shoulders the apullets, the shoulder boards, marking them for service and sacrifice as they promised to Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic.  Did you hear the wording?  The Constitution…all enemies… foreign or domestic. 

 We heard hope in the voice of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in the reception of our Madeiros Scholars, telling these 20 full scholarship recipients that because you have been given a great gift, you have a responsibility in the future, in some significant way, to give back.

Today we begin with the hope in mind, a sermon offered as a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.  May our global listenership, including this year Kasey Shultz in Madagascar, continue to expand.  May our undergraduate student members, like those present and participating today, continue to increase.  May our worship service be distributed broadly to NPR stations coast to coast, so that those in Idaho and Texas can hear the service live on his home NPR station.  May the interpretation of the Scriptures here, and elsewhere, continue to try to bring a biblical, prophetic critique, to bear upon national and cultural leadership under such manifold cloud cover today. May we try to strengthen the vital habits of assembly and representative democracy, these crucial though underattended, time and labor intensive communal gatherings, in Faculty Assembly, in Annual Conference, in Congress, and in Life.  May our pastoral care ministry, embodied in chaplains and in many Lay Leaders, be matched by similarly vigorous ministries of outreach and of evangelism.

This may not be the morning for you to take a leap of faith.  The timing may not be right.  The air may be warmer than the water, and the water may still be cold.  The right balance of hope and fear may not yet have arrived.  No worries. There is tomorrow, and there is next week, and there is another day.  Yesterday was ‘Splash’, the celebration of student life and groups, inviting a leap of faith.  Friday night, said John Kerry, in reference to his recent writing about faith:  ‘you know, it takes a leap;  faith, it always takes a leap’.

Or, on the other hand, the time may be right and the air and water temperature fit, for just that leap of faith. 

Begin with the hope in mind. For there is a healing that hope brings. Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.

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

September 2

Communion Meditation

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

James 1:22-27

Mark 7:1-8

Click here to hear the sermon only


As you enter this year of study, every day you will have a chance and a need for some pause, some moments of quiet.  Use your familiar devotional reminders to bring peace of mind and encouragement of heart.  Recite the decalogue.  Recall the creed.  Repeat the beatitudes.  Rely on the Lord’s Prayer.  Remember Paul’s admonitions.  One of our student choristers brings you our sincere,  communal and heartfelt word of welcome.  Maggie?




Maggie:  Welcome to the varied ministry of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, fall 2018!  We look forward to getting to know you, as you sign up to sing in a choir, as you volunteer to usher or greet, as you attend a fellowship or study group, and especially as you worship with us on Sunday at 11am! 

            The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is to be ‘a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city’.  To that end Dr. Jarrett will invite you to vocal expressions of faith in the life of our music program.  To that end Ms. Chicka will invite you to global outreach in our work with International students.  To that end Br. Whitney will invite you to take part and take leadership in campus student ministry.  To that end Mr. Bouchard will solicit your support for work and works in hospitality. 

            This year, with our emphasis on ‘voice, vocation, and volume’ in our shared life, we are using as a focus for our work the word ‘hope’.   Our summer, fall and spring term worship and community life are laden with expressions of hope.  We trust and hope that each and every Sunday Morning will become an occasion for the speaking and hearing of ‘a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope’. 

            Where we can be personally helpful to you, and where our staff, chaplains, and campus ministers can be a benefit and blessing to you, do not hesitate to call up on us. 

            John Wesley famously called for a means of grace to ‘spread scriptural holiness and reform the nation’.  Now that was a big dream! May grace expand and extend in meaning for us in the fall term, 2018!

To begin, as you enter, as you ‘matriculate’, today and this week, we offer you, in communion meditation, three thoughts on adventure, regret, and faith.


  1. Adventure


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

In so doing, we may be able to remember, to recollect, to regather ourselves by reference to our best selves, to our own-most selves.  We have, for instance, had three years of shouting about a wall to be built along the Rio Grande.  But even once, or at all, have you heard a reference in all this hollering to the Monroe Doctrine?  The Monroe Doctrine expressed a singular, particular interest, on the part of the United States, in the whole of the Western Hemisphere.  It privileged, rather than denigrated, our relationship with the peoples and lands from Canada to Mexico to Chile.  Have you heard it quoted, or referenced in the last two years?

We happily have a rising senior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an international studies major, who can help us remember the Monroe Doctrine.  Denise, what can you tell us?

Denise:  The Monroe Doctrine, authored by James Monroe in 1823, is in the main a statement of American commitment to the welfare and well-being of our northern and southern neighbors, Canada to Chile.  It has waned and waxed in actual influence, and at times has been tragically abused.  Theodore Roosevelt added his own corollary about 100 years after the original.  The Monroe Doctrine expresses American commitment to protection and defense of our neighbors in this hemisphere. 

Who knows?  Perhaps some part of our matriculating class of 2022 will engage in the adventure of rebuilding culture, society, economy and politics in our international neighborhood.  Listen again to the love poetry in the Song of Songs.  The voice of my beloved!  Behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. Voice…Beloved…Leaping…Bounding!   Life is just full of potential, of possibility!!  Life is an unending set of adventures!!  Why we could as a country, for instance, rebuild the Central American societies and economies that are sending parents and children fleeing for their lives north to America.  We have the means.  We have the motivation.  Bridges are better than walls.  In safety and with jobs, people could stay in their own countries.  What an adventure that would be, to see the Monroe Doctrine refit for the 21st century!   You might want to venture in adventure to study abroad, even perhaps south of the border.


  1. Regret


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.  In so doing, we may be able to sharpen our capacity to the tell the difference between the true and the false, between the decent and the scurrilous.

You probably remember the phrase, ‘Methinks the lady protesteth too much’.   In hindsight we gain insight though often the insight is painful.  Where is this remembered phrase found?  In Shakespeare.   It expresses doubt in another’s sincerity (for those older than I), or authenticity (for those of my own generation), or capacity for irony (for those coming into the student ranks today).

We happily have a rising junior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an English major, who can help us remember Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, from near the year 1600.  Tom, what can you tell us?

Tom:  Well, actually, Dean Hill, the quotation, though often put as you did, is more accurately, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks“.  The line so spoken is a little subtler and has an irony to it.  Here Queen Gertrude remarks on the insincerity, the overstatement within the ‘play within the play’ that Prince Hamlet writes.   The play itself shows guilt and insincerity, as does the famous line about ‘protesting too much’.  We use it in everyday speech to say that someone is lying.

By the way, if you have to choose, along the way, what in college to read, read some Shakespeare and read some Scripture.  The Bible and the Bard are the best, in the long run.  Both know about regret, a short or one word definition of hell.  Hell is regret, and regret is hell.  Hardly anyone escapes this life with no regrets.  They befall us all.  But we can at least be aware of them.  We can least strive to minimize them, both in quantity and in quality, both in number and size.  These years, if it be possible, we pray, let your regrets be few, so that your fulsome sense of irony and authenticity and sincerity will shine through.   The thing about social media, the newer technological forms, is that it is possible to represent yourself as someone a bit other than yourself.  For a time.  But over time, the truth, the hard truth, comes out.  When you look others in the eye and speak.  And they look in you in the eye and listen.  That is when you don’t want to have to ‘protest too much’.  As the Bard also wrote, trite but still true, ‘to thine own self be true’.  At least as much as possible!  When I lie, I hurt most myself.  Regret, the recognition of a lived moment of lying, hurts not others, but me.  Eschew regret.  Limit regret.  May your regrets be few and far between.

My esteemed friend Professor Andrew Bacevich, speaking to the graduating class of our own BU Academy some years ago, said:  ‘Now you are going off to college.  You will sometimes find yourself in a situation where a little soulful radar sounds inside you.  You know that something is afoot that just might not be right.  Listen to the beeping, the conscience, the sound of that soulful radar’.  The hardened and stern lessons of the Letter of James stand in this tradition: ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’.  It is not just what you learn or hear, it is what you do or don’t do that makes a life, a college career, and a person.


  1. Faith


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

We are living through a national debate about whether honor is necessary to leadership, or not.  Here in Mark 7 honor comes in two varieties, the one of the lips and the other of the heart.  Said one this week, speaking of his work place, ‘What is missing there is heart’.

May your adventures be many, and may your regrets be few.  The power to see things through, both when you need the accelerator and when you need the brakes, the capacity to balance the two, goes by the name of faith.   As the Gospel today emphasizes, it is the inside of the cup, the heart, the sense of honor, over time, that matters most.  Faith is the courage to continue to lean forward, when adventure is in the balance, and the courage to continue to lean backward, when regret is in the outcome.  Whatever, says Paul, is not of faith, that is sin.  So we gather for prayer every Sunday, and are led by lay leaders like Sandra, who often prays with and for us, as she does this morning.  Sandra?


Sandra:   Gracious God Holy and Just

Thou from whom we come and unto whom our spirits return

Thou our dwelling place in all generations

Rest upon us in the silence of this moment we pray

Dry the tears of those moved to emotion in an hour of separation

Illumine the skyline of opportunity that lies behind the rain clouds of worry

Carry young hearts open to friendship into seas of friendship

Help us hear for our time the voice of the Prophet

‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly’?

Help us we earnestly pray to prefer justice to judgment

Help us we earnestly pray to love the merciful more than the material

Help us we earnestly pray to walk humbly not haughtily

May the degrees we earn turn by degrees the wheel of life from judgment to justice

May the courses we choose inspire in choices later a keenness of mind matched by a fullness of heart

May the learning we gain afford us the gain of humility, the honest desire to give credit where credit is due, and not to tip the scale

May the friendships we make in their turn make us less inclined to judgment and more enamored of justice

May the regrets we acquire then incline us to mercy, as we have felt mercy, and not to material measurements alone

May the adventures we bravely pursue give us the wisdom to know our condition, mortal, frail, prone to harm others, frail, mortal

May all our acquisition of knowledge chase us toward justice, toward mercy, and toward humility

And the wisdom to welcome, later, perhaps much later, the recognition that

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery  that surrounds it

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it


– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.