Begin With The Hope In Mind

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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

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