Archive for June, 2019

Redemptive Discontent

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

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Luke 4:14-21

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A text copy of this sermon is not available.

-Dr. Robert Franklin, James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership, Emory University and President Emeritus, Morehouse College

Concerning Moral Leadership

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

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Luke 8:26-39

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-Dr. Robert Franklin, James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership, Emory University and President Emeritus, Morehouse College

The God of Second Chances

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

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1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

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The God of Second Chances

The Bible is about failure and defeat.

Its stories, letters and teachings record ways people have lived with defeat.  This makes the Bible difficult for us to understand. For we as a people have run and swatted and laughed our way past learning the language of failure.  We don’t admit to it. We won’t accept it. We do not countenance it. So sermons, this one and others, which are fumbling footnotes to the Scripture, may hit us from the side if they hit us at all.

Paul is thinking, it may be, when he mentions “outward appearance” and “the heart”, of Samuel who learned that mortals look upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.

You remember Samuel’s story in 1 Samuel 15:34ff.  Samuel didn’t want to be a prophet, but he got saddled with the job anyway. He didn’t want anything to do with kings, but he had to pick one.

The people wanted a King, just like we at our worst always long for some imperial leader, some imperious presence on which or on whom we may cast our concerns.  Then we don’t have to live with our own freedom, our own birthright from YHWH I AM THAT I AM, the Sinai God of freedom.

Samuel revered the God of freedom and the Godly freedom in each person. In fact, he revered the people’s freedom more than they themselves did.  So much so that he helped them choose, even when he knew they chose in error. You want a king? You shall have a king and much trouble.

Saul, by name.

Saul, trouble, came and went.  Leadership is everything. But leadership is not dictatorship.  Authority is not domination. Integrity is not willfulness.

Leadership, authority, integrity—they become real when they revere the God of freedom and the freedom of each person.  Real leadership increases personal freedom for all.

So, Samuel, who knew about freedom and leadership, and who could have shouted “I told you so” to the children of Israel, instead went to Ramah, that place you remember from Christmas, of wailing and loud lamentation, and he wailed and lamented:

Why, O God, have you made my people a group focused on difference and not the common good?  Why should there be a few rich and many poor? Why should our distinguishing characteristics be so undistinguished?  Are we forever to love appearance above reality, image above heart? O my God, are we never to see your peace upon the earth, your gracious splendor among our people, your kingdom of love?

So, we may imagine, in a hot dusty cave near Qumran, Samuel wept.  And wept. And wept. He cried in his beer. He cried in his soup. You get the picture.

Until, at last, he stopped.  And as so often happens, once he stopped his weeping, his self-concern, a marvelous thing happened. God gave a second chance.  He said, “Samuel you old codger—get up and head over to Bethlehem and see Jesse. I’m going to give you another chance.” Samuel went to the house of Jesse, in Bethlehem.  

We worship a God of second chances, of new starts, of make-up exams, of the Letter to the Hebrews and pardon after baptism, of I forgive you, of surprise opportunities.  In a way, in Christ, God has simply become Another Chance.

Early on Sunday morning, we walk up and down these aisles when the sanctuary is empty.  We wonder about the congregation and the community and listeners.

We worry about a nation of have and have nots.  We are anxious about a race torn people. We think of people. Some giving birth and anxious.  Some breaking up and anxious. Some struggling to stay together, and anxious. Some aging and anxious. Some ill and anxious.  Like Samuel, we have our hurts.

Up Samuel goes to see what God will do.  God tells him that there will be a new King, of God’s own choosing, out of the family of Jesse, who had seven sons.  

Samuel sees the first son, and thinks—yes, this must be the one, right name, right place, right pedigree, right education.  But, again, something strange happens. Samuel, given to hearing voices, hears a voice. God says, “Easy big fellow, easy. Don’t look at the appearance.  Forget the outside. Don’t be misled by the image. Look inside.”

All that glitters is not gold.

One can be a saint abroad and a devil at home.

Cleanse the inside of the cup.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Be careful, when the Lady Macbeths of life connives.  Banquo was right:

‘Tis Strange

And often times to win us to our HARM

The instruments of darkness tell us TRUTHS

Win us with HONEST TRIFLES

To betray us in DEEPEST CONSEQUENCES

 

We see the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem, Samuel still has the seven sons on interview:

Job title:  King of Israel

Profile:   Perfect leader

Responsibilities:  Bring salvation, justice, and peace.

Salary and benefits:  commensurate with experience.

 

But he remembers: look on the heart.  ELIAB. No. ABINADAB. No. SHAMMAH. No.  And so on. Seven no’s. And he is limbo, he is in between.

It is tough to live in between.  Like many who are here today can testify.  Samuel would have loved to have settled things early.  But he remembered the God of Another Chance, and trusted and waited, and hoped.  Anybody can make a quick decision. Sometimes it takes more real courage to be indecisive.  Anybody can decide. It takes guts to wait. Anybody can judge by appearance. But God looks on the heart.

Paul and the earliest Christians knew this perhaps better than anything else. They knew about being in between. Maybe that’s one reason why, providentially, their letters and writings have become our Bible.  We are always a bit in between, and we need the confidence, daily, of Another Chance. The earliest Christians, Paul’s city Christians, were very much in between. They were often what the scholars call status-inconsistent, like Paul himself.   A Jew, yet a Roman citizen.  Educated, yet a tent-maker. So they were too: Women, yet rich.  Artisans, yet slaves. They knew about being in-between.

And so the Apostle says:

 

In between the Body and the Lord

In between Sight and Faith

In between Home and Away

In between Judgment and Love

In between Crazy and Sane

In between One and All

In between Self and Others

In between Death and Resurrection

In between Old and New

In between Appearance and Heart

 

When you’re in between you know the joy of Another Chance.  God sees the heart, and sees past appearances.

Well, dear old Samuel, is about ready to throw in the towel.  He has been through all the sons of Jesse, and has not found the new king.  He has found a lot of old king once removed, but nothing new. He is packing up his ephod and girding his loins and otherwise getting ready to shove off, when, again, something strange happens.

We worship the God of Second Chances.

If nothing else this morning, hear this Gospel.  

Today is another chance for your family.

This week is another chance for you work.

This summer is another chance for our church.

This year is another chance for our city.

This decade is another chance for:  our climate, our country, our denomination, our souls.

Where there is life, there is hope.  And where there is hope, there is life.

God in Christ is Another Chance.

Realism and Idealism are not absolute alternatives.  Often either you have both, or you have neither: witness Isaiah 60, John 3, 2 Corinthians 5, and the Sermon on the Mount.  Things aren’t always as they seem.

SO LET US BE OPEN THIS SUMMER!

Read again Keith Miller’s, NEW WINE.

Visit Mount Washington or Bar Harbor in July.

Take a sandwich to the seashore.

We worship the God Of Second Chances.

Plant a flower.

Hug somebody.

Write a note.

Make a bequest.

I Believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Another Chance, God’s only Son Our Lord.

ANOTHER CHANCE!

To stand in God’s presence

To learn to help others

To have a meaningful life.

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem…Samuel, turned as he was going, and looked at Jesse and said, “Are these all your sons”?  

Jesse got that sheepish look we all get when the truth starts to come out.  Well, yes and no. I mean these are all the grown ones, the ones who are worth looking at.  “You mean there is a Second Chance?,” said Samuel so excited he dropped his staff and ungirded his loins and lost his ephod.  “Well there’s the little guy, but we left him to tend the sheep.” “Bring him.”

And they brought David up.  He was little, young, ruddy, handsome and beautiful, but mostly he had the right heart.  A heart of songs and courage. A heart of love and strength. A real person. A real human being.  Another Chance. Like the Tibetan Buddhists hunting for many years in the outback of the universe to find the Dali Lama.  Like the birth of Jesus, we remember this Trinity Sunday, he also of Bethlehem. Like the moment your child came into the world.  Or your grandchild. Like every single outburst and outcropping and intrusion and explosion and invasion of the NEW CREATION—there was David, Another Chance.  And Samuel, old superannuated Samuel, could see what none of the young Turks could see—the heart. And Samuel wept, this time for joy, and said, “THIS IS THE ONE.  Hire him.”

We worship Another Chance God.

Beloved, you are not last chance, anxious people.

You are God’s Second Chance people.

Let’s agree come Sunday.  From now on, then, we aren’t going to look at anybody according to appearance, no matter how bad and no matter how good.  I mean we once knew Christ by appearance, but then God raised him from the dead. So we look, as God looks, on the heart. By God, we will become real people, in a real church, in a real community, in a real nation.  It takes a lot of idealism to become real. Anyone in Christ is new, not old.

Singing to the God of Second Chances, R. Niehbuhr wrote:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.  Therefore, we must be saved by hope.

“Nothing which is true or good or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history.  Therefore, we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.  Therefore, we must be saved by love.”

 

A Call to Ministry

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

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Acts 2: 1-21

John 14: 8-17

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A Call To Ministry

Awareness

To be supportive of our colleagues at Boston University, Marsh Chapel offered to gather and teach a co-curricular course this autumn on calling, titled Vocation.  We weren’t really sure anyone would sign up. The course it turns out is full, with a waiting list. Why?

People it may be of all ages are alive to the possibilities of calling, of vocation, in life, which is the gift of the Spirit, on this day of Pentecost, the day of spirit.  Where does our gladness meet the world’s deep hunger? With the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites of the first Pentecost, we today shall listen for that call, that calling, a call to ministry.

The first step in calling it may be is simply a sense of awareness.  Awareness of the gift, the glorious gift of life. Have we forgotten the love we had at first? When did breathing become such an ordinary thing to our mind? And prayer? Have we begun with the spirit to end with the flesh? Has the vocation, the sense of self and soul that is the real marrow of Pentecost given way to drift, ennui, languid doldrums?  Wake up! It is morning! Dawn is breaking! Come Pentecost. With great gladness that this is such a beautiful Charles River morning, such a glorious Boston morning, such a magnificent bright New England morning, we remember how Marilynn Robinson ended her gem of a novel, Gilead:

I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment ‘when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’, but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view

At dawn, with an aching heart, a full chest weight of the sense of …the Un-nameable. Radiance. Goodness. Wonder. Song. Joy.

In our Scripture lesson today, Luke is surely reminding his church, and reminding us, of the love we had at first. Every single one has a tongue of fire given, that makes effective connection with others. Everyone is called, has a vocation, a measure of spirit.  You are an unrepeatable miracle, with your own fingerprint, gait, voice, and calling!

Pentecost is God at dawn, with life waking up, the birth in you of real awareness.  This morning is the morning of tongues of fire, of firey tongues, of speech that burns, heals, warms, enflames, inspires.

Trust

A second step in calling, it may be, is to remember those you trust, those whose example, relationship, giving, and love have kindled in you real trust, and so, the foundation for calling.  As Carlyle Marney used to ask, Who told you who you was?

It may be that you learned to love Jesus in the simple rhythms of the ordinary, in the pause before meals, with grace in his name. In singing hymns to Him, in church, at camp, in the car. In reading about his life in the Bible, and celebrating his birth in snowy December, and his destiny in snow melting April. In seeing older people love him, really love him, with their hands, and their money and their time and most especially with their choices, and within that, with their choices about things not to say, not to be, not to do.  You may have learned to love Him like you learned to speak English, one lisp at a time, one dangling preposition at a time, one new word at a time. His music, it may be, played the accompaniment to all of the growth and decay of life around you. There was no wall of separation, neither artificial, nor sacramental, nor communal, between your life and his. His was your life, and your life was his. You came to know how to trust through people who showed how to trust by how they lived. Trustworthy people.

This could sound romantic, but it is not meant to be. Conflict, envy, hurt, gossip, anger, misjudgment, unfairness, tragedy, hatred, fear, abuse, neglect, betrayal, addiction, and loneliness sat around the table too—around the kitchen table, around the picnic table, around the coffee table, around the communion table.

Who came close enough to you to give a sense of trust, of confidence in the pull and push of life?  Looking back, just now, in recollection, there was a closeness in the Christ, in the followers of Christ, who raised us—a pine needle Adirondack Christ, with the dawn scent of the forest primeval, a sunlit Finger Lake Christ, a blue-collar Erie Canal Christ, a blizzard Christ, an autumn peak Christ, a high summer Christ, a Christ with mud on Easter shoes. You could say that we were more Gospel people than Letter people, more Peter than Paul, more good Samaritan than justification by faith.  Yet there was no forced or feigned distance between Jesus and us, between his life and our own.

He was with us in school, at home, in summer, growing, going away, coming home, in study, in marriage, in work.  

Trust your experience. Honor your instincts. Listen to your heart.

Your relationships are crucial, crucial in the dawning of a sense of vocation.  Whose closeness, whose friendship, could, can, do you trust? Relationships hold the key.

Last Sunday, a friend was ordained as a Rabbi, and some of us were graciously included in the service.  Throughout the beautiful service, the power of trusted voices and people stood out. One said, For over thirty years, I have been in a life-long love affair witb Judaism, seeking a substantive connection to our tradition, and a close and meaningful relationship with God (Jevin Seth Eagle). Close, meaningful.  These are the relationships that bring out our own-most selves.  Another said, quoting another rabbi—you have to love the closeness here—I am afraid that God will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like ‘Zusha?  And for us, come Pentecost: Bob, why weren’t you more like Bob?  Mary, why weren’t you more like Mary? Felix, why weren’t you more like Felix?

Work

A third Pentecost step, coming toward calling, it may be, is to ask yourself very bluntly about your work. To level with yourself.

Say as a young adult now you are beginning to work, to hold a job, or in middle age to hold a new or different job. What counts in your work relationships? Can you honestly list what is meaningful and what is not about what you do? There are clues here, terribly important ones. Do not, do not enslave yourself to something that diseases your soul. Life is too short for that.

Richard Florida wrote recently (The Rise of the Creative Class) something that gives me hope about the future of the culture, the church, and our shared forms of ministry.  All who are baptized are in ministry, one way or another. He surveyed people about what they want in work. Regarding work, he found, the question ‘what?’ is often secondary to the question, ‘with whom?’ Many people prefer the hair salon to the machine shop, for relational reasons. Hear his report on surveys of what people most want in work:

I..Responsibility: Being able to contribute and have impact. . .Knowing that one’s work makes a difference. . .Being seriously challenged.

  1. Flexibility: A flexible schedule and a flexible work environment. . .The ability to shape one’s own work to some degree.

III. Stability: A stable work environment and a relatively secure job. . .Not lifetime security with mind-numbing sameness, but not a daily diet of chaos and uncertainty either.

  1. Compensation: Especially base pay and core benefits. . .Money you can count on.
  2. Growth: Personal and professional development. . .The chance to learn and grow. . .To expand one’s horizons. …cut new ground…feel at home…be creative…design your own work space…define your own role…have peer recognition…enjoy a work\life balance…

Growing segments of the population work for challenge, enjoyment, to do good, to make a contribution, and to learn. Such motivations will eventually eclipse compensation as the most important motives for work. (Robert Fogel)

 

Service

The dawning of awareness, a recollection of real trust, an honest inspection, leveling with yourself, about what you love in work, these three steps, come Pentecost, may just suffice.  They are questions in calling to which we return all our lives, for callings change. Sometimes it is the second call, or the fourth, that takes us closer to our selves, to our own-most selves, to our calling, in baptism, come Spirit day, come Pentecost.  Sometimes you have dreams, and then sometimes you have to edit your dreams. Awareness. Trust. Work. Yet for some there may be a fourth step this morning, or some beautiful summer morning at dawn. There may be a longing for service of a particular sort, a ministerial sort, a religious sort, as there was for those whom we ordained at Annual Conference yesterday.

A sense of longing deeper than existential awareness, the tingling sense of life, deeper than the trust relationships of friends and family, and deeper than the modes of meaning, in work, exploding from human hearts on Pentecost. This dawn day of spirit! This dawn day of fire! This dawn day of translation, interpretation, preaching, ecumenism! This dawn day of world Christianity! This dawn day of the church! This early morning dawn day! A deeper longing burst forth on Pentecost. Theirs, and ours, is a deeper longing, a longing for a relationship with God. And for some, who may find it hard to find any place else, that may come to a calling to ministry not in the large but in the little.  

St. Augustine of Hippo at long last found himself, his soul, and his true vocation, by finding a personal relationship to God.  Augustine entered the ministry. He became priest and bishop in North Africa about 400ad. He wrote 500 letters, 200 sermons, 2 great books.  In some of these, he gave us great insight, and in some of these he left us confusion and perplexity. For Augustine, it was ordination that opened the future.  For most us, baptism, confirmation and communion are more than enough. But then there are the harder cases, we might say, those who need more medication, something more.  Augustine found that, or was found by that, in ordination. In an age, like ours, of intercultural conflict, Augustine made sense of faith’s highest vision…the city of God. In a culture, like ours, that wore the nametag of Christianity without fully understanding its meaning, Augustine celebrated…the grace of God. In a political climate, like ours, that honored highly individualized freedom and the power to choose, Augustine praised God’s freedom to choose, and acclaimed…the freedom of God. In a highly sexualized age, like ours, Augustine colorfully confessed his own wandering, his own mistakes, which, he attested, did test but did not exhaust the …patience of God. In a religious climate, like ours, which buffeted a truly spiritual belief, Augustine praised his maker, and so reminded the church of the proper…praise of God. His Confessions—perhaps part of your summer reading—his great autobiography, is a prayer—for the city of God, by the grace of God, in the freedom of God, to the patience of God, as the praise of God. Augustine found a relationship with God and was ordained. Or, better put, was ordained and found his calling, found a relationship with God.

It may be that the only way God has to fully connect to some of us, to get our attention, to mute our pride, to kindle our affection, is to get us into the ministry. Baptism and confirmation suffice for most. But for the real hard cases—the guy who wrote the book on pride, the gal whose picture is alongside the dictionary definition of sloth, the one who embodies real falsehood—like us, like Augustine…like me? like you?…God keeps ordination in reserve.  Do you hear this Pentecost a call to ministry?

Frederick Buechner’s simple lines are oft-quoted, and should be:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

 

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

Ascension Communion Meditation

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

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Acts 1:1-11

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

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Ascension Communion Meditation

When you cross into a new time zone, you may hardly notice the change.  You drive from Boston to Kansas City, from Kansas City to Denver, from Denver to San Diego, and you cross in and out of different time zones.  In the crossing you hardly notice the change. Boundaries are often invisible, arranged in the imagination. They are not though for that reason inconsequential.  If you forget that the zone you are in has changed, you may arrive to buy gasoline an hour after the station is closed, and sleep in your car.

On the feast of the Ascension we cross into a new time zone, in the Christian year, and especially in the Gospel of Luke and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

Our Gospel and Lesson today acclaim the Ascension.  Let us endeavor to understand their chiming joy, to interpret these pages of Holy Writ, to understand them by standing under them, as it were.   For we are placing ourselves in apprehension of Love and Truth, here, so that the chance may emerge that our apprehension of Scripture may give way to Scripture’s apprehension of us. So that, grasping, we may be grasped, and, speaking, we may hear, and longing to love, we may be loved.

Luke by legend was a physician, a writing physician, like Oliver Sachs or Anton Chekhov.  Luke, whom we follow in the Sunday readings this year, is the only gospel writer to add a sequel to his book.  Luke’s Gospel precedes Luke’s Acts, and together they form some 25% of our New Testament. The Ascension, the translation of Jesus from temporary earthly location to lasting eternal home, lies somewhere close to the deep heart of what Luke, fore and aft, was out for, was after.

Our Gospel lesson today is the very end of the Gospel of Luke.  Our lesson from Acts today is the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.  So, we are at a major divide, a seam in the seamless garment of the Scripture. For Luke, all of time is divided into three parts, as Caesar’s Gaul, divisum est en tres partes.  First, there is the time of Israel, that runs up to and includes the ministry of John the Baptist.  Second, there is the time of Jesus, beginning with the Baptist and running up to, well, this morning, to the Ascension.  Third, there is the time of the Church, which runs from right now on up to the end of time, when Jesus will come again. Luke has set the orderly account of Jesus, his preaching and teaching and healing, his passion and death and resurrection, in between Israel and the Church, John and the Ascension.  Jesus has been making appearances and speaking of the kingdom of God, an extension of resurrection, but now he departs, making space for the baptism of Spirit, next Sunday, Pentecost, just as his life took wing in the baptism of water, at the hand of John the Baptist. Notice that John, and his baptism, are mentioned here, right at the moment of prediction of the baptism of Spirit.  For Luke, all time is divided into these three parts.

You, careful listener, will have noticed though a problem.   Luke has Jesus ascend twice, once in the Gospel, on the eighth day, as is the Gospel tradition, and then, again, in Acts, after forty days.  So which is it? After some study, let us simply admit defeat, as Fr. J. Fitzmyr puts it:  Why Luke has dated the ascension of Jesus in these two different ways, no one will ever know. (Anchor, 1588).  Though from this pulpit today we might offer a thought.  For Luke, chronology, as does geography, finally serves his theology, his preaching of the gospel.   He is willing to admit of a bit of chronology confusion, or contradiction, in order to insist, to make clear his joyful sense of time in three parts.  So, one ascension scene, Luke 24, it may be, makes clear the end of the time of Jesus. And the other ascension scene, Acts 1, it may be, makes clear the beginning of the time of the church.  

With Luke in Gospel and Acts guiding us, we come to communion this morning, in the time zone of the church.  Here we find bread for the journey, wine for the soul. Here we find sustenance to go on, in faith. In the example of forebears, in the ministry of ordinary saints, in the chance possibility of conversion—example, ministry, conversion—we recognize a different time zone, that which follows on Ascension, the time of the church.

Example

First, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in sturdy example.   St. Luke, perhaps more than any other Gospel writer, affirms the utter importance of leadership—in life, in community, in church.  And leadership is example. Period. For Luke throughout all Acts, you can see and name leadership by the examples of Peter and of Paul.  We too in our own time cherish exemplary leadership.

At morning prayer in the Harvard Memorial Church, in a special service for the Board of Visitors there and some others some 10 years ago, Peter Gomes, of blessed memory, and inimitable voice, offered a meditation based on his childhood breakfast memory.

At his home in Plymouth, over breakfast, the morning papers were quietly read, including the obituaries, most especially the obituaries.  His mother emphasized these, Peter remembered. She pointedly asked, morning by morning, after the meal and the morning papers, ‘Anybody interesting die?’  By these, he went on to recall, Peter’s mother meant, especially, did any African Americans of note die, and were they eulogized in the papers? It was one of her ways, one guesses, of teaching and shaping the young Mr. Gomes, in the way of faith.  She wanted him to learn from the experience and achievement of others. ‘Anybody interesting die today?’

The anecdote here loses much of its punch and penache without the developed Elizabethan intonation preferred and practiced by Professor Gomes.  James Forbes, at breakfast and just before preaching here at Marsh Chapel on weekend, sent his greetings to Peter, and said, ‘Remind him sometime that he is not a 19th century Englishman’.  It was said in good humor, in jest, and in that covenant of the preaching clergy wherein one, once upon a time, could josh one another.  There was at one time, not so long ago a preaching siblinghood, wherein one man sharpened another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

It is in this sense of memory, of reading the obituaries, of noting especially those who have come up the hard way, of honoring the gifts of others that we may ourselves be capable of honor in some way, that the life of James Alan McPherson appeared, in a newspaper recollection a few summers ago.  African American son of the south, son of a carpenter and maid, graduate of an HBC in Atlanta, then of Harvard Law, McPherson decided against the law, and chose to write instead, becoming the first black author to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction. Yet his writing sometimes remembered the law. I don’t have to drink the whole ocean to know it is salty, and I don’t have to read all his books to know McPherson could write.  As: (Mr. McPherson wrote in The Atlantic in 1978)

What Albion W. Tourgee, in his brief in 1896 against segregated railroad cars in Plessy v. Ferguson, was proposing, I think, was that each United States citizen would attempt to approximate the ideals of the nation, be on at least conversant terms with all its diversity, carry the mainstream of the culture inside himself.  As an American, by trying to wear these clothes he would be a synthesis of high and low, black and white, city and country, provincial and universal. If he could live with these contradictions, he would be simply a representative American. I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself a ‘citizen of the United States’. (N.Y. Times, 7/28/16,)

There is fine writing, a paragraph finely composed.  McPherson remembered Plessy v. Fergusson, and in reading him, Rev. Professor Peter Gomes came to mind.  Gomes haunted the reading, partly for what his mother taught him in reading at the breakfast table down in the cranberry bogs of Plymouth, and mostly because, by ricochet, and oddly, McPherson captured the very gift of our former neighbor and pastor from the Harvard Memorial Church.  Gomes lived the contradictions without going crazy.

Ministry

Second, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in spirited ministry.  Hear the ringing gospel in Luke! On a morning when we think of 12 more good lives sacrificed to gun violence, in Virginia Beach, a violence that proper appreciation for public health and consequent adequate gun laws would largely erase, we need to hear fully the Lukan evangel:  Salvation. Forgiveness. Peace. Life. Remember and repeat. Salvation. Forgiveness. Peace. Life. There is a better way to live, and better path forward to common good than we have yet embraced. Those who show us gospel grace in ministry convince us. Like Mona Lee Brock, who died this spring.  I love her story, and I cherish her ministry, partly because it connects so strongly to our own past, and part of our summer life each year.

Mona Lee Brock had farming in her bones. “Farming you don’t learn from books,” she once said. “It’s not taught to you by a professor in a college. It’s taught by sitting in your father’s lap on a tractor. Or between your mother and father in a field. It’s from birth up, and it’s a part of you.”

And so, when the farm crisis of the 1980s swept across the nation’s fields and plains, when bankruptcies and foreclosures soared and crop prices fell, and when many farmers, who saw no way out, took their own lives, Mrs. Brock was moved to act.

She assigned herself the job of ad hoc emergency counselor to farmers. As someone who had grown up on farms and had lost her own family farm, she was sympathetic to their plight. She took thousands of calls around the clock, talking despondent farmers down from the ledge and devising strategies to try to save their farms.

Willie Nelson, the country singer and driving force behind Farm Aid, called Mrs. Brock “the angel on the other end of the line.” Around that time, Mrs. Brock, who knew most people in Lincoln County from her work in the public schools, invited many of them over to her farm one night so that they could talk about how to survive. Farmers soon began calling her at home when they were in trouble, starting her on her accidental career of counseling them.  Her son said the suicide calls to his mother seemed constant, and often chaotic. Her overarching goal was “to make sure the family survived, even if the farm didn’t.”

“She led the way in terms of how to counsel people.  People could relate to her and unburden themselves. She was on the same level as they were. She was very calming. She was a farmer.” When the Oklahoma Conference of Churches wanted to set up a suicide intervention hotline, it contacted Mrs. Brock

Asked what kept his mother going, Mr. Brock said, “The Bible and the Constitution.” A Baptist, she often prayed with her callers. And, he said, she cautioned those who were suicidal to think about their families and what it would be like for their children “if they sat down at the supper table and there would be an empty chair.”  Mrs. Brock died at 87 on March 19, 2019, at her home in Durant, Okla. (Summarized form the New York Times, April 4, 2019)

Doesn’t it make you wonder what further dimensions each of our ministries could engage?

Conversion

Third, there is bread for the journey, wine for the soul, in the call to faith, in the experience of conversion.  For Luke, in the epoch, era, and time of the church, this is the baptism of the spirit.

Now let us make this personal, for you and me.  Somehow, we ended up in worship this morning, or we are listening to this service.  Is there a nudge to faith here, or to renewed faith here, for you? Faith is a gift of God, given in ordinary time, Luke’s time of the church.  Faith is the courage and capacity to get up and start again. It is a saving gift, a forgiving gift, a peaceful gift—the gift of life itself. Is there a nudge to faith here, or to renewed faith here, for you?  Faith is a gift of God, to you.

Our neighbor in Newton, Malick Ghachem, had a letter printed Wednesday of this week in the New York Times.  He is explaining his conversion to faith through the Catholic Church, at a time when many churches are awash in conflict, scandal and trouble:

The word church has two meanings in Catholicism:  the institutional church (the hierarchy of priests headed by the pope), and the Body of Christ (made up of all of us who are Catholic).  This second church is the one I joined. I follow the pope, but the institutional church has a distinctly secondary place in my understanding of Catholicism.  I want to see the institutional church reformed, but since it did not draw me to Catholicism in the first place, it would be unlikely to deter me in the end from the more spiritual definition of the church.

Many of us could say the same of our own life journeys in faith, in our own communities and churches.  

Coda

Are you hearing the voice of someone whose example gladdened your heart?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Are you remembering the labors of someone who provided saving health to others?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Are you at a moment, come Sunday, and for all the human foibles of the churches, when someone is calling your name, calling you to faith?  Take this sacrament to your comfort.

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort.

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