September 1

A Day of New Beginnings

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 14: 1, 7-14

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We believe in God who has created and is creating, who has come in the true person, Jesus, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the spirit…

We remember and respect the ten commandments, Thou shalt have no other God before me…

We recall and are nourished by the Beatitudes, Blessed are the poor in spirit…

We affirm the creed, though perhaps not in every phrase with all fulsome understanding, We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…

And we begin the day, the Lord’s Day, the first day Matriculation day, the lasting and every day of God’s mercy and peace and love with hope.  We are here to offer a word of faith, in a pastoral voice, toward a common hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.


I’ve heard it in the chilliest land

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

(E Dickinson)


Last year on Matriculation Sunday, following the Matriculation service at Agganis Arena, three freshmen come up upon me, walking back this way on Commonwealth Avenue, now nicely restored, in the heat of that day, one year ago.  They could see that I continue to try to earn the prize as the slowest walker at BU, and they graciously accommodated my pace.  We walked.  We strolled.  We sauntered.  We were flaneurs, flaneur dans les route.  We lollygagged.  There is time, even in college, for real life.  One from China, one from Maryland born in Puerto Rico, one from Florida.  We talked about the Matriculation service.  They had gracious, kind things to say.  Especially the third, who said:  “Well, I am the first person in my family to go to college.  I am first generation student.  Today at Matriculation I learned that 17% of my class are first generation college students.  That really was meaningful to me.  And then I heard the President, President Brown say, that he himself was first generation college student, the first in his family to go to college.  And he has a PhD.  And he’s the President!”  Another asked her, “Do you want to be a college president some day?”  “If I have time, I might!”  What an exciting, joyful day this is, full of new possibilities.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.


Walk with me some day, in a slow pace, and tell me your hopes, along Commonwealth Avenue.  Come alongside me and tell me what you hope to have time for down the road.

And listen now and then for a parable or two.  Jesus taught in parables, teaching not one thing without a parable, and today’s two are clear as a bell two millennia later:  one on humility and one on generosity;  be self-critical, self-aware, count others better than yourself, make space at the table; and, be generous, give to those who need, who cannot give you something back, tithe, remember those less fortunate;  one on humility and one on generosity.  Good reminders at Matriculation.

So taught and inspired, we will offer a third parable for the day, for those starting a four year journey.

Be careful.  Four years from now, may your happy memories be many, and your sour regrets be few.  I preached for a week in Ohio in June. After the Sunday service, a college classmate of mine came up and re-introduced himself, Lenny Baker.  My freshman year at Ohio Wesleyan, Lenny had taken me home for Easter break, in Canton, Ohio. He is now retired, married to a Methodist minister—just a great guy with whom I had sadly lost touch.  I had not seen him since graduation in 1976.   Later that week, at luncheon, he rose to tell a college story about us.  I admit I was a little nervous about what he might narrate!  He said:

We lived together our sophomore year together in the TKE house, which was a little wild.  Bob was often, though not always, a voice of reason.  One day some of us went up to the roof with a cat we somehow caught, for which we had made a parachute.  We were going to throw the cat over the roof of the three-story ante-bellum house, when he said, ‘Don’t do that.  You will kill that cat.  Look, instead, experiment. Go down in the kitchen and get a milk bottle, and fill it to the weight of the cat, then use the parachute first with milk bottle.  You will see then if your parachute works.  You know, pilot your idea first.’  Well the brothers of TKE were not inclined to delay and debated that for some time, but in the end voted for the experiment and fetched the milk bottle.  We latched up the parachute, counted to three, and threw the flying milk bottle off the roof of that three story—former stop on the underground railroad in mid-Ohio by the way—fraternity house.  It fell on the driveway and splattered into smithereens.  The brothers silently let the cat go free, with eight lives left to spare.  I said, ‘Lenny, I don’t remember that.  Is that true?’ ‘Bob, I have been telling that story for thirty years and it sure is true.  It is a happy college memory’.   

Of course, there is a Matriculation moral to this feline fable.  Be careful.  Think twice.  May your happy memories be many, and your regrets few.


May the Gracious God, holy and just, on this day of new beginnings, give us hope and joy and anticipation, as we in faith lift a common hope.

A common hope that our warming globe, caught in climate change, will be cooled by cooler heads and calmer hearts and careful minds.

A common hope that our dangerous world, armed to the teeth with nuclear proliferation, will find peace through deft leadership toward nuclear détente.

A common hope that our culture, awash in part in hooliganism, will find again the language and the song and the spirit of the better angels of our nature.

A common hope that our country, fractured by massive inequality between rich children and poor children, will rise up and make fine education and excellent health care truly available to all children, poor and rich.

A common hope that our schools, colleges and universities, will balance a love of learning with a sense of meaning, a pride in knowledge with a respect for goodness, a drive for discovery with a regard for recovery.

A common hope that our families, in some many ways divided, will sit at a long Thanksgiving table, this autumn, and share the turkey but also talk turkey and pass the potatoes but also pass along a word of kindness in a spirit of honesty.

A common hope that our decisions in life about our callings, how we are to use our time and spend our money, how we make a life not just a living, will be illumined by grace and generosity.

A common hope that our grandfathers and mothers, in their age and infirmity, will receive care and kindness that accords with the warning to honor father and mother that your own days be long upon the earth.

Today we lift in common, a hope not of this world only, but of this world as a field of formation for another, not just health but salvation, not just heart but soul, not just life but eternal life, not just earth but heaven, not just creation but new creation.

We sing with our forebears of old: Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be, let us see thy great salvation, perfectly restored in thee, changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place, ‘til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

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