Archive for the ‘Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†’ Category

Sunday
July 7

Betwixt Curation and Creation

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

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Betwixt Curation and Creation

In t’ other hundred, o’er yon swarthy moor,
Deep in the mire with tawny rush beset;
Where bleak sea-breezes echo from the shore,
And foggy damps infect the noontide heat,
There lies a Country Curate’s dismal seat:
View well those barren heaths with sober eye,
And wonder how a man can live so wretchedly.

(“The Country Curate,” Gentleman’s Magazine 7, January 1737, 52-53, stanza 1)

You are likely familiar with the verb, “to curate,” meaning “to look after and preserve” as in a museum. You may also be familiar with the more contemporary colloquial usage of the term, meaning “to select, organize, and present,” usually applied either to content, such as for a website, or to people, such as for a performance. Regardless, the activity curation describes remains relatively passive with respect to that which the curator orders. You may be less familiar with the heteronymous noun “curate,” referring to “one entrusted with the cure of souls; a spiritual pastor,” that is, a member of the clergy. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Alas, the poor priest described in the 18th century Spenserian poem, “The Country Curate,” appears doomed to conflate the two meanings:

Each sun arises in a noisome fog,
Tir’d of their beds they rise as soon as light;
With like disgust their summers on they jog,
And o’er a few stray chips their winter night:
Such is the married Essex Curate’s plight!
Tho’ seasons change, no sense of change they know,
But with a discontented eye view all things here below.

(“The Country Curate,” stanza 7)

Inheritor of tradition, the curate who curates merely looks after and preserves the faith as though the seasons do not change. Tradition, the living faith of the dead, as Jeroslav Pelikan reminds us, is given over to its poor reflection, traditionalism, that is, the dead faith of the living. (Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Vindication of Tradition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986). And in the end? The curate who merely curates is not even pitiable.

Still worse and worse her lashing tongue he feels,
The spurns of fortune and the weight of years:
The post-horse thus, an ancient racer, reels,
No longer now a steddy course he steers,
His knees now tremble and he hangs his ears;
He sweats, he totters, cover’d o’er with gore,
And falls unpity’d, as he liv’d before.

(“The Country Curate,” stanza 12)

The theology of curation is reflected in one of the traditional prayers for Compline, the night office that we offer here at Marsh Chapel on Monday evenings during the academic year, “that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness” (The Book of Common Prayer, 133). Since God is changeless, change is clearly not of God, and so the work of leadership is to simply curate unchanged the institutions and traditions we have inherited lest the faithful, and we ourselves, become weary. 

Yet, change is an enduring feature of our world, and as the curate learned, mere curation cannot enable a steady course amidst change. Wearying though change may be, attempting to deny or to resist change is at least as tiresome, and often as not tragic, as in the case of the country curate. After all, as Alfred North Whitehead reminds us, “the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things” (Science and the Modern World, 13). Indeed, change is part and parcel of the working of things, and change is often solemnly remorseless in its application regardless of the predilection to deny or to inhibit it: Denying that humanity is responsible for climate change does nothing to mitigate its effects. Treating refugees as subhuman does nothing to dampen their desperation to flee. Repurposing maintenance funds does nothing for the upkeep of tracks, signals, and subway cars, making derailment inevitable. Failure to read the syllabus does not make the paper any less due.

To cope with change, creation is the proper response, rather than curation. When the traditions and institutions of the past no longer accord us with reality, we must create new ones that do. Such creative endeavor was the cause for celebration just this past week, namely, the 243rd anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

Creation is rarely clean or clear cut. The first stab at a new government following the Declaration of Independence was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which lasted a whole twelve years before being replaced by the Constitution of the United States that we know today. The need for the change is recorded in George Washington’s cover letter to the Constitution addressed to the President of Congress: “The friends of our country have long seen and desired that the power of making war, peace, and treaties, that of levying money, and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the General Government of the Union; but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident: hence results the necessity of a different organization.” Hence, three branches of government with attendant checks and balances among them. 

Likewise, the business world tells us of disruptive innovation, whereby an innovation creates a new market that eventually disrupts its predecessor market by providing value in a new and better way. So, Wikipedia disrupts Britannica, the word processor disrupts the typewriter, and the smartphone disrupts, well, pretty much everything, (including, I dare say, this sermon). Bringing on the new requires setting aside the old, a loss that is rarely unambiguous even when the innovation is a signal advance. Indeed, as the Declaration of Independence itself reminds us, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

For all that the curate who curates is one prevalent model for religious leaders to approach situations in flux, the mode of creation is hardly foreign to religion. Jesus and Paul were, among other things, religious innovators, in varying degrees of tensive relationship at different times with emerging rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic philosophy and culture, the Roman Empire, and other religious movements they encountered along the way. Monasticism was a creative response to the change of Christianity from a persecuted minority to the official religion of the Empire. The Franciscans and Dominicans arose in part to reform the cloistered monasteries, and then Martin Luther set off a creative reform of all of Western Christianity. Methodism, adherents of which founded Boston University, started as a creative movement to invigorate piety within Anglicanism. Today, as the institutional dynamics of denominations provoke rampant disaffiliation, new models of spiritual engagement are emerging, from multiple religious belonging, to new monasticisms, to pub church, and more. Curation need not be the defining mark of religion. The creative spirit runs deep as well.

For the past two weeks we have drunk deeply from the wellsprings of wisdom of Dr. Robert Franklin, who professes moral leadership at Emory University in no small part on the basis of his own practice of moral leadership, especially as President each of Morehouse College and the Interdenominational Theological Center, both in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Franklin adjured us toward moral leadership, encouraging us to virtue and to act out of a redemptive discontent at the socio-political morass of our time such that we might come to stand above the world, that God might lift the world through us. Today I submit to you that moral leaders seek to cultivate virtue and pursue a socio-political analysis that results in redemptive discontent precisely so as to enable their discernment of the proper path forward for the traditions and institutions they lead betwixt curation and creation. Without curation there is no continuity, and without continuity there is no tradition or institution of which to speak. Without creation, however, change must inevitably overwhelm traditions and institutions, grinding them into dust and casting them off onto the slaughter-bench of history. The moral leader must harness each, curation and creation, as the situation at hand demands.

The understanding of moral leadership that we inherit from ancient China helps us to gain perspective on the role and efficacy of moral leaders. It does so by situating leadership in the wider frame of not only the traditions and institutions in which leadership is expressed, but indeed the whole cosmic order. Traditions and institutions are understood as rituals, rites, or rules of ceremony. Rites are much more than church services. They are any and all conventional behaviors patterned so as to harmonize those related by them with one another and with everything else in the world. So the 27th section of the “Li Yun” chapter of the Liji, the Classic of Rites:

From all this it follows that rules of ceremony must be traced to their origin in the Grand Unity. This separated and became heaven and earth. It revolved and became the dual force (in nature). It changed and became the four seasons. It was distributed and became the breathings (thrilling in the universal frame). Its (lessons) transmitted (to men) are called its orders; the law and authority of them is in Heaven. While the rules of ceremony have their origin in heaven, the movement of them reaches to earth. The distribution of them extends to all the business (of life). They change with the seasons; they agree in reference to the (variations of) lot and condition. In regard to man, they serve to nurture (his nature). They are practiced by means of offerings, acts of strength, words and postures of courtesy, in eating and drinking, in the observances of capping, marriage, mourning, sacrificing, archery, chariot-driving, audiences, and friendly missions. 

(Legge, James, trans. The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism Part III. Vol. 3. The Sacred Books of the East 27. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1885).

Notably, rituals are not static. Their movement “reaches to the earth” from heaven. “They change with the seasons.” When things change, they change to accord with the new situation. 

Even though they may change, tending to rituals, to the patterns that guide our interactions and relationships, is important precisely because, as the 28th section goes on to say:

They supply the channels by which we can apprehend the ways of Heaven and act as the feelings of men require. It was on this account that the sages knew that the rules of ceremony could not be dispensed with, while the ruin of states, the destruction of families, and the perishing of individuals are always preceded by their abandonment of the rules of propriety.

Traditions and institutions may only ever be relatively reliable, but life without them devolves quickly into the state of nature described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (chap. 13). Hence the conclusion arrived at in the 29th section of the “Li Yun” chapter of the Liji:

Thus, rules of ceremony are the embodied expression of what is right. If an observance stand the test of being judged by the standard of what is right, although it may not have been among the usages of the ancient kings, it may be adopted on the ground of its being right. (The idea of) right makes the distinction between things, and serves to regulate (the manifestation of) humanity.

What then of moral leadership? One of the primary virtues cultivated by moral leaders is 義 yi, which means rightness, righteousness, or appropriateness. Rituals are expressions of what is right, and moral leadership determines whether or not a particular ritual is in fact such an expression of righteousness. Rituals that do in fact express right merely need to be curated. Rituals that do not may need some creative reformation or transformation. And it is surely conceivable that a situation might arise for which no extant ritual would be appropriate, and so a moral leader would have to create one wholesale from scratch. Most of the time, however, moral leadership has to do principally with the subtle art of negotiating the tension between curation and creation in order to cultivate rituals, traditions, and institutions that facilitate righteousness and harmony.

All well and good as far as a theory of moral leadership goes, but a few examples would certainly not go amiss at this point. Surely, the Liji is replete with plenty of excellent examples, but rather than take the time to explain who Yu, Tang, Wen, Wu, King Cheng, and the Duke of Zhou are such that the examples might make any sense, it may be helpful to turn to some more familiar texts.

Consider, then, the moral leadership of the prophet Elisha as he responds to the arrival of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram:

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. 

(2 Kings 5: 1-14, NRSV).

It is little wonder that the king of Israel suspects a nefarious plot. Curing leprosy is no small thing, and the king of Aram has neglected, in his letter, to mention that he has insider information that such healing might be accomplished in Israel. The king of Israel is left to suspect that the king of Aram is attempting to provoke a conflict on the basis of the king of Israel refusing to heal the commander of the army of the king of Aram.

Enter Elisha, stage left. As a moral leader, which is what a prophet is, after all, Elisha seeks the way of righteousness. It would be reasonable to assume that healing by a prophet in Israel would be reserved for Israelites, for the followers of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and thus unavailable to inhabitants of other realms who practice other cults. In offering to heal Naaman, Elisha is defying this expectation, expanding the tradition of Israelite religion, and by proxy the institution of the kingdom of Israel as constituted by those who profess faith in Yahweh, to include any who would demonstrate such faith by following his instructions.

Elisha is clearly closer to curation than creation. He only moves the line so far. He never even speaks to Naaman directly, sending a messenger instead. His instructions remain within the realm of Israelite rituals of healing, namely, washing in the Jordan. No, the rivers of Damascus will not, in fact, do. Yet, if he is willing, Naaman may be made clean, may be healed, may be included. The creativity Elisha expresses is simply to practice a more generous hospitality than might have been expected. The tradition as it stood was inappropriate to this new situation and had to be expanded. His is the creativity of redrawing the boundaries of the tradition and the institution so as to enact what Second Isaiah would later also encourage:

Enlarge the site of your tent,
   and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
   and strengthen your stakes. 
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
   and your descendants will possess the nations
   and will settle the desolate towns. (Isaiah 54: 2-3, NRSV)

So, too, consider the moral leadership of Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as expressed in his letter to the Galatians:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6: 1-16, NRSV).

Here we see Paul navigating a number of ritual frames in order to achieve the delicate balance of righteousness. In the rhetoric of flesh and spirit we hear the backdrop of Hellenistic thought that set the terms for conceptualizing the spiritual life in the communities where Paul ministered. So too we hear Paul articulating boundaries between those who follow his teaching and those who follow the teachings of others: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.”

One of the teachings that others who have encountered the Galatians have apparently been insisting upon is the ritual requirement of circumcision. On one hand, Paul has a rather sophisticated theological argument for why circumcision, while not necessarily objectionable, is neither at all necessary. What is necessary? Becoming a new spiritual creation by spiritual crucifixion with Christ to the world. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that Paul needed to work terribly hard to convince, say, about half of the church in Galatia that circumcision was not really necessary.

Here then we have a far more creative, and less curatorial, approach to tradition and institution. Paul is renegotiating boundaries, breaking down boundaries between Jews and gentiles in Christ, even while raising boundaries between followers of his teaching and followers of the teaching of others. Paul swings the pendulum to a midpoint between curation and creation because he needs to for the sake of appropriateness. What was good for Jews in Jerusalem would not necessarily work well – politically, culturally, or practically – for the non-Jewish Christians to whom God called him to minister. Paul had to curate the heart of the gospel that he had received and creatively incarnate it in the soil to which he was sent, where curation alone would surely not do. Indeed, that Christianity endures today is largely a testament to the curation of the church through creative moral leadership by Paul.

Paul is great and all, but what of Jesus? Jesus, it seems, could find precious little worth curating amongst the traditions and institutions of the religion of his day. The apocalyptic frame of the gospels is quite strange to us, driving as it does a sense of urgency that seems to have failed to bear out some two thousand years later. Yet it is that very urgency that presses Jesus to abandon the traditions and institutions he inherited and instead send his followers out to effectively start anew.

Jesus erects clear boundaries, in Luke’s gospel, between his own movement and the religious institutions of his day. When Jesus denounces the Pharisees, the lawyers whine, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too,” to which Jesus replies, “Woe also to you lawyers!” (Luke 11: 45-46, NRSV). Jesus is clear also that each and every person must choose to situate themselves on one side of the boundary or the other. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12: 51, NRSV).

Far more interesting than how he goes about creating barriers against existing institutions is how Jesus goes about creating his own movement. Jesus himself may not have come to bring peace, but peace is precisely what Jesus sends his followers out to announce: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10: 5, NRSV). The mission of the seventy is a mission of movement building. It is deeply relational: person by person, household by household, town by town. It is the harvesting, the calling together of a community built on righteousness, that is, on peace, hospitality, justice, and the grace of God. For those that share in peace, well and good, and for those that do not, wipe off the dust from your feet and move on.

At times, moral leaders may find that there is so little rightness left in the traditions and institutions they inherit that they must cast them off and create new traditions and institutions from neigh on whole cloth. Doing so is precarious, as the authors of the Declaration of Independence note and as those who call for such revolutionary changes demonstrate, figures like Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin King, as their acts of institutional rejection and new creation result in their deaths. Important to remember is that this extremity of creation is not a foregone conclusion embraced from the start, but rather a necessity that arises for the sake of rightness, of righteousness, of appropriateness. The moral of the story for moral leaders is not that new traditions and institutions are always necessary, but rather that strategies of curation, reformation, renewal, transformation, or recreation must be judiciously selected for the sake of traditions and institutions being able to effectively harmonize us with one another and the world. Moral leadership of traditions and institutions is the discernment of appropriateness between curation and creation. Cultivate, then, the virtue of appropriateness, of rightness, of righteousness so that you may be a moral leader, that God may lift the world up through you, just as God has lifted the world through Elisha, Paul, and Jesus.

Let us stand, then, as we are able, for the reading of the gospel.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20, NRSV).

Amen.

-Br. Lawrence Whitney, PhD, LC+

Sunday
July 1

Hope in Common

By Marsh Chapel

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2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Mark 5:25-34

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If religion is to contribute to a global renewal of hope, it will have to transcend its own descent into tribalism and realize its vocation to incarnate truth and justice for all.

To realize that we live in a society in a world desperately in need of hope, we need turn no further than the front page of the newspaper, or better yet, to flip on our local NPR affiliate. There we may learn of children separated from their parents and thrown in cages. We may learn that it is constitutional to blatantly discriminate on the basis of religion as long as we can come up with a second, more legitimate reason for doing so. We may learn that principles applied to legislative confirmation of appointments when the opposing party leads the executive branch need not apply when the party of the legislative majority holds the White House. We may learn that the dignity and integrity of those entrusted with holding each and all of us to our highest ideals in the public forum are derided for doing just that, and their lives and safety threatened, by those they in fact call to account. All of this callousness and hypocrisy and evil has been carried out by our government in our names just this week.

“Surely there has never been a generation in the course of human history with so little ground under its feet as our own… The great masquerade of evil has wrought havoc with all our ethical preconceptions. This appearance of evil in the guise of light, beneficence and historical necessity is utterly bewildering to anyone nurtured in our traditional ethical systems.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: MacMillan, 1959). No, this is not an original commentary on the present situation, though you could be forgiven for assuming it so. It is Dietrich Bonhoeffer commenting on Germany under the Nazi party while in prison for his activities as part of the resistance movement.

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand? -Psalm 130: 1-2 (NRSV)

Resistance is what we are called to in our time as well. But if our resistance is going to amount to anything it will need to be inspired by, grounded in, and oriented toward a hope for what we aspire to beyond the present tribulation. I for one, and perhaps you as well, would like to think that religion might play a role in envisioning and enacting such hope. At the same time, I for one, and perhaps you as well, have a deep awareness of just how much religion is bound up in, and too often supportive of, the callousness, hypocrisy, and evil we are supposed to be resisting, not only here at home, but around the world. Indeed, if religion is to contribute to a global renewal of hope, we will have to transcend our own descent into tribalism and realize our vocation to incarnate truth and justice for all.

Religion too often succumbs to tribal idolatries. This includes Christianity, often as not at the vanguard of the fall from grace. Paul Tillich reminds us that idolatry is mistaking the finite for the infinite. Tribal idolatries mistake the finitude of our personal identities with the infinity of God’s grace. In the Christian idiom, the bible is mistaken for God, masculinity is mistaken for Christ-likeness, whiteness is mistaken for purity, the nation state is mistaken for the realm of God, and money is mistaken for salvation. When identities are so cosmologized against the backdrop of divinity, they become potent principles for discriminating in-groups from out-groups. Rich, white, male Americans who believe in the bible are in, and everyone else is out.

Well, now, this is strange. Here we are speaking in the Christian idiom, and yet there seems to be a glaring omission from the supposedly Christian tribal idolatry. Hellooo! Jesus! How odd. Jesus appears to have been written out of Christianity.

Of course Jesus has been written out of tribalistic Christianity. Jesus was fundamentally opposed to tribalism, as were the founding figures of most, if not all, religions. Including Jesus would result in an inevitable iconoclasm. Consider our Gospel reading for today, which concludes with Jesus saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” -Mark 5: 34 (NRSV). So much for Masculanity. If you need it spelled out for you, my mother preached a fantastic sermon on that passage a few years ago. Then there’s our passage from the first chapter of Second Samuel. I’m just going to set the 26thverse here and let you meditate on it, merely noting that we’ve just concluded a fantastic Pride month in spite of the Supreme Court letting a baker get away with discriminating against LGBTQ folk. David says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” -2 Samuel 1: 26 (NRSV).

Please note: today’s scripture readings were prescribed by the Revised Common Lectionary. I did not select them: they were set for today in 1994, and Dean Hill assigned me to preach today.

Jesus does not play the in-group/out-group game, and neither should the religion founded in his name and on his teaching. Neither should the religions whose founders similarly decried tribalism in its many guises, that is, nearly all of them. This is not to say there has necessarily ever been a pristine expression of religion apart from the temptation toward idolatry. All of the tribalistic framings have been written in since the beginning, including in the sacred texts themselves. Our calling, like the calling of all people of faith down through the ages, is to do better: to be more faithful, to exhibit more integrity, to press onward toward perfection.

This does lead us to a troubling conundrum, though:

If religion is not about controlling women’s bodies, minds, and spirits;

If religion is not about judging the character of people by the color of their skin;

If religion is not about claiming God for ourselves over against our neighbor;

If religion is not about gaining and parading extravagant sums of money;

If religion is not about justifying our worst proclivities by beating others over the head with a book;

Then what is left for religion to be about?

Hope. Religion is about hope. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” -1 Peter 3: 15 (NRSV). Yet, even here, at the brink of a turn toward redemption, the temptation to tribalism looms. Religion is about hope, but it is not about your hope, and your hope, and your hope, and my hope, and her hope, and his hope. Hope is not individual. Hope is not even collective. Hope is in common. Hope is for all of us, together. As Howard Thurman taught us, “People, all people, belong to one another.”

In what, then, are we to hope? The good news, the gospel, for us today is that religion is not rocket science. The hope of religion is really so simple and so straightforward that it is little wonder it so often gets overlooked and that we become suspicious that it must be some sort of trick. Hope is simply this: all means all. That’s it: all means all, no ifs, ands, or buts.

All means all. Not, “all if you are male.” All. Women and men and trans and intersex and gender-nonconforming. All.

All means all. Not, “all if you are white.” All. Black and brown and white and every shade in between and beyond. All.

All means all. Not, “all if you are a U.S. citizen.” All. Canadian and Mexican and American and Chinese and Indian and Nigerian and Kenyan and Iranian and Russian and Colombian and Irish and Italian and all the rest. All.

All means all. Not, “all if you are rich.” All. Poor and rich and middle class that “As it is written, ‘the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” -2 Corinthians 8: 15. All.

All means all. Not, “all as long as you believe every word that is printed in this book as I understand it.” All. Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Jains and Sikhs and Bahais and Buddhists and Daoists and Confucians and atheists and agnostics and spiritual but not religious and nones. All.

All means all. God makes all of us and God calls all of us to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly. That includes you, and you, and you, and you, and me, and her, and him. All.

“People, all people, belong to one another, and those who shut themselves away diminish themselves, and those who shut others away from them destroy themselves” (Howard Thurman, paraphrased from The Search for Common Ground). All means all because all is all having been made by the all in all.

Last night, like most nights, before I went to sleep I went into each of my daughters’ bedrooms and watched them sleeping peacefully surrounded by too many stuffed animals to count. This week, however, it is impossible to look at them sleeping soundly and then walk across the hall to my own bed without immediately thinking of the thousands of children ripped from their parents’ arms and made to sleep under foil blankets, wailing themselves to sleep with cries for their mothers. This egregious human rights violation is being carried out in our time, on our watch, by our government, in our names. You see, a corollary of insisting that all means all is that the terror and torment being visited upon these children even as I speak is on all of us, regardless of who we voted for.

On Wednesday we will celebrate Independence Day, the foundational principle of which is liberty and justice for all. As a country we have never fulfilled this principle, always leaving liberty and justice a promissory note for some. Yet, those whose dignity and worth has been violated continue to come in hope of receiving what we have promised. Thus, our failure only compounds their violation. We must do better.

I have two beautiful daughters. Hope too has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage. If you are angered by what is being done in your name, then you must wrap yourself in hope that you may have the courage to resist. A Bonhoeffer moment is fast approaching when we may be called upon to resist in ways we had hoped would never be necessary. We will then have to answer, in real time, the question posed by our Baccalaureate speaker in May, the honorable Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto: what will youdo in a moral crisis?

If this sounds to you like a kind of extremism, good. Like Bonhoeffer, Dr. King gave voice to some of his most profound thinking from prison as he reminds us, “Was not Jesus an extremist in love? – ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice? – ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? – ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist? – ‘Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.’ Was not John Bunyan an extremist? – ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.’ Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? – ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail).

Perhaps the greatest sign of hope this past week was the Democratic primary victory by just such an extremist in the 14thcongressional district of the state of New York, Boston University alumna Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In an article for America magazine she reminds us just how deeply the pursuit of justice is implicated in the life of faith. She says, “By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.And let us not forget the guiding principle of ‘the least among us’ found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.”

All means all. God makes all of us and God calls all of us to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly. That includes you, and you, and you, and you, and me, and her, and him. All. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
May 27

Rectifying the Name of Christianity

By Marsh Chapel

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John 3:1-17

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You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they have their being.

You are worthy, O Lamb, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed us for God from every tribe and language and nation; you have made us to be a kingdom and priests serving our God.

To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever. Amen. – Revelation 4: 11, 5: 9b-11 (Common Worship)

 

You may be forgiven for flinching somewhat when you are told by friends what they have heard that “Christians” say, or hear about what “Christians” are doing on the evening news, or read about how “Christians” vote in your morning newspaper. You may be forgiven for that knot in your stomach when you hear that a seminary president has resigned in the wake of criticism for enabling sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic partner violence. You may be forgiven for wondering what what passes for Christianity these days has to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

How did we get here?

Well, consider for a moment all of those posters and t-shirts and bumper stickers and tattoos you have seen sporting merely eight characters: J – O – H – N – 3 – : – 1 – 6. What does that inscription even mean? For someone walking down the street, it is just a string of eight characters with no obvious meaning, but of course, being a good church goer, you know that it refers to the Bible, and therein to the Gospel according to St. John, the third chapter, and the sixteenth verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (NRSV) Well, now. Ain’t that nice. God loved the world. Everlasting life. Sounds pretty sweet. But what lies lurking beneath the surface, that is, what is being implied when the verse is foisted in the faces of the uninitiated, is not the promise of salvation but the threat of believe or perish. Rather than the grace of God, the verse is being used like an underhanded compliment to spread judgment and condemnation. What’s more, it is pretty obvious, even to the uninitiated, that this is precisely what is going on.

The name of Christianity is in a pretty sorry state in many quarters, not because people have not learned how wonderful Jesus is, but because they have learned just how horrible Christians can be. Can the name “Christian” be redeemed? I’m not sure, but perhaps it can be rectified. The project of rectifying names comes not from the first century of the common era in Palestine but from the fifth century before the common era in China. You may have pause to wonder whether an idea at such distance in time and space from Jesus, let alone from you and I, could possibly be relevant, but a very important dissertation set to be defended in August here at Boston University makes the case that the two need not necessarily be as far apart from one another intellectually as they are from some of their own neighbors in time and space.

I am grateful that my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Bin Song, Chapel Associate for the Confucian Association here at Marsh Chapel, is here to read from the Analects of Confucius this morning, in Chinese and English.

子路曰:「衛君待子而為政,子將奚先?」子曰:「必也正名乎!」子路曰:「有是哉,子之迂也!奚其正?」子曰:「野哉由也!君子於其所不知,蓋闕如也。名不正,則言不順;言不順,則事不成;事不成,則禮樂不興;禮樂不興,則刑罰不中;刑罰不中,則民無所措手足。故君子名之必可言也,言之必可行也。君子於其言,無所苟而已矣。」

Zilu asked, “If the Duke of Wei were to employ you to serve in the government of his state, what would be your first priority?” The Master answered, “It would, of course, be the rectification of names (zhengming 正名).” Zilu said, “Could you, Master, really be so far off the mark? Why worry about rectifying names?” The Master replied, “How boorish you are, Zilu! When it comes to matters that he does not understand, the gentleman should remain silent. If names are not rectified, speech will not accord with reality; when speech does not accord with reality, things will not be successfully accomplished. When things are not successfully accomplished, ritual practice and music will fail to flourish; when ritual and music fail to flourish, punishments and penalties will miss the mark. And when punishments and penalties miss the mark, the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves. This is why the gentleman only applies names that can be properly spoken and assures that what he says can be properly put into action. The gentleman simply guards against arbitrariness in his speech. That is all there is to it.” (Confucius. Analects. trans. Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003. 139).

Thank you, Dr. Song. Now, before you sit down, perhaps you could help me with something. I seem to have forgotten the name of the author of that very important dissertation about to be defended regarding doctrines of creation in Christianity and Confucianism. Do you recall who it is? Oh, that’s your dissertation? Well, this is awkward. Dear friends, please join me in congratulating Dr. Song on his tenure track appointment as Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Washington College in Maryland beginning in July.

The project of rectifying names begins with the assumption of a leader who has undergone an extensive program of moral self-cultivation. Such a leader would lead by moral force, that is, would have influence simply by virtue of the quality of their character, including at the level of influencing how their followers use language. Rectifying names is about making sure that language accords with reality, that words correspond with real objects, and that grammar articulates real relationships and distinctions. Of course, as we are learning in our time in real time, immorally self-cultivated leaders are quite capable of having precisely the opposite effect to disastrous social consequences.

For an example of rectifying names, we need turn nor further than right back to the Gospel according to St. John, the third chapter, the first through the fourteenth verses:

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I say to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (NRSV)

Nicodemus is confused, and we can hardly blame him. As far as he can tell, birth is something that happens at the beginning of life, it occurs once, and it is a rather bloody affair of being forcibly ejected from the womb of one’s mother. Jesus is here rectifying the name “born” to refer not only to birth into this life but also to birth into eternal life, and this birth is by water and the Spirit from above. Unfortunately, this attempt at rectification largely fails. In point of fact, this is likely because Jesus violates two of the four maxims of conversational implicature identified by British philosopher of language H. Paul Grice as underlying conditions for successful communication. Jesus upholds the maxim of quality, speaking what he knows to be true, and the maxim of relevance, speaking to the topic at hand, but he violates the maxim of quantity by failing to provide as much information as needed for Nicodemus to understand, and the maxim of manner, which requires clarity, brevity, and orderliness while avoiding obscurity and ambiguity.

If anything, this excursus serves to demonstrate that rectifying the name of Christianity can be no small feat. The name of “Christian” for many refers not to the grace of God but to rank hypocrisy in service to the self-interests of its purveyors. Such hypocrisy is inevitable when so many Christians have shifted the reference of what they take to be ultimate from God to their own self-interests, which is precisely what Paul Tillich identified as idolatry: mistaking the finite for the infinite – the bible is mistaken for God, masculinity is mistaken for Christ-likeness, whiteness is mistaken for purity, the nation state is mistaken for the realm of God, and money is mistaken for salvation.

It is not the case that these idolatries are recent inventions among modern Christians. Many if not all of them have been lurking within Christianity virtually since the beginning. Much could be said detailing the histories of each of them, but for the moment let us focus on the last, the confusion of money for salvation. As another very important dissertation, recently defended at Harvard, points out, theology and economics have been intertwined in Christian theology all the way back to the writings of St. Paul, rendering the logic of salvation in financial terms.

I am grateful that my dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment here at Marsh Chapel, is here to read an example of this from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in Greek and English:

Ἄρα οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ὀφειλέται ἐσμὲν οὐ τῇ σαρκὶ τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆν, εἰ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆτε, μέλλετε ἀποθνῄσκειν· εἰ δὲ πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος θανατοῦτε, ζήσεσθε. ὅσοι γὰρ πνεύματι θεοῦ ἄγονται, οὗτοι υἱοὶ θεοῦ εἰσιν. οὐ γὰρ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον ἀλλ’ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν· αββα ὁ πατήρ. αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα συμμαρτυρεῖ τῷ πνεύματι ἡμῶν ὅτι ἐσμὲν τέκνα θεοῦ. εἰ δὲ τέκνα, καὶ κληρονόμοι· κληρονόμοι μὲν θεοῦ, συγκληρονόμοι δὲ Χριστοῦ, εἴπερ συμπάσχομεν ἵνα καὶ συνδοξασθῶμεν.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (NRSV)

Thank you, Dr. Quigley. Now, before you sit down, perhaps you could help me with something. I seem to have forgotten the name of the author of that very important dissertation about theo-economics in St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. Do you recall who it is? Oh, that’s your dissertation? Well, this is awkward. (Is anyone else having déjà vu all over again?) Dear friends, please join me in congratulating Dr. Quigley on her graduation from Harvard Divinity School with the Doctor of Theology in New Testament and Early Christianity last week.

Some of you may be wondering how we got from there to the idolatrous hypocrisy that characterizes too much of Christianity today. Alas, it is really not that hard. Allow me to demonstrate. Hear then a proof that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is in fact the savior of the world on the basis of the Gospel according to St. John, the third chapter, verses fifteen through seventeen:

‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (NRSV)

From here I take you to Valentine’s Day 2011, my first Valentine’s Day with Holly, to whom I have now been blissfully married for six years today. Happy anniversary, love. On that Valentine’s Day in 2011, I had planned a nice evening out, with dinner at a tapas restaurant followed by a screening of Casablanca at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. To this romantic plan, Holly appended a pre-dinner screening of a documentary film on the effort to eradicate Guinea Worm, a parasitic infection contracted by drinking contaminated water resulting in the growth of a worm, sometimes up to a meter long, in the lower extremities over the course of a year, which then emerge through a blister in the skin to deposit their larvae and begin the cycle all over again.

Now, in John 3: 15, Jesus prophesies that “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” He is referring here back to the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Numbers, the 21st chapter, where the Israelites are wandering around the desert whining and so God sends a plague of fiery serpents to whip them into shape. Of course, they repent, so God tells Moses to put a serpent on a pole and whoever looks at the serpent on the pole would live. (Note here the similarity with the medical symbol of the Rod of Asclepius, a Greek deity of healing and medicine, which is a serpent wrapped around a pole). Guinea worm may well be the plague of fiery serpents described in Numbers. After all, when the worm emerges from the skin, it does so through a painful blister that sufferers describe as a burning sensation. Thus, on the basis of Jesus prophesy linking his own crucifixion to the plague of fiery serpents, and then his crucifixion to the salvation of the world in verse seventeen, clearly the salvation of the world consists in the eradication of guinea worm. Since there are still people in the world who suffer from guinea worm, clearly Jesus’ crucifixion was not as successful in accomplishing this goal as he had promised. However, due largely to the dedication and resourcefulness of the Carter Foundation, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, guinea worm cases are down to only thirty worldwide in 2017 from 3.5 million cases thirty years prior. Thus, once guinea worm is finally eradicated once and for all, Jimmy Carter will have saved the world.

See, you really can get the bible to say pretty much anything. I should note that Jimmy Carter himself would be horrified by this interpretation. If you don’t believe me, then you should attend bible study with him at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia before church some Sunday. Just be sure to get there early, very early, like, before 6:00a.m., if you want a seat.

This example also serves to make Confucius’ point that when names are not used in a way that accords with the contours of reality, “the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves.” Indeed, what are we do with Christianity and those who call themselves Christians? Confucius prescribes exemplary moral leadership that does not succumb to the inevitable hypocrisy of idolatry but instead accords its own actions with what is real, and true, and good, that is, with God. Such leaders would be able to rectify the name of Christianity by influencing others to accord their actions with what is real, and true, and good.

But where are we to find such leaders? Right here! Marsh Chapel! You are such leaders. You have the ability to go out and in thought, word, and deed to rectify the name of Christianity. You are empowered by the Spirit to go forth and accord your actions with what is real, and true, and good, to inspire others to accord their actions with what is real, and true, and good, and to hold those in power to account when they lie, and cheat, and steal. To rectify the name of Christianity, go forth as good Confucians that you may resist hypocrisy and idolatry, that you may properly distinguish the finite from the infinite, and that you may lead with moral force. On this Trinity Sunday, bind unto yourselves the strong name of God who makes reality, Christ the norm of truth, and the Spirit that leads us into goodness. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
July 2

The Discipleship of the Lost

By Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 22:1-14

Romans 6:12-23

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May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, and our redeemer. Amen.

We journey together in these summer months, we who gather along the banks of the Charles, whether near or afar. We journey along with friends and with guests during our annual summer preacher series at Marsh Chapel. We journey, this summer, charting new directions in discipleship.

Over the course of this liturgical year, Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, we have been journeying with Matthew, who is the leftmost figure in our Altarpiece here at Marsh Chapel, depicting Jesus and the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For the past three weeks, we have abided for a time in the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel as Jesus calls and sends out the twelve disciples. We would do well to remember how that sending begins in verses five and six: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Most of the rest of the tenth chapter delineates just how fraught their mission will be, replete with persecution, rejection, and division.

At last, we come, this week, to the final three verses of the chapter and the conclusion of Jesus’ mandate in mission to the disciples. At last, things are beginning to look a bit brighter. At last, the disciples are encouraged to gird up their loins and persevere for they will receive the just rewards of the righteous if they do. And so, Jesus declares, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” In sum, good things come to those who persist.

And so, we pick ourselves up, and dust ourselves off, emboldened and encouraged by Jesus’ words of instruction. Off we go, continuing our journey. Now wait a minute, I forgot, where was it you said we were to go again, Jesus? “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Israel. Right. Off we go.

Now wait just a second. WE are of the house of Israel. WE descend from the house and family of Jacob. And what’s more, SO DO YOU, JESUS! Well, isn’t this a fine “how do you do!?” This is no journey to see the sites, to get out in the world, to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus is telling us to go home!

Indeed, Jesus finds it easier to find faithfulness outside of Israel than within. Just back in chapter eight, we recall that “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.’ When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (8: 5-8; 10-12).

“Many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” We remember that God made covenant with Abram, who was renamed Abraham, that his descendants would become nations, including both of his sons, Isaac, who he almost sacrificed, and Ishmael who he sent away and whose nation was the harbinger of Islam. But it was Isaac’s son Jacob, who was renamed Israel, whose tribe would become lost so that Jesus must send the disciples to find them. Indeed, “in no one in Israel have I found such faith,” and “the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It would be all too easy, and over the course of Christian history we have proven all too susceptible to making this finding of a lack of faith in Israel a justification for antisemitism. To be sure, the community of the Gospel of Matthew was in the midst of a wrenching divorce within synagogues between those who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and those who did not. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the moral of this story is to write off those who did not understand Jesus to be the Messiah. The moral of the story, instead, is that to learn what it means to be faithful, that is, what it means to be a disciple, and thus what we should be teaching and mentoring each other to become, we may have to look outside of our own community, as Jesus did here in the eighth chapter, and again in the fifteenth:

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (15: 22-28).

This is not a matter of those outside of Israel being right and those within being wrong. This question as to proper faithfulness and discipleship in Matthew is not antisemitism. Just as Jesus found a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman to be faithful by contrast with Israel, so too he found his Israelite disciples to be faithful by contrast with his natural family in the twelfth chapter: “While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (12: 46-50).

So, you want to be a disciple of Jesus, do you? Go home! Go home. Go home to the lost sheep of Israel, that is, go home to the church, your church, your tribe, and your nation, and testify to the faithfulness you have encountered on the highways and byways of life. Go home to your brothers and your sisters and your mother, and tell them of those from the east and from the west whom you expect to meet at the banquet table of heaven.

My, my, my, you may be thinking, that does sound hard. Indeed, there is a great deal more at stake in providing welcome, in providing hospitality, whether to a prophet, or to a righteous person, or to a little one, than merely providing food, and drink, and shelter. After all, to welcome one of them is to welcome Jesus is to welcome God.

Consider, then, the sermon preached on Palm Sunday in 1959 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. He took as his sermon texts two passages from the Gospel of John: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold” (10:16) and “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do, shall he do also. And greater works than these shall he do because I go unto my Father” (14:12). Doctor King applied both of these verses to Gandhi, and in doing so made two significant moves. The first is to simultaneously acknowledge the religious otherness of Gandhi and to adopt that very otherness of Gandhi’s life, practice, thought, and person into the fold of God. King argues that Gandhi is a Christian not by being a Christian but by being a Hindu, and thus not of this fold. This is to say that it is by virtue of Gandhi’s Hinduism that he belongs to King’s God.

The second move is even more startling, especially since it arrives in a sermon on Palm Sunday, third only in importance on the Christian liturgical calendar to Christmas and Easter. The appellation of the second text signals that Doctor King believed that in his life Gandhi had achieved greater things than Jesus. To be sure, by noting that Jesus predicted this, King is safeguarding the sanctity of the Christian narrative. Nevertheless, the greatest accomplishment of Jesus according to the Christian narrative is nothing less than the salvation of the world. It is that very Christian narrative, then, that Doctor King employs to elevate the significance of Gandhi’s life to the level of soteriological efficacy. This is a shocking move for any Christian preacher to make, even one trained at the Boston University School of Theology.

Doctor King came north via Morehouse College in Atlanta and Crozier Divinity School in Philadelphia to take his PhD in systematic theology at Boston University. It was on that journey that he learned about Gandhi, not least from the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman here at Marsh Chapel. Then, he went home. He went home to the south. He went home to Atlanta and to Selma and to Montgomery and he testified to the faithfulness he had encountered on the way.

And what did Gandhi’s faithfulness consist in, you may be wondering? The faithfulness of Gandhi may best be summed up in a word: Satyagraha, loosely translated, insistence on or holding fast to truth. Satyagraha was the name Gandhi gave to his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. It was also the name he gave to the ashram he founded. Of the first half of the term, satya, Gandhi says, “The word Satya (Truth) is derived from Sat, which means ‘being.’ Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God. In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say that God is Truth. But as we cannot do without a ruler or a general, names of God such as ‘King of Kings’ or ‘the Almighty’ are and will remain generally current. On deeper thinking, however, it will be realized, that Sat or Satya is the only correct and fully significant name for God.” (M. K. Gandhi.  Non-Violent Resistance. New York: Schocken Books, 1951. 38.)

A testament to truth we may also find yet further east, in China. Consider then the words of the scholar Xunzi of the third century BCE: “If a man has attained perfection of truthfulness, he will have no other concern than to uphold the principle of humanity and to behave with justice. If with truthfulness of mind he upholds the principle of humanity, it will be given form. Having been given form, it becomes intelligible. Having become intelligible, it can produce transmutation. If with truthfulness of mind he behaves with justice, it will accord with natural order. According with natural order, it will become clear. Having become clear, it can produce transformation. To cause transmutation and transformation to flourish in succession is called the ‘Power of Nature.’” (John Knoblock, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 1988. 177-78).

Truth is at the root of the power of nature. Truth is the only correct and fully significant name for God. “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Could the will of God be anything other than truth? Faithfulness. Discipleship. “Many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Faithfulness. Discipleship.

Go home! Go home. Go home to the lost sheep of Israel. Go home to the church, your church. Go home to your tribe, and your nation. Go home and testify to the faithfulness you have encountered on the highways and byways of life. Go home and witness to the discipleship of the Roman and the Canaanite and the Hindu and the Ru. Go home to your brothers and your sisters and your mother, and tell them of those from the east and from the west whom you expect to meet at the banquet table of heaven. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
May 28

Development

By Marsh Chapel

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Xunzi 1.8

Mark 16: 14-20

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Few! Thanks be to God that’s over with. It is tempting to say that we unceremoniously threw the class of 2017 out last weekend, except for the small matter of all of that ceremony. Nevertheless, having dispensed with the class of 2017, we now shift gears to welcome the class of 2021. Welcome, new terriers!

Perhaps, however, before shifting our gaze entirely to what comes next, we would do well to pause, just briefly, and consider what precisely it was that we accomplished last weekend. Most obviously, the ceremonies of commencement transformed the members of the class of 2017 from students into graduates, and thus, alumni, of Boston University. Ostensibly, this is a transformation from those who learn into those who know. It is a change of social status, from one social category to another.

Alas, there is a not-so-small problem with this analysis, and it was eloquently addressed by our Baccalaurete speaker, Dr. Mario Molina, from this pulpit last week. Did you catch it? He said, “the notion that what you learned in college is sufficient for your future work was an acceptable point of view in the past, but it is no longer valid. The big change, as you are all probably aware, is that you have to continue learning throughout your career. This means that perhaps the most important skill you should have acquired in college is how to learn, how to become motivated to keep learning, that is, how to become a lifelong learner.”

So what really happened last weekend, then, is that in enacting the rituals of commencement, we told over 6,000 people that they were finished, that they had accomplished something, that they could check that box off their to-do list and move on, and in so doing, we lied to them.

In point of fact, though, it should not be so surprising that we cast graduation as a shift between binary categories. After all, the whole system, model, and structure of the modern university is inherited from those born in medieval Europe at the height of Christendom, and Christianity, since its inception, has cultivated such dualisms at the center of its self-understanding.

Consider the texts that were read just a few minutes ago:

when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust. (Psalm 104: 28-29)

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more. (Psalm 104: 34-35)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind. (Isaiah 65: 17)

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21: 1)

To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21: 6b-8)

The same dualistic view is replete in the gospels as well. Hear, then, these words appended to the Gospel according to Mark by later editors, drawing from the rest of the Gospels’ accounts of the resurrection:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16: 14-20)

Belief vs. unbelief; saved vs. condemned; living water vs. a lake of fire; new heaven and new earth vs. first heaven first earth; filled with good vs. returned to the dust. To be sure, Paul tells us that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28), but this is in the wider context of the dichotomy between those who belong to Christ and those “imprisoned under the law” (cf. Galatians 3: 23).

It is, perhaps, not entirely surprising that an apocalyptic movement, imminently expecting Jesus’ return accompanied by very real physical and socio-political consequences would schematize life in such a dualistic fashion. Surely, it has been the theological work of centuries to soften, temper, and reinterpret the harshness of these apocalyptic binaries. And yet, here we are, in 2017, five hundred years after the start of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s emphatic principle of Sola scriptura, that scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice, a principle, alas, that has not aged terribly well. Too often, sola scriptura becomes the basis of biblical literalism or even bibliolatry, an excuse for intolerance and exclusion, and thus reinforces apocalyptic dualisms. Should we celebrate the Reformation? Yes, but let us do so with eyes wide open, attentive to the full range of its lasting effects.

The problem with these dichotomies, these binaries, these either/or formulations, is that they leave no room for the process of growth, for transformation over time, for the period of change, for development. Alas, the mismatch between dualistic categories and our lived experience of ongoing, incremental growth and development is quite painful. Spiritually painful. Existentially painful.

Perhaps you have experienced this. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your faith is lukewarm. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that you are not fervent enough. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your belief is unorthodox. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your soul is in peril. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that who you are or what you believe is not adequate for heaven, and so you must be damned to hell. I have.

Or perhaps your experience of the misfit of dualistic categories appears in the form of an imposter syndrome.

Perhaps you were baptized but harbored doubts.

Perhaps you were confirmed but still had questions.

Perhaps you were ordained in spite of suspicion of the church.

Perhaps you were asked to teach but have barely read the bible.

Perhaps you were asked to lead but worry that you yourself are already off the path.

Perhaps you were asked to testify but have only brokenness to offer.

Perhaps you were honored for uprightness but are all too aware of your own iniquity.

The good news of Jesus Christ for you and for me is this: Congratulations! You are normal! You are human! Christ is with you! And Christ has sent, is sending, will send the Holy Spirit to lead you and me through an ongoing process of growth and development into all truth and the full measure and stature of Christ.

But how can we hear this saving word amidst the dualistic cacophony? How can we swim in this river of saving grace when the waters have been divided to the left and the right? Dear friends, it may not be possible to hear what the Spirit is saying, to reunite the divided waters, by merely abiding in our present communities and reading the same texts. It may be that in order to hear the still small voice calling us to become as Christ, we must move beyond the din and find another body of water in which to immerse ourselves for a time. It may only be when we look back from afar that we can see the seeds and sprouts, the fresh growth to which we are otherwise oblivious in our native land.

Hear, then, these words from the third century BCE Chinese scholar Xunzi, from his “Exhortation to Learning:”

Learning—where should it begin and where should it end! I say: Its proper method is to start with the recitation of the Classics and conclude with the reading of the Rituals. Its real purpose is first to create a scholar and in the end to create a sage. If you genuinely accumulate and earnestly practice for a long time, then you will become an initiate. Learning continues until death and only then does it stop. Thus, though the methods employed to learn come to a conclusion, the purpose of learning must never, even for an instant, be put aside. Those who undertake learning become men; those who neglect it become as wild beasts. Truly the Documents contain the record of governmental affairs. The Odes set the correct standards to which pronunciations should adhere. The Rituals contain the model for the primary social distinctions and the categories used by analogical extension for the guiding rules and ordering norms of behavior. Accordingly, when learning has been perfected in the rituals, it has come to its terminus. Surely this may be called the culmination of the Way and its Power! The reverence and refinement of the Rituals, the concord and harmony of the Music, the breadth of the Odes and Documents, the subtlety of the Annals—all the creations of Heaven and Earth are completed in them. (John Knoblock, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 1988. 139-140).

Learning, growing, developing, changing, transforming, is a process both life giving and lifelong. As is said of Confucius in the Analects:

The Master said, “At fifteen, I set my mind upon learning; at thirty, I took my place in society; at forty, I became free of doubts; at fifty, I understood Heaven’s Mandate; at sixty, my ear was attuned; and at seventy, I could follow my heart’s desires without overstepping the bounds of propriety.” (Edward Slingerland, Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2003).

What do we learn from this wisdom from China? What is different from the view of life as a series of binary transformations? We learn the age-old lesson not to mistake the forest for the trees. Yes, there are moments in life when we can recognize, can feel, can express the difference between our former selves and ourselves as we are now, but these moments are signposts along the way of a much longer journey, not destinations or achievements in and of themselves. Salvation comes in the accumulation of wisdom, of insight, of understanding, of attunement, not all at once in single step. Salvation is following the path demarcated by the Spirit, led and prodded along by the Spirit, into all truth, not the appropriation of truth in a single grasp, which must inevitably be partial, limited, and fleeting.  The question, then, is not whether or not you have achieved salvation or spiritual fullness, but whether you are undertaking the journey and process of growth and development, or standing still, mired in place.

The week before Mother’s Day, my older daughter made a gift for her mother, my wife. Happy anniversary, love. When I picked her up from childcare, she made us whisper the entire way home so that my wife, who was not with us, would not find out about the gift, as it was supposed to be a secret. That Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, she ran into our room and woke us, waving the gift in the air, exclaiming, “I made you a Mother’s Day present, Mommy, but it’s a surprise!”

Now, this lack of clarity about the nature and proper revelation of a secret is endearing and amusing in a four-year-old, but that very endearment and amusement is in part rooted in the fact that we can expect the child to grow, develop, and mature into a fuller understanding and stature. Sadly, we in the United States, and perhaps especially in the past week everyone around the globe, must suffer under the ongoing denigration of leadership, of virtue, of statecraft, and of humanity by one who views the path of learning and growth and development as beneath him. As Xunzi rightly points out, “Those who undertake learning become men; those who neglect it become as wild beasts.”

This summer at Marsh Chapel, our annual sermon series takes up the theme of “new directions in discipleship.” Christian disciples are students, learning what it means to follow Jesus. Unlike secular models of education, however, there is no graduation from the school of discipleship. Instead, discipleship is a lifelong process of learning, growing, maturing, and developing, but so too it is a process of the finite approximating the infinite, a process that can never come to a final conclusion in the finitude of life. “Learning continues until death and only then does it stop. Thus, though the methods employed to learn come to a conclusion, the purpose of learning must never, even for an instant, be put aside.

Today we observe the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, transposed from this past Thursday, which was forty days after Easter. Jesus is back in heaven, having descended from heaven in the incarnation at Christmas, descended further into hell on Good Friday, been resurrected from the dead on Easter, and now, at last, ascended back to heaven. Good news! The story is over! A happy ending! But no! The story is not over. Next Sunday is Pentecost, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, who will lead us into all truth. We are not done. We are unfinished. As we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, then, let us recognize it for the signpost it is along our journey of lifelong learning and discipleship, a sign pointing us to the very need for our ongoing development. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
March 12

Reaching Out ad interim

By Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 12: 1-4a

Psalm 121

John 3: 1-17

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Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s ashes as another Lent begins;

thus we kneel before our Maker in contrition for our sins.

We have marred baptismal pledges, in rebellion, gone astray;

now, returning, seek forgiveness; grant us pardon, Lord, this day!

We have failed to love our neighbors, their offences to forgive,

have not listened to their troubles, nor have cared just how they live;

we are jealous, proud, impatient, loving overmuch our things;

may the yielding of our failings be our Lenten offerings.

We are hasty to judge others, blind to proof of human need;

and our lack of understanding demonstrates our inner greed;

we have wasted earth’s resources; want and suffering we’ve ignored;

come and cleanse us, then restore us; make new hearts within us, Lord!

-Rae E. Whitney, 1982

This Lent, as every Lent, and truly all our days, we undertake the work of turning and returning to God. We strive to live our lives reflecting the righteousness God graciously bestows upon us through the sacrifice of Godself in Jesus. For us, unlike for God, righteous action is never pure or absolute. Rather, our actions are situated, contextual, relational, and so reflected as if through a glass, dimly.

In this year’s cycle of the lectionary, our Gospel readings come primarily from Matthew. As we have been exploring over the past couple of months, in conversation with Albert Schweitzer and Amos Wilder, the ethic offered particularly in the synoptic gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is an interim ethic, an ethic for a time between times, an ethic for an already but not yet eschatology that eagerly anticipates the immanent return of Jesus next week, tomorrow, or perhaps even this very afternoon. Today, however, we interrupt your regularly scheduled Matthean programming for a Johannine advertisement. As Dean Hill has so carefully taught us over the past decade of his ministry here at Marsh Chapel, the Gospel of John is situated and contextualized in a community struggling to cope with their disappointment that Jesus had not, and for us, indeed, has not, returned with anything like the immanent expectations of his earliest followers.

And so, here in the third chapter, we find Jesus teaching Nicodemus, who is struggling to understand how to live a spiritual life in the way of Jesus. He desires the kingdom of God, but is desperately confused as to how to get there, or even what experiencing the kingdom of God might really mean. Jesus’ answers are not terribly clarifying to him, as Nicodemus in a sense represents the synoptic expectation of Jesus’ immanent return and John’s community’s disappointment and struggle to adapt to a new reality.

Here, then, in John, is not the abolishment of the interim but rather a shift of understanding to a different sort of interim, an interim demarcated not so much temporally as socially. The Johannine community is living in the interim between the synagogue and the church. This is not an interim of time but an interim of values, of ideas, of policies, of programs. What is needed, then, is not an ethic for preparing for the end times but rather an ethic, or better yet a spirituality, of resistance to values, ideas, policies, and programs that undermine the kingdom of God we are being born into and that is being born in us. “You must be born from above,” and “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

We too are experiencing life ad interim. We too are being afflicted by values, ideas, policies, and programs that undermine the kingdom of God. We too, urgently, need to seek out resources for constructing an ethic and a spirituality of resistance to these demonic afflictions. “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

In this Lenten season we are invited to consider the wisdom of Henri Nouwen, Roman Catholic priest, pastoral theologian, teacher, pastor, spiritual guide. Saint Henri, I have found, provides timely and salient resources for resistance, an ethic and spirituality of resisting by reaching out, in a small book by that title. Deeply informed by the pastoral psychology of his day, Nouwen invites us to make three spiritual conversions that we might resist in a manner that is effective, sustainable, and lives out the values of the kingdom that we seek to replace with the demonic values of the interim moment.

First, Saint Henri invites us to convert our loneliness to solitude. Loneliness characterizes much of life in the interim, characterized as loneliness is by a sense of anxiety at having been excluded, shut out, cut off, denied, rejected, and abandoned. Anxiety leads to frustration leads to agitation. Loneliness is a state of desperate and yet seemingly unattainable desire for connection.

How on earth could we possibly be lonely, surrounded as we are, especially in the city, by so many people? Apparently, the real question is actually how can we not be lonely? Surgeon General Vivek Murthy regularly points out that the most serious health issue in the United States is neither cancer nor heart disease nor obesity but isolation. The Boston Globe Magazine, on Friday, ran the headline, and pushed it to its subscribers by email, “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” Dear friends, loneliness is real and it is decidedly not all in our heads but in our hearts and our bodies, our physiology.

Converting loneliness to solitude is thus an urgent public health issue. It entails first a turn inward to recognize that our overwhelming and anxious desire for outward connection is likely rooted in a lack of inward connection among the various parts of ourselves. We, you and I, each and every one of us, are not singular selves but a community of selves with various needs, desires, longings, aspirations, loves, fears, apprehensions, insights, and confusions. Solitude, then, is the cultivation of inner relationships among these parts of ourselves, it is a becoming present to our selves. Solitude generates a calm, centered, quiet, restful way of being in the world by arranging the voices of ourselves into a consonant harmony.

Cultivating solitude is not only good for our own health. After all how could we possibly expect to harmonize our marriages, our families, our friendships, our workplaces, or our communities if we are shouting dissonant juxtapositions of lonely anxiety? Indeed, solitude is the groundwork of resistance, as Nouwen points out, by in turn converting “fearful reactions into a loving response.” Demonic values, demonic ideas, demonic policies, and demonic programs will never be defeated by fear and anger. They can only be overcome by love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4: 18). The love that emerges from solitude is the groundwork of a creative response to the demons of our interim moment, and as Howard Thurman reminds us, “meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies and prejudices that divide them.”

Second, Saint Henri invites us to convert our hostility to hospitality. In a very real sense, the movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement from inner hostility to inner hospitality, and so this second conversion is simply its outward expression. Of course, moving from loneliness to solitude is merely being hospitable to ourselves; oh, how the shift from inner to outward becomes exponentially more fraught! Even in 1975 Nouwen noted that, “Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm.” Not only saint, but prophet, was Henri.

Boston College philosopher Richard Kearney is wont to point out that the distance between hostility and hospitality is really quite small, rooted, as both words are, in the Latin word hostis. Alas, over time, the demonic has driven a wedge between them, our growing fearfulness increasingly cutting off any inclination toward “the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends.” Hostility is rooted not only in fear but in the need and desire to own and to control, whereas hospitality finds its grounding in freedom and so in service to the stranger.

Like solitude, hospitality is part of the groundwork of resistance. Hospitality, dear friends, is not merely a posture of receptivity toward strangers. Hospitality also involves confrontation. It is not hospitable to welcome a stranger into your house and then to leave. Hospitality means welcoming the stranger to freely be themselves in the presence of an other, of difference, of strangeness. “Confrontation results from the articulate presence, the presence within boundaries, of the host to the guest by which the host offers her- or himself as a point of orientation and a frame of reference” (239).

Now, dear friends, it would be easy to think, especially this week, in the wake of a second attempt at an executive order restricting immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries, that all of this talk of hospitality toward strangers should be a guidebook for welcoming refugees and immigrants. Indeed, we have much yet to learn about welcoming those who have been driven from their homes by violence in fear and anguish. We must learn to bless Abram that he may bless us, else we must surely be accursed by God.

But do not be fooled! Our need to convert hostility to hospitality is not primarily to the immigrant or to the refugee. It is to each other! To one another, to you and to I, to us, here, in this place, on this campus, in this city, and across this great nation. Resistance is not hospitality to demonic values, demonic ideas, demonic policies, and demonic programs. Resistance is hospitably receiving those whose choices, whose decisions, whose actions, whose votes enabled the demonic to take hold, and of confronting them in articulate presence by saying, “This is not who we are.”

Finally, Saint Henri invites us to convert our illusion to prayer. Perhaps particularly when suffering from frantic loneliness and fearful hostility, but even regardless, it is easy to become convinced that our value, our worth, is manifest in “the things we own, the people we know, the plans we have, and the successes we ‘collect’” (251). Nouwen refers to this misplaced conviction as the “illusion of immortality,” but we might better think of it as the illusion of materiality, the illusion that the things of this life are somehow directly transferable to eternity.

To convert such illusion to prayer is to recognize, to remember, to re-encounter the transcendent source, goal, and ground of our value, of our worth, of our dignity. In Lent we remember that we are dust, yes, but our dustiness is still in the image and likeness of God. Prayer, then, is the practice of recognition, the practice of remembrance, the practice of encounter with the true source, the true goal, the true ground of our value, and thus, our very being.

Prayer is the third element of our emerging ethic and spirituality of resistance because prayer is the language of community. Community is what is built when strangers encounter one another hospitably, honoring the harmonious solitude of each constituent member. In order for community to communicate, however, the medium of their communication must transcend any particular communicant. Communication must arise from what a community has in common, namely the source, the goal, and the ground of the value of the communicants individually and together.

Resistance is not possible alone. No one person, by themselves, lonely, hostile, and suffering under illusion, can make one bit of difference in the face of demonic values, demonic ideas, demonic policies, and demonic programs. Resistance requires community, it requires creativity and partnership, it requires fellowship to sustain it for the long haul. Resistance requires community, community requires communication, communication happens in language, and prayer is the language of community. Resistance, then, is impossible without prayer.

Dear friends, will you resist with me? This Lent, will you cultivate an ethic, a spirituality of resistance to the demonic values, the demonic ideas, the demonic policies, and the demonic programs of our interim moment? Will you resist by reaching out? Will you reach out to your selves to nurture and cultivate their disparate voices into a harmonious solitude? Will you reach out to the strangers you encounter and offer them a receptive and confrontational hospitality? Will you reach out to God, in whose image and likeness you are, that in community you may find partnership and strength for the journey?

In the conclusion to Reaching Out, Saint Henri prophetically notes that, “We are living in this short time, a time, indeed, full of sadness and sorrow. To live this short time in the spirit of Jesus Christ means to reach out from the midst of our pains and to let them be turned into joy by the love of the One who came within our reach. We do not have to deny or avoid our loneliness, our hostilities and illusions. To the contrary: When we have the courage to let these realities come to our full attention, understand them, and confess them, then they can slowly be converted into solitude, hospitality, and prayer” (282).

We are indeed living in this short time, an interim moment full of sadness and sorrow when values of love, freedom, courage, compassion, and justice have given way to hate, fear, cowardice, anger, and control. Resist! Reach out! Reach out to yourself. Reach out to one another. Reach out to God. Resist! Resist! Resist the demonic spirit of this interim moment by reaching out, and so be born from above that you may see the kingdom of God. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
January 8

Baptism: Political Theology

By Marsh Chapel

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Isaiah 42: 1-9

Psalm 29

Acts 10: 34-43

Matthew 3: 13-17

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Judgment:

Left. Right.

Up. Down.

Rise. Fall.

Scales of justice tip and tilt.

Judgment:

Righteousness. Sin.

Life. Punishment.

Kingdom. Fire.

Jesus judges sheep from goats.

Judgment:

Righteous. Unjust.

Merciful. Cruel.

Humble. Proud.

Jesus stores the wheat and burns the chaff.

Judgment:

Poor. Rich.

Faithful. Disobedient.

Honest. Hypocrite.

Jesus teaches the way through the narrow gate.

Baptism:

John. Jesus.

Water. Spirit.

Repentance. Forgiveness.

Jesus, with John, fills up all righteousness.

How shall power be distributed? How shall resources be allocated? These are the fundamental questions of politics. Today, having hoped for deliverance during Advent, having rejoiced at the incarnation on Christmas, and having marveled at the revelation on Epiphany, we now come face to face with the one we hoped for, the one we celebrated, the one at whom we marveled: Jesus, who has come to be our judge, and whose baptism by John fills up all righteousness. Like with so many gifts, we may find that Jesus is not quite what we were hoping for. Having unwrapped the package, our joy may not quite be complete. The curtain having been pulled back, our wonderment may be tinged with a bit of perplexity. You see, today, as Jesus descends into the Jordan and is baptized by John, the promise of the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not in some far off heavenly realm, but rather is immersed in the ebb and flow of the mundane. Jesus, it turns out, is deeply concerned with how power is distributed and with how resources are allocated. And moreover, Jesus is deeply concerned with how we, you and I, wield power, interact with power, respond to power; with how we, you and I, obtain wealth, spend wealth, share wealth. Jesus’ baptism is political theology.

Where is your treasure? You may want to ponder this question between now and Ash Wednesday, when Jesus will address the question directly: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where is your treasure? Is it on earth, or is it in heaven? And how, pray tell, should you know?

For Matthew, the scales of divine justice, the scales upon which righteousness is measured and judgment meted out, are quite similar to the banker’s scales upon which your payment is determined sufficient to cancel your debt or you are bankrupt. In Matthew’s construal, we each have two bank accounts, one in heaven, and one on earth; one spiritual, and one material; and wealth is interchangeable between the two. In fact, there is an inverse correlation between the amount of treasure in one and the amount of treasure in the other: our treasure in the heavenly account increases as we give our material wealth to the poor; our treasure in the earthly account increases by greed, injustice, and hypocrisy, which put our spiritual balance in the red. What is our spiritual treasure? What is spiritual wealth? Righteousness. Righteousness. Righteousness. And so, we are back in the Jordan with John who baptizes Jesus to fulfill all righteousness.

It is easy to overlook the importance of Jesus’ baptism by John fulfilling all righteousness given the extraordinary way the scene ends: “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Who cares about the fulfillment of all righteousness when the heavens are rent, the Spirit of God descends, and God speaks in the words of the prophet Isaiah? Surely it is this revelation of Jesus’ divinity and of the trinity that is the point of Jesus’ baptism? No! The opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit, and the voice of God are not the point but rather the divine response to the fulfillment of all righteousness, or better, the filling up of all righteousness. After all, the whole point of the incarnation, life, ministry, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is salvation, and salvation is accomplished by filling spiritual bank accounts with righteousness. In Jesus, the infinite righteousness of God flows into the world to fill up the spiritual bank accounts of those who take up their crosses and follow Jesus, that is, of those who are righteous. Jesus pays off the spiritual debts, that is, gives himself as a ransom, for his righteous disciples. And so:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Here, then, is the economy of salvation: take up your cross, follow Jesus, and store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Note: there is no room here for empty words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Note: salvation is not about belief: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” The economy of salvation is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Righteousness is done, not thought, not said, not believed. Justice is done, not thought, not said, not believed. Mercy is done, not thought, not said, not believed. Humility is done, not thought, not said, not believed. Belief is worthless. Speech is worthless. Righteousness alone is heavenly treasure, and righteousness requires you to act.

There is an inverse relationship between the amount of treasure in the spiritual bank account and the amount of treasure in the material bank account. Righteous action is costly. The grace of Jesus filling the spiritual accounts of the righteous is costly, for Jesus and for us. Teaching righteousness, preaching righteousness, doing righteousness, filling all righteousness got Jesus killed, and many of his followers down through the ages as well. Doing righteousness, doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God, are costly to us as well. After all, the correlate of taking up your cross is laying down your life.

No one knows more about costly grace, the cost of righteousness, the cost of justice, than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose hymn, “By Gracious Powers,” we will sing following the sermon. An outspoken critic and opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime from the very beginning of its rise to power, Bonhoeffer left Germany for the United States and Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1939 rather than face the prospect of being conscripted into Hitler’s army and refusing to serve, a capital offense. Regret at the decision to leave Germany nagging at him, he returned to suffer through the dark days of the Nazi regime with his fellow Germans and the Confessing Church, which he had helped found. A lifelong pacifist, as a participant in the German resistance Bonhoeffer nevertheless contributed to a plot to kill Hitler, having concluded that “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” As he said in what was to have been his magnum opus, his Ethics, “when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it… Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.” Having been arrested on April 5, 1943, his connection to the conspiracy to kill Hitler was not discovered until a year and half later when the plot had already failed, and he was executed by hanging at dawn with several co-conspirators on April 9, 1945, only two weeks before U.S. soldiers would liberate the camp.

Grace is indeed costly. Righteousness is indeed costly. For God, and for us. Jesus filling up all righteousness is the very meaning of grace, and that grace is both a precious resource and a great power. Grace is not a divine exception from the unjust use of earthly power and the unequal distribution of earthly resources. Grace is the call to use earthly power justly and to distribute earthly resources fairly.

The cost of grace, the cost of righteousness, the cost of justice, the cost of mercy, the cost of humility is steep, and so it should be little surprise that there is a plethora of cheap grace flooding the salvation market. This knockoff grace, peddled in various formulations throughout history, arises in its most visible, pervasive, and pernicious form today as so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” Its roots to be found in the New Thought movement of the late 19th century, prosperity teachings reached prominence in the healing revivals of the mid-20th century and then in the later 20th century in the Word of Faith movement and televangelism. The central teachings of the prosperity gospel are that it is God’s will that we be healthy and wealthy, that if we are not it is because we lack faith, we lack positive thought processes, and we need to contribute financially to the appropriate religious institutions. Salvation, in this view, is not righteousness but the breaking of the bonds of sickness and poverty. You too may achieve prosperity in abundance, if you believe hard enough, think yourself strong enough, and give the preacher enough money.

This is the cheapest of grace, or as Bonhoeffer described it, “grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit.” Note that in the gospel of prosperity the relationship between the heavenly bank account and the material bank account is not inversely proportional but directly proportional; that is, increasing the amount in your heavenly account also increases the amount in your material account and vice versa. The road to salvation requires not that you take up your cross but that you take up your money, and if you do not have any money, just believe hard enough and you will. Reinhold Niebuhr rightly called out an early version of prosperity gospel, preached by Norman Vincent Peale, as false gospel: “The basic sin of this cult is its egocentricity; it puts ‘self’ instead of the cross at the center of the picture.” Or, as Bonhoeffer rightly summed up, “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.” Prosperity gospel is heresy, it is blasphemy, it is treason in the kingdom of God, and worst of all, it is wrong.

Of course, heresy, blasphemy, treason in the kingdom, and flat out being wrong are hardly barriers to political success, to attaining earthly wealth and power. In our own day, the gospel of prosperity has amassed vast wealth by preying on those in financial and personal distress with promises of health and wealth to those who give their last penny. In our own day, the gospel of prosperity has attained a level of power and influence such that it will be front and center, leading us in prayer, in the presidential inauguration in a couple of weeks.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was called to stand with Jesus in the Jordan in the dark days of Nazi Germany, to commit himself once again to righteousness by being baptized by John for repentance, to pay the earthly cost of grace in order to store up righteous treasure in heaven. Jesus’ baptism is political theology. Bonhoeffer’s baptism is a living out, a doing, of the political theology of Jesus’ baptism by John, of righteousness, of justice, of mercy, of humility. In the days to come, will you stand with Jesus in the Jordan? Will you pay the cost of discipleship? Will you receive the filling up of all righteousness Jesus offers by doing righteousness? Will you cash out your material bank account in order to store your treasure in heaven?

Thus says John the baptizer: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John’s baptism with water for repentance is cheap compared to the cost to be paid for Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is what we face at the seat of judgment, and Jesus is the judge. Judgment is a determination of justice. Jesus will determine our justice, our righteousness.

Judgment:

Left. Right.

Up. Down.

Rise. Fall.

Scales of justice tip and tilt.

Judgment:

Righteousness. Sin.

Life. Punishment.

Kingdom. Fire.

Jesus judges sheep from goats.

Judgment:

Righteous. Unjust.

Merciful. Cruel.

Humble. Proud.

Jesus stores the wheat and burns the chaff.

Judgment:

Poor. Rich.

Faithful. Disobedient.

Honest. Hypocrite.

Jesus teaches the way through the narrow gate.

Baptism:

John. Jesus.

Water. Spirit.

Repentance. Forgiveness.

Jesus, with John, fills up all righteousness.

Do justice; love mercy; walk humbly with your God.

Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
July 3

Making Our Way Ritually

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 24:13-35

Click here to listen to the meditations only

The Gospel according to Luke is very close to my heart in many ways. For example, this gospel’s author was a faithful physician; I married a faithful physician! And so, I am appreciative that our summer preacher series in Two Thousand Sixteen takes the Lucan horizon as its theme.

We are travelers, are we not, you and I? We are travelers together, making our way toward a horizon. It is a funny thing about horizons that they simultaneously serve as a point of orientation and, if focused upon too long, can serve to entirely disorient their observer. We travelers, you and I, as we make our way together, may at times stop and wonder whether we are really still on the path toward our destination. Are we still headed in the general direction of our goal, or has the horizon twisted our field of vision such that we have wandered off the road?

Jesus’ original followers were not known as Christians but rather as “followers of the way,” followers of the way of Jesus, that is. Confucians and Daoists are followers of the way as well, followers of the Dao. Christians, Confucians, and Daoists each have various ways of harmonizing two sides of the way coin, so to speak. The first side is an internal principle expressed in human life. The second is an external norm that sets the principle and measures that life. This is to say that we make our way not only by ourselves according to our own internal principles, but we make our way with others and accord our principles to the principles of these others, and for our collective well-being.

Still, wandering off the path toward the horizon is all too easy, assuming, of course, that we were ever properly on it in the first place. We may wonder, you and I, fellow travelers, whether where we thought we were going is really at the end of the road we are on. We may wonder if it is where we should be going, anyway. We may wonder if the wonders we have been promised if we ever manage to reach that point on the horizon were not, in fact, always only an illusion. Is this the way, or should we be going some other way?

Such is the situation of two disciples, journeying together to Emmaus, in the Gospel according to Luke:

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

The way of these disciples, Cleopas and another unnamed, is uncertain. Each of the evangelists had an agenda in writing their particular take on the gospel. In the case of Saint Luke, the agenda was to demonstrate the continuity of the experience of the early church with the life and ministry of Jesus. To accomplish this, Luke wrote not one book but two: the Gospel according to Luke, which tells about the life and ministry of Jesus, and the Acts of the Apostles, which tells about the experience of the early church. Luke was writing for gentile Christians worried about their place as Roman citizens, and about whether the ongoing story of the church remains in continuity with the way of Jesus as predicted in the Hebrew scriptures. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Yes, Christians can be good, upstanding Roman citizens; and yes, Christian experience is in continuity with the life and ministry of Christ. Here in the story of the disciples journeying together on the way to Emmaus, Jesus himself confirms for them that they are in fact on the way, in continuity with his own life and ministry, and in fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures.

Well, we know that it is Jesus confirming for the disciples that they are indeed on the way. The disciples themselves do not know this. To them, Jesus remains a stranger. Strange, is it not, that the disciples who had invested their lives in Jesus’ ministry and teaching and service would now be unable even to recognize him? Or perhaps not so strange, given that the disciples spent the whole of Jesus ministry misunderstanding him and rather missing the point entirely. Even as the one they had called “teacher” teaches them as they walk together along the road, Jesus remains unknown. The teaching is important, but alone is insufficient to confirm for the disciples that they are indeed on the way.

So the story continues:

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

Teaching is important, but Jesus is made known and Jesus’ teaching is confirmed, and moreover realized, in ritual, namely, the ritual of the Eucharistic meal. It is only as Jesus performs the ritual of blessing, breaking, and giving bread that the disciples’ eyes are opened and recognition ignites. It is only in the light of this ritually encoded appearance that the teaching on the road is confirmed as authentic and true and reliable.

Ritual often gets a bad rap. Seen as reified and ossified, ritual in our late modern society is often taken as restricting liberty of conscience and freedom of the will. But just as Jeroslav Pelikan noted that tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, so too we may say that ritual is the guide to remaining on the way, while ritualism is a map to nowhere. Our Confucian brothers and sisters are eloquent on this point, and so we listen to the Liji, the Book of Rites, noting that li meaning ritual is here translated “propriety.” I welcome this morning to read the passage my dear friend and colleague Dr. Bin Song, president of the Boston University Confucian Association.

故禮義也者,人之大端也,所以講信修睦而固人之肌膚之會、筋骸之束也。所以養生送死事鬼神之大端也。所以達天道順人情之大竇也。故唯聖人為知禮之不可以已也,故壞國、喪家、亡人,必先去其禮。

Thus propriety and righteousness are the great elements for man’s (character); it is by means of them that his speech is the expression of truth and his intercourse (with others) the promotion of harmony; they are (like) the union of the cuticle and cutis, and the binding together of the muscles and bones in strengthening (the body). They constitute the great methods by which we nourish the living, bury the dead, and serve the spirits of the departed. They supply the channels by which we can apprehend the ways of Heaven and act as the feelings of men require. It was on this account that the sages knew that the rules of ceremony could not be dispensed with, while the ruin of states, the destruction of families, and the perishing of individuals are always preceded by their abandonment of the rules of propriety.

We suffer greatly from a lack of ritual in late modern life. Just as the disciples recognized Jesus in his enactment of the Eucharistic ritual sacrificing his own body, we recognize ourselves and one another and our shared humanity in rituals as simple as a handshake and as complex as global geopolitical diplomacy. It is in ritual that we commune and communicate; it is in ritual that we open ourselves to the power of presence and partnership. As Howard Thurman reminds us, “people, all people, belong to each other, and those who shut themselves away diminish themselves, and those who shut others away from them destroy themselves.” Ritual is the medium of our knowing and trusting and belonging to one another. When it fails or when we fail to either properly enact the ritual or even bother to enact it at all, we are severely diminished and often as not destroyed. “The ruin of states, the destruction of families, and the perishing of individuals are always preceded by their abandonment of ritual.”

Today we call to mind the life and ministry of Professor Elie Wiesel, who died yesterday. Grant to him eternal rest, O God, and may light perpetual shine upon him. Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, teacher, humanitarian, journalist, author, public intellectual, Elie Wiesel suffered from perhaps the greatest abandonment of ritual recognition of our common humanity in the modern period, and went on to craft and establish and enact so many rituals to restore our common humanity. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Rather than dulling the conscience and the will, ritual restrains our tendency toward indifference and allows us to recognize one another.

We have not learned this lesson. We have not learned to not only allow but to invite our selfish desires and neuroses to be restrained that we might see and know and love one another. In a time of such vast societal failure to recognize our common faith, why are we surprised when nine people are murdered during a bible study? In a time of such vast societal failure to recognize our common love, why are we surprised when fifty people are murdered in a gay nightclub? In a time of such vast societal failure to recognize our common wealth, why are we surprised when a nation decides they know better and can do better on their own? In a time of such vast societal failure to recognize our common dignity, why are we surprised that a plan to build a two thousand mile wall between us and our neighbors has gained such political traction? “The ruin of states, the destruction of families, and the perishing of individuals are always preceded by their abandonment of ritual.”

Perhaps part of our problem is that we are afraid of ritual. We are afraid to participate in ritual. Ritual can seem arcane and impenetrable and so high that we cannot attain it. After all, does not ritual require preparation? Does it not require indoctrination into the cult of the ritual actors? Does it not require confession and repentance and absolution? Does it not require that first we go and be reconciled? Does ritual not demand that we participate with a sincere will and a sincere heart?

Actually, no. Our Confucian brothers and sisters are again eloquent on this point, and so I invite Dr. Bin Song to read again from the Liji, the Book of Rites.

故禮之於人也,猶酒之有蘗也,君子以厚,小人以薄。故聖王修義之柄、禮之序,以治人情。故人情者,聖王之田也。修禮以耕之,陳義以種之,講學以耨之,本仁以聚之,播樂以安之。故禮也者,義之實也。協諸義而協,則禮雖先王未之有,可以義起也。義者藝之分、仁之節也,協於藝,講於仁,得之者強。仁者,義之本也,順之體也,得之者尊。

Therefore the rules of propriety are for man what the yeast is for liquor. The superior man by (his use of them) becomes better and greater. The small man by his neglect of them becomes meaner and worse. Therefore the sage kings cultivated and fashioned the lever of righteousness and the ordering of ceremonial usages, in order to regulate the feelings of men. Those feelings were the field (to be cultivated by) the sage kings. They fashioned the rules of ceremony to plough it. They set forth the principles of righteousness with which to plant it. They instituted the lessons of the school to weed it. They made love the fundamental subject by which to gather all its fruits, and they employed the training in music to give repose (to the minds of learners). Thus, rules of ceremony are the embodied expression of what is right. If an observance stand the test of being judged by the standard of what is right, although it may not have been among the usages of the ancient kings, it may be adopted on the ground of its being right. (The idea of) right makes the distinction between things, and serves to regulate (the manifestation of) humanity. When it is found in anything and its relation to humanity has been discussed, the possessor of it will be strong. Humanity is the root of right, and the embodying of deferential consideration. The possessor of it is honored.

It is by participating in ritual that we become better and greater. It is by neglect of ritual that we become meaner and worse. The fruit of ritual can be summed up as love. It is not that we must become sincere in order to participate in ritual. Rather, we must participate in ritual in order to become sincere. The disciples were decidedly insincere. They did not know whether they were even still on the way, or if the way they thought they were on was really the way at all. The disciples could not recognize their own teacher and mentor and leader. They were not sincere; they were foolish and slow of heart! After participating in the ritual with Jesus, then they became sincere.

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Go and do likewise. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
May 29

Forming a Trinity

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 7:1-10

Click here to listen to the meditations only

“Lord, who has formed me out of mud,

and has redeemed me through thy blood,

and sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:

for I confess my heavy score,

and I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,

with faith, with hope, with charity;

that I may run, rise, rest with thee.”

-George Herbert, “Trinity Sunday”

Please, be seated.

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the day of the year when preachers are wont to tie themselves in knots attempting to explain one of the knottiest doctrines in the history of religion: how is it that three persons are one god? Today, a week later, we are at least one step removed from having to consider the arcane intricacies of God’s life in trinity. Instead, today, one week after Trinity Sunday and two weeks after Pentecost, we are moving back into ordinary time, that long slog through summer and autumn when we are less concerned with God in Godself and more concerned with God’s life with us. In making this transition, I invite us this week to turn back to the vision of God’s life in trinity while moving forward into God’s life with us by asking, “so what?” So what that God is one in three persons? So what that God is inherently relational? Where do we, human persons, you and I, fit into this “three equals one” equation?

Alas, addressing this “so what?” question requires decamping into an area of Christian thought that may actually be more arcane than the doctrine of the trinity itself: theosis; divinization; deification. The idea that humanity has the capacity, by God’s grace, to participate in divine life arises biblically from Paul and from John. For Paul, across the aisle in stained glass over the lectern, humans are adopted by God to be joint heirs with Christ, are resurrected body and spirit, and “with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3: 18). John, right next to Paul in the window, puts the words in Jesus’ own mouth, as he defends himself from the charge of blasphemy: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ – and the scripture cannot be annulled – can you say that the one whom the father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” The refrain was picked up in the early church. So Irenaeus: “If the Word became a human, it was so humans may become gods.” So Clement of Alexandria: “the Word of God became a human so that you might learn from a human how to become a god.” So Athanasius, watching over us here in stained glass, “Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a human, so also we humans are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life.” So Augustine, also in stained glass: “But the one that justifies also deifies, for by justifying that one makes sons of God… To make human beings gods, that one was made human who was God.” This idea of theosis, of divinization, of deification, sounds like it must be heretical and yet it is at the very heart of the promise of salvation. You and I and we and us, all of us, every one of us, may participate, may partake, may share in the commonwealth of the divine life by the grace of God.

But how? How do we participate? How do we partake? How do we share? This is where things become difficult. Do we as human beings accomplish divinization? Is it a human work? Or is divinization something God does in us? If God does this work in us, how is it brought about? And how do we know if we are partakers in the divine life or not? There is no common Christian witness on these questions, and indeed it is precisely on matters of salvation and its accomplishment that churches most often divide.

This morning I would like to suggest that it might not be possible to arrive at an adequate response to these questions relying solely upon the Christian witness. I suggest that we move further afield to consider wisdom from beyond the confessional boundaries of Christianity. We only need fear doing so if we want to insist that God is so small as to be constrained to a single book, a single concept, or a single institution. If not, we may instead move forward confident that all truth is God’s truth, as the Holy Spirit of God leads us forward into the freedom of all truth.

Let us consider, then, a passage from the Zhongyong, the Doctrine of the Mean, a chapter from the Liji, the Book of Rites, a classical Confucian text. My dear friend and colleague, Bin Song, is here to read the text in Chinese and English:

唯天下至誠,為能盡其性;能盡其性,則能盡人之性;能盡人之性,則能盡物之性;能盡物之性,則可以贊天地之化育;可以贊天地之化育,則可以與天地參矣。

“Only those who are absolutely sincere can fully develop their nature. If they can fully develop their nature, they can then fully develop the nature of others. If they can fully develop the nature of others, they can then fully develop the nature of things. If they can fully develop the nature of things, they can then assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can thus form a trinity with Heaven and Earth.”

We hear in this text as well the prospect of human participation in trinity, although it would be too much to claim that the Confucian and Christian trinities are in any way precise analogues. Instead, what is helpful here is that, tracing back through all of the dependent clauses, the prospect of a human being forming a trinity with heaven and earth depends upon the absolute sincerity of that individual. “Sincerity” is the translation most frequently employed for the Chinese word “Cheng,” which has a rich set of resonances of meaning, including also truthfulness and realness. Sincerity for Confucians has a particular understanding having to do with restraint of the many competing desires that make up the self in order to arrive at a unified harmony among the desires and with the natural, cosmic order. Sincerity has to do with according oneself with the mandate of heaven.

Perhaps, then, a better translation of Cheng would be not so much sincerity as faithfulness. After all, faithfulness, for Christians, involves according oneself with the will, with the purposes, with the mandate of God. It is accomplished in many ways: in prayer, in spiritual discipline, in worship, in study, in sacrament, in service, and more. Most importantly, faithfulness is a partnership between God whose will is made manifest, and we human beings, who seek to accord ourselves with God.

A wonderful example of this sort of faithfulness comes in the Gospel according to Luke. Another dear friend and colleague, Greylyn Hydinger, reads to us from the seventh chapter of Luke in Greek and in English, to remind us that Christian texts come to us no more in English than the Confucian text we heard earlier.

Ἐπειδὴ ἐπλήρωσεν πάντα τὰ ῥήματα αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς ἀκοὰς τοῦ λαοῦ, εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Καφαρναούμ. Ἑκατοντάρχου δέ τινος δοῦλος κακῶς ἔχων ἤμελλεν τελευτᾶν, ὃς ἦν αὐτῷ ἔντιμος. ἀκούσας δὲ περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτὸν πρεσβυτέρους τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἐρωτῶν αὐτὸν ὅπως ἐλθὼν διασώσῃ τὸν δοῦλον αὐτοῦ. οἱ δὲ παραγενόμενοι πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν σπουδαίως λέγοντες ὅτι ἄξιός ἐστιν ᾧ παρέξῃ τοῦτο· ἀγαπᾷ γὰρ τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν καὶ τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτὸς ᾠκοδόμησεν ἡμῖν. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐπορεύετο σὺν αὐτοῖς. ἤδη δὲ αὐτοῦ οὐ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκίας ἔπεμψεν φίλους ὁ ἑκατοντάρχης λέγων αὐτῷ· κύριε, μὴ σκύλλου, οὐ γὰρ ἱκανός εἰμι ἵνα ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην μου εἰσέλθῃς· διὸ οὐδὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἠξίωσα πρὸς σὲ ἐλθεῖν· ἀλλ’ εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήτω ὁ παῖς μου. καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν τασσόμενος ἔχων ὑπ’ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ· πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ· ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου· ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ. ἀκούσας δὲ ταῦτα ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν αὐτὸν καὶ στραφεὶς τῷ ἀκολουθοῦντι αὐτῷ ὄχλῳ εἶπεν· λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐδὲ ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ τοσαύτην πίστιν εὗρον. Καὶ ὑποστρέψαντες εἰς τὸν οἶκον οἱ πεμφθέντες εὗρον τὸν δοῦλον ὑγιαίνοντα.

“After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”

Here we find a centurion, not an Israelite, a foreigner, who recognizes that Jesus is under the authority of God, whose will is in accord with the will of God, and so he seeks to accord his own will with Jesus’ will, and thus with God’s will. Jesus has a fully developed nature, and so can develop the nature of others, in this case the centurion, whose nature develops toward faithfulness in response. Meanwhile, Jesus is able to “assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth” by healing the centurion’s servant. Furthermore, Jesus’ remarks on the faithfulness of the centurion, indicating that the centurion himself is more in accord with the will of God than any he has met in Israel. It is the centurion, and not the Israelites, who is moving toward forming a trinity, toward being divinized into the divine life. The centurion has chosen partnership with God through partnership and trust – that is through faithfulness – in Jesus.

What might it look like to form ourselves into a trinity with heaven and earth, into a partnership with the divine will and pattern offered for our divinization? Well, perhaps on this Memorial Day weekend it might look something like the President of the United States of America traveling to Hiroshima, Japan and declaring:

“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines…

The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

Such a moral revolution cannot be divorced from divine will, from the pattern established by heaven and earth. As Dr. King reminds us, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” So too must we bend if we are to accord ourselves with the arc and participate in divine life. To be sure, we have among us those who would lead us who think heaven and earth should bend toward them. This is not the path of faithfulness leading to divinization, of forming a trinity with heaven and earth.

Rather, faithfulness means responsibly attending to our obligations in life in light of the full range of realities of our present moment and attending to the common good for the sake of our commonwealth. Faithfulness means socially responsible investing so that our livelihood is not at the expense of our neighbor, of future generations, and of the planet. Faithfulness means stepping up and stepping in, of saying something and doing something, when the inherent worth and dignity of any person is disparaged, denied, or denigrated. Faithfulness means establishing and nurturing common ground with the immigrant, the religious other, the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, and anyone else our first inclination might be to avoid or ignore. Faithfulness looks a lot like the Gloucester Police Department reaching out and connecting drug addicts with treatment rather than shuttling them off to prison: responsibility AND justice.

Notably, faithfulness is not about belief. It is the confidence and trust of the centurion, not what the centurion believes, right or wrong, that are signs of his faithfulness, of his desire to accord his will with the will of God. Faithfulness is not believed, it is not known, it is not understood. Faithfulness is done. Faithfulness is practiced. Faithfulness is carried out. Faithfulness is action. Is this works righteousness? No! The whole point is that faithfulness is activity in partnership with God, and it is this partnership that makes us participants and partakers in the divine life.

In a moment we will sing a setting of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, a hymn declaring our intent to accord ourselves with the will of God, with the pattern and principle of heaven and earth. Celtic Christians had a profound sense of the presence of God, of their own participation as partakers in the divine life, of divinization, of deification, of theosis, of forming a trinity with heaven and earth. As we sing, may we reclaim the promise of salvation that we too might partake in divinity and form a trinity with God. Amen.

– Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†, University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
July 5

Contra Ecclesia: Beloved Communities

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 6:1-13

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The theme of our summer preacher series this year is “Beloved Community.” Coined by Josiah Royce, the concept of the beloved community was popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While eschewing the utopian vision of Royce, King nevertheless developed his conception of the beloved community out of the idealist philosophy of Boston Personalism in which he was formed here at Boston University.

For King, the beloved community is first and foremost a social reality. The beloved community arises from the personal commitments of individual people to the method of nonviolence enacted socially. As King said, “the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” Nonviolence is the means, but “the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” The beloved community is spiritual as well as social, “it is the love of God working in the lives of [people].” The beloved community is global, or as King described it, “a great world house in which we have to live together.” And surely it is the cosmic dimension of the beloved community that King had in mind when he quoted Theodore Parker that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King fully that this vision of the beloved community would be realized and actualized socially. He was beginning the process of building a late modern sacred canopy in hopes that it would become the societal governing norm, complete with cosmic dimension, over time.

From the vantage point of 2015, some sixty years after King began to popularize the beloved community, it is hard to imagine such a global and universal ethos taking hold. Rather than a single sacred canopy, as Peter Berger himself has acknowledged, what we are experiencing in our pluralistic age is ongoing contestation of our various sacred canopies, or perhaps better, sacred tents. Rather than participating in a singular canopy, we inhabit, in our lives, various tents: the family tent, the work tent, the school tent, the neighborhood tent, the friends tent, and on and on. We inhabit each of these tents differently, fitting our individual uniqueness to the social norms governing each. These tents overlap one another at the intersection of us; that is, we are the locus of overlap for all of the tents we inhabit, even if they would never otherwise intersect and do not regularly have anything to do with one another. The sacred canopy in this sense, then, is much more like the jungle canopy, which exists only after the fact as the limbs of the trees grow to overlap one another organically.

Of course, some of the tents we inhabit are more central to our sense of self and identity than others; they are more important to us than others; they are where we find our deepest sense of belonging. The tent where you find your deepest gladness realized, where you feel you most fully belong, where you experience the greatest freedom, that tent, then, is your beloved community. Rather than a global, universal, cosmic beloved community, these beloved communities are more often intimate, vulnerable, and personal.

Theologically, what King envisioned as the beloved community resonates deeply with what the church aspires to be: global, universal, and mediator of cosmic harmony. The church aspires to be a community of universal love and belonging. It is for this reason that the church all too frequently proclaims itself to be the unique and universal context for salvation.

Alas, in living out the vocation of cultivating universal love and belonging, the church is caught on the horns of a dilemma. In order to achieve what it aspires, that is in order to become truly global and universal, the church must find ways to cope with the many particularities embodied by the human beings it desires to include. In order to do so, the church has two options. First, the church can articulate its canopy in ways so vague and abstract that it can embrace anyone. The problem with this option is that the canopy demands little and so inspires minimal allegiance, and it quickly becomes viewed as superfluous and irrelevant. Second, the church can articulate its canopy in stricter ways and insist that everyone abide by the norms it articulates. The problem with this option is that the demands of the canopy are so oppressive for some, or perhaps many, that escaping the canopy becomes preferable to suffocating under it. In sum, it is sheer hubris to claim that the experience of grace of one person, or even a subset of people, is determinative of what the experience of grace must be for everyone.

Jesus knew something of the challenge of being beloved in community, indeed in the very communities where one might most expect to find love: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Jesus taught the disciples that they too would find places that could not, or at least would not, be beloved communities for them: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” The sacred canopy of Jesus’ hometown was no place for him to be beloved; the sacred canopy he offered could not meet everyone where they were.

So too today the church is wrestling precisely on the horns of this dilemma. This has never been exemplified more clearly than in the response of too much of the church to the recent US Supreme Court decision finding a constitutional right for gay and lesbian people to marry. Many churches are experiencing that the strict ways they have articulated their sacred canopies with respect to marriage are increasingly intolerable conditions for many people to inhabit. These same churches accuse the churches that have embraced gay marriage of being “wishy washy,” that is, of demanding so little that they are becoming irrelevant.

Sadly, many of these churches that take themselves to be the ultimate context of salvation have forgotten that the very terms of that salvation are their own interpretation of what God is doing. Of course, this forgetting that the sacred canopy is our own construction is precisely one of the movements of its construction that Peter Berger describes. The problem is that in forgetting we come to confuse our own human institutions with the will of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that “the serious Christian, set down for the first time in Christian community, is likely to bring with them a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Just as Saint Paul thought that he knew what he needed and what would be best for him, so too we must learn once again to rely more firmly on God’s grace: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities of disabled persons and those who accompany them, reminds us that, “community is a terrible place, a place where our limitations and egoisms are revealed to us. When we begin to live full time with others we discover our poverty and our weakness, our inability to get on with others… our mental and emotional blocks; our affective and sexual disturbances, our frustrations and jealousies… and our hatred and desire to destroy.” Beloved community is not easy, but it is precisely by moving together through these weaknesses that the power of the beloved community is perfected.

The good news of Jesus Christ for us today is that God is at work inspiring, encouraging, and nurturing beloved communities. Everyone deserves a beloved community. This is the gospel message that Justice Kennedy articulated in Obergefell v. Hodges: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” Even when the church is unwilling to be and become a beloved community, and even when the church is unwilling to acknowledge the beloved community that folks are building together, the government must acknowledge and nurture and foster these beloved communities.

This is a challenging gospel for the church to hear: First, not everyone will find their beloved community in the church. The grace of God is at work outside the church, and often as not in spite of the church. Claims to the contrary are mere hubris, but God’s grace is sufficient because power is made perfect in weakness. Second, the grace of God is nurturing beloved communities, not beloved community. The experience of being beloved cannot be fostered in monolithic, universal, totalizing sacred canopies. Instead we need intimate tents where vulnerability and weakness may be cultivated in contexts of trust and security, because it is in weakness that power is made perfect. The church must repent of the sin of claiming that grace for one is grace for all.

Let me be clear, not all beloved communities are healthy. Dyllan Roof, the accused racist terrorist who killed nine members of a bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, was nurtured in a community to feel beloved precisely by rejecting the humanity and personhood of black people. This orientation is not unrelated to his experience in church. Unequivocally, this is a perversion of what it means to be beloved. There is no grace here.

The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, calls us to return to the gospel of grace: “According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find our best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and shortsightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.”

Today we gather at the table of grace to receive the grace of God whose own weakness was made absolute, and thus whose power is perfected, in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. What will you do with this grace? Go out, take nothing for your journey, and build beloved communities. Build family communities of intimacy, love, and mutual support. Build work communities of imagination, dedication, and collaboration. Build school communities of learning, virtue, and piety. Inhabit all of the communities in which you find belonging and are beloved with grace, that is, in weakness, that your power may be perfected. And may the grace of God empower you to serve as the point of intersection among these communities such that love and justice may flourish. Amen.

–Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, University Chaplain for Community Life, Boston University

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