Archive for the ‘The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley’ Category

Sunday
July 21

A Basket of Summer Fruit

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:38-42

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A Basket of Summer Fruit

Beloved, it is so good to be back in Marsh Chapel. My deepest thanks to Dean Hill for the invitation to stand in this pulpit again, to Ray and Heidi for the logistics and hospitality, and Jess and Victoria and Justin for their leadership and organization of the liturgy this morning. It is good to be worshipping with you again as we meditate this warm summer morning on a basket of summer fruit. 

You might have memories of summer fruit, of those ripened, sunburst, sweet moments of summer joy and delight. Call them to the mind’s eye for a moment. 

My memory wanders back to when I was a kid, and we would spend a few precious days every summer in Wells Beach, Maine, staying at my grandmother’s small cottage at the end of a dead end road two short blocks from the beach. Our days were filled with swimming and boogie boarding in the icy waters whose temperature hovered right around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (sounds nice on a day like today, right?) My parents and aunts and uncles would allow all of the cousins to swim until our lips turned blue or our teeth chattered. Then, we would be yanked out of the water and warmed up in fluffy beach towels until we had pinked up enough to splash right back in. We would walk along the beach, searching for sand dollars in the shallows. We would carefully crawl around tidal rocks, peeking under barnacled stones to see snails and starfish. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, we would retreat to a flat boulder we called the boat rock, begging to stay long enough to be splashed by the seawater as it rushed around us before retreating to higher ground. We would track sand back to the cottage, hose down our feet, and scarf down hot dogs and fried clams, and, for one single glorious meal each year, a shiny red lobster, which we would crack into with messy delight. We would spend hours curled up in an old slip covered chair reading the best in children’s fiction. I met Aslan in that chair, learned the secret about Severus Snape, followed a hobbit to a misty mountain, all bathed in the warmth of the summer sun. 

Once, perhaps twice, we would wrangle some quarters from an adult and would walk to the shockingly painted teal blue arcade, to trade those quarters for a few precious tickets, which we would pool and save and never spend, hoping for that day, untold years hence, when we might have the 3,000 tickets to buy the giant stuffed animal or cheap electronic device. Once, perhaps twice, we would pile into the car and run circles around the giant wooden sign at the Scoop Deck, which listed some 50+ homemade ice cream flavors, and we would shriek from delight and from the sugar high as we devoured waffle cones the size of our heads, piled high with peppermint stick ice cream or triple chocolate fudge and eating our way down to the delicate mini marshmallow at the bottom of the cone, which held the ice cream in and kept the whole contraption together. We would make a tremendous mess. Once, perhaps twice, we would wander the halls of an antiques hall that held about as much junk as antiques. We would stare at old tools, and mishandle vintage toys, and gawk at costume jewelry, and we would try to restrain ourselves from touching anything too breakable. Once, perhaps only once, we would light sparklers after dark and dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light at the end of our fingertips. 

When you call to your mind your own sunburst moments of joy and delight, what summer fruit comes to mind? Perhaps it is a quiet lake, a wooded path, bursting forth to a mountain view. Perhaps it is a field of strawberries, plucked, and a warm kitchen of jarring jam. Perhaps it is the strains of an outdoor concert and the comfort of a blanket spread on the ground. What comes to mind that looks, smells, sounds, tastes, like a basket of summer fruit?

These moments are precious because they seem, because they are both endless and terribly fleeting. A basket of summer fruit. Amos understood this in choosing the image of summer fruit at the outset of a prophecy about divine judgment for unfair labor practices, condemning those who trample the needy, boost prices, and cheat with dishonest scales. We don’t see it as clearly in English, but there is a word play in the Hebrew here between the word for summer fruit and the end. They are a half a thought apart. So, too, are fruit and fruition, ends and eternities. And we know this from experience to be true, right? This is just the time of summer when we both bask in its endlessness and begin to feel that creeping sense that it is somehow, already, almost over. Children know this, deep in their bones; they can feel when school looms. Tiny sun-filled strawberries fade quickly, sunburst wild blueberries wither, peaches and nectarines overripen into mush. 

The life of faith lived in community teaches us to appreciate those summer moments of joy, both endless and always ending. This is the lesson that we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Mary’s meditative focus on the joy of encounter with the divine. To savor our summer fruits.

The life of faith lived in community also teaches us about the labor it takes to enjoy such summer fruit. This is the lesson we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Martha’s labor to make space for joy. There is another way to tell the story of this idyllic, childlike wondrous scene. You who have been what my fellow millennials call #adulting for a little or a long time know this well, too. 

After all, that two block jaunt to the beach required lugging supplies to keep us kids happy and healthy; chairs, towels, sunblock, boogie boards, umbrella, more towels, snacks, drinks, a cooler, plastic shovels and buckets for playing in the sand. Our tiny arms could carry some things, but the adults often ended up checking the list and carrying the majority of the burden. An adult, too, without the circulation of the very young, would need to freeze alongside us in the ocean, splashed with that 60 degree Fahrenheit water, to make sure that we didn’t swim too deep and that we didn’t catch hypothermia. An adult, too, would have towels ready and then remind us to reapply sunscreen. An adult would precariously balance alongside us on the tidal rocks, tending to scrapes from the barnacles and protecting the wildlife from being permanently transplanted from their homes. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, an adult would patiently move all of the beach luggage, once, twice, thrice, away from the water, and ultimately, would wade waist deep to rescue us from the boat rock as the tide became too high and our shrieks of delight turned to shrieks of fear. An adult would beg us to rinse off our feet and spend an hour sweeping all of the sand that made it in the house anyway at the end of the week. 

Those hot dogs didn’t cook themselves, and someone needed to stand in line at the lobster pound and the ice cream parlor, to clean up the detritus of the seafood feast and the dribbles of melted ice cream, and someone had to do all those dishes. So many dishes. Grown-ups, too, would want a few precious moments to read in the warmth of the summer sun, or to wander around an antique shop without worrying whether they’d need to pay for a broken vase, and maybe, once all of the above work had been done, they too, could enjoy the taste of summer fruits. 

 

Martha and Mary, Mary and Martha. There are two ways that this gospel story is usually preached. Sometimes these two followers of Jesus are abstracted into ways of living in faith. Mary the contemplative, Martha the activist. Both are needed.

But sometimes these two women are treated as stereotypical characters in a vacation drama. After all, this story falls in the middle of the Lukan travel narrative. There are pitfalls ahead for the lazy preacher on a lazy summer Sunday. Mary and Martha are too easily pitted against one another, rivals for Jesus’s attention and favor. It’s too easy to portray Martha as an overworked housewife, complaining about Mary not helping out in the kitchen. In too many sermons, I have heard this story preached in this way, with the final message, geared far too often to women, “Don’t worry so much, everything is fine, try to relax and not stress so much.” 

Women who hear this story preached in this way often get frustrated. Feminist biblical scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza paints a vivid picture of how women hear these lazy exegetes. When women hear sermons like this, women who make a congregation run, especially in a church that is so often sustained by women, who teach vacation bible school, brew coffee, clean altar linens, plant flowers, organize fundraisers, call those who are shut in at home, who “do all of this often without ever receiving a ‘thank you,’ [they get frustrated.] They therefore identify with Martha who openly complains. They resent Jesus who seems to be ungrateful and unfair in taking Mary’s side. But they repress this resentment [it is Jesus after all] and vent it against other women who, like Mary, have abandoned the traditional feminine role.” 

To preach this passage as a “chill out” message to women too busy with household chores is a misreading of the text, a myopic telling of this story as only about Martha and Mary’s gender, and a misunderstanding of what it means to find faith in community. Instead, we need to reconsider what this pause for respite, this moment of hospitality, can mean for the life of faith in community. 

Two lessons from Luke help us to read this passage to sustain and nourish the life of faith lived in community. First, since we are in the Lukan travel narrative, we need to remember that the disciples are sent out in pairs; at the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus was sending out the seventy to teach, heal, and preach. Disciples come in pairs in Luke, and they are not sent out as polarized lessons for the church pitted against one another, they are sent out to work together for the sake of the gospel. So the story of Martha is not about a hostess too busy in the kitchen to enjoy her Jesus party; no, these are two disciples doing the work of discipleship. Martha has questions about the work of faith. To be sure, she is anxious about that work, but this is not only about worrying about who does the dishes, no she is anxious about about the partnership of ministry, about hospitality, abut diakonia, about the service work that makes the community of faith the community of faith. And her question to Jesus, a fair one, is how to work together in partnership to accomplish all that needs doing for community to thrive. Jesus’s answer, then, is not a rebuke of the work, this is no patronizing reminder to chill out, but rather, a reminder that making space for transformative divine encounter is the point of the community of faith. Martha’s question, too, reminds us that on this earth and in this life, it takes labor to make space for joy.

Which brings me to my second point. I’ve always wondered in this passage where all the other disciples were. After all, where were the rest of the disciples, anyway? They seem to follow Jesus just about everywhere. They were there just a moment ago reporting on their work and having a little tête a tête with Jesus. They’ll reappear again in just a moment, in just a few verses. just in time to be taught the Lord’s prayer. So where are Peter, and James, and John, and the others? Were they off in the backyard drinking a beer while dinner was made and the dishes were done? If you look through the gospels, you’ll find that the male apostles seem pretty helpless, especially when it comes to fixing meals. Jesus himself has to step up more than once to put dinner on the table, whether that is through miraculous multiplication of loaves, or grilling the fish on the shore after the resurrection. Jesus shares in the labor of the community of faith, but the disciples often don’t. Can you imagine the disciples can’t even cook breakfast for themselves and Jesus after the resurrection? This passage, and the glaring absence of the disciples, reminds us that we need the whole community of faith to do the work to make space for joy. 

So sometimes, I picture in my mind’s eye this scene from Luke 10:38-42. Mary is speaking with Jesus, and Martha is stuck with all the work of hospitality, all of the work of discipleship, all of the work of the community of faith. Desperate for a little help, she comes through the doorway, squints as her eyes adjust to the outside light, and asks Jesus for Mary’s assistance. Jesus reminds her about the joy of divine encounter. “What Mary has chosen shall not be taken away from her,” he says. Martha stares, a small furrow forming at her brow, ready to ask a follow up, but Jesus continues, “Martha, you are worried, there is only need of one thing.” And Jesus stops and stares, pointedly, through the door, at Peter, and James, and John, and the other disciples laughing inside. They fall silent. Jesus repeats, a little more loudly this time “There is only need of one thing.” The disciples get up, put down their drinks, and begin to set the table for dinner and start doing some of the dishes. Martha smiles, and Mary laughs. 

Beloved, there is only need of one thing. Transformative divine encounter. The role of the community of faith, the life of faith lived out in community, is to make space for the joy of divine encounter. And, beloved, it takes work to make space for the joy of divine encounter. That is the work not of any one of us, but of the community. Faith in community makes space for all of us to share both the joy and the work of divine encounter. To share the labor and the harvest of a basket of summer fruit. To share in the endless and always ending sweetness of this life in preparation for eternity. 

I now know, as an adult, just how much work went into those sunburst summer vacations in Maine. But I also know, as an adult, how to see, if you looked at just the right angle, the same childlike joy in the faces of the kids and grownups alike. Joy would spread like wildfire among the adults while watching the kids dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light with their sparklers. And sometimes the whole family, even the adults, would dance alongside the children, if only to keep them from burning their fingers. Beloved, that is faith in community.  

Amen. 

-The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley 

Sunday
June 17

I Looked Over Jordan

By Marsh Chapel

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2 Kings 2:1-12

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The text for this Sunday’s sermon is unavailable. Please enjoy this service’s Community Announcements and Prayers of the People by the wonderful Reverend Doctor Jennifer Quigley and Reverend Soren Hessler.

Community Announcements

Good morning, and welcome to Marsh Chapel at Boston University. On this Father’s Day, we are glad that you are joining us for a moment of pause, rest, and worship, either here in the nave at 735 Commonwealth Avenue, listening via radio or internet waves at 90.9 WBUR or wbur.org, or later via the podcast. As we strive to be a service in the service of the city – Boston – and a heart in the heart of the city, know that you are welcome here – immigrant, refugee, or 8thgeneration New Englander, black, brown, white, gay, straight, bi, trans, something else, or simply not sure. You are welcome here. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Independent, you are welcome here. If you are new to Marsh Chapel, we hope you may identify yourself to one of the chapel’s staff after the service so that we can introduce you better to this vibrant and diverse Christian community or add your name and contact info to the red pads at the end of each pew. If listening from afar, check out our website: www.bu.edu/chapel or send us an email at chapel@bu.edu. We are delighted to get you better connected.

While academic year chapel activities remain suspended for the summer, the chapel offices remain open on weekdays and Sunday mornings. We continue to be here for worship at 11am every Sunday and coffee hour following the service. We hope you might join us downstairs following the service today.

Next Sunday, June 24, following the morning worship service, join the Dean and Jan Hill for a Vacation Bible School experience beginning at noon complete with pizza, bible verses, music, and fellowship. For more information, contact chapel@bu.eduor speak with the Dean.

The following Sunday, July 1, the chapel’s annual Independence Day cookout will happen following the morning service. You are welcome to bring a dish to share.

Finally, on a more personal note, I am pleased to share that the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley has accepted a two-year post-doctoral fellowship with the Louisville Institute and will be placed at Drew University Theological School as Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies. Jen and I will be moving to Madison, New Jersey, August 1. I will continue as Associate Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership at Hebrew College, working primarily remotely from Madison. We are both grateful for a decade of shared ministry with the community at Marsh Chapel, the last nine of which have been as members of the chapel staff.  We are deeply indebted to the Marsh Chapel community, our colleagues on the staff, and especially the Dean and Jan. This community has formed us and transformed us and will continue to shape who we are and how we serve as we shift into new venues for ministry. Thank you for the warm wishes and glad tidings that were extended before the service today. We anticipate continuing to worship at the chapel through the end of July and hope to greet many of you individually before we move.

A complete list of chapel activities and worship opportunities is available on the chapel website www.bu.edu/chapel where there is also the opportunity for online giving to support the mission and ministry of Marsh Chapel. As the choir continues to lead us in worship and prayerful meditation, please remember it is a gift and a discipline to be a giver.

Prayers of the People

As we come to a time in our service where lift our hearts, our minds, and our spirits to God in prayer, I invite you to find a posture that will help you be in a spirit of prayer, by remaining seated, coming to the communion rail to kneel, or standing as the choir leads us in the call to prayer: lead me Lord.

Loving God, we come before you this morning as your children. Our brother Jesus taught that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Loving God, we ask that we may be transformed by your grace to become more childlike so that we might enter the kingdom of heaven.

Transform our hearts this morning. When our cynicism has gotten the best of us, when we are weighed down by the burdens of this world, when we are too numb to feel, give us the hearts of children who weep when others are weeping, but who find ways to laugh infectiously when no one else can crack a smile. Open us to unbridled joy and delight in simple things and the gratitude of one for whom all of creation can still be new.

Transform our minds this morning. Give us a constant hunger for learning, so that we might commit ourselves to studying scripture. Give us the eagerness for the story, to read the next verse, the next chapter, and the next book, so that we might not prooftext to justify whatever position we might already hold, but so that we might be open to the whole story of your persistent grace and your redeeming love. Give us the humility to learn from our mistakes, to acknowledge when we and our sisters and brothers who have gone before have read poorly and have harmed others with our interpretations of scripture. Give us the persistent curiosity to ask why. Give us a childlike sensitivity to inequality and injustice and let us ask why? Give us the energy to ask why over and over again when we see children harmed and families separated.

And transform our spirits this morning. When we feel deadened to the world around us, enliven us with a childlike sense of wonder. Inspire in us awe at the beauty of creation, from the vast blues of the ocean, to the green of tiny blades of grass, to the shimmer of bird’s wings. Give us a childlike tireless energy for life, and the peace to sleep soundly at the end of each day. And give us the childlike ability to be assured in hope and confident even in unseen things; give us faith.

And on this Father’s day, we pray for all those who are fathers, who serve as father-figures, for those who are single parents. We also pray for those for whom this day is difficult, for those who have lost their fathers, for those who have lost children, for those who are estranged from, have been harmed by, or do not know a father. No matter how we relate to one another as human families, we are grateful for the parental love that you unconditionally offer us, God, and that you allow us to call you by many names so that we might have better relationship with you. And we conclude our prayer this morning by calling on you in one of the names that our brother Jesus taught us.

Our Father…

-The Reverend Doctor Robert Allan Hill, The Reverend Soren Hessler, and The Reverend Doctor Jennifer Quigley

Sunday
February 25

Power, Mutuality, and #MeToo

By Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 17:1-7

Genesis 17:15-16

Mark 8:31-38

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Would you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Some years ago, I was at a clergy training. For those of you who have attended daylong trainings, you will have some sense of what this felt like: forgettable food, unlimited caffeine to counteract the effects of a too-warm room, and wide swings between sparkling presentations and somniliquy. But one brief moment from that day is seared into memory. The trainer had just finished explaining the practice of having open door or glass-door one-on-one meetings with congregants. We were using a video series from the FaithTrust institute, which offers the gold standard for ethics and boundaries training for faith leaders from a variety of traditions, from rabbis to ministers to Buddhist monks. The trainer decided to go a bit off script, and he shared that a male bishop he worked with would not drive to any district meeting, church visit, or other event alone with a woman. This male bishop would share a car for the ride with a male clergy colleague, but in order to be “above reproach,” he would make sure to take separate cars when driving to a meeting with a female clergy colleague. In this midwestern setting, the circuits were long and the districts far apart; this is the part of the country where travelling 100 miles can take 100 minutes, with flat farmland as far as the eye can see. True heirs of the Wesleyan heritage, the bishop and the cabinet would often put 50,000 miles a year on their cars.

Something felt wrong about the comment, and I felt the sudden urge to ask “why?,” but a number of ways in which I had been socialized held me back. He stood at the front of the room as the teacher, and I sat in the back, a student. Unless I could explain why his statement was problematic, I would be interruptive, and besides, I could sidetrack the conversation and drag out an already long day. He was my elder, and I was surrounded by clergy with decades more life and ministry experience. I was barely of legal drinking age, and the forty and fifty-something second career pastors seemed to not even blink at the comment. I must be too young to get it. As a child, I had been an incredibly curious and loquacious little girl who had learned that asking why too many times was a great way to annoy your parents. I had learned to be more precise in my language, and that adults responded better to a question with more detail and less emotion. This reaction felt too sudden to be rational. And he was a man, married for nearly two decades, and I was a woman, a newlywed, who had recently been given a hotel room with twin beds instead of a queen at annual conference after a snafu where the front desk could not understand why I hadn’t changed my last name. What did I know of what made a marriage over the decades? And what did I know of the world of men and the choices they made to act ethically and keep boundaries?

All these thoughts and more ran through my mind so quickly that it would take months to disentangle them from one another. All of these anxieties were tamped down internally, and I said nothing. The moment passed, as these sorts of moments so often do, in silence.

And later, as I fumed in my room, the “why” of why I had felt the urge to shout “why” finally emerged into the forefront. Why was the bishop only moving through a world of men? At the time of this training, a single district superintendent was a woman, and the cabinet, nearly two dozen conference level officials, had just three women on staff, one of whom was the bishop’s assistant. Why were there so few women on the conference staff? Even if it was not deliberate exclusionary practice, and I didn’t think it was, this bishop would regularly spend hours upon hours one-on-one with his fellow male clergy. Three hours each way to a district meeting leaves a lot of time for talking about ministry, for asking advice, and for networking. Those hours add up, and leaders frequently choose those whom they know, trust, and have spent time with to elevate to positions of authority. This attempt to behave “above reproach” had hurt the career opportunities of countless female clergy. Why couldn’t the bishop just keep a policy of not travelling one-on-one in a car with anyone? To travel in groups or alone? This attempt at ethical leadership was not ethical and not leadership, and it propagated a more homogenous clergy, a more homogenous cabinet, and a more homogenous church.

But weighing my options, I decided not to speak up. I was not even commissioned, let alone ordained, and I did not have the security of an appointment. I did not expect any kind of formal retaliation, but I did not want the headache of the confrontation. The comment itself, and the hundreds of micro-decisions I needed to make about whether or not to respond in the moment, were exhausting. I did not want the additional exhaustion of drawing out the moment. Besides, the moment had passed, and I had not spoken up in the moment. Silence often begets silence.

But the gospel, the good news, is a spoken word, a good, true, spoken word. And God speaks to us in a good word of relationship, of covenantal relationship, of the potential for relationship with God and with one another. The God who spoke us into being and sent a Word to live among us gives the freedom and enlivening Spirit to speak to one another. And the time is always right to speak right.

Our text this morning from Genesis 17 is the foundation of the covenant God makes with Abraham and Sarah. “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” From God’s offer of relationship with us, we learn three important things about how we are to live with God and with one another. First, God offers covenantal relationship to women as well as to men. It is not just that Abraham is our father in faith, but that Sarah is our mother in faith, the mother of the covenant. When we limit the imagination of our leadership in our faith communities and in our other work communities we close off the divine imagination that calls women and men equally.

Second, covenantal relationship is based on mutuality and freedom. The covenant into which God calls Abraham and Sarah is the definition of an unequal power dynamic. After all, God is God and we are not. But God does not abuse that power. God doesn’t force Abram and Sarah to do what God wants. God calls and invites humanity into divine relationship, and we are given the freedom to respond, to live up to the high calling to which we are called, to “walk before God, and be blameless.” God honors the divine image that we bear. God offers to and does hold up God’s end of the covenant. God also offers us divine freedom for humanity to do what God asks of us.

Third, God models how to have relationship with others when there is a power imbalance. Whether it is a doctor-patient relationship, a teacher-student relationship, a pastor-congregant relationship, an employer-employee relationship, or any other of the myriad ways in which we humans have structured ourselves into intrapersonal dynamics where power is not shared equally, we are called to exercise authority with responsibility. Power does not naturally lead to abuse, but power that is abused does. God, in relationship with Abraham and Sarah, does not demand a cult of personality, but instead offers a covenant of mutuality.

Jesus in our Gospel also has something to say to systems of abusive power. The cross, the method of execution used by an abusive, oppressive state, was intended to crush those whom it killed and the hopes of those who watched. The cross was meant to cut off air to resistance, to speech, to breath, and to life. Jesus has something to say about that. To Peter, who attempts to change the subject, who denies the possibility that an abusive system could ever harm his teacher, Jesus says, Get behind me Satan! No one is too smart, too kind, too anything to be above risk when abusive systems of power and abusive persons are elevated to positions of power. To those in authority who abuse their power, who create a system to prop up their own power by crushing others, Jesus, asks, pointedly, For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and lose their soul? And to those who would hope to lead, who might be at risk, in taking power, to abuse it, Jesus warns, “Deny yourself, take up that cross.” Too often, this catchprase has been used abusively, by pastors urging people to stay with their abusers. To them, I say, As one of my colleagues, a brilliant pastor and biblical scholar puts it, “you ain’t reading it right.”

The cross is an attempted abuse of power. To pick up a cross, to push against its strain and weight, and to keep breathing, is an act of resistance, it is a speech-act, and it breathes life even in the midst of death. Following Jesus requires not abusing power, and it also demands that we strain against those human systems we have created which attempt to crush through abusive power. For Jesus also tells us here that the cross is not the end, and that the grave is not victorious. The façade of abusive power will, at some day, even if it is on the great lasting day, crumble and fall.

The #MeToo movement, first begun by Tarana Burke in 2007, has brought to the fore thepervasive problems of sexual abuse and harassment. From hotel cleaning staff to assembly line workers, from judicial clerks to academics, women have been speaking out against the ways in persons have abused their power and the ways in which systems have ignored and enabled that abuse to continue, sometimes for years. And faith communities have not been above the fray. One only has to follow the hashtag #churchtoo to hear stories from women and men who have been harassed and abused within their church communities.

#MeToo is about the basics. It is about naming the problem of power. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are ultimately about power, not sex. And sometimes it is good for the church to go over the basics.  Religious organizations need to be able to talk about the problem of power, to teach that it is wrong to abuse power, and to develop theologies about power. We need to teach our children these things, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves as well.

The things that we know are wrong, we should still take the time to say are wrong. The things we don’t think need repeating do need repeating. We must remind ourselves, and teach our children, that abuse is wrong. Physical abuse is wrong. Emotional, spiritual, verbal, and psychological abuse is wrong. Intimate relationships must have mutuality as their basis; one should be able to share strength and vulnerability in equal measure with a partner. This is why it is unethical for a person who is in an authority position over another to enter into an intimate relationship with a person who is reliant upon them, whether for medical treatment, classroom learning, spiritual guidance, athletic coaching, or a paycheck.

There is another facet of the #metoo movement, and it relates to the problematic ways in which men have tried to “protect” women. How can a military man, for example, who bemoans a time when “women were considered sacred and looked upon with great honor” praise the integrity of a man who has been accused of physical abuse by three former partners? It seems to boggle the mind, but with a theology of mutuality, of covenantal relationship, we are able to see through the fog of obfuscation and name the ways in which this statement and those actions are two sides to the same coin.

“Women are considered sacred and looked upon with great honor.” This lament for a halcyon bygone era is a description better suited to objects than people. You might describe a precious possession this way, perhaps a family heirloom set on display, a piece of art hanging ona wall, or an artifact donated to a museum. In this logic, women are first and foremost objects to be protected, not colleagues who are presumed to be persons of integrity, whose word should be believed. In a workplace dominated by men, with certain expectations of what roles women play in society and in the workplace, a man’s word is seen as stacking high against the claims, even of multiple women. This, of course, is an extreme example, but behind every #MeToo story of extreme abuse and harassment lie hundreds of smaller moments, of opportunities missed, invitations not extended, and mentoring overlooked, hundreds of off-handed comments at daylong trainings which reveal the problems we have concealed for too long.

The Lenten season is a time for introspection and preparation. It is a good time to take stock, to look squarely at the troubles of the world, and to prepare ourselves for the great mystery of Holy Week that encompasses all of the hurt and hope of creation. Perhaps, this Lent, you can think back to your own relationships, both personal and professional. Is there a place of hurt that you have buried? Perhaps this Lent, think about speaking, to a therapist, to a close friend, to yourself in a journal, or perhaps just to God in prayer. Is there a relationship in which you did not act in mutuality, where you took for granted or even took advantage of the power you had over others? Perhaps this Lent you will take time and space for an examination of conscience, repentance, and change.

In preparation for this sermon, in this Lenten series, I’ve been doing a lot of swimming around in Thomas Merton, who was a truly prolific writer. One only needs to consider the bibliography page on the Thomas Merton society website to get a sense that there are far more stories than seven in the Merton mountain. But when I think about power, mutuality, and the complex ways in which we relate to one another and to God, I found comfort and meaning in Merton’s famous prayer on direction and discernment. Would you be in prayer with me?

 

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-The Reverend Jennifer Quigley

 

Sunday
January 15

Your Name Matters, or Wisdom and Theological Imagination

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Romans 16:1-7

Proverbs 8:22-36

Luke 7:24-35

Click here to listen to the meditations only

I’d like to thank Dean Hill for inviting me to preach this sermon on this Sunday. It is genuinely humbling and more than a bit intimidating to stand in this pulpit on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, but I am grateful for the opportunity to bring a word to you this morning. Would you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

During my senior year of college I landed a pretty great job. It paid well, it was hands on, and I learned something new every day I worked. The Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center, BU’s archives, holds a large portion of materials from Martin Luther King, Jr., an alumnus of the school, and HGARC had received a grant to reorganize the materials and create a searchable database with better metadata with more information about the contents of the collection to make it better accessible and searchable for researchers. I somehow got to be an assistant with the project, which meant that for several years I spent ten to fifteen hours a week with boxes of materials shared by King with the university. I had worked a summer for the archives already as a general archival assistant, helping unpack and sort materials arriving from incoming collections. It was an exciting and very messy summer of opening boxes, not knowing whether you’d find old shoes or a collection of handwritten original scores. Working with King’s materials, I thought, would be even better. These materials were already archived; so I thought that all the boring stuff would be gone already. As I walked into the small room with neat blue boxes, I thought they must be full to the brim of speech drafts, sermon notes, handwritten correspondence, all coming from the pen of King himself. And, yes, these materials were there, (I did spend a few months with another staff person alphabetizing several thousand letters, mostly sent to King), but they do not comprise the majority of the collection.

No, most of the materials in the archive are mundane, day-to-day materials. I mostly worked on the materials from the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), but I also did some small work on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Montgomery Improvement Association, which was formed to oversee the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott in 1955, was formed not by MLK having a revelation sitting in his office at Dexter Avenue one day, but by a group of people, especially Jo-Ann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council, and E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP. Robinson and Nixon organized the one-day boycott that ended with a meeting, at Holt Street Baptist Church, at which preachers, teachers, and the community decided to transform the one-day protest into an ongoing one. The decision made, they organized, formed the MIA, and set up committees. So many committees. There were carpools to be organized, flyers to be leafletted, funds to be raised and distributed, walkers to escort, lawsuits to be filed, there was a lot of work to do, and a lot of organizing that work required. King was speaking from collective experience when he said in 1968’s “The Other America”: “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must always help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.”[1]

So these blue-grey archival boxes mostly held not speeches and sermon notes from King, but the minutiae of progress and the detritus of change. Meeting minutes, programs for Monday night church meetings, newsletters, financial documents, typewritten lists of names and phone numbers of persons who had cars and were willing to drive, committee membership rolls.  Pamphlets, flyers, yellowed newsclippings, more meeting minutes. In these scraps of paper, I learned how change happens, I learned how movements are made, and I learned that it is the people, and not a personality, who make change. For good and for evil, for good and for evil, it is the people, and not a personality, who make change.

Many of these people were women, women whose names I didn’t know: Jo-Ann Robinson, who led the Women’s Political Council, Johnnie Carr, the youth director and secretary of the Montgomery NAACP and the future president of the MIA, Aurelia Browder, whose protest, arrest, and subsequent lawsuit over Montgomery bus segregation ultimately led to the successful end of the boycott, Irene West, arrested during the boycott, Georgia Gilmore, founder of the Club from Nowhere who fundraised for the boycott, Hazel Gregory, secretary and board member of the MIA, Maude Ballou, King’s secretary, Erna Dungee executive board member of the MIA.[2] Women were members of the MIA executive board, kept its books, got arrested, fundraised, and organized both out front and behind the scenes of the movement. Their names matter, and I wanted to pause to raise their names before us today. Jo-Ann Robinson, Johnnie Carr, Aurelia Browder, Irene West, Georgia Gilmore, Hazel Gregory, Maude Ballou, Erna Dungee.

We’ve also heard some unfamiliar names today in our first reading from Romans 16. Unless you keep up with the daily lectionary, where you will come across it on September 25 and 26th this year, you likely won’t have heard this text from Romans 16:1-7 before. It’s not a part of the Sunday Revised Common Lectionary, because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s largely a list of names. The prescripts, postscripts, the long lists of names and the greetings which accompany them are often excised from our liturgy, partially out of mercy to the lectors, but really out of a desire to communicate theology in the liturgy. This liturgical bias even led some biblical scholars to excise Romans 16 from the rest of the letter. How could Romans, the height of Pauline theology, especially for Protestants, have such a mundane, overlong list of names? This chapter must be a fragment of some other, more ordinary missive. Thankfully, that argument has largely been overturned. I would argue, though, that these prescripts and postcripts, these names matter to more than just biblical scholars interested in onomastics, text criticism, or the social status of the earliest followers of Christ. These names matter for us as the church. They matter for our theology, they matter for our ecclesiology, they matter for the work they did, the change they brought, and they matter because they are our foremothers and fathers in faith. Their names matter. Phoebe the deacon; Prisca and Aquilla, coworkers with Paul in Christ, the assemblies that meet in their house, Epaenetus, first fruit of Asia in Christ, Mary, the hard-worker, and Andronicus and Junia, kinfolk, fellow-prisoners who are noteworthy among the apostles and who were in Christ before Paul was.[3]

I’d like to focus on Junia for a moment, Junia, that woman who is so prominent among the apostles. Thanks to the work of Bernadette Brooten and then Eldon Epp, we learn that Junia for much of the last century or so of biblical scholarship and translation has been misgendered over disagreements about a Greek accent. Junia, a common name for Roman women, was understood as a woman by all early Christian writers of late antiquity, by scholarly Greek New Testaments from Erasmus in 1516 to Nestle’s edition of 1927, by “all extant early translations of Romans 16:7 (from Greek into Old Latin, Vulgate, Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic, and Syriac versions),”[4] and by almost all English translations from Tyndale in 1526 up until the late 19th century, including the beloved and (for some Christians) inerrant King James Version. In the late 1800’s, though, some biblical scholars decided that these sources were wrong, and that translators and editors from Jerome to Erasmus to Tyndale were mistaken. According to these scholars, Junia wasn’t Junia, she was actually Junias. Which is actually pretty funny, because there are no attestations of the male name Junias anywhere in antiquity. No matter, scholars suggested that perhaps Junias (although unattested) is a shortened form of another name, Junianus, a hypothesis that does not stand up well under scrutiny, and which requires a more complicated reading strategy than just taking the name as a commonly attested feminine accusative form. Some scholars also read certain early manuscripts as supporting a different Greek accent to argue that other early Christians read Junia as Junias,[5] which is again pretty funny, because early manuscripts aren’t accented. Why did these scholars literally make up a man’s name to create a textual critical controversy where one had not been before? The answer becomes clear when you look at the praise for Junia and Andronicus; they followed Christ before Paul did, and they are people worth noting among the apostles, among those sent out to share the gospel. Ah, there’s the rub. The issue, it seems, is that there is a woman named in the canonical New Testament as an apostle.

What leads scholars to overlook their evidence, to see things that aren’t there, and to unsee what is right before them? I don’t think it’s malice or ill-will, but I would argue that it is a lack of theological imagination. It is a lack of imagination to see a name before you and think, this apostle, this fellow-prisoner and kinsperson, must have been a man. It couldn’t have been otherwise, because I know there weren’t any women who were apostles. James Dunn says of this kind of thinking, “The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.”[6] But, today, if you read an NIV, or pick up some other translations or Greek text-critical editions, you will still find Junias or an acknowledgment of “controversy” surrounding the translation. A lack of imagination leads not only to poor scholarship but it is poor theology, because it restricts our ability to envision a church different than the one we expect, and it restricts our ability to envision a God who has the breadth and capacity to call and send all persons: men, women, gender non-conforming folk, gay, straight, trans people, black, brown, white people, abled, and disabled people. When we fit God into our brain-sized boxes, visually, intellectually, and theologically, we close off the possibility to be changed by what we discover in scripture, by reason, from tradition, and through experience. But when our theological imagination is open to a bit of surprise, it is also open to grace, because grace is nothing if not surprising. There is the surprise that awaits even before we think to look: prevenient grace. The surprise that changes everything: justifying grace. The surprise that makes us get up and act: sanctifying grace.

So Junia’s name matters. Her work matters. Her status as someone called and sent by God matters. Her name, along with the more than two dozen people greeted in Romans 16, matter. And it is only a lack of theological imagination that thinks that they don’t, that it is only through the genius of a personality like Paul’s that the gospel bears fruit.

The people, not a personality, make change. There is a reason that the earliest Christ followers called themselves ekklēsiae, assemblies, what we translate as churches. They and Paul use the term for the assembly in ancient Athenian democracy, a political system in which free male citizens could vote, choose their leaders, deliberate, and determine their future as a city. So, too, these Christ-following assemblies deliberated about their identity and their future, chose their leaders, and pooled their resources. But citizenship in the Christ assembly was open to all, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female, and its decisions did not always follow the epistolary demands of a singular, male leader (i.e. Paul).

Theological imagination requires a reorientation away from the heroization of Paul,[7] towards an interest in the people with and beside Paul, who write with him, carry his letters, who bring his voice to these communities, and who receive his letters and respond to him. This reorientation of course, is something feminist biblical scholars such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Clark, Elizabeth Castelli (there are a lot of great Elizabeths!), and many, many others, have been calling attention to for decades. These women asking for a bit more wisdom in the way we read scripture, and asking for a bit more wisdom in our theological imagination.

Feminist and womanist biblical interpreters often find inspiration in the personification of wisdom we find in Proverbs 8, read responsively today. Wisdom, personified as a woman, speaks, in the passage immediately preceding what we read today:

“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all humankind..
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
    for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
    none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
    they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,
    knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.

In Proverbs 8, we also see wisdom present at the beginning, co-creating with God, in an exegesis of Genesis 1. Early Christians, especially the gospel writers, read Proverbs 8 and its account of divine wisdom, present at the beginning and co-creating with God, an exegesis of the creation account in Genesis, with theological imagination. They imagined and wrote about Jesus that way, whether at the beginning of John’s gospel, a midrash on Proverbs 8/Genesis 1, read a few weeks ago, or in the passage we read today from Luke 7. John the Baptist is a prophet and Jesus, well, Luke seems to play with the idea that Jesus is Wisdom herself in the flesh.

“Wisdom is vindicated by her children.” We are all wisdom’s children, and we do not and we cannot rely upon a single, heroic figure to guide or a demonic figure to blame for our speech or actions, or our silence and inaction. Our words and our actions reflect our wisdom or our folly, and we cannot escape the weighty mantle of responsibility that fact entails and the humility that fact requires. Jesus rebukes those who went to the Jordan looking for a personality in John—whether a frail reed or luxury clothes. Instead, Jesus, reorients us away from personality towards wisdom, towards the people. “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

I’d like to end with a brief quote and then a charge for you today. First the quote; which comes from another letter, written by Martin Luther King, Jr. I quote the Letter from a Birmingham Jail not as a heroization of King’s personality or unique genius, but because this letter, like Romans, is a letter written in community to community. Its wisdom is not in the personality of King, but in its rootedness in the importance of people beside King, of their action and inaction. I quote from this letter’s prescript to let King to situate himself as a saint in the much greater assembly of saints. I read from the letter’s opening, the height of rhetoric only happens after King situates himself within the community[8]

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

…We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Remember, even at the heights of human rhetoric, we organize change not as a single personality, but as people.

And now, a charge: find some people. Do something. Go to a march, make a podcast, join a committee, please join a committee, volunteer for something, start something. Or, try writinga letter. When was the last time you wrote a physical letter to somebody? Not a tweet, facebook comment, or even an email, but a physical letter. Write a letter this week: A letter to a family member or friend you haven’t been able to find the right words for, a letter to that person you had to unfollow on Facebook because of all their political posts, a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, a letter to your elected official. It can be important, it can be mundane, it can be simple greetings or soaring rhetoric. You can be grumpy as Galatians, as pushy as Philemon, as poetic as Philippians, as tender as 1 Thessalonians, as caring and concerned as 1 &2 Corinthians, or as rambling as Romans, but write. Your choice, but if you choose to write, two requirements. 1. Value people over personality in the letter. Send greetings to people. Don’t expect the recipient to be able to solve everything or carry all the blame. Share why you care about what you care about. Acknowledge someone other than yourself. And 2. Sign your name to the letter. No anonymous comments on a news article or blog, no hiding behind a twitter handle. In a world with too much commenting and too much commentary, offer your real name. Because your name matters. The people to whom you write, the people with whom you correspond, matter. You matter. Your name matters.

Amen.

–The Reverend Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment


[1] http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/

[2] See Jo-Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: the Memoir of Jo-Ann Gibson Robinson (Knoxville: The University of Tenessee Press, 1987).

[3] See Bernadette Brooten, “Junia…Outstanding among the Apostles (Rom 16:7)” in Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration, ed. L. and A. Swidler, (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).

[4] Eldon J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005) 23-24.

[5] See Epp on UBS 4 (1993), 45-46.

[6] Romans 9-16, WBC 38 (Dallas: Word, 1988), 894.

[7] See Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre and Laura S. Nasrallah, “Beyond the Heroic Paul: Toward a Feminist and Decolonizing Approach to the Letters of Paul.” In The Colonized Apostle: Paul through Postcolonial Eyes. Edited by Christopher Stanley. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 161-174.

[8] An annotated version can be found here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/annotated-letter-birmingham-jail#fn1.

 

Sunday
February 21

A Heavenly Citizenship

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 9:28-36

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Good morning! I am always humbled at the opportunity to stand in this pulpit, where so many past and present great preachers stand, and I am always grateful to Dean Hill for extending the invitation to be with you again this morning.

The lectionary is a lovely discipline, but it also can be pretty terrifying, especially when your limited preaching schedule is determined by those far above your pay grade.

The regular rhythms of ordered worship, including regular lectionary preaching, can have as much of the wild movement of the spirit in them as any other form of worship and preaching. Case in point: I recently had an extended conversation with the Dean about my in-progress dissertation on Philippians, and a large part of the conversation focused on the question, “will it preach?” I ask this question because I am concerned with ethics just as much as history; that is, I would like to do history ethically but I am also concerned about the ethical implications of our shared Christian histories. I am concerned with communities long gone just as much as those living and moving and having their being today; that is, I take the communion of the saints both in heaven and on earth seriously. Our fraught, fragile, humanity is entangled in its own histories, and the past is no more dead than the present is alive; that is, the gospel is both good and news because it is and has been told, retold, studied, shared, spoken, preached, taught, written, shared, translated, and lived not in a vacuum, but by real people.

So I felt a sense of the spirit, or at least of Deanly intervention, when I found my annual preaching assignment falling on this Second Sunday of Lent, where our epistle lesson is from Philippians. And lo and behold, it’s a text I have studiously avoided dealing with in my dissertation! So here I am, dealing with it this morning, in sermonic form.

Knowing that, my sisters and brothers, I ask for your indulgence to let me lay aside, for today, Luke’s lament for Jerusalem, to gloss over the courageous question of the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”, and to let me focus instead on Philippians. And, perhaps worse, I’m not even going to deal with our whole reading today, but instead focus on a single clause, “our citizenship is in heaven.” [This by the way, is how people write whole dissertations about a single, four-chapter letter.]

So I invite you to meditate with me this morning upon “A Heavenly Citizenship”

The best way I can get at what it means to have citizenship in heaven is to think about the koinōnia of the gospel, the commonwealth of the gospel, which is, I think, the central theme of this letter. In other letters to other communities, Paul calls them ekklēsiai, assemblies, churches, but here, in Philippians, in a letter full of love, imitation, friendship, and calls to like-mindedness, Paul claims that he and this beloved community are in a koinōnia in the gospel.

Koinōnia is far too frequently translated as fellowship today, a term which calls to mind at once our beloved coffee hour and some sort of men’s glee club meeting, but our community is not only our coffee hours and our hymn singing. My best way to describe a koinōnia is as a joint venture. Paul and the Philippians, and you and I and the whole of the community of faith, we are in a joint venture in the gospel together.

This might make you a little squeamish because it sounds a little business-y, doesn’t it? And, actually, it is really an economic sort of term. In antiquity, people used this term, koinōnia, venture, in all sorts of business transactions. From land-leases, to marriage contracts, to joint investments in flax-seeds businesses, this terms springs up again and again in ancient papyri and epigraphy, little scraps of ancient paper and scratchings in stone. When there is a sharing of both risk and reward, there you have a koinōnia. And that, beloved, is what I think Paul means by modelling the community of faith as a koinōnia, a venture. For together we take on the risk and reward of the gospel.

If this were my dissertation (it’s not), I’d share with you some ancient inscriptions to help illustrate my point, but I’ll spare you here. I think I can explain this with a more contemporary example.

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate student, I stole a BU mattress. Technically, I didn’t actually steal a mattress, but the university thought I did, and I ended up paying exactly 1/3 the cost of a bright-blue, fire-retardant, twin X-long mattress, $90, which to the university is basically the same thing as acknowledging that I stole a mattress.

How the heck did this all happen? My freshman year, I won, or thought I won, the housing lottery. Instead of a crowded, stinky large dormitory, with its shared bathrooms and cinderblock walls, I was placed in a triple in a brownstone on Bay State Road. I was destined for wall sconces, a non-working fireplace, wood paneling, and other features that suggested a classier college experience. Imagine my and my roommates’ surprise, when, moving in, we found ourselves in what can only be described as one of the smallest triples on campus. Two of us slept a mere 2 feet apart from one another perpendicular to the wall, and the third had to set up her mattress against the wall apart from us. To squeeze between the space left in the middle of the room, you had to turn sideways and shimmy, or you’d bang your legs against the metal bedframes. Somehow, we also squeezed three dressers, and three desks into this oddly shaped room. The windows looked out, not over Bay State Road, but the alley, including the delivery entrance for Sargent, where they deliver the cadavers for the Human Gross Anatomy Lab. The rest of the building had spacious doubles and triples, but we, we were clearly in the worst room in the place.

The three of us made do for the year, but when room selection time rolled around, we began to eye the room across the hall. None of us really wanted to be in a triple again, but we weren’t confident we could get a lottery number high enough to snag a double or single. So, we entered a pact to move together as a triple, and we managed to get the room across the hall. The following year, we would be moving into a giant triple, facing the trees of bay state road. We had room to bring in a futon in addition to the BU furniture, and there would still be room to move about. There were 11 windows, We would have a large walk-in closet, and each of us would have a large corner of the room. With proper dresser positioning, we could each even have some modicum of privacy.

Except, that summer, we each received notice that one of the mattresses from the tiny triple was missing upon final inspection of the rooms. Before our accounts could be settled, before we could move in, before we could reach the promised land across the hallway, each one of us would need to pay for 1/3 of the mattress, that is unless one of us fessed up to taking the mattress. At first, vague accusations and mistrust flew. Who had checked out last, anyway? (We couldn’t remember.) Was one of us lying? After all, how well did we know one another anyway? Perhaps it was the impossibly chic roommate from Paris who had landed a hostessing job through charm and charisma. She was always staying out late for fascinating parties, poetry readings, gallery openings; maybe she took it for a lark or an art project. Or perhaps it was the roommate who had just gotten her first college boyfriend a few weeks ago. He had been hanging around quite a bit lately, and college students do things with mattresses all the time. Or maybe it was the quiet one who didn’t spend as much time with the other two. Who knew what she was thinking? None of this, of course, got us anywhere, because none of us had actually done anything with the mattress in question. Somehow, through bureaucratic red tape or facilities error, or other great mystery, we were all on the hook for this single, solitary mattress.

So, to reach the promised land across the green carpet and the original hardwood, we all eventually ponied up $90.

Beloved, my roommates and I were in a koinōnia; we shared together the risk, the hardship, and the reward, and we all shared in the joint cost of that mattress.

So Paul’s letter to the Philippians is chock full of financial language, including this central theme of a koinōnia in the gospel. This koinōnia, this venture, is not only how we relate to one another, but it is part of a much larger divine economy. Unlike my college roommate story, our koinonia is under God’s supervision; thus Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Our gospel venture is not worked out in a vacuum, but in the confidence of faith we know that God has begun a good work in us and is able to bring it to completion. In a divine economy, God’s oikonomia, God’s house-rules, our relationship to one another is a joint venture, but this joint venture has God as its ultimate investor and site supervisor.

And now, to return to what it means to consider “A heavenly citizenship.”

Too often, when we read this passage, we imagine heavenly citizenship as endorsing an outlook that is solely otherworldly. Our heavenly citizenship is used to comfort us in suffering, our heavenly citizenships overlooks our human frailty in this life in hopes of the world to come. This is not necessarily bad theology, and it might sometimes be good pastoral care, but it is not a complete picture of our heavenly citizenship. Or heavenly citizenship is used to wash our hands of the troubles and challenges of this world. We invoke a kind of quietism because the world is just too messed up, too mired in sin to have any hope. Our denomination takes 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on LGBTQ inclusion. Our American political rhetoric has descended to a nadir of demagoguery, fear-mongering, and division. Our personal, student, and national debt seems too overwhelmingly large to ever possibly address, so we just keep putting off payments. Too often we throw our hands up, or wash our hands of these matters, despairing of this world, looking to our heavenly citizenship, to a long moral arc of the universe without any willingness to ask whether we or the universe need to be bending just a little, right now, to participate and move toward that long moral arc.

Too often we think of our heavenly citizenship as our passport. As Christians, we’ve got this little blue book which we can show upon arrival on the far shores of the stormy Jordan. No trouble with our border crossing, no wall to cross, we’re bound for the promised land, because we have our heavenly citizenship.

But passports aren’t the only part of citizenship. Citizenship comes with a participation in the bigger system, in the divine economy, and with that comes some obligations. Citizenship is not only about the benefits you get out of it, and that’s as true today as it was when Paul exhorted these Christ-communities in Philippi that they and we have a citizenship that is in heaven. Rome wasn’t exactly known as a tax-free haven, and the empire had significant judicial, financial, and bureaucratic systems that affected citizens and non-citizens alike. Paul couldn’t have conceived of any form of citizenship that didn’t also have participatory obligations attached to it, so I’m surprised when Christians think of heavenly citizenship as simply a “get out of hell free card.”

Perhaps as Protestants this makes us nervous because it sounds a little too much like works righteousness, but I don’t think that an expansive view of our participation in the broader divine economy in anyway contradicts a reliance upon God’s grace for salvation. As citizens of heaven we are in a koinōnia in the gospel under God’s supervision, and it is only by the grace of God that we are participants in this joint venture. This is how Paul can write that despite his current imprisonment, he and we can be confident that we are all shareholders in God’s grace. (Phil 1:7) We didn’t and we can’t earn those shares, they are a gift freely given, but our larger participation as a result of that grace demands our use of those gifts in full participation of our venture in the gospel.

I realize these are deep, and perhaps swirling, theological waters that might be crashing over your head, and probably mine, too, right now, so I’ll offer another more contemporary example.

The other day I came home from a productive meeting with my advisor after a short day of teaching to find Soren sitting on the couch, surrounded by a 6-foot radius of piles of paper. He had begun filling out our taxes. Soren has always done our taxes, but this year they are extra complicated, because we purchased a home in Portland last year and have been renting it on AirBnb. Asking him how it was going, he gave me the kind of look that communicates that I didn’t even have to ask. He told me that because of our AirBnb rental and because we are married, we are declaring ourselves a “qualified joint venture,” which means for tax purposes we would split all of the cost deductions and all of the profits equally. “That’s awesome!” I said, “Do you know what this means? In the eyes of the federal government, we’re in a koinōnia!” Soren was less thrilled, because he still has to do our taxes, but he did share my enthusiasm for a brief moment.

Beloved, our heavenly citizenship means that we participate with one another in God’s economy, and that participation is not without risk, reward, and obligation. Perhaps a theological orientation that is more wholistic, less self-oriented, and, I think, makes more sense, is to ask not what your heavenly citizenship can do for you, but what you can do for your heavenly citizenship.

And I think meditating on that sort of question is an excellent practice for Lent. Do not ask what heaven can do for you, but what you can do for heaven. I think this letter, this line of communication back and forth, binding together Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and the saints at Philippi, offers a roadmap, an examination of conscience, a way into prayer for you this Lent as you consider your heavenly citizenship. As much as we tend towards the heroization of Paul, he’s a part of a larger community, entangled with one another, bound together in the spirit. We’re a big community here at Marsh Chapel. We’re bound to one another across the vast expanses of time and distance, and we are together entangled in these moments of ordered worship that overcome these distances.

So, as a Lenten practice, I invite you to imagine Paul and Timothy writing, perhaps Epaphroditus carrying and reading aloud, and these named and unnamed saints listening to these words:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full discernment to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Do you pray with joy, and thank God for those whom your remember in prayer? Are you confident that God is at work in you and that God will bring that work to completion? Do you hold one another in your hearts? Do you share in God’s grace with one another? Are you confident in your share in that grace no matter what your current circumstances? Do you long for better connection with those around you? Do you pray for others? Do you pray for their love to overflow more and more? Do you pray for them to have knowledge and full discernment? Do you help one another produce a harvest of righteousness for the glory and praise of God?

If, as the hymn says, I am bound for the promised land, where do my possessions lie? Where do I invest my wealth, my time, my energy, my life, and my very self? Do I invest myself in that which is most lasting, most true? Do I invest myself in other people, in their growth in faith and faithfulness?

And if I am bound for the promised land, whom do I invite to go with me? For, beloved, we are together in a koinōnia in the gospel.

We are, together, citizens of heaven.

Amen.

–The Reverend Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment

Sunday
December 28

A Glimpse of Christmas

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 2:22-40

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My thanks to Dean Hill for the generosity of the opportunity to preach, and to my husband Soren for the generosity of letting me preach the lectionary texts on the day they were actually assigned; he took on the far more difficult preaching task this Gospel lesson a few weeks ago.

Did you catch a glimpse this Christmas? A glimpse of light? A glimpse of glory? A glimpse of salvation?

Perhaps, out of the corner of your eye, this Christmas, your vision was warmed by the hazy glow of stringed lights, and you felt the Light of God well up in you for a moment. A glimpse of the light of the Star over Bethlehem.

Perhaps, in the quiet hum of a carol over the percussion hiss of the radiator and crackle of the fire, your ear caught a tune both new and familiar. Perhaps you caught a note of angel song. A glimpse of the glory of the heavenly host singing.

Perhaps, in the sticky embrace of a child with candy cane-stained hands or in the cool, dry kiss of an elderly parent or grandparent, you felt a sense of connection, communion with the past and the present and the promise of the future all at once; perhaps you caught a brush of a King’s cloak or a  shepherd’s homespun. A glimpse of salvation offered to all, prince and pauper alike.

Perhaps you caught a glimpse this Christmas. I hope and pray that you did. It’s what we wait for, what we long for in the preparation of Advent. We wait and long for an experience of the presence and power of God in humanity; we wait for Christ.

And the author of Luke-Acts introduces us to Simeon and Ana, adding narrative to a long wait for consolation and redemption. In Luke-Acts we have a gospel that grasps for hope in the aftermath of a failed real and apocalyptically imagined political revolution, struggles for some kernel of identity in the midst of real or imagined rejection, and wrings its hands over real and imagined competition from fellow Jews, fellow philosophers and fellow cults. And lurking in the background of the composition and compilation of this text, a growing anxiety over fellow Christians who believe differently and are unafraid to say so. In the gathering of this text and these stories, we find early layers of polemics, perhaps against Marcion, as Joseph Tyson has argued. So just as the writers and compilers of Luke-Acts wait and hope for a crystallized Christian identity that will resolve theological conflict, so Luke-Acts crafts characters who wait and hope for a crystallized, or perhaps we should say, incarnate figure who can bring heft, weight, reality to the longings of Israel. Simeon waits for consolation, and Ana waits for redemption. These are personal stories but they are universal hopes, and both Simeon and Ana are rewarded for their long wait with a glimpse of Jesus. And for them, a glimpse is enough.

Even Paul, in the midst of his grumpiest letter to the assemblies in Galatia, in his long wait, manages to catch a glimpse of Christmas. The previous sentence needs some unpacking on several levels. First, the letter to the Galatians is undoubtedly Paul’s grumpiest letter, although that is hardly a formal New Testament studies term. In this letter, Paul forgoes his usual epistolary custom of giving thanks. For example, the beginning greetings in Romans are followed by, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” In Philippians, Paul and Timothy write, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” In Galatians 1, we move right from the greeting to “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all,” and things go downhill from there, until Paul finally resorts to name calling in chapter 3, “You foolish Galatians!”

Paul does not seem to know or, if he knows, to care about the infancy or birth narrative of Jesus. For Paul, his primary focus is on the glimpse of the risen Christ that has caught him up in a transformed hope for the reconciliation and consolation of God to all people, including and especially the Gentiles. However, this passage in Galatians 4 is the closest we get to a Christmas message in Paul, “In the fullness of time, God sent God’s Son, born of a woman…” But I would argue that Paul’s real glimpse of the meaning, consequence, and yes, incarnational theology of Christmas comes in verse 7: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Because we have caught a glimpse that God lives among us, and because we can call Jesus brother, we are able to be called children of God, and because we are children, heirs of the promise of God. This is Pauline incarnational good news.

But let’s be honest: Paul is caught in an apoplectic and apocalyptic waiting game, and I’m not sure that for Paul, that one glimpse of Christ is enough. And, if we’re honest, too, about our own Christmas experience, there might have been a little Galatians-time in the midst of our waiting for our next glimpse of God. Gratitude left unoffered, frustration over expectations unmet, tensions or infighting amidst family and friends, and perhaps even a little name-calling. Or worse, the deep tug of disappointment, the gnawing absence of those gone. Paul knew these feelings, too. An uneasy waiting. They, too, are part of the Christmas story, because a glimpse is just that, a glimpse.

Momentary, fleeting; the briefest flicker at the corner of vision, a single strain of music, the quick brush of a hand. So often, our religious experiences, those saving moments, are a mere glimpse. Christmas comes and goes, a blink of the eye, it seems, and five Christmases have flown by. A theological question lies before us today, modelled by Paul, Simeon, and Ana: How can these glimpses be enough?

We might expect that someone like Mother Theresa, Saint of Calcutta and founder of the Missionaries of Charity, who worked with the poor, sick, and dying in India and around the world, must have regularly experienced the light of God in her life. She must have had such a constant vision of God to do the work she did for so many decades of her life!

In reality, the exact opposite is true. In Come Be My Light, an autobiographical collection of writings compiled and edited posthumously by her closest confessors, we find that after a powerful experience of a call to serve the poor, Mother Theresa experienced decades of silence, loneliness, and darkness. In the midst of the explosion of her work and ministry and the rapid expansion of her order, she never once caught a glimpse of God like the one that so inspired her.

Writing to one of her spiritual directors, she recounted, “Now Father – since [the age of] 49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss – this untold darkness – this loneliness – this continual longing for God – which gives me that pain deep down in my heart. Darkness is such that I really do not see – neither with my mind nor my reason. The place of God in my soul is blank. – There is no God in me – When the pain of longing is so great – I just long and long for God.”[1]

Mother Theresa’s story is not some happy-ending fairy-tale where after a call experience and a brief narrative tension of divine silence, a light from heaven breaks in to provide resolution. Rather, Mother Theresa’s story is a very human tale of waiting, and of finding enough in the glimpses of God to sustain us for the work of faith, for the process of sanctification.

We have a theological term for this; you’ve probably heard the phrase, “A dark night of the soul.” The phrase comes from a poem and exposition (La noche oscura del alma) written by St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish mystic. John describes the crisis that people of faith sometimes encounter, those periods of absence, longing, and confusion. We who live in New England, who have just passed through the solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year, know this experience intimately. But John of the Cross writes:

INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners—which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road—and begins to set them in the state of progressives—which is that of those who are already contemplatives—to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.

Now, I don’t know if John Wesley read or knew John of the Cross’s poem, but I think this is about as good a description of sanctification as I have come across. The salvation process, the process of being made well, of being made salvus, well, whole, the process of receiving balm for our sin-sick souls, is the work of our entire lives as we continue to grow more open to the grace of God flowing into us. Salvation, a glimpse of Christmas, does not mean that we wake up the next morning feeling spiritually whole and perfect. The Christmas season, through Paul and Simeon and Ana, also teaches us that faith is about waiting.

The question still lingers. We have a little comfort from Theresa, John of the cross, Simeon, Anna, and yes, even Paul, but the catch in the throat is still there. How can this glimpse of Christmas be enough?

Theresa washed, fed, and cared for the dying alongside her fellow sisters in the Missionaries of Charity; silent John worked closely with St. Theresa of Avila to found the barefoot Carmelites in Spain, Simeon reaches out to a young family scraping enough together for the offering for their son in the temple; Anna, widowed for decades, spends her days in the temple sharing conversation and hope with those who enter; Paul has his beloved assemblies, whom he writes to and longs for even when he is at his grumpiest.

A glimpse of Christmas is enough when we join in with others in a community of faith. A glimpse of Christmas is supported, encouraged, and perhaps even sustained through the regular rhythms of a life in the family of God, through the interconnected feeling of participation in the body of Christ. You might not feed the physical and spiritual needs of thousands, but you can bring a homemade dish to our potluck next week and get involved in our abolitionist chapel group. You might not punctuate your contemplative life with communal, daily participation in the full liturgy of the hours, but you can be present in worship come Sunday. You might not be a prophet, but you might share a good word with a member going through a difficult time or a visitor overwhelmed by the space and service. And you might even write someone a letter, a physical letter, opened with a proper line of thanksgiving. When a community of faith shares its glimpses with one another, these glimpses, seen at different angles, heard with different pitches, and felt with different textures, begin to coalesce into a clearer sense of God’s vision.

I hope and pray, brothers and sisters, that you have caught a glimpse of light, glory, and salvation this Christmas, and I also pray that those saving glimpses you have had are enough for the work of Christmas to begin in this community, in your community of faith.

Or, as Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, former Dean of Marsh Chapel, put it in the Christmas poem we read here every year:

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.

Have you caught a glimpse of God this Christmas? Is it enough? Enough to sustain the work of faith and faithfulness, enough for an assurance of things hoped for, enough for a conviction of things unseen?

May we pray?

Come, Lord Jesus, give us a glimpse of you this Christmas. Sustain us for the work ahead, so that the glimpses we have had of your light, glory, and salvation are enough, by your grace and the support of a beloved community. Come, be our light. Amen.

[1] Come Be My Light, 1-2.

– The Reverend Jen Quigley, Chapel Associate

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Sunday
September 15

Lost and Found

By Marsh Chapel

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We at Marsh Chapel are committed to the lectionary. We stray from time to time, of course, but on the whole, we stick to the Revised Common Lectionary. Following the lectionary helps to order consistent worship, it serves to educate children and adults week after week, and it is an excellent spiritual discipline, but I will admit, when I saw the lectionary readings for this Sunday, the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, year C, I strongly considered scrapping the lectionary altogether. I mean, come on, it’s only two weeks into the school year, do we have to read Jeremiah already?

Of all the Prophets in the Hebrew bible, major or minor, Jeremiah is the only one to get his own word, jeremiad, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “A lamentation; a writing or speech in a strain of grief or distress; a doleful complaint; a complaining tirade.” The prophet Jeremiah is remembered as so down, so distressed, so doleful, so complaining, that the Vulgate, Jerome, and Origen all attribute the book of Lamentations to him.

Have you ever been to the Boston Public Library? If you are new to Boston, and have not yet made your way to Copley Square, do go. Walking among endless stacks of books can be as meditative and relaxing as, say, a walk along the beach. Boston’s common temple dedicated to the free and public access to the intellectual fruits of human history is blessed with a room full of John Singer Sargent murals, entitled “The Triumph of Religion.” The east wall has a frieze of prophets, sixteen life-size portrayals, and John Singer Sargent tailors each to the specific character of the biblical figure. Isaiah stands, arms at shoulder height, hands and eyes reaching upwards, his features caught somewhere between despair and dawning hope. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, hides behind Isaiah, face ducking, turning away from the viewer. And Jeremiah, Jeremiah stands wrapped in a washed out white robe, hands hidden, body hidden, with his chin down, mourning. His posture is far less theatrical, far less posed than the other figures. The dark gash of his mouth and the shadows around his eyes make it seem as though he has been captured mid-sob. As you scan the frieze, other prophets look angry, ashamed, even tortured, but only Jeremiah looks so completely and utterly lost.

And feeling a little lost is actually a pretty appropriate place to be two weeks into the school year. I’m sure most of us, especially if it is our first year at Boston University, have lost SOMETHING or gotten lost sometime in the past few weeks. You might have gone to the wrong classroom, lost your student ID, felt a little lost in your organic chemistry lecture, felt lost without your high school friends around, or maybe, just maybe, you got lost in the GAP. Not the gap between the T and the platform, or the apparel store, but the GAP. You know: Gardner, Ashford, and Pratt streets.

My freshman year at Boston University, I lost an umbrella in the first two weeks of school. Not too bad, you might say. But I lost my umbrella in such spectacular fashion that it left me feeling lost and adrift for weeks and months into my freshman year.

With no social prospects for the weekend, feeling a little lonely and a lot uncertain, I went with a small group of people to a house in the GAP. Someone lent me $5 because I didn’t know you needed $5, and I was suddenly handed a red cup and ushered in the door. It was rainy, and a little cold, but the girls had dressed up, so we deposited our coats and umbrellas in a large walk-in closet, and were quickly ushered to the unfinished cement basement. The steps were rickety, wooden, and I thought they’d give way any moment under our teetering high heels. There were almost no lights, so it wasn’t until I made it to the bottom that I realized just how crowded it was; there were more than a hundred people, shoulder to shoulder, jammed in like a can of sardines. Music was blaring and the crowd moved with it. With more people trying to get down the stairs behind me, I saw no alternative but to enter the flow of the crowd. I immediately felt claustrophobic, uncomfortable, overheated. I suddenly realized this basement had no doors except the one I’d just entered, no windows, no way out except those rickety stairs. My mind began to race; what if the cops came? What if everyone panicked and tried to leave at once? What if I got separated from my friends? I wanted to leave, but the movements of the crowd forced me to make a long, slow, procession around the edge of the basement, passing luge, pong table, and sound system. Thirty minutes later, I was finally able to fight my way out of the basement. Our group decided to leave before things got too out of hand, and we worked our way against the flow of traffic back to the coat closet. Except when we got there, the door to the closet was now closed. A handwritten sign claimed the closet as the VIP room, and heavy, sweet smoke wafted from under the door, accompanied by the kind of soundtrack best left off the radio airwaves. My friend’s wonderful boyfriend gallantly volunteered to retrieve our things, sucked in his breath, opened the door, and disappeared. He emerged a few minutes later, looking positively shell-shocked, but with our coats in hand. I looked plaintively at him and asked, “My umbrella?” “I’m NOT going back in there,” he said.

And that is how I lost my umbrella my freshman year. But I really did only lose an umbrella. It could have been much, much worse. I wasn’t arrested, the building didn’t catch on fire, I didn’t blackout. Losing an umbrella, no matter how dramatically, does not register on the scale of human history or even my own life. But the feelings of my experience that night lingered. I felt, in a word, lost. And from there, my emotions became entangled in an increasingly knotted mess; Was this the only way to meet people in college? Maybe I just wasn’t cool enough for BU. Other people must have been having fun at that party, right? I mean, people looked like they were having fun. Why did I have to be lame and leave? Did my very new-found “friends” judge me for leaving?

I hardly left my dorm after that weekend, even avoiding the tame, University-sponsored Halloween party in my own brownstone a few weeks later. I felt too lost, too alone, too overwhelmed. As you can imagine, it was a very lonely semester for me in my dorm room, and it took a long time before I didn’t feel so lost.

 

If we’re honest, students, especially freshmen students, often do one of two things when confronted with the GAP, when they feel that initial pang of discomfort. They either do what I did; they avoid getting involved on campus, they stay in their dorm room on the weekends, g-chatting with their high school friends and retreating into the digital world of Facebook and Twitter. Or, they force down that discomfort, along with some cheap liquor, and throw themselves into the only cultural option they believe exists: party culture. Either way, alone in a dorm room or with a hundred people in a crowded basement, you feel lost. Self-conscious, adrift, directionless, alone, despairing, frustrated, numb, lost.

The human experience of feeling lost is universal, but the expression of that feeling is boundless in its possibilities. When people feel lost, they sometimes say and do terrible things to themselves and one another. And feeling lost is not only a solitary experience. It only takes a quick glance at our newspapers, at the dialogue and debate surrounding Syria, to notice a creeping feeling of “lostness” in the way we talk to and about one another. When diplomatic, non-military options come not from reasoned consideration or genuine dialogue but from angry, off-hand remarks at a press conference, you can’t help but feel we’re a little lost. Our reading from Jeremiah today, our little lectionary jeremiad, is a very human expression of that same lost-ness. The book of Jeremiah is set in the period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian empire in 587 BCE. Jeremiah, looking around, knows something is wrong. He feels as though the people of Jerusalem are lost, headed down the wrong path. This reading is full of personal and collective despair, personal and collective loss. This angry, ranting prophecy, this imagined rush of hot air from on high, is a very human response to a very human feeling of lost-ness, that same feeling that wreaks havoc on college campuses every fall.

But how do we move from lost to found? I think we’ve already heard the answer, preached two weeks ago at our matriculation service by Dean Hill, with his hand on the altar, the table of the Lord’s Supper: history and mystery. I choose two different terms, though, for this day, for this set of lectionary readings, for this moment, two weeks in to a school year: Memory and Grace.

That memory is a solution to lost-ness is, of course, obvious. When we lose our way on campus or lose our student ID, we really should only need to access our memory, to overcome an unfortunate mental block. I lose my keys far more often than anyone my age should lose anything, and my husband will often ask, “Well, where did you have them last?” How frustrating! As if it were that easy! Memory is not some magical switch you can turn on or off, it is a difficult process of digging, sifting, sorting. It is some of the hardest, most mind-breaking work there is.

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate who passed away just a few weeks ago, wrote a poem in 1966 which hauntingly encapsulates the intersection of memory and loss. It’s called

 

 

“Digging:”

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

 

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

 

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

 

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

 

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

 

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

 

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.
This is a poem, in one sense, about vocation. Heaney only discovers a sense of his vocation, who and how he is called to be in the world, through a process of memory. The words only pour from pen to paper as he recalls the hard, physical labor of his father and grandfather, digging in field and turf. It is only through remembering that he is able to move from a sense of loss and being lost “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them/” to found: “Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.”

What memory work do we need as a country? How can we dig around, in the collective recesses of our minds, to find a way to engage in civil discourse and diplomacy? What memory work do we need to do as a church? How can we dig around, in tradition and scripture with reasoned discipline to address our experiences today? What memory work do we need to do as a school? How can we dig around in our institutional memory, our history of openness and inclusion to answer real, hard questions about who is included and excluded today? What memory work do you need to do? Where do you need to dig in your memory to find your ownmost self, your sense of call, your vocation?

What memories should we dig into in order to begin to find ourselves?

Now that’s a fascinating phrase in American English parlance…we often talk about “finding ourselves.” You’ll often hear something like, “Emily is backpacking through Europe to find herself,” or “Josh chose that college because he really wanted to find himself.” The implication is that we can find ourselves in exactly the same way we would find a lost set of keys or a misplaced ID. The onus is all on us. This is a guilt-inducing turn of phrase; if we somehow end up feeling lost, it must be our fault; perhaps we haven’t had the right experience, we haven’t looked in the right place. I’ve studied a few languages in my years of school, and I’ve never studied another language where the verb “to find” is used reflexively the way we often use it in America.

The gospel message this morning pushes back on this colloquialism, speaks back to a cultural parlance where we must find our own way out of feeling lost. Our Gospel this morning tells us that we are sought out; we do not and cannot find ourselves on our own, but instead can be found. In the parables this morning of lost sheep and lost coin we are neither shepherd nor woman but rather beloved sheep and precious coin. God seeks us out with the urgency of a shepherd climbing frantically on a mountainside or a woman frantically sweeping under the furniture. Grace is the serendipitous moment of being found.

And doesn’t this ring true with our experience? I know I didn’t venture out of my dorm room again on my own. I stopped feeling lost when my roommate dragged me to the dining hall, night after night, dragged me to the movies, dragged me to the theater, dragged me to a dance. And, on the other end of the spectrum, so many students caught up in a cycle of self-destructive behavior are only able to break the cycle when a friend says, “I’m concerned,” a faculty person says, “You’re grades aren’t where they could be,” or an administrator says, “I know you have something to contribute to campus life.” These moments are grace-filled. From the wisdom of others who have walked the way before us, we learn that there are many ways to belong on a college campus, many ways to have fun without buying into the myth of party culture, a myth that teaches that you can only find yourself by losing yourself.

So, if you’re feeling a little lost two weeks into this semester, start trying to remember who you are and where you’ve come from.

And if you’re not feeling quite so lost, take a look around. Is there anyone you can help find their way? To whom can you offer the gift of grace that you have experienced, that has brought you safe thus far, and the grace that will bring you home.

As a first overture, a first step, here is my top ten list of things you can do, even as a Freshman, with a group of friends, late at night, on a budget, without falling into the GAP. These are all above and beyond the hundreds of university-sponsored events occuring on-campus during any given week. You might find yourself, or be found, by doing one or more of the following:

  1. Walk along the esplanade, cross the Mass Ave bridge (follow the smoots), walk along the river along memorial drive, and see BU’s campus from the other side of the river. Pass the BU boathouse, cross the BU bridge, stopping at the middle to admire the skyline.
  2. Play mafia. See me after worship for the rules if you don’t know how to play. Or apples to apples, cards against humanity, etc. etc.
  3. Take the T to the north end. Buy pastries from both Mike’s and Modern. Compare.
  4. Host a microfridge Iron Chef competition. Pick a secret ingredient. $5 buy-in. All food must be prepared in a dorm microfridge.
  5. Go to a midnight movie showing at the Coolidge Corner Theater. Or go to a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  6. Make a “parkour-style” obstacle course using the permanent work-out equipment on the Esplanade. The winner gets bragging rights.
  7. Spring for some classy late-night dining on the cheap; try Finale, the late-night menu at Eastern Standard, or many others.
  8. Go to a poetry reading, an improv show, or an open-mic night at an 18+venue.
  9. Rent Hubway bikes (wear a helmet!) and bike somewhere you’ve never been.

10.  Get cultured: get $15 Huntington theater tickets, check out Third Thursdays at the Isabella Stewart Gardner, or even see some Shakespeare like you’ve never seen Shakespeare before by going to the Donkey Show (the 70’s disco performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, hosted at the “Oberon.”)

Lost and Found. Memory and Grace. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to end there, but it’s always worth getting trusted feedback when you’re a little unsure or when a task is particularly difficult, whether it’s a paper, a job application, or a sermon. Faced with a difficult lectionary and an even more difficult theme, I got a little input, and I was asked, “You talk a lot about party culture. Do you have a theology of partying?”

I will end, then, with a working draft of my theology of partying. “When you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “Does this help me to find myself, or am I doing this to lose myself?”

Amen.

~Rev. Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate

 

Sunday
February 24

My Joy and Crown

By Marsh Chapel

Luke 9:28-43a

Click here to hear the full service.

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The Gospel from Luke for this second Sunday of Lent might strike you as a little odd, perhaps even disjointed. What does transfiguration have to do with an exorcism? Both the congregation and, I will admit, the preacher might have preferred that this excerpt from the 9th chapter of Luke stop with verse 36, before we get to the part with that lovely quote from Jesus that more often finds itself redacted and deployed as a slogan in hate speech or internet trolling than engaged with in any meaningful way. But, so it goes; the verses march on after verse 36. And, in a way, it is helpful from time to time to read a slightly messier lectionary reading, because it reminds us that this is how the Gospels are constructed. The authors of our gospels were compiling the stories and traditions of Jesus and His Disciples, and if you sit down to read the middle chapters in the synoptic gospels, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you will find little phrases to string together various parts of the Jesus tradition to create a sequential strand of parables and miracles, teaching and preaching. The Gospel writers concerned themselves with a message to a 1st-century audience, not with satisfying a 21st century continuity check. My favorite example of this is the Gospel of Mark; Jesus crosses the lake so often it looks as though the disciples are running a ferry service.  It is well worth the hour or two it takes to sit down and read one of the Synoptics in a single sitting, to pay attention to the beautiful patchwork-quilting process that is the Gospel.

This week, our gospel reading from Luke frames two small patches of the quilt, a transfiguration and an exorcism. One day, the disciples are witness to the greatest heights of humanity’s encounter with the divine; they see the possibilities of the better angels of our nature. The very next, they bumble their way through the ministerial trenches; in fear of the messiness of sin and illness, they fall away from the grace which first overtook them. There are two stories, two days,  two lessons to our Gospel this morning. The first is familiar, stirring, enchanting: the blossoming of faith, the transcendent beauty of assurance. Faith is the Joy of the Lord and the Church.  We love when individuals are overtaken by faith. The second is strange, discomfiting, bracing: the growth of faith, the hard work of sanctification. Discipleship is the Crown of Faith and the Church. We long for individuals to become disciples, just as we long for the transformation of the church, the one body, to the body of Christ’s glory.

Faith is a deeply personal transformative experience that is often fostered in the midst of community. You hear a word over the radio that touches something deep inside the very fiber of your being. You hear a word which speaks to where you are in your life. You close your eyes and let the forte waves of a choir wash over you. You hear some music that awakens some feeling in you. You have a deeply meaningful conversation, you feel safe enough to ask someone you trust the difficult questions, and you feel a sense of peace deep within your soul.  You find your heart strangely warmed, you come to kneel at the altar rail, you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior. Different denominations, local churches, and worship styles have diverse ways of fostering the sort of atmosphere through which God’s grace can flow. But the electricity of God’s grace is able to be conducted through a number of materials, and the result is faith awakened in the soul.

It is important at the outset of Lent to hear a word about faith, about assurance, about presence, about the personal experience of the divine. You heard such a word last week from Dean Hill. It is important to begin Lent with a shoring up of faith, an experience of beauty, learning, comfort, assurance. It nourishes us, it can sustain us for the forty days of reflection and fasting to come. But after worship on Sunday, after the first few days of Lent, after the first few moments of faith, comes the question, “What comes next?”  What about Monday morning? What about the rest of Lent? What about the rest of life?

A preschool put on a production of the Ugly Duckling, the beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale. It combined the best parts of early childhood education: group singing, moving on and off stage in a straight line, a moral lesson, and of course, a crafts project. Each child would make her own set of wings, with help, of course. Cutting with safety scissors, using an Elmer’s glue bottle, carefully attaching feathers, and filling in the gaps with marker. It was the ideal craft for a small child, messy and fascinating. Almost all the children used bright yellow; Big Bird-color feathers and a sunny yellow marker. These were the ducklings. One boy and one girl, though, were selected to be the ugly ducklings in the production. They had the same work to do as the other children: cutting, gluing, attaching, coloring. Their feathers were a dull grey-brown, the name of their Crayola marker was more optimistic than it looked: “golden beige.” But they had to put in twice as much work as their classmates; they had the rare preschool homework assignment. Each had to make a whole second pair of wings, to cut, glue, attach, and color all over again. It took forever, but this time, there was glitter, whole tubes of silver and gold glitter and bright, iridescent feathers. Twice the work, to be sure, but this little boy and little girl got to do a quick costume change during the production, to exchange their wings to become swans.

Don’t we all want to be swans? Don’t we all want a chance to exchange our wings? To put down the burdensome wings of our sin, shame, our old lives? Faith means we get to put down the old wings of our lives, to start over again, to molt the old feathers. And that is beautiful, saving grace, that we get a costume change in life. But something happens after that. To put on new wings, to molt, we need to cut, glue, attach, and glitter that new set of wings. We don’t do it alone. We do it by the grace of God and with the support of a community of faith, but we still have homework to do.  We have help, but we need to make that second set of wings.

In Methodist circles and beyond we often talk about John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience. Wesley’s journal entries record the moment, and his words have been edited to a catchphrase of sorts for the conversion experience. I’m sure you know, that evening May 24, 1738 when John Wesley felt “his heart strangely warmed.” The phrase is a darling of the theological left and the right, it is beloved as his conversion moment. We really focus on it. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley went to a meeting, and on hearing Luther’s Preface to the Epistle on the Romans, he felt his heart strangely warmed.

What happened the next day? What did John Wesley do when he when he went home that evening? What about when he woke up the next morning? Wesley writes that he went home that evening to pray, but soon felt the nagging question in his head, “This cannot be faith; for where is the joy?” He continued to pray late into the night. The next morning, he woke up, went to church, and sang a hymn. Again, another nagging question.  He writes, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change? I answered, “That I know not. But, this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.’ And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbidden me to take thought for the morrow.” The next journal entry comes over a week later, June 7, when John writes that he has decided to go to Germany, to spend some time with the Moravians.  He writes the following, “And I hoped the conversing with those holy men who were themselves living witnesses of the full power of faith, and yet able to bear with those that are weak, would be a means, under God, of so establishing my soul that I might go on from faith to faith, and from ‘strength to strength.’”

John Wesley’s Aldersgate moment, his coming to a deeper and truer sense of his own faith, his conversion moment did not mean that he never doubted again. It did not mean that he woke up a saint the next day, and it certainly did not mean that his work as a Christian was done because he had felt assurance. He had to wake up the next day and take the next step. Faith began the hard work, faith empowered him for the hard work, the cutting and gluing and pasting of the wings of his new life. After Aldersgate John Wesley continued to pray, he went to church, he sang hymns, and he went and found others to accompany him on the journey of “establishing his soul.” Wesley had begun the process of sanctification. Soon he would be establishing Sunday school s so poor children could learn to read, soon he would be preaching to crowds in the field, soon he would be riding all over the countryside, establishing meetings, working with the urban poor. These were the next steps in John’s lifelong process of growing in faith and faithfulness. And this is what the Lenten journey is all about. Lent is a time of fasting, remembrance, and hopefully, growth. Lent is about the long life-process of faith, it is about the next day, the next step.

Far too often in the church we act like a bunch of normal looking ducklings. We don’t own up to our status as ugly ducklings, we don’t concern ourselves with the work of cutting, gluing, pasting, and glittering our new wings. On the theological right, we demand that all ducklings must look alike to be real ducklings. Our faith cannot be genuine unless we meet certain the ideological litmus tests about certain social issues, unless we have a very particular conversion experience, unless we offer a convincing testimony of that conversion. We peck at ducklings that don’t look like we do, who don’t fall into perfect line with all the other ducklings. Our feathers get ruffled too easily. We don’t connect our concern for personal piety with a continued dedication to our social holiness. We content ourselves with one set of wings, because we don’t put in the work to make a new pair.

On the theological left, we pretend our own feathers will never molt, that we will maintain the same, idealistic adorable yellow fluff for the duration of our worship, avoiding difficult topics such as sin or evil. We think our faith is enough because we offer a moving experience through our music, our worship, our preaching, because we have the “right” experience. Or, we set out in a cute duckling line to save the world before receiving our police escort, a la Make Way For Ducklings back to our ecclesiastical island in the middle of the Public Garden. We peck at ducklings that don’t look like we do, who don’t fall into perfect line with all the other ducklings. Our feathers get ruffled too easily. We don’t connect our concern for social holiness with a continued dedication to our personal piety. We content ourselves with one set of wings, because we don’t put in the work to make a new pair.

If there was one theological doctrine that John Wesley caught the most flack for, it was Christian perfection. John Wesley believed so much in the continued process of growth, healing, and restoration in our lives of faith.  He believed that God, working in us, could truly “take away our bent to sinning,” as his brother’s hymn phrases it. In critiquing this doctrine, people focus too much on the telos, the goal, on the perfection. Wesley never claimed to get there himself, but he really emphasized the life-long journey of sainthood, of working hard to become just a little more holy every day. That is the discipline of the Christian life.

Discipline. Disciple. Both words come from the Latin discipulus which originally, before it gets caught up in Christian Latin, refers to a student. Someone who follows a teacher, learns from them, imitates them. When we are called to be and to make disciples, we are called to be and make students, life-long students of Christ.  You may come to Marsh Chapel or tune in on the radio because you like the preaching or the fellowship or the music, and those are all good and true things. But I imagine that there is something also drawing you to a community of faith grounded in a place of learning, Boston University. There is something invigorating, enlivening, transforming about working with, worshipping among, and listening to college students. Maybe it reminds you of your own student days, maybe it connects you to a child or grandchild you have in college. Beloved, whether you are a freshman or coming up on your 50th high school reunion, your student days are not behind you! You are called to be a life-long student of Christ, to continue to learn and grow in faith and wisdom, and to participate in the learning community that is the Church.

It’s a little ironic, to be sure, but the very best description I have ever encountered for our sanctification comes not from John or Charles or any one of the Wesleys, but from a Baptist preacher and teacher, a lifelong student, the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman. The Rev. Dr. Robin Olson used this quote as the focus of our Marsh Chapel winter reading retreat, and I just could not get it out of my head. In The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman writes,

“There must be always remaining in the individual life some place for the singing of angels-some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness-something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning-then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory-old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”

A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. We must always open ourselves for the transcendent – the singing of angels.  But those moments pass, and then we have some growing to do to reach for that crown.

This Lent, stand up a little straighter. Try for a little more discipline in your life, with your money, your choices, your consumption. Grow a little taller. Pray a bit more, imitate someone whose example you admire, find a spiritual accountability buddy, an accountabilabuddy. Reach for that crown. What is that next step in your faith life? Where is your spiritual comfort zone, and how can you get out of it? Try having a chat with someone outside your age bracket after church today. What is their vision for the Church, for Marsh Chapel, for the life of faith? Begin to trace out for yourself a new pair of wings.

I am increasingly convinced that people come to faith, they shadow the walls of our churches, they tune in and sit up, when they see sanctification being modeled. There have been plenty of Christian experiments focusing on justification, on the come to Jesus moment. I am convinced that we are not being honest with people about what it means to be a Christian unless we are telling them about what comes next, unless we are modeling what comes next through our own discipleship, our own process of sanctification. What is the next step for you as a disciple? What is the next step for Marsh Chapel’s discipleship? How are we cutting, gluing, pasting, and glittering our way to greater holiness, to help create the sort of wings that can bear people up so that they are not dashed against the stones of life?

People come to faith when they see a community that models sanctification.  This is not an excuse to be holier than thou, but it is, I believe, a truer invitation to a lasting relationship. Beloved, how are we continuing to learn together as a community of faith, as disciples? How are we, as the body of Christ, being conformed to the body of His glory? This Lent, beloved, may we take those next steps toward discipleship, toward holiness in our lives. When we do, both on the mountaintop and back in the messiness of the city we will be astounded by the greatness of God.

Amen.

~Rev. Jennifer Quigley, Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment

 

Sunday
September 9

A Truer Longing

By Marsh Chapel

Mark 7: 24-37

Jeremiah 29: 4-14

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This morning we welcome the Rev. Ms. Jennifer Quigley to our pulpit, to participate in this dialogue sermon, which, like all sermons, is about God and about 20 minutes.  Jen earned BA at BU, and MDiv at BUSTH and received a marriage certificate from Marsh Chapel, along with her fine husband Soren. She is thus a triple terrier!  As Chapel Associate here she exemplifies one fine way to thrive here, and she exemplifies our Marsh envisioned mission, to be a heart for the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city, through the voice of the chapel, decisions about vocation here, and daily attention to fanning the flames of volume in participation, particularly come Sunday.  Welcome Jen!

1. Dean Hill

In every journey there are moments when we feel like turning back.  We are jogging, early in the day, and feet are heavy and lungs are burning:  maybe we will go back to bed.  You are part way into a history of early America, and the pages are blurring and the narrative becomes unclear:  maybe we should just go out for a while.   You have a report due tomorrow, or a presentation in business, and the needed inspiration for the moment needs inspiration, but none comes:  maybe another visit to the refrigerator or cookie jar will help.  Your business or career, your school or community, your church or your country have made some progress over some time but the way forward appears to be longer and rockier than you thought:  maybe we should just turn around.

Underneath the lassitude of such a moment there may lurk a suspicion that this current course is not part of God’s generous grace.   Were not things simpler, better, easier at home?  Are there not serious wrongs in the current environment?  Perhaps I should look at some other setting?  Early in a new job we can feel so.  During the first several weeks of college or graduate school we can be acquainted with this dour perspective.  When the hard foundation work of building—a house, a project, a campaign, a fund drive, a relationship—makes the back muscles weary, we can start to feel overwhelmed.

The people of Israel, to whom Jeremiah writes, knew this condition.  They had been sent off as vassal servants to Babylon in the sixth century bce.  Some looked with resignation at their poor condition.  Others looked with fanatical expectation to the heavens, awaiting immediate, magical relief.  They were not the first nor the last people to be found quivering between the Scylla of resignation and the Carybdis of fanaticism.  As a matter of fact, people of faith, your two main adversaries, on any given day may be the opium of resignation and the cocaine of fanaticism.

All your holy supports have been taken away.  For the Jews in Babylon that meant one set of losses.  The holy land long ago given in promise—gone.  The holy city constructed and protected by kings for generations—gone.  The holy community and its rituals, devotions, leadership, altars, days, seasons—gone.  The history and memory ever embedded in space and place—gone.  The identity there formed, there fashioned—gone.  For the Jews in Babylon, there was one sixth century bce set of losses.  For those starting a course of study that means another set of losses.  The places of earlier success in academics and athletics—gone.  The support of friends of lasting trust and several years—gone.  The mixed blessing but blessing nonetheless of family of origin, extended and nuclear—gone.  The fragile but living identity of preparatory schools and years, won with struggle and effort—gone.  And all around a sea of anonymity, unfamiliarity, ambiguity, uncertainty.   Does this evoke for you any thoughts about the beginning of a college career?

2. Rev. Jen Quigley:

The first time I went to do laundry my freshman year at BU, I was prepared. My mom had made sure I had washed clothes at home at least enough times to know how to properly sort them, measure out the detergent, choose the correct setting, shake out the wet clothes, insert a dryer sheet, and, again, choose the correct settings. I even knew to check the lint trap! Laundry seemed like a complicated but easy process; as long as you followed the correct steps, your clothes would become clean without your socks turning pink. I waited a little longer than I should have, so my hamper bag was pretty full that Sunday afternoon the week after school began. As I walked into the laundry room in the basement of 188 Bay State Road, I froze. First, these machines were front-load, not top load. How could I tell when to stop loading clothes to avoid overstuffing the washer? Worse, the settings were all different. They seemed deceptively simple…did my laundry qualify for the “normal” setting, or were they “delicate?” What makes clothes “heavy” anyway? Worse still, it took forever to find where to put the detergent. Was I just supposed to toss it in from the side, hoping it spread evenly over my clothes? After about three minutes of sheer panic, I found a little detergent drawer, and poured it in what I hoped was the correct one of three separate trays. If you have ever tried laundry at BU, you know that the detergent seems to magically disappear down that tray, and as soon as you pour it in, it looks like you haven’t put any in at all. Worried I hadn’t used enough, I put in some more, and then began to truly freak out as I saw the ominous sign above the washing machine: DO NOT USE TOO MUCH DETERGENT. Had I gone overboard and now used too much? I had heard rumors about a kid who had used too much detergent on West and flooded the entire laundry room…

 

But worst of all, well, I didn’t realize the worst part until I had already loaded the clothes, and committed to the use of too much detergent. I looked for the place to swipe my Terrier Card, which my parents had conveniently outfitted with enough convenience points to help get me started with some of the basics, especially laundry. This machine did not take convenience points. It wanted cold hard cash, specifically quarters. Despair set in. Where could I get quarters on a Sunday?!? I could get cash from the ATM, for sure, dipping into my very spare reserves in my college checking account, but the banks wouldn’t be open to give me change! Who would give me change? I left the laundry in the machine, leaving a note saying I would be right back, and went on an adventure. The cash was easy enough, but the convenience store in Warren told me they had a firm no change-making policy. I received rejections from several more business establishments before a student employee took pity on me, asking why I didn’t just go use the change machines in Towers? Finally armed with so many quarters I jingled as I walked, I returned to 188 Bay State Road.

 

There, I hesitated over one last, seemingly minor decision. Someone, who shall remain nameless due to my uncertainty over BU’s statute of limitations, had told me there was a trick to manipulate the machines, something with thread and tape on the quarter, so that you could turn 25 cents into $1.25 simply by tugging on the string and releasing the quarter a few times.

 

Should I try this trick? If I did, how exactly did it work? Where should I attach the string, for example? Did this trick amount to petty theft? Would the washing machine know and somehow send notification to the police? If I just paid the full amount, in cash, my spending money would dwindle to nothing in a few short weeks! What would happen if I couldn’t afford quarters anymore? Would I have to lug my laundry to Warren every week, just to use convenience points? This last, small, but not morally insignificant decision pushed me over the edge, and I found myself paralyzed by a washing machine a week into my freshman year of college. After ten minutes, a housemate brought his laundry downstairs, and gruffly asked me how long I needed. This forced a decision, and I jammed all five quarters into the machine and retreated to my room, overwhelmed by my emotions. One thought kept ringing in my ears. If I couldn’t even do laundry here, how was I supposed to make it at Boston University? For the first, and not the last time that year, I felt homesick.

 

It was not as though I didn’t know how to do laundry, I just didn’t know how to do it here, on these machines, in this setting. You may be and feel completely prepared to go to college, but the fact is, no matter how prepared you are or feel, it is different from home and very different from high school. Those differences can cause a paralysis of sorts, and those differences expose you to the reality of your displacement, your dislocation; those differences make you long for home. The longing for home is visceral, deep, and no matter what anyone tells you about the joys of your college years, absolutely true.

 

Now I know that caring for laundry may pale in comparison to the struggles of the ancient Israelites, but I can tell you for this time and place they are very real.

 

3. Dean Hill:

Actually the two experiences are both connected to a deep desire to live out our own truest longings.  The experience of exile and the feeling of exile are not such distant cousins.

We here at Marsh Chapel can further appreciate the added or heightened burning sensation of life as part of a largely secular culture.  As one wrote about Jeremiah’s verses:  Uprooted from all familiar circumstances by the barbaric deportation the exiles found themselves…suffering a kind of paralysis in relation to their environment….The community was thrust out into the alien situation in the world…The deported people were snatched overnight out of this cluster of protective sacral orders (von Rad, 101-102).  They are thrust into an all-pervading secularity whose rhythms, priorities, demands and rewards are alien to the perspective and the people of faith.   We can empathize, looking about us this morning, in our current location, here and now.  Sunday is not a shared day of communal rest.  The human body is not always viewed happily as the temple of the Lord.  Funds and goods are not held and had in common.  Speech is not steadily governed by the warnings within the letter of James heard last week.  The horizon of hope is more earth than heaven, the material not the spiritual, the body not the soul.   An occasional radio broadcast of historic worship, or an occasional entrance into remaining, vestigial congregations, breaks awkwardly into the reigning secularity of the dominant culture.  On a college campus (whose weekend day begins at 4pm) on a Sunday morning in the Northeast within a large city that has its share of snowfall—to resist and grow together just here, just now in faith is to run into the very teeth of a very cold secular wind.

 

You will have heard what Jeremiah, the prophet, said to his forlorn flock way off in Babylon in chains.  It is a truly striking word that strikes the heart.  It is a word that can kindle in you a truer longing.  Jeremiah tells the people to put their hearts and minds and souls and labor into the very secular, cold setting into which they have been thrust.  Their well being now depends upon their overseers, who do not share their faith or their values.  So:  build there.  So:  grow there.  So: plant there.  So: marry, bear children, bear grandchildren, live and die—there.   Jeremiah is reproving homesickness, that is, the homesickness that looks backward as well as forward:  he is speaking against that dissatisfaction, that age-old human will to revolt that can wear so many different garbs (von Rad, 102). Resignation and fanaticism:  Jeremiah speaks against both the doubters and the dreamers.  His word celebrates the doers.  Jeremiah leads his readers to the validity and the duration of this their present…How objective here is the summons to simple involvement in society, against a fanaticism that believes that this interim situation does not at all deserve to be taken seriously!…Jeremiah’s directions are amazing:  they contain a justification of what is secular, worldy; indeed, they propose to offer encouragement to what is worldly (101).

 

Your salvation evokes a capacity to receive the divine generosity, the gift of faith, and so to let go…of home.  Your salvation relies upon your hearing of another word—student, professor, retiree, laborer, all!–the promise of a truer longing, a desire to plant here, grow here, build here, covenant here, and so let go of homesickness.  Fear not the secular setting in which you find yourself. Draw by faith on the gifts of God—in Word and Sacrament—for the people of God.  Then leave behind the dreamers, and leave behind the doubters, and align yourself with the doers.  For this exile, this deportation, this time in an alien place and a foreign culture, has its limit.  It does not last forever.  It is circumscribed, bound by a foreordained limit.  For Israel, that was the fall of Babylon two generations later, 538bce.  For others, that will be the baccalaureate service of May 2016, following, after a brief interlude, on last Sunday’s matriculation service of September 2012.   In the mean time, I wonder what in particular about this place will help us all nurture a sense of truest longing.

 

4. Rev. Jen Quigley:

 

Within the rhythms and rituals of this setting, Boston University, where the work of the mind is the ordered and ordering principle of the place, there is good news; in rhythms and in rituals you find the best remedy for homesickness, because as you develop your own rhythms and rituals in this place, the unfamiliar becomes familiar, the paralysis relaxes into a stretch, and so slowly you hardly even notice the change, in this new place, with these new people, in this new way of thinking, with this new faith, you feel less homesick and more home.

If you are new to this place, or if you are sensing some new discomfort or dislocation in this fall season, the advice of our Scripture this morning is this, to plant gardens, build houses, to see your children married. The Prophet Jeremiah urges the people of Israel to get to know the Brave New World of this strange Babylon, and to not hesitate to put down roots. For our time, in our place, perhaps not exiles but feeling a little exiled nonetheless, we might try to learn how these three things are done at Boston University, and to try them ourselves: Do laundry, read, and develop relationships. Here at the Chapel and around the university, there are people eager to help you learn how each of these is done at BU.

1. Do Laundry: I was saved from bankruptcy, despair, and theft alike by the community of saints in 188-190 Bay State Road. As a community, we eventually agreed never to use that trick with the tape and string, because the tape would get stuck and the washing machine would break. Instead, an enterprising student with some electrical and computer engineering skills reprogrammed our drier to dispense 99 minutes of drying for every quarter spent. I am not endorsing what still probably amounts to petty theft, but rather saying that there are people around you who can help you find quarters, share an extra dryer sheet, tell you how to fix your blinds, and explain where to hang your towel in Warren so that you neither soak your towel nor flash your entire communal bathroom. Ask your RA, ask your roommate, ask the sophomore or junior or senior in your building. Learn the best ways to do the little, ordinary, everyday things; often they make all the difference. Our habits make for a better home.

2. Read: There are certain well-loved, well-worn works around Boston University, and reading them will help you learn some of the parlance of this place. Spend an afternoon with Jesus and the Disinherited by the Reverend Doctor Howard Thurman, former Dean of Marsh Chapel, while sitting in the Howard Thurman Center in the basement of the GSU. Read a Letter from Birmingham Jail in the MLK reading room, on the third floor of Mugar Library, surrounded by King’s letters, photographs, and schoolwork. Pick up a copy of Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of the Morning, and, as Dean Elmore suggests at the start of every school year, rally a few others to join you at sunrise on the BU beach, where the rock, the river, and the tree meet, to take turns reading lines from the poem. Wondering what to read next? Ask your professor, your TA, a chaplain, what work inspires them, their work, and their passions?

3. Build Relationships: Relationships in college develop in those ordinary and extraordinary moments. You might meet your soul mate at orientation or your best friend in a random roommate assignment, but you won’t figure out whether you have or not until you go to the dining hall with them, talk with them about anything other than schoolwork in your common room, proofread each other’s papers, and get lost in Boston together. Your financial investment in college is significant, but your personal investment in the people you meet has just as much value.  And if in the midst of all these adventures, you have a question about your deeper longings, you can always come and see a chaplain.

Dean Hill:  So the chaplains are one of the resources available in this particular time and place.  What would happen if I went to see one of these people?

Rev. Jen Quigley:  Well, just what are chaplains anyway?

Dean Hill:  My question exactly! We could say they are people who believe in the value of helping you connect your greatest passion with the world’s greatest need.

Rev. Jen Quigley:  Precisely.

Dean Hill:  Are you one such?

Rev. Jen Quigley:  I am!  In fact my title is:  Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment.  What about you?

Dean Hill: I am as well.  As for my titles, well, they are many, but one’s life does not consist in the abundance of positions!

Rev. Jen Quigley:  In conclusion, we hope and pray that those searching for their truest longing will find their way in the college experience.  If they need a friendly guide along the way,  we are here for fellowship, discernment, conversation—and even some expert advice about laundry!

 

Call to Confession:

Over the last 72 hours my prayerful mind has hovered over one meditation:  the vast goodness around us, and especially the vast goodness in this University, the vast goodness in its history, people, thought and service.  Boston University.  Since 1839 a history of learning, virtue and piety.  A long proven inclusion of women, Jews, blacks, and immigrants.  An endowment of voice soaring past color of skin to quicken content of character.  Healthy movement in thought, from Methodism to personalism to pragmatism to naturalism.  Today, this morning, many here with us:  a brilliant student body who are growing in moral discernment, resisting substance abuse, rejecting amoral sexuality, setting limits to material greed, and developing empathy for the least, the last and the lost.  The real story here is far less salacious and much more hopeful than sometimes we think, thanks to good people, good leadership, and the underlying goodness of God.  We are in good hands, and so may gladly bear one another’s burdens.  As fallible people, honest about our failures, let us offer our prayers of confession

 

Sunday
February 19

Transfixed with Bach

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 9: 2-9

Rev. Quigley: This morning, we join the apostles; as they ascend the mountain, we climb the steps of Marsh Chapel’s gothic nave. We join Peter, James, and John; as they take some time apart with Jesus, we turn up the dial in our car radio, or pour a second cup of coffee in the quiet of our kitchen. We follow their gaze up the mountainside as they wonder what they will see; our eyes, or our mind’s eyes, are drawn up and up through the sanctuary, from sacred places to sacred faces, and finally to the great openness of the vaulted ceiling above. This is Transfiguration Sunday.

There is an anticipation, an excitement, a buzzing about a vibrant church on a Sunday morning: chatter from small study groups, the rustling of robes as choristers dress, the caffeine-rich scent of coffee brewing, the rhythmic sounds of worship leaders saying a brief prayer before service begins. You will find all this and more at 735 Commonwealth Avenue any week, but a few Sundays of the year this atmosphere has even more heightened energy, on holy days such as Christmas and Easter, of course, but also for the few Sundays annually in which the rich sounds of a Bach cantata anchor our service of worship and praise.

Elisha, too, is full of energy, and anxiety this morning. Along his last walk with his mentor, standing as signposts of the spectacle to come, companies of prophets like a Greek chorus foretell of a vision of an ascension. Like Elisha, we have our own company of prophets with us today, who with their voices and instruments will summon us to keep watch, and to perk up our ears, to hear the message that Bach can bring to us today.

1 Corinthians 12 says that each of us is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good; some are given the gift of tongues, and others the gift of interpretation of tongues. Now, music is its own language, so as is our custom, we have our Director of Music,

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, with us this morning to interpret for us what we are about to hear.

Dr. Jarrett, what signposts will we hear this morning?

Dr. Jarrett: Thank you, Rev. Quigley. Today’s cantata is one of Bach’s great musical triumphs, first performed in October of 1725 for Reformation Sunday. The opening movement depicts the triumph of the new way – Luther’s way, that is – in a most exuberant, muscular – even militant – display of counterpoint and brilliance. The opening orchestral material, extending for an astonishing 45 measures before the chorus entrance, introduces all the thematic material of the movement, including a broad march and a strictly treated three-voice fugue. The cantata features some of the most difficult horn parts in Bach’s entire output, depicting the glory of the battle won. Perhaps the most surprising element of the opening movement is the unrelenting presence of the timpani in a most extraordinary part. The timpani’s rambunctious pounding calls to mind Luther’s bold and precocious nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door.

The second movement, sung today by Gerrod Pagenkopf, proves Bach’s ability to set a similar text in a completely different fashion. The meter of the music with the oboe obbligato present us with a relaxed, elegant pastoral image of God as protector. For the third movement, Bach seems to have recognized that we haven’t yet heard one of Luther’s great hymns. But he delivers a tour de force like no other. The horns and timpani return with their triumphant music from the first movement as the choir and orchestra sing that most famous hymn, ‘Not thank we all our God.’

After the chorale, the cantata takes the anticipated introspective turn for how we continue to fight the battle each day in our contemporary lives. Like the disciples with Jesus on the mountain top, the baritone praises God for the revelation of truth through Word and Incarnation. The recitative concludes with a prayer for hope of salvation from those who do not yet know God. The duet introduces the only elements of doubt in the entire cantata. Here the soprano and bass lines, sung by Kira Winter and Thomas Middleton, cling to each other amid the threat of the darting unison violin line. Only once do they lose each other as the text depicts the harsh raging of the enemy. The cantata ends with a standard four-part chorale setting, but with the two horns and timpani crowning the movement.

Though a Reformation cantata, we find resonance with today’s liturgy and texts. We hear the steadfastness of the apostles at Jesus’ side on the mount in the staunchness and assurance of the opening movement. The presence of the fugal material reminds us of the law of Moses and Elijah. And the presence of the fugue with the broader homophonic music reveals the fulfillment of the prophesy and Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah. We detect Elisha side by side with Elijah in the soprano and bass duet. As we recall the Reformation story, and revisit in the mind’s eye a burgeoning movement toward religious freedoms, we sing again ‘Now thank we all our God.’ Our convictions are transformed, transfigured, and renewed in the grace and redemption of God’s love and might.

Rev. Quigley: Transfiguration is not quite like the class taught at Hogwarts by Professor McGonagall; it is not about turning a cat into a teacup with the flick of a wand. Transfiguration in our gospel reveals the divine within the human, the extraordinary within the ordinary. As in our cantata, we see the different modes of Christ, both the triumphant and the pastoral. This is not unlike our gospel today. The author of Mark, more so than his fellow gospel-writers, portrays for us a down and dirty Jesus. This Jesus has a tendency to spit when healing, he has a strange affinity for dirt, he touches lepers, he curses out fig trees, and he falls asleep in the back of boats. But today, Mark reminds us that Jesus is also the Christ, by foretelling the glory and power of the resurrection.

I think that many of our most powerful spiritual experiences are little transfigurations. We hear a familiar, beloved hymn tune sung in a full-chorused and orchestrated cantata. It reminds us of singing in our home churches, and the new, bright assurance of faith washes over us more powerfully than it first did decades ago. After three, fifteen, fifty years of marriage, we look across the table at our spouse, and the light catches them just right. They are not as beautiful as the wedding day, they are more beautiful, because we have caught a tiny glimpse of the divine spark of our Creator in them. A single conversation at work or at school, and we finally see that we can make an impact; all the callouses (on our hands or on our minds) can change people’s lives, and perhaps for the first time, we discover the intersection of our passion and the world’s need in our sense of vocation.

So this morning, we sit transfixed, receiving Bach’s inspired gift even as he sits beside us, contemplating the same divine majesty. We will have to come down the mountain soon enough, and then we will have to go back into the rhythms of our lives. But something will be different, and even though we know words will fail us, we know something will have to change. Something will have to be shared with others. Mark knows this; Mark’s gospel is known for what biblical scholars call the “messianic secret.” Jesus does something spectacular, and then he demands it be kept secret until after the resurrection. The purpose of the messianic secret in the gospel is much debated, but I find a little Markan humor in it, that the news about Jesus is too good not to share, and time and again people cannot keep the secret.

The irony of life’s transfigurative moments is that no words will properly describe them, but they are so powerful they demand to be shared with others. So this morning, we sit, with the disciples, and with Elisha, and with Bach, unsure of what we will experience and even less sure what we will do afterward. But we sit, transfixed, and know that we are about to experience something of the divine, of the extraordinary revealed within the ordinariness of our lives.

Amen.

~The Rev. Jen Quigley, Chapel Associate
Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music