Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Present Moment

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Click here to hear the full service

Mark 10: 17-34

Click here to hear sermon only


 Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.


A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.


Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.


The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love.  The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.


I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


The Present Moment:  The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.




            Hear good news.  Just as the present moment, for all its dangers and diminutions, reveals presence, the presence of Love, as we affirmed last week, so too the present moment, for all its tweets and humiliations, reveals the pressure of Good, the pressure toward Good, as we affirm this week.  Hope’s second handsome son is pressure.


            After worship here at Marsh Chapel last Sunday, you may have noticed that our student mission team set up a table on the Plaza. They are called MOVE, this team, the acronym of whose actual words I can never remember, but it doesn’t matter. These our beloved students are ON THE MOVE.  And that is the point, is it not?  They went out to Commonwealth Avenue, armed only with a table, a box of pamphlets, their camaraderie, and also, one guesses, for that present moment, perhaps one other thing: the wind of pressure blowing their lives, like leaves in the breeze, to paraphrase Rowan Williams, toward some Good, toward some Goodness. They spent part of the day passing out information on how to register to vote.


            They were moved to pressure, to press on, to impress, to press on toward the high prize, to do something good.  Who knows whence that sort of impetus emerges?  But it does.  In the present.  In the present moment.  And of sudden you are greeted by Hope’s second handsome son, Pressure.


            Notice in our Gospel how the rich young ruler presses.  He presses the point.  He is not satisfied with a generic response, in this case an odd listing and partial assortment of the commandments. Jesus has answered, giving the points of the law, though notice only some, and notice in odd order.   But in the question, and again in the answer, there is a pressure, there is pressure.  Is this why the church’s memory of the conversation includes the phrase, ‘and Jesus loved him?’ The Good presses the rich young ruler to question.  The Good presses the Lord Christ, in his Risen Voice, Remembered and Interpreted in the Life of the Earliest Church, to answer.  One thing you lack.


            There is, in this Present Moment, in every present moment the pressure to goodness, to act in goodness.  We come to church for such a reminder, especially in a national season of the shredding of ceremonies of courtesy, in a national season of the apotheosis of the uncivil.  And a willingness on the part of many to support or countenance the denigration of civil society, and the abuse of inherited forms of culture meant to protect us from our basest selves. 


Mark 10


            Look for a moment again at our gospel reading. Barbara Brown Taylor said once, if memory serves, that the church usually misses the point of this teaching, either by understanding the passage exclusively in terms of money, or by avoiding altogether any discussion of money.   She said further that money is like nuclear power, potent with power for good, but requiring careful management, protections against disasters, recognition of what can go wrong, and a humility in practice.


            In the city of Rome, under the thumb of Caesar, Mark in 70ad rehearses Jesus’ lakeside lessons.  Gathered in secrecy, hearing news of a Jerusalem temple in flames, rightly fearing impending persecutions, Mark’s Roman Christians heard hope in these teachings, so frequently as today related to wealth.  If you notice only one word in this passage, mark Mark’s inclusion of “persecutions” (vs. 30).


            For there is an urgency to Mark’s passage that Matthew and Luke later left behind.  Mark exudes raw energy under the pressure of apocalyptic expectation.  Sell and give!  Notice the telltale apocalyptic marks:  eternal life (the coming resurrection of the dead); this age and the age to come (the heart of Jewish longing); camel and needle (end of an age hyperbole); none is good but God (the apocalyptic distance of heaven from earth); the reign of God (the essential apocalyptic hope);  persecutions (harbinger of the end); last become first (apocalyptic justice). But there is no mistaking the primary announcement:  life is found in the refreshing lake water of giving not on the dry shoreline of having. Yes, you must honor the past, including the commandments.  Yes, we must conserve and protect.  But as Luke Timothy Johnson used to say:  “the tradition of the church is meant to open the future!”  Conserve what you can and protect what you must, then give—develop, give—enhance, give—open the reign of God!  This is what life is all about.  And be shrewd about it.


            Toward the end of one remarkable election in California, a leader in LA memorably implored his people to look to the future:  “Think of your future.  Look to the next generation.  See what is out ahead.  Why if you vote for (candidate x) it would be like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders!” He could speak apocalyptic.

Mark’s Way

         And Mark is clearly an apocalyptic writing, although clarity about this has only fully emerged in the last generation or so. Mark expects the end of all things in his own time, 70ad and so the Markan Jesus so instructs his followers, 30ad. In fact, Mark expects the culmination of all things, soon and very soon.  In this regard, and in regard to his understanding of the cross, Mark has some congruence with the letters of Paul.  Given this apocalyptic perspective, should we hear Mark’s words as those of a critic or those of a coach? 

            The first option, Mark the moderate critic, was most piercingly presented almost forty years ago, by a friend of Marsh Chapel, Dr. Theodore Weeden. It has taken some decades for the force and power of his argument to stand up and stand out in comparison to the work of others. 

            On this view, Mark combats a view of Jesus that will not accept his suffering, his crucifixion.  Long after the events of Calvary and Golgotha, spirited and strong people, singing a happy song, have caused the earliest church to forget their baptism, or its meaning.  They expect ease, spirit, joy, and, soon, a conquering victory over all that plagues and persecutes them.  Mark says ‘no’.  To say ‘no’ Mark remembers in delicate detail the story of Jesus’ passion, relying on a source, a document he has inherited.  To say ‘no’, Mark pointedly shows the ignorance and cowardice of Peter, at Caesarea Philippi and in Jerusalem.  To say ‘no’, Mark criticizes, diminishes the miracles of Jesus, letting them wind away to nothing as the Gospel progresses.  To say ‘no’, Mark describes the disciples as diabolical dunces. They didn’t understand it and neither do you, he says.  Mark stays within the fold of the inherited story of Jesus, the gospel of teaching and passion, of Galilee and Jerusalem.  But he does so as a moderate critic of those who are unrealistic about the suffering that continues, from which the gospel does not deliver, any more than Jesus had been delivered from the cross.  Resurrected, yes, delivered, no.  On this view, at the heart of Mark there is a bitter dispute in earliest Christianity (imagine that) about what constitutes discipleship and baptism, and Mark is out to prove his opponents wrong.  As with the alternative, there is plenty of evidence to support this view.

            The alternative, the second option, Mark the critical moderate, has in a way been present for a longer time, and, one could say, is still the more dominant, the majoritarian position, in scholarly interpretation of Mark.  The current, culminating presentation of this view is in a two volume Anchor Bible Commentary.  It is written by another person with connections to Marsh Chapel, a fellow once on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology, Joel Marcus, now at Duke.  On this view, things in Mark’s community are not so much at daggers drawn.  There are differences to be sure, but the disagreements are differences among friends.  The Markan coaching does not face strong spirit people, committed to an idea of the ‘divine man’.  Mark is not so negative about miracles.  The disciples are mistaken but not malevolent.  The titles for Jesus are not so tellingly convincing.  The real trouble is not so much in the community itself (perish the thought), but outside, among the potential deceivers of the church.  Hence, on this view, Mark has the job of gently reminding his hearers of the cross, of suffering, of discipline, of the cruciform character of Christianity, as a moderate, a critical moderate, but a moderate more than a critic.


A Critic and a Coach


            In the Present Moment, the pressure toward the Good can come in a voice on the one hand critical, or in a voice on the other hand coaching.   You might think about how you use your voice, now and then, in one form or another. Children need both.  So do parents.  While the jury is out, still, about Mark, whether more critic or more coach, there is no doubt about his apocalyptic urgency, and there is no doubt about the pressure it applies, in the Present Moment, the pressure to do good, to be good, to practice good, the pressure toward the Good.

            Earlier this month, the paper of record in this country carried two articles, one on a Thursday, one on a Saturday.  Both were written by friends of yours, Marsh Chapel. Both exhibited this pressure toward the good, Marsh Chapel.  Both were written in part to critique and in part to coach.  Both voices are known to you.

            Andrew Bacevich, until just recently a professor at Boston University, has been among you.  You know his voice.  He has been here to teach in our small group, to provide a chapel forum for us, to speak in trenchant terms, terms full of the pressure toward good.  This month he wrote in the NY Times about Black Hawk Down, 25 years later, in his ongoing quest to challenge, to critique, our national reliance on large scale military might.  We might  have learned something, back then, he says.  He presses us.  ‘The contemporary battlefield is more likely to be urban and congested…investment in conventional warfare will continue to have little relevance…policy should consider…that the wars themselves…might be futile.’  And then, the clincher: ‘With a bit more effort, and a generous dose of humility…’ we might have learned these lessons 25 years ago.   Here is a close, critical voice, part of the proven pressure toward good, latent in every one present moment.       

            Robert Pinsky, former US poet laureate, and a professor at Boston University, wrote two days later, in the same space.  You remember him, Marsh Chapel.  Pinsky came and helped us honor and respect those who died on nineleven, ten years later.  He brought himself, he brought his poetry, he brought his voice, right here onto our plaza, in our 2011 service of remembrance.  You know his voice.  This month he wrote in the NY Times about patriotism.  He presses us.  He is writing for students, including those within earshot this morning, saying, ‘Sometimes you read something when you are young and it stays with you forever’.  He then remembers a citation of George Washington in 1783 ‘in which he described the good fortune of the new nation:  its natural resources, its political independence and freedom, and the Age of Reason of the country’s birth, and age of the free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all the pure and benign light of Revelation’.  And then, in some emotion, and with the great skill of a great poet, he simply remembers the story of Peter Rodino, a humble congressman from his native New Jersey, pressed into duty, we might say under the pressure toward the Good, in the Watergate hearings. Here is a close, coaching voice, part of the proven pressure toward good, latent in every one present moment.  

            You are not alone in the hunger and thirst for the good.  Voices both critical and coaching are among you, to help, to guide, to heal.  Listen for them.  Listen to them.  And learn from them, learn to find your own voice, both critic and coach.

A Question


            On Monday evening this past week, you may have walked past the cafeteria at 100 Bay State Road.  There you would have seen a lone woman, sitting in a chair.  Her hair gray, her presence little noticed, her age probably making her eligible for Medicare, armed only with a table, a box of voter registration pamphlets, and also, one guesses, for that present moment, perhaps one other thing: the wind of pressure blowing her life, like leaves on the breeze, to paraphrase Rowan Williams, toward some Good, toward some Goodness.  She spent part of that evening passing out information on how to register to vote. Maybe a couple of generations ago she was member of a student group like MOVE.  Or maybe she is foretaste of what our students will be and do a couple of generations from now, when their hair is gray, and they are eligible for Medicare.  ‘Good for you’ we said to her. ‘I’m trying’ she replied.


            And you?  May I ask you a question, to conclude this sermon?  Will you, before you leave this Sanctuary, consider one thing you might do toward the Good, in the next week, something you have not yet to this moment designed?  In the present moment? 




The Present Moment.


 Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.


A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.


Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.


The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love.  The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.


I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


The Present Moment:  The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.


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




The Present Moment

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Click here to hear the full service

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-22

Click here to hear the meditations only


The Present Moment.

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.


‘In Thy Presence There is Fullness Of Joy.’ (Psalm 16).

In the Present, the present moment, come with me, to become open again, open to Presence.   Around you, yes, racism and misogyny and sexism and xenophobia and rapacity and mendacity and perversity and predation.  Yes. So, all the moreso, your being hungers for Presence. Presence, as our Psalm 16 acclaims this morning, the fullness of joy.  Simchat’ my Rabbi and friend tells me.  It means joy. Simchat Torah. Serve the Lord with Joy. Come with me, aside, just a moment.

Come with me, aside, just a moment, to recall one morning, an early morning early in August this year, wherein there was an experience of Presence.

The coffee was percolating in the cottage kitchen.  Wait for it with me, why don’t you, and come sit down on the living room couch.  Through the front open windows you might hear the lapping of the lake water against the shoreline, carried by a steady breeze out of the west, north west.  Most of the time, there, the wind comes from the west, blowing Midwestern weather through us and on to Boston. The lap, lap, lap continued, somewhat in rhythm with and somewhat out of rhythm with, the music of Liszt by radio.  The water and the waves are there all the time, background music to the day every day. We should carry some summer into winter. This day you could hear the surf, though surf is too much of a word for that little lake. Just the steady lap, lap, lap of the water on the shore.

The quiet (can you hear it?) was full.  There was and is no sound, other than natural sound, most of the time, mid-week, in the mornings there.  Little to no traffic on the road or on the water; little to no talk, on the road or on the water. The sound of the silence is the most pronounced audition of the day, in such contrast to our life really anywhere else.  A gull now and then will sing out—our five year-old granddaughter has learned nearly exactly to mimic the gull song, ‘Gina’s’ song, she calls it, as she names all gulls Gina. The murmuring of the blessed classical music, soft but audible, rumbles, morning by morning.  

You are, as I was, unusually, all alone.  It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  For some weeks, with two days excepted, we had the full joy of some assortment of grandchildren, as few as one, as many as seven, and their parents, as few as one as many as six, and friends, neighbors, visitors, in sixes and sevens, all.  Jan though had gone away the day before, to see our daughter, to make a call on my elderly mother, to lunch with old friends, and to see her former work colleagues. So the company I kept for a day and night and a day was my own. It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  

With the coffee susurrating, sit for moment, and feel the cool breeze through the windows, and hear, though not as a focused listening, the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.  That morning you could feel and see faintly, a storm brewing out of the west, full clouds coming dark with rain, but still a distance off. I picked up the book I was reading, where it had been left the quiet night before, following a solitary dinner, prepared by, made by, and pre-cooked by Jan, warmed and consumed alone by me.  The book is that of Paul Theroux, Deep South, his masterful journal and reflection on a year of travels due south of his home on Cape Cod.  You may have known him from his earlier book, The Mosquito Coast, and from reviews of his other two dozen.  This one had been casually left by my dear friend Jon Clinch, himself a world renowned writer, author of Finn, Kings of the Earth, and several other novels.  ‘You might like this’ Jon said, following the fireworks of July 4.

That morning, the book was open to a passage about Julius Rosenwald.  Rosenwald became the head of Sears, Roebuck in 1909. He was the son of German-Jewish immigrants.  Most have not ever heard of him. Theroux’s book is in the great tradition of travel books. You may have loved John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.  You may have loved William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways.  Well, Theroux apparently did too, and set out to visit the least known part of America, to him, the deep south.  He comes along poor country roads, and the stories along those roads, with the clean, bright eyes of a genuinely interested visitor, a Yankee a long way from home.  And he, Theroux, revels in what he finds. By the help of an African American barber, chef, and preacher, he finds the story of Rosenwald. Julius Rosenwald gave his substantial fortune to build rural schools for black children in the deep south.  They have a particular architecture, fit for their role and setting, large glass windows facing the southern sun, open and flexible rooms and walls to be used for many different needs, and a distinctive aspect given by those at Tuskegee who planned them.  How many? Five thousand. There are 5000 Rosenwald schools in 15 states, the first built in 1917. Rosenwald died in 1932. He gave his fortune to poor black children in the rural deep south.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

For some reason, with the breeze blowing, and now the dark clouds somehow headed north and away, with Franz Liszt’s meditative music alive and round about (he whose name you can never recall whether to spell with an s or with a z—(which is it choir?)  because—it’s both!), this little account of Rosenwald, in Theroux’s graceful hand, choked me, moved me. I think it would do so for you too.

Once I had a high school meeting set with a black preacher and his church in Syracuse.  My mother, lightly but sternly, said as I left something like this: You should try to appreciate what those good people in that church have had to live with down there on the south side of Syracuse, you want to be respectful of what others have been through. None of us in this country, even those of us educated at Nottingham High School, Bob, or going on Ohio Wesleyan University, Bob, has really ever had enough education about slavery, about what the conditions of that 250 year hell were, about what the ongoing effect to this day in the 150 years since have been, about how this country and its notable capitalism, and the very sky line of our dear city, the making of American Capitalism and every dollar still swirling in its rinse basin today, came in part from stolen land and slave labor, the trail of tears and the middle passage, the five arable states of the new south and 4 million chattel slaves—beaten, raped, lynched, chained—to till it.  Even your or I, Bob, could make money with free land and free labor. And our economy still depends on the same two features, abuse of the environment and abuse of labor, to make the profits demanded by the market. We walk through it every day, and hardly notice. How do we do this? She said.

These are the kind of memories a breeze, a little music, and a quiet morning can conjour.

Now with the coffee almost done, and the reading of Theroux in motion, the lap, lap, lap again in the breeze, the lap, lap, lap again, from the lakeshore, the lap, lap, lap of, well, the present moment.   For three generations now our family has been itinerant, moving from church to church, from pulpit to pulpit, from town to town and from hidden communal misery to hidden communal misery. Every town, every city, has secret failures, as every heart has secret sorrows.  So the lake, the very modest little lake, and the cottage, the very small humble cottage, the north western tip of Appalachia about which the most remarkable thing to say is how little it has changed since 1959, becomes a place of reverie, a place of memory, a place of home life, the place called home.  Home is such a big word. That also means it is a place where hard memories are present and can be faced. Hard things. Accidents. Mistakes. Betrayals. Deaths. Losses. Failures. On this morning, in the lap, lap, lap, and with the Liszt, Liszt, Liszt, and in the breeze, perhaps mainly the breeze, with the coffee brewed, these readily come up to mind in the morning, if they haven’t already made their nocturnal appearance in the buzzard wildness of dreams.  The water on the shore brings a steady reminder that life gets lived in the aftermath of disappointment. The breeze from the west, with and without raincloud, brings the confidence that even the hurt, the shame of the wrong can be endured. The music, light and lingering, brings along the recollection of happiness that is more true for its injury in sorrow, its debasement in waste, its limitation in grief.

Let us stop, here.  In the little air, in the lap, lap, lap, in the dead quiet.  In the present moment. There. This is what the Psalm means. This is what prayer touches.  This is what the divines felt. This is what Ralph Harper wrote about, in his treatise, On Presence.  This is what old Huston Smith then of MIT said of God, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…We are in good hands, and so it behooves us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of love.  This is what Alistair Macleod depicted in his stories of Nova Scotia, concluding, all of us are better when we’re loved.  This may be what my Dad meant when he said that he had never seen anyone die fearing death.  This is what the black cold of the Pyrenees was saying to me, about vocation, in the deep winter of 1974.  This is what you carry into surgery, as the anesthesia kicks in. This is the miracle of the present moment.  Presence. Hope has a handsome son named Presence. Wordsworth: Eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.  Hammarskjold; ‘God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal Deity, but we die on the day our lives cease to be illumined by a radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder whose source lies beyond all reason.’

Chesterton: the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder. This is the refutation, at the last, of disenchantment by enchantment.  This is the overflowing giddiness of the getting up morning hour of the day when the stars begin to fall of the of the light shining in darkness that has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory in the face of…the present moment.  Psalms: 1, 19, 22, 23, 33, 46, 51, 61, 95, 96, 100, 121, 139. Psalm 16, in Thy presence there is fullness of joy.

It was only a half-second.  It was only an un-holdable, ungraspable flicker.  It was only the breeze and the book and the coffee and the music, the lake and the Liszt, and the memory and the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.

Take with you this week a sense of presence.  Take with you this week a feeling of presence.  Take with you this week a quickened apperception, awareness of the gift of one day, one day, one day, lap, lap, lap.  Take with you this week the spirit, given in the present moment. And practice, with Brother Lawrence of old, the presence of the good, the presence of God.  Do so here at Marsh Chapel. Sunday evening, right here, with prayers and spirituals sung by the Inner Strength Gospel Chorus.  Monday, right here, the compline quiet and sturdy liturgy. Tuesday, right here, with creative pause. Wednesday, right here, with a guitar at 11am in the morning and a sung eucharist  at 5:30 in the evening. Thursday noon, right here, and maybe especially, with quiet, silent silence. (The best thing at Marsh Chapel is ’nothing’—we leave the sanctuary open in silence, and open to…Presence.)

And what of pressure, Hope’s other handsome son?   The pressure toward the good, in the question of the Rich young Ruler today—‘what must I do?’.  For that, we must come back next Sunday, when the Gospel of the Present Moment is acclaimed, not only in Presence, but also within Pressure, the pressure to love.



The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.

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

We Are One

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Isaiah 2:2-4

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 17:15-23

The podcast audio for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I don’t know about you, but the last few weeks have had some definite rollercoaster moments for me emotionally. The state of our country and the world in general continues to be in turmoil. Sometimes it feels as though we’re going to continue feeling stressed and anxious forever. But Every once and a while we still experience moments of joy, or at least we find moments of escape. I’ve recently been seeking solace from the stresses in my life through baking and escaping to foreign lands through cooking shows. While eating food is often seen as a comforting act for some, making or learning about how different dishes are made eases my anxiety. In particular, I recently watched a travel cooking show on Netflix, called Somebody Feed Phil. Unlike your normal cooking show where a trained chef demonstrates the complexities of a dish or highlights extremely cutting-edge ways of developing meals, Phil Rosenthal, the titular host of Somebody Feed Phil, takes more of an everyman approach to food and travel. With great enthusiasm he tells you about and shows you all of the great street foods and restaurants that he encounters in cities from Saigon to Lisbon. Although Phil is able to afford this kind of travel because of a successful career in television writing and production, his approach is to encourage the average person to go out and experience the world, because, as he stated in an interview “If people see a putz like me out there, they say ‘oh if he can go, I can go.’” Even if you don’t have the means to travel internationally, Phil encourages you to try new foods in your own city or town and to get to know people from different cultures through their food.

My favorite part of each episode, though, is when Phil has a meal with the family of a friend he knows from the region he is visiting. Frequently not all the guests at this meal speak English, so Phil is left making exaggerated reactions to the food he’s eating to convey his pleasure to his table mates. What I like about this part is what the host is trying to convey: that over a meal, we are all just people sharing in an experience together. In his episode in Saigon Phil quips “You know, you sit down and you eat with people that you’ve just met, and by the time you’re done eating you’re a little bit closer. That’s the idea, right?” It is out of the singular experience of sharing a meal that a community can grow. We can come to know our neighbors, even our global neighbors, just by sitting down with them over a meal because sharing food is an intimate act of trust and love.

Have you ever witnessed a community form? Have you seen the initial, trepidatious steps taken by people who don’t know each other easing into comfortable relationship with one another? Maybe you were a part of such a community-formation. Maybe it was in a church or through volunteering or even in your neighborhood. One minute, people are unsure, reserved, taking the temperature of the room, and the next there’s laughter and conversation. Not unlike the meals Phil shares across the world in different contexts with total strangers, there’s some uneasiness that eventually melts away into friendship. It develops out of patience, connection, and care.

            Every year, I get to observe communities form or take new shapes. One of the unique aspects of working in University Chaplaincy is that the communities formed here are fluid – always changing, especially from year to year. That’s because the student population changes – seniors graduate, and new first year students and transfer students arrive. New students with new identities, perspectives, and experiences to share. The chapel provides places and times for these new students to connect with one another and be in fellowship with on-going students at the university without the pressure of the classroom. It gives a space for spiritual connection, even if that connection is an unconscious one.

            This week I’ve been keenly aware of the presence of the divine I feel when students come together in fellowship. Something as simple as hearing two students in conversation who only met three weeks ago saying “I’ll text you and we can make a plan to go to ‘x’” outside of our normal fellowship activity. Or observing a student who was silent during the first meeting of the year volunteeing to help prepare and cook various parts of Malay Nasi Lemak, our meal for global dinner club this past week, all while interacting with a kitchen full of students. Students staying a half hour or even long after an event ends to continue chatting with each other while washing dishes. Something happens between weeks one and four of our weekly gathering that creates bonds between people, allowing them to engage each other on a deeper level. It is holding that other person in a place of respect with a sense of openness that allows for relationship to develop.

            It is in these points of connection, in relationship and community building, that God resides. We are reminded that Jesus often did his teaching over meals, bringing his community together from all parts of society. Jesus built community out of sharing food with others because of the intimacy it implied. By inviting those who were marginalized to eat with him, Jesus committed revolutionary acts outside the accepted norms of Jewish society. His notion of the need for relationship and community outweighed what the social and religious conventions of the times demanded. The importance of relational identity with others is so important to the Christian identity that Jesus demonstrates it for us time and time again. One of the commentaries I read for this week stated: “One cannot be a Christian by oneself.” Firstly, we are in relationship with God, always. We feel God’s love and grace in our lives; it is our foundation. We are also in relationship with other people in our societies and communities. As Christians we are called to love one another. John reminds us that God is love. Therefore, it seems only logical that it is in and through relationship that God can be experienced.

The history of Christianity centers around the need for community. Back to our roots in Judaism, it is the community of the Israelites that God leads out of slavery and into the promised land. The Israelite community was one based on being the “chosen people of God,” whom God liberates. The Christian community, however, has an expanded notion of inclusion. Through the actions and words of Jesus, we learn that all can be members of God’s community, especially those who are marginalized by the society. Despite national identity, economic status, or even gender, all are equal in the sight of God, as Paul tells us in the epistle to the Galatians. We are unified in our faith in Christ and God, forming the church in the world. But what is the Christian community really, and how are we supposed to be Christians in a globalized world?

While community is important to the core concepts of Christianity and Judaism (as well as many other religious traditions) interestingly, there is no word in Hebrew or Greek that is an equivalence to the English word for community. (Just as a pre-apology, I’m going to try my best with pronouncing biblical Hebrew and Greek in the next few sentences…bear with me). In the Hebrew Bible, the closest term is r’h (ree), which translates to brother or neighbor. In the New Testament, there’s the ekklesia (eck-klee-seea), the church or assembly, hagioi(hag-ee-oy) the community of saints/ or holy ones, the agapetoi (agapaytoy) the brothers/beloved ones, and the koinonia,those in the fellowship and sharing in Christ. When we talk about the Christian community and the values we share, we are most often referring to the koinonia, which speaks to the deep spiritual connection we recognize in each other through our union with Christ and God. Alternatively, there is another word used in the New Testament of as much value when we think about being in community with others. Allelon(Ah-lay-lon) is a relational term meaning “one another.” Primarily used in the epistles in the New Testament, “one another” is the term used to provide guidance on social relations within Christian communities. Christians living in community are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2; Col. 3:13) and to build up one another (Rom 1:19; 1 Thess 5:11), and most often cited, to love one another. The community of Christian believers is not joined together by proximity, but by relationship through the holy spirit grounded in a shared belief in Christ Jesus. It is this faith in God through Christ through which the community experiences and expresses grace to one another. It is in this community that they are able to find solace, celebration, and hope.

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday as a sign of our Christian unity. Started in 1933 by Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, World Communion Sunday grew from a local celebration of church unity and interdependence to a celebration recognized by the Federation of Christian Churches, now National Council of Churches, in 1940.  All around the world, Christians share in the Eucharist on this day as a reminder that our community extends far beyond the walls of our individual churches, beyond our city limits, beyond our countries of origin. We all bring different cultures and perspectives to our global community of Christians, but we all also share in the hope and salvation of Christ. Today is also a celebration of the ecumenicism built between Christian denominations over the past century. The ecumenical dialogue developed before and after World Communion Sunday makes the existence of a congregation like Marsh Chapel possible through the cooperation and affiliation of various Protestant denominations with each other.

In today’s scripture readings we hear about the importance and the beauty of being in community with others. The psalmist reminds us “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The writer of Ephesians reminds us that we are called to each fulfill our own individual vocations while also seeking love and peace with our community, something that will join us together in the unity of God who is present in all. The passage from John’s gospel speaks to the significance of the relationship Jesus shares with both God and with us. Jesus, on the night that he is sharing his last meal with the disciples, turns to God and prays for the future of the community. Jesus knows what he is called to do in the next day, to give up his life, but instead of fearing what must be done, he instead focuses on his hopes for the community he will leave behind, asking God to continue to protect and sanctify them. It is through the close relationship Jesus shares with God and the community that he projects the unity of the Christian community into the future – “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is then our tasks as Christians to accept the love and grace given by God and employ it as justice and righteousness in the world we live in today.

Do not be mistaken, though, a call for Christian unity is not a call for uniformity which erases all differences and experiences. Instead, the Christian community is strengthened by the diversity present within it. It allows for the voices of the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the oppressed to be heard and valued in our global context, challenging us to create a society where everyone can seek to be liberated from oppression in its many forms. As Christianity has grown globally, it has taken new shapes and forms which speak to the varied contexts in which it has been established. As the global church shifts its center away from the Western dominance it once had, the mission of Christian visions of hope and love continue to be the central focus of the Church. While Sunday worship in Nigeria or Korea may look very different than our service here in Boston, Massachusetts, the grace and love of God sustains all of our congregations to meet our worldly challenges head on with a sense of optimism.

Through celebrating communion together today, we emphasize the presence of God in our lives through Christ. Sharing in the eucharist is a communal act. Even though we may individually receive our piece of bread and sip of wine, we share in the act of eating from the same loaves and drinking from the same cups, just as the disciples did with Jesus at the Last Supper. The acts of worshipping together may not always generate the same sort of connection that having a long meal with someone might – there’s little chance to converse or find moments of individual connection in our service – but it allows us to focus our attention on God’s presence in our lives. It is then out of this recognition of God’s presence in our lives that we are able to find deeper connection outside of worship times – before the service in the Narthex, after worship at coffee hour or our covered dish luncheon, during the week in a fellowship opportunity, or even just getting coffee with someone from the congregation. It is felt when we take the time to get to know our new neighbor who moved in across the street, welcome a newcomer to our monthly book club, or invite a friend to join us in a new context, like church, for example.

While the holy meal of communion fills us spiritually during this time today, it should also remind us that our church reaches far beyond the walls of this building. And no, I’m not just talking about the fact that this service is broadcasted on the radio. What I mean is that it is the people who participate in this service, whether sitting right here in the pews or listening half a world away, going out into the world to share the love and grace of God with others. Ours is a community that pushes back against the norms of what society may expect or demand from us; instead we focus on the justice and righteousness offered through God’s presence in our lives as a guiding force. Our community founded in God’s love helps us to see what is moral and what is amoral in our contexts, and then to move into action to challenge the status quo in the best way to serve our neighbors, whether they are Christian or not. Through upholding our values found in establishing just and unified communities, we come closer to the vision that Jesus holds for us when he prays for us before his death.

So as you leave from this place today, I urge you to continue building the relationships found within this community of Marsh Chapel, but also to bring the knowledge of God’s ever present grace and love into all of your relationships. As we enter into our Holy meal, our Holy Communion with one another, remember that we are one with God through Christ, imbued with the Holy Spirit. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, to build one another up, to love one another, extending God’s love, grace, and sense of justice into the wider world.


 Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


The Bach Experience

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Click here to listen to the full service

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

Click here to listen to the meditations only

The text for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

 -The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean. & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music.

It’s All About Peace

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Click here to listen to the entire service

James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

Click here to listen to the meditations only

The text for this sermon is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

-The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and Professor of Religion, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA

Hope that is Seen is not Hope

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Click here to listen to the entire service

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Click here to listen to the meditations only


Hope that is seen is not hope.  Who hopes for what he sees?  We hope for what we do not see, and what for it with patience.

Our denomination bade farewell to one of its great matriarchs this summer, Barbara Steen, who with her husband the Rev. Tom Steen mentored generations of clergy, especially regarding invitation in outreach and fellowship.  Chuck Foster (Educating Clergy)Is an example.  Their example teaches us about hope.  In fact, Barb lived out the sense and substance of the Letter to the Romans, chapters 1,3,5,8,12,15 (here verses are recited in the sermon). 

What gracious good news to recall in this era of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, irresponsibility, perversity, rapacity, and, especially, mendacity. Listen again to James, and to Mark.


The Tongue

If ever there were an age that could hear, and appreciate, the teaching of James about the tongue as a fire, it is our own. You know, the preacher here does not need to bring exegesis to bear, or to give explanation for the wisdom proffered, or to bring examples, many or few.  We know in our evenings of listening to the cable news.  We hear in our mornings of commuting with the radio on. We read and learn and inwardly digest what speech can do for ill.  We are coming to a point where even James 3 is too tepid, too mild to describe our national condition.  At some point we will need to repair to Amos, and to drink the hard cold medicine of his teaching.  When we wreck the use of words without pause, you do come to a time when words no longer work.  You have stripped the gears.  You have shredded the fabric.  You have cut the muscle.  And no one can speak the truth and no can hear the truth any longer. 

Behold the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line’.  Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;  I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac will be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid to waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword’. Amos 7: 7-8.        

‘Behold the days are coming’ says the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.’ Amos 8: 11-12


Mark 8: 24-37

To renounce oneself, said John Chrysostom is ‘to treat oneself as if one were another person’ (Marcus, II, 624). Consider oneself as every day on the edge of death.  Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  We live at the intersection of present advent and future hope. What good is the greatest possession if there is no possessor to enjoy it?  ‘Take up the cross’ is a reference to the beginning of the journey, and the next part, ‘follow me’ refers to the ongoing life of faith. Baptism, first, you could say, Communion, second, you could say.

We like Peter have aversion to suffering, as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus is more than a prophet.  But he is not less than a prophet.

Mark’s harsh portrayal of Peter as ‘Satan’ is too much for Luke, who omits it later, and that reaction was probably not unique, for we can understand it too.

Hope that is seen is not hope.  So your preachers this summer reminded you:  Br. Whitney, Dr. Walton, Rev. Gaskell, Dr. Coleman, Rev. Donahue, and the dean, speaking about hope and righteousness, hope and freedom, hope and disappointment, hope and children, hope and lying, hope and listening, hope and the sweet aroma of the bread of life, hope and blending blue and red into purple (ok, maybe it was more like violet!), hope and faith.

Seek the Lost: Outreach

Barb and Tom Steen lived out of a desire to seek and to save the lost.   That is old language, for sure.  But it catches the fire and flavor of their, of her, faith.  Many of us have had several helpings of faith, Sunday by Sunday.  But for some, for some others, the first meal has yet to be served.  That is where some of our youth work, some of our outreach and evangelism, some of our willingness to open the church to others who may at some point need community comes in. AFUMC did this to national recognition in August this year.

Barb loved the camping programs at Watson Homestead and Casowasco.  This summer, driving along Route 90, our granddaughter counted up the number of times she will be at, she will have been at Casowasco, this year and next.  Many times.  Barb would have smiled.

We knew her many years ago, along the lakeshore of Owasco Lake, in the parlors of the building there aptly named ‘Galilee’. We saw there the effect that loving community, caring presence, modulated teaching, all in a naturally beautiful setting can have.

One summer, toward the end of the season, we had a young man of about 15 as a camper.  He had never been to camp before.  He was a rugged, stout fellow, who could and did pass the swim test, but barely.  He was just full of life, and not overly attuned to boundaries.  He had to sit out every now and then, but was quite affable about it, not minding the light discipline.  He was such an exuberant fellow, it was hard not smile at his various antics.  He was having a whale of time, all week long.  I was working as the lifeguard so I don’t know how much Scripture he learned, or how much praying he did, or how fully he could articulate his sense of faith.  But he was every bit alive, all week.  And the meaning of life is in the living of life anyway, isn’t it?

Come Friday, after lunch, our young friend disappeared.  He did not show up for rest period, and the later class, nor the swim at 2pm.  His counselors were rightly worried.  We formed up a search group, and trekked up to Mt Tabor, and hunted across the road in the Highlands, and looked through the gorge and the woods surrounding.  No luck.  By dinner we were plenty worried, even looking through the waterfront.  Then early that evening, I was walking up the railroad track, to the south of the camp, still hunting.  There he came, shuffling along.  He told me why he ran away.  He said that he did not want to go home.  He said that the week had been the best one of his life, that he for once friends, that he loved the hiking and meals and swimming, even the evening vespers. He just had never known anything like it.  And he did not want to go home, to what he had to go home to.  He told me about that, too.

That night, as he had some late supper, he came to something of realization.  It wasn’t so much that he could put everything into words.  The gist of his thought was along the line that he would go home and he would make the best of it.  But he would do it with memory of the week he had had, and that he would not forget, and he would not let the memory of the week fade. He would have to go home, but he could take something new home with him.  Another way, another experience, another perspective, a little hope. 

That is an example of what Barb and Tom were aimed at, in that part of their ministry.  A first helping of faith, shared genuinely, shared authentically, with those who had not yet had a chance to sit down at the table of fellowship and faith. It is what inspired her regular phone calls to our home, in Rochester, as our growing up children would hear, rattled out rapidly, ‘Hi Hon, Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is school, is your mom there, thanks’.  She made her list of 5 or 10 calls she would make every day, and she made them.

Welcome the Stranger: Fellowship

We left New York City suddenly, in 1979, to take a church in Ithaca, in the snows of February.  Jan was ill, with child, and both the mother and the in utero baby had survived surgery for an ovarian cyst.  The doctor at St. Elizabeth’s in NYC had been unsure whether he could save either.  Our conference and Bishop had an open Cornell neighborhood church and we had every need to be in place, be employed, be able to heal and prepare.  Ordination—and with it health insurance as a conference member—were months away, in mid-June, near the due date for the birth.  As it happened, the child, our first, arrived two weeks late, a gift for some in the family, and a task for others.

We knew no one really, of our age, in the conference at that time.  Those were hot, lonely months, with all the pure joy and utter confusion of parenthood’s sudden arrival.  The birth of the daughter, that day, July 5,1979, was and remains the happiest day of my life.  Whatever joy is, it is not something I can think about without the sight of that little beautiful baby, that beautiful young mother and the delivery which was deliverance too.  So we began to stumble around in ministry, writing sermons, making visits, trying to make sense of personal and church budgets, a salary of $8K a year, plus a house. 

In early September the phone rang in our little parsonage cottage in Ithaca, at the end of Forest Home Drive.  ‘Hi Hon Barb Steen here, how are you doing, how is the ministry, Ithaca has enough committees for everyone to be the chair of at least one, these people don’t want faith they want a graduate course in religion—ugh!—is your wife there?’  We knew Barb and Tom by reputation only, a part of which we were about to see in real time, their commitment to small groups, to welcome, to hospitality, to invitation.  She called to invite us to a brunch two weeks hence in the Newfield parsonage, then occupied by Gary and Jeannie Judson.  Later in ministry our Syracuse predecessor Rev. Wayne Archer, his wife a Fenton of Fenton glass, reminded us that the Newfield church burned down during his ministry there. Oddly, the DS had said, ‘Archer, light a fire under that church’.  Well, Wayne also had served a church in Pennsylvania that hard burned, hence his nickname, ‘the Arson Parson’.  But Newfield UMC was rebuilt, and parsonage, as the older ones do, had a big parlor. 

Barb had gathered a dozen twenty something couples, including the Judsons and the Hills, who didn’t know each other form Adam’s house cat, for a meal.  Half or more had little babies in tow.  We sang and prayed a little, ate a little more, and laughed a whole lot more about the oddities of life, young adult life, parenthood, ministry and the loneliness lurking behind and above and underneath them all.  She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other. She gave us ourselves, by giving us to each other.  We came alive.  The next week the phone rang. ‘Hi hon Barb Steen here, how is the ministry, how is life, how is that beautiful little ‘Emly’ how are your folks Marcia and Irv, wasn’t that a great brunch at Judsons, is Jan there?

From that one gathering friendships formed. One minister then took me to lunch. Another suggested a round of golf. A third saw my car and told to me to come over so that he would teach me to how to change the brake pads.  ‘You don’t want to spend money on that.  You can’t afford it on $8K a year. I’ll help you’. A fourth came and preached on Christmas Eve, making reference, in earshot of Rudolph, to the blessed taste of venison.  Thanks to Bob, to Duane, to Gary, and to Dale.  Tom Steen himself got me into a clergy study of the Psalms that lasted two years until we moved north.

The habits of visitation, the habits of welcome, the habits of outreach, the habits of hospitality, the habits of Christian charity and love, all so dearly central to any genuine form of ministry, are not necessarily permanent gifts.  They have to be remembered.  To be remembered they have to be modeled.  To be modeled that have to be practiced.  I give you Barb Steen.

Peter Berger (Rumor of Angels) reminded us that the very sense we have of lasting, earthly injustice, of wrongs not and never made right, a real and palpable sentiment, is itself a rumor of something more.  Which we cannot see, of course, and of which we do not know, of course. But maybe a heavenly breakfast will again be served, at which the table will seat the resurrection of the just. We hope for what we do not see.

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

Begin With The Hope In Mind

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Click here to hear the full service

Mark 7: 24-37

Click here to hear the sermon only

Begin with the hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.  Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.


         Since her cousins and sister had already jumped into the cold lake, right off the end of the dock, Jane too headed that way.  It was her turn to jump.  The air was warm but the water was cold, she knew, from wading earlier.  She wanted to jump but she feared the cold.  She had some hope, but it had a cousin called fear. She longed to proceed as others had but she feared the pain, the jolt, the cold of the water.  So, she paused, she pondered, she hesitated, she equivocated, she moved left and right. Then she asked to take a moment to go down into the water, wading, to get her feet wet, and to get herself wet before the jump.  Up she came, but still, she stood still.  ‘Jump, Jane’ called her cousins. So since that light moistening didn’t work she asked to go down into the water to submerge in full, and be all wet before the jump.  Surely that would do the trick. But that didn’t work either.  Finally, she negotiated an end to the hostilities by deciding to wait until the next day.  She went up the hill dry and warm, but unsuccessful and downcast, her fear mollified but her hope deferred.  She had it right, though, both ways, didn’t she?  Yes, it would feel good to jump and yes, it would not feel good to jump. Both.  At the same time.  The sheer, public full honesty of the dilemma, the horns of the dilemma, is something we adults somehow learn or manage to disguise.  One is always better than the other, when it comes to choices, we suppose.  Right? Is that right? Well, not really. Yes, it feels good to jump, but yes it feels bad to jump.  Both. At the same time.  And there was evening, and there was morning, another day. And the next day, a whole day older and wiser, she took her usual place, fourth among six, and sauntered to the end of the dock, counted to the ritual three, uno dos tres, and, without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped.  She came up smiling.  Now less fear, now more hope. Choices in real time, choices in our experience, choices in freedom, for young and old, are strange things, dialectical and multi-dimensional.  We want what we fear and we fear what we want.  We hope for what we do not see, and we do not see the way toward that for which we hope.  And, sometimes, the air feels better, and sometimes the water.  The meaning in life and the meaning of life is in the living of life.  Choose. Choose!  And then choose again.  But as you begin, begin with the hope in mind.  There is fear, but there is hope.


         For the Gospel of Mark, it is ever a question, put to us again today, whether we can learn to see through Jesus’ eyes, to begin with the hope in mind.  To be honest about our fears, for sure, and, in due course, to give them their due.  But when your child is ill, as was the child of the Syro-Phoenician woman, to begin with hope in mind.  But when your body needs healing, as did that of the Gentile without hearing, to begin with hope in mind.  Hope is the spiritual air we need to breathe.  It is not so much that where there is life there is hope, but more that where there is hope there is life.      


         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.  The second records a healing of speech and hearing, brought along by Jesus in the region of the Sea of Galilee, the healing of a deaf mute, whose ears are opened and whose tongue is set free.  There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own unable to hear and so unable to talk.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these things become real possibilities, the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken. An old story this, it carries an Aramaic word into the Greek language and world of Mark’s written Gospel and Roman community: Ephphatha!  Be opened.  May it be so.


         We are savingly accosted today by the healing that hope brings.  Jesus in his earthly ministry preached, and taught, and healed.  Our Gospel of Mark, read this morning and throughout this year, spares no expense or effort to make sure we recognize the power for healing in His hopeful Presence.  In fact, today, we have two healing stories conflated and combined, to double the punch.   The first story, if ever there was to be one story truly accurate about Jesus’ earthly life, carries us to Jesus’ worn tunic side, to Jesus’ young man’s body, to Jesus’ somehow power to heal, to Jesus’ willingness to be corrected, to stand corrected.  Mark and the early church had every reason to forget such embarrassment, the Lord of life brought to terms by a poor woman, a fearful and fretful mother who would do anything for her daughter, a GENTILE woman, an outsider, not truly religious, who challenges him.  Yes, Lord.  Yet even…There is no mistaking the intention here to evoke and invoke the preaching of the church, on its own mistaken about the universality, the breadth, the magnanimity of the mighty God and his God begotten Son.  But with the Risen Christ, radiant in these apocalyptic passages, these errors become real possible pathways to full healing, to a child brought back from the brink, to the chance for the hearing of a word fitly spoken, and the chance for utterance of a word fitly spoken.  An old story this, it carries a woman’s harsh rebuke of Him the church and Mark’s Roman community proclaim Risen Savior, Son of God, Lord and Christ. 


         Both stories are shot through with magical, exorcistic language, so much so that Matthew in retelling the Gospel on the basis of Mark, two decades or so later, eliminated them. The language can cause us to miss the meaning of the stories: they are meant to be understood symbolically, metaphorically.  The hope that Jesus brings, announces our Gospel, can be spoken and heard by those not originally religious, those not within the accustomed heritage of faith—the Gentiles.  Why Jesus even loses the one argument he loses in his whole ministry, here, to a Gentile, a Syro-Phoenician woman, a wily, crafty, Gentile woman.  The hope that Jesus brings can be spoken and heard by those not naturally inclined to such speech and hearing, those not gifted say with a religious gene or a spiritual gene.  For some music comes easily, for others not so.  For some faith comes easy, for others not so.  It is in the nature of things, this difference. Yet the hope in the healing that Jesus brings, here, overcomes both cultural and the natural barriers.  Jesus is still working miracles of speaking and hearing, of ‘loosening tied up tongues’ (J. Marcus, Anchor Bible, I, 480). 


         Salvation is a Latin rooted word, stemming from salvus, which means health.  The hope of salvation is the hope of healing.  Where there is healing, there is the Risen Christ, as if He were to say, I am the hospital, I am the diagnosis, I am the medicine, no comes to healing but by me, and wherever healing happens there I am also. 


         Every day this fall, begin with hope in mind.  Every week this fall, on the Lord’s day, come to church, and begin with hope in mind. At every turn, with every challenge, in every season, begin with hope in mind.


         You heard the hope of healing again in Senator McCain’s memorial last weekend.  Yes in the trumpets and traditional American music of the Navy Hymn, and in Boston’s My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the nature hymn, How Great Thou Art.  Yes in the wise voices of Presidents and Senators and family and friends.  Yes in the Gospel of John, with attendant, lesser Scriptures.  Yes in the organ, the gothic nave, the robed choirs, the solemn liturgy.  Yes, yes. But primordially you heard the hope of healing in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s two verse poem, with which the sermon that morning began: 


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myselfit speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.


I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.    

…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his…


         Many of us had left campus last spring before the full ‘beginning’, the full celebration of ‘commencement’.  Those days offered great hope in beginnings.  Our Commencement at Boston University in 2018 was a new beginning that began with hope.


          We heard hope in the voice of the Deans in conference who spoke about ‘What constitutes ideal student life?’   Here are some of the words used.  See if they sound to you like they sound to me:  meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting.  That all sounds to me like religion.  All require a leap of faith.  Jump, Jane!  You cannot get within earshot of meaning, belonging, joy, happiness, in the world for the world, being known, friendship, community, care, pastoral care, health, tradition, gatherings, shared big experience, lessened anxiety, mental health, candle lighting,apart from religion.


         We heard hope in the voice of those honored by induction into the Scarlet Key.  This has been donefor 105 years.


         We heard hope in the honored faculty member in the School of Dentistry.  He remembered his own graduation and having six family members stay with him in his one bedroom apartment.  Then he said to the graduates:  work for the cause not the applause work for the cause not the applause. 


         We heard hope in the voice of Professor Nancy Ammerman preaching from this pulpit during the STH hooding ceremony.  She fully acknowledged the difficulties in ministry and in life which bedevil our time, indeed which shadow and make anxious every day.  Then she quietly and strongly spoke the gospel and spoke about the gospel.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt.  The Gospel is leaven, light and salt. And her sermon was leaven, light and salt.


         We heard hope in the voice of the the tenor soloist at the Boston Pops singing from Leonard Bernstein’s magnificent West Side Story:  Maria…Do what you love and love what you do!


         We heard hope in the voice of Carmen Yulinda Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, who simply asked what you will do when you are faced, as she and her people were last year, with choices of life and death.  How will face that?  Then she broke down briefly and beautifully in emotional remembrance of what her parents had sacrificed to send her to Boston University, including mortgaging their house twice.


         We heard hope in the voice of John Lewis at the biggest of our gatherings, 20,000 of us at Nickerson Field, after Lewis had worshipped here at Marsh Chapel.  He told about his first correspondence with and first conversation with Martin Luther King more than fifty years ago.  Then he challenged the 20,000 present at Nickerson Field.   So, good for you, you have a degree.  And then what?  You will get a good job.  And then what?  You buy a new car.  And then what?  You will build a new house.  And then what?  You will advance in your career.  And then what?  You will make money.  And then what?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?  What lasting meaning will your life and work have had?


         We heard hope from Colonel Thomas M. Stewart at one of our smallest but most meaningful gatherings, the ROTC Commissioning, annually at Fanueil Hall, but this year at City Hall: Speaking of Ego, Royalty  left the Army when the British left Boston.  You put your mission first.  You focus on your people always.  You be adaptable.  You practice life-long learning.  Then their parents stood beside them, placing upon their shoulders the apullets, the shoulder boards, marking them for service and sacrifice as they promised to Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic.  Did you hear the wording?  The Constitution…all enemies… foreign or domestic. 


         We heard hope in the voice of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in the reception of our Madeiros Scholars, telling these 20 full scholarship recipients that because you have been given a great gift, you have a responsibility in the future, in some significant way, to give back.


         Today we begin with the hope in mind, a sermon offered as a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.  May our global listenership, including this year Kasey Shultz in Madagascar, continue to expand.  May our undergraduate student members, like those present and participating today, continue to increase.  May our worship service be distributed broadly to NPR stations coast to coast, so that those in Idaho and Texas can hear the service live on his home NPR station.  May the interpretation of the Scriptures here, and elsewhere, continue to try to bring a biblical, prophetic critique, to bear upon national and cultural leadership under such manifold cloud cover today. May we try to strengthen the vital habits of assembly and representative democracy, these crucial though underattended, time and labor intensive communal gatherings, in Faculty Assembly, in Annual Conference, in Congress, and in Life.  May our pastoral care ministry, embodied in chaplains and in many Lay Leaders, be matched by similarly vigorous ministries of outreach and of evangelism.


         This may not be the morning for you to take a leap of faith.  The timing may not be right.  The air may be warmer than the water, and the water may still be cold.  The right balance of hope and fear may not yet have arrived.  No worries. There is tomorrow, and there is next week, and there is another day.  Yesterday was ‘Splash’, the celebration of student life and groups, inviting a leap of faith.  Friday night, said John Kerry, in reference to his recent writing about faith:  ‘you know, it takes a leap;  faith, it always takes a leap’.


         Or, on the other hand, the time may be right and the air and water temperature fit, for just that leap of faith. 


         Begin with the hope in mind. For there is a healing that hope brings. Begin with hope in mind.  For there is a healing that hope brings.

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




Communion Meditation

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Click here to hear the full service

James 1:22-27

Mark 7:1-8

Click here to hear the meditations only


As you enter this year of study, every day you will have a chance and a need for some pause, some moments of quiet.  Use your familiar devotional reminders to bring peace of mind and encouragement of heart.  Recite the decalogue.  Recall the creed.  Repeat the beatitudes.  Rely on the Lord’s Prayer.  Remember Paul’s admonitions.  One of our student choristers brings you our sincere,  communal and heartfelt word of welcome.  Maggie?




Maggie:  Welcome to the varied ministry of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, fall 2018!  We look forward to getting to know you, as you sign up to sing in a choir, as you volunteer to usher or greet, as you attend a fellowship or study group, and especially as you worship with us on Sunday at 11am! 

            The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is to be ‘a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city’.  To that end Dr. Jarrett will invite you to vocal expressions of faith in the life of our music program.  To that end Ms. Chicka will invite you to global outreach in our work with International students.  To that end Br. Whitney will invite you to take part and take leadership in campus student ministry.  To that end Mr. Bouchard will solicit your support for work and works in hospitality. 

            This year, with our emphasis on ‘voice, vocation, and volume’ in our shared life, we are using as a focus for our work the word ‘hope’.   Our summer, fall and spring term worship and community life are laden with expressions of hope.  We trust and hope that each and every Sunday Morning will become an occasion for the speaking and hearing of ‘a word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope’. 

            Where we can be personally helpful to you, and where our staff, chaplains, and campus ministers can be a benefit and blessing to you, do not hesitate to call up on us. 

            John Wesley famously called for a means of grace to ‘spread scriptural holiness and reform the nation’.  Now that was a big dream! May grace expand and extend in meaning for us in the fall term, 2018!

To begin, as you enter, as you ‘matriculate’, today and this week, we offer you, in communion meditation, three thoughts on adventure, regret, and faith.


  1. Adventure


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

In so doing, we may be able to remember, to recollect, to regather ourselves by reference to our best selves, to our own-most selves.  We have, for instance, had three years of shouting about a wall to be built along the Rio Grande.  But even once, or at all, have you heard a reference in all this hollering to the Monroe Doctrine?  The Monroe Doctrine expressed a singular, particular interest, on the part of the United States, in the whole of the Western Hemisphere.  It privileged, rather than denigrated, our relationship with the peoples and lands from Canada to Mexico to Chile.  Have you heard it quoted, or referenced in the last two years?

We happily have a rising senior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an international studies major, who can help us remember the Monroe Doctrine.  Denise, what can you tell us?

Denise:  The Monroe Doctrine, authored by James Monroe in 1823, is in the main a statement of American commitment to the welfare and well-being of our northern and southern neighbors, Canada to Chile.  It has waned and waxed in actual influence, and at times has been tragically abused.  Theodore Roosevelt added his own corollary about 100 years after the original.  The Monroe Doctrine expresses American commitment to protection and defense of our neighbors in this hemisphere. 

Who knows?  Perhaps some part of our matriculating class of 2022 will engage in the adventure of rebuilding culture, society, economy and politics in our international neighborhood.  Listen again to the love poetry in the Song of Songs.  The voice of my beloved!  Behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. Voice…Beloved…Leaping…Bounding!   Life is just full of potential, of possibility!!  Life is an unending set of adventures!!  Why we could as a country, for instance, rebuild the Central American societies and economies that are sending parents and children fleeing for their lives north to America.  We have the means.  We have the motivation.  Bridges are better than walls.  In safety and with jobs, people could stay in their own countries.  What an adventure that would be, to see the Monroe Doctrine refit for the 21st century!   You might want to venture in adventure to study abroad, even perhaps south of the border.


  1. Regret


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.  In so doing, we may be able to sharpen our capacity to the tell the difference between the true and the false, between the decent and the scurrilous.

You probably remember the phrase, ‘Methinks the lady protesteth too much’.   In hindsight we gain insight though often the insight is painful.  Where is this remembered phrase found?  In Shakespeare.   It expresses doubt in another’s sincerity (for those older than I), or authenticity (for those of my own generation), or capacity for irony (for those coming into the student ranks today).

We happily have a rising junior, who is a student leader at Marsh Chapel, and an English major, who can help us remember Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, from near the year 1600.  Tom, what can you tell us?

Tom:  Well, actually, Dean Hill, the quotation, though often put as you did, is more accurately, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks“.  The line so spoken is a little subtler and has an irony to it.  Here Queen Gertrude remarks on the insincerity, the overstatement within the ‘play within the play’ that Prince Hamlet writes.   The play itself shows guilt and insincerity, as does the famous line about ‘protesting too much’.  We use it in everyday speech to say that someone is lying.

By the way, if you have to choose, along the way, what in college to read, read some Shakespeare and read some Scripture.  The Bible and the Bard are the best, in the long run.  Both know about regret, a short or one word definition of hell.  Hell is regret, and regret is hell.  Hardly anyone escapes this life with no regrets.  They befall us all.  But we can at least be aware of them.  We can least strive to minimize them, both in quantity and in quality, both in number and size.  These years, if it be possible, we pray, let your regrets be few, so that your fulsome sense of irony and authenticity and sincerity will shine through.   The thing about social media, the newer technological forms, is that it is possible to represent yourself as someone a bit other than yourself.  For a time.  But over time, the truth, the hard truth, comes out.  When you look others in the eye and speak.  And they look in you in the eye and listen.  That is when you don’t want to have to ‘protest too much’.  As the Bard also wrote, trite but still true, ‘to thine own self be true’.  At least as much as possible!  When I lie, I hurt most myself.  Regret, the recognition of a lived moment of lying, hurts not others, but me.  Eschew regret.  Limit regret.  May your regrets be few and far between.

My esteemed friend Professor Andrew Bacevich, speaking to the graduating class of our own BU Academy some years ago, said:  ‘Now you are going off to college.  You will sometimes find yourself in a situation where a little soulful radar sounds inside you.  You know that something is afoot that just might not be right.  Listen to the beeping, the conscience, the sound of that soulful radar’.  The hardened and stern lessons of the Letter of James stand in this tradition: ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’.  It is not just what you learn or hear, it is what you do or don’t do that makes a life, a college career, and a person.


  1. Faith


We will keep ourselves in good balance by a daily quiet, a regular silence.  In this time we may recall and recite the ten commandments, the apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the beatitudes.

We are living through a national debate about whether honor is necessary to leadership, or not.  Here in Mark 7 honor comes in two varieties, the one of the lips and the other of the heart.  Said one this week, speaking of his work place, ‘What is missing there is heart’.

May your adventures be many, and may your regrets be few.  The power to see things through, both when you need the accelerator and when you need the brakes, the capacity to balance the two, goes by the name of faith.   As the Gospel today emphasizes, it is the inside of the cup, the heart, the sense of honor, over time, that matters most.  Faith is the courage to continue to lean forward, when adventure is in the balance, and the courage to continue to lean backward, when regret is in the outcome.  Whatever, says Paul, is not of faith, that is sin.  So we gather for prayer every Sunday, and are led by lay leaders like Sandra, who often prays with and for us, as she does this morning.  Sandra?


Sandra:   Gracious God Holy and Just

Thou from whom we come and unto whom our spirits return

Thou our dwelling place in all generations

Rest upon us in the silence of this moment we pray

Dry the tears of those moved to emotion in an hour of separation

Illumine the skyline of opportunity that lies behind the rain clouds of worry

Carry young hearts open to friendship into seas of friendship

Help us hear for our time the voice of the Prophet

‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly’?

Help us we earnestly pray to prefer justice to judgment

Help us we earnestly pray to love the merciful more than the material

Help us we earnestly pray to walk humbly not haughtily

May the degrees we earn turn by degrees the wheel of life from judgment to justice

May the courses we choose inspire in choices later a keenness of mind matched by a fullness of heart

May the learning we gain afford us the gain of humility, the honest desire to give credit where credit is due, and not to tip the scale

May the friendships we make in their turn make us less inclined to judgment and more enamored of justice

May the regrets we acquire then incline us to mercy, as we have felt mercy, and not to material measurements alone

May the adventures we bravely pursue give us the wisdom to know our condition, mortal, frail, prone to harm others, frail, mortal

May all our acquisition of knowledge chase us toward justice, toward mercy, and toward humility

And the wisdom to welcome, later, perhaps much later, the recognition that

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery  that surrounds it

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it


– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

A Homily by The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Click here to listen to the full service

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

Click here to listen to the meditations only 

About 18 months ago, I stood in the trauma room of a busy Los Angeles hospital. For probably the 7thor 8thtime my phone went off alerting me that there was an emergency. I walked in and saw the usual signs of a gang shooting. This was the first night I met Mark, whose name is not really Mark. Mark had been shot twice, looked to be about 15, and was covered in tattoos. As I searched for identifying gang symbols, I came across a tattoo of the rosary on the underside of his forearm. The mixture of religious and gang symbols was not uncommon. After speaking and saying a prayer, he went off to surgery. A few visits, and days later, the DCFS worker informed the hospital that they were out of placement options. Child protective services had nowhere for Mark to go when he was discharged, so they asked us to keep him while they “worked something out.” In the ensuing months, Mark and I had countless conversations.

He openly shared about his life and place in the gang, including the crimes he committed on the streets and even the strategies for not getting caught. Marks whole family belonged to different gangs. A dangerous fact and a harsh environment. When I asked Mark what he wanted to be as a kid he told me, “I never had a choice. The only choice I ever got in life was which gang I was going to choose.”

Over the course of the months, we talked a lot about faith and spirituality. Mark considered himself spiritual but not religious, as so many young people do. He shared how the rosary was a source of comfort and protection for him, which is why it was tattooed on his arm. He would continually ask me for rosaries because he would give them out to his friends and fellow gang members. In fact, the night he was shot, he had given his rosary to a friend, a fact that only reinforced his quasi-magical, or perhaps mystical, view that the rosary was a source of God’s protection.  

As we talked, I discovered that Mark was angry with God. When he was thirteen, his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. He stopped going to school to care for her and prayed every day for her healing. As far as I could tell, she was the only family member that ever cared for Mark, so when she died he lost the most important person in his life. He stopped going to Mass, for all intents and purposes he stopped going to school, and he was “adopted” by a local gang that he would later join. Mark was angry with God for the death of his grandmother. He felt pushed away, belief and trust were too hard, and so Mark walked away. He told me of the bargains he made with God if only God would save her. Good grades, a clean life, perhaps even serving the Church. But they did not work.

I imagine there are those of us who have made similar bargains to no avail. When life and faith do not go the way we plan or pray, it is easy to become frustrated. To be angry. Perhaps even to lose hope. Being angry, mad, sad, sorrowful, full of lament these are all normal feelings and expressions that occur as a natural part of life. Even losing hope can be natural; yet, the stormy waters of despair cut to the core. The loss of hope comes with a side effect of paralysis. Time slows and despair stretches. It is so insidious for its capacity to make people feel trapped. A loss of hope can feel like a loss of life itself.

In these times, one can feel that God has turned God’s face away. It can feel like, either God does not hear prayer or God is choosing not to answer. Sometimes it just feels like we are being pushed away. It can be hard to reconcile our image of God as all loving with feeling pushed away. Our Gospel reading today is somewhat puzzling in a similar vein. In these past few weeks, we have traveled through John chapter six where Jesus consistently calls himself the bread of life and draws the people to him. He fed the 5000 men and countless woman and children, taught from the mountainside, had to avoid being made a king, calmed the sea, and walked on water.

In fact, when Jesus tried to get away from the crowd by traveling to the other side of the sea, the people followed him. He had the crowds following him and eating out of his hands. It is here that Jesus delves into what is known as the bread of life discourse. And at first, the people want the bread that Jesus is offerings. He tells them about the life that it provides and they ask for it. They seem desperate for it and really, who wouldn’t be desperate for bread that provides life and hope. At first, they are willing to believe, based on the wonderful signs that Jesus has done. They believe that he is able to provide them with this living bread from heaven.

Yet, Jesus goes on. He not only has the audacity to say that he is the living bread sent from heaven but also that God is his Father. Jesus calls himself the bread of life from Heaven and reveals his deep and personal connection to the Father. This claim of a special relationship is a cause of complaining, but it does not yet cause the people to walk away. The desperate need for life and hope is still more potent, at least for a time.

Perhaps Jesus was not well versed in the church growth literature of the time. Because it is at this point, a potential climax for his ministry, that he seems to drive the crowds away. The signs, the miracles, and the teaching have brought the people. All is going well for the fledgling community and hope is so much easier to maintain when things are going well. Yet, the tide turns and in the midst of the grumblings, Jesus pushes harder.

 He goes on to use cannibalistic terms, saying that eating the Son of Mans flesh and drinking his blood are now requirements for his followers. You can almost hear the people say “I didn’t sign up for this.”   As they slowly back away. But some of the more ardent supporters, some of those more desperate for this bread, may have thought they had misheard Jesus or that Jesus did not mean what he said. So, verse sixty says “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Perhaps this was an attempt to help Jesus back off on this teaching. It is interesting that John uses the term disciples here. “When many of his disciples heard it…”

When we hear “disciples,” we often think of the 12 but there were many other followers of Jesus, some who were present for most if not all of his ministry. Here we have not just the crowds grumbling and questing Jesus, but his disciples as well. Those who had traveled with him and heard his teaching over time. These people knew Jesus and Jesus knew them. The text says “But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?”…

Does this offend you? While avoiding offending people at all costs is a hallmark of society, even our abhorrence for giving a reason for offense does not capture the sentiment as it is recorded in Greek. The Greek word is skandalizei from which our word scandal is derived. So, when Jesus is aware that the crowds and his disciples are complaining about him, he asks if his teachings are scandalizing them and then he doubles down. The crowds leave. Most of the disciples leave.

The scandalous radical nature of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood is often lost on those prone to spiritualize this passage. This Johannine passage often gets filtered through the Eucharistic ritual where eating and drinking Christ is a regular practice. The idea of eating another’s flesh and drinking their blood has lost much of the scandalizing nature it held in ancient times. Perhaps though, other scandals can just as easily take its place as reasons why people walk away or lose hope.

Clergy abuses in all shapes and sizes, infidelity and sexual misconduct, financial mishandling, racism, sexism, the abuse of children. We see these across the country and across denominations. Scandals that cause people to question faith and hope. Now, unlike in John 6, Jesus is not causing these scandals through his teachings. Nonetheless, the church is burdened with them. Nonetheless, people are leaving due to failures of the institution and the people who are to be paragons of virtue. Certainty we cannot equate faith with the church and we might maintain that these failures do not occur in my church or our church. Yet, if we are going to hold that the Church is the body of Christ that there is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, we ought to ask the hard questions. Why and how? We ought to weep, lament, and seek change. We ought to recognize the challenge of holding onto faith in the midst of scandal. The challenging of hope when hopelessness is so much easier.

What do we do when faith breaks down? When the well-worn paths of piety perish? When it feels that God is calling us to the impossible or when despair looms so large that the valley of the shadow of death feels like a permanent dwelling place. What can we do? We can walk away and look elsewhere. Give up on finding ways to incorporate faith into modern life. Giving up that there are deeper meanings and purposes to life. Eschewing hope.

In the text, Jesus turned to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” We do not know if they were the only ones left at this point, but it is significant to note that this is the first time the Gospel of John mentions the twelve disciples as a distinct group. John records some of the early calling stories we find in the Synoptic accounts but here, for the first time in John, they are named the twelve. Perhaps the last 12 still standing.            Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We don’t know the tone of Peter’s response. Perhaps this was a triumphant proclamation of courage and hope “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Perhaps it was said with a mixture of despair and realization “Lord, to whom can we go?” As if to say they would go somewhere if they could, but they’ve already left their jobs and are marked as your disciples no one else would ever take us at this point. We put our trust in you and now we have no other choice. “Lord, to whom can we go?”

Maybe it was said with a mixture of hope and despair. Certainty the disciples could not escape feeling despair as they watched Jesus and by extension themselves be abandoned by fellow disciples; and yet, they chose to stay which is fundamentally hopeful. The harshness of the teaching certainly would not have been lost on them. The reality that the people would go from trying to make Jesus king to having some try to kill him in the next passage would not have been lost on them. That even in the midst of rejection, even in the midst of hard teachings and hard times, twelve remained. Hope won.

Even a glimmer of hope, the smallest spark, and the dimmest candle stand in defiance to proclaim that all if not lost. Our summer preaching series is titled “Toward a Common Hope.” I love how Boston University’s paper titled their article about the series “The Necessityof Hope InspiresSummer Preaching at Marsh Chapel.” The necessity of hope inspires. Of course, the word inspires is derived from the Latin inspirare, in breath or in the Spirit. Hope is inspired in, by, and through the Spirit. The deprivation of hope in daily life means it has become a rare commodity. The need for hope is why people love stories about those who have beaten the odds or rise to the challenge.  People are so desperate for hope because far too many of us are starved of it. When Jesus says I am the bread of life, what he also says is I am hope.

It would be great if I could stand here and tell you that Mark, that young man I met with for months at the hospital changed his whole life. That he left resolved to get off the streets and go back to school. But I cannot. One day I went to the hospital and he was gone. As he had done in many foster care homes, he ran away. No goodbye. No forwarding address. For all I know, he could have left and been killed in the retaliation that was planned. I have no idea what effect my conversations had with him. What seeds germinated and which ones didn’t. But I choose to trust, hope, and pray that Christ is not done with him. That Mark has the opportunity to find nourishing hope that can only be found in the bread of life.

Even though life is not filled with story book endings, it does not mean that there is no hope. There is a sense in which the hope of Christ, the nourishment of the bread of life can be found in the most unlikely places. Faith and spirituality do not need to fit into neat boxes. Christ is not bound by the walls of the Church or words on a page. My friends hope is infectious. It only takes a little to grow and spread. But we live in a time where we must choose to search for hope. To plant hope. To nurture hope. And to share hope. Dear friends, choose hope.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens, Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics, Boston University School of Theology

The Color Purple

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Click here to listen to the full service

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Ephesians 5:15-20

John 6:51-58

Click here to listen to the meditations only

(The form of today’s sermon is borrowed from the work of CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, although today’s preacher does not share Lewis’s fuller theology, nor does he believe in a literal devil or devils.) 

My Dear Wormwood,

Again it is my pleasure to write your annual review, you devil you.  No uncle was ever prouder of a nephew than I am of you, Wormwood, given the excellent, successful year you have had making devilry among the good people of planet earth.  As chief representative of the fallen angels in this part of the universe, I have a close relationship with the Prince of Darkness Himself, our Father below.  You may rest assured that news of your various nefarious victories will sink to his hellish level.

         In particular, your work in the United States of America, Wormwood, has been nothing short of masterful. I take my horns off to you, one devil to another, and salute your destructivity.  You have kept them fighting among themselves, morning to night, like children in a marketplace, solely sighting their own interests, assured that the one truth they each hold is the only truth, the only crayon in the box.  Excellent, Wormwood, excellent.  I could not have done better myself, even when I wore a younger devil’s tail.  Keep at it, nephew, keep at it, set them one against the other, a man against his own house, a house divided, rich against poor, red against blue, radical against fundamentalist, communist against tea partier, personal ethics against social justice, doing against being.  Oh the thrill we have to observe such needless hurt!  Good boy.  With this letter I enclose your official promotion, commendation, and ribbon as demon of the year, with special commendation for inciting divisive discord, in particular in the ‘lower forty eight’.  Wormwood—you devil you!

         Now, Wormwood, it would not do for me, your affectionate Uncle,  Screwtape, Superintendent of demons in the near Milky Way, to let you go without a little avuncular advice.  Call it a little devilish Dutch uncle advice, to keep you on your way. Down below they are considering this year, this fall in major proportion, the great hope of a land of the free, and a home of the brave, a community with liberty and justice for all, a place where those who have much might not have too much, and those who have little might not have too little.  Ouch!  It cools the fires of hell to hear such loving rhetoric.  Here are some bits of wisdom, Wormwood my dear nephew, from your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.

         Be most careful, Wormwood, not to let any of these groups you have so carefully set upon each other, with daggers drawn, get Solomon’s idea that wisdom comes from the humility of service, that wisdom is justified by deeds, that wisdom is justified by all her children, that wisdom comes in more than one color.  Make sure the blue stay blue, and the red stay red.  Flee the color purple, Wormwood, with its recognition of dialectical thought, its movement toward full truth, its bow before the sin all share, its willingness to learn the painful lesson of humility within a time of humiliation.  Keep them fighting.  Keep the Presbyterians denouncing pride, and forgetting about sloth and falsehood. Keep the Methodists denouncing sloth, and forgetting about pride and falsehood.  Keep the Lutherans denouncing falsehood, and forgetting about pride and sloth.  Yes. Excellent.  Purple is dangerous to us, Wormwood.  If the blue start seeing that the red have a point, here and there, or at least that real change is real hard and takes real work in real time including actually showing up at the polls on voting day—your cause is lost. Keep them shouting at each other, like children in a marketplace, one group wanting to play weddings and another wanting to play funerals, pipes vs. wails, dances vs. weepings.  Take the purple out of their crayon boxes.  You want gated communities, the demise of public schools, lines of suburban\urban separation, racial disease and distrust, class separations, ideological fences, and a verbal war of all against all.  Tweet by tweet by tweet.  Children in the marketplace, as their Savior, said, yes, Wormwood, well done.

         And keep them discouraged in defeat.  When they lose make sure they lose hope too.  I am worried about far sighted, eloquent, hopeful leaders, like that Mario Cuomo a generation ago.  Remember when he got defeated?   But on the night of his defeat, remember what he said: “I come from a religion where the whole symbol of the religion ended in condemnation and crucifixion. But that wasn’t the measure of the experience…That’s just the way it ended…This is a metaphor for everybody’s life, that it is in the living…that you make your mark.  Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose”.   The meaning of life is in the living of life (E Fromm).

         Here is an example.  I hear the good heart, the Solomonic heart and mind, of some of their leaders saying something about children, about the need for education and health care for all children and young adults, across the land, through age 21.    Wormwood, this is peril for us!  Be on the qui vive!  If that country ever got behind that idea, and every child had medical care, education, respect—oh, it worries me.  Why, the natural aristocracy as Ortega called it, would come to the surface.  Keep them pinned down, keep their leaders pinned down, Wormwood, in tragic conflict, in financial red ink, in culture wars.  And be vigilant!  Sometimes they get the idea!  You remember, many years ago, how that 11 year old Boy Scout, Brennan Hawkins, was lost for a month in the Utah mountains, and 3000 searchers looked for four days until they found him!  The lost was found.  Oh, the joy they had in it, too.  It is like the joy a Christian has at bringing a friend, relative, neighbor to church to experience love and faith.  There is no greater joy!  It makes my devil’s blood freeze.  The rescuer said, “I feel relieved and happy.”  Oh Lordy.  See, if they really meant it, if they really chose to live with hope against hope, hoping for what they do not see, and waiting for it with patience, we would be out of business in your part of the hemisphere.  And business has been so good, of late!

         Another example, Wormwood. We head devils hate to hear about people moving from poverty to well-being.  We want a permanent underclass, so that we can then use it to foment division.  We want a few of the people to have almost all the money.  Excellent.  But this country and its churches, especially the Methodists, have always championed social mobility, like that in the churches of Paul, way back when.  His urban Christians were ‘status inconsistent’, and so are the living churches today.  They are vibrant, they are diverse.  Take that Chapel down in Boston there, not far from you, Wormwood, you devil you.  Marsh Chapel. They are of many colors and hues and shapes and backgrounds.  They resemble the globe on a Sunday.  They know—AND THEY LIVE—the universal gospel of the living bread, come down from heaven, with whom to be in communion is eternal life.  Oooh, that bothers me Wormwood, to hear such preaching, that ongoing incessant acclamation of a word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope. It is irritating! It really frosts my preserves. See what you can do to keep people from listening on the radio, or, worse, horror of horrors, showing up in worship.  Those Marsh Chapel people are like that Paul of Tarsus, a thorn in MY flesh, that Apostle to the Gentiles, but we got him at last, remember? We need to keep people in their place.  I tell you, nephew, it bothers me when I read about a young woman, Della Mae Justice, who was a 15 year old foster child living in a hut with a dirt floor, until her uncle came and found her and took her into his own home.  He was an attorney in Kentucky.  She said it was like little Orphan Annie going to live with the Rockefellers. Listen to this Wormwood, listen to what she said, and see if doesn’t freeze your blood:

 “It was not easy.  I was shy and socially inept.  For the first time, I could have had the right clothes, but I didn’t have any idea what the right clothes were.  I didn’t know much about the world, and I was always afraid of making the wrong move. When we had a school trip for chorus we went to a restaurant.  I ordered a club sandwich, but when it came with those toothpicks on either end, I didn’t know how to eat it, so I just sat there, well, staring at it and starving and saying I didn’t feel well.”

Her uncle educated her at Berea College, a school set up especially for hard working, children of the poor who want a fine education.  Now she is an attorney in his firm.  Wormwood! Be on the lookout!  This kind of story will find its way into somebody’s pulpit, into to some sermon some Sunday,  if it is not snuffed out.  See who have on our side in the newspapers, and work on it.  

Or, look at this matter of the ‘Queen of Soul’. When one young woman grows up in the church, her dad a preacher, and then she starts singing, and she has a voice from, you know, up there–heaven…pretty soon all those divisions we worked so hard to set up start melting: gospel against rock, jazz against R and B, spirituality against sensuality, and pretty soon have the ‘Queen of Soul’ whose music is universally loved.  I mean it Wormwood, purple can be a sound as well as a color as well as a voice as well as a word.  Keep them all divided up if you can, and get that purple crayon out of their  national, their existential crayon box.  Purple means good hope for a good future.  Get rid of it nephew, Wormwood, you devil you.

Confusion, miscommunication, mistrust—these are your best allies, my shrewd nephew.  And there, I must compliment you:  you have done so much to them through technology and they have hardly caught up 10%;  they have hardly any idea!  But be careful.  Over time they could catch on. They must not be allowed to remember the lessons of the past.  Like that Solomon and his wise, measured understanding. Or that author of Ephesians talking about personal, communal balance and discipline, that ‘keep calm carry on’ malarky. Or, especially, that Fourth Gospel, ever announcing the hope of the presence of the divine.  The last thing on earth our Fearless Leader, the Prince of Darkness, wants is a hope of planetary peace.  Then people would be free, purple crayon in hand, to draw a picture of a nation and a world that can work, measured by the condition of the least, the last, and the lost.

Let me be blunt, Wormwood. When you see a red woman and a blue man determined to think together, learn from each other, and work side by side, and they have lunch at a table adorned in purple, close that restaurant. We just cannot have that kind of synthesis going on. Thesis, yes.  Antithesis, yes.  But no Synthesis. Red we can stand, blue we can handle.  It is the color purple that is our downfall.  We cannot afford that kind of creativity, new creation, new thinking. We can’t have Bob Gates defending John Brennan, on the basis of what is true, right, hopeful and just.  That Gates, that Texas Methodist, always out there doing good for others, now in business, here at a college, there in the defense department–with the red and then the blue, then fixing the Boy Scouts mistake about gays, then, here he is again, supporting John Brennan over against emerging authoritarianism.  Purple, Gates is purple to the core. Beware that kind of person, Wormwood.  That is purple and that is our peril, Wormwood, you devil you.

 Let me be blunter, Wormwood. When you see a church, one of the last places people actually gather if they gather at all, that is both red and blue, and putting on a robe with a purple hue, weaken that church.  A denomination that stands for children, for the poor, for social mobility, for justice, for Biblical, dialectical thought, not just the thunderbolts from far left and right–drain that swamp.  What you have done to the Methodists in the Northeast, eliminating half their membership in a generation, you need to do across the country. Get them so worked up with each other that they just can’t work together.  Have them so entirely invested in resistance that they have no energy, or imagination, or voice, for restoration.  Restoration, that is the purple hope, the purple trouble, the purple hue. Make them angry, not hopeful.  Keep them angry, not hopeful.

I have one specific request, dear nephew.  Keep your eye on that chapel in Boston.  You know, the one on Commonwealth Avenue.  They are growing.  They are building.  They are liberal and yet they are blue and red together.  They love children.  They are learning to tithe.  They are starting to invite.  Work on them, Wormwood.  Make them fear the unknown. Make them tentative.  Make them forget their outreach to students, their welcome to faculty, their mission work and children’s programs.  Make them accentuate divisions, all divisions, gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, class –sweet divisions, sweet divisions. Make them disagree wherever they can.  I will check your work at our Halloween review.  Halloween—what a fitting, a good time for us to be together, Wormwood.

I send you best wishes for all that is predatory and mendacious, nephew.  Remember my theme song, your Uncle Screwtape’s favorite, stolen from Blake, our shared theme song:  When Satan first the black bow bent, and the moral law from the gospel rent, he turned the law into a sword and spilt the blood of mercy’s Lord.

And put your horns, pitch fork and tail into it, Wormwood, you devil you. Hold back that Solmonic wisdom: I am only a little child, and I do not know how to come out or go in.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to discern between good and evil.  Hold back that teaching from Ephesians: Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil…sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves.  Hold back that Gospel promise in John:  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live foreverWhoever eats of this bread will live foreverWhoever eats of this bread will live forever

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.