Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Forgiven

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 7:36-8:3

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Introduction

Please forgive the intrusive nature of this sermon.   For I want to begin by taking a walk with you into the attic of your soul.  Though we are friends, it is not my right to initiate such a visit.  Though we are pastors and parishioners, it is not our right to force such a trek back up through the mist of time.  You would need to make an invitation, yourself.  Even to suggest the climb, without any initiative on your part, is rude of me.  I apologize.

The Gospel, however, intrudes upon our very souls, whether the preacher has a right or not.  As kingfishers catch fire, and dragonflies draw flame, so truth—that light in which we see light—advances upon us.  So we go ahead.  We walk together upstairs to the landing.  You kindly have turned on the hall light.  Thank you.  I wonder if this is a sign from you that you will welcome this joint venture?  We pull down in the chain that loosens the attic portal.  You know how that little door in the ceiling falls open, and slowly a flank of wooden stairs comes down,  and down, and down, and touches our feet.  We are ready to climb up into the darkness.

Watch your step.  You have not been up into the cobwebs and the dust of memory, the mothballs and the coverlets of history, the grime and the darkness of the past.   It is a little slow going.   This is your attic, though.  You know it as well as you know your own past.  In fact, it is your past, box by box, and crate by crate.  I have no right to be here, and if you ask me, I will leave.  A man has a right to his own regrets.  They are not common property.  They are yours, these boxes and labels and shoes and hangers and records and amulets and souveniers from the dusty past.   One of you is looking over at an old service uniform from the great war—brown and rumpled.  Another sees bobby sox and a political poster—I LIKE IKE.  She has stumbled past three old Beatles albums—greatest hits, Abbey Road, the White album.  I notice a Jim Croce tape.  I wonder if it still plays?  He thumbs through a pile of other newer albums.  Of course there are lots of photographs.  What kind of an attic would it be without boxes and records and photographs?

This is the attic of memory.  No, we won’t stop at the wardrobe

Today. The wardrobe is for another day, a day of hope and imagination.  Lions and witches come from wardrobes.  Today we are looking back, though.  We are going to stumble and claw our way over into the back corner.  There is not much light here.  It is a long time since anyone came back in, all this way.  Dust, cobwebs—it makes you sneeze.

Over in the corner there is a small, low box, carefully closed, and tied around with a little bailer’s twine.  This is yours.  No one else knows it is here, or if they do they have forgotten or never understood or just don’t care.  But you know and remember and understand and care.  I really do not want to be here, and you probably don’t want to either.  I—for it is not my business.  You—because in black ink, now dusty, is penned across the top of the box a single, awful, hellish word—regret.  Regret is a short synonym for hell.   And up here in the attic of memory, off in the corner, sits this stupid box, which means nothing to anyone, except to you.  There it is—a single box labeled “regret”.

Open it.

Go ahead.  Try it.  If you want.  I think you have wanted to come up here, but just never had 20 minutes of quiet to do so.  Remember last summer when you thought about the box?  And remember that early morning dream?  That was a strange thing.  I want to encourage you to open it.  Hold it in both hands.  Untie the twine.  Loosen the top.  Turn it over, and let it all fall out.  

That was a gutsy thing to do.  Good for you.

The reason the box was marked “regret” is that this is one thing you regret.  You have a regret.  That is part of being human.  Can you live with being human?  Can you live with being a little lower than the angels?  How do I know all this?  As my great aunt would say, “If you’re so smart how come you aren’t rich?”  A real good question.  I know because I have boxes in my attic too.  They too are covered with cobwebs.  I too make my visits, my attic climbs, very seldom.  And, yes, I know about regret.  Not just vicariously, either.  There is nothing quite as bitter.  If only…

I asked to come up here with you for a reason.  Up in the attic here, with that swinging bare light bulb and the Johnny Mathis record and all this dust, we may feel God.

Look at the box again, and all its contents spread across the floor.  In the dark I cannot see the floor, but after 22 years and 7 pulpits I truly doubt if any of it would surprise me.  After reading the Bible and Shakespeare and a few decades worth of the New York Times, there is not much that surprises.  But it is different for you.  This is your attic, your memory, your box, your regret.  It is YOURS.  In a way, this box is more yours than any of the others.

In this box are the articles of impeachment brought by life against us.  They are multiple and they are damning and unlike civil and criminal law, the laws of the soul do not give way to lawyerly cunning.  And there is no vote, no 2/3 majority needed.

What is that you say?  Not you?  Never a cutting word?  Never a selfish deed?  Never an unhealthy habit?  Never a compulsive trend?  Never a myopic judgment?  Never a temptation accepted?  Never an ungenerous year?  Never a non-giving decade?   Not you?  Never a misspent dollar or day or dream?  You don’t go to enough funerals.

But the box doesn’t  lie.  Nor does the conscience.  Nor does the memory.  Nor does life.  

It simply spells “regret”.  That, I regret.

God Forgives You

There is something that both can and must be said, as we pack up the regret box.  It is not a human thing to say, though we are the only saying beings around so we do the best we can.  It is a God word.  And only God speaks God words.

First, looking down at the dusty cardboard of past regret—something that if not removed can fester and infect and cripple—first there is this.  God forgives you.  It is, according to the Scripture, the divine promise and intention to forgive and to forgive.  Abraham felt it.  Joseph practiced it.  Hosea proclaimed it.  Jesus taught us to pray for it.  And for 2000 years the church has tried to exemplify, embody this one word.  God forgives.  John Wesley asked his preachers one initial question.  “Do you know God to be a pardoning God?”  Now that, in the face of a box marked “regret”, that is good news.  In the face of the worst rejection and the most regrettable misjudgment on earth, God practices a powerful forgiveness.  

You know in the midst of all the harshness of the religious right and the flightiness of the New Age, it can be hard to hear the central truth about God and about us.  God forgives.  

God forgives before we are up in the attic at all.  God forgives when we realize what we have to regret.  God forgives as we carry the regret around.  God forgives when we hear and when we do not and it does not depend on our hearing.  

Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  If so, you know God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Here are Scriptures worth memorizing about God who forgives….

If you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?  … I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Other People Forgive You

But maybe that is not what keeps you awake, not what makes you linger today in the attic.  You may well believe and trust that God forgives.  But what about those you have regrettably hurt?  

This can be particularly hard for those who have grown up around especially hardened parents and other adults.   If you have not heard an encouraging word much growing up, it can be hard later in life to believe that those other humans around you can be gracious.

They can be.

As a matter of fact, most of the time they are.  More than most of the time.  People forgive, more than you know and more than you may think you deserve.  It really delights me.  People have a profound capacity to forgive and forget.  It is God given, and it is real and it is good.  

I think of the waiting father and the prodigal son.

I think of Paul forgiving Peter’s two faced behavior.

I think of Augustine’s mother forgiving his selfishness.

I think of Erasmus forgiving the wayward Popes.

I think of Grant and Lee at Appomatox.

I think of Abraham Lincoln walking through Richmond.

I think of the Marshall Plan and rebuilding of Germany in the 1940’s

I think of women and men, night after day, for millenia.

You may have to ask sometime for forgiveness.  You probably should.  Say, “I’m sorry”.  Like the Fonz, who could never utter the word, “I was wrong..”  But my experience is that most people most of the time when confronted with a heartfelt, sincere apology from a person of integrity will say, “Don’t worry about it.  I forgive you.”  It is one of the greatest things about other people.  You may have to give it a little time.  You may have to pray about it.  You may have to trust a little.  But—other people will forgive you.

Forgiving Yourself

But that may not be what holds you here in the attic.  As a matter of fact, I bet that the box is still up here, wrapped in twine and covered with dirt and marked regret, for another reason.  It’s one thing for God to forgive you.  It’s one thing to accept another’s kindness.  But in the end  that still leaves you a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and a few french fries short of a happy meal.  God has forgiven you!  Your neighbor has forgiven you!  Now comes the hard part.

You have to forgive yourself.  You have to let yourself off the hook.  You have to find a way to admit to yourself that you are not 101% perfect.  You have to, well, accept your own acceptance.  And that can be a lot easier said than done.  Because we have a way of holding onto what poisons us.  We have a way of just wrapping ourselves in a miserable kind of self-conceited self-condemnation.  Up in the attic.

Lent is a good time to dump your guilt.  God doesn’t want it. No neighbor finally has much use for it.  So why is it still in the box?   What good is it?  Get rid of it.  When it doubt, throw it out.

God forgives you.  So does your neighbor.  Forgive yourself.

Matter of fact, while we are here, up in the attic—let’s just take that box out of here.  I’ll hold the ladder for you while your coming down.  You can carry it, with a little homiletical help.  If we hurry we can get out on the curb before noon, and the heavenly garbage truck always comes by this part of your mental world Sunday at noon.  There, it’s out on the curb, and soon it will be gone for good.  William Blake:

And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

And throughout all eternity

I forgive you, you forgive me.

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

In Communion

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 7:11-17

Click here to listen to the sermon only

There is no text for this sermon.

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Forming a Trinity

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 7:1-10

Click here to listen to the sermon only

“Lord, who has formed me out of mud,

and has redeemed me through thy blood,

and sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:

for I confess my heavy score,

and I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,

with faith, with hope, with charity;

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

  • George Herbert, “Trinity Sunday”

Please, be seated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC†

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Blessed Trinity

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

John 16:12-15

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Triune God

For this Sunday our lessons evoke a Triune God, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.   I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers.  We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth.  

My friend attended another, here unnamed, divinity school, which at the time was blown about by many if not every wind of doctrine, so much so that my friend, with a bit of whimsy and humor,  described their theology thus:  ‘God in seven persons, blessed heptopoly’.

Here, today, we shall limit ourselves to three, the three persons of the traditional Godhead.  Psalm 8 evokes God as Creator.  Romans 5 evokes God as Redeemer.  John 16 evokes God as Sustainer.  Father, Son, Spirit.   These are choice, endlessly lovely passages, any one of which, and any verse from any one of which should deserve 22 minutes of preaching attention and acclamation.  Memorize them.

The Christian doctrine of Trinity is of course a deeply mysterious matter, out of reach of most of us most of the time.  How can God be, both one and three?   Faith we must guess involves more than math.  Not less than math, but more than math.  If nothing else, about the Trinity, we remember this:  God is relational, on this teaching.  At the heart of the divine there is relationship, of First to Second to Third to Second to First.  This is what the early church found in Jesus:  the God to whom Jesus prayed, the God who guided and inspired Jesus, and the God in Jesus.  This is what the early church found in the Scripture:  Psalm 8, Romans 5, John 16.  This is what the early church found in Life:  the rush of creativity, the joy of love, the breath of spirit.  In our Gospel today, the Scripture goes even further, in a way giving privilege, at least here, to Spirit that guides into truth.  Once the creation has emerged; once redemption has been offered; then it is a matter of spirit, Spirit, wind, breath, gusting Spirit of God.

We preach and pray at the crossroads of faith and culture.  This is true for every congregation, pulpit and place, but especially and keenly so right now at Marsh Chapel.  In a new, perhaps conflicted way, across the country, we may be listening this summer for words of grace, out of our holy scripture, out of our traditions, out of our sacred history, and wondering, hoping, perhaps doubting but still hoping, that these as preached may help us make some sense of what is becoming of us, as a people and as a country, in our time.

We desire a faith amenable to culture, and a culture amenable to faith.  For what good is a baptized cleansing if we are simply thrown back into the mire? Personal and social holiness are married to one another.  Loving faith expects loving culture.

For all the attention we—rightly—give to politics and economics, it is really the cultural realities that have most impact on individual lives, over time.   When an 8 year old bursts through the back door, crying, saying that her school friend, from Mexico, we will be deported, hers is a culturally inflicted wound; when an 87 year old woman, in a nursing home, rues the collapse of her life long party, and surveys its demise and damages with the word ‘dismaying’, hers is a cultural assessment; when a candidate, given to insulting his competitors, and branding them with epithets, reflects on defeating one by calling him ‘low energy’ and, months later, in reflection,  saying, ‘that was a one day kill’ and then adding, ‘words are beautiful things’ (as my Dad said, ‘its one thing to be tough, but its another to be mean’), we suffer a cultural decline; when a great Christian denomination lacks spiritual leaders, general superintendents, who could simply say, ‘gay people are people’, and then keep silent (only one active UMC Bishop in the Northeast, Peggy Johnson, did so this week), this is a cultural measurement;  when only 24% of 17-24 year olds are eligible to seek admission into armed forces (the other 76% ineligible due to obesity, lack of a high school diploma, drug use, criminal record, failure of physical exam or other), here we trace cultural influence;  when forms of worship, meant for enchantment, give way over two generations to a pseudo-worship aimed at entertainment, with direct connections to features of Reality TV, professional wrestling, and beauty contests—the same social expressions now driving some political selection and debate–we face a cultural deficit; in short, when a culture, like ours,  has a mirror held up to it, as has happened this calendar year, and the image is more appalling than appealing, then some among us may begin to return to, revert to, a reconsideration of our more ancient repositories of wisdom:  scripture, history, thought, and scrutinized experience.  In an age of broad cultural malaise, some may seek more steadily the reassurance, peace, insight, and resolve to be found in moments of truth, goodness, beauty—and ordered worship. Those in the pulpits across this country have our work cut out for us in 2016.   How shall we invoke and evoke faith fit for culture and culture fit for faith?  How will we address incivility in a civil way?  How do we oppose demagoguery with democracy?  How do we contrast buffoonery with beauty?  How does one supplant cultural disorder with liturgical order?  How do we combat fear with faith?  We have our cultural work cut out for us this year.

Thank goodness we are not alone!  Blessed Trinity blesses us, especially as Trinity leans to Spirit.

There is a self-correcting Spirit of Truth loose in the Universe, leading us.   Next week we shall begin hearing, along with Luke, from Galatians, chapter by chapter, speaking of spirit and truth, speaking of relationship, speaking of the new creation.  The Trinity leans toward Galatians, on this Trinity Sunday.  Here is your preparation for the Holy Scripture of the next month, your shake down cruise for the trip to Galatia, your introduction to Paul, Freedom, Spirit and New Creation, and the Magna Charta of Christian freedom.  Such beautiful verses:  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefor and do not be enslaved again.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, self-discipline.  Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Here is the story behind the Epistle lessons you will hear through June.

New Creation

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is one of the great high peaks of the New Testament.  It is about a whole new life, a new creation.  In fact, it may be the highest peak in the whole range, the Mount Everest of the Bible.  It is written to address this question:  “Must a Gentile become a Jew before he can become a Christian?”.  Is there a religious condition to be met, prior to the reception of God’s apocalypse in Christ?  

After Paul had been converted to Christ, he spent 17 years in unremarkable, quiet ministry.  We know nothing of these two decades spent in Arabia.  All the letters we have of Paul come from a later decade.  Paul was converted to Christ, as he says earlier in this letter, “by apocalypse”.  Christ revealed himself to Paul.  Thus, for Paul, the authority in Christ, is not finally in the Scripture, nor in traditions, nor in reason, nor in experience.  Christ captured Paul through none of these, but rather through revelation, the apocalypse of God.   In short, Paul was not a Methodist.

There is a singular, awesome freedom in the way Paul understands Christ.  We have yet, I believe, in the church that bears His name, to acknowledge in full that freedom.

After these 17 years, Paul went up to Jerusalem to meet with the pillars of the church.  Can you picture the moment?  All in one room:  Paul, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Titus, Barnabas.  And in that room there was argument, difference.  Paul preached the cross of Christ to unreligious people, and they heard.  What would the Jerusalem elders say?  Jesus was a Jew, and had been circumcised.  So also were all the first Christians, including Paul himself.  But God had done something astounding.  It was the Gentiles, not the Jews, who fervently believed the Good News. Should these unreligious children of God be brought back into the Covenant of Circumcision?  No, they all agreed, no.  God had done something new.  So, Peter went to the circumcised, and Paul went to the uncircumcised.  Peter went to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles.  They agreed to disagree, agreeably.  And the meeting ended and it was settled.

But you know how sometimes it’s not the meeting but the meeting after the meeting that counts?  What was settled in Jerusalem was unsettled later.  Peter couldn’t be counted on to hold the line, and Paul told him so, to his face.  Peter was inconsistent about freedom—sometimes he ate with the unclean Gentiles—that’s all of you by the way.  Sometimes, when somebody was watching, he backed away.  And Paul caught him at it and as he ways, “opposed him to his face”.  I wish all opposition in church was so clean, direct, personal, and honest.  “One of us is wrong and I think it’s you!”  Paul doesn’t talk about Peter, he talks to Peter.  There’s a life lesson.  Said Paul:  ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither Slave nor Free, there is no Male or Female’.  Not religion, not wealth, not gender—no, all these give way before Spirit.

In the resurrection, in Christ, in faith, in the new creation, there is no gender.  At least, according to Paul in Galatians.  In Christ, there is no ‘male and female’. Gender is swallowed up in victory.  The Oneidas and the Shakers could sense this, odd and contrasted as were their ways of living it out.

We have yet, I doubt, to take seriously the Good News of liberation found in these passages.   Your identity does not come from your sexuality, your gender, your orientation.  

In this passage, in the Bible, Paul points to a clue, as well, to one of our great arguments today.  Here, your identity is not to be inferred from creation….but from new creation!  This apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure—who says there is nothing radical about Christ?—of the distinction we so heighten, that between male and female.  

So, my teacher, J L Martyn:  “In Rom 1: 18-32, Paul uses an argument explicitly based on creation, drawing certain conclusions from the “things God has made” in “the creation of the cosmos” (Rom 1:20). In effect, Paul says in this passage that God’s identity and the true sexual identity of human beings as male and female can both be inferred from creation.

“What a different argument lies before us in Gal 3:26-29, 6:14-15! Here the basis is explicitly not creation, but rather the new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are declared to be non-existent. If one were to recall the affirmation ‘It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18), one would also remember that the creational response to loneliness is married fidelity between man and woman (Gen 2:24, Mark 10:6-7). But in its announcement of the new creation, the apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure of the distinction between male and female. Now the answer to loneliness is not only marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:28). The result of such a radical vision and of its radical argumentation is the new- creational view of the people of God…It is Christ and the community of those incorporated into him who lie beyond religious distinctions…Baptism is a participation both in Christ’s death and in his life; for genuine, eschatological life commences when one is taken into the community of the new creation, in which unity in God’s Christ has replaced religious-ethnic differentiation. In a word, religious and ethnic differentiations and that which underlies them—the Law— are identified in effect as the “old things” that have now “passed away”, giving place to the new creation (2 Cor 5:17).” (Martyn, in passim, Anchor Bible Commentary:  Galatians).

God is calling into existence a new community of faith working through love.  There is your identity.  Not what is natural but what is heavenly about us forms our primary identity.  That is, the Bible itself, from the vantage point of this great mountain passage, opens the way for an understanding of identity that is not just nature or creation, but new creation.  This is the community of faith working through love.  Here, there is a place where God may be doing something new, revealing something new.  And, most strangely, it may be those who are not so easily confined by the creational categories of male and female, those who are both or neither, who are on the edge of the new creation.  I know what Paul writes in Romans, but you still must ask yourself, at this point, which is Mount Everest:  Galatians 3 or Romans 1?  I think it is Galatians 3.  I have come to believe that gender and orientation do not provide our primal identity.  No male and female means no gay and straight, no homosexual and heterosexual.  God is doing something new, which includes all in the community of faith working through love.

We worship on Trinity Sunday.  The Triune God summons us to relationship and complexity and courage to seek the truth.  The Spirit of God leads us into all truth:  Come Trinity Sunday we recall that there is, by God’s triune grace, a self-correcting spirit of Truth loose in the universe. The trajectory of Paul’s preaching in Galatians, and thus in total, makes ample space in our churches for gay people.  If you love Jesus, and especially if you love the Bible, then you may just find courage not only to defend a moral life in a post-moral culture, but also to preserve freedom for those who have found a whole new life, and so are very harbingers of the new creation.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.   I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers.  We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth.

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Boston University Baccalaureate

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Click here to listen to the Baccalaureate Address only

This year’s Baccalaureate speaker is Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Director of the Peace Corps.

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

This I Believe

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 24:44-53

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Terry Baurley

In the Episcopal baptismal covenant; the bishop asks; Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. The respond is I will with God’s help.

As a Criminal justice major, I learned about truth in sentencing, drugs and society, the challenges of reintegration, restorative justice, health challenges of the incarcerated, victim impact statements, drug, juvenile, veteran diversion courts and environmental advocacy, policy and law. I believe that police should wear body armor and body cameras. There are courageous individuals fire, police, first responders and emergency personnel, that every day respond to fatal car accidents, veteran suicide, opiate overdoses, accidental death, homicides and events such as the Marathon bombings and 9/11. My hero was my father in law a NY detective and Korean war veteran.

What I believe is the inherent dignity of each and every human being. Each human life is worthy of dignity and respect. I believe in One God the Father Almighty. I believe God loves each and every one of us no matter gender, race, religion or preference. I believe that everyone has the right to clean water, clean air, safe housing, health care, an education and a just and fair judicial system. The founding principles of our County are based on individual rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by our Supreme Court and Constitution. Free speech comes with enormous responsibilities. Let us use it wisely. I believe that every voice counts. Every vote counts. Make your voice and vote count. Bring a friend to the polls in November.

I believe that we need to pass comprehensive gun reform, not to take away rights but to ensure responsible ownership. I believe in changing the laws for gun shows, national background checks, and extended waiting periods.  I believe in attending House and Senate sessions. I believe in meeting with your legislators. Write to them, lobby them, demand change. Change is hard, change is difficult. Courage is the Sandy Hook teacher’s pensions that has called for the divestment from gun manufactures. I have divested from gun manufacturing and believe in socially responsible impact investing. Courage was seeing Matt Richards mother and sister at the Louis D Brown, Peace for Jorge Mother’s Day Walk for peace last year after losing their son and brother in the Marathon bombing. Today, is the twentieth anniversary and the walk is to the state house. Walking today are the personnel from the emergency rooms and hospitals, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and those that have lost loved ones.

This quote is from the Mother’s Day Walk for peace, “Peace is not the absence of Violence. Peace is the presence of Healing, Reconciliation and accountability.” “The 7 principals for peace are love, unity, faith, hope, courage, justice, and forgiveness.” One way we can remember those that have died is to remember what they believed, what they valued, and who they loved. To remember them is to continue to carry on the work and continue to call for reform and change. God so loved the world and so must we.

Prayer for Social Justice:

Grant O God that your holy and life giving spirit may so move every human heart (and especially the hearts of the people of this land that barriers that divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen

(The Book of Common Prayer)

Benjamin Coleman

Picture a man living by the ocean. He lives well, surrounded by friends and family, spending his days on the warm, bright beach with the cool ocean breeze at his back. He’s a deeply religious man, going to church every week and diligently doing charitable works. One day, interrupting this man’s paradise, a forecaster announces that a hurricane is headed toward them that will certainly destroy the town. The man, instead of panicking, resolves to stay, thinking, “I am an upright Christian. I know God loves me. God will surely save me.” Later, as the clouds roll in and the wind picks up, his son visits him, pleading, “Father, please come away with me. The storm will flood your home.” The man responds, “Oh my son of little faith, the storm is merely a test. I am religious, so I know God will save me.” Then, as the wind howls and the thunder booms, a police officer passes the man’s house, yelling to the man, “The hurricane is here. Can’t you see that the sea is rising? Let me get you away from the beach.” But the man resolutely states, “I’m not moving, for God loves me, and God alone will save me from the storm.”

If we lived in the world of the Bible, this story would end much like the ending of Abraham and Isaac: divine intervention where God literally stops Abraham’s hand from killing his son. The man would be swooped away by an angel and flown to safety, or Christ, walking on water, would appear to calm the waters of the storm. But we do not live in that world; the man drowned. By just opening a newspaper, we can clearly see that inequity, suffering, and malice pervades our world with no apparent grand purpose behind it all. In this world, it is easy to resign to Nietzcheism, that life is only about one’s ability to thrive over others. However, this only serves to perpetuate the pain and seeming meaninglessness of existence.

When the man arrives in heaven, he angrily asks St. Peter, “Why did God let me die?” Peter answered, “Oh you fool, he tried to save you with a weatherperson, an officer, and your son. Why are you here?”

I believe in the divine orchestra. God of our time cannot be a single violin playing an isolated musical line, just as God isn’t an omnipotent, old man with a white beard. Instead, God is the sublimity of all the instruments combined, for God has the capacity to live in all of us if we truly carry out our charge to love one another. Just as instruments support and build each other up in symphonies to create something greater than its parts divided, humans, loving each other, must do so in this life to evoke the divine. So, in what do I believe? Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est: Where charity and love abide, God is also there.

Mike Chan

For most of my life, I felt like I was living two different lives. There’s the life that everybody sees, where I’m kind, helpful, and considerate. It’s what people would tell you if you asked them who I was, and it’s probably how I’d describe myself too. I wouldn’t be lying, but I wouldn’t be telling you the truth either. Because there’s the life that everyone sees, and there’s the life that I see. In this life, I’m sick, and I’m dying: I’m someone struggling with depression.

I had always thought that being depressed was the consequence of tragedy and suffering. I know many believe it is a natural condition that everyone encounters – and overcomes – at some point in their lives. But depression is not always synonymous with sadness or grief. Rather, it is a sickness that nullifies life into a dull melancholy. Depression, at its core, strips away the spirit of makes us alive.

Before my depression, I had defined myself as a hard worker, as someone who was mentally tough and strong. But when I got sick, I found myself losing whatever enthusiasm or energy I had for life. Everything, from talking to friends and going to class, became tedious and difficult, and I soon found myself paralyzed with anxiety, unable to do much of anything but lay in bed all day. It took me a long time to realize that I was in trouble and in need of help. And even then, I continued to see myself as unworthy of anyone’s love, thinking no one would actually pity me enough to care for my well-being. But depression often traps you in a prison of self-loathing and delusion. It leaves a void within your own vulnerable psyche, and only compassion and forgiveness can fill and overflow it.

It was hard finding the courage to share my experience with others, and even harder learning how to receive their support once I did. Initially, I felt embarrassed to be associated with the stigmas of mental illness and be seen as a rehabilitating failure. But the empathy that persevered through strangers and close friends alike helped me accept the notion that it was okay to be the person in need. “People might have bigger problems than you’,” a friend said, “but that doesn’t make it any less important.”

Speaking about my depression doesn’t make things easier, but it has helped me found meaning in this torturous experience. And despite the hell I’ve faced over the past six months, I am grateful for the profound insight it has given me. I now see the value of compassion, and how the good we feel comes when we help others in need. Someday, I hope I can repay the kindness given to me to those that are trapped like I once was. And I hope that, in spite of the struggles each of us face in our lives, we can make a conscious effort in ensuring that it’s a fight no one faces alone.

Clark Warner

This I believe.

I hear the voice that speaks all things into being.  I hear the still-small voice in the rainfall and in the sunrise.

I hear the still-small voice in the footsteps of passers by and in the flight of the birds overhead. 

Over these last three years I have heard it more clearly than ever in the brilliance of my classmates at the School of the Prophets. 

That same voice, an inner voice, lives in each of us but more importantly in all of us and in the connections between us.

If we listen to the voice, we learn how to be, how to thrive in the kingdom of God.  If we listen, we learn how to be what others need of us so that they can also thrive in the kingdom of God.  If we listen, we learn how each of us belongs to the other. 

We can’t fully understand the still-small voice alone.  It is beyond us. If we listen intently and share all that we have heard with others who are also listening intently we all begin to understand. 

This I believe. That the voice of the Lord speaks a word to each of us and in community we learn the sentences, the pages, the chapters, indeed, the book. 

This voice that speaks all things into existence has re-told my story.  It has taken my shame and doubt, my worries and fears and told me to ignore them so that I can practice for a life in the Kingdom.  It has re-told my story so that I can join with confidence in the story of our existence.   

Here, at the School of Theology, as I heard the future prophets speak, I have learned to listen more intently to the still-small voice, to hear my word.  I will take my word to you, please take your words to me and to each other and together we will begin to understand and thrive as God intended. 

This I believe.  

Jaimie Dingus

I grew up in southern Virginia. My town was white, middle-class, and conservative. As a liberal Unitarian Universalist, I could not wait to move to Boston. With large UU churches and the UUA headquarters, I was convinced that everyone in Boston must be Unitarian Universalist. I thought I was moving to a place where everyone would be just like me. 

So, I was pretty shocked when I got to BU and realized actually no one here was just like me. There is diversity here, unlike anything I could have imagined. I remember the surreal experience of walking from my freshman dorm to the matriculation ceremony, and meeting someone from Bangladesh. Another time, I ate Indian food with a friend who’d grown up in India. I listened, mesmerized, as my roommate spoke to her mom on the phone, switching between English and Cantonese. The world that had been so small, grew.

As it grew, my understanding of my place within it changed too. I learned about my privilege as an educated, white, American woman. I learned that in order to fight the systems that gave me this privilege, I would have to hear a wide diversity of voices.

This year, I followed a call to build communities that facilitate positive encounters with difference. As president of BU’s Interfaith Council I have helped bring people together from different religions, people who have been taught not to work together, in order to have honest dialogue, and build community.

This I believe

This world is filled with different people. People whose faces, histories and languages do not resemble mine, or my home community’s. Yet, my life is deeply enriched by learning from these differences. I cannot undo the world’s injustice, the hatred and pain, if I am not learning from and collaborating with these other voices. 

As I work to listen to the experiences of others, I am reminded of what connects us all. I believe in a divine light that lives within each of us. This light reminds me to love each person I come in contact with, no matter our differences. It teaches me to love their beauty and inherent goodness, even as I love their failings, ignorance, and mistakes.

This I believe, that my faith calls me to love all people and the divinity that lives in them. And as I do this to remember my own divine light. 

There was nothing like starting anew far from friends and family, to reveal the poison that is the isolation in our culture. Through our diversity, we are meant to be interconnected and yet, systems of competition, greed and hate pull us from each other.

This I believe, that by participating in community that is subversive and caring we break the walls of isolation and that give us an illusion of separateness. I have learned so much as a student here, but most of all I have learned that despite our differences and our struggles, we belong to a single human family.

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

A Topography of Love

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

John 14:23-29

Click here to listen to the sermon only

“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”

You are invited to walk in the land of love, from this day forward. Walk in love.  Walk across the landscape of love.  Make love your aim.  Love one another.  Here is a Johannine topographical map for your travels in just one verse alone, John 14: 23.

Our earth science teacher had a way of finding a way to excite 13 year olds with the mysteries of topography.  A.  He traced the advance and retreat of glaciers, and their deposits, in kells and drumlins and valleys and lakes.  He reminded us that we are ice people, up north here.  He pointed out the undersides of the mountains and the different geological formations underneath the similar beauties of the Adirondacks and Catskills.  B. With great energy, he showed us how rivers formed and wound around and changed course.  He reminded us that Susquehanna means ‘winding river’, and then would drift off into meditations upon other native names:  Onondaga, Tioghnioga, Canandaigua, Oneida.  These place names, a part of one local topography, in his merriment and memory became lodged in us, placing us in their places.  The best of the days were those spent pouring over the maps, and the ways that rivers remake landscape.  There is a flow to things, a watery fluidity underneath and sometimes well above the apparent surfaces of life.  C.  He took us beyond the constellations—Ursa Major and Minor, Draco the Dragon, Orion the Archer, Cassiopia on her throne—which we had already located in scouting, and spread out the universe, 14 billion years of age, endless ranges of galaxies, meteors sailing, suns exploding, darkness and light.  He was trying to say something to us, looking back, about our place in the great Place of the  Cosmos. D. He gestured to the winds, the gusting climactic climate about us.  Freezing points, dew points, compass points—all good points.  Behold the topographical mysteries!

Ours today is a topography, not of earth but of heaven, not of earth science but of heavenly science, not of land but of love.  

Love.  Are we lovers anymore?

It can feel blasphemous to speak of love at all.  In a world where warfare continues to bubble up and out of Tutsi and Hutu history; in a world where Ecuadorian huts and barrios are wrecked in natural catastrophic earthquakes; in a world in which Columbian children are kidnapped and made child warriors; in a country, our own, in which there is lasting dispute about whether non-rich children should have full access to education and health care to age 21; in a country in which democracy—as both the ancient Greeks and our constitutional founders soberly feared—suddenly seems to give way to demagoguery (largely it must be underscored, due to the habits of mind, forms of rhetoric, and decades of contention exported from one party and this year from one candidate); in a country that comes to resemble, in spirit,  the ancient Israel decried by Amos, and others, shot through with personal depravity, vapid worship, rampant neglect of the poor, and haughty, foolish overreliance on military might;  in a culture that prizes counting but not reckoning; in a culture which emphasizes knowledge to the exclusion of relationship producing citizens who are often knowledgeably advanced but relationally delayed; in a culture, bounded by misogyny, blinded by racism, bordered by greed, which sees no longer any eternal horizon, nor values any longer the traditions of self-giving which themselves gave the culture its very birth; in a week of further gun death, including that of a two year old shooting his mother from the back seat of the car; in a week of violence in city after city; in a week of smaller slights, hidden swindles, and personal abuses which all fill in the Latin phrase, homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man; in such a world, country, culture and week it can seem the height of hubris, or naivete, to utter in public the word ‘love’ at all.  It can seem blasphemous to speak of love at all.

Nevertheless….

Here we are!  Here you are!  Bearing witness, giving thanks, offering prayers and tithes, seeking the Lord together.  Sursum Corda:  Lift up your hearts!

Our Gospel does so speak.  Of love.

Are we lovers any more?

Do we let love be our aim?  Do we think daily, and act weekly, and practice monthly the scales, vaults, verifications, and measurements of love?  Do we love God and love our neighbor, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourself?  Are we going on to wholeness, to becoming healthy and whole in love in this lifetime (Are you going on to perfection?  Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this lifetime?) For what do we live?  If you are not going on to wholeness in love, what you are going on to?

Are we familiar with a topography of love—its glacial forms, its meandering rivers, its celestial stars and lights, its wind blowing where it wills?

Are we lovers anymore?  Are you ready to get the lay of the land?  God’s nature and name is love.  Are we loving people?  

Our topography of love is a verse in four phrases.

Those who love me

Ages ago glaciers cut lakes and hollows and mountains into lasting shapes.   Love has done the same, cut lakes and hollows and mountains into lasting, existential shape.

Faith is a gift.  Faith is not a task, not an achievement, not a work, not an accomplishment.  Faith is a gift, through which we live out our lives in thanksgiving.  Faith is a gift.  You gain no praise in receipt of such a gift, and you incur no blame in the lack of such a gift.  

For those who have been seized by the love of God, the faith of Christ, the confession of the church—is this who you are?—love is the form, the topographical outline of life.  Walk in love.

It must be stressed that, at least here in the Holy Scripture, and at least here in the Gospel of John, John 14: 23, there is no argument that some should jump across a line, or make a personal choice.  It is geological, glacial force at work, here.  Those called to love, those called to love Him, are those called to love, those called to love Him.  Is this you (pl.)?

The verse affirms that there are those who have a revelation that they are meant to love.  They have the gift, the faithful gift of love.  Some have the gift of strength, some the gift of music, some the gift of philanthropy, some the gift of insight.  Faith (pistis) is such a gift.  Love (agape) is such a gift.

For the first readers and hearers of this passage, our verse revealed a mystical union, a mystical audition, a mystical shift, a mystical experience, whose essence in retrospect became: We are meant to live in love, as those who love Him.

Will keep my word

The lakes and rivers that filled with water, over long, flowing, fluid, time, kept alive a saturation, a potential to slake the thirsts of life.  Especially their propensity to meander, to wander, to saunter, to wonder, to move and live and have being, that propensity to fluidity makes a lively, loving word.

We may want to wrestle a bit with both the verb and the noun here.  

To keep is not to obey, to keep is not to hold, to keep is not to hear, to keep is not to possess, although it is all those things and more.

In a small upper room, perhaps in Ephesus, maybe in the year 90ad, possibly with 30 or 40 present, a word is spoken and heard.  It is a voice that speaks like no other, ‘so equable, magnanimous, and serene’ (J. Ashton).  To hear it one needs to listen.  One needs to learn to hear, to practice listening, to train the ear, as some music schools do.

A word is not text, ancient or cyber, nor a verse, however venerable or holy, nor a doctrine, even a powerful doctrine.  The word is near your heart and your lips, too.   How will you hear a word of God without listening for such a word?  In Scripture, in Prayer, in Worship, in Conversation, in Meditation, in Sacrament, in Silence—day to day pours forth speech.  But have we ears, ears to hear?  There is a kind of turning of the back upon the world commanded by this word, His word.

(In an age sorrowfully awash in vulgar words, hateful words, misogynist, xenophobic, racist, artfully hateful words, in an age sorrowfully awash in a culture that languishes in the doldrums of a pervasive malaise, a pervasive amnesia, a pervasive torpidity, a pervasive ugliness, now unleashed, to our shame, in the political events of this year, one especially needs the care and cultivation of hearing.)  

Good news:  you may have confidence that such a word, yours to keep, yours for the keeping, may be spoken and heard.  Here.  Now.

My Father will love them

Now the celestial lights are before us.  The planets, the stars, the meteors, the darkness and the light, the evening sky—these illumine our few days upon the earth.

We this week had sign board on the plaza for students to use to write out what they hoped to do and be in life.  The word love was not absent, but almost so, as my friend pointed out.  Many other words were written on the chalk board, but not love, not often.  One wrote: I hope to find someone to love.  Another: I want to love as I have been loved.  But these sorts of sentences were few in number.  

The day before we held vigil, again, for a student who died three years ago.  Her mother, her friends, her former housemates gathered, three years on, at the monument, the King monument.  You look for something sturdy in grief.  We stood with flowers, wreaths, and photos.  We ‘said some words’ (interesting locution).  We waited in quiet.  We wept, some at length and with profusion.  We lit candles, shielding them from a light wind.  When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

Again, there is no transaction here, no quid pro quo, no love for love trade.  Here is eternal love, ‘my Father will love them’.  Topos is place; graphe is writing—the depiction of a space, a topography of love.  No one has ever seen God.  But if we love one another God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us.

Huston Smith, when teaching at MIT long ago, said:  we are in good hands, and so it behooves us to bear one another’s burdens. 

We will make our home with them

To see which way the wind is blowing you need an anemometer.  A glacial form, a river bed, a sacred canopy—earth, water, stars—make up our topography of love, with one addition, by the strength of this verse, John 14:23.

There is to be an indwelling, a making oneself at home, Father and Son will come and take up residence, be present, become presence.  Here our humble sacraments, of holy baptism and holy communion, of bath and meal, of washing and eating, of cleansing and nourishment may bring a helpful reminder, with thanksgiving, of presence, His presence.

Yet the earliest hearers and readers of our verse felt something more.  They felt Him making a home in their midst.  They felt Him living with them.  They felt Him dwelling among them.  I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps.  They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps.  I can read his righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps.  His day is marching on.  

Here is Paul in the seventh heaven.  Here is Lydia opening her life.  Here is the Psalmist at peace.  Here is Augustine in the garden.  Here is Aquinas calling a lifetime’s writing, ‘so much straw’.  Here is John of the Cross, en una noche oscura.  Here is Luther in agony.  Here is Wesley in the rain of Aldersgate Street.  Here is Harriet Tubman, walking north to freedom.  Here is Martin Luther King, signing books on Manhattan, suddenly wounded and bleeding.  Here is Francis, Bishop of Rome, in our time, imploring all to honor the conscience of the believer, which is inviolable.  Here is Howard Thurman, on the beach.  Here you are—formed by love, guided by love, embraced by love, now touched by love.  You may recall in prayer:  I am loved.  So I can love.  The topography of love carries a mysterious, no a mystical, wind, breath, breeze…spirit.

Are we lovers any more?

Do we let love be our aim?  Do we think daily, and act weekly, and practice monthly the scales, vaults, verifications, and measurements of love?  Do we love God and love our neighbor, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourself?  Are we going on to wholeness, to becoming healthy and whole in love in this lifetime (Are you going on to perfection?  Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this lifetime?) For what do we live? If you are not going on to wholeness in love, what you are going on to?

Are we familiar with topography of love—its glacial forms, its meandering rivers, its celestial stars and lights, its wind blowing where it wills?

Are we lovers anymore?  Are you ready to get the lay of the land?  God’s nature and name is love.  Are we loving people?

“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Take Care

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Acts 11:1-18

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Good morning! It is a pleasure to join you again from this historic pulpit. My thanks to Dean Hill for this opportunity to speak with you again on the weekend of Earth Day 2016. It’s become tradition that I preach on a Sunday near Earth Day because of my academic interest in social and ecological ethics. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share my passion with you today.

Like some young adults who live quite a distance away from their nuclear family, I try dutifully to maintain contact with my parents on at least a weekly basis via phone call. Some weeks it’s more than once a week, some weeks go by and I realized I haven’t called them in x-many days. Of course, my mom still keeps up with what I’m doing by checking Facebook for my latest status updates, or chatting with one of my siblings whom I’ve texted or messaged in the past few days. But nothing compares to taking the time to sit and verbally communicate with my parents for a half hour, or an hour, or more. By the time we reach the end of our conversation we say our typical goodbyes…”Alright. I hope you have a good week/It’ll all work out./I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.” However, my dad almost always ends our conversations with the same two words “Take Care.” “Alright, talk to you soon, take care, bye.” “Take care” itself isn’t unusual in this context. It’s a common phrase to use when saying goodbye to someone, especially someone that’s close to you. But I like to think of it as my dad’s way of saying “I love you.” “Take care” is a shortened version of “Take care of yourself,” a directive that not only indicates that the person you’re leaving or ending a conversation with wants to you to be well, but also that you continue treating yourself well. It indicates that because you will not be together that other person will not be able to physically care for you, but he/she wishes that you will carry with you the emotional care he/she sends you with.

Taking care of ourselves is hard, and often we must rely on others to help us do it. Or at least we need them to remind us to take care of ourselves. A recent article I came across on 101 ways to practice self-care linked from the website “the Mighty” puts our human situation succinctly: “Being a human can be a messy, hard, confusing, painful experience sometimes.” We can become so driven by outside forces – like getting good grades, or advancing in our workplace, or earning more money – that we lose sight of the need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Friends and family can often be helpful in reminding us to take care of ourselves when we need it most. To be gentle with ourselves when things don’t go the way we want. To take a break when we need it. We can be pretty terrible at cutting ourselves some slack when we need it because we think there are standards or goals that everyone else is somehow accomplishing, and we’re failing to do so. Often all it will take to gain some clarity is to step away from the situation, give ourselves 5, 10, 20 minutes to breathe, hydrate, eat, be silent, engage our bodies rather than our minds, or talk to someone who can remind us of who we are and that we have value by just being us.

For example, I have a good friend who encourages her close friends to periodically (once or twice a year) to have a “decadent day.” She offers to help you plan whatever your day of “decadence” might look like. You know, treating yourself to those things that you love to do and relieve your stress, but that you never find the time to do on your own. Fans of the television show Parks and Recreation may think of this another way – a “treat yo’ self” day. It might be going to get a massage, or watching Christmas videos all day while you bake cookies, or going to a place you haven’t been to before because you don’t have a car (but she does), or it could just be hanging out all day in pj’s, coloring, and taking naps when you feel like it. Taking one day, every once in a while to focus on what it is you REALLY want to do and having a friend there to remind you that this day is not meant to be stressful or guilt-inducing, can help you hit the pause button on the rest of your life for a little while. You should care for yourself, and often others can be the gateway to help you recognize that.

In today’s gospel reading, we encounter another instance of a “take care” directive. Let me set the scene for you – we’ve traveled back before Easter, just after Jesus has washed the feet of the disciples and shared in a last meal with them. The “he” referred to at the beginning of the scripture – “When he had gone out…” – is Judas who has just departed to betray Jesus to the Roman authorities. Jesus knows that the time is coming when he must give away his life for those that he loves, and that one of those that he has loved is turning against him. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of what is to come, Jesus turns to his disciples and issues them a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is slightly different than the older love commandment found in the book of Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This love is a mutual love that will strengthen the disciples in service to one another once Jesus is no longer with them. Not only will it help to strengthen their community, it will come to define their community, and Jesus knows that. Jesus serves his disciples both physically and spiritually in this one night. He washes their feet, showing them care in a way that was typically done by someone in a lower social standing. He also tells them what he has been demonstrating to them all along, and will culminate in doing through his crucifixion – that mutual care and love for each other is God’s will for them.

Jesus is essentially saying “take care” in this message to the disciples. He is about to leave them, but before he does, it’s important to emphasize to them how they should continue on without his physical presence when he is gone. However, the “take care” here is not “take care of yourself” like the version we often use today. Instead, it is “take care of each other.” Care for the other in such a way one thinks and puts the need of the other before oneself, bringing the community closer together.

But there’s more to the love commandment Jesus issues. Martin Luther, upon reflecting on this passage of John states, “To love does not mean…to wish someone else well, but to bear someone else’s burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear.” As Luther highlights, Jesus’ command to the disciples is not easy or should be taken lightly. It’s hard to love in the way that Christ wants us to love. So many of us don’t love in that way. We don’t put others’ needs before our own. We fail to have empathy for those who are in difficult positions. We try to advance ourselves at all costs and neglect to see how that might impact others around us. One doesn’t need to look far to see how individualism and egocentrism runs rampant in our country and even in our world. While it is important to value ourselves, we cannot do it to an extreme that excludes others to the point of oppression. Instead Christ’s love, Christ’s form of taking care, requires us to take on the burdens of others.  We must help those who need it.

Just as Jesus meets the practical needs of the disciples by washing their feet, we might meet the practical needs of our community by bringing a covered dish to share on the first Sunday of the month for our community luncheon or by helping a new person in our community locate something as simple as the restroom. But the spiritual support that we supply for others is also a part of this. We can be a listening ear, we can provide prayers, we can offer spaces for people to laugh or cry, be there for moments of joy and of pain.

Today, “Taking care” cannot just be about being in community with other human beings, though. If you’ve noticed any of the movements among Christian denominations toward environmentalism, the discussion is usually framed around “Creation Care” or Caring for Our Earth. In fact, the denomination to which I belong, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s social statement on environmental care is found in a document entitled “Caring for Creation.” In it, the ELCA states that “Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf on the whole creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the Earth.” This stewardship model, which places responsibility to tend and care for God’s creation with humanity, emphasizes the notion of care. We are a part of God’s creation, created from the same materials as the rocks, water, air, and creatures with which we share this planet. Even more than just caring for the planet that God created, we must recognize that we are in a relationship with the world around us by the very nature of our dependence upon Earth’s natural systems that sustain us.

Care is a verb that we can wrap our minds around when we talk about the earth. We have a sense, even if we don’t actively practice it, of what care should look like. Care is also easier to understand or grasp than the idea of loving creation. Love has too many different connotations in English to make a clearly identifiable action. So in this case, when we talk about our relationship with the Earth, care seems to make more sense than love, but the sentiment is very similar. Care means that we should have consideration for another that is in relationship with us. Care means that we want what is best for the other. Care means that we claim our responsibility to a much larger network of others. Us taking care of the earth and the Earth taking care of us is a mutual relationship that we share.

The earth cares for us in many ways. We might automatically think of all the practical and physical (utilitarian) uses that we have for the Earth, but we might not think of them as care, initially. The oxygen we breathe is a direct result of the respiration of the trees and other plants around us. The food we need comes from tending to the land and raising crops. The water we drink, although processed through water treatment plants, originates from the same water cycle that supplies our lakes, rivers, and streams. While we may not consider this care in the same way that we would through expressions of love from other people in our lives, we cannot exist without the essential natural goods that the Earth provides for us. We are connected to the Earth. These practical ways that the Earth supports us should be considered as care, and we tend to take them for granted. That is, we tend to take them for granted until things go awry.

When water becomes undrinkable, like it did in Flint, MI, when crops are decimated by drought, like during the great drought felt on the West Coast of the United States, when our air becomes polluted by industrial practices, like methane release or coal-burning power plants, we become acutely aware of the ways in which our connection with the earth is essential for our health and well-being. Even aesthetically, when nature is disrupted by human activity that destroys ecosystems and displaces other creatures, taking away its beauty, we lose the renewed sense of awe and wonder nature can give us that can inspire us to be more creative and feel more connected to others and with God. When we fail to recognize the ways in which we need to love the Earth, to take care of the Earth in the ways we need to for mutual support, we all lose and fail to meet God’s will.

If we are truly to take care of ourselves and take care of others as Christians, then we must also make sure that we expand our notion of care beyond the human community. In fact, many of the systems that create oppression and harm to other human beings are also harmful to our environment. The impacts of global warming, which is caused by a global reliance on fuels, tend to disproportionately harm those who are the most socioeconomically vulnerable. Members of developing nations, particularly women and children, face greater challenges than those of us in developed nations because we have the capital to develop technologies that will mitigate some of the effects created by this global problem. But in addition to these impacts on other human beings, we are also damaging the ecosystems that support all life on earth, and the quality of the Earth’s health as well. It is important to draw out the impacts of ecological degradation on other human beings, but it is also important to remember that the “Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” We are connected in a vast web of creation that finds its source in God. As we’re reminded in today’s Psalm reading:

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

We are only a small part of the whole earth that is called to praise God, the creator and sustainer life. Through our connection we have a responsibility to care for the Earth. We must pay attention to the ways we impact it. How often are we reusing items we possess instead of using disposable items? Do we walk or bike instead of driving to a nearby location? Have we thought about where our energy comes from and how its source may be impacting the world? These are burden some question to ask ourselves – and it would be easier to continue in the way we have been acting. But eventually, our actions will come back in a negative way and impact us. Our time to act in a caring way toward the Earth is now, not at some point in the future

In the gospel reading we are told that followers of Christ need not state who they are, because people will know them by their actions of mutual love. To be Christ’s disciple is to love each other as Christ loved us. We do this not necessarily for our own benefit, but because it benefits the other. Although we must care for ourselves, we are often reminded by others why that care is necessary and are often helped to see the ways in which care can be expressed by the care offered to us by other people. All of these ways of caring are connected to each other. Ourselves, our human community, our world – we are all interconnected and our care must be connected as well. If our Earth is cared for, it will care for us. If our friends are cared for, they will care for us. If we care for ourselves, we are capable of caring for others.

So like my dad when we end our phone conversations, I will leave you with these two words – take care. Take care of yourself because God cares about you. Take care of those around you because it helps to share your burdens with someone. Take care of the earth because we’ve already done so much to harm it, and it’s the only one we’ve got. Take care.

Amen.

-Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

John 10:22-30

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Dean Hill

So let us keep the festival whereto the Lord invites us; Christ is himself the joy of all, the Sun that warms and lights us.  By his grace he doth impart eternal sunshine to the heart; the night of sin is ended.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

You will see down the street a block, outside the BU Academy, a new photograph commending the Academy.  A young woman, with face upturned, radiantly smiles and casts a long look, eyes beaming, into an unseen future.  It is a striking, even staggering image, the look of Easter.  Behold there the look of promise, hope, freedom, openness, courage, excitement, joy, and peace.

Lent is for preparation and discipline in living.  Easter is for living.  We are not meant to live in Lent.  We are meant to live in Easter.   For this reason itself and alone, it will have been excellent practice for us to have heard all Easter cantatas all year, here at Marsh Chapel, where we are blessed with the finest University Chapel music anywhere in the country.   Your life is made for and meant for and marked for meaningful freedom, joyful growth, loving service, and personal peace.  You are a child of God, one for whom Christ died, and in whom His resurrection is intended to dwell.  If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved.  Confession is an act, uttered by the lips, and lived in the spirit.  Belief is a matter of the heart, embraced in the dark, and carried forward in the light.   

Think about the novelty of Marsh Chapel Community Ecclesiology, one of several ‘new ways of being church’.  You are in one sense‘The Church of the UnChurched (students, radio listeners, occasional attendees, those returning to faith, pod cast people, all)’.  God is doing a new thing.   You come Sunday, you listen Sunday.  Sunday opens the rest of the week for living.   Then you live in community and University in the three other ‘ships’, other than worship—discipleship, fellowship, and stewardship.  This wide berth of freedom can be a great challenge, but is also a magnificent gift, for those with ears to hear.  As WS Coffin so often said, ‘God gives us minimum protection and maximum support’.

Our Holy Scripture, the prototype of every type of struggle in life, breathes us life.

Psalm 23 forever proclaims a Good Shepherd, a shepherding goodness forever available, always possible, eternally present.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life.  But such shepherding, incarnate, requires human time, effort, voices, notes and donations.

Acts 9—we still are reading Luke, but have jumped to the second season for a time, his full history, the Acts of the Apostles—accounts a dramatic healing, a raising like that of Lazarus, but this time at the hands of Peter, not of Jesus.   Our teacher reminded us that the one-to-one things are the most important, the personal things count most.  Tabitha!  Rise!  Please do not become lost in the mystery or magic of these multiple acts in Acts.  Here the Scripture attests strongly and simply to real healing, the potential for real help, in real time.

Revelation 7 begins with tribulation, suffering.  There will be a time, a place, a setting when the Shepherd will guide the thirsty to springs of living water, when the Shepherd will meet the sorrowful and wipe away every tear from their eyes, when the Shepherd will find the hungry and feed them all, when the Shepherd will embrace the thirsty and slake their thirst, when the Shepherd will wash with mercy and peace the robes of tribulation and suffering.   Now this is aspiration not actuality, right now.  We are hoping for what we do not see; we are seeing in a glass dimly; we are holding treasures in earthen vessels

John 10:22-30 makes audible the voice of the Shepherd, and so the sheep may know that voice, they may hear and they may know and they may follow.  This Spiritual Gospel of John is so lastingly redolent with the Divine Presence!  We are in good hands, and so we are able to bear one another’s burdens (H Smith).

John Wesley taught us: “Do all the good you can, at all the times you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”….and… “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

Dr. Jarrett, for what shall we listen, this Eastertide, as the beauty of Bach’s Cantata addresses us?

Dr. Jarrett

Our cantata this morning is one of the most famous in all Bach’s output. One of his earliest cantatas, Christ lag in Todesbanden, or Christ lay in Death’s Bonds, sets all seven verses of Martin Luther’s 1524 hymn in a remarkable display of invention and variation, within an overall symmetrical design of proportion and elegance so familiar to us from this composer.

The text depicts the epic battle of life over death, redemption versus destruction — the Paschal lamb roars as the Lion of Judah. Bach scored his cantata for strings only, including two viola lines, and achieves an astonishing degree of variety and color with such limited instrumental resources. Here are few things to listen for this morning:

  • Each verse ends with a refrain of Hallelujah. Note the variety and possibility of emotion explored with each of these refrains, from the frenetic energy of the first alla breve, the doleful Hallelujahs of the soprano and alto, the chorus’s scurrying refrain as the epic battle falls away; or the pealing, rounded Hallelujahs of the soprano and tenor in the final festive duet.
  • If you follow a translation or word book, note the opportunities to stay fixed visually, aurally, and theologically on the Cross. The Cross becomes the ultimate emblem of victory over sin.
  • In the central choral movement, listen for the fantastic depiction of the battle: soprano, tenor, and bass voices scrape and thrash around each as Death Gobbles Death in scathing mockery.

In many ways, Christ lag is the best connection of  the joy of Easter with the glory of Christ’s passion. The focus is not on the disciples, mourning the loss of their leader, nor is the focus on our human frailty clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment. The victory of the cross and the triumph of love is our theme, Christ as Victor.  

“So we celebrate the high festival with joy of heart and delight, which the Lord radiates upon us, He himself is the Sun, that through the splendor of his Grace illuminates our hearts completely, the night of sin has disappeared. Hallelujah!”

Dean Hill

The few Bach Easter works, as Mr. Kostrzewski reminds us, exude and exemplify ‘an air of humility that remains ever present, the music and the libretti constantly referring to the Passion as the gateway to the Resurrection’.  Yes.  The Resurrection follows but does not replace the Cross.  Luther: crux sola nostra teologia, the cross alone is our theology.  Mr. Wesley was converted to full faith under the hearing of Martin Luther’s exposition of Romans 8, on rainy Sunday evening in London, May 23, 1738.  We still live in two worlds.

We live in a glorious, wonderful world. There are at least 100 billion galaxies besides our own (NYRB, 3.16).  The universe is expanding, and the rate of that expansion is increasing.  Every second over 600 billion particles called neutrinos penetrate every square centimeter of your body. The visible universe is the sideshow:  the important stuff is invisible.  We live in a glorious, wonderful world.

We live in a suffering, violent world.  Examples abound. Dr. Jonathan Haidt ‘denies that reason ordinarily plays any part in motivating moral judgments, seeing it rather as a post-hoc means of justifying the intuitions we form quickly and unreflectively.’  He reminds us that we struggle with:  Care vs harm; fairness vs cheating; loyalty vs betrayal; authority vs subversion; sanctity vs degradation; liberty vs oppression.  Our world sometimes boils down to Hobbes’ single hope, during a life that is ‘solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short’:  avoid conflict.  After 83 waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah, what was the result?—NOTHING.   70 million in USA have some form of criminal records (Globe 4/12/16). 30% of NFL players suffer dementia.  We live in a suffering, violent world.

Easter, in Gospel spoken and sung this morning, Easter in resurrection and cross, cross and resurrection, resurrection and cross, promises us that we can do what we need to do: we can live in both worlds, transforming the latter and translating the former, transforming suffering and violence by translating glory and wonder into insights for healthy, happy living.

In a season when our country seems to be going through a form of political and cultural psychosis, we may be able to help others by modeling together this balance, living in both worlds, with this Resurrection song, bell and tale: ‘The worst thing is not the last thing’ (F Beuchner).  The Marathon survivors in worship on Friday at Old South Church, so attested, and so heard in the sermon by former Governor Duval Patrick.  Balance.  As Pope Francis argued last month:  the conscience of the believer is inviolable, so we want to form consciences not replace them; Eucharist (say worship, say faith) is not a prize for the excellent, but nourishment for the weak.  Balance.  As Luther wrote, ‘faith holds the door against death’.

It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.  Stripped of power, no more it reigns, and empty form alone remains; death’s sting is lost forever.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

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

& Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Breakfast With Peter

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

John 21:1-19

Click here to listen to the sermon only

In pastoral work, day by day, we come back to a familiar story.

One man asked another, ‘Tell me, in just one word, how is your life?”

His friend replied, slowly, “In one word?  In one word, my life is, well…good”.

Sensing something, the man asked again, “Then tell me, in just two words, how is your life?”

His friend replied, slowly, “My life, in two words?  In two words, my life is, well…not good”.

Both the brevity of life and the strange estrangements of our experience in life, place us, if we are honest, come Sunday, somewhere between the first and second replies, between good and not good.

We know the thrill of victory and the agony of betrayal.  We know the joy of birth and the pain of death.  We know the exuberance of growth and the hurt of departure.

The Gospel of John ended last week, with its concluding sentence, ‘These things are written that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”  Jesus:  Lord and God, doorway both to allegiance and to reverence.  Jesus:  word incarnate, good shepherd, feeder of thousands, alchemist of water and wine, healer of the blind, raiser of the dead, doorway to grace, freedom, love, spirit, community, and friendship.  Only believe, only believe.  Live in tune with the universe.

Startling then, today’s lesson, added ten or twenty years after the Gospel’s original conclusion.  A simple meal, of 153 fish, breakfast with Peter.   Different language and imagery here.  A different, now heroic role, for the robbing and disrobing Peter, here.  A different voice for the beloved disciple here.  A different reflection on death and life here.  A different prediction of Peter’s martyrdom here.   What is the meaning of this strange breakfast?

Just this:  for all the grace, freedom and love, all the spirit, community and friendship rightly trumpeted in the Fourth Gospel, people are still people.  This chapter is about fishing and farming, about catching and tending, about boats and fields, fishermen and shepherds.  In church language, that is, 21 is about evangelism and pastoral care.  

You are leading a Christian life, you are committed to the way of discipleship, the path of love.  Then, and so, you will need to receive and give invitation and comfort.

Life

In a word,  resurrection.  In two words, evangelism and pastoral care, work and structure, laity and clergy, world and church.  

Breakfast is a simple meal.  The worst hour of the day, the worst food of the day, the worst attitude of the day, everything and everyone more human than not.   Carried by resurrection, we re-enter the world of invitation and compassion, the world of the preacher and the pastor.  Every week, you are encouraged to make one invitation to another about what you find lastingly good.  Come to worship with me.  Every week, you are encouraged to offer one compassionate word to another from the source of lasting compassion.  I will pray for you.

Public worship places us in the necessary presence of others who are not our own kith, kin and kindred.  With the child behind us, the student beside us, the professor ahead of us, the widow across from us, we worship God.  We perceive again the utter variety and actual need of others.  It is a cautionary move against the prevailing winds about us, including tornadoes, including dehumanizing techno-communication and distance drone aerial bombardment.  A woman will receive that email.  I might have seen her, or her kith, kin and kindred, in church.  A child could be harmed by that weapon.  I might have seen his kith, kin and kindred, in church. Public worship places us in the necessary presence of others who are not our own kith, kin and kindred.  So crucial, saving, significant, then the simple invitation: join me for worship.

Compassionate pastoral care, personal kindness, a willingness to listen—feed, tend, sheep to sheep—connects us to the deeper dimensions, those for which life is given.  Fifty years ago M L King sat writing in a prison cell in Birmingham Alabama.  He wrote the famous Letter, which bears your re-reading this afternoon, addressed to pastors, fellow clergy, who could not or did not or would not hear: “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness”.  While most of us will not regularly write such a momentous letter, in our pastoral that is personal correspondence, we will write.   You know of another’s inattention, another’s pain.  You can sit down, put pen to paper, and select some caring words—sorry, condolence, hope, help, prayer.  You can imagine another opening the mailbox, holding the letter, seeing the penmanship, removing the page, reading the card.  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.

It is not  that the Fourth Gospel diminishes or discounts invitation and compassion, evangelism and pastoral care, laity and clergy.  It is just that the writer(s) had bigger fish to fry and sheep to tend of another fold.  So along came—someone—who wrote 21 for us, to remind us.  In a word—good.  In two words—not good.  Your life in Christ requires invitation and compassion, beginning again every day at breakfast.  The good news is that a restored Peter is there at breakfast with you.

Jesus

Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.  His voice, although we often mistake or mishear or misunderstand it, carries over from shore to sea, from heaven to earth.  For the  souls gathered here today, that voice—His voice—makes life worth living.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary nights or days or catches of fish or meals or questions or answers or friendships or loves or losses.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary moments.  When the Master calls from the shoreline, “children…have you…cast the net…bring some fish…have breakfast”, no one who hears will dare ask, “And who are you?”.  We dare not.  For we know.  Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.

His disciples stumble through all the magic and grit of a fishing expedition.  Many of us still find some magic in fishing, though few of us have had to depend on this sport for sustenance.  Still—we know the thrill of it!  And the disappointment.  The roll of the boat with each passing wave.  The smell of the water and the wind.  The feel of the fish, the sounds of cleaning, the sky, a scent of rain:  this is our life, too.  All night long, dropping the nets, trawling, lifting the nets with a heave.  And catching nothing.  The magic comes with the connection of time and space—being at the right place at the right time.  How every fisherman would like to know the right place and the right time.  It’s magic!  The tug on the line!  The jolt to the pole!  The humming of the reel!  A catch.  And woe to the sandy-haired, freckle faced girl or boy (age 12 or 90) who cannot feel the thrill of being at the right place at the right time!

John Stewart Mill once wrote that understanding the chemistry of a pink sunset did not diminish at all his profound sense of wonder at sunset beauty.  In fact, we might add, real understanding heightens true apprehension.

Easter is a season of new beginnings. The promise of resurrection is upon us.  Resurrection disarms fear.  Resurrection ignores defeat.  Resurrection displaces and replaces loneliness.  Resurrection will not abide the voice that whispers, “There’s nothing extraordinary here.  There’s no reason for gaiety, excitement, sobriety or wonder.”  Resurrection will not abide the easy and the cheap.  Resurrection takes a day-break catch, a charcoal fire, a dawn mist, fish, bread, and hungry, weary travelers, and reveals the Lord present, and Peter at the table.

The failing of this world, whether we see it more clearly in the superstition of religion, the idolatry of politics, or the hypocrisy of social life, has its root in blindness to the extraordinary.  Because we are unholy, we think God must be, too.  But hear—and today taste—the good news!  The King of love his table spreads.  And the humblest meal becomes—Breakfast with Peter!

Therefore Christian people, as we work and fight, play and pray this week, let us resist with joy all that cheapens life, all that dishonors God, all that mistakes our ordinary sin for the extraordinary love, power, mercy and grace of God.

New Beginnings

Real change is real hard but it happens in real time when real people in real ways really work at it.  Or, at least, that is the good news of John 21, a late addition to a late edition of the fourth gospel, and its menu of freedom over Breakfast with Peter.

Take a look at the soteriology next door.  You may be at a point where a different chapter or a different verse may bring healing.   You have been raised Roman Catholic and left the church, but now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  You may have been raised an evangelical and left that church, but now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  You may have been raised in a mainline church but having left that fold now seek elsewhere a measure of meaning, belonging and community as your faith develops.   You are looking toward a soteriology next door, a way of salvation next door, a religious perspective and posture next door, a healing next door.  Good for you.  Find your way forward.  Sometimes a new look at salvation, for a new need in life, is the very gospel.   John 21, if nothing else, gives biblical currency to such courageous change on your part.  We are with you, and we are for you, as you walk up the steps to another house within the lasting, loving neighborhood of salvation.  There are many faithful ways of keeping faith.

Hear the good news that forgiveness is about the future, not the past.  Stephen Bauman reminded me of this last week.  The past is finished, and unchangeable.  There is no changing what has happened.  We may revisit, by memory travel, and we may relearn by historical excavation, but the past is what it is.  Done.  Forgiveness is not about the past.  That is what the church discovered at Easter.  Easter is not about Mary’s misunderstanding, nor about Thomas’s doubt, nor about the disciples’ fear, nor about the worst of horror, the cross.  All that is set,  forever, in the past.  Forgiveness opens the future.  Forgiveness does not change the past, but opens up a new future, a free future, a joyful future, in spite of the past.  That is what makes Easter such a miracle.  That is what makes Peter fit company at breakfast. He is good company over the fish.  He has a new life, a new open future.   He has a new future, in spite of, in spite of, in spite of, the past.  Hear the good news that forgiveness is about the future, not about the past.

Reclaim the power of conversation in a cyber held world.   Would that we could, including breakfast, understand the power and lasting meaning of fellowship at tables.   Our bodily nourishment requires this pause, this consumption, this energy.  Our spiritual nourishment requires the words spoken and heard during this pause, this consumption, this energy.  If you have been recently, around a convivial meal, around a conversational table, around a gathered companionship—well, you know.   Friendship is conversation.  Love is conversation.  Marriage is conversation.  Community, real communion, community, real consanguinity, is mightily  and in some ways totally conversation.  So the disciples are around a fire, charcoal fire, eating breakfast, 153 fish, with a restored leader, Peter.  If you are not indulging in at least one decent conversational meal a day you are missing the mark.   Fast food is real, but not fast conversation.  Reclaim the power of conversation in a cyber held world.   

Feel free to shake the dust from your employment feet and find another job.  You know, now that the economy is a little better, at least for some, it is a little easier to say what needs saying in any case at any time.  You have one life to live.  You need to make a living, but you need to make a living in a way that makes a life.  If what you are doing with your body is killing your soul, it is time to quit.   There are sixty ways to leave your employer, as Paul Simon said, sort of.  Make a little plan, Stan.  Easter breakfast with Peter is just the time to converse about this, in a forgiving mode, in light of the soteriology next door.

Real change is real hard but it happens in real time when real people in real ways really work at it.  Or, at least, that is the good news of John 21, a late addition to a late edition of the fourth gospel, and its menu of freedom over Breakfast with Peter.

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.