Lessons & Carols

December 9th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

No sermon was preached today as Marsh Chapel celebrates the annual service of Lessons & Carols. Please enjoy the beautiful service by following the link below:

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Communion Meditation, Advent 1

December 2nd, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

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We welcome you into this season of preparation, Advent 2018.  What a rich array of worship, fellowship and service opportunities you have given to the community, here at Marsh Chapel, December 2018.  Thank you for all you do in music, hospitality, global outreach, and ministry! Bring a friend with you to worship sometime this month! This newsletter carries information about services and events.

Of particular note, Jan and I welcome you again to our annual Christmas Open House.  Please stop by and join us following Lessons and Carols in worship December 9, 2018. The Open House is held in the newly renovated ‘Castle’ a block from the Chapel, 225 Bay State Road, 12:00—2:00pm.

As the Christian year begins and the secular yearly calendar ends, I give great thanks for your ongoing generosity.  Over these years you have greatly enhanced our annual giving and support. Particularly our Ministry and Music Endowment, our Friends of Music initiative, our new Ministry grants, and especially your general, undesignated weekly giving have built this growth.  The pursuit of our mission, to be a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city, with emphasis on voice, vocation, and volume, depends upon your ongoing generosity. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In addition, sometimes people ask, come year end, is there anything in particular, or in addition to all of these possibilities, that you would encourage us to consider for giving in December.  And the answer is ‘yes’. I encourage you to consider support of whatever size and substance for the Endowment of the Deanship of Marsh Chapel (link here). I recognize that the $4.2M goal of this dream is lofty.  But for the long term future, for the future of all that we are currently doing, and will yet do, there is nothing more important. It may be that one person, a member or a listener or a friend or a colleague, will make a single gift of this endowment, or a planned gift for this endowment, in one fell swoop.  But there are other ways for us to get there, if my 5th grade arithmetic is still accurate:  4 gifts of $1M, 40 gifts of $100,000, 400 gifts of $10,000, or 4,000 gifts of $1,000.  Life is full of possibilities!

Daily Devotions

You will want to continue, as we enter the season of Advent and the transition into a new liturgical year, with regular daily devotions.  May they be Scriptural, as in Exodus 20 (the decalogue is here recited). May they be Creedal, as in the Apostles’ Creed (here recited). May they be Blessed, as in the Beatitudes (here recited).  May they be practical, as in the Pauline Thirteen (here recited). When we transition into a new beginning, we rely heavily on grace.

Once we had a guest minister who could not remember the Lord’s prayer.  He finally asked the congregation, ‘Folks, could you please help get me started?’  He did fine once he got started. Sometimes we need just a little help to begin, to get started.

How do you begin to live as a person of faith?  You come to ordered worship, Come Sunday. You read the Bible, in church and at home.  You pray, over meals and at the beginning of the day. You keep faith in work, in life, in marriage, in partnership, in thought and speech and deed.  You keep faith. You receive the Sacrament. You bow in silence. You give yourself in service to others. You discipline your use of time and money. You make a decision to tithe, to give away a certain percentage of your income each year.  You live rejoicing. You face down anxiety. You begin by making a beginning.

How do you begin to live as a person of faith?  You read NT Wright’s book, Simply Christian.  You read CS Lewis older, similar volume, Mere Christianity.  You read a collection of Marsh sermons, from Howard Thurman or Robert Cummings Neville, or the current dean.  You read a chapter a day, for two weeks, of the Gospel of Mark, which will get you right through the earliest Gospel.  And you come to church, to the hear the Holy Scripture read and rendered.

It helps to remember some things by heart.  At 18 Charlayne Hunter-Gault was the first student to integrate the University of Georgia.  She was taunted, threatened, stalked, and frightened. She went into her room, locked the door against the night, pulled the blinds, and decided not to go home.  She recited through the night the 23 Psalm. It helps to remember some things by heart

Scriptures of Transition and Beginnings

Today, Jeremiah, the Psalmist, Paul, and Luke all address us this morning in the matter of transitions, of beginnings.  That is the thing about faith. It takes a leap. So we speak of the ‘leap of faith’. Faith takes a leap.

For Jeremiah, that leap in transition toward a new beginning relies on the promise of God.  This is true of the entire Old Testament. God is the God of promise, the God of future, the God faith, the God of hope.  They are the promises of God that sustain the starts and changes and transitions and beginnings for the journey, for the itineracy, for the traveling people of faith.  Faith is a continuous exodus from established positions. Ask Abraham, or Deborah, or Miriam, or Moses, or Joshua, or Samuel, or Saul, or David, or any one of the sixteen prophets, including today Jeremiah.  He preached four decades worth of unheeded sermons and was buried in an unmarked grave, sixth centuries before the turn of the ages. Yet he could still lift a prophetic promise, in the name of God:  Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell secure…a branch will spring forth from David…The Lord is our righteousness.  We inherit and depend upon the wayfaring experience of Israel, upon the God who keeps God’s promises.  Jeremiah helps us to begin.

For David, or for whoever wrote our Psalm this morning, our start in faith, our beginning in faith begins with the prayer to know thy ways…teach me thy paths…lead me in thy truth.  There is a prayer of confession, more true as one ages, but true in all ages, remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions, according to thy steadfast love remember me.  The paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness. There is some work involved here, on our part, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.  Faith and the life of faith, like anything else, benefit from some actual attention, labor, work, discipline.  The Psalmist helps us to begin.

For Paul, the beginning of his collection of letters, his epistolary fame, is on display this morning.  I Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament, from the year 50. In that way it is the beginning of the Gospel, and fit especially for the first Sunday of Advent.  The whole of the letter is a celebration and an anticipation of the Coming of the Lord. Every chapter, five in all, contains this theme, the Coming of the Lord, including with emphasis our reading from chapter 3 today.  Our beginnings are enmeshed in His Advent. May…our Lord Jesus Christ direct our way…so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints. Thanksgiving, joy, faith, love—at the beginning of the faith of Christ, we find exuberant encouragement.  Paul helps us to begin.

For Luke (now you note we have turned from Mark to Luke, from 2018 to 2019) the traditional expectation of an apocalyptic end time, the beginning of end if you will, is here recorded.  Luke moves from eschatology to ethics, though, as our reading shows. Watch at all times…have strength…to stand before the Son of Man.  The prophecy here rendered, the prediction given, as it happened, did not occur, did not occur:  this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.   Yet Luke’s Gospel teaching, inaccurate in terms of time, is nonetheless timeless in terms of accuracy.  You begin by abstaining from evil. You begin by turning away from what brings harm, to yourself or others.  You begin by putting distance between yourself and drunkenness and dissipation. Frances Willard in our back window would have agreed.  Be prepared, at all times, in all places, in all ways, in all ages, be prepared. Begin by being prepared. Luke helps us to begin.

You know, faith takes a leap, a leap of faith.  And faith leads into a land of kindness and gentleness.   This weekend as a nation we remember our 41 President. We remember his ability to leap out of airplanes, past the age of 90.  And we remember his hope, stated in the 1989 inaugural, for a ‘kinder, gentler’ nation, country, land, people.

Celie Johnson

“I received an email that would change everything for me. Wheelock College as I knew it was going to close effective June 1, 2018, and that Wheelock would be merging with Boston University. As expected, I had a minor meltdown and LOTS of questions spinning in my head. I told my mom, essentially, ‘I did not sign up for this, I am not going to Boston University!’ I really considered transferring to Emmanuel College, which I had gotten into along with Wheelock. My mom eventually talked me out of it, even though I was hesitant still.

Sophomore year flew by, and it got to the point where there was a lot of tension at Wheelock because people wanted answers. This was another transition because I had to transition into getting ready to essentially start my college career all over again. I finished Sophomore year and went home determined to spend the summer preparing myself for the transition and the new school year.

I returned to Boston ready for the challenge of a bigger school, more people, and tougher classes. I was also determined to get involved in some way at BU. However, the most important thing for me was to find a church and a church family. Soon, I found my church and church family at Marsh Chapel, got the internship of my dreams, and rushed Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed fraternity focused on community service. Even though I knew that the transition would not be easy, I knew that the transition would be part of life, just as my mom told me growing up.

‘Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges!’

This quote has been one of our family sayings for years. Our lives prepare us for the transitions the future brings. Sometimes when we’re going through the hardest transitions in our lives, such as when I had to let go of Wheelock and become part of a new community and part of something bigger than myself. I’ve always been told that how well you respond to change and transition says a lot, and I truly believe that’s the truth. However, I believe that my faith has really played a role just as much in how I handle transitions and change. I have my God to thank for how well this experience has gone so far for me, and I would be where I am without my faith. I believe that before the semester, and I believe that now.”

You are invited!  Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of  your sin, and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life, following after the commandments of God, come, draw near in faith, and take this sacrament to your comfort.  Especially those who intend to start out, to begin, to make a transition into a new life!

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Bear Witness to the Truth

November 25th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

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When was the last time you were interviewed by legal authorities? When were you asked to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?  Here, John 18: 33, in his last hours, Jesus is interviewed by Pilate.  Such a strange Gospel passage, wherein the one interviewed becomes the questioner, wherein the one accused levies accusation, wherein the one intending to interrogate, is himself interrogated, wherein not power but truth has the last word.   The Holy Scripture, the strange world of the Bible, is holy because it is healthy, and you need its nourishment, its strange teaching, far more than any other watery diet of merely spiritual meditation. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Flashing Lights

From June 24, 2018 to August 4, 2018 we had only two days of real rain.  From June 24, 2018 to August 4, 2018, we also had only two days without grandchildren, of some number and assortment and age, with us.  They were not the two same days.  On the evening of August 4 we set out with our dear friends for dinner at a nearby restaurant.  An experience of warning soon ensued.  Now and then, the Gospel itself comes in a word of warning.

In 1959 our family moved to the little college town of Hamilton, NY, where we attended seven years of grammar school, where and when grammar was taught in grammar schools. The evening of August 4 we drove over Hamilton Hill, where our scout troop once hiked.  We passed Andy McGonnis’s Farm, he who in the sixth grade starred with me in a two voice drama, ‘Brainy and Brawny’, about a strong good person and a smart bad person.  The better title might have been Brawny and Scrawny.  Andy is still farming his family land fifty years later, down the road from where my friend Bill lived as a Colgate senior.  By the way, if you happen to enter the town from the north west, as we did that night, be sure to slow down after Andy’s barn, to the legal 30 MPH limit, even though the road seems a 55 MPH roadway.  Otherwise you will contribute unwillingly, ticketed for speeding, to the township budget, funded in part by this particular passage. We moved from Hamilton in 1966 but I have been there through the summers for part of every year since.  Or, I have been there ever since.

That night the twilight gleamed and we were celebrating.  I noted Andy’s farm and with body memory slowed to 30 MPH.  Our friends who have eleven grandchildren to our mere seven, were also, for the moment, grandchildless on the lake, and ready to party.  Coming down Hamilton Hill I remembered my fortieth birthday, on the evening of which I had driven down the hill to hear my old teacher Cornel West hold 1,000 Colgate students mesmerized as he spoke without notes, but with wise passion, for 90 minutes.  After the entry to town, from this odd angle, there is a crossing onto the main street that involves a tangled intersection with one yield and one stop sign within 20 feet of each other.  I navigated the intersection and headed into town when—you will recognize in viscera the moment—red lights swirled behind me atop a local police SUV.  We pulled over.  A portly policeman about my age came to us, and you can write the next lines yourselves. ‘May I see your license and registration please’.  ‘Do you know why we are having this conversation?’ (Here, for the young, I simply note that one never says anything like yes to that query.  Your answer is ‘I truly have no idea occifer’)  “No I don’t.”  “You went right through the stop sign back there”.  (Again, for the young, I note, the response here is no response). ‘Are you aware of that’.  “Well, no, actually, I did not recognize that”. “Well, you did.”

Now.  I assume that he was right and I came to a rolling but not full stop at the aforementioned intersection.  Whether I did or not does not matter.  It is his view that matters.  A long pause ensued, during which he surveyed the audience, the driver, an aging white guy with a comb-over, as my son likes to describe me, and three other Caucasian passengers with white hair.   For once, I was delighted to be an aging white guy with a comb-over.  While the portly policeman pondered his next move, I fleetingly wondered what would have happened if I had been 28 years old, black, and with dread locks; or alone, female, and 25; or Hispanic, speaking limited English, with crying children in the back seat; or Japanese, with a newborn, and not fully sure of the ways of our people (like my daughter in law, a native of Kyoto, who had flown back to San Diego that afternoon).  Yes, this was one good time to be older, white, balding and accompanied by similar cue tips fore and aft.  “Well” said the officer “you did slow down coming into town, that was good;  but that intersection does have a yield and a stop sign; you blew through the stop. I am going to give you a warning.  Learn from it.  Have a nice evening going out to dinner.  But remember you have passengers with you and we have a town here that we want to keep safe.”With that he returned my license and registration and shook my hand. 

Hostile Environment

I come back to the warning in a minute.  As a 12 year old I left my hometown of Hamilton in 1966.  By 1986 Jan and I were in ministry with a struggling urban regional church in Syracuse, an hour north and west of Hamilton.  The church was growing, thanks to excellent lay leadership and willingness to engage the neighborhood with a new day care center, a renewed nursery school, two new scout troops, a new dance school, a new senior citizens’ program, a new student ministry, a new writers’ project, and an added second Sunday service.  People tolerated the preacher, largely because they liked his family.  One new couple, Pam and Josiah Young, a thirty year old African American couple, joined us perhaps in part because our congregation, like that at Marsh Chapel today, had become solidly racially integrated, say thirty percent people of color with 200 in worship on Sunday.  One night we had Pam and Josiah to dinner.  They later left our church, with some struggle and misgiving, because our bishop planted a black congregation in the same part of the city, and they felt that had to support him in that.  But for some years they helped lead the church, were tithing and faithful in worship, and were good happy people to have around.  She was a partner in a law firm downtown, and he taught, at, of all places, Colgate, in my hometown, in the Religion department.  Over dinner we listened to music Jan had chosen and Josiah appreciated.  We got better acquainted.  At one point, I expostulated on the bucolic joys of Hamilton where I learned to skate and play hockey, where I fished in the swan pond at will, where we stole freshman beanies off the heads of newcomers, where I pitched for the little league team, where I became a tender foot scout and camped in the woods in February, where Andy McGonnis and I became friends, and where we were enthralled by the Colgate funded fire works every year on July 4th.  Pam and Josiah listened graciously.  After the lengthy peroration, I asked: ‘Josiah, how do you like teaching at Colgate and being in Hamilton part of each week?’.  I will never forget his reply.  It was a warning.  “It is a hostile environment” he replied.   Of course, he did so with grace, and acknowledged my own experience, and was endlessly careful not unnecessarily to offend.  But he was honest, not just kind, but kind and honest. For a thirty year old black man with a beard and horn rimmed glasses, Hamilton coud be pretty hostile territory.  I knew that, sort of, but I knew it well when he said so.

As our portly officer retreated, Josiah came to mind.  What would have happened had he been the driver, not me?  Maybe the outcome would have been the same.   I know the policeman would have fully noticed my own Massachusetts license plate, and on a weekend when the Red Sox beat the Yankees four straight games at Fenway, things Boston were not popular there in the heart of New York.  But the officer forgave the Boston license, even though a ticket for an out of towner is low hanging fruit.  Maybe he would have been equally gracious with Josiah.   However, only 20 miles north from Hamilton, some years ago, our son, then with shoulder length hair and tank top, was pulled over before the policeman saw my wife, sitting next to her son (she had been slumped in the seat sleeping).  Surprised, the officer made some comment and moved on.  He had wanted to ticket a hippie, perhaps, but then mom reared her head.  He moved on. 

Words of Warning for You and Me

On August 4, I was given a needed, just and kindly warning.  Be careful when you go through that intersection again.  I took it to heart.  We had a fine summer dinner, and I drove home later at four miles an hour. Warnings matter, in the little and in the large.  They are gifts, often kindly shared, like the portly officer’s warning gift to me, like Josiah’s warning gift to me.  Be careful, says such a gift.  Stop when the sign says stop.  Stop. Look.  Look around you at what another person in the same little town, but with different aspect, might experience.  Look.  Listen. Listen for what the warnings may mean. Warnings are good things.

Jonathan Haidt has read ethnographies, traveled the world and surveyed tens of thousands of people online. He and his colleagues have compiled a catalog of six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Alongside these principles, he has found related themes that carry moral weight: divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation.  How well can we honestly ever ‘see ourselves as others see us’?  All of us can learn from Haidt, to some measure.  He is warning us, like the portly officer warned me, and like the Colgate professor warned me, and now, like this sermon, we hope with love and humility, is trying to warn you.

There are at least two words of warning available to us, with the lights of John 18: 33 flashing, for a moment, this morning.  They are both for us all.  One though may be a bit more for those of us on the right, and the other a bit more for those of us on the left.  And as the Apostle would put it, ‘on this I have no word of the Lord but I give my own view’ (parallel, 1 Cor. 7: 12, 25).

For those more on the right:  You may be a 48-year-old mother living in southern New Hampshire, or a 60 year old plumber living in northern Connecticut.  A couple of years ago, and again a couple of weeks ago, driving into town, and passing Andy McGonnis’s farm, you slowed down to do your civic duty, and to enter the election season.  You obeyed the speed limit, you thought about your choice, and you acted, you chose, you, say, voted.  You came to a confusing intersection, and maybe, just maybe, you let a rolling stop substitute for a full stop.  Maybe what you thought you meant, was, you see in hindsight, not what it means.  For what it means is what it does, to others. So you see in the rear view mirror, you see in conversation with a portly officer dressed in a Sunday sermon,  a country thrust into a time of humiliation, mendacity, racial divides, diminution of women, fear of immigrants, neglect of the environment, support for the wealthy and disregard for the poor, a time of Charlottesville, Helsinki and children taken from their mothers’ arms.    So now, up comes a sermon, in uniform, and asks, ‘Do you know why we are having this conversation’?  Well, we all have our moments when we slide through a stop sign.   Here is a good news.  We can learn from our past, and we can benefit from warnings.

For those more on the left:  You may be a 50 year old college professor living in the Boston suburbs, or a 22 year old musician making ends meet in the east end.  It may be, this morning, there is warning in the morning for you:  slow down.  Slow down.  The laws are meant for us all.  We are a country of ‘laws and not of men’, as my college classmate Kiki Kliendienst’s dad, Richard Kleindienst, said in the spring of 1975, just before he went off to prison, one of the last convicted in the Watergate affair.  The laws, including traffic laws, the laws, including stop signs and yield signs, the laws, from sea to shining sea and from border to border, are for all of us.  You will not turn a 330 million person ship around in one fell swoop.  It will take a decade, or more, and that is if you really work at it.  And it will take a just regard for just law, liberty and justice for all.  So there are not short cuts, and up comes a sermon in uniform, and he asks, ‘Do you know why we are having this conversation?’ Well, we all make mistakes, and have our moments when we slide through a stop sign.  Here is a good news.  We can learn from our past, and we can benefit from warnings.

 When was the last time you were interviewed by legal authorities?  When were you asked to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Here, John 18: 33, in his last hours, Jesus is interviewed by Pilate.  Such a strange Gospel passage, wherein the one interviewed becomes the questioner, wherein the one accused levies accusation, wherein the one intending to interrogate, is himself interrogated, wherein not power but truth has the last word.  The Holy Scripture, the strange world of the Bible, is holy because it is healthy, and you need its nourishment, its strange teaching, far more than any other watery diet of merely spiritual meditation.  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”


–The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean 



The Bach Experience

November 18th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Mark 13: 1-8

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

The passage today from St Mark is sometimes called the ‘Little Apocalypse’. The reading is another place in the Gospel where and when we overhear the troubles of Mark’s community. They face persecution. In facing trouble, they wonder whether the end of time has come.

The Gospel writer records the Lord’s response that ‘the end is not yet’. The rest of this long chapter, which will include some apocalyptic language and imagery from the first century, continues to make the same point. The end is not here. There may be trouble, trauma, and persecution, but the end is not quite yet here. In end, at the end of Mark 13, we will be counseled that no one can see the future, and that we should therefore be watchful.

Herein, Mark 13, we are reminded of what we have heard from Mark through the past year, now brought to a sort of conclusion.  Jesus ‘expected the end of all things imminently, or at least within a generation of his own lifetime’ (J Marcus, 864).   Oddly, this chapter begins with a traditional listing of signs that will precede such an end.  Yet when we come to the end of Mark 13, the end of the end of the end of things, as it were, the opposite view is presented, that the end, like most if not all endings, will come without warning, suddenly, unexpectedly, and so on.  Further, the ongoing fear or pain of persecution in Mark’s community bubbles up in this chapter, beginning to end.  ‘Cognitive dissonance’, in our beloved Peter Berger’s phrase, oozes out of every nook and cranny.  As do the references to Daniel– take ‘Son of Man’ to stand for many.  Mark knew his Hebrew Scripture, or so it appears.  He also appears to have had some preaching competitors, whom he is quoting to discredit; when you hear of…That said, Mark is using standard eschatological language and imagery, right out of central apocalyptic casting, traditional, customary in his time, if utterly baffling and odd in ours.

At home, listening, ready it may be for the beauty today of the Bach, you may wonder what on earth or under the earth any of this matters, and fair enough.  Yet it mattered to the early Christians, big league.  It mattered to them that there was meaning in and beyond their suffering.  It mattered that the momentous changes of their time—religion destroyed in the fall of the temple, say—were endurable and surmountable.  It mattered that the good news of God’s love, in the end, by gospel teaching, prevails, over against all manner of other endings.  These things matter to us as well.  Further, Mark, as Paul, is unafraid to metaphorize using birth pangs, labor pain, to convey both the reality of hurt and the joy of impending new life.  These men wrote of what they did not know, but, truly, they told the truth.

Taken as whole, the New Testament books, while shot through with apocalyptic language and imagery, like that found in here Mark 13, expectations of the end of time current at the time the books were written, these books bring their own slant, their own perspective to inherited apocalyptic thought. Some adopt that thought. Some discard it. The Gospel of Mark adopts it. The Gospel of John discards it.

In its place, in the main, the New Testament books proclaim a way of living in thanksgiving, a way of living in love. In our day, and in our particular part of history, including these past several months with their own troubles and their own trauma, we may want to take a clear reminder with us of thanksgiving, of love. ‘Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’.

That is, in much of this, the Gospel lesson is not that different from the reading from Hebrews, where we are similarly encouraged to be gentle, thankful, loving, and watchful. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. A remarkable, beautiful admonition.

In the end, coming to the end, when all is said and done: Plan for the worst.  Hope for the best.  Then do your most.  And leave all the rest.

Live with thanksgiving as the harvest draws near.  Harvest with love as thanksgiving draws near.  Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice, and give thanks for others, for people, for a bounty of people, for a thanksgiving of soulful people, as our friend Max Coots wrote:

“Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are….

For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.”

(Max Coots)

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.  Dr. Jarrett, how shall we listen this morning to this morning’s wonderful cantata?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

Thank you, Dean Hill. This morning’s cantata is a musical reflection on verse from the 19th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus has entered Jerusalem with waves of palm branches and loud Hosannas, but already he observes the reaction of the Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem and prophesies God’s anger that they have not recognized God’s grace. His despair boils over to anger in the following verse when he overturns the vendors tables in the Temple. Bach and his librettist have created in Cantata 46 a masterpiece in miniature that connects the modern day congregant to the people of Jerusalem who did not recognize the grace of God. We are reminded that our own sin gets in the way of our ability to love and accept God’s grace. As a consolation, we are reminding in the alto aria that even as Jesus punishes, he watches over his faithful as sheep and little chicks.

The cantata opens with a verse from Lamentations: “Behold and see if there be any sorrow, like unto my sorry; for the Lord hath afflicted me with great misery in the day of his wrath.” These verses depict Jesus’s anguish and prophesy of judgement from the Luke text. This opening movement is structured neatly in two halves: a low lament with weeping triads for the singers, followed by a gnarled fugue that depicts both our misery and God’s wrath. Bach thought so highly of this music that he used it to fashion the Qui Tollis of the B Minor Mass compiled a decade later.

The two arias that form the corpus of the cantata are for bass and alto, respectively, and both draw on images from nature to state their case. In the first aria, heralded by a trumpet, the bass sings of the brewing storm clouds that are the harbinger of God’s judgement. Listen for the lighting breaking through the clouds both in the marvelous melisma for the bass but also the virtuosic scales darting around the orchestra.

For the reminder of Jesus’s protection of the faithful, the threat of bad weather is momentarily quelled. Silent are the strings of the orchestra; silent too is the continuo group. Taking over a lonely walking bass of a continuo line are two oboes da caccia playing in unison, as two gentle recorders  ruminate on the theme. At the end of the end, Bach takes one more opportunity to remind us of gathering storms when we are reminded that when storms reward sinners, Jesus helps the faithful to dwell securely.

The final chorale reminds us of the language from the opening movement, but here it is Jesus’s passion that calms the storm.

This presentation of Cantata 46 concludes Marsh Chapel’s survey of cantatas written in the summer of 1723, weeks marked by astonishing displays of Bach’s theological and musical wonders. What a gift they must have been to Leipzig congregants as they are us to us today.   

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

         To conclude our sermon today, as is our tradition at Marsh Chapel in this season, we offer Howard Thurman’s magnificent Thanksgiving prayer.  We offer his prayer in devotion to God, in the moment.  We offer his prayer in gratitude to you, especially you who may be looking for a prayer for Thursday at dinner time:

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!


I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:

My mother’s arms,

The strength of my father

The playmates of my childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives

Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies

And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;

The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the

Eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day


I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;

The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I

Feared the step before me in darkness;

The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest

And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;

The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open

Page when my decision hung in the balance.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.


I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:

The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,

Without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp

And whose words would only find fulfillment

In the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,

The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,

Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;

The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream

Could inspire and God could command.

For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.


I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment

To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:

The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,

My desires, my gifts;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence

That I have never done my best, I have never dared

To reach for the highest;


The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind

Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the

inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the

children of God as the waters cover the sea.


All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart. 

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

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

Hold Fast To What Is Good

November 11th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Romans 12: 9

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            Hold fast to what is good! (Romans 12: 9)

This is a verse we remember and revere.  To return to it, to a beloved, familiar passage evokes, most evoke, some sense of humility rooted in praise, some sense of understanding rooted in wonder, some sense of life rooted in an awareness of death, some sense of love rooted in need, some sense of longing rooted amid all the daily ennui, acedia, and loneliness of life.  Come Sunday, for all the guns fired mid-week and all the fires burning weekday and weekend, we reach up and reach out to hold onto the good.   So, come Sunday, we return to a familiar verse in a familiar space, a space like this one, Marsh Chapel, laden with the recollections of the good.  We listen for a word of faith, in a pastoral voice, toward a common hope.


Four Chaplains 

            This November 11, 2018, one hundred years since the end of the first World War, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ‘the war to end all wars’, we notice again that in our balcony here at Marsh Chapel you can find a stained glass window which remembers four veterans, chaplains in the Second World War.   On this Sunday Veteran’s Day, we remember them. As Daniel Marsh reminded us:   In the early days of WW II, the SS Dorchester laden to capacity with soldiers was struck by a torpedo.  On board were four chaplains. They were of different denominations and traditions, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish.  Their ship was hit and began to sink.  In prayer, the four determined to take off their life jackets, and to give those four jackets to four young men who had none.  It is a bracing, warning sign and story for us.  Life is unpredictable.  You never quite know what may emerge.  Granted that most of us are not and will not be in the crisis faced by those four chaplains, nonetheless their courage, their courage unto death, their courage as veterans and as ministers, humbles us and inspires us too:  George L. Fox, a Methodist preacher; Clark Vandersall Poling, a Dutch Reformed preacher; John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi.  Fox was a graduate of Boston University. They were on deck together, praying, when the stricken ship made her final plunge. (D. Marsh, The Charm of the Chapel, 136).

            We are drawn again to recall such sacrifice, in a week when a Southern California policeman, Officer Ron Helus, with a wife and family and year from retirement, lost his life responding to rapacious, outrageous, needless, senseless gun violence.  If all 49 other states had the gun laws of our Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we would be in much better shape as a country.  It is tempting to let dismay and discouragement overwhelm. Yet we will want to bear in mind that, over time, matters in public health can change, and do, and, may it be so, regarding guns, over time, will.   Fifty years ago 40% of American adults smoked cigarettes.  Today that percentage is 14%.  Real change is real hard but it comes in real time when real people really work at it. Giving up is not an option.

            Hold fast to what is good!


Inner Strength

            This calendar year, in all our preaching, summer and fall, on hope, and looking back 50 years, we honored the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in January with Dr. Walter Fluker, on April with Rev. Cornell William Brooks and Governor Deval Patrick, in September with Dean Lawrence Carter.

            Yet we also in the spring term honored and remembered the birth of our own Inner Strength Gospel Choir, 45 years ago.  We gathered on the morning of April 28, to learn, to listen to speeches and memories, and then to hear the Inner Strength Gospel Choir sing, under the adroit leadership of Director Herbert S. Jones.  It was a profound moment, impressive in its recollection that the choir came together to hold fast to what is good, to provide mutual support in a time and in an environment that could be fully hostile. We are pleased and proud to have the Inner Strength Gospel choir singing with us today.  Through the year we are proud to have the choir representing Marsh Chapel and the University in various guest appearances and travels.  On April 28 we were captivated and enthralled to hear the choir sing, as their concluding anthem, ‘O Happy Day’.

            How do we find inner strength?  In the face of sin and death and the threats of meaninglessness, we do so in mutual support, in the joy of song, and  by holding on to the good.

            Hold fast to what is good!


Mark 12: 38-44 

            Our exemplars from Scripture this morning are heroines of the Bible, both women.  Ruth’s complex, multi-valent story, a series of sermons in itself, which as you remember began last week with the courage to leave the familiar, continues today in her grasp of security for the future. Naomi reminds her, and she reminds us that we need not fear to state our needs.  Say what you need, name what you need, so that, as Naomi says, it may be well with you.  Then in our Gospel, the famous widow of Mark 12 makes her appearance, as she does every third autumn, in our lectionary round of readings.  The ordinary perception of her, as a pillar of generous giving, which she is, misses the admonishment of those of us of means.  There is a poignant recollection here, in the comparison of one who gives much, we might read too much (everything she had, all she had to live on), in contrast to those who give little, we might read too little (out of their abundance).

            The widow’s voice is an alto, second level, voice.  Not that of Jesus—not soprano.  Not written only by Mark—not tenor.  Not absorbed in the history of interpretation—not bass (oddly, of all the early Christian writers, only one fully cites this passage—Commodianus, ANF IV, 221)

            She may have been included just here, simply by connection with the earlier teaching about disregard for widows.  These admonitions are like others from the gospels: woes for the cities of Galilee, woes for the rich, criticisms of the current generation, threats to this generation, threats to Jerusalem, woes to the daughters of Jerusalem, woes to those who say ‘lord, lord’, rejection of false disciples, warnings about the parousia, and others (RB, HST, 49). 

            The widow came to life in the experience of the early church—a true alto. This narrative probably originated in a sermon.  A sermon meant perhaps ‘to present the Master as a living contemporary, and to comfort and admonish the Church in her hope’ (RB, HST, 60)

            Later, Matthew has deleted the story of the widow–it is unclear why–while Luke keeps her, in keeping with his own emphases on generosity (think of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son).  Mark apparently puts her in, just here, because of the use of the word ‘widow’ in the sentence before.  Make no mistake about it: “at the sight of religion frozen into ritualism, at the sight of superficiality and love of self and the world—this message becomes a cry of woe and repentance”. (IBD, Mark, loc.cit)

            Hold fast to what is good!


Veteran Widows 

            In the widow’s more ordinary conscription to exemplify giving with generosity, one finds a harbinger of goodness waiting to be discovered again by another generation of women and men who will enter the ministry. There they will find her, salt and light, out in the life of ministry, endless in its labors but also precious in its gifts.  Her story in the Bible would not mean very much alone, if we had not also known her, in experience, in our own life and ministry. I call her out in her modern incarnations, this giving, generous widow.

            Here is Bernice Danks, whose husband ran the Cornell Veterinary School, she an Ithaca Nurse, later widow, and a teacher of nurses, whose favorite word was the word ‘routine’:  ‘I tell my students to protect what is routine.  We call the most important things the routine things because the most important things are the routine’.   Singing with joy in the choir, attending countless, endless meetings with a good humor, greeting the day with its losses and its gains with a steady, real smile, here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Setta Moe, a North Country widow, living alone for years on a small pension, reading at dusk in the cold tundra twilight.   On her own, years earlier, she had gone from house to house to raise money for some beautiful stained glass in an otherwise modest church.  ‘I felt I could do something for the church.  We need more beauty here, more beautiful things around here, to keep us going’. Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Mickey Murray, a Syracuse widow, whose husband died at 40, She raised her three children alone.  Every Wednesday in those years she went to the church after work and cooked a full meal for her own kids and twenty or so others, then had them play, sing, read the Bible and do their homework together.  She had every reason to complain about the cards life dealt her. Instead she practiced a communal generosity, and made a difference in her city neighborhood.  Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Here is Ruth Lippitt, a Rochester widow, who all her life gave voice to the longing for peace and justice she had learned as a graduate student in Chicago, under the influence of Ernest Freemont Tittle.  She gathered ten elderly friends for dinner in her home to meet the new minister, a year before she died, and, before the meal said bluntly, ‘tell him who you are, one by one, you have two minutes, and I will ring this bell if you go longer’.   Yes the ministry has its rigors.  But it also has its own sheer joys.  Here she is, an exemplar of goodness.

            Hold fast to what is good!



           Beloved!  Let us draw ourselves together and affirm our faith!

           Whence cometh our hope?

           From the Lord who made heaven and earth.  The Creator. The Ground of Being.  The God beyond God.  The invisible, unknowable, unutterable, unattainable.  The first, the last beyond all thought.  The Transcendent.

          What is the point of our living?

          The meaning of life is in the living of life-To worship God and glorify God forever. 

          How is this possible, in the face of silence, darkness, mystery, accident, pride, immaturity, tragedy and the threat of meaninglessness?

          By walking in the dark with our Transforming Friend, the Transcript in Time of who God is in eternity, the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, our beacon not our boundary, the presence of the absence of God,  Jesus Christ our Kyrios, our Lord..

          Given our failures, our gone-wrongness, our sin, what daily hope have we, as those who hope for what we do not see?

          Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Where there is freedom, there is promise.  There is a self-correcting Spirit of Truth loose in the universe. There is a self-correcting Spirit of Truth loose in the universe.

          How do we follow the trail of the Spirit?

         By generous giving, by ordered Sunday worship, by honest faithfulness in relationships.

         And at Marsh Chapel, what is our envisioned mission?

        To be a heart for the heart of the city, and to provide a worship service in the service of the city.  We are making headway in the areas of voice, vocation, and volume. 

Hold fast to what is good!  Hold fast to what is good!  Hold fast to what is good!


-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Toward A Common Hope

November 4th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Mark 12: 28-34

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And Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

We listen again for the windchimes of hope, whispering and singing to us, beckoning us into and out from an unseen future.   The chimes ring today in Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.

Scripture:  Gospel

The passages we have read, during worship this fall, in the Gospel of Mark, our earliest gospel, show us in living color what sorts of things were on the minds of early Christians, say in Rome, say in 70ad, say among mostly gentile people.

There is Jesus’ prophetic affirmation of a higher law, of a more empathetic view of women within divorce, along with a command to protect them.  In response to a direct question, he thinks the question through.  Intellect.

There is the celebration, welcome and embrace of children, as measures and exemplars of the faithful life.  They have not yet had their spontaneity squelched, nor their emotion demoted, nor their sensuality sabotaged.  They have an infant, primordial freedom, toward which it could be the rest of us might well lean.  Spontaneity.

There is the warning, the stark recognition of the pervasive omnipotence of wealth.  A camel might go through the eye of a needle before a rich man might go into heaven.  A certain amount of wealth, to support one’s living and work and love makes sense.  More than that harms and hurts, because it corrupts the gift of freedom.  Emotion.

There is the ever present need of the ill, the sick, the blind.  One is made well, made whole–blinded he sees.  Her Mark is about baptism, about seeing a way into a new life, as the language (Son of David), the garment discarded (his tunic), the cry (Lord, KYRIE, which in Matthew becomes KYRIE ELEISON), the eyes opened (the miracle of faith)—all tell us.  Bartimaeus is you and me, an example of a new disciple. Sensuality.

And today, as if to sum up, our passage hears Jesus, again to answer a religious question, bringing focus to the commandments:  love God, and love neighbor.

We know not who wrote Mark, only his name.  He wrote for a particular community, whose location and name are also unknown.  He even mentions by name members of his church, Alexander and Rufus (15:21).  The book is meant to help a community of Christians.  It is written to support and encourage people who already have been embraced by faith.  While it purports to report on events long ago, in the ministry of Jesus, its main thrust is toward its own hearers and readers forty years later.  So it is not evangelist tract and it is not a diary or history.  It is a Gospel.

Gospel.  You have heard the word many times, and know that it means ‘good news’.  It is an old term.  You could compare it to ‘ghost’.  Gospel is to good news and ghost is to spirit, you might say.  Yet Mark calls his writing a ‘gospel’.  He creates something new.  Mark is a writing unlike any other to precede it.  It is not popular today any longer, no longer fashionable, to say this.  It is however true.  Mark is not a history, not a biography, not a novel, not an apocalypse, not an essay, not a treatise, not an epistle.  Examples of all these were to hand for him.  Mark might have written one of any one of them.  He did not.  He wrote something else and so in form, in genre, gave us something new.  A gospel.  His is the first, but not the last.

A wind chime in Scripture.

Tradition:  Unity

My sister in law’s minister in Arlington Texas, Stephen Langford, evokes a tradition of unity:

“Unity in diversity, expressed in community.” The term expresses the idea of oneness that embraces differences. In this way of living, differences are viewed as strengths that contribute to enriched life in community with one another. The term is used describe the pattern of relationship in the Godhead as the Three-in-One, in marriage in which the two become one, and in the church as the body of Christ.
“Uniformity is not unity…Perhaps it would be helpful to remember the words of John Wesley from whose ministry the original Wesleyan movement began. In his sermon entitled “A Catholic Spirit,” Wesley asked, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” In that same sermon, he went on to say, “If your heart is as my heart – if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more – give me your hand.” Wesley is also credited with a saying that originally came from Thomas a Kempis and was a part of the Moravian movement that helped shape Wesley:
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity (love).” For Wesley, a common commitment to love God and others (the heart) was the grounds of relationship, not agreement. Love, not agreement, was the determining factor in relating to one another.”  Langford Blog, Arlington UMC, Texas.  Supplied by Rebecca Steimle.

Politics is downstream from culture.  Culture is downstream from religion.  Religion is downstream from faith.  Faith is downstream from a word spoken and heard.  In this discreet moment:  Do you know God to be a pardoning God?

Granted that your opponent is wrong about everything.  But is there something maybe about which he is right, just maybe?  If that were so, what would that be?

A wind chime in tradition.

Experience:  Consanguinity

 North of Boston you come close to the Dominion of Canada.   We served two churches on the St. Lawrence river, an hour plus south west of Montreal.  You could see the river from our back bedroom.  Our friends and parishioners had farms all along the border, a couple of which had land on both sides.  The hay looks just about the same, north and south of an utterly invisible border.  One autumn my lay leader Earl Friend, one of those with land on both sides, shot a bear near his cow barn.  He had strung up the bear to have it drain, so it was hanging between two trees to the left of his front porch.   Our daughter Emily was four, and for some lastingly strange reason, I thought she would like to see the bear, so we drove over in our old 1973 Mustang convertible, which had only a few more years in it.  Earl took our photo in  front of the bear.  From the bear to Canada was maybe 30 yards, a stone’s throw.  Then, as now, just over the fence, you could have free health care, whatever your annual income, and free education through college, including at globally fine Universities like McGill.  Just a stone’s throw away.   Our middle class in this country deserves and needs what on the other side of the cow barn they would already have.  Education and health care, in a free society, for the sake of the freedom in the society, are far more right than privilege, especially for poor children.  Most Americans agree.  It is, by reason, a step on toward a common hope.  As are full rights for sexual minorities and women.  As are fulsome and loving support for churches and community groups. Volunteerism in a free society is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Or listen to our own victorious Boston Red Sox this week, bringing clear reason to a full moment:


Alex Cora:  ‘I was young, inexperienced, and still learning, and I still am’.  (Humility)

JBJ:  ‘you just need to focus on your preparation’ (Discipline)

JD Martinez:  ‘this is not about any one player, this is something we do together, as a team’ (self-giving)

Nathan Eovaldi:  (on pitching 6 of 18 innings)  ‘I expected to pitch one inning, and one became two became six;  that’s the thing about baseball (and life) it is just unpredictable’ (flexibility)

A wind chime in experience.

Reason:  Hope

Most reasonable people would agree:

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

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

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

We await a common hope, a hope that our country, fractured by massive inequality between rich children and poor children, will rise up and make education, free education, available to all children, poor and rich.

We await a common hope, a hope that our nation, fractured by flagrant unjust inequality between rich and poor children, will stand up and make health care, free health care, available to all children, poor and rich.

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

We await a common hope, a hope that our families, torn apart by abuse and distrust and anger and jealousy and unkindness, will sit at a long Thanksgiving table, this autumn, and share the turkey and pass the potatoes, and slice the pie, and, if grudgingly, show kindness and pity to one another.

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

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

We await a common hope, finally a hope not of this world, but of this world as a field of formation for another, not just creation but new creation, not just life but eternal life, not just health but salvation, not just heart but soul, not just earth, but heaven.

Most of us would agree.

A wind chime in reason.

We listen again for the windchimes of hope, whispering and singing to us, beckoning us into and out from an unseen future.   The chimes ring today in Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.

And Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

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

The Hope of Freedom

October 28th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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Job 42:1-6

Mark 10:46-52

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One: Bird

 Overhead an eagle soars, on quiet summer days when the lake is empty.  He does not come out on the weekend, or when there is noise, or when the boats are numerous.  But in the quiet he sails and soars, hunting the lake with an eagle eye, hunting for a next fish meal.  You turn over swimming, floating on your back, and over he goes, right overhead, a beautiful long wing span against the blue gray sky.   On the off occasion, twice say a summer, he has his partner with him, his mate, eagles mating as they do for life.  But not today.  He commands the sky, and all below with a grace, a soaring beauty, a regal flight. Beyond the gulls, the sparrows, the robins, the red winged blackbirds, the cardinals, the finches, the bluebirds, the blue-jays, even beyond the blue heron, just there soars the eagle.   Karl Barth recited and repeated, ‘The Gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight’.

Freedom.   In the summer our Marsh sermon series surveyed the expanse, the freeing breadth of hope.  This fall we have listened for the wind chimes of hope, setting us loose, setting us free, in presence, in pressure, in peace, in beauty, in healing, in welcome, and in faith.  What does the God of Hope (Rom. 15:13) bring us today, now that we set hope next to freedom? What is the hope of freedom, for you, a woman or man of faith?

‘For freedom Christ has set us free’, intones the Apostle: ‘stand fast therefore and do not be enslaved again’ (Gal. 5: 1).  Paul addresses the Galatians,53ad, with regard to the superiority of faith to religion, with regard to the superiority of gospel to tradition, and in affirmation of the gospel freedom to include the Gentiles by grace.  Paul’s words, remembered, recited and repeated, became the core of the Protestant Reformation501 years ago, a Reformation we recall and honor the last Sunday each October–today.   The same sense of freedom, the expansion of human freedom, nurtured the Renaissance,the renaissance of learning, art, music, philosophy, and science that over several hundreds more years has given us our current world, culture and life.  Market capitalism emerged steadily in the light and under the wingspan of religious and artistic freedoms.   Political democracy came along as well, in fits and starts, starts and fits which have yet to cease, as we are relearning in this decade.  The freedom of the person of faith, unshackled from the bonds of institutional religion, grown in the expansion of culture and art, given substance and support through the burgeoning accumulation of social and personal capital, and protected by democratic governments, ideals, and practices, surely is a great or the great blessed happy victory of the modern era.

Two: Fromm

 Or is it? 

Freedom, the freedom of the person of faith, surely is a great or the great blessed happy victory of the modern era.

Or is it?

In a time when suddenly and unhappily we witness a broad willingness to taste test authoritarianism, a dark willingness to give over personal freedom for the sake of a putative security, or a rage for order, or a minimization of the more complex forms of self-government, just how precious is freedom, and at what cost?

You know, a sermon seems like a monologue.  Yet it is not.  A sermon is a thicket, a tangled webbing of dialogues, including in the spoken word, the moment of the word.  The dialogues include memory, Scripture, experience, prayer, illumination, fear, dreams and the uncanny evocation of the divine.   For instance, today’s sermon comes in part out of a June dialogue.  We had been invited to speak a half dozen times, sermons and lectures, for the New England Annual Conference, in session for part of a week in Manchester, NH.  The forgiving and kind Methodists there received these pronouncements with a good grace, more than deserved.  You will not be surprised that the Gospel of John appeared, now and then, that week.  After one such presentation which probably, like the peace of God, ‘passed all understanding and endured forever’, one fellow paused in reflection on what he had heard.  He may have been a retired minister, though with sadness the name escaped collection and so memory.  Trailing after his response came this:  What you said reminded me very much of Erich Fromm.  I stuffed the reference in my so-called memory.  Erich Fromm.   I had not thought of him in decades.  With the eagle soaring in the summer, I dug him out.  You see about sermons and dialogues.  Here, five months later, the dialogue emerges, continues, continues its wayfaring course in discourse.  For Fromm acutely inspected both hope and freedom, the theme of our sermon today.

That is, in 1941 the philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a striking, seminal book on this question, ‘just how precious is freedom, and at what cost?’.  Its English title is Escape From Freedom.  Fromm explores the dark side of freedom, religious, cultural, economic and political.  As an expatriate German, watching the events in Europe at the time, Fromm was trying to understand, from the perspective of social psychology, the rise of authoritarianism in his native land, but also, and more broadly and in a general way, to understand how people and groups of people become enthralled with, enamored of, and committed to authoritarianism.  His argument is direct and simple:  real freedom is real difficult to handle, and, when pressed, people move to escape from the demands of freedom by investment in authority.  Freedom is scary.  Freedom is demanding.  Freedom is dangerous.  Freedom is difficult.  Better to hide underneath the sturdy voice of an authoritarian leader, preferably one who denies all responsibility for wrong or hurt, the rock solid social identity of a mass of people, the commitment, itself often quite costly, to a cause that sets aside personal freedom, so lonely and hard and uncertain, for group support under authoritarian wings. 

Freedom has a dark side. Our current national dilemma, in this unfolding decade of humiliation, presses us and makes us present to the question of freedom.  It is more than issues of political liberalism—gay rights, women’s rights—that besets us.  It is more than issues of economic socialism—ample education and abundant health care—that concerns us.  It is more than cultural conservatism—unflagging Sunday worship and vigorous voluntary associations– that beckons us.  As important as all these are.  It is more than a highjacked national narrative, more than a collapse of moral conscience and compass, more than the protections of civil society, the customs and ceremonies of courtesy meant to protect us from the pipe bombs of unbridled, unhinged rhetoric, that beset, concern and beckon us.  As important as all these are.  It goes deeper, this our current malaise.  It goes down deep into the caverns and caves of freedom.  How will we live, in hope, with freedom?

Erich Fromm warned us.

He warned us about the dread of freedom:  Freedom has made (us) isolated…anxious and powerless…(which) is unbearable(x)…(One’s) brain lives in the 20th century, but she art of most (people) still live in the stone age(xvi)…To feel completely alone and isolated leads to mental disintegration just as physical starvation leads to death (17)…enhancing the individual’s feeling of aloneness and insignificance (38)…(We) becomes more independent, self-reliant, and critical, (but we) become more isolated, alone and afraid…

 He showed us the historical origins and outcomes of freedom: Protestantism made the individual face God alone (108)…The prinicipal social avenues of escape in our time are the submission to a leader, as has happened in Fascist countries, and compulsive conforming as is prevalent in our own democracy…

 He traced the effects of the lack of hope in freedom:  (for) the individual to escape his unbearable feeling of aloneness and powerlessness…(he has) no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender, as quickly as possible, that gift of freedom which he, the unfortunate creature, was born with…

 He unveiled, out of his own experience, and touching too our own, the consequent appeal of authoritarianism:  the authoritarian character admires authority and tends to submit to it, but at the same time he wants to be an authority himself…

 He described the impact on persons:  The authoritarian character loves those conditions that limit human freedom…The individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns (say in rallies?) and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be…love for the powerful and hatred of the powerless… (is) fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere (240)

 He pointed to a couple of daily consequences—see if they sound familiar: …to lose the sense of discrimination between a decent person and a scoundrel…the fear of death lives an illegitimate existence among us (245)…

 Beloved.  Be alert, on the qui vive, watchful, be sober, be watchful for nascent authoritarianism.   In the daily denigration and disfigurement of facts, of truth.  In the weekly demonization of ‘others’, of those other, in religion, in race, in nation, in orientation.  In the dishonoring of other seats of power, like the judiciary, like the press, like the churches and other religious communities.  In the steady denial of fact and responsibility.

Yet Fromm offered a word of hope in freedom, what he called positive freedom:  positive freedom consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality (257)…THERE IS ONLY ONE MEANING OF LIFE: THE ACT OF LIVING ITSELF… (In positive freedom (one)) can relate (one)self spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of (one’s) emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities (139)..        

Spontaneity.  Comraderie.  Emotion. Intellect.  Where you come alongside these, according to Fromm’s work, there we might say is a hope in freedom. 


Three: Community

We can appreciate, perhaps, a bit of what Fromm said, even in our immediate setting.  The academic world intensifies and crystallizes these tendencies, especially under the aegis and aspect of technology. Spontaneity?  Emotion? Comraderie? Creativity?  These can be hard to find, and to nurture,  in academia.  Consider the rigorous path for the professor, for example.  7 punishing years of graduate school (following on 16 earlier years) lead to the Ph.D.  Another 7 punishing years of junior appointment lead to tenure.  After 30 years, perhaps, one gains tenure.  Think of the commitment to excellence, the attention to detail, in that life work, forged in freedom.  You can stray from the path, but you cannot then complete the journey.  Consider the rigorous path for the undergraduate student at an institution like ours, for example. Begin with earning a 1420 on the SAT, then continue in classrooms and courses where not some but almost all are as able as you. Think of the commitment to excellence, the attention to detail, in that life work, forged in freedom.  You can stray from the path, but you cannot then complete the journey. Further, as Sherry Turkle and others are showing us, we have only the slightest inkling thus far of what the massive newer technologies are doing with our students, ourselves, our world.  We have done a great deal to teach teenagers how to pick up devices, but have done virtually nothing to teach them about how to put them down. 

Thanks to each one of you, for all the challenges of academic life, here at Marsh Chapel, week by week, you sing the song, tell the tale, and ring the bell of freedom!  It is a remarkable, uncanny gift you offer!   The spontaneity of conversation.  The comraderie of communion.  The emotion of song.  The Intellect of faith.  You sing! In four part harmony!  Right here in the heart of a great University!

Real freedom, that for which we affirm Christ has set us free, positive freedom, resounds with spontaneous, physical, emotional, mindful, personal work and love.  The move away from positive reedom comes from alienation, isolation, anxiety, and fear. The move toward positive freedom comes from independence, responsibility, thinking, feeling and willing–forged in the soul. Every one of our lives inhabits two dimensions, one psychological and one sociological, personal and social holiness both.

As the community of faith, then, we want to be and become that place and space where one can listen another’s soul into life, where the urges and longings toward positive freedom are protected and nurtured, where the demonic drives in culture and economy are called out and known by name, where we have each other’s back, where we live and give the benefit of the doubt as a means of grace, where we hold up and hold out and hold onto the freedom of the human being.  A place where, like last night, in the historic nave of this Chapel, the music of joy, the music of majesty, the music of brilliance, the music of gladness—the music of Mozart—plays the accompaniment to our ongoing daily struggle, in freedom, the daily struggle of faith, to withstand what we cannot understand, the ongoing struggle of faith to eradicate violence and religious animus from the earth.

There is hope in freedom, when positive freedom baptizes us in sensuality, emotion, spontaneity and intellect.  Thanks to each one of you, for all the challenges of academic life, here at Marsh Chapel, week by week, you sing the song, tell the tale, and ring the bell of freedom!  May we contine to live by such hope!

Yes, there is hope in freedom, but it comes at cost, and it comes with work.  Jurgen Moltmann appends our benedictus: in Theology of Hope: “Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering but also the protest of the divine against suffering.  That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience” (p. 21).

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

The Present Moment (2)

October 21st, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the entire service

Mark 10: 17-34

Click here to listen to the meditation only


The Present Moment.

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

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

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

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

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

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

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

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mark 10

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

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

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

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

Mark’s Way

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

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

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

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

A Critic and a Coach

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

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

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

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

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

A Question           

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

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


The Present Moment.

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

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

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

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

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

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

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

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

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

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

The Present Moment

October 14th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-22

Click here to hear the meditations only


The Present Moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

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

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

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Present Moment.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

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

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

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

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

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

We Are One

October 7th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Isaiah 2:2-4

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 17:15-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students