It Depends

July 7th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Don’t you just love it when the Fourth of July, Independence Day, falls on a Thursday?  When it falls on a Wednesday we are expected to go back to work on Thursday and Friday, but on a Thursday most employers just give up and give everyone Friday off as well.  A four-day weekend for the Fourth!  What could be more appropriate!

Independence Day, of course, is the National Day of the United States of America, and on it we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  -That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  Independence Day, then, is a celebration of the rejection of undependable government for a government that will hopefully be more dependable in guarding the nature and rights of men.  (And, yes, most if not all of the signers of the Declaration really did mean to restrict independence to people of the male sex).  Since the beginning this celebration has been enacted in forms such as waving flags, singing patriotic songs, marching in parades, shooting off fireworks, having picnics, attending concerts, giving speeches, and conducting ceremonies.  Perhaps there is no more quintessential celebration of Independence Day than the Fourth of July barbeque, a somewhat tardy version of which we are hosting here at Marsh Chapel following the service today.  (No, no!  I said following the service.  Now, get back in the pews so I can finish the sermon!).

There are a number of ironies associated with Independence Day.  For example, those flags we wave with red and white stripes and white stars on a blue field are the same red, white, and blue as the Union Jack, the flag representing Great Britain, that is, the country from which we were declaring independence in the first place.  Also, the song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith while a student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary, and first performed at Boston’s Park Street Church on July 4th of that year.

My country, ’tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims’ pride,

From ev’ry mountainside

Let freedom ring!

Of course, we sing it to the tune of “God Save the Queen,” the national anthem of the United Kingdom.  Apparently we’re no better at coming up with original tunes for our patriotic songs than we are at coming up with original color schemes for our flag.  And for some reason we celebrate the Fourth of July, when the Declaration of Independence was supposedly signed, when in fact it seems it was probably actually signed on August 2nd, and it was on July 2nd that the Second Continental Congress voted a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June.  On July 3rd, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”  Amazingly, we do precisely all of those things, on the Fourth of July, two days after the event Adams meant to commemorate.  Oh well.

Independence is a wonderful thing, but I must confess that over the past couple of weeks my meditations and considerations have turned much more to the alternate side of the coin: dependence.  You see, on June 20th, at 5:53pm at Brigham and Women’s Hospital here in Boston, my daughter, Lilly Alma Whitney, was born, weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and 20.5 inches long.  In the past couple of weeks she has more than regained her birth-weight, and she takes seeming delight in keeping my wife Holly and I from getting any sleep.  She is a bundle of joy, and I am learning an entirely new dimension of love.  It is a great joy, today, to welcome Lilly’s grandparents to the service, and particularly her grandmothers reading the lesson and the gospel.  Lilly and her mother are here too, Lilly making her church debut, likely as not sleeping through the sermon, as I am sure are many of her pew-mates.

Lilly, being a newborn infant, is entirely dependent.  She cannot eat without help attaching to her mother’s breast.  She cannot sleep without being rocked while rubbing her back.  When she poops, daddy has to clean her up and change her diaper.  Like all newborns, Lilly’s head is approximately 30-40% of her bodyweight, meaning that her neck is not strong enough to support it properly.  When we pick her up and hold her, we have to be very careful not to let her head flop forward or backward or left or right, any of which could at least prove detrimental to her ongoing development.  Lilly has a completely undeveloped immune system, so those of you who would like to greet her following the service will first have to participate in the ritual of hand-washing, employing the vat of hand sanitizer I brought with me this morning.  (Her mother is an infectious disease physician, after all).  Lilly cannot walk, or even crawl or turn herself over, so we have acquired all manner of devices to help carry her, from car seat to stroller to sling to Mobi.  Dean Hill was disappointed that we did not name her Roberta, but he perked up a bit when I pointed out that we bought a stroller named Bob.

We do of course anticipate that Lilly, over time, will achieve her own independence, but doing so is a process of us as her parents accompanying her on the journey of life and faith, not only to be independent physically, but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  This movement from dependence to independence is the process of maturation.  It happens over time.  Undergraduates who will start in September at Boston University are emerging out of the process of being accompanied by parents, but still aspire on toward greater levels of independence and maturity.  College students learn to set their own alarm clocks, manage their own bank accounts, and find their own food.  A year or so later, when they move from the dorm to an apartment, they may even learn to cook that food for themselves.

It is not the case, however, that this movement from greater dependence to greater independence is ever entirely linear or ever reaches an absolute at either extreme of the spectrum.  Many young people, as their personal independence grows, discover that it can be helpful to have a partner with whom to share the responsibilities of life.   Some find such a collaborator with relative ease, while for others it can take quite some time to find someone who is appropriately dependable.  And so, every year we host myriad weddings here at Marsh Chapel, particularly in these summer months, in which people commit to one another in a life of mutual dependence, of interdependence.  Just last week the United States Supreme Court struck down key components of the Defense of Marriage Act and let stand a ruling overturning Proposition 8 in California, marking further steps toward marriage equality in these United States.  What a heartwarming juxtaposition to have such celebration of the right of so many at last to enter into relationships of mutual dependence only one week before our national celebration of independence.

The same balance between independence and dependence holds at the socio-political level as well.  It was not the case that the founding fathers sought to overthrow the tyranny of Great Britain in order to establish an absolute anarchy.  They explicitly said in the Declaration of Independence that once the old, oppressive government was overthrown, then it was incumbent upon the people to institute a new government.  So it was that the leaders of the day turned their intellectual focus to designing a new democratic government that they believed would be more dependable in enabling its citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  This is precisely what our brothers and sisters in Egypt are struggling toward as we speak.  Nevertheless, even upon the achievement of the founding fathers’ best efforts, there were some cruel restrictions on who could be considered independent in this new country.  If you did not own land, you were not independent.  If you were a woman, you were not independent.  If you were a slave, you were certainly not independent.  Yet, socially and economically, the white landowners who had supposedly achieved independence were in fact quite dependent on all of these classes of people.  So it was that A.G. Duncan wrote alternative abolitionist verses to “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” only a dozen years after the original verses were penned:

My country, ’tis of thee,

Stronghold of slavery,

Of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Where men man’s rights deride,

From every mountainside

Thy deeds shall ring!

Interesting, is it not, that at the apex of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted not this verse but the original to inspire the nation to end segregation?  In the end, however, it makes sense.  The original verse is a hymn to independence while the alternate is a reminder that every new achievement of independence is yet also an arising of new levels and manners of dependence.

Here, then, the theological turn.  It was the great Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher who claimed, in his monumental tome Glaubenslehre, The Christian Faith, that religion is the feeling of absolute dependence.  Religion is the feeling of absolute dependence.  Strange to think, is it not, that the great liberal American pulpits that have for so long emphasized the freedom offered for a life lived in the light of the Gospel, can all trace a lineage back to the liberal lion Schliermacher and his principle that religion is the feeling of absolute dependence?  Or perhaps not so strange that in a country that puts such high value on independence we would cast our final dependence onto one who is ultimate, infinite, and so utterly dependable.  For Schleiermacher, Christian freedom arises out of the matrix of absolute dependence on God.  This is the final outworking of Martin Luther’s insistence that experience of God for Christians is unmediated by human institutions.  We can depend directly on God, in prayer and in song and in breath, and so are free and independent from any worldly power and institution.  Or at least we would be, if we were living in the kingdom of God.

Alas, when we come back down from the mountaintop of absolute dependence, we find that we are still living in this fallen, broken world.  Our lessons today have something to teach us about living in a fallen, broken world.  In the conclusion to his letter to the Galatians, Paul is coming at the problem from the side of independence:  “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.”  In eternity we are absolutely dependent on God, but in the present life we are responsible for ourselves, for sowing what we will in our own work.  Nevertheless, Paul indicates that we can begin to feel what it will be like to depend on God absolutely in eternity: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  We participate in the feeling of absolute dependence, as though seeing it through a glass dimly, as we experience interdependence, or mutual dependence, in our lives.

If Paul was approaching absolute dependence from the side of independence, Jesus, in our Gospel reading, approaches it decidedly from the side of dependence.  Over the course of the Lucan narrative, the disciples have become increasingly, persistently, and stubbornly dependent on Jesus.  Just prior to the reading we heard, many are offering to join Jesus if they can just run and take care of one more thing before they do.  But Jesus has turned his face toward Jerusalem and the passion and the cross, so he sends them out, cutting them off from their many dependencies: “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”  Nevertheless, the kingdom of God is announced not so much in words but by entering into relationships of interdependence, of mutual dependence, in each place the disciples go: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.”  From the side of dependence, as well, it is through interdependence in this life that we receive a foretaste of the absolute dependence on God that is a hallmark of the kingdom.

It is little wonder that so many in our world have adopted a preference for independence over dependence, making relationships that are truly interdependent that much harder to achieve.  After all, submitting to some level of dependence requires that there be a certain level of dependability in the one to whom we submit.  Alas, our human experience is that people are never quite as dependable as we would hope, and institutions seem utterly incapable of a reliable degree of reliability, made up of less than dependable people as they are.  Deplorably, there seems to be no less dependable institution in our time than the church.  How do we know this?  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that at this point 20% of adults in the United States are religiously unaffiliated, and that number jumps to one third if considering only those under 30 years of age.  These are the so-called “nones:” not members of religious orders, but rather those who, when asked about their religious affiliation, check the box marked “none.”  It is notable that the “nones” are not so much questioning the dependability of God, as those who identify as atheist have only ticked up slightly.  Rather, they have declared independence from institutions that purport to provide the opportunity for cultivating relationships of interdependence but fail to do so.  A significantly higher percentage of the unaffiliated than the public in general believe that religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, focus too much on rules, and are too involved with politics.  At the same time, a significantly lower percentage of the unaffiliated than the general public believe that religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds, play an important role in helping the poor and needy, and protect and strengthen morality.  Many churches are trying desperately to deny that they are as undependable as the “nones” claim, but the response of denial misses the point entirely.  Dependability can never be demonstrated in words, but only in actions, and the actions of too many churches belie their words.  The “nones” own experience is of the lack of dependability in the church, and insisting that the church is otherwise than their experience smacks of hubris and hypocrisy.  Whether it is financial mismanagement, exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, or tolerance of sexual abuse by clergy, who can blame the “nones” for disaffiliating, or demurring from ever affiliating in the first place?  In all honesty, there but for the grace of God go I, and I am convinced that at least some who do go, go with God.

In these summer weeks we are hearing from the voices that inhabit several of the most significant pulpits of northern Methodism.  I am not one of them.  I am not a Methodist, although I grew up one, and I only ever occasionally inhabit this pulpit, in the chapel of an historically Methodist university.  My role in this preaching series, then, is not to speak to Methodists or for Methodists, but rather as a finger pointing at the moon, providing some orientation as to what you might listen for in the weeks ahead.  The question that must be posed to Methodists, at least as much as to those who remain affiliated with any other religious institution, is this: How will you go about demonstrating your dependability such that you may faithfully provide a foretaste of absolute dependence on God, that is, of God’s kingdom?  How will you declare interdependence?  Amen.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go change a diaper.

~Br. Lawrence A Whitney, University Chaplain for Community Life

 

Breaking Good

June 30th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

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~ Rev. Dr. Christopher H Evans

Professor of History of Christianity and Methodist Studies, BU School of Theology

Healing Frac(k)tures

June 24th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Luke 8:26-39

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Their pigs were dead. A whole herd of them driven into the lake. And now, the man previously possessed by demons, who was naked and living in the tombs, is somehow normal again; fully clothed and calm. The people of Gerasenes, swineherders (and of course Gentiles), were afraid. Not only were they afraid, but someone or several someones just lost their basis for economic foothold. The narrative in Luke which precedes this story of healing is the calming of the sea by Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which leaves them in awe and wonder of Jesus’ power. In this narrative, there is fear, and most likely, anger at the conclusion, drawing a stark contrast in how Jesus is perceived within different communities. A community that once maintained status quo by excluding one member, a fractured community, must now attempt to heal itself through God’s presence. The once-possessed man is given the order to turn around and be the voice that conveys God’s will to the community that isolated him, and still fears him.

We know very little about the legion of demons that possessed the man, but we know their effects: physically, the demons made the man strong, able to break through the shackles that his community had laden him with. Socially, the demons were an alienating force – the man lived in the tombs, isolated and naked. He was not a member of the community proper. In Jesus addressing the man’s demonic possession, he is not healing in the sense that we have come to attribute the medical idea of healing. Instead of addressing a sickness, something that makes the individual’s body ill, the healing of the demoniac is a social healing; healing the illnesses which create exclusion and prevent individuals from fully loving one another as God intends. Jesus challenges the way Gerasene society has made a comfortable existence with the demoniac. Their status quo is maintained within the community by making him an outcast. When he comes back a healed man, they are afraid because it challenges their perception of how society should function. Jesus’ actions in healing the man do not bring comfort, but fear of change.

The narrative of the healing in Gerasenes is not unlike many situations of fractured relationships we encounter today. Socially, we experience disparities between individuals based on economic status, race, sexual orientation, and religion. But we are not just fractured in our relationships with other people. We are also fractured in our relationship with the Earth. Climate change, water pollution, and deforestation are all symptoms of a fractured relationship with our environment. As an aspiring ethicist, I’m interested in how Christian belief can play a part in defining an ecological ethic – an appreciation of and respect for Earth and all its creatures, including humanity. Ecological ethics looks at issues of environmental degradation and provides analysis of the situation as well as suggestions for what may be the best course of action.

Our reliance on the Earth is essential for everyday life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat (well, at least most of it) derive from natural processes. We could not exist without support from the Earth and its processes. We are, in fact, one of the most dependent organisms on the planet. But we tend to take the Earth and its processes for granted. We expect that the Earth will always provide for us and that the cycles will continue to function in the same way they always have. However, the way we use the Earth has become unsustainable. Our perceived possession of nature to use how we see fit has led to its abuse. In this context, the Earth is viewed as an object rather than a subject. A commodity rather than possessing its own inherent value. To use Martin Buber’s terminology, an “it” rather than a “thou.”

The ecological ethicist Jim Nash, former professor of Social Ethics at BU School of Theology, advocates in his book Loving Nature that as Christians we must come to understand nature as our neighbor. This requires us to be in a similar loving relationship with nature as we are instructed to share with our human neighbors. Nature has its own inherent value, separate from the utilitarian value human beings assign to it when they view it only in economic terms. From a Christian perspective, nature’s inherent value can be identified in scripture. In Genesis 1:31, God declares the whole earth “very good” not just because it is useful to humans, but because it is good in itself.

There is one example among many of current environmental crises that I’d like to highlight today. Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, as it’s commonly called, is a process used by natural gas companies to access and release natural gas deposits a mile or more within the Earth so that it can be used for energy purposes. Some of you might be familiar with it from films such as GasLand or the recent Matt Damon movie Promised Land. Described simply, the process involves drilling into the Earth, first vertically, then horizontally, to access gas pockets within shale formations. A pipe, enclosed in concrete, is then placed in the drilled well, and chemically treated water is pumped into the well, fracturing the rock formations below and releasing the gas. Natural gas companies have established or are establishing fracking sites in many states; California, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania just to name a few. New England has yet to experience this form of energy production.

On the surface, fracking seems an ideal process to provide a domestic energy source. Natural gas is cleaner burning than oil or coal, and if spills occur, it just vents into the atmosphere instead of creating a huge mess. Many of us rely on natural gas to heat our water, cook our food, or even heat our homes. Fracking also brings with it the promise of economic prosperity through jobs and the leasing or purchasing of land owned by individuals who sit on top of these shale formations.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to travel to my home state of Pennsylvania to visit Bradford and Sullivan counties, located in the Northeast of Pennsylvania. Bradford county has the highest number of fracking sites in the state of Pennsylvania, and Sullivan county has seen an increase in well drilling in the past few years. I was concerned about the reports I was hearing regarding the practice of fracking in the media, which tended toward focusing on both the economic benefit and the potential threats. I was also concerned because fracking sites are starting to come into the county where my extended family lives. I wanted to see first-hand what it was like to live in an area where fracking was happening and how people who lived in these areas felt about the process. So on a chilly day in March, my dad and I set out in a rental car to visit two Lutheran churches, one in each county, where parishoners were feeling the effects of fracking. Most people I encountered expressed an overall satisfaction with the gas companies’ presences in their communities. This was because the natural gas companies brought economic stability to areas which five years prior had struggling economies. Both communities lacked industry suitable for providing enough meaningful work for its citizens. Sullivan county, especially the town of Dushore, which I visited was at one time mostly farm land. Now, an aging population was finding it hard to maintain farming lifestyles and saw fracking as an economic opportunity.

If a section of land is identified as containing gas deposits or would make for a good fracking site, gas companies will sign leases with the landowners to allow them to access those pockets of gas underground. A fracking pad is where the actual drilling takes place to establish a well, and can vary in size. The ones we saw were about the size of a football field. Once the company begins accessing natural gas, the landowners receive monthly payments from the gas companies. Individuals can also sell portions of their land for gas pipelines to be installed, an important part of the gas collection process. Additionally, the gas companies improve infrastructure, such as roads, which the state has not attended to. Local businesses see an increase in sales and patronage. There is also the promise of jobs within the gas companies for individuals living in those areas.

My experiences in Pennsylvania left me torn. Environmentally, I believe that a continued reliance on fossil fuels is not the solution to our energy needs. I am also fearful of the fracking process itself for the damage it causes to the Earth. However, the people in these communities could easily be my relatives. When put into a situation of economic hardship, any opportunity for gain seems like the best, and in some cases, the only option. But thinking to the larger picture, to our global community, the practice of fracking is attempting to put a band-aid on an energy and economic situation that requires stitches. Not just a band aid, but a band-aid that has been dropped on the floor and is potentially spreading infection. Just as the people of Gerasenes thought that the solution to their problem was to separate the demoniac from their community, we are seeking the wrong solution to maintain our status quo of energy needs.

Looking at fracking from an “outsider” perspective, there are several key questions one might raise about the practice. First, is it safe? Not just is it safe for human communities, but is it safe for our Earth community as well. In ecological ethics we utilize an idea called the “precautionary principle.” The precautionary principle is the sentiment that action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous. With fracking there is a great deal of concern regarding the health of human beings and the environment. There is potential for contamination of drinking water by chemically treated water and methane, either through improper disposal/containment of wastewater or cracks/breaks in the piping or concrete casing. Also, improper disposal and treatment of fracking wastewater, which contains unspecified chemicals considered trade secrets for each company poses a threat. Natural gas is highly explosive, so there is also potential for explosions occurring at fracking sites. Finally, loss of already dwindling fresh water supplies, as an individual frack requires 7 to 8 million gallons of water, some of which is unretrevable once it enters the ground. Fresh water is an ever-increasingly more precious resource as our world’s population grows and our impacts on the environment limit its amount. Can we really afford to use water in this manner? While gas companies claim that they are refining the process of fracking so that accidents and concerns become less numerous, there is still potential for great harm. When is that potential too much? Is it fair for some communities to bear the potential effects of the fracking process so that we can continue our reliance on fossil fuels? Are those potential drawbacks being communicated effectively to these communities?

Additionally, how sustainable is fracking as both an energy and economic resource? Natural gas is still a fossil fuel. It does burn more cleanly and efficiently than oil and coal, but it still produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Not to mention the fact that natural gases themselves, such as methane, are also greenhouse gases. Methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it is more efficient at trapping radiation. The EPA states that at equivalence, the impact of methane on climate change is 20x greater than carbon dioxide over the course of a 100-year period. One must also consider the amount of natural gas present in within the United States, and the rate at which we consume this form of energy. Natural gas is a nonrenewable resource, and just like coal and oil it will eventually run out. When that time comes, what will happen to the areas that rely on it for economic growth?

Sometimes conveying the important messages of life put us in tough places. We are called to speak the word of God through justice and love. We do not only share that message of justice and love with each other within our congregation and Christian community, but with the whole world. The demoniac in today’s Gospel wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him that he must go back and declare what God has done for him. Returning to a community which had already excluded him because he did not fit into their social order to share the good news is a difficult task. We share in this task, though, when we speak or show how God’s love and concern for justice shapes our understanding of what is good and right in our wider society. Speaking out about fracking seeks justice for the earth as well as the communities who experience it, including the overall impact on our global society.

Today’s message is that we cannot remain comfortable with the status quo when it comes to our reliance upon fossil fuels. In doing so we create and continue to foster the fractures between humanity and the environment.  Just as the people of Gerasenes are afraid after Jesus’ healing of the demoniac because it challenges how they understand their society to properly function by excluding those who are deemed to be lesser, so too are we afraid to change our ways of life that might lead to a less convenient or less comfortable situation when it comes to energy production and use. We need to heal our fractured relationship with the Earth, learning to work with it rather than against it.

So what can we do? For such a large scale issue, considering how we can make an impact at individual level can be overwhelming. One place to start is revisiting those three words we hear repeated when speaking about the environment: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Often, most emphasis is placed on recycling – don’t throw it away if it’s paper, plastic, aluminum or tin, put it in the green or blue bin! But recycling is at the end of the list of principles because it should be our final attempt at reducing waste. Recycling requires energy input to convert goods into new products, even if the material input is less. It is not the final answer to our energy consumption problems.

Reusing is a concept that many of us forget about. When it comes to energy, it’s impossible to reuse energy already spent. However, by reusing products that require energy to be made or processed – nearly everything we purchase – we can reduce the amount of fossil fuels, like natural gas, expended in the manufacturing process. I’ll give you one example. Thanks to the performer Macklemore, a whole new generation is becoming familiar with reusing. His hit “Thrift Shop” encourages people to find unique treasures at their local thrift shop, making it stylish to realize that “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up.”  (For those of you who don’t know, a “come up” is a bargain). I’m proud to say that today, I am reusing – this cassock that I’m wearing was given to my dad 45 years ago by my Great Aunt for his ordination into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Reducing, on the other hand, is much more difficult than recycling or even reusing, but it probably the most important of these three principles. It challenges our notion of our status quo. Just as the people of Gerasenes had created stability in their community by separating the demoniac from interacting with them and became afraid of bringing him back into their society after Jesus healed him, we are also afraid of challenging the status quo of our Americanized existence. We live in a consumerist culture, which tells us if there is not a steady-state of growth in our economy, then our society is in peril. We are encouraged to consume. It’s the American way. But we do not have to “buy-in” (pardon the pun) to this way of existence. For example, when it comes to energy, we can reduce our use by employing sustainable practices, such as taking shorter showers, weatherizing our houses/apartments, and consuming less (reusing comes back into play here). We can investigate alternative energy sources – find out how we can effectively access resources that are renewable, like solar, wind, and geothermal power and parlay them into sources for green jobs.

Additionally, we can share our understanding of God’s presence in the world by speaking out against injustices to our neighbors, whether humankind or otherkind. Grassroots organizing against fracking has been especially effective in New York state, where local communities utilize the precautionary principle, insisting that greater proof of the safety of fracking processes must be made in order to allow it to occur. Through these processes the citizens of small townships have managed to ban fracking in their areas and have convinced the governor to continually place moratoriums on fracking within the entire state. We can also seek out alternative forms of economies, which can provide communities with work options that build relationships between community members and the Earth.

When we begin to recognize ourselves as part of a larger community, both human and earthly, we must consider how our actions impact those around us. Part of our faith as Christians is that there is always hope in the face of challenges, and that love and justice will prevail. We cannot maintain a status quo that continues to alienate and fracture our communities. We must hear what God has done for us and utilize that knowledge to our best advantage. Acting through our faith, we must seek to be those agents of love and justice to our earth community; we must seek to heal our fractures.

Amen.

~Jessica Chicka, Chapel Associate for Lutheran Ministry

 

A Johannine Inspiration

June 16th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

I John 4: 7-12

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John is the ‘spiritual gospel’. The gospel and the letters named for John, including our lesson read earlier, were given their shared name long ago.  So named in the second century by a person whom once we termed a ‘church father’ but term such an one such no longer, rather saying an ‘early Christian writer’, the Johannine literature has long inspired poetry.

From the doors just west of us on the Marsh Plaza emerge every spring a class of soon to be preachers, holding Bibles in their right hands and massive debt in their left.  By July 1 they are in pulpits, preaching, preaching every Sunday a Sunday sermon, ‘about God and about 20 minutes’, for forty years. Some of those sermons will come from John.

Come Saturday night they will begin to write their sermons.  They will find in the passages to be read from John various troubling, troublesome, troublous passages. It is a diachronic reading of John, one that looks at its place and time, its community of origin, its sitz im leben, or life setting, which frees, and which alone can give a measure of the promise of 8:32, ‘you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’.  Coming down from the STH steps, Bible in one hand and massive debt in the other, our students, one hopes, will also have acquired some pious understanding of John’s history and theology.

They will have learned that the phrase ‘the Jews’ does not mean ‘the Jews’, but grew up in the year 90ad out of a painful separation of Christian Jews from Jewish Christians.  The community behind John contested with those whom they referred by this phrase, even though they, the Jews, were their own kin.  They themselves were Jews too! These passages in John are to be understood historically and theologically as a particularly dark moment in the Christian tradition of anti-semitism. Our students need to know this first, and more.

John’s Jesus makes several remarkable claims, given Philippians 2 and Matthew 5.  Are many of them historically reliable?  No.  They reflect a changed understanding of the Christ, hard won and hard earned.  The titles for Christ—Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man—come from different points it the community’s journey, history, and theology.  Our students need to know this first, and more.

John’s community has suffered trauma that has caused change.  Trauma brings change.  They have suffered the trauma of disappointment.  The end of the world which they expected did not come, disappointingly enough.  They found the courage to admit it, and change.  That is, in disappointment they discovered freedom.  They also have suffered the trauma of dislocation.  They have been thrown out of their religious home, de-synagogued if you will, and are wandering out in the street when they write.  They lost their mother tongue, mother land, mother tradition, which is huge dislocation.  They found the courage to face it, and change.  That is, in dislocation they discovered grace.  Paul, who did not write or know John, might well have said, see, I told you, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’.  And, mirable dictu, in the cross of Christ and in the loss of John, this ancient faith community uncovered a way to love. Our students need to know this first, and more.

However.  Don’t you know that life is a funny old dog?  For six years I have along side me as teaching assistant a most brilliant, funny, young mother of two, Episcopal priest.  She is a literary critic.  She practices rhetorical criticism.  She loves poetry.  Twice a term I ask her to bring her exotic medicines, the alchemic mixtures of literary criticism to bear on our text.  I like to be magnanimous, don’t you know.  I believe in the liberal balance, don’t you know.  I honor freedom of speech in the university, don’t you know.  Plus, the students love her. The students appreciate her approach—AS AN ADDITION MIND YOU TO THE MAIN WORK OF THE COURSE.  And, I must say, I too appreciate her and love her work.  Even teachers can learn.  As that great Yankee Yogi Berra said, ‘you can observe a lot just by watching’.  ‘The old owl sits in the oak tree, the more he speaks the more he hears, the more he hears, the less he speaks, why are we not like that old owl?’

 

The Rev., now Rev. Dr. Regina Walton every term shows our students three poems which grow out of the Fourth Gospel and illumine its meaning.  For today’s Father’s Day sermon, I determined to have you hear them as well.  They are light, joy, truth, power, meaning, and love.  Gospel.  They are beautiful.  They are rhetorically beautiful religious language.  What other than such beauty, epitomized by our lesson from 1 John, will drive out the demons of hateful religious rhetoric? And they can help us, here in Boston, here in Marsh Chapel, here today.

The poet George Herbert lived from 1593 to 1633.  The English Civil War occurred soon after his death, leading to ‘disestablishment’. Herbert was an ‘orator’ at Cambridge, and sickly.  From a young age he knew that he was called to write devotional poetry.  He knew John Donne, who was a friend of his mother’s.  He employs both trochaic and iambic meters.  He writes, among other things, of the soul’s call to God, and of the claim the believer has on God.  That is, in his work there is a Johannine courage.  Love made me welcome, but my soul drew back…You must sit down and taste my meat…Herbert wrote of love.  Here is a poem (you beautifully sang it a moment ago) that draws directly on John 14:17, John 6:6, and John 16:22:

The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:

Such a Way, as gives us breath:

Such a Truth as ends all strife:

And such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:

Such a Light as shows a feast:

Such a Feast as mends in length:

Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart:

Such a Joy as none can move:

Such a Love as none can part:

Such a Heart as joyes in love.

Such a heart as joyes in love.  As a pastor in this community, Marsh Chapel, I have the privilege of seeing women and men struggling to live in faith, and doing so by inspiration.   In our community we are expecting a birth or two, fairly soon, a joy in love.  In our community we have couples who are in the throes of making marriage work and work better, a joy in love.  In our community we have dads and moms whose sons and daughters are in armed service, and they are praying for their safe returns, a joy in love.  In our community we have some who struggle with the challenges, physical and personal, of aging, and are finding healing care, a joy in love.  In our community we have students who are learning to learn what they most want to learn, not someone else’s fantasy of what they might learn, a joy in love.  In our community we have women and men, the salt of the earth, who reflect and radiate Christ’s joy in love.

The poet Henry Vaughn lived from 1622 to 1695.  He fought on the Royalist side during the great war.  Vaughn is known as one of the best followers and imitators of Herbert.  In 1649, Charles I executed Oliver Cromwell.  The Church of England was disestablished and the Book of Common Prayer was outlawed.  The King was understood to be anointed by God.  Incidentally, his brother was an alchemist.  Vaughn lived during a dark time, and his poetry evokes his time.  He recalls the great Pseudo-Dionysus and the Cloud of Unknowing.  He celebrates night and the darkness of God, in way that I believe connects truly to our time as well.   It is no accident that he bases this poem on Nicodemus at night, John 3:2ff.  Here some verses from this wondrous work:

The Night

Through that pure Virgin Shrine

That sacred veil drawn o’er thy glorious noon

That men might look and live as glow-worms shine

And face the moon:

Wise Nicodemus saw such light

As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes

Thy long expected healing wings could see,

When thou didst rise,

And what can nevermore be done,

Did at mid-night speak with the Sun!

O who will tell me, where

He found thee at that dead and silent hour!

What hallowed solitary ground did bear

So rare a flower,

Within whose sacred leaves did like

The fullness of the Deity…

Dear night! This world’s defeat;

The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;

The day of Spirits; my soul’s calm retreat

Which none disturb!

Christ’s progress and his prayer time;

The hours to which high Heaven doth chime…

Were all my loud evil days

Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,

Whose peace but by some Angel’s wing or voice

Is seldom rent;

Then I in Heaven all the long year

Would keep, and never wander here.

But living where the sun

Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire

Themselves and others, I consent and run

To every mire,

And by this world’s guiding light,

Err more than I can do by night.

There is in God (some say)

A deep but dazzling darkness; as men here

Say it is late and dusky, because they

See not all clear;

O for that night! Where I in him

Might live invisible and dim.

Nicodemus—like the the beloved disciple, like the paraclete, like the logos, like the ‘judeans’—helps form a bridge from the community of faith to the community of life, from religion to culture, from church to world.  And back. Most blest believer he! Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes, Thy long expected healing wings could see. At Marsh Chapel we yearn for a faith amenable to culture and a culture amenable to faith.  We desire such not because it is immediately present or likely with ease in our time to arise.  It is not and it will not.  But as Vaclev Havel said, ‘I hope for the good not because it will necessarily succeed, but because it is right and true.’  When the faith you personally cherish walks by night without fear across this whole great land, and when the culture you inhabit visits the community of faith without fear, by night or day—when Jesus and Nicodemus embrace—then a bit of heaven has come to earth.   For example, when the beauty of the people and voices of the Marsh Choir, who embody salt and light, find purchase in a great hall with a culturally iconic band, not particularly otherwise known for religious observance by the way, then you have an apocalyptic moment, a place of faith amenable to culture and culture amenable to faith.

You will not be surprised, many of you, by the choice for our third poet.  The poet T.S. Eliot was born in America, yet lived most of his life in England until his death in 1965.  He was the greatest poet of his age, and one of the greatest of any age.  While our generation does not cling to him as did an earlier one, and this itself is a pity, nonetheless he touches us too.  To him we owe the rediscovery of the metaphysical poets.  Eliot found God’s presence in God’s absence.  Like Herbert’s mature claim upon God, like Vaughn’s love of night, Eliot’s presence in absence seems strikingly close to the spirit of our own age.  I dedicate this reading to my dear dad who died three years ago, an authentic lover of the word.  The following poem owes much to John 1:1 ff:

 

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent

If the unheard, unspoken

Word is unspoken, unheard;

Still is the unspoken word, the Word, unheard,

The Word without a word, the Word within

The world and for the world;

And the light shone in the darkness and

Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled

About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word

Resound?

The Word within the world and for the world. This summer, starting next week with Ms. Jessica Cheeka, you will hear voices from our strongest sister pulpits in the north, Asbury First in Rochester NY, Christ Church in NYC, Foundry Church Washington, and ours from Marsh Chapel in Boston.   Of all the seven national preacher summer series we have now offered I am most glad for this one, for many reasons, but let me mention just one.   In Methodism our pulpits historically, since Wesley, Asbury, Cartwright, Shaw, Sockman, Tittle and all, have led the way.  Now, in our time of ecclesiological fragmentation, much farther advanced than most realize, we shall need to rely not so heavily, certainly not exclusively, on the superintending voices, important as they are, but on the deeper streams of mercy still fed by the healthy communities of faith, and by their pulpits.  Wesley loved the Easter Orthodox traditions, those of the patriarchies, not of the bishops of Rome and elsewhere, not a bad memory for a Father’s Day.  The communities, in the East, led and lead—Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople.  We need to look East, in this sense, to listen first to the remaining vibrant pulpits.  In the next decade, we shall need these four arrows together in a quiver—Marsh, Christ, Foundry, Asbury—as we minister the Word within the world and for the world.  The superintending is rooted in 1 John, but the vocal leadership, the spiritual leadership, the Spirit, is rooted in John.  Have a great summer!

 

Here are three poems, three moments  of Johannine inspiration, Herbert, and Vaughn and Eliot.  One for those in need, celebrating the One who joyes in love.  One for those at night, celebrating the one who marries faith and life.  One for those troubled by absence, celebrating the coming, the return of voice and word.  Amen. Amen. Amen.

 

Beloved let us love one another!

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

 

An Embraceable Variant

June 9th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

John 17: 3

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1. Summit

 

High atop the world’s greatest writings there sits our Holy Scripture.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for us.  It is high.  We cannot attain it.

 

Within the Scripture itself are conjoined the sibling testaments, the older and newer, the Hebrew Scripture and the Christian Writings.   For us just now, the 27 newer books stand a little bit higher.

 

The Gospels and the Letters and the Apocalyptic Writings are all inspired and inspiring, all sufficient for faith and practice.  The gospels though have a certain priority, in our liturgy, and in our hearts.  They lie just a step or two higher, atop higher ground.

 

You love all the Gospels.  One there is though which from antiquity has been known as the sublime, the spiritual gospel.  We shall ascend today to the craggy paths and rarified air of the Fourth Gospel.

 

High above the rest of John, above the seven signs to begin and above the passion and resurrection to end, there lies the strangest moonscape in the Scripture, and so in all literature, and so in life.  I mean chapters 13-17.    We are about to place our homiletical flag on the very summit, the highest of high peaks, the textual Matterhorn, Everest, Mount Washington, Pike’s Peak:  John 17:3

 

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

2. Where We Least Expect To Find It:  Freedom In Disappointment, Grace In Dislocation, Love In Departure: John

Your own participation in this sermon is cordially invited, and fully required today.  We affirm, with the ancient Gospel according to St. John the Divine 17:3, that we find freedom in disappointment, we grasp grace in dislocation, and we learn love in departure.  Look back at all your experience to date.  What is your greatest disappointment?  It is a clue to freedom.  What is your hardest dislocation?  It is a signpost for grace.  What is your most grievous departure?  It is the way of love.

The community of the beloved disciple knew about disappointment.  After three generations, and some, the community had awaited the primitive hope of the church to be realized.  They awaited the return of Christ.  The resurrection of the dead from their graves.  The end of time.  The apocalypse of God.  It did not come.  He did not come, at least not in the way once hoped.   I find it the most remarkable feature of the New Testament that John, rather than being lost in a sea of disheartening failure, in the very eye of his most stormy theological hurricane, found freedom.  In theological disappointment he found freedom.

In our time, speaking of theological disappointment, we are bidding a reluctant farewell to God.  To a certain, junior, perception of God.  God reigns.  This we affirm with the church militant and triumphant.  But God’s way among us is away from us.  He is risen.  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  And you?

The community of the beloved disciple knew about dislocation.  They had lost their family of origin.  They were sent out from their mother religion.  The church that wrote John had been thrown out of the synagogue.  The life they grew up with had cast them out.  It took three generations for them to grasp the joyful grace in dislocation.  Count it all grace, brethren, when various dislocations beset you!

In our time we have also known sociological dislocation aplenty.   Children bear the brunt of unemployment in the home, for instance.  A certain sense of civic self was dislodged, here in Boston, this year, for instance.  And you?

The community of the beloved disciple knew about departure.  The layers of grief culminating in chapter 17, while ostensibly a rehearsal of Jesus’ own departure, may also have been crafted by the heart and voice of their aged John, the other and beloved disciple, whose own departure, in the midst of disappointment and dislocation, itself provoked these layers of grief.  Is it not ironic that the sharpest, most rarified language of love in all of the New Testament—in all of literature—arises in the hour of departure?

In our time,  as has every generation, we face the departure of persons and groups. ‘Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love’ (Bonhoeffer). The departure of the Christ makes space for love. As I have loved you, so you also ought to love one another.   ‘Be yourself, but be your best self, dare to be different and to follow your own star.’  You snowflake, you.  And you?

The measures of freedom and grace given to us become real possibilities, real freedom and real grace, only when we have the gracious freedom to decide for faith.  The same is magnificently true of love.  This is the message of John, at the end.

But how does this happen?  Freedom, grace and love come through variance, in John, difference, in John, the courage to act differently, think differently, in John.   Let me see if an analogy will help.

3. Brother John

 

We are four siblings in my family of origin.  The older three have brown hair.  The youngest is a redhead, whose name is John.  John’s bright red locks are unlike, quite unlike, the less remarkable curls of Bob, Cathy and Cynthia.  He stands apart, does John.  It makes you wonder where he came from, with such a distinctive aspect.  John is like his Gospel namesake, the Fourth Gospel.  The youngest of the four, he stands out, so different from his synoptic siblings Matthew, Mark and Luke.  They with their shared brown hair, their shared parables and teachings, their shared emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, their shared trips from Galilee to Jerusalem, they just don’t look at all like their younger redheaded brother.

In the summer, it happens, as it may in your family, there is a family reunion for one part of our tribe.  Occasionally, we would go, growing up.  Like yours, ours is something of standard reunion.  It is held on a farm near Albany, which has been in the family since before George Washington rode a horse.   After the usual light meal of beef, corn, potatoes, bread, sausage, pies, and pickles and so on, the extended family (or those who having eaten so can still move) will sometimes stand for a photograph on the long farm house veranda.  I ask you to look at the photo.  I am holding it here.  Can you see it?  Well, even if you cannot see it across the radio waves, you can probably guess what it shows.  Of these eighty people, do you see how many have red hair?  About 60—young or old, tall or short, heavy or slight, male or female, they mostly have red hair, like John.  75% are redheads.  In fact, in the photo, it looks like a sea of red hair.  Maybe a red heads convention out in the farm fields of Cooperstown, NY.  John isn’t the odd ball.  His siblings are.

John is not the second century Greco Roman odd ball.  His synoptic siblings are.  When you put the Fourth Gospel, with all its red haired radical difference, on the farm house veranda of second century religious family literature, he fits right in.  He stands shoulder to shoulder with all the Gnostic writings that are so like him, especially in these late chapters. It looks like a redheads convention. He looks and sounds quite like the rest of his second and third cousins, once or twice removed:  The Paraphrase of Shem, the Treatise on the Resurrection, the Odes of Solomon, the Apocryphon of John, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary.  How else will we ever hear this voice of Jesus from John 17?

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom though hast sent.

Six Synoptic differences!   Eternal life, not kingdom of heaven.  Know, not believe.  The only true God, not Abba.  Jesus Christ, not Rabbi or Master.  Sent, not begotten.

This voice is NOTHING like that of the Sermon on the Mount, or that of the parable of the Good Samaritan, or that of the cry from Psalm 22 on the cross.  Not human, but divine, here.  Not earthly, but heavenly, here.  Not low, but high, here.  Not immanent, but transcendent, here.

The community of the Gospel of John had a radical experience of Jesus, as God on earth.   To render that experience meaningful, they had the radical courage to take language from the heretics around them, the Gnostics, and use it as their own BECAUSE IT FIT.  It worked.  It explained to the huddled humans clinging to Christ what they had experienced in him:  divine grace and divine freedom.  It rendered the sense of consecration, the sense of holy living and dying, the sense of consecrated joy, which they had found, with the Light of the World, with the Bread of Life, with the Good Shepherd, with the Resurrection, with the Word made flesh.

The community of the Gospel of John feared not the culture around them.  They feared not truth, even when that truth was best expressed outside of their particular religious circle.  They had the guts to use language belonging to pagans, outsiders, heretics, Gnostics to celebrate and consecrate their faith.  In doing so, they opened up the church to the world, to the future, to the culture around them.    They changed their way of speaking of Christ, and pointed to Christ above, in, and transforming the culture around them.  They changed.  They had the courage to change.

In age, our own, when the Gospel of John, served raw, without cooking, without historical interpretation, can be made to sound like the voice not of tradition but of traditionalism, we do well to remember John’s courage to change, to reach out to the culture around, to put the gospel in word and music on the air waves of a pagan culture, out on the radio waves of a secular world, and where possible to use that same culture

Raymond Brown: ‘Some scholars may ponder on the luck of the Beloved Disciple that his community’s Gospel was not recognized for the sectarian tractate that it really was.  But others among us will see this as a recognition by Apostolic Christians that the Johannine language was not really a riddle and the Johannine voice was not alien…What the Johannine Christians considered to be a tradition that had come down from Jesus seems to have been accepted by many other Christians as an embraceable variant of the tradition that they had from Jesus’.  (TCOTBD, 18)

 

4. Where We Least Expect To Find It:  Freedom In Disappointment, Grace In Dislocation, Love In Departure:  Today

Freedom

A poor man went to a Methodist church for worship.  The congregation welcomed him and he returned week by week.  After a while the women’s circle took up a collection and bought him a nice new suit, with a blue tie.  He happily received the gift, but they never saw him in church again.

A while later, on the street, one of church members saw him and asked what had happened.  Did he not like the suit?  Did it not fit?  Was he afraid to wear it?

“Oh no, I love the suit.  I look great in it.  When I say myself in the mirror, I looked so good I thought, ‘I look like a million bucks.  I look too good to go just to the Methodist church.  I think I’m dressed well enough to go the Episcopal church.  I think I will go there.  And that is what I did”.   Disappointment led to freedom!

Some years ago we sat at dinner with several other couples, in a beautiful home, over a majestic meal, graciously served.  Because the couples new each other well, and were in trust to each other, there was the chance for hard and serious conversation, consecrated conversation you might say.  This evening the debate swirled around gay marriage.

There are tipping points in the way a culture moves.  Some of them occur at dinner, in beautiful homes, over majestic meals, graciously served.  The host was opposed, to gay marriage that is.  The conversation widened, and then narrowed, and then widened again.  We can surely agree that there are many ways of keeping faith, and many honest, different, points of view, on this and on many issues.

Across the table sat Carol, mother of two fine teenagers, married with joy to a business leader, baseball player, Red Sox fan.  She had battled cancer once before, and now it returned, and she fought it again.  We could not see it then, but in seven months she was gone.

Over some heat and some laughter, much disagreement but little discord, the conversation, consecrated you might say, moved on.  Carol spoke fully, and at one point said:  ‘You know, I have learned how precious life is, how fragile, what a gift every day is.  Here is what I feel:  if two people truly love each other, deeply commit to each other, and want to consecrate their vows, that is they want what Doug and I have, why would I ever want to stand in their way, why would I ever want to deprive them of that happiness that I know so well.’  I heard some minds changing as the dessert came out.  The embodiment of the embraceable variant.

Pasternak loved Shakespeare’s Sonnett 66. It is said that whenever he read aloud the crowd would not let him leave until he had rehearsed it for them.  “Give us the 66th…”  Its evocation of daily anxiety bears remembering.  The poem is unequaled in its announcement of disappointment, but also of freedom to wrestle with it.  When life gives you the 66th remember Shakespeare, but especially his last couplet.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly–doctor-like–controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

‘Captive good attending captain ill…’  Can you hear that?  It begs to be heard.  Stand with your people in tragedy, honest and kind in word and deed.

Grace

Our churches are in the throes of dislocation.  Lyle Schaller had our number 25 years ago when he said:  “These denominations will gladly accept 2-3% annual decline in exchange for the tacit agreement that there be no significant change”.  And so, in 25 years, in the Northeast, United Methodism has lost 50% of its membership.  Today more 511 of the 930 pulpits in my home conference, Upper New York, are occupied by non-elders:  the preaching and ministry are done by people without full or proper education, preparation, examination or ordination.  In what other sector of serious life would we permit this?

Sometimes a dose of realized eschatology can clear the mind and strengthen the soul.   In a way, every day is our last.  In a way, heaven and hell are here and now.  In a way, the end time is all of time.  John puts it this way: ‘the hour is coming AND NOW IS’.

The freedom of the gospel has gradually embraced multiple variants.   The poor.  The immigrant.  People of color.  Those once enslaved. Women.  Gay people. Others.  The Other.  In fact, the lesson of the gospel of grace enshrined in John is the spiritual expansion of grace, through the throes of dislocation, found in the embrace of the embraceable variant.

In grace, our healthy future will come from a resurrection of thought, word and deed:  of traditional worship, of traveling elders who excel in preaching, and in tithing to support the church we love.

I bear witness:  All of the lastingly good features of my life have come through grace in dislocation:  name in baptism, faith in confirmation, community in eucharist, partnership in marriage, work in ordination, love in pardon, and hope in Christ for this life and the next.  All these are found in the healthy life of healthy, vibrant, discreet communities of faith.  In our dislocation we discover grace, an embraceable variant, which makes all the difference.  Our New England poet had it right:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Love

Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. (James 5: 1)   While we may shed the inherited demonic mythology in the verse, knowing and honoring its origins in the distant past, we nonetheless fully recognize the spiritual truth here:  we know not what a day may bring, but only that the hour for serving is always present. 1 John 4: 7-12 captures love divinely:  Beloved let us love one another…

New occasions teach new duties

Time makes ancient good uncouth

One must upward still and onward

Who would keep abreast of truth

We too want to discipline ourselves and keep alert.   So we pray.  Do you pray?  So we commune.  Do you receive the eucharist?  So we study.  Have you devotionally read your Bible this week?  So we converse with one another.  Have you opened home and heart recently in Christian conversation?  So we fast—park your car, save your money, do not reply all:  fight pollution, debt and dehumanization.  We too want to discipline ourselves and keep alert.

When we buried Lu Lingzi, last month, her family bowed, ceremonially, and from the waist, at the very close of the service, a recognition of real love in real departure.

 

O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!

Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.

Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with Thee.

 

Sursum corda!  Lift up your hearts.  The variance, your distinctive self is utterly embraceable.  That variance, and your courage to live it, bring saving wholeness.  There is a clue to Freedom in disappointment.  There is a signpost to Grace in dislocation.  There is a way of Love in departure.

 

This is eternal life, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

 

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

 

A Touch of Grace

June 2nd, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Galatians 1: 1-12

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Click here to hear the sermon only.

 

When St. Paul writes that the gospel came to him by apocalypse he intends neither a sole reliance on experience to the left nor a rejection of experience to the right.   The gospel comes by apocalypse at the incursion of spirit in life, of love in experience, of experience inside out, a touch of grace.  So our experience matters, and our awareness of experience invaded is largely all we have.

 

May 2 our friend and teacher retired in New York City.  Dr. Christopher Morse lectured on the history of Christian theology in September of 1976, and before and after.  The lectures , built in part upon the lectures of Robert Calhoun at Yale a decade earlier, in may have been, are today still shimmering in memory, forty years later.   Speech matters.  On a bright May morning, some from near and some from far drove to Riverside Drive, parked behind Grant’s tomb, wondered again and aloud who was buried there (J), peered in at the dark, historic, gothic emptiness of Riverside Church, hunted down friends at the Interchurch Center next door, sat in the venerable Union Theological Seminary courtyard, fragrant and cloistered and quiet, then in James Chapel, now filling with five decades of friends and students.  The honoree asked not to preach, but only to celebrate the Eucharist, in clear Methodist fashion, as we do today.   Doctoral students sang an anthem musically summarizing Morse’s theological principles.  (Hear these words set to guitar and folk music:  coherence, catholicity, conformity…(J)).  A young student preached.  Prayers were offered by another, strong, sonorous, spirited prayers by another young student, the son of a prominent NYC Methodist preacher.  A simple luncheon followed, with a portrait unveiled, no eulogies or roasts or remembrances.  Just 90 minutes, noon on, of grace.  Then the drive home, along the coast and through New Haven, a drive most richly populated by ghosts, haunted by recollection and reckoning, riddled with gratitude.  Friends, an excellent 80 minute lecture lives, feeds, and lasts a lifetime, maybe even three such.  By the way, the young man who prayed so well, a cradle Methodist, a parsonage child, a brilliant future preacher, is gay.  Said a proud, heart broken dad, ‘He will not lie.  He will not stay.  He will find another denomination’.  But the father’s smile through pain was a real, though fragile, real though apocalyptic touch of grace, a holy Eucharist, love made real.

Boston

May 16 started six days of Commencement gladness, here at Boston University, across a campus and city still bruised and hurting from spring terror and death.  We shall sorely and truly need together the ongoing development of a spiritual discipline against resentment (acknowledged, admitted, accepted—and then wrestled with, like love with an angel).  More than 80 graduates were anointed by word and sword with a scarlet key.  The dental school celebration—large, colorful, global. A certain choir learned that they would sing with the Rolling Stones, a band active when Christopher Morse was in college.  Of course, with gladness, we happily recall the great, big moments of Commencement 2013.  Morgan Freeman photographed with Jan Hill.  Morgan Freeman cheered by students, ‘speech, speech…’  And in extatraditional mode, he did.  The Marsh Chapel choir, soon to sing with Mick Jagger, resplendent, redolent at Baccalaureate.  The thrilled celebration of hooding like that of the theology school here in the Chapel.  Music from ‘A Chorus Line’—perhaps generationally specific in thrill—with the Boston Pops.  A magnificent Advisory Board meeting with a world class presentation on global health.  Greek and Latin orations, from memory, in the original, at the BU Academy graduation, with a fine sermon given there, on ‘closing the opportunity gap’ on the text, ‘to whom much is given, from him much is required’ in St. Luke.  All these and others were wonderful and more than wonderful.

 

But come with me to an out of the way, smaller gathering, and a particularly powerful one every year.  For us, the most meaningful graduation moment each year is not under the big tent but among several dozen in Faneuil Hall, where 20 or so soldiers are commissioned as second lieutenants.  In crisp attire and crisp liturgy, young men and women assemble before the portraits of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and George Washington, in the cradle of the cradle of liberty.  “The President of the United States has placed his trust and confidence…” “Do you promise to preserve, protect, and defence…”  Then the loved ones—parents, or siblings or spouses—place the apulets upon the commissioned officers, sending them potentially into harm’s way for our sakes.  Freedom is not free.  To see mom and dad, brother and sister, husband and wife struggling to get the shoulder boards in place, every May, is the marrow of commencement, where a courageous present enters an uncertain future.  This year—by apocalypse came the gospel said Paul—one fine woman was aided by two other young women, her sister—and her partner.  In Boston, Faneuil Hall.  Before Adams, Hancock, and Washington.  She is going to place herself in mortal danger for us.  And we are going to question her practice of love?  It was a very full moment, an apocalypse if you will.  A touch of grace.

Montreal

 

By May 22, after the last of 27 different Commencement events for us, this the gracious retired faculty and staff association luncheon, an organization long chaired by two Marsh Chapter stalwarts, pointed the car due north toward ‘le Europe prochain’, Montreal, the Europe next door, the second largest French speaking city in the world.  A BU class was there arranged on urban mission and ministry.  While students pondered the pattern and significance of the work of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, and his emphasis on ‘belonging’, his longing for belonging, and remembered our own decade in and out of Quebec.  The Faculty of Religious Studies Birks Building, pristine and waxed and gothic and beautiful and summer empty, welcomed us with open arms.  Part school part church, part library part chapel, part study part sanctuary, part office part altar, part lectern part pulpit, part mind part heart.  The current faculty, many friends—Green, Kirkpatrick, Aiken, Baum, Hall, Golberger, Henderson, Sharma, Pettem—had place there books on display, and their faces restored a part of our being.  Our friends give us back ourselves.   Shadows, shades of memory greeted us too.  NT Wright, in 1981, in chapel announcing the death of Anwar Sadat.  Dean Eric Jay, long retired, admitting that the early church rejected patri-passianism, ‘but just barely’.  Dean RBY Scott, whose hymn we sing here.  Deans Johnston, Mclelland, and Runnells, Johnston stating at a oral that Q was a missionary, teaching tract.  Wilfred Cantwell Smith, like Howard Thurman, more than 100 years ahead of his time more than fifty year ago.  The day of registration and of defense and of graduation.  Forms of real contest at a time of young hope, fear and life.  The Canadian self-deferential self mockery, of which we could use a steady dose here:  ‘We could have had the best of British culture, French cuisine, and American government, but we got instead British cuisine, French government, and American culture’.  Funny, but not true, expect in the tone of self deprecation.

 

When GB Caird came to McGill he spoke of the Unity of the New Testament, and in his portrait we saw resembled  a Methodist minister, Dr Thomas Ogletree.  Tom is nearly 80.  Let me  describe him for you:  courtly, gracious, soft spoken white bearded, grandfatherly, bespectacled.   The former dean of Yale Divinity, and athe other of much of the theological substance in our current UM Book of Discipline.  I expect that if you look in the dictionary to find the definition o ‘Christian gentleman’, you will discover his photograph.  Last year he solemnized the marriage one of his five children, a son—to another man.  Now the winds of reaction, abetted by the mistaken misguidance of the current general superintendent in NY, are bringing him to trial.  The measure of our current failure to live up to the much ballyhooed Methodist tradition of social justice and holiness, can no more accurately be taken than by this dark image of Ogletree on trial before Methodism.  ‘Al contraire’ we thought in Montreal.  It is Ogletree who has brought Methodism to trial, not the reverse.  Here he is—gentle, forebearing, honest.  A touch of grace.

Syracuse

Our Annual Conference in Syracuse concluded yesterday.  Among many other earthly delights it included a fire alarm—no harm, no injuries—during opening worship.  Imagine 1500 Methodists fleeing and stampeding out of a convention center, ‘fleeing from the wrath to come’.  No flames, just apocalyptic mirth and moments in the sunshine for fellowship, and for conference.  It was also a truth moment.  A fire alarm is ringing, right now, across Methodism.   Since 2010 from Albany to Buffalo my beloved conference has lost 11% of its people.  For those under 45, the disaffection is highly specific.  We refuse to affirm the full humanity of gay people.  Can we be surprised that people of conscience go elsewhere?  What kind of future could you honestly want or expect for an excluding denomination?  During the fire alarm, I took the occasion to find and meet a pastor from Binghamton, whose blog post I had read the week before.  I close with Stephen Heiss’s words, for they are truly my very own:

 

To Bishop Mark Webb, my brother in Christ!

In the spirit of the One who said the truth will set us free, and emboldened by the freedom given by grace for which Jesus lived and died, I want and need to share with you how God has led me (and many of our colleagues) in ministries to help set at liberty those who have been held captive by the tyranny against people who are gay.

In the last few years I have officiated at several weddings for brothers and sisters who are lesbian or gay. One of those weddings—the highlight of my ministry—was for my own daughter and the woman who is now her wife. They are so happy!

Further, much to my delight, I have plans to officiate in the near future at yet another wedding for two women, that their joy may also be complete.

Bishop Webb—the long bitter era of scorn and hatred against gay people is dissolving before our very eyes. Christ has broken down the walls.

Those who have lived within the law and those who have lived outside the law are sitting down together at the table of grace.

The parable of the Kingdom of God as a wedding banquet has become an event in real time for hundreds of gay couples across our state. Finally, like the guest list in Jesus’ parable, those on the outside are invited to the inside of God’s grace.  They must come!

Nevertheless, some yet refuse the invitation.

They make excuses.

They cite Scriptures, yet offer no interpretive principle by which their claims are validated.

They prefer the “tradition of the elders” to Jesus’ teachings about “not judging the other.”

They screen for the gnats of sexual correctness while the elephants of consumer materialism, environmental degradation, and global starvation pass right by, completely unnoticed.

We cannot judge them, of course, for they too are given grace.

Who among us can say we have always accepted every invitation toward grace and away from judgment?

And so, grace abounds!

Further, the harvest of that grace is found everywhere—even in the church!

With regard to homosexuality, we who count ourselves as United Methodists have been wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty about all things gay for 40 long years.  Now the Promised Land is coming into view.

During those 40 years we have attempted to trap gay folks in nets of shame.

We stalked them with bible verses.

We legislated against them – whereas this, and whereas that.

We sent them to trials.

In righteous rage we lifted stones against them.

Now, in our own time, we are dropping those stones, one by one -

at first -  mothers, dads, sisters, brothers, school mates, talk show hosts, the neighbor next door.

We were learning.

Then—psychologists, pediatricians, sociologists, school teachers, neuro-scientists, biologists, counselors.

We were learning.

Then—Anglicans,  Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Churches of Christ, Presbyterians, Reformed Jews.

We were learning.

And now – baseball players, bible scholars, theologians, professional ethicists, Sunday school teachers, pastors . . .

and bishops.

We are learning.

We are finally learning that

being gay harms no one.

No one.

No one.

We are learning it is not a sin to be gay nor was it ever “incompatible with Christian teaching”.

We are learning that it is really OK with God if one is gay -

(just as eating shrimp is OK,  regardless stern biblical injunctions to the contrary!)

And so a new circle is forming.

A new circle is being created,

and it is being drawn wide.

A circle of understanding.

A circle of compassion.

A circle of truth.

The complex name for that circle might be:

“the fellowship of those who are no longer

throwing stones at people just because

they happen to be gay, lesbian,

bisexual or transgender”

A simpler name for that circle might be:

“those who are trying to live in the light of God’s grace”

But the name of the circle I most hope for, is this one:

The United Methodist Church

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

Re-Membering

May 26th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Please, be seated.

Remember with me, will you?  If you are seated here in the nave of Marsh Chapel you may want to find a comfortable posture, if such is possible in wooden pews, and fold your hands in your lap and let your eyelids drift downward just a bit.  If, on the other hand, you are driving a motor vehicle on Interstate 90, I think it would be better for all concerned, and on Interstate 90 there will be many concerned, if you just kept your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes open!  Let us, together, then, as a congregation called into fellowship on this Memorial Day weekend, remember.

We remember one year ago on a sunny Memorial Day weekend walking over to Boston Common and seeing a sea of American flags that had been painstakingly pounded into the soft earth.  A bride and a groom were making final preparations for their nuptials.  Nails were polished, shoes were shined, suits were pressed, dresses were shaken out, hair was done up, and yes, small vials of bubbles were unpacked and laid out in baskets for guests to retrieve and blow after the ceremony.  On that sunny Sunday afternoon, the bride and her father made their way down the aisle, this aisle in fact, and she joined hands with her betrothed.  Declarations were made, readings were read, a sermon was preached, Bach was sung, vows were vowed, rings were exchanged, prayers were said, and the priest proclaimed, “You are husband and wife!”  Yes, one year ago today Holly and I got married right here at Marsh Chapel on the glorious Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  It has been a year of delight, of learning, and most of all, of loving.  Happy anniversary, love!

If only all of our memories of the past year could be such happy ones.  For us here at Boston University, there has been far too much tragedy.

We remember on a cool November evening when Chung-Wei Yang, known at the University as Victor, who had come to BU from Taiwan to study international relations, collided with a bus while riding his bicycle and was killed.  His family arrived in Boston and on a Saturday morning, again here in the nave of Marsh Chapel, hundreds of students, friends, family, and members of the Taiwanese community in Boston joined to remember and pray.  Again, readings were read, a sermon was preached, music was sung, prayers were said, memories were shared, and tears, oh so many tears, were shed.

Then, only a couple of weeks later, the phone rings: “I’m driving down Commonwealth Avenue.  There’s a body in the road.  It’s not another one of ours, is it?”  Christopher Weigl, a graduate student in photojournalism in the College of Communications collided with a tractor-trailer just in front of the CVS across from Student Health Services.  Again on a Sunday afternoon, students and family and friends gathered, this time in the nave of the First Congregational Church in Holliston, Massaschusetts, in whose fellowship Christopher grew up.  BU alumna and senior pastor of the church, Rev. Bonnie Steinroeder, who pastors three generations of the Weigl family, led another service of readings and prayers and memories and music and tears.

We made it through January and February unscathed, but then on the first Saturday of March, in the wee hours of the morning, Anthony Barksdale died after attending an un-registered, off-campus party.  He was a freshman engineering major from Amherst, New Hampshire.  Due to the cold and the rain, a vigil was held indoors in the George Sherman Union.  Students gathered in the Towers dormitory to share memories.  A memorial service was held in his high school.

April 15.  Tax Day!  Patriots’ Day.  Marathon Monday.  You remember, don’t you?  Just a little warmer than the runners may have wanted, but perfect for spectators who came out in droves to line the course, particularly the last few miles as the runners came down Beacon Street, through Kenmore Square, and then zigged and zagged over to Boylston Street to the finish line.  Some of us gathered in the Deanery, that is, the residence of the dean, for a brunch of eggs and fruit and Dunkin Donuts.  Dean Hill recited Longfellow and the Gettysburg Address, as he is wont to do sometimes.  Out we processed to Kenmore Square to watch the elite runners come through, thinking that we were only taking our lives in our hands by boarding the rickety elevator down to the ground from number 10.

How little did we know.  My wife and I walked from Kenmore Square back home and I lay down to take a nap.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I detest being rudely awoken from a sound sleep.  So it was that when Holly shook my shoulder and announced, “there are bombs at the marathon!” all I could think was, “That’s ridiculous.  Bombs don’t belong at marathons!”  I looked at my phone: missed calls, missed texts, missed email.  We called our parents.  “I have to get to the chapel,” I announced.  “How?”  Good question.  How do you get from Beacon Hill to Boston University without going anywhere near Copley Square?  Thank God for Hubway!  I grabbed a bike, carried it over to the Esplanade, and rode hard.

You know, when you stop a race before it is completed and throw the runners off the course, it gets a bit confusing.  Runners came over to Commonwealth Avenue from Beacon Street, many of them hoping to catch the T, only to find that the T was shut down.  What did they find?  A church!  Marsh Chapel.  In they came and hospitality we provided: water, food, blankets, phones, rides, directions, counsel, prayer, patience.  We planned a vigil for that evening.  News broke that there was an explosion at the JFK library.  We cancelled the vigil.  The vigil finally happened the following evening and hundreds gathered on Marsh Plaza in front of the chapel for readings, and prayers, and words of comfort and strength in times of trouble.  Another evening hence we gathered here in the nave for readings, prayers, sermon, song, hymns, and Eucharist as we continued the search for healing.

“Is there a student at Boston University named Lu Lingzi?” Dean Hill asked.  I typed her name into the computer.  “Yes.”  “Oh.”  Lingzi was no longer missing.  She was at the morgue.  One of the three killed by the bombings.  The media frenzy was intense as the news broke.  Over 400 students, most of them Chinese, gathered in the Burke Room at Agganis Arena to share memories and process together.  Her parents arrived from China and were greeted at the airport by the Ambassador from China and a delegation from Boston University.  1400 people, including many dignitaries, gathered in the George Sherman Union for Lingzi’s memorial service.  4000 watched a live stream over the Internet.  $560,000 was gathered in the course of a morning by the Trustees of Boston University to begin a scholarship fund in her memory.  Her father gave a poignant and moving eulogy.  Her mother was inconsolable.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

The phone rang.  “Br. Larry, I know it’s Sunday morning and you have services, but there has been a fire, and a student has died, and several are in the hospital.  Can you go to the hospital?”  More death.  More trauma.  Binland Lee was a senior in the Marine Science program at the College of Arts and Sciences.  This time, students traveled down to Brooklyn, New York for a Chinese Buddhist wake and memorial service in an Italian Catholic funeral home.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

Remembering a wedding is wonderful.  The heart soars as the feelings of love and joy and belonging together, so intensely felt on that day, return to the forefront of the mind’s eye.  Remembering death and violence and vigils and funerals is hard.  It is painful.  It is rubbing salt in a wound of the spirit.  Each one of those American flags pounded into the common might as well have been pounded into the flesh of those who loved the one whom the flag represents.

Remembering a dead loved one is painful precisely because we know that the person cannot be re-membered.  It is not possible that grandma or grandpa or mom or dad or brother or sister or, God have mercy, son or daughter should be re-membered, brought into membership again, in the family.  It is not possible that friend or neighbor or colleague or teammate or pew-fellow should be re-membered, brought back into the fellowship of the community.  Our grief and our pain as we remember those we have loved who have died arises from the helplessness we feel and the loss of control we experience when we recognize that there is nothing we can do to re-member them.

There are bombing victims in Boston who are struggling to re-member themselves right now.  Some lost arms and legs in the blasts of the bombs and they grieve the loss of their limbs as they remember what life was like before.  Thankfully, many of those who lost limbs will be able to re-member not their own arms and hands or legs and feet but prosthetic limbs that will empower them to reclaim at least a portion of the life they had before.  Nevertheless, the sense of helplessness and the terror of being out of control without the ability to walk or the ability to pick up a fork is something that will haunt many for the rest of their lives.

So too, there are those who lined Boylston Street on April 15, and especially many who worked in the medical tents, and many of us who perhaps were not there and yet somehow feel that this happened to us.  We too struggle to re-member.  We remember what we heard: explosions, screams, cries.  We remember what we saw: fire, broken glass, blood.  We remember the smell of smoke, the taste of bile, the touch of those jostling to get to the wounded or away from the area.  Holding together the pieces of the mind is a struggle to re-member in a spirit of hope what we remember of a time of terror.

Why do we remember?  Why bother to become involved in the work of memory with its attendant pain and grief?  Why not just forget?

We remember because we have hope that we ourselves will be re-membered.  Today is Trinity Sunday, and in the life of Christianity this is the day we remember that God in Godself is a community of members.  One of those members became incarnate in Jesus Christ and was thus, for a time, dismembered from God.  Today, on Memorial Day weekend and Trinity Sunday, readings and prayers and sermon and song teach us that God knows the pain of dismemberment as God experienced the pain of the passion.  And yet, God also knows the healing and joy of re-membering in the glory of the resurrection.  The Holy Spirit of God testifies today that it is not the passion of Christ that defines the Person of Christ, but the Person that defines the passion; that it is not suffering that bears meaning, but a sense of meaning that bears up under suffering; that it is not the cross that carries the love but the love that carries the cross; that it is not crucifixion that encompasses salvation, but salvation that encompasses even the tragedy of crucifixion.  In the life of faith the work of memory is part and parcel of the work God does in us, in the example of Christ and in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, that we may withstand what we cannot understand.

So far, so good, but we cannot stop there.  The testimony of the church on Trinity Sunday is that the love of God, and the grace of God, and the forgiveness of God, and the healing of God, and the redemption of God that re-members us into relationship and partnership and family and community and society and world belongs not to us but to God who extends the partnership of Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all peoples and all times and all places, and not only to people but to the whole of creation.  It is out of this belief that Howard Thurman said that “people, all people, belong to one another, and those who shut themselves away diminish themselves, and those who shut another away destroy themselves.”  Just this week Pope Francis said in a weekday Mass sermon that, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this [one] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”  You see, by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  The hard work of remembering prevents us from shutting ourselves away and from shutting others away that we may all be re-membered together.  It is in the work of remembering that the Spirit draws us in her tether that we might touch the garment hem of God and be healed and re-membered.

It would probably be wise for me to stop there, but the wisdom of faith is foolishness to the wise and on Trinity Sunday, when I remember my ordination to the priesthood four years ago, we are reminded that we are called to be fools for Christ.  For you see, if we believe with Howard Thurman that all people belong to one another, and if we believe with Pope Francis that God has redeemed all of us, then it cannot be the case that we are re-membered, returned to fellowship, having left anyone or anything behind.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the bus that collided with Victor.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the tractor-trailer that killed Christopher.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the students who threw the party that Anthony attended.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with those responsible for the conditions that led to the fire that killed Binland.  And dear friends in Boston, we cannot be re-membered as a city and as a community and as a society until we are re-membered with Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev.  All people belong to one another, not merely the ones we love or who love us.  It was a sinful, sinful thing to attempt to deny Tamerlan the small dignity of burial, and we must all repent, for until we can confess that we belong to Tamerlan and Dzokhar, and they to us, we cannot be re-membered, and our search for healing continues.

Lingzi’s parents buried her here in Boston.  They did so because they believe that her spirit will help to bring peace to our community.  She will certainly abide here in our memory, and in remembering all of those we have lost, may we be re-membered, returned to fellowship, with one another, with all people, with all creation, and ultimately, with God, whose re-memberment we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.  Amen.

 

~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+

University Chaplain for Community Life

University Baccalaureate

May 19th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the service, including the Baccalaureate Address.

Click here to watch the video from BU Today.

 

Boston University’s 2013 Baccalaureate speaker was Bishop Peter D. Beaver, Retired Bishop of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. Additionally, he served on the Board of Trustees of Boston University from 2004-2012. For more information, please see the BU Today article.

There will be no sermon text posted for this Baccalaureate address.

 

This I Believe

May 12th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the This I Believe Talks only.

 

Brittany Schwartz is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts in environmental analysis and policy, with minors in earth sciences, biology, and international relations.  She has been a leader on the Servant Team here at Marsh Chapel throughout her time at Boston University and was given the University Service Award for her extraordinary contributions at the Community Service Center.

 

I didn’t plan on getting involved with religious life at BU.  I planned on going to mass but that was going to be about it for me, like it always was.

But I was browsing the BU calendar on the evening of one of the very first days of classes freshman year and saw an event for that night that really caught my eye: capture the flag.  I didn’t pay much attention to the group running the event and was simply eager to participate in a game I loved to play with friends back home.  Turns out it was hosted by Marsh Chapel.  Hmm…

Once I found my way to the Thurman Room in the basement, I was greeted by some of the craziest, coolest, most-passionate people I had ever met, along with my very first of many free meals from Marsh.  Those folks I met that night made me feel unbelievably welcome as they asked meaningful getting-to-know-you questions and genuinely listened to my answers, pointing out little pieces of common ground between all of us along the way.  Within these new friends I found comfort, I found family, and I found home.

And so it began.  After that night and some other first-week events I was hooked on this open, accepting, lively place and the even more dynamic people found inside of it.  From service projects with Servant Team to discussions with Interfaith Council to community dinners on Monday nights, the Marsh family has unrelentingly reminded me how amazing it is that while we each hold our own different beliefs we can share in so many of the most wonderful aspects of life.

I believe we as humans can all unite with the image of a world that is kind, just, and wholesome, one that revolves around compassion for others and treasures each individual’s unique perspective, experiences, and voice.  A community like this one here at Marsh, one that is founded on indiscriminate love and cherishes common threads, allows me to put incredible faith in the thought of such a place.

Looking at it as a whole, my journey here at Marsh is kind of just like that capture the flag game I went to freshman year.  Both are about working with others and searching, looking into things in ways you hadn’t before and taking risks along the way as you propel across that safe line of comfort, trusting others to have your back.  Each quest requires perseverance, attention, and a deeper understanding of yourself.  Both are exhilarating and challenging, especially when you’re sometimes left confused in the dark as the unexpected strikes.  The diary of neither adventure is perfect – you can get tagged and sent to the tree or come across incomprehensible struggles in life – but both are always more than worthwhile.  One thing that’s different, though, is that when working on finding yourself and your beliefs at Marsh, everyone has customized flags – many of them in common with others, some not – and we’re all on the same team.  Plus, at Marsh we all get flashlights – that is, amazing people that teeter the perfect balance of guiding us and pushing us to discover things ourselves.

I am incredibly blessed to have been a part of this community for the past four years and don’t just believe but know that the deep friendships I’ve made here at Marsh will forever be a home-base for me as I search and reach for the flags life after BU will bring.

Thank you to all who have supported, inspired, and simply loved me while I’ve been here.

 


Molly Flanagan is graduating magna cum laude from the College of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Music in Brass Performance, specializing in French horn.  She has been a faithful member of the Marsh Chapel choir throughout her studies at Boston University.

 

I attended Sunday school regularly as a child, and came away with two things from that experience: 1.) Jesus apparently likes to drink a lot of wine and 2.) God looks like everyone.  I accepted the first one without much internal struggle, but the second one threw me for a loop.  Our teacher told us that God makes everyone in his own image, so He looks like a little bit of everyone… or something like that.  I tried to picture what every person in the world looked like, and how you could mash all of those images into one.  There are only so many features on a face, and who got to decide what color the eyes were, or what size the nose was?  And if He looked like everyone, then wouldn’t He really look like no one?  I don’t like thinking very hard about things, and I was no different at age 7, so I ended up letting it go.

Years later, I began my freshman year of college.  I crashed, and badly.  It took me a long time to get used to being at BU, and I hated myself for that.  I joined the Marsh Chapel choir my second week of school and hung out with people from CFA, but I could never really make it work.  Every time I felt myself becoming comfortable with what I was doing, or actually feeling okay for a moment about where I was, there was always something that would overwhelm me, like it wanted to remind me that I was not allowed to be happy or at peace.  The feeling gradually disappeared the longer I stayed in school, and I assumed that “it” was just normal freshman adjustment difficulties that I’d left behind me.  However, “it” came back numerous times until about 18 months ago, when I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed me with Depression and started me on medication that gave me my life back.

During those tumultuous years when it felt like the ground could slip out from beneath me at any time, the one thing that remained consistent was the people along the way.  There was my teacher, who noticed that something was off my second lesson and, much to my surprise, spent an entire hour talking to me instead of playing.  There was the friend who l was able to confide in and vent to more comfortably than I could with anyone else, a friend who I only met because he just happened to be the roommate that year of another good friend of mine.  There was the teacher I had during a semester abroad whose kindness helped me find my way thousands of miles from home.  There was also the group of people who, maybe without knowing it, provided a safe space for me every Thursday night and kept me going even through those days when I seriously considered dropping out of school.  Whenever anything happened, whenever I had a setback or got into trouble, someone always just happened to be there to help me along the way.  Four years later, I am still here; four years later I now believe that those numerous acts of grace and kindness that kept me here came from God working in the form of the people I come in contact with.  So even though I am leaving Boston after this week, I believe that wherever I end up, God will be there with me, and He really will look just like everyone around me.


Serrie Hamilton is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics.  She has been a faithful member of the Servant Team throughout her time at Boston University and served on the ministry staff here at Marsh Chapel in 2011-12.

 

I have been a part of the church since before I can remember. Growing up a blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian girl in the heart of the Midwest, I narrowly avoided Lutheran lutefisk dinners, but was always up for a tater tot hot dish. Growing up as a church musician’s daughter, I lived and breathed church; marching on over to my dad’s office every day after school, singing in children’s choir, having my classmates tease me, saying that I had a microphone in my earring because that was the only way I could know all the answers in confirmation class.

Then, I fled to Boston University. I was convinced that I had to get as far away from what I thought of then as the stifling Midwest and my identity as my “father’s daughter.” I was convinced that I didn’t need church and that living and breathing church was the same thing as faith.

I kept that mentality up for about a year until I met Br. Larry and Dean Hill. It was not long after that that I wrote to Br. Larry while sitting in my darkened dorm room on Bay State with the realization that church for me could exist outside of my childhood world; I wanted to be involved at Marsh, and did I ever get involved! I ushered, I co-chaired Servant Team, I worked in the office, I worked as a Ministry Assistant; I was back to living and breathing church, which I again, was confusing with faith.

It was then that I decided to take a step back from all these commitments. In the past year, I have learned so much about myself and my faith. I came to Boston, convinced that I would change the world. Has that happened? No, but I have made my mark, giving friends advice, engaging in academic conversation, smiling at strangers as they pass by. As I grow older and wiser, I realize that these are the things in life that matter, these are the things that grant me the ability to have faith in God – the little things that reveal God’s presence in our daily lives.

After an almost 23 year long journey with its twists and turns, for better and for worse, I have barely scratched the surface of what faith means, but here is what I believe today:

Today, I believe that having faith in God allows me to be unsure about my faith in myself. God picks up the slack, and is there, even in the depths.

Today, I believe that God works through each one of us so that we may support and love one another.

Today, I believe that, in the words of Dean Hill, wherever you are, be present. Breathe, listen, smile, love, hear, lift, be there.

No matter what happens, when I question my abilities, when I doubt my choices, when my faith falters, I look to words from the Dean:

Life is good.  Morning is good. Prayer is good.  Grace is good.  Love is good.  Family is good.  God is good.  All the time.

In this, I will always believe.

 


Sami Hamdan is graduating summa cum laude from Sargent College with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science and will begin a Master of Public Health in health policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health in the fall.  He has served as a Student Health Ambassador at Student Health Services for the past two years.

 

Faith is at times a tricky concept. In the small, dark moments of my life, faith felt like leaning against a wall of mist. But that was before I came to college, before I fully understood what faith meant to me. I have found that my faith was tested in my time at Boston University, and in the end, strengthened. When I began college, I was not entirely sure what faith meant. I knew what religion meant, and I accepted Islam as my religion wholeheartedly, but a deep and intuitive faith took time to discover. As my understanding of faith began to develop, I found that it is far more than a litany of dogmatic do’s and don’ts. While ritual is important, my time at college has shown me how faith can be cultivated in many ways, not simply through one system of belief. Of course, actively embracing Islamic prayer and ritual has helped channel and grow my sense of faith. But for me, faith gained a far more fundamental meaning. In so much of the world today faith is portrayed as a divisive issue, but I have come to believe that true faith is a common denominator more than a common divider. For me, faith is living deeply, by meaningful action and through meaningful connections with others. For me, faith is not about arguing over the details; my faith is about embodying the core principles of Islam, and spirituality in general: acting decently, forgiving before judging, and looking for the good in people. During my time in college, I have found this sense of faith in many surprising places, and it can be a source of great inspiration and strength. I have found a sense of faith in my dear friends who have supported me in times of need and celebrated the successes of my college career. I have found a sense of faith in a graveyard on the first beautiful day of spring, when so much else seemed to be missing from my world. I have found a sense of faith in the joy of a child’s smile while recovering from a surgery that gave him a fresh start to life. And I have found a sense of faith in the quiet solitude of a sunset on a fall day, when all the small concerns that can occupy my time are swept away by the simple grandeur of life. In the midst of sorrow or happiness, in the grand moments and especially in the little ones, faith has become my core and my guide. Faith is about embracing the unknown, with a sense of clarity and purpose. It is my deep sense of a greater meaning and order to life; a purpose to my existence, even it seems beyond me at times.

Prayers of the People

We now come to the time in our service when we turn our hearts and minds to prayer and lift up our lives and ourselves to God.  As we pray together this morning, I will conclude each petition “God, in your mercy.”  Please respond, “Hear our prayer.”  Please assume an attitude and posture of prayer by either remaining seated, standing, kneeling, or coming to the communion rail as we sing together our call to prayer, “Lead Me, Lord.”

 

God of serendipity, we give thanks for those moments in our lives that we could not have planned and yet which, in the surprise of grace, exceed our every hope and aspiration.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God of hospitality, we are grateful for the communities in which we have received the joy of fellowship, and we invite your Spirit to guide us to be a people of extraordinarily hospitable grace.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God of peace, we pray for a world that is kind, just, and compassionate amidst diversities of perspective, experience, and voice.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God of adventure, we pray for the perseverance, attention, and self-knowledge to take the path of spiritual seeking that, while risky, promises a deeply worthwhile reward.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

Invisible God, we who have never seen your face pray for the grace to see you in the faces of all those we encounter this week, and to display in our faces the radiance of your glory.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God of wholeness, we give thanks for those in our lives who accompany us back from darkness and despair to health and vitality of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

Ever-present God, we are grateful that even when we try to flee from your presence, you remain alongside us, and provide us companions and comforters to lead us into more truth.  Grant us grace also to accompany and comfort those we are given to walk alongside in the path of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

Faithful God, remind us this day and each day that life is good; morning is good; prayer is good; grace is good; love is good; family is good; and you are good; that we may embody goodness and light in your world.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God who calls us into community, help us to live as communities that embody the richness of prayer and ritual that we may nurture and grow faithful people for lives that will be transformative in society and the world.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

Merciful God, help us to find the resources in our faith to be people of common ground, living deeply, practicing meaningful action, and cultivating meaningful connections with others.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

God of grandeur, help us to embrace the unknown that in the quiet solitude of a sunset, when all of the small concerns that can occupy our time are swept away, we may enjoy the simple grandeur of life.  God, in your mercy.  Hear our prayer.

 

And now, with the confidence of children of God, we are bold to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Living Grace

May 5th, 2013 by Marsh Chapel

John 14: 23-29

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

 

Situation

Come with me for a moment, if you will, and by the mind’s eye, by the imagination, as we walk a little bit across our beloved city.

We can leave Marsh Chapel and head to the left, due east.  The trees and flowers are fragrant and in bloom.  We will saunter and wander down the Commonwealth Mall, past the statues and benches and people enjoying a free Sunday.   At Dartmouth we will turn right, due south.  Now you will want to pause at Copley Square.  Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our sister congregation at Trinity Church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.   Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our brother congregation at Old South church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.  Take a moment with me to read the cards and notes, see the flowers and gifts, in the people’s memorial, there, across from the library.   Remembrance, thanksgiving, presence—you feel them all, these emotions of living grace, these sacramental emotions of living grace.  I want to give us a moment to pause here.  By the living grace of God we can face grief with grace, hatred with honesty, and death with dignity.  There is a spirit of truth loose in the universe, to guide us on our walk this morning.   Many of us have already, personally or individually, made this same hike, but we have done so together, until now, and now we do so, together, by the mind’s eye, by the imagination.  There are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Now we will head back to Marsh Plaza, walking west on Boylston.  These blocks have become brick to brick familiar to the whole globe, not just to those of us in the ‘hub’.  It is important for us to take this walk, and it is important for us to take this walk together.  You may want to look at some running shoes in Marathon Sports.  Or if you like the gracious narthex of the Lennox Hotel, we could rest there a moment.  We will stand for a moment in front of the Forum Restaurant, and there, look for a moment, at another makeshift memorial.  By the living grace of God we can together make our way into the past, in memory, and into the future, in imagination.   We see ourselves being filmed from the camera atop Lord and Taylor.  We greet a friend who is seated in a nearby restaurant.  The eyes film over, somehow.  But we are walking together, and we can walk on.  You can walk fast, or, like me, walk slowly.  It is after all your own imagination.  Take things at your own pace.  Coming back, up Boylston, across Hereford, left on Commonwealth, and on to the Chapel, there are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Two young men of limited abilities, armed with the Internet, $100, and some kitchen utensils, brought the fifth largest metropolitan region in the country to a many day standstill.  Coffin:  God gives us minimum protection and maximum support.  In our neighborhood.   Loss of life and limb, of property and security.  Here.  Present together to receive the living grace of God in Eucharist, present together across the airwaves to receive the living grace of God in the spoken word, we face together all the potentials of an open future and the extent of human freedom.  This is our shared situation.  We need to level with each other about this.

Scripture

Our Scripture, today in particular and every day in general, promises the presence of the spirit of truth, loose in the universe.  The potential for harm is, like death itself, ever present.  The potential for living grace, like life itself, is ever present.  The psalmist sings of a living grace.  Lydia embraced such a living grace.  John, ever unique, names this grace with a new name, the paraklete, the counselor, the advocate, the holy spirit, who abides in the experience of peace.

For all the familiarity of these lines from John 14, the actual meaning, in history and theology, is darkly or obscurely understood.  In particular the novel figure of the paraclete, related in some manner to the holy spirit, to this day is a source of wonder and perplexity for those who study these passages.  We are standing on high precipice, ice beneath our feet, wind swirling about our temples, as we receive the promise of the counselor.  The living grace of the living God we know in living.  Our scripture assumes that we shall be in need of some counseling, some advocacy, some aid.  We are.

Today such sustenance is given in a living grace, a lively grace that teaches and reminds.  Let me show you.  Let me remind you.  We need to learn and remember, though, the clear statement here.  You will be taught, reminded.  This is you plural, friends.   You all.  The gift of the living grace is made to the gathering, the community, the whole.  Not to you but to YOU.  These things I have spoken to YOU (plural).  While I am still with YOU (plural).  The spirit sent will teach YOU (plural).  Reminding of all that I have said to YOU (plural).  Peace I leave with YOU (plural).  My peace I give to YOU (plural).  Not as the world gives do I give to YOU (plural).

Living grace makes of us a community by making of us an addressable community, speaking to us together:  speaking us together. We may deconstruct the Scripture, but Scripture reconstructs US.  The gospel, spoken and heard, reshapes us into a living grace.  Reclothes us in our rightful minds…That is, in our situation, our SHARED situation, we are promised something, but the promise is to the plural YOU.  YOU, YOU ALL, ALL YOU ALL.  Our way forward, that is, on the strength of this Gospel, lies in forms of partnership—meaning is found in community, belonging is found in fellowship, empowerment is found in friendship.  Each one’s death diminishes me for I am a part of humankind.  The dark mystery of the Counselor remains, but there is nothing unclear about the spirit’s attention—focused on the common, the commonwealth, the common good.

The far too familiar lines of this strange moonscape of a passage come to a crashing conclusion.  ‘Let not your hearts be troubled’.  Heart-S.  We are, at heart, gifts of one another to one another, hearts whose heartbeats are felt by one another, souls whose soul is born in soulful connection to one another, meant to live for one another.

On television sometimes I hear some commentator say, ‘Let not your heart by troubled’.  I want to write in the S at the end.  It changes everything.  Heart-S.

Living grace is the grace to live together, which takes wisdom, power and goodness.  This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.  Together we search for wisdom, power, goodness.

Wisdom forms design, power allows action, goodness does good.  Research, policy, practice.  Teaching, deaning, pastoring.  Preaching is over all.  Eucharist is over all.  Grace is over all.

Let us receive some wisdom about anger.  Our anger is real, and needs to be felt, seen, heard, understood and processed as real.  I refer you to the sermon of April 21.  You will not get away from the marathon bombing without facing your anger, your hatred, even, for those who did this.  Be angry, the Bible says, but let not the sun go down on your anger.  Hate what is evil, the Bible says, but overcome evil with good. We need to acknowledge that anger, even confess it, even speak it, so that we do not repress it.  Beware, my friend, beware the return of the repressed.  You have reason to be angry. Oklahoma, Nineleven, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Boston.  But you also have resources with which to deal with it.

Let us receive some power regarding hatred.  Romans 12: 9 I get…It is the later verse, 20, ‘feed your enemy…and so pour burning coals on him’ that is harder to interpret.   We may in part finally understand, at a gut level, Paul’s admonition.  Is there any other way to channel the anger and honest hatred of evil that we feel?  What a wise leverage, a Syracusan, a Archemedian leverage of anger for good, of hatred for love.  Let us together try it.  We have the possibility of regeneration right here, a living grace.  Shmuel Eisenstadt distinguishes irreversible collapse from ‘collapse with a possibility of regeneration or renewal’ (eg UMC)…’ability to reflect on themselves…reference to shared, lofty visions…allows reshaping…allows continuity…eg Roman Empire and Han Dynasty’ This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.

Let us receive some goodness for the journey.

One wrote: We just wanted to thank you all for your kindness and hospitality.  On Marathon Monday, when our race came to an end at Mile 25, we were so disoriented about what was going on.  Without any cell phones or money, we wandered the streets a while confused about what to do and worried about our loved ones at the finish line.  We met wonderful people that day,.  Some gave us money to get a taxi, but there were none to be found, others told us to go to the chapel and walked us to your doorsteps.  Everyone at the Chapel was so nice and helpful, bringing us food, hot tea, and letting us use your phones.  We felt safe!  You helped us to reunite with our families.  Thank God that they were OK and thank God for all the wonderful and kind people who we met that day at Marsh Chapel.  With love…

Another wrote: I want to express my gratitude and that of my entire family for the comfort and care provided to us on 4/15.  We sought refuge and we received that and more…Your staff was wonderful and their comfort was most appreciated.  It is hard to understand how someone can cause so much pain.  The benefit of being reminded in tangible ways of the goodness and kindness of others helps to create a sense of balance—thank you for that.  Sincerely…

It will take the wisdom, power and goodness of another generation to design, build and desire a better world.  Here is our prayer for them, the class of ’13, but it is truly a prayer for us all:

Seniors:  “13 prayers for the class of ‘13”

May you finish your papers, wake up for your finals, and pass your courses

May you find a job when you are hunting for one, and be found by a calling when you are not (hunting for one)

May you remember your mom on Mothers’ Day, seven days from today

May our recall that there are two ways to be wealthy:  have a lot of money, or, have  very few needs.

May you honestly face death, as we have done this spring, and so discover the precious value of every breath, as we also have done this spring.

May you, with the Greeks, see in tragedy the seedbed of nobility.

May you bring a sense of purpose to days and events which lack both (sense and purpose).

May your return your overdue library books.  May you find your overdue library books.

May you with Samuel Johnson keep your friendships in good repair, with John Wesley and Mother Theresa remember the poor, with Lord Baden Powell do a good turn daily, and with Bill Coffin take yourself lightly so that you may fly, like the angels.

May you have a life long, rapturous, torrid love affair—with Boston, dear old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, and take your first born to Fenway Park, and remember the radiant, sun-dappled happiness of this morning all your days.

May life be good to you, and may you be good to life.

My dear ones, my dear friends, who so resemble my own dear children, may you be safe, may you be well, may you be happy.

May you as a generation find the wisdom to design a better world, acquire the power to build a better world, and have the goodness to want a better world.

May it be so.

 

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