The Sound of Silence

August 10th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

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The task before us this summer-the theme-the musings-the rumination is “The Gospel and Emerging Adulthood”. Typically, amongst scholars the emerging adult is classified as a transitioning stage of life that aligns with the ages 18-35. As an emerging adult myself, who is married to another emerging adulthood, with good friends and colleagues all living into emerging adulthood-I find that this topic is profoundly important and near to my heart. Furthermore, in this generation of emerging adults, we find ourselves emerging out of the cusp of the millennial nomination. This is an era that comes with its own unique set of graces and struggles. I, like so many other 18-35 year olds find myself wading through emerging adulthood just trying to make for myself a personal and spiritual home. As an emerging adult, I want to tackle a subject that is not talked about much amongst our generation, and perhaps even the generation before us: Silence. And yes, believe me, I realize the irony in writing a whole sermon-a whole speech-about Silence. But if Simon and Garfunkel can write a song about silence, I figured it was high time for a sermon about it.

I, like many of my peers, have long struggled with silence. Particularly with unplanned silence, as in a silence that wasn’t scheduled for me in prayer, meditation, etc.; but silence that would creep up on me in conversation and make feel almost like I was suffocating under the pressure to find things to say. The elongated pause, the awkward silence, the thoughtful moment would typically make my skin crawl and I would immediately feel the urge to fill the silence with some witty statement or new topic of conversation. Research shows that this cringing feeling amidst silence is not only about me, but is a common trait of many young adults in this generation. We are the generation, after all, that created special hand gestures to alleviate the awkwardness of silence-if you have ever done the “awkward turtle” you know exactly what I am talking about.

And even in the planned silence, we still feel squirmy. I have practiced meditation for nearly 8 years now, and my first teacher-a Buddhist monk from rural Iowa and a big believer in silence-accused me of having a ‘monkey mind’-that whenever the stillness or silence of the moment crept in-my mind would reach out and grab new topics, images, and ideas to fill what I was considering a void. As it turns out-a lot of emerging adults struggle with monkey mind. In our image driven, digital over sharing culture, where there are constant outlets of expression, speech, thought, and opinion-silence is often viewed as a weakness, as a vulnerability, a lack of concern or input; even as a lack of intelligence. We tweet, we post, we instagram, we text, we call, we email, we chat, we share, but do we do silence? It seems that even times for intentional silence is becoming more rare and scarce and the only minute long ‘moments of silence’ we share together is in grieving for loss. For us silence signals sadness, not joy. Silence shows inconsideration, not thoughtfulness. It hasn’t always been this way.

There are reasons for this cultural shift about silence. George Prochnik, in his book “In Pursuit of Silence” shares research that in the current American society-sound signifies a good time. When something is loud, our minds immediately jump to ‘fun’ ‘party’ ‘enjoyment’ etc.  Restaurants are using this research to drum up business-the noisier the place, the more business they get. And even when we attend these riotous restaurants, we fell an immense amount of pressure to shout conversations across the table to each other over the din of sound until our voices go raw. We shout, we laugh, we sing, we converse animatedly to show our interest and delight in community. Noise is constantly surrounding us and defining how we live. Sound through music and movies are now streamlined into our pockets via phones, tablets, and electronic devices that enable us to be immersed in sound from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night. I myself have formed the bad habit of turning on the radio as soon as I wake up, and falling asleep to the sound of the Jimmy Fallon on my TV at night.

This over exposure to sound is not only bad for your mental and spiritual health, but it an be detrimental to your physical health as well. Prochnik goes on to say in his book that long has over-exposure to sound been associated with hearing loss as many of you know, but newer research states that it also effects your cardiovascular system-your heart. Trying to sleep in a noisy environment (say by listening to the TV or talking a lot before bed) your blood pressure can rise through the night and stay high all day. He also mentions about excessive outside noise that is often unavoidable can also be damaging. Prochnik says that in the United States, “many times subways that haven’t been maintained are already running at a decibel that is dangerous.”-those of you who have ever ridden the MBTA green line through Boylston station can relate to this, methinks.

Furthermore, too much noise can damage our mental and spiritual health. While constantly expressing through words, we often don’t pause for true introspection and discernment. We get so caught up in speech that we can’t even hear ourselves clearly. Emerging adults and our culture at large has been thoroughly steeped in an opinion sharing age, an age that values speaking up, standing up for something, civic activism, speaking truths, poetry and protest in full force. While these are beautiful trademarks of who we are as a culture; I find that the lack of silence makes us lack in many thing-not the least of which is our spirituality and relationship to the Divine. The ancient Egyptian proverb of “speech is silver but silence is golden” is bandied about but do we really find Silence golden? Perhaps our generation would rewrite the proverb to say “Silence is Golden-but Speech is platinum”.  Do we cherish silence anymore and practice it the way we should? Still in our every day lives, more often than not-we choose sound over silence. Why is that? Because for many of us: silence is scary.

In our scripture today of 1 Kings 19:9-18, we see Elijah, a broken prophet, standing on a mountain waiting for God to pass by. At this point in the Elijah narrative, Elijah is running away from his life and his responsibilities-after he demolishes all of the false prophets that belonged to Jezebel, the angered queen sends him a message that she is now coming after him to take his life personally. He is scared, failing at his prophetic duties, feeling alone and abandoned,  Elijah goes and hides in a cave on a mountainside and waits for God to pass by. This great rattling theophany approaches him and Elijah witnesses a great storm with crackling lightning and earthshaking thunder-but he does not find God there; then comes a tumultuous earthquake that shatters rocks and uproots trees-but God is not there; then a roaring fire ignites and consumes the world around him-but still God is not there. Through all of these terrors, Elijah stands firm and waits for a true revelation from the Divine. Finally the scene is enveloped in an eerie and total silence. A silence felt down in the core of your being. A silence that fills up the heavens. This silence is so profound, that over the years Hebrew scholars have struggled to bring it justice in translation-in the KJV it is called ‘the still small voice’, and in other interpretations it is called ‘a soft murmuring’ or a ‘deep silence’. Modern Day Hebrew Scholar, Dr. Choon Seow says that it is so difficult to translate because the phrase is an oxymoron in Hebrew-the literal wooden translation is ‘the sound of fine silence’. God chooses a discourse through the sound of silence.

It is in this distilled silence that Elijah encounters the Lord.  What does Elijah do? He hides. He physically pulls up his mantle-a bit of his cloak-over his face in fear; much like a child may pull the covers over their head in fright. Elijah stood through the storm, through the quake, through the fire, and shutters in the silence-because-silence is scary. In silence we find ourselves vulnerable, disarmed, and naked. In silence we fear that we may not be understood, or perhaps we will not understand. In silence we worry that our innermost expressions will be exposed, and not guarded by our carefully crafted words. Silence opens up in us a sacred space that we are not always familiar or comfortable with.

But the Sacred One comes in the silence-God chooses the mode of discourse-god is not in the fire, the quake or the storm, but God chooses silence to communicate with Elijah in that moment. Though silence may be intimidating, we stand a lot to gain from practicing it. In silence we are offered a chance to examine those vulnerabilities and truths we were once afraid of. We gain insight into ourselves, and introspection into our souls.  In resting in quiet, we become more comfortable with our own vulnerabilities and truths and know ourselves better. WE become less dependent on sound as a protective barrier and embrace self-awareness, which also makes us more accessible to others. Howard Thurman reflected on his need to abandon speech at times and accept silence, he said, “ I abandon all that I think that I am, all that I hope to be, all that I believe I possess. I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the greatest silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul.” The silence that surrounds great introspection allows for thoughtfulness and rest.

In silence, we become better listeners and thus better friends-stronger members of our community. Dr. Robert Dykstra, a pastoral care professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and longtime pastor, would often share with his classes a story of what he found to be his most profound moment in pastoral care.  When a fellow faculty member and dear colleague of his lost a spouse during the school year, Dr. Dykstra repeatedly asked if there was anything he could do, if she would like to talk and process, or if he could bring her anything. The faculty member thanked him but refused him every time. Finally, Dr. Dykstra called her up and asked her if she would like him to just come sit in her office in the afternoon-she accepted. Similar to the way that Job’s friends sat with him in silence during his anguish and agony, Dr. Dykstra sat on the floor of her office in complete silence, sometimes grading papers, sometimes drinking tea, or simply sitting-every afternoon for nearly two weeks until his colleague told him she was fine to be on her own again. He never offered advice or verbal comfort, but simply sat in a billowing, comforting, intimate silence. Months later-his colleague told him that through all the grief, casseroles, and weeping conversations, that those afternoon hours in silence and companionship had meant the most to her and offered the most healing. Silence is just good pastoral care, Dr. Dykstra would say, silence makes us better friends and better companions through life.


Silence often offers us clarity-provides us a chance to perceive things more clearly. Rainer Rilke, my poet companion this year as many of you know, wrote, “Since I’ve learned to be silent, everything has come so much closer to me.” A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents in Southern Illinois-they live among the great plains and cornfields and deep blue skies wider than the earth itself. My Dad, Husband, our family dog Riley, and I went for a hike through a patch of woods and a prairie land. For the majority of the hike we chattered away about the mosquitoes, where we wanted to go for dinner, how are jobs and lives were going. We got to one point near the center of the field and my Dad called abruptly for 60 seconds of silence. He set a timer and we stood amongst the tall grass and wildflowers in the blossoming silence of the moment and as Rilke said, I did feel that everything was somehow coming closer to me-the smells of the honeysuckle, the buzz of the insects, the deep green of the oak trees.  It is in silence that the things that have become far away from us often return, and we can feel closer to the universe, to our loved ones, and to the sacred presence all around us.


In fact, not only in the Elijah narrative, but also all throughout the Scriptures do we see God communicating intimately through the sound of silence. It is often in silence that we can develop a more intimate relationship with the Divine. As Elijah did, we often ask again and again for God to answer us-to hear our prayers and respond in clarity and sound-but sometimes God is the sound in silence. Sometimes God’s silence speaks. God’s silence spoke profound volumes while Elijah stood on that mountain awaiting reprieve, God’s silence in the story of Job defines the entire interaction and discourse that becomes Job’s revelation and foothold for life. God’s silence is just as profound as God’s words. When a young unwed mother gave birth to a savior in the manger, God was silent. When Jesus in agony dies on the cross, God is silent. In these profound moments of silence with God-it does not mean that there is a lack of communication with the Divine. God is sharing in those moments with a chosen discourse of meaningful, intimate silence. God’s silence speaks volumes to us, Gods quieting of our souls is a priceless companionship. God’s silence is an invitation-a deepening-a ripening of one’s own intimate relationship with the Divine. Sufi Poet, Rumi, says “silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” Sometimes it is in the silent moments that the sound of God is felt deep in our bones.


Beloved, we are called to live into this sacred silence. In our emerging adulthood amongst the clatter, twitter patter, and banter of noise, let us make time for silence in our lives. 5 minutes of quiet with a cup of tea in the morning. A prayer and 3 minutes of silence before we sleep at night. 10 minutes of peace as we walk along the Charles River or the Harbor. Do not be afraid, as Elijah was, do not pull your cloak over your face, for God often reaches out in the silence. In the conclusion of his book the “Power of Silence” Prochnik states that nowhere can complete silence be found-even monasteries and Quaker meeting houses have background buzzing, murmurs, subtle noises. We must redefine silence for ourselves, carve it our and shape it in our own lives. When we create for ourselves an intentional silence, quiet space, Prochnik says become injected with ‘the fertile unknown”.  Enter into that fertile unknown and take heart that God is there. Spend a little time in that fertile unknown every single day. Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation. Make yourself a home in the Divine sound of fine silence and may you find holy companionship, insightful clarity, and a dwelling place in the presence of God.


~Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, University Chaplain for International Students

All Fed

August 3rd, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

Matthew 14:13

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The Feeding



                        Our Holy Scripture starts out so far from our immediate experience that it is perhaps by apocalypse, by revelation alone that its cargo of good news may be delivered upon the shoreline of our souls.


All are fed.  All are satisfied.  All are commanded.  All are responsive.  All are addressed.  All are addressable.  All consume under the voice like none other and all are consumed by the presence like none other.


His voice.  His presence.  Like none other.  Jesus withdraws by boat.  Jesus sees, has compassion, and cures.  Jesus commands.  Jesus rejects the disciples pragmatic suggestion that the crowd find ways to ‘shelter in place’.  Jesus gives something to eat.  Two fish and five loaves (or vice versa?).  2. 5. 12. 5k.


Here is lasting and ultimate nourishment for all.  Here is an audible trustworthy voice for all.  Here is a meal set for all.  Here is a gathering around a common need and a common prayer for all.


No division, here.  No separation, here.  No doctrinal, religious, political, historical, ethnic conflict, here.  One Lord.  One voice. One gathering.  One meal.  One mysterious communion.  All fed.  All.  ‘All ate and were filled’.   That all were fed is astounding.  That all were satisfied is miraculous.


We are closer in experience to the rest of chapter 14.  John the Baptist’s head delivered on a platter, at the request of a young woman prompted by her mother, produced in the middle of a feast as a gift consequent on beautiful dance and an uttered oath—the brutality of the act, the tragedy of unexpected consequences to heartfelt offerings, the loss of prophetic voice, the portent of violence yet to come, the relative aplomb with which the news of his death is conveyed—these we recognize from our own world.  Likewise, not before but after our reading,  the anxiety and terror of those who are stumblingly trying to follow Jesus,  the sinking of Peter as we tries to walk on water—the Rock sinking like a rock, the evaluation of his faith as little faith, the failed return in soaking wet to the bark, the nave, the boat of the community (our walk on the Lord’s day week by week)—these we recognize from our own church.  We are closer in experience to what comes before and what comes after.

Here, in the mist, here, in the gathered community, here, in earshot of his voice like none other, here, now, we wonder at all fed.  Voice.  Command.  Compassion. Presence. Prayer. Nourishment. Astonishment.


In this way we are like Jacob.  Jacob is more at home with his experience before and after the angel.  He has swindled Esau. He has feared his recompense from Esau.  He has schemed to be returned to good graces with the one whom he fears will come and kill him.  He assembles a massive bribe of animal husbandry.   Then, after the angel, Jacob and Esau make a kind of peace, settled with gifts and pledges, even though Jacob is virtually certain that Esau has come to rid the earth of him.  Fear and miscalculation, fore and aft, Jacob knows, as do we.


Yet it is from the nighttime tussle that Jacob gets his name, and not from the long trail of endless drama and conflict over land, progeny, cattle, and money.   All night, that night, Jacob has wrestled with a man, a presence, a being, who gives the blessing of a name but also the curse of suffering.


Week by week we too struggle to remember our rightful mind, our right name, known in presence, a presence that seems like absence alongside our getting and spending, fore and aft.   One who strives, one who struggles, one who wrestles with….Voice, Presence, Compassion, Command, Prayer, Nourishment. Astonishment.


Matthew has again fixed up Mark’s earlier version of this account, as he does also in the next chapter with the second feeding story.  Matthew gives a terse summary, a curt, shortened account, in his use of Mark.  Every rendering of the gospel, unto this very morning and this very hour, takes the measure of a particular moment, location, community, and ministry.  Matthew quickens the dramatic pace, tightening the introduction, shortening the story, moving quickly to the point:  all fed, all satisfied.  The terror in the reign of Domitian, perhaps on Matthew’s horizon, near the year 90, may have influenced our gospel writer.   In moving to the conclusion, Matthew leaves out the ordering of seating, the throng’s Markan self-selected arrangement by 100’s and 50’s, and refers to the guests as crowds not people.  So doing, he further highlights the ordering command of the host.  Is his sense of the church’s own development on Matthew’s horizon?  In one sense, it is not so much the details in the changes that Luke and Matthew, writing 15 years later, inflict on Mark, as it is the very act of changing itself that carries the meaning.  There is, there needs ever to be, freedom in interpretation, a freedom given and guarded by the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Holy Scripture.  Given and guarded both.


Our reading today is one of very few found in all four gospels.  John too carries a roughly congruent account, with 5 and 2, loaves and fishes.  Our gospel today formed a center, one hesitates to say THE center, but a center in the earliest church’s pronouncement of the gospel.  All fed.  All.  All means all.  All satisfied.  All.  All means all.  Week by week we too struggle to remember our rightful mind, our right name, known in presence, a presence that seems like absence alongside our getting and spending, fore and aft.



Two Applications



All fed.


We may venture to apply the gospel today in two ways, one related to our Marsh ministry and our national summer preacher series this summer, and one related to our global experience of violence this summer.


Emerging adults need, deserve, receive, consume, and depend on Presence that seems like Absence.  They are leading courageously faithful lives over against a panoply of chilling, prevailing winds.  As a community of faith, we live and work in community with emerging adults.


Some will more easily and more readily avail themselves by their own volition of the means of grace offered here.  Familiar words, music, hymns, architecture, time, place mode aid them on arrival.  For others, and they are a part of the all in all as well, for our doors to be fully open will require a loving creativity, an earnest invitational spirit for us all.

With courage, our soon to arrive guests navigate the swells and tides of what Christian Smith describes in Lost in Transition:  The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, (amoral sexuality, steady inebriation, rampant drug use, limitless greed, self celebration and adulation, and limited empathy for the hurts of others. )

With courage they navigate the swells and tides of millennial culture, what Charles Blow calls the ‘self(ie) generation’ (NYT, 3/8/14):  (unaffiliated with religion, distrustful of politics, heavily indebted, largely unmarried, distrustful of others, digitally native:  “all in all we seem to be experiencing a wave of liberal minded detachees, a generation in which institutions are subordinate to the individual and social networks are digitally generated rather than interpersonally accrued.” )

We have a meal to prepare.  Learning that begets virtue and virtue that begets piety.  Knowledge that begets action and action that begets being.   For some, the offering may be the intervening word between illness and health, danger and safety, failure and achievement, loss and life.  Salvus, salvus, salvus.

An Atlantic Monthly article this spring ended this way:

American higher education is the envy of the world.

American higher education has, however, one glaring deficiency: it does not teach its undergraduates how to live. It teaches them when the French Revolution was, what the carbon cycle is, and how to solve for X. It does not teach them what to do when they feel confused, alone, and scared. When they break down after a break-up. When they are so depressed they cannot get out of bed. When they drink themselves into unconsciousness every night. When they find themselves living on someone’s couch. When they decide to go off their meds. When they flunk a class or even flunk out of school. When they get fired. When a sibling dies. When they don’t make the team. When they get pregnant. When their divorced parents just won’t stop fighting. When they are too sick to get to the hospital. When they lose their scholarship. When they’ve been arrested for vandalism. When they hate themselves so much that they begin self-mutilating. When they’re thinking about suicide. When they force themselves to throw up after every meal. When they turn to drugs for relief from their pain. When they’ve been assaulted or raped. When their mind is racing and cannot stop. When they wonder about the meaning of it all. When they are terrified by the question “What do I do next?

                        Remember, revere, the presence that seems like absence, in community with young adults this year.  Remember a promise of all fed.

We could use a measure of this gospel this summer as well.  If your religious perspective and posture, if faith, if the community of faith mean anything, then surely they mean a voiced, steady rejection of the taking of innocent life, the slaughter of children, youth, women and men who become collateral damage in the course of violent conflict.  At some visceral level we all can connect with what it would mean to have our own 7 year olds killed in the mayhem of warfare.   When we pause in the presence of the Presence, a presence that very much seems like absence, we are chastened, numbed, brought to our very knees..   One of the great and lasting shadows upon human history and experience is our common, shared ready willingness, time and again, to try to apply short term solutions to long term problems.  Women, men, families, communities, colleges, businesses, governments, religions, and yes, nation states are all prone to think short term solutions will avail for long term problems.  They will not.  We are tempted to think that a hidden tunnel on one hand or a drone missile on the other that partly hobble an enemy will bring some solution, when the long term issues lie in the structure of relationship across and among divided peoples.  Short term victories can be truly pyrrhic ones.  A short term ‘solution’– that is no solution– to a long term problem –that has only become a greater one.

Our gospel today promises nourishment for all.  All.   All fed.  All satisfied.  All.  There are not expendable children, expendable only because they happen to be housed across some invisible line.  It is the towering and powerful genius of today’s ancient and central narrative in Matthew 14:31 that restores us to rightful mind, to a steady hope.  All fed.  Our gospel affirms gathering of all in the face of separation for some, a command to all in the face of desire to exclude some, a blessing of all in the face of arguments to limit such blessing to some, a nourishment of all in the face of a shared human proclivity to make that all ‘all of our own not theirs’.  It is the towering and powerful voice of Jesus, and him crucified, whose own compassionate presence in absence feeds us still, feeds all still, feeds all to hasten the day that all, truly all, truly all, are fed.

We sat in Lincolnville, Maine last Sunday, following worship, along a misty seacoast.  We read the paper and were nourished in an old port side restaurant.  Paper and food, word and table.  Word and table, word and table, word and table.  The news of the day, of these days, you know and well.  You wonder sometimes, what is real and for real, what is the final realism.   A familiar voice, with a familiar tune, carrying a familiar poem came over the simple, inexpensive, medium of the radio (the medium of the poor, and our choice of media here at Marsh Chapel, in part for that reason.  Our proud participation with and support for NPR for that reason.  “The lamp of the poor”, recently deceased Canadian novelist Alistair Macleod once recalled, is the translation for the Gaelic term meaning “moon”, ‘lochran aigh namb boch’.)  
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Take heart.  Lift your hearts.  Hatred does not kill the possibility of peace.  Terror does not eliminate the potential for change.  The collapse of civility today does not do anything to the lived memory and experience of past civility, except make it more precious.  The unspeakable tragedy of innocent death does not mark the end of the capacity for co-existence, for managed, enforced co-existence.  Imagine—a common faith, common ground, a common hope.

Do you believe this?  Will you live in such belief?


Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled.”  Matthew 14:19-20.

 ~The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill,

Dean of Marsh Chapel

Be Careful What You Ask For

July 27th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

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~Professor Jonathan Walton

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church

Harvard University

The Cost of Discipleship

July 20th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

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~Dr. Echol Nix, Jr

Associate Professor of Religion, Furman University

Be You

July 13th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

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~Dr. Echol Nix, Jr.

Associate Professor of Religion, Furman University

Dance, then

July 6th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

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‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

-Elder Joseph Brackett


Wisdom: to live is to turn.  This is the wisdom cultivated by the Shakers, from whom we receive the song “Simple Gifts:” to live is to turn.  Life is not lived in its fullness by rejecting the body for the spirit, but rather in turning, turning body and spirit to God.

To turn is such a simple thing.  In fact, it begins in simplicity.  It begins in clearing away our own strivings and yearnings and longings.  Only then can we attend to and appreciate the goodness in the world around us that shows us, in turn, how to be good.  To be sure, the chaff grows with the wheat, but the goodness is there, if we slow down and pause long enough to see it, if we turn toward it, and turn ourselves in response.

And yet, the gift of simplicity is so far from our late modern condition.  Rather than clearing away our strivings, our yearnings, our longings to see what good might be found, we insist that our strivings, our yearnings, our longings are the good.  Ideology rules the day.  Awe, wonder, history, and mystery are pushed aside.

Life becomes like the vacation from hell.  Piled all into the car, the family sets out, bound for swimming and hiking and canoeing and bicycling and golf.  Of course, in order to make the drive all in one day, there is no time to stop.  There is no time to pull off and see the view over and down through the valley, to marvel that someone born and raised in such a small cabin could rise to the presidency of the United States, or to ponder the significance of the world’s largest ball of string.  In fact, the only stopping is to pump gas and take a quick bathroom break.  Lunch is packed in a cooler and will be eaten in the car.  The itinerary for the week is set and it is a tight squeeze.  Monday will be spent swimming and lying on the beach.  Tuesday is mountain climbing.  Wednesday is a canoe expedition.  Thursday is a bike hike.  Friday is golf.  And if it should rain?  Well, it mustn’t.  Then back in the car for a day’s drive home where the family passes out from exhaustion, needing a vacation from their vacation.

For the present generation of emerging adults, simplicity is not even pretended as a virtue, yea, does not even register.  Having been raised on a steady diet of soccer practice, band rehearsal, dance lessons, community service hours, and scouting, on top of school work and chores when they were younger and a part time job as soon as they grew old enough for such not to be illegal, since they were five years old, or really four years old for a large majority, and three years old for more than a few whose parents have a particular competitiveness, the linear life has been the norm for all that they have known of it; life, that is.  It is not even that soccer, band, dance, community service, scouting, school, chores, and work are understood to be goods in their own right, or even goods for the sake of developing a well-rounded person.  No, the ethic is that we must be so overcommitted, overworked, overbooked, and overwhelmed in order to get into college, get a job, get married, build a home, have children, and start the whole process over again.  Most recently, it is not even the case that many parents aspire for their children to get into a top-tier college and then get a high-powered job.  That might be nice, but really getting into any college at all would be an accomplishment and getting a job that pays more than minimum wage would be enough of an achievement.  Our imaginations, our hopes, our dreams about what life can be, should be, might be are reduced to the aspiration to subsist, and we are paranoid that even in the wake of all of that striving, we might not.

What would it look like to turn?  What would it look like to abandon the linear narrative, embrace simplicity, appreciate the world around us, apprehend the good inherent there, align our lives with the grain of the universe?  What good news might there be for emerging adults to abandon this mindset, and what good news might there be from emerging adults for both subsequent generations, and perhaps even their elders?


To begin with, we will need to grapple with the fact that emerging adults are doing just that.  They are emerging.  Most frequently the concept of “emerging adulthood” is simply a category to describe 18-25 year olds who are no longer adolescents but whom we are not quite sure we really want to consider full-fledged adults just yet.  It may do us some good, however, to worry this concept just a bit, to introduce some nuance, some complexity, and to do so by meandering across Commonwealth Avenue and taking a stroll down Cummington Mall to pay a visit to our neighbors in the natural sciences.

Emergence in the scientific community is a technical term for describing the process by which smaller, simpler things, when put together in the right relationships and under the right conditions, become bigger, more complex things, except that the bigger, more complex thing has properties that none of the smaller, simpler things had.  This is to say that the full reality of the higher order thing could not have been predicted from an analysis of the lower order things that make it up.   For example, the full reality of a human person with awareness, language, reason, complex emotional states, purpose, and many more qualities cannot be predicted from the cells, organs, and systems that make up human physiology.  Furthermore, it is not merely that the higher order thing, such as a human person, cannot be predicted simply due to a lack of fully understanding human physiology.  Rather, the unpredictability is there in principle.  Emergence denies the viability of a strict determinism.  Emergence is a messy process.  Putting things together in the same pattern in the same environment sometimes does not generate the emergent property.  And sometimes it generates a different emerging property than the last time those things were put together in that pattern in that environment.

This is good news for emerging adults!  The life that you are emerging from does not determine your life as a whole.  Soccer plus band plus dance plus community service plus scouting plus school plus chores plus work does not equal your life.  There is freedom to become more than the sum of your parts.  You are not destined to become a doctor or a lawyer or a concert pianist simply because your parents put you on what they thought was the track to becoming such.  Just ask Cordaro Rodriguez.  He graduated from the Boston University School of Law, passed the bar, and gave up on the challenging legal market to pursue his passion for music with three other BU alumni in Sons of Serendip, which is competing this season on America’s Got Talent.  Emergence is a turning from the limits of what must be to the power and potential of what can yet become.


Just as emerging adults are emerging, so too are they developing.  “In [Christ Jesus] the whole structure [of the household of God] is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”  Emerging adults are growing, are changing, are developing.

What John Henry Newman said about the development of ideas may just as well apply to the development of persons:

“But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea [or person] is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief [or person], which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

What, you missed that last line?  I’ll repeat it.  “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Engaged, as they are, then, in such a process of development, should we be surprised that emerging adults buck and bite at the chafing of the linear narrative of life?

In his New York Times op-ed last week entitled “Why Teenagers are Crazy,” Richard Friedman of Weill Cornell Medical College notes that both the reward center of the brain and the region that processes fear are overdeveloped in adolescents and emerging adults.  The result is simultaneously a tendency toward “risk taking, emotional drama and all forms of outlandish behavior,” and a surge in “anxiety and fearfulness.”  The linear narrative of life provokes the former, and reinforces the latter.  To turn is to take a few risks and to simplify is to ameliorate fear and anxiety.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Elder Joseph Brackett may have known something about emerging adulthood.


Christian Smith claims to know something about emerging adulthood.  He and his colleagues who wrote Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood are deeply concerned by the moral relativism, acceptance of the socio-economic status quo, routine intoxication, ambiguity about sexual relationships, and political apathy they find among emerging adults.

It is notable that the standard against which Smith and his colleagues are measuring emerging adults is precisely the linear narrative of life.  Given that emerging adulthood is actually a time of emergence and development, however, it seems that a substantial proportion of the beliefs and behaviors they find so concerning should be expected in people who have overdeveloped reward and fear processing centers resulting in anxiety, fearfulness, risk taking, emotional drama, and all forms of outlandish behavior, all of which are provoked and reinforced by the linear narrative Smith and friends are measuring them against.

Maybe rather than bemoaning the reality of emerging adulthood, we should place some hope in what emerging adults have to teach us.  After all, anxiety, fearfulness, risk taking, and emotional drama, under the right conditions, can emerge into something quite fruitful, that being doubt.  The first thing that emerging adults are likely to doubt is themselves.  Of course, many measure themselves against the linear narrative that no one could possibly actually achieve anyway and that is wildly inappropriate to begin with, so how could they do anything but doubt themselves?  Many emerging adults doubt the value, efficacy, and viability of political and civic institutions.  But then, don’t we all?  Congress has an approval rating of 7%, for goodness sake!  Religious leaders are no better, all too often continuing to exclude women, demean people of color, and excoriate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.  Emerging adults may not yet have a coherent moral framework, but they sure do know what they consider immoral!  Small wonder, then, that so many emerging adults look out on the socio-political landscape and despair, resigning themselves to what little happiness they can find in their little corner.

‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,’ said Thomas.  Thomas was clearly an emerging adult.  He had every reason to doubt.  Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried.  After touching Jesus’ hands and his side, Thomas said, ‘My Lord and my God!’ He experienced what was possible.  It may yet be that emerged adults will manage to show emerging adults what is possible today, but I find myself siding with the emerging adults and doubting any such expectation.  Rather, emerging adults are left in the position of those who would come after Thomas, of those who would come after Jesus ascended.  ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still dream and enact new realities.


To doubt.  To develop.  To emerge.  To turn.  There is good news regarding emerging adulthood here if we are willing to listen for it.  Measured against the standard of a linear narrative of life, doubt, development, emergence, and turning will never measure up.  The unit of measure is inappropriate.  The appropriate unit of measure is not a line but a dance.  Step, roll, clap, turn.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,

and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

Both the hymn that opened our service and the hymn we are about to sing depict the meaning and significance of Jesus’ life as a dance.  Jesus was born and laid in a manger.  He developed and was baptized by the Holy Spirit and the voice of God.  Jesus was tempted, doubted, and overcame to return to the dance.  He emerged as a prophet, a healer, a savior, beyond any and all ability to predict.   Jesus turned to hell and returned to heaven.

Jesus was an emerging adult.  In Jesus is the hope of resurrection.  Jesus leads us in the dance of life and into the general dance of eternity.

And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,

and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.


~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+

University Chaplain for Community Life

My Neighbor

June 29th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

Luke 10:25-37

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(singing) It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?  Won’t you be my neighbor?


It’s hard not to admire Mr. Rogers—a champion for children’s learning, a cardigan wearer, a Presbyterian minister (well, nobody’s perfect). But perhaps his most lasting contribution to the world will forever be his theme song.


Not because it ever hit the top of the charts or because of the brilliance of his voice, but kind of the opposite of that.  You see, in 1968, when his show began what would be a 33 year run, the country was at war, young people were disenchanted with authority, and recent victories in civil rights had been answered by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the flight of middle class whites to the suburbs.


In other words, at a time in which people were literally struggling with who should be allowed in their neighborhoods, Fred Rogers found a way to invite people into his with a simple, radical, Christian request:  Would you be mine? Could you be mine?  Won’t you be my neighbor?


It was a reminder of that gospel truth that no matter crazy this world gets, we don’t have to face it alone.


And although the times have changed, friends, the struggle has not.


For as much as we talk about technology and media bringing us closer together, we still live in a world that works very hard to keep us apart: young and old, black and white, gay and straight, male and female, rich and poor, broken and whole.


We live in a world that covets community, but insists on isolation.  And our young people have noticed.


If we’re honest, we know that many contemporary young people, the same young people who grew up accepting Mr. Roger’s near daily invitation are just as disenchanted today as they were then.  They’re just as frustrated by the hypocrisies of the world today as they were forty years ago.


And frankly, the church has not helped.  Over and over again, today’s young people have heard the church fail to answer that quintessential Christian question “Who is my neighbor?” Nowhere has this failure been felt more keenly than in our treatment of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Today’s young people have heard us exclude instead of include, speak instead of listen, choose law over love.


We complain that young people have no faith, but the truth is, we haven’t given them much to have faith in.


But the good news is that we believe in a God of grace, which means that despite our imperfections, despite our failures, our fractures, our faults, there’s always hope.


And so today, as we consider together what the gospel possibly has to say to today’s emerging adults, we begin by acknowledging our failures and recommitting to the basics.


Our story today is one of the most famous in all of Scripture: the story of the Good Samaritan.  It’s only told in Luke and involves a lawyer approaching Jesus with a question.


Now we don’t know much about the lawyer in our story. Actually, basically nothing beyond the fact that Luke tells us he was a lawyer and a “he.”  But let’s imagine for a moment that he was young, maybe just out of law school.  Perhaps he was like so many young people today who finish their formal schooling, enter the job market, and pray that when the six month grace period on their student loans ends…they won’t have to move back in with their parents.
Maybe like so many young people today he’s found a job but is still getting used to not getting summer breaks or winter breaks, or breaks at all.


Maybe he’s been working for a year or two and starting to wonder “Is this it?”


In our story, the young lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”


“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”


It’s a pretty honest question.  How do I find life?  It’s a question we all ask from time to time.


And frankly, perhaps the only difference between this young lawyer and many of the young adults today is that he thought his religious leaders might actually have an answer.


Fortunately for him, he was right.


Jesus responds, “What is written in the law?”


And the young lawyer gives the answer he had no doubt learned in school, the one that his parents, his teachers, his synagogue taught him. He says, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”


And Jesus responds simply, “You have given the right answer.  Do this and you will live.”


“You have given the right answer. Do this and you will live.”


The word used for “right” in the Greek is orthos, from which we get the term “orthodox.”  In other words, Jesus is saying, you have given the right answer, the orthodox answer, the approved answer, and if you do this, you will live.  Right now, in the present tense. You will live. But he undoubtedly knew the real question the lawyer was asking:  How?


On our answer hangs every decision of life.  Most of us know that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor, but if we’re honest, we don’t always know what that means.  Despite what we are sometimes led to believe, it’s not as if in every situation there is a clear choice between loving God and not, between loving our neighbor and not, a simple right or wrong,  No!  It doesn’t work that way.  Whether we like it or not, things are not always black and white.  There is a lot of gray in our faith…at least fifty shades of it.


Sure, sometimes our choice is clear, loving our neighbor rarely means killing them, but often times being a person of faith means struggling with confusing and often contradictory choices, both of which can be justified from the Scripture or the tradition of our faith.


In other words, friends, sometimes being a person of faith means moving beyond Scripture or tradition in order to use that that other God given gift – our brains.  A gift that young people have too often witnessed people of faith checking at the door.


Perhaps Luke was offering his readers, and in turn us, a way forward; freedom from the law which threatens to imprison us.  Not necessarily an easier way, but certainly one that is more honest.  Instead of leaving it here like the other gospels, the lawyer in Luke’s gospel asks a follow up question: “And who is my neighbor?”


“Who is my neighbor?” Was there ever a more honest question asked in the entire gospel? Who is my neighbor?  Who are the people we’re called to love?


And Luke could have had Jesus respond in any number of ways. After all, there were no other gospel accounts to refute him, but instead of quoting more Scripture, or giving a map with neighborhoods highlighted, or pointing to specific people— instead of offering a black and white answer, Luke has Jesus tell a story that to this very day is open to interpretation. A story that requires our brains.


Jesus says that a man was beaten and stripped by robbers and left half dead on the side of the road. An act that would have removed any means of identification, whether social or religious. When we are naked and half-dead on the side of the road, one can’t tell if we are rich or poor, free or slave, Jew or Greek, gay or straight. In other words, this man was just a person in need.


And by chance a priest came walking by.  Now, had this been our first time hearing the story, we might think, “Ah! A priest! Surely he will help.”  But when he sees the man, he crosses over and passes by on the other side of the road.  Then we see a Levite, and again, he sees the man and passes by on the other side of the road.


And while we’re scratching our heads trying to wrap our minds around why these two religious leaders didn’t stop, a Samaritan spotted the man and was moved with pity.  So, he bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine on them, placed him on his animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii – equal to a day’s wage each– gave them to the innkeeper and told him to take care of him and that whatever else is spent he would repay upon his return.   In other words, he didn’t just stop. He STOPPED! He stepped away from the routine, from the busyness, from the expectations of life long enough to show this man love.


Now, we knew that was going to happen, we’ve heard the story before, but we should remember the shock value for both the young lawyer in the story and the original audience for Luke’s gospel.


You see, a Samaritan, was a person hated by the Jewish people of first century Palestine. The Samaritans were people who had interbred with their Assyrian captors 800 years earlier and they had never been allowed to forget it.


It would be as if a member of Al Queda was the one to stop and lend a hand where no one else had dared.  So for the lawyer in the story and the audience of Luke, this story would have been unbelievable and more than slightly disturbing.  Jesus was telling a story in which their enemy was the one to offer more care than their religious leaders.


And to be fair to the religious leaders who passed by, they had justification. After all, they had Scripture on their side. They had interpreted the canonical law correctly, their bible, and part of ours too, says that it is sinful to come into contact with a half dead man.  It was sinful for them to come in contact with the man in need and so they went with orthodoxy over common sense; they went with orthodoxy over mercy, they went with orthodoxy over love.


And we get it. After all, we do the same thing today. We allow a couple of obscure verses of scripture to trump our common sense.
And in case there was any room for confusion, Luke has Jesus say to the young lawyer, “which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  To which the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”


Go and do likewise.  Friends, this young man came to Jesus wanting to know the meaning of life. He wanted to know the way to fullness of life. And though he had been trained enough to know that love is the answer, he didn’t know what it looked like.


Jesus told a story that reminded him that the way to life abundant isn’t about chaining ourselves to the law, to the rules that we follow through life like a map, it’s about taking time to care for those around us, to show mercy.  It’s about investing in community, not in general, but in particular.  As Howard Thurman said, we don’t love in the abstract, we love in the concrete. We love in community, and when we have a question, we ought to err on the side of love.


Friends, when we allow our understanding of what is “right” or “orthodox,” or “Scriptural” to get in the way of our common sense of mercy for our brothers and sisters in this world, we miss the point of the gospel.


When I was in thirteen, my home church in Kansas hosted an AIDS conference. It was a big deal at that time and our newly elected United Methodist Bishop, came to participate in the conference and to talk with some of the youth about the challenges surrounding AIDS.


While he was chatting to us, a person came in and whispered a message in his ear. When the person left, the Bishop turned to us teenagers and said, “There is a man who is on his way here from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.”  –a church that some here might know from their protests in recent years at military funerals– He told us that this church will be on the other side of the street when we left that day and that they would most likely holding up signs condemning our church.


Then the Bishop paused and said, “I had two gay sons who died of AIDS, and as we were burying them, that man was shouting at their graveside, your sons are burning in hell.”


And then he said, “I want you to know, there is another way to be a Christian.”


Friends, what today’s young people don’t often hear is that there’s another way to be a Christian.


There are people in our world, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters among them who are in need of mercy, of love, of care, and the church keeps moving to the other side of the road.
And whether we realize it or not, we have an audience.  People, young and old, are watching us and wondering how we can proclaim the gospel of love and continue to ignore people right in front of us.


In this story, we see Jesus pointing, as he does throughout his ministry, to the one who wasn’t concerned with the law, but with grace.  Friends, even if we have questions, we are called to err on the side of love.


Perhaps the lesson of the good Samaritan for us as Christians, and for the church as a whole, is that we should never be shown up in our love.


And when we are, it is time to re-evaluate our faith.


And so, we are left with the basic question of this sermon series.  What does the gospel have to offer to today’s emerging adults?  The same thing it has to offer each of us: Life.  Real Life. Full life.  A life which promises that no matter how hard things get, no matter how crazy, how isolating, how demanding this world becomes, we are not alone.


In other words, a life of love.


And while it can be confusing to know how to find it, we might do well to follow the example of Mr. Rogers and begin every relationship by asking, “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?”  Amen.

~The Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady, II

Pastor, Asbury First UMC, Rochester, NY

Wonder and Other Life Skills

June 22nd, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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How fun it is today to be lead-off batter in the summer preaching series, with Dean Hill’s choice theme of “the Gospel and Emerging Adulthood.”  I’m going to take a swing at this first pitch and see if I can get us on base with my sermon title, which I boldly borrow from Kathleen Fannin’s book title, “Wonder and Other Life Skills.” Fannin, who is a college chaplain, writes about creating spiritual life retreats for young adults.

WONDER.   I’m tempted to say it’s a Wonderful word, but you know we ought not be redundant in our definitions.  WONDER As a noun: “A  feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected.” As a verb, “to be curious to know something.”  Or better yet, WONDER as the reality of all life- as Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings….Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”

Let’s name WONDER as a quality gifted us by emerging adults. It’s one of the reasons why I love being in ministry with young adults; they have yet to leave behind the beauty of “childlike wonder”; they are curious and open to learn; they haven’t yet developed the protective exoskeleton of cynicism some already emerged adults have grown. Let’s name today that we can all learn from young adults, and that indeed our very walk of Gospel discipleship has one persistent demand on us- that we are receptive. Receptive to wonder. That we keep our hearts and minds open to the presence of the divine all around us, and within us…. in short that we cultivate the life skill of wonder.

Pause a moment to ask What exactly is Emerging Adulthood? Whatever happened to being an adolescent and then a grown up?  Sociologists advance that Emerging Adulthood is actually a new developmental stage, one identified as part of a post-modern coming of age reality. A stage post-adolescence and pre-adulthood, generally identified as the years between 18-29. And it is interwoven with characteristics of the Millennial Generation-our current population of emerging adults.

Janjay Innis, a recent graduate of the BU STH, a young 20 something who is off taking the world by storm in mission work, spoke at the NE AC UMC last week- she said “in spite of staggering statistics about Church decline and the claims that Millennials are disengaged with the Church, God has raised up a new generation of young people who are seeking and asking questions about how faith calls them to be about the work of justice, peace, reconciliation, and love. This is Gospel.”


In the Gospel lesson that spoke to me for this day, Jesus teaches us how to engage the world. Jesus tells us to put on His yoke, to choose to walk with him tethered to the holy perspective of freedom and wonder.  To walk together, linked shoulder to shoulder along a route that he promises we’ll figure out together. And you will see dedication of service and love of selfie and love for neighbor in such a wonderful way.


The first time I saw an actual yoke happened to be in my own emerging adulthood years.  I was a brave 22 year old, and I had just loaded up my backpack to live a year on my own in Israel, learning Hebrew on a kibbutz, milking cows in Hebrew- I don’t know how to do it in English- pulling the 5 am shift in the milking parlor.  I was a NYC suburban kid enamored of farm life.  I still have the scar, faint now on my finger, given to me by the first cow I ever milked.  She didn’t like my unskilled touch so she stomped on my hand.   I learned to welcome the metal bar yoke of restraint that my kibbutznik partner taught me to apply.  It settled my bovine friends and allowed us to work together in the land of flowing milk and honey.

More commonly a yoke is used to link 2 working animals side by side – often oxen- so they can focus on the path intended for them.  With heads directed forward, the crossbar rests on their shoulders, distributing some of the weight of the pull of the plow or burden of the wagon. In Biblical metaphor, a yoke is a most often a symbol of servitude, of being harnessed to a life of toil.

But if you know anything about our friend Jesus, you know he is apt to invert metaphors, to Wake Up our settled assumptions so we might be receptive to wonder.  Jesus rebukes the established generation of religious folks who act is if they know it all and yet… they cannot recognize John the  Baptizer as a messenger of the kingdom of God- to them he is an ascetic nut job who wears weird clothes and eats weird food. They cannot recognize Jesus as the Son of God – to them he is a rule breaker who likes to wine and dine with the wrong sort of people. Jesus says these already emerged people are really like babies- they don’t get it.  Perhaps it will be the ones who are not so impressed with organized religion who will truly see him.

Hear Eugene Peterson’s lovely interpretation of our Gospel.  Jesus says, in Matthew 11:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

On this first weekend of summer, doesn’t that sound like the most wonderful invitation: to recover our lives? To learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  Here in Boston, let’s face it – the historic epicenter of the Puritan Work ethic – Jesus offers us a way forward in centered peace. Let’s hear a witness to the gospel keeping company and living freely with emerging adults.

I met Bethany Printup-Davis through my previous appointment as the Protestant Chaplain at Nazareth College in Rochester NY.  Bethany grew up on a Tuscarora Indian Reservation near Buffalo, she attended a church off reservation and was particularly fond of singing in the choir.  She was an enthusiastic undergrad who came to our Sunday evening Protestant Worship services.  These services that in my first semester drew a not-so-enthusiastic crowd of 4 or 5.  And 2 of us were paid to be in attendance- myself and the undergrad piano player. The College was founded as a Catholic all women’s school, but had been independent and co-educational for 3 decades.  However, the legacy of Catholicism reverberated, and every Sunday night I waited as pew after pew of Catholic students poured out of the Chapel from evening Mass, galvanized by a specific religious tradition. Then my little flock entered the Chapel for our service. I found that while my students were keen to explore their spirituality, and to offer their lives to make a difference, they had minimal introduction to religious tradition. And they called themselves “the not-Catholic kids.”

And so I started to introduce them to wonders of Protestant churches.  I began by bringing students to a national gathering organized by United Methodist college students.  And 2 wonderful things happened for Bethany Printup-Davis at a gathering in Shreveport Louisiana.

First, the keynote speaker was Dr. Eboo Patel, a sociologist of religion, a devout American Muslim from Chicago by way of family of origin in India.  Eboo Patel, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, spoke eloquently to us about our Wesleyan heritage. He detailed the mission of John and Charles Wesley and enumerated the beauty of Methodism. He urged that the best way to be a fully engaged citizen and a full partner in interfaith cooperation is to know your own faith story.

Second, the music leaders were all Native Americans, taking the stage and leading us in songs with cadence of drumbeat and dancestep of ancient practice. My young friend Bethany sat in the front pew, as close as possible to the music. And she wept.  Grace flowed down her cheeks. Later she told me “Robin, I had no idea that I could unite my Native identity with my Christian identity.  I thought they had to be separate.”

The next year Bethany was up there on the stage- a leader in the music ministry.  She went on to take a Confirmation Class with me, to be baptized and welcomed into the UMC though our Campus ministry.  I saw her a few weeks ago as she led a Workshop for some 500 churches on Native American awareness.  Professionally she is a District educator for Native American cultural competencies, and is discerning a call to ministry. She is as enthusiastic as ever, attributing her joy to walking with Christ in wonder of identity.

My friend Micah Christian is a young man with a big and brave vision for being Church out in the world.  I’ve journeyed alongside him the past several years on a path that has taken him through Spiritual Life practices in seminary to baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church to a year of service in Peru with his wife Jocelyn, to expressing beauty and faith through music. Perhaps you are one of 11.5 million people who watched him perform a couple weeks ago with his quartet “Sons of Serendip” on America’s Got Talent.  All 4 members of the band are recent BU grads- having earned degrees in law, theology, and music. At their audition they received a standing ovation. The judges- one of whom – Howard Stern – is a proud BU alumnus, were in rather stunned awe. Many in the crowd of thousands at Madison Square Garden and those of us huddled around TV sets cried for the beauty of it.  Their harp, cello, keyboard and vocals transported us.

I first learned about Micah’s new band on the last Saturday of the semester, when he approached me on Marsh Plaza.  I was in midst leading a Study Retreat for students, and we had brought the labyrinth Brother Larry and students made some years ago out onto the Plaza.  A whole variety of folks came by and walked the labyrinth – this ancient Christian practice now embraced by just about every spiritual tradition I know as a tool for centering. Students of engineering, law, management, fine arts…a family on their way to a Red Sox game, 3 fraternity brothers rushing to a big event, 2 girl scout troops… they all stopped to walk in peace. The engineers were the most suspicious.  “It’s a maze, right?  It’s a trick for me to solve, right?” “No,” I said “there is no trick, and the meaning isn’t found in external analysis.  You just have to get in there and start walking, trusting that you will be led to your center.” And so they did.

As Micah and I chatted around the perimeter of the labyrinth he told about this crazy, unexpected America’s Got Talent ride with the band.  He had just come from a rehearsal on campus. While he could not tell me anything about the results of the audition, sworn by Producers to secrecy, (we know now they advanced!)  He told me about fans waiting at the stage door, autographs requested, the pull and push of the glittery world of reality TV. And his desire, his burning deep desire to stay centered in the soul of the music and the soul of the friendship in the band.  To stay centered in integrity- so that everything he said and sang and did might reflect his calling to live as a follower of Christ.

He was on his way to see his Spiritual Director, and thanked me for sharing the labyrinth because “so many of us struggle to stay centered.”

Researchers at UCLA have a longitudinal study on Emerging Adults and Spirituality.  They conclude that there is a positive correlation between spirituality and well-being. While the highly spiritual students were by no means exempt from the significant stresses of collegiate life, they were also able to exhibit a high level of Equanimity. .. the qualities of being able to find meaning in times of hardship and feeling at peace and centered.

Micah, Kendall, Cordara, and Mason: Sons of Serendip, from the heart of your campus at BU, we wish you every joy and success.

Young adults witness to me just about every week the sentiment of Anne Frank, who wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  They get inspired and they get going.  Caitlin Schultz and Lyndsey Seeley Fellows attended a national campus ministry event, and came back to the Nazareth campus with hearts strangely warmed by the Church’s impact on malaria prevention in Africa. They said, “Robin we are going to raise $1000 to donate to the Nothing But Nets campaign, to send treated bed nets to Africa, because they are so effective in saving lives. We have this idea to partner with the Men’s basketball team, because they have nets.”  Apparently my exoskeleton of doubt had developed because I did not match their enthusiasm.  “But we are a small group, we don’t know anyone on the basketball team, actually we don’t know any athletes, and I’m just not sure that’s a realistic project.” And then they called me to WAKE UP! “Robin if you are not going to help us, you can at least get out of our way.”  And you bet I joined them –as they put on the yoke of service to the world. Over the next 2 years they raised $3000, with hundreds of students and faculty and staff from all over campus participating.  And our little group of “not Catholic kids” gave themselves a new name as they multiplied in numbers and confidence and spirit.  They called themselves “The Little Church That Could.”

And, finally, I share a story about the yoke of accompaniment.

Demarius Walker is soon to graduate from BU. He’s a philosopher and deep thinker and kind soul who loves to dive deep into conversations that matter. He’s the leader of our Howard Thurman discussion group here at Marsh.  He participated at one of our recent Study retreats as we ended the long, productive day by gathering here in the sanctuary at 10 pm.  Turned out all the lights, and walked up to balcony by candlelight to reflect on the day in the shared company of friendship and prayer.  Demarius lingered, absorbing  the tranquility of the stillness, the silence, the flickering of light.  Afterwards he shared a story with me.

He told me that one time during the winter, very late at night, he wandered across campus and found himself at Marsh Chapel.  He was slightly surprised to find the front door open.  He came in.  Something compelled him in, down the center aisle of the sanctuary.  All the lights were off, except for the solitary light that illuminates the face of Christ on our chancel.  It was a moment of sheer awe for him, and he stopped in his tracks midway.  He could not go further. Then he sensed a companion. He looked over and there stood David Soper, our Marsh sexton and steward extraordinaire of this block of Comm Ave. Now, Demarius wasn’t sure he was supposed to be in the middle of the sanctuary in the middle of the night, and he was getting a little nervous in front of this man in an official BU uniform.  But before he had a chance to give explanation David spoke, “Beautiful isn’t it?” as they both gazed at the illuminated Christ.  Then, David turned and left.

I followed up with David, and asked for his recollection of the night. He said, “Oh sure I came in early, probably 3 am or so, to get a head start on clearing all the snow on the Plaza.  It was a nice quiet moment to share together.”

Friends, we are called –young and old and in between – to accompany one another in this wondrous journey. Let’s step into the summer with Rachel Carson, pioneer environmentalist from Maine, who wrote, “If a young person is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”  Let’s walk together in the unforced rhythms of grace.

~The Rev. Dr. Robin Olson

A Summer Menu

June 15th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

Psalm 107

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Breakfast and Wonder


This morning, Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day, along with our hearing of Matthew and of Paul in Corinthians, we shall meditate fully upon our Psalm, one one-hundred and fiftieth part of our holy Psalter.  As we prepare to enjoy a summer to nourish the body, may we in prayer also nourish the soul, with a soulful summer menu of meditation!


Behold, a daily spiritual soulful summer menu!


As day breaks you may find yourself rubbing eyes against the gleam of sunlight.  Before you is a bowl for breakfast.  Cereal covered with luscious raspberries.  This summer, will you begin the day with soul, too?  The soul responds to God’s “wonderful works to humankind”.  Summer is our time to nourish again our relationships.  With neighbor.  With family.  With nature.  With soul.  Pause again, spoon suspended over berry and bran, pause.   What has been the most wonderful day in your life so far?  Think about that day, that hour, for a moment at breakfast.  Experience.  Your experience.


As the great Boston Personalist Borden Parker Bowne wrote long ago, “Let us be determined to protect the independence and the variety of experience”.


All of life is a gift.  “O Lord who grants me life, grant me also a soul filled with wonder”.


Coffee and Acceptance


                  With a few hours behind you, the day may open up for a break.  Coffee and a fresh baked muffin, raspberry sweet.  A little butter.  As we enjoy a summer to nourish the body, may we in prayer also, with the Psalmists, nourish the soul, with a soulful menu of meditation.  To vacation is to vacate.  To open, empty, cleanse, change.  A few hours of morning labor, and a few years of mixed experience, bring a need for pause.

We are nourished by this extended and expansive community of faith, Marsh Chapel.  One of our regular listeners is the founder of the Anacapa School in Southern California.  Gordon brought his students here on Tuesday, as part of their tour of Boston.  They are part of our extended family, 3000 miles away.


Our community is shaped, 90%, by its lay members and leaders.  This summer let us ask ourselves:  ‘what kind of community would this be if every one were just like me?’  The summer asks us to ask ourselves:  how shall I most faithfully be disciplined in worship, on the Lord’s Day, and in prayer, on every day?


We are people of faith, gathered in a community of faith.  That does not mean that we are spared the bruises and hurts and tragedies that inexplicably lie embedded in life.  I take cup and roll to the lips and I pause to remember those unforeseen and unexplained midnights.  The night of a life taken.  The night of an illness discovered.  The night of betrayal.  I know the lament, the anger of these people in the Psalms, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble.”  In thirty years of ministry, the most common response to the question, ‘where did your faith come from’, begins with the single word, ‘trouble’.  We can usually find something earthly or someone human to judge and blame, when things go wrong.  Except when the unfairness swells into injustice, when the harm happens to the innocent, when the lightning strikes close to home, or at home.  Then we cry…to the Lord.


In trouble we reach for faith. We remember that faith is the power to withstand what we cannot understand.  We remember that weeping may tarry for the night, even as joy comes with the morning.  We remember that the extent of possibilities always outruns our grasp and count.  We remember that we hope for what we do not see.  We remember what the Psalmists taught, as do the Gospels:  that your experience of dislocation can be a doorway to grace, that your experience of disappointment is the very portal to freedom, that your experience of departure is the threshold of love.


As Bonhoeffer affirmed, ‘man has come of age’, through the Renaissance, through the Reformation, through the Enlightenment and through the progress of human autonomy, human freedom into our own time.  “God lets us know that we must live as men who can manage our lives without God.  The God who is with us is the God who leaves us alone.  Before God and with God we live without God.”


But we still lament.  Finish that muffin.  Which was the day of your biggest unanswered question?  Assuming there is no ready answer, for real and big questions seldom afford easy spoken answers, can you accept that silence?


Lunch and Thanksgiving


                  A simple lunch.  Soup, peanut butter and jam (raspberry).  There are times when the summer songs suffice.  We sang in church camp:  Count your many blessings, count them one by one.


We remember the Polish poet who was sent to Siberia for half a lifetime.  He returned.  How did he survive?  He remembered the kindnesses.  Over lunch, now.  The day is half-gone.  Think with thanks.  Ten lepers were healed.  One spoke in appreciation.  Think with thanksgiving.  We all receive more than we deserve.  Seeing a fallen bird, Asher Lev asks his Father why God lets the living die:  “to remind us that life is precious; something you have without limit is never precious”.


Bonhoeffer, again:  “The Christian hope of resurrection sends man back to his life on earth in a completely new way.  The Christian must like Christ give himself to the earthly life”.  Take heart. “The future bears the face of Christ”


Make a list.  For what are you truly thankful?  In this Psalm, as in so much of the Bible, thanks is given for deliverance, for freedom, for redemption.  On what day did you experience some measure of liberty?  When we are thankful, grateful, appreciative, then we have good humor, and then we have generous habits, and then we have soul.  Here is the heart of the hymn:  “O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.”


Dinner and Compassion


                  Before you now is the main meal of the day.  Salad.  Meat. Bread.  Fruit, a mixture—berries to be sure.


As this summer nourishes our relationships, let us pause before the heart of life (as of Scripture and church and faith).  “Steadfast love”.  Pardon, begin with pardon.  Forgiveness, begin with forgiveness.  Compassion, begin with compassion.  Can you name a day on which you felt, or knew, or received, or relied on compassion?  Think at dinner.  Sharing the fruit, sharing the memory of forgiveness.  Life is a gift.  Eternal life is a gift.  Faith is a gift.  Forgiveness, offered or received, is a gift.  Think in simple terms here.  And pray so, too.


A man arrives at the pearly gates.  His interlocutor says, “Entry, 100 points”.  How am I to find 100pts, our man asks?  “Tell me about yourself”.  Well, once I helped a woman across the street.  “Excellent, one point.  Anything else?”  Well, once I went to church and gave what I thought was a generous gift.  “Excellent, that’s two.” Now our man is worried. He says to the gate keeper:  “At his rate, I will never get in.  I won’t make it. I won’t have enough points. I’d only get in by the grace of God.  “Grace of God!  98 points.  Grace of God. Excellent. Just so.  Quite right. You’re in.”


Be kind to one another.  Tenderhearted.  Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Or, as Myles Davis said, and he should know, ‘there is no such thing as a wrong note’.


Dessert and Satisfaction


                  Who can go to sleep on an empty stomach?  In the evening, in the summer, a little ice cream with berries (raspberries) goes a long way.


What little measure of satisfaction, a hunger filled, a thirst slaked, a longing fulfilled, what day of satisfaction have you known?  There is some satisfaction in every life.  Just as every heart has secret sorrow, every heart has some satisfaction.  “He satisfies the thirsty and the hungry he fills with good things.”  Can we be satisfied with what is good?


You did what you could do in a time of struggle.  Good for you!  You brought real kindness to a hurting parent, or child.  Good for you!  You sought to name the good things in a time of real tragedy.  Good for you!  You found a way in the wilderness.  Good for you!


From Marsh Chapel often you hear a vocation voice.  One graduate of 2014, who was in this nave for baccalaureate just four weeks ago, is now in the desert.  She wrote this week:


For the past three weeks, I have been doing field research in three refugee camps in northern Jordan. I am looking at the lives of children in the camps, how they respond to and are shaped by their circumstances. It has been a life-changing experience so far, and I have learned so much from their opportunism and optimism. I’m sure you’ve heard references to the refugee youth as members of a “lost generation.” I’m really starting to dislike this defeatist term. While they are certainly facing great obstacles that we couldn’t possibly imagine, “lost” implies that they have given up and that the global community has given up on them. However, these children have so much passion, energy, and hope for the future. 


Each day I hear heart-breaking stories, but at the end of the day, I always finish by reading a few of Thurman’s “Meditations of the Heart”. Yesterday, I read “Magic all Around Us” and thought it perfectly expressed the attitude of many of the Syrian children that I’ve been spending my days with: 


“When have you noticed the color in the sky? When have you looked at the shape and place of a tree? What about the light in the eyes of your friend when he smiles…The spontaneous response which overcomes you when you are face to face with some poignant human need?…’There’s magic all around us./ In the rocks and trees, and in the minds of men,/ Deep hidden springs of magic./ He who strikes the rock aright, may find them where he will./ I seek new levels of awareness/ of the meaning of the commonplace.” 


Please send my regards to Jan and please keep these children and their families in your thoughts and prayers. I look forward to seeing you both at the end of the summer. 


Evening is no time for meditating on the mistakes.  It is a time, with our dear student in the desert, for meditation of the good.  By perfection, Matthew and Wesley meant health not precision, wholeness not fastidiousness.  Here is the thought for ice cream and raspberries.  What has satisfied you?

Here is a summer menu, a mode of thought, based on ancient Psalm.


Breakfast is for wonder, coffee break for acceptance, lunch for thanksgiving, dinner for compassion, and the evening snack for satisfaction!

A summer menu.


I’m going out to clean the pasture spring.  I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away.  And wait to watch the water clear, I may.  I shan’t be gone long.  You come too.


“Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”


Breakfast is for wonder, coffee break for acceptance, lunch for thanksgiving, dinner for compassion, and the evening snack for satisfaction!


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

Spiritual Gifts

June 8th, 2014 by Marsh Chapel

 1 Corinthians 12: 3-13

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Perhaps you too were arrested by the moving and powerful remembrances offered this week, seventy years later, for June 6, 1944.  This week we have heard again about those young men on Omaha Beach and elsewhere we gave so much for the common good, whose sacrificial martial action was offered for the common good.  Perhaps you found in such retrospective as we have had these last few days, an emotional upsurge, a spiritual shower, a reckoning with history and duty, an infusion of spirit.  There is a gospel echo here.


Spiritual gifts are meant for the common good.


Those who began the practice of ministry in the 1970’s officiated at many funerals, over the years, for men of this, ‘the greatest generation’.  As with all ministry, through which one puts oneself at the disposal and in the service of others, these memorials, over decades, have been moments of great privilege.  One such occurred yesterday across the river in the Harvard Memorial Church.  We are coming gradually toward the end of this generation’s memorials.  Have we truly learned the lessons, their lessons, which by accident of circumstance, age, location, timing, calling, we have been given to celebrate, in ministry? What a privilege, in ministry, to participate in the highest and hardest moments of life.  What a privilege.

Ministry is preaching and visiting.  To preach requires, invites, demands visitation, some two dozen forty minute visits per week, forty minutes of listening, which is an offer of life, and forty seconds of extemporary prayer, which is an offer of grace.  What a privilege to share the gospel week by week in such a way.  You are in the middle of things.


Once when our son was ten years old, he accompanied me during such a visit with two parishioners.  Mary and Bill had married just after the Second World War.  They raised four daughters, who all had become vibrant, creative, caring adults.  In addition they found time to prepare the Altar for Sunday, to sit through various Worship Committee meetings, to take an interest in local politics, to read and learn and grow and change, as faith intersected with life.


During the October that Bill was dying, our son Ben went with me once to see him.  On an earlier visit, Bill had told me about his experience in the war.  At age 20 Bill had become a pilot, and had flown 30 missions from England into and over Germany.  His plane had been shot down once.  He had survived, though not all of his crew had survived.  He had carried responsibility for an airplane, a crew, many missions, and to some small but human degree, the outcome of the war itself.  He was honored and decorated when the war ended.  30 missions later, several deaths later, many hours of anxious service later, many buildings and bridges destroyed later, after three years in command in England in the air in the war, he came home.  He was 22.  Bill was 22 years old, when the war ended, and he came home.


I cannot remember how this happened, but our son either asked to see or was offered to see Bill’s flight jacket.  It was a heavy, worn, brown leather flight jacket, waist long with an old center zipper.  At age 10, and I do not remember how this happened, whether he asked or was offered, Ben donned the jacket.  He was small in it, but Bill himself was somewhat small, and the jacket fit, if poorly.  Here was a moment when Mary, soon to be a widow, and Bill, soon to be buried, and Ben, soon to be 11, and I, soon to conduct a funeral, were fully quiet together.  With that jacket Bill came home, 30 missions later, a war won, at 22 years of age. 22. A young man.  Bill worked the next 40 years as a public relations writer for a small manufacturing company, a quiet life of backroom pencil sharpening, phoning, rewriting, and mailing.


Some moments stand frozen in time.  Our son in Bill’s jacket is one.  Bill’s primary work, his main adult life, as he reflected on all of his life, was completed by age 22.


Which provokes a question: Where did we ever get the idea that young people are not capable of great things?


Bill found his voice, his own self, at a young age, and quietly whispered his voice in faith for the rest of his days, right in the middle of things.

Here we are in the middle of things, the middle of June, the middle of life.  In media res.  In the middle of things.

Young adults are often concerned about relationships, anxious about performance, overly attentive to their changing appearance, and honestly uncertain about the future.  You notice, I am sure, that in all these things they resemble no one as much as another remarkable age cohort sometimes referred to as their parents.


         The issue of appearance, or appearances, which will dog us all for all our days, is of particular importance this morning.  Now I think it is good to dress well for church, and particularly for such a special occasion as Pentecost, Whitsunday.  In fact, we might wish that there were rather more than less attention, across our time and land, to the matter of courtesy, manners, and dress.  However, the Scripture lesson this morning acclaims in startling fashion a distinctly different truth, which is, simply said, that what matters is not how you look but how you sound.  In the life of the Spirit, that is, what counts is not your face but your voice.


To become a person is to find your voice.  Spiritual gifts are vocal gifts, meant for the common good.


You may, and rightly, wonder why St Paul would start down this rickety path with the shouting Corinthians. In ancient Corinth, a city like New Orleans in its love of the love of the flesh, Paul spoke:  God made them and gave them life; soon they would be at death in God’s presence; in the meantime they were a sorry lot; and Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to give them new life, community, heaven, meaning, love, and, oh yes, spirit.  To this they responded with the chaotic shouting and disrespect They shouted!  They groped!  They misbehaved!  They went overboard!  If nothing else, that is, it seemed that there was plenty of volume in Corinth.


This morning we are in earshot of part of Paul’s lesson for the Corinthians.  In a word, he is heard to say, you are mistaken to focus on what you see.  What matters is how you sound.   What do those around you hear and overhear in your voice?


I heard an editor at Random House explain how he could move through thousands of manuscripts very quickly, and know which ones to publish.  “Oh, I can tell in a paragraph or two.  Did you ever listen to someone sing?  You can tell in a line or two”.


Paul is asking his new born church to exchange volume for value, to listen for the good gifts that God is giving, to feel the heart beat of life and love in various forms of speech that are the whole content of the spirit.


Paul gives, too, a concrete, historical measure of spirit.  We all have come of age in a time in which the word spirit and its cousins are as exuberantly pronounced as they are unintelligibly defined.  By contrast, for the Paul of 1 Corinthians 12 spirit means speech that does good.  All of the gifts of spirit, he says, can be known and measured by one simple test: what do they do for the common good?


Notice the space Paul creates.  There are varieties of gifts.  Not one bouquet, but a meadow full of bouquets.  Diversities, multiplicities, all the many-sided manyness that his Greek culture decried as the enemy of the true and the good and the beautiful—the oneness of truth—this diversity Paul celebrates.


God is giving us gifts all the time, but our ears are so muffled that we miss their value, their resounding power.  The gifts which make up spirit are many and different, but are the bequests of a single spirit, lord and God (incidentally, one of the earliest Trinitarian references in scripture and history).  These vocal gifts are to be distinguished from their contraries by a single test:  do they build the common good?


So Paul directs the Corinthians to listen for the arrival of the gifts of the Spirit.  You receive your measure of them too.  Take the time, over the years, to hear them and know them and know your part in them.


To one is given the logos sophias, the word of wisdom.  Some of you will become wise before your time.  Our age disdains wisdom.  We prefer willpower.  It is willpower, or the will to power, that distinguishes our age, from the raucous willfulness of our music to the undisguised willfulness of our politics.  We love things not because they are right and true but because they are ours.  Look at many of our popular cultural figures.  Are they wise? No, but they are willful, and in that combination of audacious imagination and utter willfulness, they symbolize much of our era.  But the gift of the spirit is wisdom, the quiet capacity to see life as a whole.  Listen for a word of wisdom.


To one is given the logos gnoseus, the word of knowledge.  Paul elsewhere questions knowledge, but not here.  Paul himself knew a great deal.  He knew the Hebrew Bible well enough to use it, and recite it as a part of his heart.  He knew the tradition of Greek philosophy, the sophists and the epicureans and the teaching of Plato, well enough to recall them with ease.  He knew the cities of the empire well enough to traverse them with grace.   He even knew enough of the craft of leather working to make his living, city by city, as a tent-maker, the original worker priest.  I have no doubt that he would encourage our increase in knowledge, in many directions.  But the knowledge to which he gives expression here is of a different kind.  He means the knowledge that touches and warms the heart, that makes the heart strangely warm, the knowing word.  You will know it when you have heard it.


It is thought feeling.  It is felt thought.  Try as we might to unglue the two, feeling and thought, they are enmeshed in one another.  Someone will take you by the hand and whisper, “I love you”.  Someone will ask you, pointedly, whether you plan to make something of your life.  Someone will, at the right time in the right way, tell you to your face that you are forgiven for what you did and you should stop beating yourself up over it.  Someone will point out to you a different possibility, a new alternative.  Someone will invite you to come to worship God in a church, a church with depth, a church with texture, a church with body.  More to the point, some of you will have that voice, that knowing voice, that telling voice, the voice of knowledge.  Listen for a word of knowledge.


To another is given the gift of pistis, faith.  Faith comes by hearing, we know, and hearing by the word of God.  As a religion Christianity has yet to come to terms, far and wide it seems to me, with Paul’s blunt assertion that faith is a gift, a form of speech and hearing that is offered to some individuals for the sake of the common good.  Perhaps the word of faith, upon your tongue, is the gift of the spirit to you.  Listen for a word of faith.


To others are given the gifts of healing and energymata dunameon—energetic power.  Words of healing and force, fitly spoken, that make a difference for the good, for the common good.  Paul strictly measures the spirit, and spiritual gifts, according to a simple rule:  does this make for the common good?


Yesterday we took our son’s two daughters for an afternoon.  We rode the T.  We walked through the Common.  We rode the Carousel there.  We hiked over the Fiedler bridge.  We sat for ice cream along the esplanade.  We meandered up along the river.  We stopped in a playground, one where a tree has been carved into a part of the yard.  All public space, all common good, all ushered into existence by spiritual gifts for the common good.  I wonder how many meetings, how many hours, how many votes, how many speeches, how many voices have been lifted, for how many years, to make Boston such a shining example of public space for the common good?  Listen for words of healing and force, fitly spoken, that make a difference for the common good.


To still others are given the gifts of prophecy, discernment, speaking and understanding.  I ask that we notice only that all of these, like their predecessors have to do with speech, with voice.  You become a person by finding your voice.  Spiritual gifts are vocal gifts—in the tongues of Acts 2, in the shouts of Psalm 104, in the dominical cry of John 7, but especially in Paul’s declaration of 1 Corinthians 12.


To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


         To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


         To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


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