Word to the Wise

June 25th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 21:8-21

Romans 6:1b-11

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Matthew 10:24-39

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People of faith, hear the Gospel, a Word to the wise: God’s grace shines through and over all human weakness; human failing cannot eclipse divine grace; the moonlight of the Grace of God still illumines, even if dimly at points and darkly at times, the very shadowlands of life. True in Scripture, true in life. Let us lift up our hearts and hear the Gospel: God’s grace, light, and love, shine upon us this Lord’s day.


Pause for a moment, as summer begins, to ponder and to wonder at the strange world of the Bible. Our own reckoning with law, prophecy, and wisdom, with gospel, epistle, and revelation, in our brief lived experience, occurs, and stands out before, the strange world of Scripture, whence we turn—where else shall we go?—come Sunday. And the works of our time and times we most prize, at some times we name ‘biblical’ in portion and proportion. And the challenges, the momentous lived responsibilities of our time and times (love means taking responsibility after all) we most anxiously apprehend, at some times we name ‘biblical’ in portion and proportion. Think of an age wrestling with health, like ours, for instance. Our wise women and men over time have begun to prepare us.

Consider WIT, a play by Margaret Edson who teaches elementary school near Atlanta. Some years ago she wrote this one play.   It was a success. She was asked to write more, but she demurred. ‘We are busy people here in 3rd grade. We are busy people here in Georgia, in the third grade. What with the periodic table, and the solar system, and the multiplication tables, and the dissection of frogs, and the poetry of America, and a bit of recess every now and then—we are busy people here. I won’t have time to do another stage play anytime soon, thank you very much. I have all I want to do with these young minds here. One play is enough’. We gladly remember her on the day of our own annual Vacation Bible School.

Her work is biblical in proportion, about death and life, a sort of commentary if you will on Matthew and on Matthew 10. And apt for Marsh Chapel, here at the intersection of academic wisdom and human mortality. The protagonist is Vivian Bearing, a world class John Donne scholar, and the product of a world class doctoral program. At age 50, a single strong determined poetry professor, she discovers 4th stage metastatic cancer is killing her.   Her young physician is a former student, who failed to get an A in her course. Her savior is a nurse, who loves her, loves her physically with hand lotion and hugs, loves her verbally with honesty and grace, loves her personally with kindness and care. ‘This treatment will be very hard’ she hears the doctor say. ‘I love hard things’ she retorts.   In 90 minutes she is dead, the curtain falling on the reading of Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Is Donne’s line ‘Death be not proud” to be followed by an exclamation point or a comma? It comes down to that.   For the physician, it may be, the exclamation point. For the nurse, it may be, the comma.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.


One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more;

Death, thou shalt die.

Her performance is the kind of saving collision that can befall earnest faithful men and women, a choice encounter of human striving with physical pain and proximate death. It is a play worth reading or seeing again, just now, in the cross currents of debate about health, healing, salvus, salvation: God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

            Biblical, in proportion, yes ‘biblical’.

The rugged biblical texts read this morning convey to us this existential dilemma. With Hagar we can sometimes find ourselves at the point of no return. With Paul we do face our endless and inevitable sin, yet are not free to wallow in it. With Matthew we are confronted by a stark twist to the fifth commandment, to Honor Father and Mother, to admit that there are times, when to do so is to do the opposite–in order to do so. One best honors an abusive parent with dishonor. Whatever comes not from faith is sin. The height of human longing, the starkness of proximate death.

Pause for a moment with Hagar, Paul, and Matthew. Our dear friend, colleague, now suddenly deceased and of blessed memory, with us in a greater light and from a farther shore, Professor Dale Andrews, regularly taught us, taught all, to consider, among other things, the social, the cultural contexts of the texts we read. We honor him in memory, but so let us honor him in spirit, word, and deed. Set these rugged texts in context, if you please.

The project of Genesis (beginning), is the beginning of creation, covenant, and providence. Our passage lies squarely in the most central of the beginnings, that of the people of faith, the story of Israel, the covenant people. To make way for Isaac, what will become of his half brother? What of the other peoples alongside the ‘chosen’? The earthy cry of a mother for a child braces and embraces us, like Rachel weeping for her children. There is no avoidance of the real costs of decision, choice, preference. God visits Hagar. Theology is learned over time in the school of visitation, of confession, of prayer, of conversation, of pastoral presence in the presence of Presence. God has mercy and shows mercy, an extra mercy, if you will, hearing and heeding. ‘God was with the boy’. At least here, at least for a moment in this passage, there is in the context of Scripture a divine expanse, an universal embrace, an extra mercy. And there is no substitute for visitation, no substitute for hearing the voice of pain, no substitute for seeing in the flesh the need of the other.

Paul’s work in Romans, as well, and whether or not for the moment you agree with Luther that this is the one, main text of the New Testament or not, likewise emerges in context. ‘Paul among Jews and Gentiles’ is the way our neighbor Krister Stendahl regularly phrased it. How are we to live by grace as people who are utterly mortal, regularly prone to harm others, in the deepest sense finally unable to rehabilitate ourselves? His vocabulary may differ a bit from ours, but Paul’s probing of the depths of life is very much our own as well. How are we to live both as healed and as sinful, both as saved and as broken? Well, here the context in full makes every difference. Paul is writing to answer this and other questions, but the writing is not his final answer. Is this your final answer Paul? No. What is? His final answer is coming. He is coming to make a visit, pay a call, stop by and see, pause in Rome and talk with his confreres. For the moment let us give Luther a nod, and, for the sake of argument, agree that Romans is THE book in the New Testament. (Or is it Galatians?). No, let us say Romans for today. But look: the whole of the letter is MERELY an introductory note to the main event, his coming visit to Rome, which he does make, and which leads then to his martyrdom. How important visitation.

Matthew has placed a harrowing set of demands, strictures, commands before us. He too was facing a decade of humiliation, though his in the latter years of the first century ad. He wanted his people steeled, ready, perseverant, of happy heart, of glad spirit, but of disciplined capacity for faithfulness. After all, those who took up the journey would be in regular visitation among others of different perspective. We do well to recall, as we did in February, regarding some of the hyperbole in the dominical teaching, particularly as recorded in Matthew, the wise, word to the wise, interpretation of Amos Wilder:

Jesus meant the requirements very explicitly…but the radical formulation of the requirements is to be explained by the imminence of the kingdom of God.  The judgment was immediately at hand and an extraordinary ethic was proper for an extraordinary emergency.  We have then in Schweitzer’s term ‘interim-ethics’ immediately relevant only to Jesus’ disciples in the brief period before the end…his insight that the teaching is significantly governed by the drawing near of the new age is today generally accepted. (IBD 161) As did Matthew, we are under obligation to appropriate (Jesus’ words) in a free and responsible way, applying them to our own situation…bearing in mind the disparity between his situation and ours (IBD 164) (Amos Wilder).

            We read the text in context, as our beloved Dr. Andrews and so many others would have us to do.




As in Scripture, so in life. Pause for a moment, as summer begins, to ponder and to wonder at the strange world of our lived experience.

The weekly ministry of the gospel, as basically constituted, in most settings and painting with a rough broad brush, requires a sermon, as good as one can do fifty times a year, and two dozen pastoral visits—home, hospital, nursing home, work place, third place. The two are intricately interwoven, the speaking the listening, the visiting and the proclamation. One significant portion of the visitation necessarily includes hospital and nursing home visits.   In a week of national debate about health care, these rise to the surface of memory and reflection. Not only Scripture but also our lived experience, this Lord’s Day, in the announcement of the Gospel, strikingly recall us to the power of visitation. Have we not learned so in our own struggle?

On an August Sunday, in 1975, there is a 20-year old recovering from an appendectomy, in a rural hospital.   There are four beds in the modest room, 1975. Into the room come four people, a minister in the AME tradition, dark and in dark suit and collar, and his wife and two deacons. They are there to visit the roommate on the left. In the heat the talk quietly and briefly. The fans buzz. Most of the afternoon—hours—they spend in silence. Once a bit of hymn, once a furtive reading out of a prayer book. A prayer at the end. As it happens, this one cameo becomes one of the myriad pushes into ministry for the fellow in the bed beside.

Here in the summer of 1976, oddly in the same rural hospital, is a 21 year old untrained minister making a first pastoral visit on a 22-year old man, who for three years has hoped to be a State Policeman in the Empire State. His life dream. But in the prior weekend he crashed a motorcycle, risking life and limb. His life was spared, but not the future full us of his left leg, his limb. He would heal in time, but not in a way that would allow him to hold his life dream any longer. What does one say?

That same summer, in the overheated house nursing homes of small villages, many soon to be and rightly summarily closed by the state, one saw and heard, and experienced with all the senses, the plight of the sick.   In four decades much progress has been made, but we are still a long way from Tipperary.   Have you been in a nursing home of late?

In the early 80’s, a call in the evening, pre-surgery. “Are you ready to go?” (meaning intended, ‘are you ready for the procedure’)   “I certainly am not. I will survive”. (meaning heard—and what else do you think of when the minister shows up—‘are you ready for the end’.)

In the late 1980’s on Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas, accompanied by growing children, there were visits in homes and nursing homes, maybe on those holy days a dozen in the afternoon before dinner.

Then a decade later, and moving quickly, a fuller string of stops to make, some so quick that others referred to them not as visits but as sightings. Even moving quickly though, things happen, one conversation turning into another, and a roommate and a relative and another room and the day can just go. Today, one’s own mother, who would have expected this, resides in one of those places.

This year, one of our dear friends spent some time in such a home, and in recovery had struggle. One shadowy day a boy came and sat with her, a ten year old on the lam from his own family down the hall. “What’s your name?” he asked. “What do you do?” And from there, a long magic mystery in the gift of grace in human conversation, an intervention, a visitation, an appreciation, a recognition of the humanity of one older person through the humanity of one younger person. Healing ensued.

If you were to ask the changes, hospital and nursing home, in all these years, there have been many and very many. If you were to ask the abiding realities, what is the same, what is constant, unchanging, that is very simple to state: then as now, most people have no visitors. Most people in hospital and nursing home have next to no visitors. Even the inbred, trained, generations deep pastoral habits of visitation, in fact, and including those of one’s own denomination, have themselves atrophied, given the ever attractive lures of the computer screen.

So, now, with a decision on the table in our nation’s capital, whether or not to eliminate 25% of Medicaid support, when 60% of nursing home residents depend on Medicaid support, we are at sea a bit, because we have not been regular in our visitation. It is much easier when you no lived experience of what cutting from three nurses a day to two nurses a day will do to those who have no visitors.

One wrote a month ago: ‘Have we really degenerated into a nation so lacking in compassion and mercy that those of us who have more than we need are no longer willing to extend a hand to those who don’t have enough?’ (NYT, letters, 5/25/27).

Real religion is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and remain unstained from the world, wrote James (1:27). Each one of us this week could make a visit in a nursing home. Call on a neighbor, a parishioner, a family member, or just show up on the second floor with some Oreo cookies and stay a few minutes. This is one of those sermons with an altar call, a call to decision, an invitation to discipleship. You are hereby happily invited sometime within the next seven days, to help set our common conversation about health and care in the context of actual faithful experience, of pastoral visitation (never the sole privilege of the clergy, though their example matters greatly). Visit some or someone in a nursing home this week. Make a personal visit. Erazim Kohak: ‘Humans are not only humans, moral subjects and vital organisms. They are also Persons, capable of fusing eternity and time in the precious, anguished reality of a love that would be eternal amid the concreteness of time. A person is a being through whom eternity enters time.’

People of faith, hear the Gospel, a Word to the wise: God’s grace shines through and over all human weakness; human failing cannot eclipse divine grace; the moonlight of the Grace of God still illumines, even if dimly at points and darkly at times, the very shadowlands of life. True in Scripture, true in life, let us lift up our hearts and hear the Gospel: God’s grace, light, and love, shine upon us this Lord’s day.

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

Stirring the Pot

June 18th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Exodus 19:2-8a

Romans 5:1-8

Psalm 116:1-4, 8-10, 12-19

Matthew 9:35-10:1, 10:5-8, 14-22

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Pretty nifty, huh?  The disciples get to cast out unclean spirits.  They get to cure every disease and every sickness.  They get to go out on their own to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near.  They can raise the dead! Cleanse the lepers! Cast out demons!  They are going to be so cool!

And then Jesus spoils it.   Apparently, even with all this amazing power, some folks are not going to welcome the disciples, or pay attention to them.  What’s this sheep among wolves stuff?  Wise as serpents – why do they need to be careful and prudent?  And then there’s the being handed over, and the flogging, and the dragging before the authorities, to say nothing of the public speaking.  Really?  Family betrayals and hatred?  This is some pep talk.  What in the world is Jesus doing?

The Gospel of Matthew was written to a Christian community very like that of the disciples.  They were just starting to engage in mission, and while Matthew is a Gospel, it has  features that remind us of a handbook or manual for teaching.  Scholars also note that Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels, and that the community did not see their Christian faith as a new religion.  They saw it as a new constituency of Israel.  This brought particular challenges to their mission,

The Gospel was written after the year 70, in a highly politicized time.  In the year 70, the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem temple, which was the center of worship for Israel  So there was then the external challenge of Roman oppression with its calling to account of the Jesus movement within Judaism.  There were also the internal concerns within Judaism for Jewish identity and who were to be the true heirs of the covenant.  The Gospel of Matthew was written for a community constantly aware of and  in discussion with their Jewish roots and identity.  And sometimes the community was over against them.  The warnings of floggings within the synagogue were for apparent violations of the Torah and for consorting with Gentiles.  The warnings of family betrayals came out of the griefs and challenges of a family fight within the Judaism of the time.  Jesus as portrayed in Matthew’s Gospel is the Jesus who sees the urgency of the need for mission and empowers his disciples to go out in compassion. He also wants his disciples to know what they will be up against and how to take care of themselves.

Our own situation is not so dissimilar from that of the disciples and the Matthean community.  We too are called to share in Jesus’ ministry of compassion, to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.  And we too live in a politicized and polarized time.  No matter what our political preferences are, the uncertain situation in Washington is the 800-pound elephant in many a room.  With this come increasing concerns for the right to protest  and communicate our concerns to government.  The return of the church sanctuary movement, the concern for eco-justice and creation care, the incivility of our debates, and the violence of our racism and sexism – these all speak to our questions of identity and of who has right to belong.  Who has the right to power   Who has the right to resources.  Our family fights as to national and religious identity and inclusion are still a source of grief as well as frustration.  How do we put ourselves out there in compassion?  And given the challenges, why would we?
Well, there are certain themes in our scriptures this morning that invite us to take these risks.  One is gratitude.  Because we are thankful for what we have received, we do not hoard it, but we share what we have received with others.  In Matthew, Jesus reminds his disciples that they have received the good news of God’s love and community for free.  So they can give their witness to God’s love and power freely to others.  Paul writes to the church in Rome, and reminds them that through Christ they have the grace and peace of right relationship with God. So they can boast of their hope in sharing God’s glory.  God’s love came to them even when they were estranged from God in sin, to the extent that Christ died for them even before they believed in him.  So they can extend God’s invitation to others who do not yet believe.  The Psalmist testifies to God’s help and provision in trouble.  In return he will become God’s servant and pay vows to God in the midst of the people.  And the Israelites, delivered from Egypt and cared for in the desert, agree to covenant with God in love and obedience.  They will become a priestly and holy nation to bring other nations to God.

Our compassion comes from our gratitude.  It does not come from a place of patronage or superiority.  It does not put on a show.  Our compassion comes from our own having been loved and cared for in our own challenges and pain.  It comes from our gratitude for our release from sin and death and  for our freedom in God to choose the good.  So gratitude is something that encourages our compassion.

Another theme is that we are not alone.  The Spirit companions us.  It empowers us to act in compassion.   It gives us the words we need to witness in the face of challenge.   It pours God’s love into our hearts so that we can even boast in our sufferings.  They produce endurance. Endurance produces in us that character that trusts and expects great things from God.   Trust and expectation produce the hope that does not disappoint because we know that God loves us and will help us in our lives and in our work, because God has done this  for us before.  Even if we say with the Psalmist, “I am greatly afflicted.”, we can keep our faith.

And we are not alone because we have each other.  The disciples went out together, the Matthean and Roman churches endured together, the Psalmist sang first to his congregation.  So we bring our own selves, our talents and resources, our knowledge and our diversity of experience.  We do not have to do everything ourselves.  We can do our part and know that others are doing theirs for the good of the whole.

It is our past deliverance and present guidance that gives us confidence in being able to carry out our ministry of compassion.   And that mission is no small thing.  In all these scriptures, we are invited to join in Jesus’ ministry of compassion on a large scale.  In capital cities like Jerusalem and Rome, and maybe Washington.   In the cities and villages of a whole country, maybe in Boston.  In the midst of all the people, as a priestly nation that serves to bring the world to God.  It will take a big vision to accomplish a ministry of power and compassion.  There are a great many persons and groups who have no compassion.  They have vested interests in keeping people sick, dead, isolated, and enmeshed in evil.  Of course, we as individuals and as a community cannot do everything.  But the old phrase “think globally, act locally” does come to mind.  In a globalized world, our sin has far-reaching consequences as it separates us from God, ourselves and our neighbors.  But our acts of compassion have far-reaching consequences as well, that bring us together in trust and hope, to act in compassion toward love and justice.

Cure the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the lepers.  Cast out demons.  In our ministry of compassion, some of us will take these instructions literally.  And, even if we don’t: there are plenty of folks who are where we may have been, sick in spirit or body or mind or relationships.  As we may have, they need healing even more than cure, if cure is only for the symptoms.  There are plenty of folks who are where we may have been, dead in despair or numb or hopeless.  As we may have, they could use a witness in word or deed to the hope of grace, love, and power.  As we may have been, there are plenty of folks that are considered “unclean” by some standards of birth and religion, who in compassion, justice, and common humanity are to be included in the same love and acceptance that we have received, as beloved of God.  And there are plenty of demons, forces of systemic and even personal evil, that are to be named and confronted in the name of Jesus and the creativity of the Spirit.

Jesus wants us to be aware of the challenges.   The work of compassion stirs the pot.  It brings to the surface what is down below.  It mixes up what has been separated.  It distributes the heat.  Just because we are doing something right and good does not mean that everybody will like our work, or even like us.  But as we act out of gratitude, and know that we are not alone, we increase our own faith, hope, and confidence in God, as well as increase faith, hope, and confidence in God in others.

The other night I had dinner with a friend.  She is a practicing Christian, and often speaks of how God’s love and provision are at work in her life.  She said that she had joined a local group to voice some concerns and include some folks in discussion.   The group felt that these folks and concerns were either invisible or were being ignored in the community.  She also said that after feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed about these issues, joining the group had given her new energy and hope.  The group brought a lot of different experience and talents together, and there was a high degree of commitment to the naming of the issues, to the inclusion of those previously excluded, and to practical solutions for the challenges.  She was no longer alone in her concerns and her compassion, and was grateful to have been introduced to the group.

For what do we ourselves have concerns?  For whom do we ourselves have compassion?  The harvest is still plentiful, the laborers are still few.  The lord of the harvest invites us to join him in the work.  With gratitude, and companionship with God and each other, we can be confident in our calling and our work.  Amen.

– The Rev. Victoria Hart Gaskell

Grace, Love, Communion

June 11th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 1:1-2:4a

2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

Matthew 28: 16-20

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Good Morning! It is truly wonderful to be speaking again from the pulpit of Marsh Chapel today. My thanks to Dean Hill for making this opportunity available to me and to my colleagues here at the chapel for their support in leading worship this morning.

Imagine my pleasure when I discovered that the reading from the Hebrew Bible for the lectionary this week is the first creation account in Genesis (also the longest lectionary reading – thanks for your patience and participation!). As someone who studies environmental/ecological ethics, this is a perfect starting off point for a sermon. Themes of dominion vs. stewardship, our understanding of ourselves as a part of the creation and not separate from it, and the world having inherent value because of God’s care in creating it are all found in this one passage and are often upheld by Christian ecological theologians and ethicists as justification for why Christians should seek justice for the earth. So, easy for me. Slam dunk. This sermon could be written in an hour.

But instead, I’m choosing to go on a path that has many hills and obstacles instead of clear one. It builds character, right? Today is Trinity Sunday which celebrates the threefold nature of God. Theologically, the Trinity continues to be one of the most challenging aspects of Christianity to fully grasp. Martin Luther infamously stated that “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.” Similarly, John Wesley stated “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a human being, and then I will show you a human being that can comprehend the Triune God!” There are many similar warnings from many theologians about the dangers and limits in human comprehension of one of the central claims to our belief system.

Let me start by saying, I do not fully understand the Trinity. And this sermon is not meant as an attempt at that. When we talk about the Trinity, with a capital “T”, we are usually referring to God in three persons or types – historically delineated as God the Father, God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one. The Christian math of 1+1+1 = 1. It’s found all over our liturgy. Disagreements about the nature of the Trinity go back to the fourth century when the church fathers tried to define whether Jesus was divine or not as well as establish the official doctrine of the Trinity (for more information see the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople from which we get the Nicene Creed professed in some mainline protestant denominations to this day). The entire church has split over understandings of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As Luther and Wesley have rightly pointed out, the Trinity continues to be a mystery to human beings. We can never fully comprehend it. But, that does not mean that we cannot try to understand aspects of the trinity and of God.

Instead of using the typical formulation which we find in Matthew today (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), I am more interested in the threefold description of God that Paul uses in closing the second letter to the Corinthians. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” A commentary on this passage that I read in preparation for this sermon referred to Paul’s formulation as “faintly trinitarian (with a small ‘t’).”[1] Formal orthodoxy about the Trinity (with a big T) wouldn’t come until hundreds of years after this epistle was written. While Paul’s use of Grace, Love, and Communion would most assuredly inform the later formal doctrine, he would most likely have not referred to himself as a Trinitarian, even though he does split God into three separate entities in this passage. Instead, what we can take from this passage is one way to express three foundational aspects of understanding how God and human beings relate to one another.

Paul’s formulation of the grace, love, and communion found in the divine may ring familiar to some of you, as it is for me – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”. Growing up in the Lutheran church, this scripture passage was and is still used as the greeting at each service. In fact, while I was preparing this sermon, Brother Larry commented on how “Lutheran” my title is, which isn’t surprising given Luther’s particular fondness for Paul’s epistles. Used in the context of a worship service, grace, love, and community serve as a welcome and an opportunity for us to come together as one in praise of God. But we can take these words for granted. Just like in any relationship, we must be attentive to maintain a healthy relationship with God and with others. And now, when we find ourselves in deeply troubling and divisive times, perhaps it is more imperative than ever to remind ourselves what lies at the core of our Christian teachings.

You’ll notice that in the reading of second Corinthians we heard today, Paul is ending his letter to the Church in Corinth, not beginning it with this greeting.  Paul writes to the Corinthians after finding out that there have been crises in the Church that have created division between people in Corinth. This letter is meant as encouragement for the church to continue to move forward in reconciliation. Scholars believe that Paul sent another letter in between the epistles we have come to know as first and second Corinthians in which he admonished them for their behavior and was very harsh with them (he states as much in second Corinthians itself). The church in Corinth turned itself around to serve God and be in community with one another. One of Paul’s means of encouragement is to remind them that their strength and power comes from the ultimate source – God. In verse 5 of chapter 13, just before the passage we read today, Paul inquires, “Examine yourselves: are you living the life of faith?” This entreaty is not just to scold the Christians in Corinth to do better but to also recognize the fundamental reality that God resides with us in all that we do and by acting faithfully we affirm our commitment to God. Then, in closing he cites grace, love, and communion as expressions of this faithful relationship.

If we are to ask ourselves this question, “are we living the life of faith?”, what would our answer be? What does it mean to live a life of faith? Grace, love, and communion are all interrelated concepts, just as the relationship found in the Trinity are interrelational. They inform and help to shed light on one another.  Let’s explore together the ideas of grace, love, and communion a bit more to try to understand how we live a life of faith together and can be better disciples of Christ in the world.


One thing that we must fundamentally understand about our Christian identity is that it is relational. God as source of all maintains a relationship with the world and humanity. Our reading from Genesis for today is not out of place with the other readings – it demonstrates a gracious God who creates and proclaims a world that is inherently good. It also places God as the source of all that we can rely on when times get tough.

For Protestants, the grace extended by God is an essential part of our relationship with God. God freely gives grace to humanity. Grace is a gift from God given through Jesus Christ. Charis, the Greek word for grace, implies a gift freely given, even undeserved by those who receive it. As a Lutheran, my understanding of grace is that we do not deserve it, but that God actively extends it to us if we have faith. This is where the idea of “justification by faith” or sola fides comes from in our protestant traditions. Good works are not required in order to receive God’s grace, but good works come out of that faith and grace that we receive. For most Protestants, this understanding of Grace is central to our theological interpretations of the Divine-human relationship.

Why should we bother to do anything good then? If God’s grace is given to us freely, no matter what, then shouldn’t we just anticipate that it will be given to us? The answer is no, because faith is still required of us. Faith is the dynamic actor on the side of humanity in the divine-human relationship. Out of faith grows our sense of responsibility for others, for creation, and for ourselves. If we turn back to our scripture from Genesis for today, God creates all good things and finds the creation to be very good, but gives responsibility to human beings to be stewards of that creation. Although our reading used the words “subdue” and “dominion” when discussing the human relationship with the Earth, a more correct understanding is our care and stewardship of that which is ultimately God’s, not ours, and that which God finds to be good outside of our use for it. This flies in the face of claims that we might hear from some Christians today who say things like, if there is such a thing as climate change (and news flash: there is), God will take care of it for us. To believe such a thing abdicates us from our responsibilities and partnership with God and with others. This brings me to the second of our relational identities with God: love.


Love, agape, is how we interact with others. The love expressed by God through Jesus is understood to be self-giving, seeking out the needs of the neighbor. Love is our duty to one another – to serve and meet the needs of those around us. Again, referring to love, Luther reminds us that faith and love are intertwined with one another. Love is a consequence of faith. It is how we express our faith to others and in the world around us. There is a direct relationship between grace, faith and love. We are set free by the grace of God to love and do the work of God with our hands.

And that love is not limited in scope. We must love our neighbors and love our enemies. Surely hating what is evil is also proclaimed in the scriptures, and we must continue to resist ideologies that are damaging to those who are most in need, but the challenge for us is to try to find common ground with those who see things differently than us. As I said before, this is a deeply divisive time in our country. Recently, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding Bishop of the ELCA, wrote a column in Living Lutheran, the monthly ELCA magazine entitled “Serving the neighbor in charged times.”[2] In it, she reminds Lutherans of their call to be in service to others, no matter who they are, and that in order to do it we must be civically engaged. She states “We forget that we are one people. I think we fail to recognize Christ in others, whether the other is across the pew or across the world. We forget that we all—whatever our politics—stand under the judgment of God and that only God’s promise of reconciling love in Jesus can save us. Set free by that promise we can find a way to serve the neighbor.”

Aided by echo-chambers of media outlets and social media accounts, we can easily find the people who agree with us and reject/block/unfriend those who don’t. We can forget that those who hold beliefs that differ from ours are still people. Extending love does not mean that we necessarily have to agree with those who hold different beliefs than our own, but we must remember that our need to be in service to others outweighs political affiliation, race, religious identity, or sexual orientation, gender. True kindness and compassion should be our guiding light.

It is often in moments of tragedy and extreme strain that we see the walls that divide us come down. We saw it a few weeks ago in Manchester, as people offered their homes to complete strangers, and as people lined up around the corner to donate blood for those who were injured. We saw it a year ago this weekend, when over fifty people were murdered at Pulse nightclub in Orlando during Pride and a great outpouring of care and support came from people all over the U.S. and the world. We saw it in Boston four years ago as we proudly proclaimed “Boston Strong” after the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing.  But must we wait until tragedy strikes to show our support for others? Can we be reliable neighbors every day for those we often fail to recognize who need our help the most? What does it mean to be in a community with others and to share in God’s love?


This brings us to the last of the attributes Paul assigns to God. Communion. Koinonia. A fellowship or gathering. Christianity is not a solitary endeavor. In order to be relational, we must interact with others. We come together in worship to hear the scripture together and to praise God, but we also come together in many other ways to live out our Christian witness. We commonly think of communion in terms of Holy communion – the Lord’s Supper that we share together during worship. We share in this sacrament with each other and with God at the same time, in a very obvious way. But communion and fellowship can be expressed in so many other ways. Obviously food is a great way to bring people together. During the school year, Marsh Chapel offers many opportunities for chapter members, students, and faculty to come together over a meal. I host Global Dinner Club each week. This space encourages students to not only learn some much-needed cooking skills for when they are on their own after college, but also gives us opportunity to find places of commonality or difference in our backgrounds. Undergraduate and graduate students, people of faith and people of no faith, domestic and international gather in preparing food, eating and having conversation. We’ve talked about everything from television shows to the finer nuances of process theology during these dinners and everyone walks away learning something new, like the history of the great molasses flood in Boston, and, more importantly, building bonds with other people. We can all recognize the inexpressible feeling that develops when a group of people comes together. I like to think that feeling, that connection we share is God. God is experienced through faith, through grace, through love, and in communion with others.

Some communities we get to voluntarily choose, for example, what church we attend or the friends we keep close. Others we have less of a choice in: our families, our neighbors (to an extent), and our school or work colleagues, even the ecosystems we are a part of. But whether our communities are self-selected or not, we have the opportunity in all cases to try to learn a little more about one another and to share with one another. Our community as a Christian congregation is important, to be sure, but we are not only in Christian contexts. We can bring our faith and our values to these other communities by practicing the love that God enables us to share with one another. When Jesus sends the disciples out to go and make disciples in all nations, to form a worldwide community of people of faith, it is through the word and baptism, but also through the actions of those whom he sends that disciples are made. Our faith informs our actions and those actions make an impression on the world around us.

Grace, Love, and Communion. As a welcoming wish at the start of a worship service or the departing words of a letter written nearly 2000 years ago, the Christian message is delivered through these three interrelated concepts. Our challenge now is to go out into the world and live into them as fully as we can to be disciples of Christ.

– Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

[1] Matt Skinner, “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13,” WorkingPreacher.org, May 18, 2008. Accessed June 7, 2017. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3258

[2] Elizabeth Eaton, “Serving the Neighbor in Charged Times,” Living Lutheran, June 2, 2017. Accessed June 7, 2017. https://www.livinglutheran.org/2017/06/serving-neighbor-charged-times/

Gift on the Altar

June 4th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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John 17: 1-10

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A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

The month of June each year provides a space and time for various gifts shared and received:

A Community Luncheon today (Marsh Room):

Featuring a presentation on planned giving by Sharon Wheeler, Associate Director of Planned Giving at Boston University. Then…a wedding of two members of our community, to which all are cordially invited.

June 11 a Summer Reading Discussion Group, convened by Ray Bouchard, at 9:45am.

On June 18 our Annual Father’s Day Brunch, 9:30 to 11:00am, meant for ALL.

Then on June 25, from noon to 1:30pm Vacation Bible School: “Pizza and Psalms” For children, youth, and the young at heart.  Led by Bob and Jan Hill.  Come and join us.  Jan says everyone can sing.  And she actually knows something about teaching.

You and you all who have chosen to bear witness to faith, here on a University Campus, live out gifts on altars.  You welcome freshmen, as they arrive, eager and sometimes lonely.  You bid farewell to them four years later, after they have both warmed and stolen your hearts, and the good bye hurts because it so good.  You take up your place in the heart of an academic enterprise, to recall with joy that learning and meaning are both important, that head and heart are both utterly human, that all of us are better when we are loved, even if we don’t get an A.  Some graduate Summa, some Magna, some Cum, and some of us just graduate THANK YOU LAUDE (LORDY)!  You have to be willing to say hello, and to say good bye, here, and you are, and you do.  What a gift on the altar of life!

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

In a few minutes we will bring our ordered hour of worship to a climactic close.  Ushers will come forward out of the gathered people of God.  A hymn of praise will be sung.  Two of our fellows, a man and a woman, maybe a couple, a mother and daughter, two old friends, perhaps two youth, will stand before the altar, collection plates in hand.  A gift will be placed upon a beautiful altar.  We will offer a prayer.  Almost every week, as we conclude our one hour of common prayer, we do this together.

Why do we do this?

Our physical statement, a regular occurrence in most worship services, particularly adorned and beautified in the habits of this congregation, is meant to be a ringing affirmation, in this moment of a gift upon the altar.

Pentecost causes us to consider this, as does today’s Gospel, John 17:1-10

More than we regularly acknowledge, issues of life and action that may not seem theological at first, at depth really are.  How shall we offer our time, energy, and money?   What is the Christian understanding of warfare?  Is personal possession, ownership of property, a proper feature of a good life?  What is the status of those at the start, children?  What value do we ascribe to frail, mature life?  How are women and men to relate?  What are faithful uses of money?

At length, or depth, all of these questions, on which our daily lives founder or are founded or both, require a theological horizon, demand a theological response, deserve a theological assessment.

The great strength of our now passing post-modern, or even post-Christian era, has been a sense of limits, a sense of humility, even ignorance before the question of truth.  Our time more than any other has honored the biblical and human perception that truth is very difficult to determine, nearly impossible to ascertain, as Solzenhitzyn better than most did remind us.  In life there is much gray.  The great weakness of our now passing post-modern, or even post-Christian era, has been this same sense of limits, sense of humility and ignorance before questions of ultimate reality.  Too readily we have let the sense that truth is difficult to ascertain become a despondent acceptance of the impossibility of affirming truth.  Too readily we have let the sense that truth seems nearly impossible to ascertain become a fatalistic denial that any truth at all is preferable to any other.  The truth of relativity has given way to the falsehood of relativism.

To this the word of truth responds.

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

Listen again to the strange, stark mystery of today’s Gospel, come Pentecost, come the day of spirit, come the presence of the Comforter, the Advocate, the Paraclete.

‘The hour has come, glorify your Son’.  In John, glory means the cross.  Jesus’ glorification is the completion of his life in death, ad gloriam dei.

‘Eternal Life’.  This is eternal life that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.  Notice how different in five ways this simple verse is from Matthew, Mark and Luke.

‘I glorified you by finishing the work’.  The word is the same, the last upon the lips of Jesus in this gospel, ‘finished, it is finished’.

‘Before the world existed’.  Eternal life precedes created life.  God is not in time, time is in God.  Eternal life, love, resurrection are both prelude and postlude.  Love is God’s first name.  Or, Resurrection is God’s first name, Creation God’s middle name, and…Surname…Inspiration.  In this Gospel at any rate.

‘They have kept thy word’.  In our time, an emerging time of the famine of the word, words to speak and hear are hard to find.  The Risen Jesus whose voice emanates from 2000 years ago, out of the imagination of a dear soul beloved community preacher calls out a word and for a word kept.

‘All mine are yours and yours are mind and I have been glorified in them’.  He speaks from beyond.  The words of glory come before the moment of glory, the cross, in which all is finished.  Eternal life.  Life, Love, Light.

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

Someone recently proposed that we resist alienation by way and by means of participation.  Resist alienation through participation.

We are 6 months into a decade of humiliation.  The path ahead requires steady participation, personal discipline, the service of God with gladness, a sure hold on a common hope.  For this, we shall need each other, and the regular engagements of worship.

Each of us oversees a mental parking lot, over which we have no control for entry and exit.   Worries come and go, parking and leaving.  Fretful cares come and go, parking and leaving.  Anxieties come and go, parking and leaving.  Just when you think the lot has emptied out for a bit, another jalopy, hooptie, pulls in.  Though the parking lot is imaginary, and the worries are invisible, these cars are real, real metal, vinyl and rubber.   In quiet, come Sunday, we can simply watch, as the traffic pulls in and out.  Automobiles of anxieties global, national, cultural, denominational, vocational, personal, all.  Some days the lot is filled.  Others, closer to empty.  You have little to no control over these parking patterns.  That may be good news.  Just let the traffic flow.

You do have a life, a gift on the altar, in faith, to offer, in the song of the Apostle, Have no anxiety about anything but in all things in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving lift your needs to God.

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

Our community has become a generous, giving one, over many years.  The Lord loves a cheerful giver, and the Lord loves you.  You Marsh Chapel folks are known as giving, generous, tithing people.  You are not alone in this, but you are exemplary in this.  This past week many of us spent in our Annual Conferences, doing various Methodist things like singing lustily, and like eating endlessly, and like arguing vociferously, and like finding ways to hug one another and pray for one another, even after our words have stung.   There was a woman, now a minister in the Adirondacks, who as a child, with her parents, in a very modest home in the Finger Lakes fed a simple dinner to an untrained and uneducated and unprepared young preacher, 1976.   It both bothers and moves me to remember that the ‘table’ was a cardboard box, upended and covered with a white cloth.  A gift on the altar.  One retiree recalled her first church of 21 people, whom she asked, ‘Do you use the lectionary’?  The lay leader said, ‘Sure, you can use either pulpit or the lectionary to speak from’.  She was telling others to translate the tradition, not to serve it raw.  And there were bitter differences, growing more painful by the years, largely over the fundamental gospel issue of the full humanity of gay people.  But as the proceedings wandered along, and now not as 21 year old preacher in name only, but as an aging, rookie, grandfather in training (‘dad, you are just another old white guy with a comb over’), my mind could not help but wander across the landscape of love in the churches in that room.  It does not take long to go from being a young turk to becoming an old turkey.

I remember a widow with four teenagers who somehow still found the time to run a Wednesday dinner for all the neighborhood kids.

I remember a recovering alcoholic, living alone in a trailer, who took on the job of raising $4000 for preachers’ retirements, out along the blue highways of the North Country.

I remember a couple who decided to run an old car two more years, so that they could help to build a new church, out along the blue highways of urban upstate New York.

I remember two retired teachers, loving housemates forever, who singlehandedly started an endowment fund, out along the blue highways of the Finger Lakes.

I remember the story of a janitor at the University of Pennsylvania who the left the school $2 million dollars in his will, along the Quaker state blue highways.

I remember reading about a maid in Mississippi who never graduated even from elementary school, who cleaned student rooms for 40 years, and left this world heavily endowing a scholarship fund for minority students at Ole Miss, out along the blue highways of the sweltering south.

I remember a Colgate graduate who put the church’s endowment into his will, and so put his estate into the endowment.  Someone here could do that, Colgate graduate or not.

And now, coming home to Marsh Chapel, I remember Daniel Marsh.  I tell you, without the tithing of other generations, we would be worshipping in a pup tent.  But they gave us something, a beautiful, reverent, charming Chapel.  They made it their gift.  So much so that Daniel and his wife are buried right here, their ashes right in the shadow of the altar, right before the pulpit.

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

My friend Doug Mullins told me once about another gift on the altar, with which to end:

Belinda was a single parent, trying to take care of herself and raise a five year old Ryan.  She was a single parent because when her husband learned that the requisite surgery for her cancer would leave her disfigured, he left.  One evening Belinda tucked Ryan into bed and was reading a book to him.  He interrupted her to ask if she had bought that book for him.

“Yes”, she said.

He then inquired if she had also bought the bed in which he slept.

Again the answer was “Yes”.

Had she bought the house they called home?

Yes, she said.

And what about the new sweater he liked so much?

“Yes”, she said, she had bought that too.

He thought about how good she had been to him, supplying all his needs, and finally he said, “Mommy, get my piggy bank.  There are seven pennies in it.  Take them and get something you really want for you.”

You know, everything we have is a gift from God.  Life, breath, faith, forgiveness, and hope of eternal life.  Cross, altar, gift.  Life, light, love.

This summer think, again, about tithing.

A gift on the altar.  Your life is a gift on the altar.  What gift in what way on what altar?

-Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean


May 28th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Xunzi 1.8

Mark 16: 14-20

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Few! Thanks be to God that’s over with. It is tempting to say that we unceremoniously threw the class of 2017 out last weekend, except for the small matter of all of that ceremony. Nevertheless, having dispensed with the class of 2017, we now shift gears to welcome the class of 2021. Welcome, new terriers!

Perhaps, however, before shifting our gaze entirely to what comes next, we would do well to pause, just briefly, and consider what precisely it was that we accomplished last weekend. Most obviously, the ceremonies of commencement transformed the members of the class of 2017 from students into graduates, and thus, alumni, of Boston University. Ostensibly, this is a transformation from those who learn into those who know. It is a change of social status, from one social category to another.

Alas, there is a not-so-small problem with this analysis, and it was eloquently addressed by our Baccalaurete speaker, Dr. Mario Molina, from this pulpit last week. Did you catch it? He said, “the notion that what you learned in college is sufficient for your future work was an acceptable point of view in the past, but it is no longer valid. The big change, as you are all probably aware, is that you have to continue learning throughout your career. This means that perhaps the most important skill you should have acquired in college is how to learn, how to become motivated to keep learning, that is, how to become a lifelong learner.”

So what really happened last weekend, then, is that in enacting the rituals of commencement, we told over 6,000 people that they were finished, that they had accomplished something, that they could check that box off their to-do list and move on, and in so doing, we lied to them.

In point of fact, though, it should not be so surprising that we cast graduation as a shift between binary categories. After all, the whole system, model, and structure of the modern university is inherited from those born in medieval Europe at the height of Christendom, and Christianity, since its inception, has cultivated such dualisms at the center of its self-understanding.

Consider the texts that were read just a few minutes ago:

when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust. (Psalm 104: 28-29)

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more. (Psalm 104: 34-35)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind. (Isaiah 65: 17)

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21: 1)

To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21: 6b-8)

The same dualistic view is replete in the gospels as well. Hear, then, these words appended to the Gospel according to Mark by later editors, drawing from the rest of the Gospels’ accounts of the resurrection:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16: 14-20)

Belief vs. unbelief; saved vs. condemned; living water vs. a lake of fire; new heaven and new earth vs. first heaven first earth; filled with good vs. returned to the dust. To be sure, Paul tells us that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28), but this is in the wider context of the dichotomy between those who belong to Christ and those “imprisoned under the law” (cf. Galatians 3: 23).

It is, perhaps, not entirely surprising that an apocalyptic movement, imminently expecting Jesus’ return accompanied by very real physical and socio-political consequences would schematize life in such a dualistic fashion. Surely, it has been the theological work of centuries to soften, temper, and reinterpret the harshness of these apocalyptic binaries. And yet, here we are, in 2017, five hundred years after the start of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s emphatic principle of Sola scriptura, that scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice, a principle, alas, that has not aged terribly well. Too often, sola scriptura becomes the basis of biblical literalism or even bibliolatry, an excuse for intolerance and exclusion, and thus reinforces apocalyptic dualisms. Should we celebrate the Reformation? Yes, but let us do so with eyes wide open, attentive to the full range of its lasting effects.

The problem with these dichotomies, these binaries, these either/or formulations, is that they leave no room for the process of growth, for transformation over time, for the period of change, for development. Alas, the mismatch between dualistic categories and our lived experience of ongoing, incremental growth and development is quite painful. Spiritually painful. Existentially painful.

Perhaps you have experienced this. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your faith is lukewarm. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that you are not fervent enough. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your belief is unorthodox. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that your soul is in peril. I have.

Perhaps you have been told that who you are or what you believe is not adequate for heaven, and so you must be damned to hell. I have.

Or perhaps your experience of the misfit of dualistic categories appears in the form of an imposter syndrome.

Perhaps you were baptized but harbored doubts.

Perhaps you were confirmed but still had questions.

Perhaps you were ordained in spite of suspicion of the church.

Perhaps you were asked to teach but have barely read the bible.

Perhaps you were asked to lead but worry that you yourself are already off the path.

Perhaps you were asked to testify but have only brokenness to offer.

Perhaps you were honored for uprightness but are all too aware of your own iniquity.

The good news of Jesus Christ for you and for me is this: Congratulations! You are normal! You are human! Christ is with you! And Christ has sent, is sending, will send the Holy Spirit to lead you and me through an ongoing process of growth and development into all truth and the full measure and stature of Christ.

But how can we hear this saving word amidst the dualistic cacophony? How can we swim in this river of saving grace when the waters have been divided to the left and the right? Dear friends, it may not be possible to hear what the Spirit is saying, to reunite the divided waters, by merely abiding in our present communities and reading the same texts. It may be that in order to hear the still small voice calling us to become as Christ, we must move beyond the din and find another body of water in which to immerse ourselves for a time. It may only be when we look back from afar that we can see the seeds and sprouts, the fresh growth to which we are otherwise oblivious in our native land.

Hear, then, these words from the third century BCE Chinese scholar Xunzi, from his “Exhortation to Learning:”

Learning—where should it begin and where should it end! I say: Its proper method is to start with the recitation of the Classics and conclude with the reading of the Rituals. Its real purpose is first to create a scholar and in the end to create a sage. If you genuinely accumulate and earnestly practice for a long time, then you will become an initiate. Learning continues until death and only then does it stop. Thus, though the methods employed to learn come to a conclusion, the purpose of learning must never, even for an instant, be put aside. Those who undertake learning become men; those who neglect it become as wild beasts. Truly the Documents contain the record of governmental affairs. The Odes set the correct standards to which pronunciations should adhere. The Rituals contain the model for the primary social distinctions and the categories used by analogical extension for the guiding rules and ordering norms of behavior. Accordingly, when learning has been perfected in the rituals, it has come to its terminus. Surely this may be called the culmination of the Way and its Power! The reverence and refinement of the Rituals, the concord and harmony of the Music, the breadth of the Odes and Documents, the subtlety of the Annals—all the creations of Heaven and Earth are completed in them. (John Knoblock, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 1988. 139-140).

Learning, growing, developing, changing, transforming, is a process both life giving and lifelong. As is said of Confucius in the Analects:

The Master said, “At fifteen, I set my mind upon learning; at thirty, I took my place in society; at forty, I became free of doubts; at fifty, I understood Heaven’s Mandate; at sixty, my ear was attuned; and at seventy, I could follow my heart’s desires without overstepping the bounds of propriety.” (Edward Slingerland, Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2003).

What do we learn from this wisdom from China? What is different from the view of life as a series of binary transformations? We learn the age-old lesson not to mistake the forest for the trees. Yes, there are moments in life when we can recognize, can feel, can express the difference between our former selves and ourselves as we are now, but these moments are signposts along the way of a much longer journey, not destinations or achievements in and of themselves. Salvation comes in the accumulation of wisdom, of insight, of understanding, of attunement, not all at once in single step. Salvation is following the path demarcated by the Spirit, led and prodded along by the Spirit, into all truth, not the appropriation of truth in a single grasp, which must inevitably be partial, limited, and fleeting.  The question, then, is not whether or not you have achieved salvation or spiritual fullness, but whether you are undertaking the journey and process of growth and development, or standing still, mired in place.

The week before Mother’s Day, my older daughter made a gift for her mother, my wife. Happy anniversary, love. When I picked her up from childcare, she made us whisper the entire way home so that my wife, who was not with us, would not find out about the gift, as it was supposed to be a secret. That Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, she ran into our room and woke us, waving the gift in the air, exclaiming, “I made you a Mother’s Day present, Mommy, but it’s a surprise!”

Now, this lack of clarity about the nature and proper revelation of a secret is endearing and amusing in a four-year-old, but that very endearment and amusement is in part rooted in the fact that we can expect the child to grow, develop, and mature into a fuller understanding and stature. Sadly, we in the United States, and perhaps especially in the past week everyone around the globe, must suffer under the ongoing denigration of leadership, of virtue, of statecraft, and of humanity by one who views the path of learning and growth and development as beneath him. As Xunzi rightly points out, “Those who undertake learning become men; those who neglect it become as wild beasts.”

This summer at Marsh Chapel, our annual sermon series takes up the theme of “new directions in discipleship.” Christian disciples are students, learning what it means to follow Jesus. Unlike secular models of education, however, there is no graduation from the school of discipleship. Instead, discipleship is a lifelong process of learning, growing, maturing, and developing, but so too it is a process of the finite approximating the infinite, a process that can never come to a final conclusion in the finitude of life. “Learning continues until death and only then does it stop. Thus, though the methods employed to learn come to a conclusion, the purpose of learning must never, even for an instant, be put aside.

Today we observe the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, transposed from this past Thursday, which was forty days after Easter. Jesus is back in heaven, having descended from heaven in the incarnation at Christmas, descended further into hell on Good Friday, been resurrected from the dead on Easter, and now, at last, ascended back to heaven. Good news! The story is over! A happy ending! But no! The story is not over. Next Sunday is Pentecost, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, who will lead us into all truth. We are not done. We are unfinished. As we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, then, let us recognize it for the signpost it is along our journey of lifelong learning and discipleship, a sign pointing us to the very need for our ongoing development. Amen.

-Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+, University Chaplain for Community Life

Boston University Baccalaureate

May 21st, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Click here to listen to the Baccalaureate Address only

This year’s Baccalaureate speaker is Dr. Mario J. Molina, University of California, San Diego, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry

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This I Believe

May 14th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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John 14:1-14

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Graduating Students Share Their Spiritual Journey

Ian Quillen – BA – Neuroscience; Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences, CAS/KHC’17

There is a saying that home is where the heart is. When I first came to BU, I wanted to create a new space that I could call home. Perhaps I could have gone further away from Brookline, the town near Boston where I grew up, to accomplish this. But when I came to Marsh Chapel my freshman year, I found a place that grounded me where I could place roots.

Marsh Chapel has been described as a heart for the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city. I would take the first part of this phrase and add an “h” to the word heart: Marsh chapel has become a hearth for me, as well as a heart for the city and a home. When I say hearth, I mean a space where people can find rest, food, and warmth. Most of all, I mean a space where people can find solace, grow, and change. I believe in building such hearths through acts of hospitality.

This belief stems from spending Tuesday nights cooking dinner for students in a basement kitchen and sharing it over conversation and laughter. It emerges from nights I would spend cleaning dishes and just listening to the simple peace of water flowing and dirt being washed away. It comes from my experiences sitting down with people and yielding space and time to them—space for them to comfortably be themselves, and time for them to tell me their stories.

I believe that one of the greatest challenges as a student is learning how to listen. This is more than just paying attention in class so that you don’t miss something. It involves not thinking about how you’ll respond to what someone is telling you, and just being present with them. Listening is becoming comfortable with your own silence so that you can discern the voices of others, the sound of your surroundings, and maybe the gentle whisper of the Divine. Once you’ve discerned that, you then have a choice to make: how do I respond to what I’ve heard?

I believe that sometimes the hardest power to master is not knowing when to act, but knowing when to yield. This is not the same as giving up, or being complacent. Yielding is knowing how much you can do to support someone before stepping back, and letting them make decisions for themselves with the tools they’ve been given. It is knowing when to let go of your ego, while still preserving your worth as a person, for the sake of another. It is knowing that you don’t have to fix every problem to have hope, hope that survives best at the hearth you’ve created for yourself and for others when all else is said and done.

These are the beliefs I’ve developed at Marsh Chapel. They are the flames that nurture me as I leave my home. They form my hearth, and where my heart is.

Svea Schreiner – M.Ed. – Educational Leadership & Policy, SED’17

A year ago, I was sitting on a rickety front porch in a place known as Holler #5, surrounded by some of the kindest, sweetest people I’ll ever meet, who welcomed me and my husband into their lives with open arms. For two years, I lived and worked as a teacher in one of the poorest counties in the U.S., McDowell County, West Virginia. Life is extremely difficult in this rural, abandoned coal- country community; it was for us during our time there and it has been for life-long residents for many generations.

Although I’ve moved back to New England and it’s been 11 months since then, it still sometimes feels surreal to be here in Boston, a place that has got to be about as close to a polar opposite of the Holler if there ever was one.

Much has been made in the last year or so of the differences between people in rural America versus those in so-called “coastal elite” urban centers like Boston. The differences are many, and the culture shock was very real as I adapted from a life spent in the Northeast to one in rural Appalachia, which seems to still be at least a few decades behind the times, for better or worse. I experienced a second round of culture-shock coming back a few years later, reintegrating into “modern” life and going to graduate school full-time this year here in the city.

But for all the ways we’re different, there are also many ways that we’re the same.

First, people are good and want to be there for each other. When we first moved into our little West Virginia home, squished in next to 30 or so other homes in the hollow between two steep and lush tree-covered mountains, our neighbors brought us vegetables from their gardens, cakes baked in their kitchens, and invited us to drink iced tea with them on their porches.

Here in Boston, I’ve seen this essential goodness studying alongside talented fellow teachers and accomplished, principled professors. I’ve seen incredible dedication and commitment to equity for children in classrooms across the country and the world, and a willingness to sacrifice and work tirelessly to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to succeed.

Secondly, people are complicated, and they cannot be reduced to any single stereotype or label. It’s very easy to write off the West Virginia contingent as an ignorant, narrow-minded monolith. I can tell you from direct experience that this is not the case. Conversely, it’s also easy to assume all of us Yankees are cold, self-centered, and unfriendly; stereotypes I heard from WV friends that are similarly untrue.

The truth is, there is no one label that can possibly encapsulate all of the beauty and joy and pain of a person’s life. Everybody has a story, and we should acknowledge the complexity of those individual stories in every person we meet.

Most importantly, we all have the same amount of God in us, regardless of where we came from, what we’ve done, or where we’re going. Looking below the surface, finding the essential goodness, and practicing love over suspicion, mercy over judgment; these are the things I believe in.

In the collision of the two disparate worlds I’ve inhabited over the last few years, I’ve learned that the thing we need most ourselves and the thing others need most from us is simply this: grace. In the face of all that separates, this common thread unites, and that unity and connection are always worth pursuing.

Magdalena Buczek- MAMS, GMS’17

I discovered these words of Thomas Merton the year before starting a Masters in Medical Sciences: “Perhaps I am stronger than I think. Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength, and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak…Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me. Perhaps I would rather be guilty and weak in myself, than strong in Him whom I cannot understand.” This thought haunted me as I struggled to believe that one day I could be a physician working with patients who experience homelessness and incarceration. Questions buzzed through my mind: Was I cut out for medical school? Could I take the intensity that everyone warns about? Standing strong in God was scarier than letting go of self-doubt.

Anxiety and fear crept into every day during the first semester. I would cry in an empty classroom, and five minutes later pull myself together enough to walk into histology lab and study slides of kidney tubules. Nighttime was (and still is) the worst for my anxiety. I sat paralyzed at the thought of the work in front of me.

In the second semester, several things happened: my brother had a serious skiing accident followed by major surgery; a friend attempted suicide; a high school classmate overdosed; and a young friend nearly died in a car accident. All the while, I was attempting to hold it together in my coursework. In the midst of this confusion and my own anxiety, I could think only one thing: “Lord, I cannot do this alone.” I was overwhelmed with work and emotions, and so I invited God to be beside me one moment, one hour, and one day at a time. Today, I told myself, I will attend lecture, review the thyroid physiology chapter and the morning’s pharmacology lecture, and map the cranial nerves. I asked God to help me focus just on that, now and for the remainder of the day, and to worry about tomorrow when and if it gets here. The beloved people in my life had taught me in a harsh way that tomorrow is no guarantee.

I often feel guilty about my anxiety, especially when I have the privileges of an excellent education, a safe home, and abundant food and support systems. I don’t know why I feel it, or why it keeps returning. But I know that I have a responsibility to use my privilege to address the injustices, poverty, and violence that plague our world. I do my best to address my anxiety, both for my wellbeing and for the wellbeing of those I serve.

My anxiety is always nearby. Managing it will be a lifetime’s work, requiring vigilance and self-reflection. May my self-doubts be constant reminders that I cannot do this alone. May my fears be invitations to be in relationship with God. Alone, I am weak, but God’s faithfulness, forgiveness, and love are infinite. Thus, in God my strength is unbounded, and I should not fear my strength.

Adrienne Lotoski – MS – Arts Administration MET’17

This I believe.

I believe in journeys. I believe that life is a journey, whether short or long, it is a continual of time. We are all here for a journey through time, a journey to experience the preciousness of life and the bonds of humankind.

I believe in sharing. I believe that sharing helps others. Sharing your knowledge with someone is to give them a bond and to opens the door to friendship. Sharing a meal with someone is to give someone substance for being. Sharing your time with someone is to share experiences.

I believe in experiences. I believe with each and every experience comes learning and lessons. Learning should be constant and never ending. And lessons are necessary for providing boundaries and guidelines to ensure future experiences are meaningful. Experiences are also to be shared to create eternal bonds of family and friendship. What is life is we don’t have family and friends to share our experiences?

I believe in happiness. I believe that the gift of happiness manifests itself in smiles. Smiles can be simply shared with your family, friends, neighbors and strangers. A simple smile can change someone’s day and can provide a ray of happiness.

I believe in helping others. I believe it is important to help those that can’t help themselves. Help is one way of facilitating another person’s journey through life. Help someone else’s journey so they benefit from your knowledge and your goodness. How difficult is it to hold a door open, pick up someone’s dropped item, or to invite someone to share a cup of coffee?

I believe in the importance of understanding. I believe that understanding is necessary for taking the journey through life. With understanding comes the ability to accept or reject, to make amends and to move on. With understanding comes knowledge and with knowledge comes respect.

I believe in respect. I believe that each and every one of us is to be respected for our beliefs including those that religious, political, scientific or sociological. Respect fosters relationships which foster knowledge which fosters good will.

I believe goodness exists in each person. I believe each person is born with goodness and that it is always there, even if it just under the surface. It might not always be easy to find the goodness, but once it is found, it can help others with their journeys.

I believe in our children. I believe it is in our children that we deliver the messages of happiness, experiences, respect and education. By teaching our children these messages, we are teaching them how to experience the journey of life and understanding.

I believe in education. A Boston University education. With education comes knowledge and with knowledge comes the ability to change. The ability to change things for the better – to make your life better, to make your brethren better, to make your community better and to make the world better.

This I believe.

Kasey Shultz – BA -Sociocultural Anthropology; Spanish; African Studies, CAS/KHC’17

1,351 days ago, on matriculation Sunday, I came to the chapel for the first time for worship and sat in the third row of pews, trying to ignore the dull ache in my chest that had taken up residence ever since my parents had left the night before to fly back to Seattle. Nervous and alone, I started wondering what I had gotten myself into. But then, the ethereal sound of the choir filled this space, resonating against the stone walls and washing over me in waves. We sang the same hymns I had sung since childhood and I was wrapped up in the familiar, comforting rhythms of liturgy. That ache in my chest evaporated, the nervousness fled, and I knew I was home.

In the four years since then, I’ve spent hours here singing and praying, studying and meditating, laughing and eating, questioning and listening. Located at the heart of campus, the chapel has also been at the heart of my four years at BU. It has introduced me to new friends and ways of thinking about faith and vocation while grounding me in a community of believers that was always there to support and encourage me. In the midst of a cohort of people from various faith traditions and backgrounds, I was challenged to define my faith and to lay out a vision of what I believe—my own personal credo.

For one thing, my time at the chapel has helped me to realize that I believe people are inherently good. But also that we make mistakes—like, a lot of mistakes. I believe that God’s love for us is so vibrant and pure that it wipes all those mistakes away. I believe that all people are connected to each other and that we need to honor that connection by taking care of and respecting one another. I believe in the baptism of rain on a fall day and the communion of food shared with friends. I believe that science and religion complement each other, that God speaks into our silences and blooms into our empty spaces, and that the Holy Spirit lives in gusting winds and tranquil waters, in babbling toddlers and freely shed tears. I believe that worship requires a community and community requires forgiveness and forgiveness requires grace. I believe that doubt is the strongest form of faith and that no person or tradition can fully comprehend the complex, paradoxical, and timeless nature of God. I believe that we are called to welcome those who have been rejected, to speak for those who have been silenced, and to lift up those who have been oppressed. I believe that prayer is a conversation, worship is a relationship and scripture is a promise.

And above all, I believe that God loves, a love that is freely given, a love that we can never avoid or escape or ignore—a love that changes us and a love that frees us. A love that moves us to believe.

Alma Mater

May 7th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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John 10:1-10

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 ‘I am the door.  He who enters by me will be saved and will come and in and go out and find pasture.’

            On the journey:  we covet prayer, we remember names, we commune in hope.

Prayer (Prelude)

 The Covenant Prayer is perhaps one of John Wesley’s most known prayers. Do you feel that it is an important prayer for believers to pray in modern day? It is often a prayer recited at church in special worship services. Do you feel that it is a prayer believers should pray on their own to affirm their commitment to God?

            Mr. Wesley in prayer sought a combination of enthusiasm and enlightenment, as he did in general in the practice of faith.  He could feel the presence of the Spirit, as on May 24, 1738 on Aldersgate Street.  He also could sing with his brother, Charles, at the opening of an elementary school in Kingswood, England, 1762, ‘unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, learning and holiness combine, truth and love (for all to see)’.  The Covenant Prayer is one such sought combination of enthusiasm and enlightenment.

How important do you feel it is for believers to examine themselves with John Wesley’s self-examination questions (https://www.hopefaithprayer.com/john-wesley-holy-club-questions/) and which of the questions do you feel are most important for people to focus on?

All the questions are good ones, though they would benefit from an admixture of first person singular (‘I’), with first person plural (‘we’).  The questions help us to stay alert to what is new in every morning.  What a wonder there is in what is new!  I have been re-reading David Hempton’s book, Methodism:  Empire of the Spirit, this year, in which he explores the mysterious birth and growth of the Methodist church, especially in circumstances of harsh confinement—sailors on shipboard, prisoners in cells, soldiers in confined barracks, poor settlers in small prairie dwellings.  There is a mystery at the start of something new. 

One of John Wesley’s self-examination asks, “Am I enjoying prayer?” Do you have any advice to give on how one can enjoy prayer?

Prayer is the joy of sitting silent before God.  Enjoy the quiet.  There will be plenty of rumble, din, cacophony, dissonance and just plain noise in the rest of the day. 

If John Wesley were here today, what do you think he would recommend for people who feel that they need to revive their prayer life?

Remove yourself from email on a regular basis.  When you have to use email, remember that it is irretrievable, international, eternal, and immutable. 

We know that John Wesley was very disciplined about prayer. He would wake up at 4:00 AM for his daily prayer time. In order to wake up so early, he made sure to go to bed early. What are some ways you suggest that Christians can become more disciplined about prayer?

One practice suggested by the Rev. Vernon Lee, some years ago, was to use the quiet time of dressing, in the morning, to pray, in particular and in person, for others.  The Rev. Susan Shafer gave us a collection of Bonhoeffer’s prayers and writings, 100 words each, one for each day, to be used in the morning.  Howard Thurman, though, preferred prayer at night, as he remembered his walk on Daytona Beach: “the ocean and the night surrounded my little life with a reassurance that could not be affronted by any human behavior; the ocean at night gave me a sense of timelessness, of existing beyond the ebb and flow of circumstance; death would be a small thing, I felt, in the sweep of that natural embrace”.

John Wesley would often write out prayers. Do you feel that writing, drawing or other creative modalities help some to better connect with God through prayer?


John Wesley advocated for fasting as a way to make prayer more powerful and he himself fasted every Friday; at one point in his life, he fasted every Wednesday and Friday. Do you advocate for fasting? If so, how often?

Regular—daily—physical exercise is as prayerful, meditative, healthy, spiritual and meaningful a practice as one can find.  At Marsh Chapel, we host a spiritual yoga group at 5pm. 

John Wesley was deeply connected to God. In what ways do you feel he developed this strong connection? How can Christians today strengthen their connection to God?

Mr. Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, at several places offers hints, glimpses, and premonitions of his sense of divine presence.  Commenting on Matthew 6:9ff, the Lord’s prayer, he writes, ‘He who best knew what we ought to pray for, and how we ought to pray, what matter of desire, what manner of address would most please himself, would best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer, comprehending our real wants, expressing all our lawful desires; a complete directory and full exercise of all our devotions’.   Notice the word ‘universal’. For Wesley, as for his tradition at its best, Jesus is our beacon, not our boundary, and in Him, God is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.  Love for all, freedom for all.  And all means all.

My mother taught me my first verse of Scripture:  A wise man built his house…

Identity (Sermon)

            Class of 2017! Are you happy, glad, joyful?

Then, if so, you have entered the deep mystery of a most ancient invocation, that of the Psalmist, from more than 2000 years ago:  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands, serve the Lord with gladness!

There is a remarkable sentiment, that gladness itself, happiness itself, joy itself are ultimate service.   Gladness serves.  Come into his presence with singing!  Know that the Lord is God.  It is He that has made us, and not we ourselves.  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with Thanksgiving, and his courts with Praise, give Thanks to Him and bless his name.  For the Lord is good.  His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Calvin Trilling: “For thirty years my mother served us nothing but leftovers.  The original meal was never found.”

The land of Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty is now led to applaud, and celebrate the loss of health care for 24 million.  This is an early wave in a tide of humiliation coming our way this decade.  The church of Charles Wesley, he of gladness of heart, who helps us to sing, ‘finish then thy new creation’, is now led to affirm the rejection of the consecration of a fine, well prepared, regularly ordained elder, simply because she is gay.  This is another wave in a tide of humiliation coming our way in these years.

That gladness of heart is lasting, meaningful service, in faithfulness to ALL generations.

No surprise, that.  For you are Boston University graduates, with a name, and from a tradition, of glad hearts.   Not some but all.  Not home town but universe.  Not nation but world.

With gladness of heart, Howard Thurman said, people all people belong to one another.  Not some, but all.

With gladness of heart, Martin Luther King said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice.  Not country, but universe.

With gladness of heart, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, which gave birth to BU, said, The world is my parish. Not nation, but world.

Not some but all; not home town but universe; not nation but world.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands, serve the Lord with gladness.

May 14, the day on which you can hear your classmates speak of faithfulness and life, that same day is….Mother’s day.  Make a plan.  Buy a flower. Choose a gift.  Send a note.  And do so—with gladness!

My mother was a Latin teacher, for whom reminders were instruction (we tend to need more reminder than instruction)

 Hope (Communion)

             Come now up the sawdust trail.  Receive the Lord.  ‘Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sin…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mother understood the difference between cultural and financial wealth.  And taught us how to change, leave, journey, and itinerate.  England, Spain, Geneva WCC, Montreal McGill, Boston.

‘I am the door.  He who enters by me will be saved and will come and in and go out and find pasture.’

Calvin Trillin: “For thirty years my mother served us nothing but leftovers.  The original meal was never found.”  On the journey:  we covet prayer, we remember names, we commune in hope.

-the Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel 


The Bach Experience

April 30th, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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Luke 24: 13-35

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

            ‘They told what had happened on the road, and how he had been make known to them in the breaking of the bread’.

There come episodes in the course of a battered lifetime that place us deep in the shadows.   If the shadow is dark enough, we may not feel able to move forward, for our foresight and insight and eyesight are so limited. We may become bound, chained, held.   Those enmeshed in the strife of warfare today come quickly to mind. Those concerned about the condition and direction of their land and country come also to mind. Those whose church or denomination seems to have slipped into a spiritual amnesia, forgetfulness about the heart of the good news, abiding love, forgetfulness of the God who come Easter is addressed by God’s first name, Resurrection, come personally to mind.

You may have known this condition—of confusion or disorientation or ennui or acedia. You may know it still. The death of a loved one can bring such a feeling. The loss of a position or job can bring such a feeling. The recognition of a major life mistake can bring such a feeling. The recollection of a past loss can bring such a feeling. The disappearance of a once radiant affection, or love, for a person or a cause or an institution can bring such a feeling. The senselessness of violence inflicted on the innocent can bring such a feeling.

And how to speak and think of these things? Over the years you may have grown frustrated by your own mother tongue in various ways.  English places such a fence between thought and feeling, when real thought is almost always deeply felt, and real feeling is almost always keenly thought.  We need another word like thoughtfeeling or feltthought.  When C Wesley sang ‘unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, learning and holiness combined, and truth and love let us all see’ he described something bone marrow close to life, happiness, hope, ministry, faith.  And he also was wrestling with the limits of our beautiful language. Anyway, you, well beloved, by nature and discipline live the thoughtfeeling gospel, and for that we are lastingly thankful.

Be it then thought or feeling or thoughtfeeling, there do come episodes, all in a lifetime, that place us, if not in the dark, at least well into the shadows. You may have known all about this at one time. You may know it still.

Come Sunday, some snippet of song, or verse, or preachment, or prayer, or, especially today a line from the Cantata, it may be, will touch you as you meander about in the dim shadow twilight. Hold onto that snippet. Follow its contours along the cave of darkness in which you now move. Let the snippet—song, verse, sermon, prayer, line—let it guide you along. So you may be able to murmur: ‘I can do this…We can make our way…I can find a handhold or foothold…We can hope and even trust that the Lord heals the brokenhearted…I can make it for now, at least for now, for the time being.’   It is the power and role of beauty, verbal or musical or liturgical or communal, to restore us to our rightful mind, our right thoughtfeeling.

Today the epistle, the Gospel and the psalm lift a hymn of faith, a song of courage in the face of adversity.  It is this lift for living which beauty, especially the beauty of holiness, and particularly, this morning, the beauty of holy music is meant to provide. Here, at Marsh Chapel we want to accentuate Truth, for sure, and Goodness, for sure. But we don’t want to leave behind beauty. Beauty can heal. In our work with demons. In our quiet and contemplation. Beauty, in the case of this morning, the beauty of Bach, often has the power to shake us loose, to set us free. To make us, as in Luke 24, not just followers but also witnesses.

Dr. Jarrett, how shall we listen, both on the radio and in person, most fully to be immersed in today’s Bach experience?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

Thank you, Dean Hill. I’d be delighted. But first, knowing your love of the Gospel of John, would mind reminding us of the highlight’s of the Fourteenth Chapter:

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Well, as you know Dr. Jarrett, John Chapter 14 finds Jesus in elevated conversation with his disciples where he predicts and explain the events to come, namely his Passion and Resurrection. Let’s hear the words again:

Vs. 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Vs. 2 “In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.”

Vs. 6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

Vs. 15 “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and shall give you another Comforter; even the spirit of truth.”

Vs. 27 “Peace I leave with you . . . “

And two verses featured in this morning’s cantatas:

Vs. 23 “Whoever loves me, and keeps my Word, my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

And finally, Vs. 28 “I am going away, and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, then you would rejoice.”

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

It is a rich chapter, indeed, and full of verses that form the tenets of our faith and understanding of Christ in our lives then and now.

Bach’s cantatas take their names from the first line of text, and today’s cantata, No. 74 sets verse 23 of John 14: ‘Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten’ or Whoever loves me, and keeps my Word. Bach originally conceived of the cantata for use on Pentecost Sunday in 1725, where we find the Holy Spirit come down to ignite the movement among the Disciples that would become the Church. The Disciples and followers of Jesus had remained stunned, suspended in disbelief that their movement and leader had been cut down so devastatingly. Today’s lesson of Jesus’s appearance on the road to Emmaus finds the Disciples in the initial stages of their grief, no doubt deep in their own ‘thought-feeling’.

Though a cantata for Pentecost, there is surprisingly little reference to the Holy Spirit, but rather a focus on Jesus’s promise to return, and that faith will create a dwelling for Him in our hearts. The cantata is rich with arias – four total. The first two arias are the more personal – almost a dialogue between the ardent believer and the reminder of the words of Jesus. These mutual assurances exchanged, the final two arias turn outward t the Church and beckon us to follow suit in making room for Jesus within our hearts. Both of these arias find their vigor with representations of the earthly trials each of us face in a life of faith, but also a reminder of the sufferings Jesus himself endured. You can’t have a Bach cantata without a reminder of the Passion and the snares of Sin, afterall.

Musically speaking, Cantata 74 is many things. The opening movement is unified by the motive of the first words, rather than a Chorale tune defining a structure. And for a movement with festival trumpets and timpani, the bluster is replaced with elegance and confidence of stride. At the outset there seems an error in order or at least an imbalance of arias and recitatives, but there is a clear internal structure that features a single recitative between each of the two aria groupings. Those two recitatives serve as musical and theological connectors to the arias on either side.

Within these eight movements, we hear extraordinary variety from Bach, from the winsome Soprano solo, and anxious Bass continuo aria that hints at our own doubt of Jesus’ promise, to the Tenor aria that nearly takes flight, and the blazing bravura of the final Alto aria. Here we have musical and theological reminders of both Penance and Atonement, but also the assurance of Love and Grace.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Given the snares, cold night terrors, noonday destruction, evil, scourge, wild beasts of this very day, it could be that a sober reading and interpretation of our lessons, including our psalm, one of the great trusting hymns of a faithful heart, will sustain us this morning.

Likewise, our Gospel lesson from Luke, brought as an interlude into our yearly reading of Matthew, reminds us of the healing power in ordered worship. First, in a recitation of the gospel. Second, in an interpretation of that Gospel. Third, in a communal engagement of the gospel, in the common bread of the church, in the common cup of the church, in the common life of the church. ‘They knew him in the breaking of the bread.’ For some, the emphasis in Protestant fashion, will fall on the knowing; for others, the emphasis in Catholic fashion, will fall on the thanksgiving, the Eucharistic bread broken. For some, the what. For others, the how. For all, come Sunday, come this Lord’s day, the possibility of new life, even if dimly perceived, even if shadowed.

For those, that is, who have walked past a graveyard or two, for those who have walked the valley of the shadow of death, for a world searching to match its ideals of peace with its realities of hatred, for a nation struggling to rebalance cultural poverty and financial wealth in cultural wealth and financial poverty for you today if you are in trouble, and who are worried today about others and other graves and other yards, and who have seen the hidden traps, unforeseeable dangers, and steel jawed snares of life, there is something encouraging about this Easter song: “They knew him in the breaking of the bread”

For those today, for example, who mourn the current condition of the United Methodist Church, gospel and word and companionship give some help. Remember that what is not the Gospel will not over the long term make very good administrative procedure or church law. Remember that Methodism has long struggled to honor both its preaching voice and its administrative face. Think of Peter Cartwright confronting his presiding elder, Ernest Tittle denouncing the central conference, and Georgia Harkness rebuking the wrongheadedness of the 1972 Discipline.   Read, of course, the administrative reports. But first remember to listen to the pulpit voices: in San Diego, in Chicago, in New York, in San Francisco, and Rochester, and Boston. Remember that it is the Gospel that comes first, and matters most. Superintending presumes something, someone to superintend. Preaching precedes, guides, and leads administration (in a healthy church). (The experience of Emmaus Road was not forged in a committee meeting.) Remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, affirms the full humanity of gay people as in Galatians 3, John 14, and Matthew 5. So stay on the road, walking in the journey, hearing the good news, heeding its interpretation, and being nourishing in the consanguinity of love.

For those today, for instance, in the thick of transition, the Word has this support for you: the gift of getting by, getting through, getting out, and getting home, not pausing to worry about the small stuff. This song is one for that point on the road when you just have to go ahead and risk and jump. You have made your assessment, you have made your plan, you have made your study, then you have prayed. You are not sure. But you sense a presence, and receive the courage to take one more step.

Emmaus Road brings a hymn of the heart, one you sing when you are not sure, but you are confident. Not certain, but confident. You can be confident without being certain. In fact, a genuine honest confidence includes the confidence to admit you are not sure. Faith means risk. Isn’t that part of what we mean by faith? Once you are on the road, you have to choose between walking forward and slinking away.

Step forward. Go about your discipleship: pray, study, learn, make peace, love your neighbor, agree to disagree agreeably, let every one be convinced in his own mind. The random remains random. We shall face our challenges in our time. Just this: we need not face them alone, but in the company of the Gospel, and its interpretation, and its community engaged together, one day in Eucharist, say, one day in music, say, one day in service, say, but every day with an uncanny sense of the presence of One Risen.

In the name of the Resurrected Son, and of the Creating Father, and of the Abiding Spirit: Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire, that unity may be our great desire. Give joy and peace, give faith to hear your call, and readiness in each to work for all.

 -Dr. Scott Jarrett, Director of Music and

The Reverend Dr. Robert Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel


Fear and doubt; Hope and faith.

April 23rd, 2017 by Marsh Chapel

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John 20:19-31

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Good Morning! Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

It is an honor and a privilege to step into the pulpit at Marsh Chapel again this morning. My thanks to Dean Hill for his gracious offer to have me deliver the sermon today as well as to the rest of the staff and the congregation for their continued support of my ministry here at Marsh. It is Earth Day weekend, and as has become somewhat of a tradition here at Marsh, I am glad to have the opportunity to share the good news with you today.

Fear and doubt; hope and faith. We are just coming out of our Lenten journey of repentance and solemnity into the joyful celebration of Easter; life over death, the possible over the seemingly impossible. From darkness to light, the hopeless to the hopeful. For many, the day of Easter is over – it’s reserved for celebration one day out of the year. But for us, in the church, we continue to celebrate Eastertide for weeks afterward, 50 days in total, recalling Jesus’ resurrection and the joy and hope that it brings. But it is also a time when we can explore what our faith means – what our faith is grounded in and how we can come to claim our heritage within Christianity.

We’ve entered into the second week of our Easter journey this Sunday with the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on the evening of what we’ve come to celebrate as Easter Sunday. We commonly refer to this passage as the story of “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas, who was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared, insists that he must see and touch the wounds of Jesus in order to believe that Jesus is risen. He has earned the moniker of “doubting” over the course of Christian history because he does not rely on the other disciples’ testimony to the risen Christ. He insists on seeing and touching in order to believe.

I think Thomas, the twin, gets a bad rap from this story. Let’s go back and look at the text again. It’s not just Thomas that’s doubtful, or even better, without faith that Christ will do what he said he would. Mary Magdelene had already encountered Jesus at the tomb, after she and Simon Peter and the other disciples discovered that his body was missing. Jesus instructed her to go to the disciples to tell them that he was ascending to God, and she did so. “I have seen the Lord” she reported to them.

But what do the disciples do in response? Do they go to the tomb to see if Jesus will also appear to them there? Do they take Mary at her word? No. What do they do? They return to the house they have been staying at in Jerusalem and lock themselves inside. They are afraid – afraid that others will come after them because of their association with Jesus. Afraid that like Jesus, they too will suffer. It seems they have forgotten everything Jesus did and demonstrated in his time with them and instead are seeking self-preservation above all else. Where is their reliance on what Jesus instructed now?

And then the unexpected happens. Jesus appears to them. Somehow he enters into the locked house and shows himself to them, offering them peace and sending them forth with their assignment– to go out and forgive sins of others. As God sent Jesus to Earth, so Jesus sends the disciples out with the message of salvation. The disciples are overwhelmed with Jesus’ appearance and are eager to tell Thomas about their encounter.

So Thomas is not initially the only one in disbelief here or lacking in faith. The disciples too, are not convinced by others’ testimony of the resurrected Jesus. They have to see to believe. They have to be reminded of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Unlike the other disciples, however, Thomas asserts what will convince him that Jesus is risen. He wants to see and touch the wounds of Christ, to verify that it is him and strengthen his belief. He wants to understand what happened to Jesus – he does not fully grasp what the resurrection is about.

This story provides a practical form of guidance for the Church after its first generation. Without Thomas’ insistence on seeing the wounds of Jesus, Jesus would not have to explain that those who would never see the risen Christ are also blessed in their belief. The author of the fourth gospel knows that the words and actions of the disciples and of Jesus will have to be enough to sustain believers long after those who had first hand knowledge of Jesus, including us. Here we have Jesus saying it outright, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Thomas is an exemplar of what discipleship should look like, as depicted by the fourth gospel writer. Thomas demonstrates a questioning faith. A faith that looks critically at the situation and says, “This isn’t what I expected; I need more proof.” And he’s been unfairly cast in a negative light because of this questioning nature. But I want you to do some self-reflection in light of Thomas’ questions. Many of us, I think, have gone through or continue to go through periods of questioning faith. And that’s good. That’s healthy. Ours is a faith that still insists on critical thinking, not just rote memorization. It asks us to critically engage with the world around us and interact with others. It begs us to be active participants in our own faith. And Thomas, through his questioning comes to a theological statement that has not, to this point in the text been uttered by anyone else, “My Lord and My God.” Thomas not only recognizes that it is Jesus standing before him, but also sees Jesus’ divine nature – Jesus is God.

A questioning faith, then, can lead to a deeper and richer faith. But what good is this faith if we fail to use it properly? Brian Stoffregen, a Lutheran pastor and purveyor of the online exegetical resource Crossmarks, in reflecting on Thomas’ faith states that “faith is not really about what we believe, but what difference it makes in our lives that we believe.”[1] Let me say that again “Faith is not really about what we believe, but what difference it makes in our lives that we believe.” What I take this to mean, as an ethicist (my theologian friends may argue a different perspective on this) is that if we do not live our lives in a way that reflects our beliefs, then we waver in our faith. If we are overcome with fear and doubt in the face of challenges, we also waver in our faith. If we assert doctrinal beliefs, but don’t follow them with action, we waver in our faith. If, however, like Thomas, we are able to learn from our fear and doubt, able to push through the questioning to something more, then our faith can deepen.

My academic interest is in ecological ethics. I study how faith can inform people’s understanding of the world around them and inspire them to lessen their impact on the world. I have to be honest with you, a lot of what I study is, well, for lack of a better word, depressing. I see all of the ways we continue to harm the earth in the name of economic profit and corporate greed, as well as, in some cases, sheer willful ignorance in the face of science that tells us how we are continuing to harm the planet. It has recently been particularly painful as the health of the environment continues to be less of a concern for those who are in charge of our nation’s priorities. For example, we cannot say that clean air and water are priorities and at the same time insist that regulations on coal mining are too stringent and allow for pollutants to be dumped into nearby streams. This is just one example of how our consumption and misplaced desires for economic gain have taken a toll on the environment. We allow corporations to do what they want because they have money. We continue to only measure success by economic gain rather than by sustainability.

In many cases, we do not immediately observe the impacts our lifestyles have on the world, and so therefore we don’t see anything wrong with the way we are acting. It is only we reach a critical point of pollution or impact on human health that we feel moved to do something. And in some cases, even that is not enough. Or, we have a sense of what the problems are but we are so overwhelmed by their size and complexity that we feel like we cannot do anything – that the solution is hopeless.

This is where we can learn from today’s gospel lesson. Fear and doubt exist in all of us, but we, with the help of God, have the ability to transition from that fear and doubt into hope and faith that is defined by the difference that our beliefs make in our lives. Hope is the biggest contribution that our faith in God can provide in turbulent times. This hope is not idealistic or naïve, but recognizes the realities of the situations at hand and encourages us to find opportunities for justice and reconciliation.

Since my introduction to his work in college, I have been enamored with the poetry and essays of Wendell Berry. Some of you may be familiar with his work. A farmer, writer, and environmental activist, Berry has written over 50 books describing the life and struggle of the small family farmer in the face of materialism, capitalism, and the ever growing idea that technology will save us all. Berry lives with his wife on a farm in Kentucky, getting his electricity from solar panels, but still using horse-pulled plows to till his soil.

Berry advocates for a life of patience and hope – living in tune with the world around us and letting it guide us into the best way possible to interact with it. Bill McKibben, the noted environmental activist and author, calls Berry “a prophet of responsibility.”[2] His writing speaks to so many because it comes from a place of authenticity and experience. While some of Berry’s  work has become more radical as he has aged, it never falls into a trap of pessimistic fatalism in the face of global climate change, pollution, and every growing agribusiness that is creating so much harm to our planetary home. He still remains hopeful and confident in humanity’s ability to recognize the changes that must be made.

In an interview with Bill Moyers a few years ago, Berry, in a rare television appearance, explained how he interweaves concepts of hope, grace, and faith into his writing while also, at the same time, describing aspects the world around him in a way that uplifts them as what he calls “precious things.”[3] Berry is a Christian, self identifying as “a person who takes the gospels very seriously.”[4] He admits that there are parts of the Bible that he understands, parts that shame him, and parts that baffle him. He does not claim to have it all figured out, but asserts that his belief “is that the world and our life in it are conditional gifts” from God. What he means by this is that we must know the world, take care of the world, and love it – things that we have ultimately failed to do. Berry brings together the fear and angst of a planet in crisis with the sense of responsibility and hope that can be found by listening to reflecting with the Earth.

Listen now, to the words of Wendell Berry in his poem “The Peace of Wild Things,”[5] read by Marsh Associate, Kasey Shultz.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Berry provides for us a voice that is vulnerable to fear and doubt, but that is still able to convey hope and faith that is found in the world around us. He has a very real sense that God and God’s grace is communicated through nature. God’s grace is both seen and unseen in the natural world.  Berry advocates that we can experience the divine through paying attention to and loving the earth, and in turn our connection with the earth can deepen our faith.

Hope, a legitimate, authentic hope, as Berry puts it, can be spurred by one good example. We only need a kernel of experience to be able to change ourselves, to make a difference in our lives, to see the world in a different way and to act in a way that will promote its sustainability. Nature, for so many, is a place where individuals feel a deeper connection with God, overcome with the complexity and beauty of the earth. When we separate ourselves from nature, both physically and mentally, failing to see the ways in which we are connected to it, we in turn can lose a sense of ourselves and our hopes for the future.

In John’s gospel, we are invited to understand that it is in the hearing of the Word – the truth of Jesus’ ministry and death and resurrection – that we are to come to our faith, and through that faith hope. The disciples and Thomas had not completely lost their faith, but they had doubt and waivered in their assurance of Jesus’ resurrection. We must remember that they are human beings, just like us. The example of Thomas’ questioning faith assures us that it is okay to doubt and have fear, so long as we engage that doubt and fear in a productively critical way. In doing so, we may come out with a deepened understanding of that which is holy. Yes, blessed are those who come to believe without seeing, but that does not mean that we should come to our faith without question. In fact, in questioning God or seeking answers from God, we admit faith that God at least exists and that our faith can be potentially deepened by the process of self-examination that such questioning requires. Once we have a sense of what our faith means to us, that faith must be translated into action. Let it work on us to create a change within us to do what is right in the world.

I leave us not with a statement as to what we should do in the face of fear and doubt, wherever that fear and doubt may spring from, but rather encourage us to question ways in which we can seek out hope and faith. Are we willing to name our fears and doubts and not just hide behind them, but actively seek ways of addressing them? Where can we find examples for an authentic hope? How do we observe God at work? Is it in ourselves? Is it in other people? In community, all of us together? Is it, like for Berry, in the natural world? What difference do our beliefs make in how we live our lives? Do we get involved when times are difficult? Do we march? Do we exercise our right to vote? Do we try to create change in our local community? Do we enact our faith as Christians when we see injustice in the world? Do we value the planetary systems around us and try to protect and preserve them, and in turn, protect and preserve our futures as human beings?

What difference do your beliefs make in how you live your life?


-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


[1] Brian Stoffregen, “2nd Sunday of Easter – Years ABC,” Crossmarks Christian Resources Exegetical Notes on texts of the Revised Common Lectionary. Accessed 4.20.2017. http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm

[2] Moyers & Company, “Wendell Berry on His Hopes for Humanity,” Filmed: October 4, 2013. Vimeo Video, duration: 39:39. Posted [November, 2013], Accessed 4.20.2017. http://billmoyers.com/segment/wendell-berry-on-his-hopes-for-humanity/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.