Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Chicka’

We Are One

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Isaiah 2:2-4

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 17:15-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

 

On Love and Sheep

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

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Click here to listen to the meditations only

How wonderful it is that Spring has finally decided to slowly show its face in Boston again! While some of us are still waiting for that perfect spring day of 65 degrees and sunshine, we cannot help but notice that in the course of the last week the grass has become a bit greener and the trees seem to have finally awoken from their winter slumber, putting forth buds and flowers. As I left my office yesterday afternoon, groups of students on blankets and playing frisbee dotted the BU Beach here behind the chapel – a sure sign that spring must be on its way. This year’s winter felt especially long, but the promise of warmer days and returning greenery has boosted my mood, and maybe yours as well.

            It’s amazing how deeply we feel our connection to the world around us, most of the time unconsciously. You may remember an especially rainy or cold day from the last few weeks when you found it difficult to get out of the warmth of your bed in the morning. Or how upon viewing a sunset with especially vibrant hues of pink, purple, and blue you stood amazed for a moment and the grandeur of the sky before you. Or maybe event sitting beside a lake or pond finding calm as you heard the shallow waves lap upon the shoreline. Deep within ourselves we find a rootedness with nature that can affect how we view the world, ourselves, and others. Indeed, we are in relationship with our environment.

            A few weeks ago, on one of those unseasonably cold Monday afternoons, a friend asked me to come to her class on Spiritual Companioning to talk with her students about nature and environmentalism as a spiritual practice. Prepared with a copy of Nature as Spiritual Practiceby Steven Chase, I invited the students to take part in an exercise entitled “Imprinted by Nature.” The activity encouraged them to reflect upon the location they grew up in – the natural surroundings, sounds, and smells and how they engaged with nature in that location. And then they were asked to think about how it compares to the area they live in now. After some time for reflection, most of the students recalled a great fondness for the area they grew up in. They described aspects of the natural world that calmed them, that had special memories attached to them, or that highlighted relationships with other people, such as grandparents or childhood friends. In contrast, when they thought of their current location, they often found it difficult to feel that same sense of connection to the world around them. The activity’s intent was to enable the students to realize the way that we have been shaped by the world around us. The truth is, the environments we grow up in create a sort of imprint on us when we are young that tacitly resides within each one of us, but that can be stirred up at any time just by taking a few moments to sit and reflect or by even encountering similar moments in our lives today.

            As a spiritual practice, the reflection on our ties with nature also connects us with the Divine. Theologians throughout the history of Christianity have commented on the ways in which nature facilitates our relationship with God. John Wesley encouraged Christians to experience the “immensity and magnificence, the power and wisdom of (Earth’s) Creator” by reading nature as a sacred text, a “mighty volume.” Martin Luther’s emphasis on the nature of God being both transcendent and immanent, “present in, through, and under all things” provides us with glimpses of the divine through our interaction with the world around us. Even Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan theologian, declared that “Nature is God’s greatest evangelist.” We may also reflect on the words of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 23 depicts our encounter with God as a Shepherd who watches over us in green pastures with calm waters. Our full humanity can be expressed in connecting ourselves to the world around us and understanding that we, too, are a part of the divine creation of the earth.

            Our connections with nature and the divine also lead us to think about the ways we are in relationship with others in our communities. People, after all, are a part of the environment. We interact with each other in the context of our environments. Our environments impact how we are able to acquire food, where we can live, and even our mental health. We live in and associate ourselves with communities that determine what values we share and uphold, which can subsequently shape our attitude toward the environment. When there is a disconnect in any of these relationships, we can lose sight of the divine presence in the world, and injustice can become prevalent.

            Today, we celebrate Earth Day. This national observance began 48 years ago in 1970. Grassroots activists, including numerous college students, were concerned with the ways the environment’s quality was being degraded. In response, they hosted teach-ins, protests, and other demonstrations to get their message across – the kind of activism which has become more familiar to us over the past year. The result was a general push in society to pay more attention to the ways in which human action harms the planet. The feeling and meaning of Earth Day has continued to grow as the environmental challenges we face have changed over time. Thankfully, churches have increased their involvement in the day, becoming value-laden locations of exploring the ways humans need to see themselves as part of creation rather than as separate from it.

Over the past week, Marsh Chapel hosted a variety of events to encourage the student body and the surrounding community to think about the ways in which we relate to the Earth.  How human beings have harmed the earth, how we can adapt and try to heal some of the harm committed, and also see they affects that the harm has on members of our human community. It was a week of varied emotions. On Tuesday, I stood out on Marsh plaza with tiny terra cotta pots, paints, and tiny succulent plants for students to decorate their own succulent to take home – an event we called “Planting in the Spirit.” I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions of students upon finding out that they could take home their own tiny succulent for free – “You’re kidding me! They’re so cute! This is seriously bringing me so much joy right now!” (I may have removed some creative expletives the original speakers used). These grand positive reactions all from a tiny plant that they could use to green up their dorm or apartment. It gave them a sense of connection to the rest of creation just by having another living organism to care for and appreciate.

In contrast, last Sunday afternoon, we heard the concerns of students and community members alike as to whether Boston has entered into the emergency stage of global Climate Change at our conversation “Are We Climate Ready?.” It was fruitful exchange, but a sobering reminder that there is still a great amount of work we must do in order to ensure a sustainable future for our planet. Throughout the week’s events, we strove to foster conversations and actions for folks to think about the ways they have become disconnected from the world around them and how they can remedy that disconnection.

            But perhaps, in light of the theme Christian love found within today’s lectionary readings, the most meaningful of the events was a panel discussion on Thursday night. The panel was entitled “Is it Bougie to be Green?: The Gentrification of the Eco-Movement.” We co-hosted with it thEcology, the environmental student group at the School of Theology. For those of you unfamiliar with the slang term “bougie” it ultimately derives from the French word “bourgeousie” which became famous in the works of Karl Marx for identifying the upper class. Today, the term “bougie” is commonly used to mean “aspiring to be a higher class than one is.” The idea behind this panel was to bring together people of faith from different backgrounds to discuss how socioeconomic factors can hinder involvement in environmentalism, and to challenge the depiction of environmentalism as a white, middle-class issue or concern. Our panelists were all leaders within their faith communities who believe that environmental justice issues should be foundational and intersectional with other justice issues prevalent in our communities – economic justice, racial justice, gender equality, and others. The panelists spoke passionately about how their experiences within the local church and their communities had informed their understanding of environmental justice issues and how to handle them from a faith perspective. They cited that the mainstreaming or trend-setting aspects of environmentalism often make it difficult for some people, especially low-income people, to have access to environmental practices due to the influence of commodification. They pointed out how particular aspects of environmentalism require you to have a certain amount of expendable income in order to participate – in buying organic foods, having access to greenspaces where you live, or investing in sustainable energy. And most importantly, how low-income communities often feel the greatest impacts of environmental degradation but have little means to act against it and are frequently forgotten by mainstream activism.

            What became clear in this panel discussion was that environmentalism should not be co-opted by greenwashed idealism that neglects to recognize the many layers of injustice that exist due to the nature of our economic systems. While remembering our connection to the natural world absolutely has value in helping to shape our appreciation for it and can help us encounter the divine, our love and care for the Earth and everything in it cannot stop there. We have to be aware of the ways that climate change and other environmental issues are impacting communities, and how those communities are finding ways to respond within themselves. The reality is effects of climate change are already making climate refugees – people who are being displaced from their homes because of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and lack of access to potable water. And these people are disproportionately impoverished – living along coastlines, steep inclines, and flood plains. Or they reside in island nations who are not so slowly losing their home country as encroaching sea levels make it impossible for people to stay. Pacific Islanders, Alaskans, and others have already begun to feel these effects have to relocate. The impacts are not somewhere out in the future, but here already, today. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at a meeting about climate change in Indonesia, “The issue of equity is crucial. Climate affects us all, but does not affect us all equally.”

            As Christians we must stand to express Christ’s love fully into the world. In 1 John we are reminded that our task in the world to emulate the love that Christ showed through “laying down his life for us.” The epistle echoes the sentiment of what the Good Shepherd does in John chapter 10 – “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He is not forced into this self-sacrifice, but instead, of his own volition, chooses to give up his life in order to protect his flock. His sacrifice is not for power or glory or payment, but for the good of the flock whom he knows and loves. A shepherd, as a leader of a flock, does not just care about himself or herself, but must be invested in the lives of all of the members of his/her flock. We, as Christians, as followers of Christ, are the sheep in this metaphor, but as sheep we learn from the shepherd how to be in the world.

 The writer of 1 John explicates the description of the role of the Christian further: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The Christian cannot simply pay lip service to love, but instead must be willing to act out the words that he/she professes in order to fully enact God’s love in the world. God’s command to love one another is to love to the point of enabling the flourishing of other, even if it means making sacrifices for the self. We must first recognize the power that we hold which privileges us within society and then, instead of using that power over others, surrendering that power for the sake of others. We may be sheep, but we are sheep who are bathed in the love of God and expected to convey that love into the world.

In her recent book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, United Methodist elder, author, and activist Sharon Delgado reminds Christians that it is not only a sense of ethical responsibility that should drive us to take care of God’s creation, but also because we can see the value expressed in it. She states:

“A strong sense of the value of creation provides a foundation for actions to preserve, defend, and renew the natural world…creation has value for us because we love it and because through it we experience the divine. We protect and defend creation not because we should, but because we care. This sense of caring includes the human family and extends to all parts of creation.” (Delgado, 185)

We need to let our love of creation, grounded in those deep-rooted connections we have with our environment, guide us into respect for the Earth that leads to love and care. Delgado is right in pointing out that we must include both our human and our earth family in all senses of our caring. By enabling God’s love to flow through us, we can see hope in the face of daunting challenges.

            In light of these environmental challenges we now face, we must utilize our knowledge of God’s love to enact justice in the world. If we are fortunate to have the privilege of comfortable existence and can take on some of the more mainstream attitudes of environmental action, such as recycling, composting, or decreasing our carbon footprints, then we must also bring attention to the ways that communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face the brunt of environmental injustices. We must find ways to be connected to these communities – to know our human neighbors as well as our environmental neighbors – in order to offer help in the most effective ways possible. We must speak truth to power when it comes to corporate practices that focus on making the maximum amount of profit at the expense of the livelihood of the most vulnerable within our society.  As we are led by the Good Shepherd who loves and comforts us, so too we must turn to the rest of our flock and find ways to express that love and care in the world around us.

As our antiphon stated today, “The Good Shepherd comes that we may have life and may have it abundantly.” Let us ensure that all have life abundantly.

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

“Have you come to destroy us?”

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

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Mark 1:21-28

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Good morning! What a pleasure and honor it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with you this morning. I’d like to thank Dean Hill for asking me to preach today and my colleagues here at the chapel for their support and encouragement.

Today is the fourth Sunday after Epiphany. We are in the liminal time between the celebration of the birth of Christ, and Ash Wednesday. It’s not a memorable season like Advent, when we’re so excited to get to the birth of Christ that we sometimes jump ahead into its celebration a bit early. Or one of Lent, during which we fast, meditate, and prepare for the death and resurrection of Christ. No, the season after Epiphany, in some churches, particularly the Catholic Church, referred to as “Ordinary Time”, is when we hear the stories the growth and development of Jesus’ ministry. It’s when we learn of Jesus’ teachings, healings, and interactions with the people he encounters along the way. We use green paraments to highlight not only the growth and development of Jesus’ ministry, but our own spiritual growth and development through hearing and engaging the retelling of Jesus’ ministry on earth. We are then called to go out into the world and share that spiritual growth through the love of Christ that we share with all people.

This liturgical year, we grapple with Mark’s gospel to help us understand this period of Jesus life. Mark is the shortest gospel and believed by scholars to be the earliest retellings of the life of Jesus. The episodes within Mark’s scripture are much abbreviated, or “raw”, as one commentary I read put it. We get the facts and figures of Jesus’ work in the world, but not much flowery description. But in a way, Mark’s gospel is perfect for this Epiphanytide, this “Ordinary Time.” The gospel jumps right into the action of Jesus’ baptism and ministry. There is no description of the birth of Christ or the events leading up to it, like in Luke’s Gospel. Instead, we encounter the fully grown adult Jesus, baptized by John and announced as the Son and Beloved of God who then begins the work of God in the world. Mark is primarily concerned with conveying who Jesus is as the Holy One, the messiah, and that his authority comes from God. This is fully expressed through Jesus’ words and deeds.

In Mark’s gospel, we and the people Jesus encounters come to know who he is through his acts of teaching and healing. The focus is on Jesus’ authority in these situations. In today’s gospel reading, he is unknown to the people in the temple, but commands their attention through his words and actions. It is only the unclean spirit, or demon, or evil force which possesses the man in the synagogue who recognizes Jesus for who he is and the power that he can potentially wield. “Have you come to destroy us?” is one of the questions posed to Jesus by this evil force. The unclean spirit recognizes that Jesus possesses the authority of God, and questions how that power and authority will be used. Whether this is a sarcastic comment questioning the power of the Holy One, “Have you come to destroy us?” or a genuine inquiry of fear from the unclean spirit, “Have you come to destroy us?” we are not sure. But it gives us an interesting starting point for understanding the type of authority Jesus brings into the world and how our understanding of this authority can shape the ways we understand our Christian identity.

“Have YOU come to destroy us?”

First, let’s focus on the you in this question: “Have YOU come to destroy us?” The “you” obviously refers to Jesus. But Jesus is relatively unknown to the community he is within. The reaction of the people tells us so – he teaches them as one having authority, but not like the way that they had heard from the scribes. Jesus teaches in a NEW way. Not focusing on traditional interpretation of the Torah, as the scribes do, but by relying on the authority of God. The scripture does not share the words that Jesus spoke, but we know from other passages in Mark that his teachings challenge the systems that have led the participants and the leaders of the service into complacency.

We might be able to relate to this reliance on tradition in our own contexts – we become complacent not only to our styles of worship, but how we find ourselves interacting with the social structures that surround us in our everyday lives. “That’s just the way things are.” “This is the way it’s always been done.” But that blind trust can lead to problems like systemic injustices and oppression. What Mark demonstrates through this teaching is that Jesus points out the inadequacy of the teaching going on in the synagogue to reveal the true meaning of God’s relationship with people on Earth. We are called to seek out justice and righteousness, as the Psalmist today reminds us: God’s righteousness endures forever. God is gracious and merciful.

The people in the synagogue are astounded by Jesus’ teaching. From the immediate recognition of Jesus’ authority the story quickly transitions into the man with the unclean spirit getting up and shouting at Jesus. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Why has Jesus come to this synagogue to teach? How will Jesus’ teachings change the relationship between good and evil forces in the world?

Jesus’ teaching is founded in God, from whom his authority derives. His speech is powerful and authoritative because it speaks the truth. Jesus is a prophet, because he speaks the truth that is found in God and God’s will for the world. This authority is visible to those who hear him speak, as is obvious from last week’s gospel, in which Jesus promises Simon, Andrew, James, and John that he will make them “fishers of people” and they drop their nets and follow him. Jesus’ authority is unmistakable. But it isn’t what we might expect from the Messiah.

“Have you come to DESTROY us?”

It is established that Jesus is authoritative in his teaching, but do his actions match his words? Let us refer back to our guiding quote for this sermon, “Have you come to DESTROY us?” The word used by the unclean spirit is destroy in reference to how Jesus will use his power. Destruction is a violent word. It conjures images of razed lands, where no building is left standing. Or the complete obliteration of a person, a system. It might be what you would expect that the Holy One of God may bring to the Earth in order to control or subdue it. It might be what you would expect if it was your way with engaging with the world – to seek pain, violence and destruction instead of life-giving, healing, community. That is what the unclean spirits do, even to the point of causing self-destruction to their hosts, as described in Mark chapter 5.

We know from our own experiences that those with authority and power can slip into using that power for their own ends, to the point of injuring others. Without concern for the greater well-being, without that direct connection with the divine will for justice and righteousness, a person can create a great deal of damage by favoring certain groups of people with their power in ways that divide and amplify systems of oppression. Jesus has the power of God on his side, and it is precisely because of this connection with the divine that he utilizes that power to restore rather than destroy.

Jesus does not destroy. Yes, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit telling it to “Be silent” and come out of the man, but there is no destruction. The spirit obeys, albeit putting up a fight on its way out, but it leaves. Jesus doesn’t destroy the spirit – where it goes to, we don’t know. But additionally, he doesn’t destroy the unclean spirit’s host, the man. Instead he restores the man to health. He “heals” the man. Jesus does not seek to obtain power for himself in this situation, as the evil forces might do. He serves humanity instead, restoring the man to his full humanity.

Jesus is a teacher and healer during his ministry; not someone who destroys. Can you imagine describing Jesus as a teacher and destroyer? It just doesn’t seem to fit the conception we have of him. He commands power over those things which are damaging to both the individual body and the communal body. He demonstrates that his authority can overcome the unclean spirits, the powers of evil, through the restoration of the person. We may extend this metaphor to say that this person, who is possessed by the unclean spirit, could also be ostracized from his community if his behavior were to continue. We know as much from the story of the man possessed by the legion of unclean spirits in Mark chapter 5 who is physically removed from the community. Jesus restores both the man in the temple and the man exiled to their communities. And in both instances the communities are amazed.

Jesus has power and authority, but he uses in a way that nonviolently transforms. As the Spider Man movies have taught us “With great power comes great responsibility.” Or as saint Luke states in Chapter 12, verse 48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Jesus is tasked with the greatest power and responsibility. In order to do the work of God on Earth, he must use his power and authority in a way that restores the earthly community to one of support, love, and inclusion.

“Have you come to destroy US?”

The final factor in this question posed by the unclean spirit is, who is “us”? Up to now, I have been talking about an unclean spirit. Suddenly it is multiplied by the spirit itself – “us.” We may understand this “us” as all evil forces, as those things which prevent flourishing in the world. If we read this passage with a historical critical lens, we may side with commentators who situate the Jewish community in Capernaum as a community under the Roman Empire – perhaps then the “us” are the imperialists who continue to oppress those in their community. Or it may be that this unclean spirit is an actual pre-scientific understanding of what a health concern looked like. But one thing is clear – the forces that recognize Jesus know who he is and recognize his potential power when no one else can.

Today we may see the “us” as the powerful forces we encounter in our lives that keep us from having a full relationship with the divine and from completely expressing God’s love to ourselves and others. These forces may be spiritual, biological, societal, or political. They may make us feel powerless and out of control, just as the man who is possessed appears to be. We may feel like there is no way of overcoming them or destroying them, as it were.

But there is hope. Because Jesus displays that there is the possibility of healing and hope in the face of such challenges. By bringing us a new way that is full of love and care for others, the healing and restoration of our communities is a possibility. As Paul reminds the church in Corinth, it is love that “builds up.” Love builds up our relationships with each other, and it also builds up our relationship with God. We may not be able to destroy the evil that exists in the world, but we are capable of taking away its authority and power over our lives.

Moving toward the future

The gospel for this week reminds us of the great acts of Jesus but also should spark us into action. Jesus, after all, was a radical. And by radical, I mean the definition which comes out of the Latin root, radix, which literally means root. Jesus comes to fundamentally change the way we understand our relationship with God and with each other. His new way of teaching is simplified and relies less on tradition and more on the authentic word of God found within the scriptures. He astounds and amazes the people by using his authority both to teach and to heal and restore. But we must remember that not everyone accepted Jesus’ teachings or his acts of healing as coming from God. He encounters these challenges again and again throughout the gospel of Mark, eventually leading to his own death. He challenges the status quo in a new, nonviolent, but revolutionary way that scares those accustomed to the old ways.

I imagine people’s reactions to Jesus’ teaching to be like the first time I read James Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation. As a first year Master’s level student, it destabilized me. It made me question everything I thought I knew about Christianity and emphasized the inherent privilege I possess as someone who is white. It highlighted the systems of oppression found within American society and particularly within the field of theology, which had been primarily developed by Western, white perspectives up until the writing of this book. It felt foreign to me, a challenge to my what I then thought were my brilliant theological ideas, and I just didn’t get it. And, like the unclean spirit in this passage, my reaction, at first, was to reject it. Because it didn’t speak to me. Because it scared me. Because I felt threatened by it. But that kind of teaching is exactly what I needed to grow, to at least try to better understand the lives of those who are oppressed by society. It made me look at the scriptures in a new way. It opened up avenues of many different and varied theological perspectives arising out of theologies of liberation that help shape my personal theological and ethical ideas today. The challenge was a good thing because it opened my eyes to new ways of being in the world. New ways that I am by no means an expert at, but new ways that I can continue to grow into.

There are many times in our lives when I’m sure we wish that Jesus would show up and get rid of the evil and oppressive forces in our lives. That it would be as easy as a command uttered for negative forces to leave us. But it’s not. At least it isn’t for us (it may still be for Jesus himself). We can’t make our personal demons or our societal demons leave us by willing them to go away. But what we can do is recognize them and engage ourselves to reform them. In order to do this properly, however, we must first be able to recognize those forces which have taken priority for us that are in conflict with God’s will. If we can acknowledge the demons then we can take their power away. If we ignore them and pretend they aren’t there, then we allow them to still have power over us. White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, addiction, and hate as well as many other insidious social ills surround us. Our job is to name them for what they are and systematically dismantle the influence they have in our collective lives. This is by no means any easy or pleasant job, but one that speaks to the justice and righteousness found in God.

We are called to be purveyors of Christ’s love in the world. If we recognize Jesus’ authority and how he uses it to bring about change, we can learn from it. Authority and the power that comes with it can easily be mismanaged and improperly used for self-aggrandizement. Jesus is our example – he possesses God’s authority, but uses that authority to serve others. Our power also comes in serving others, as Martin Luther said, being “little Christs” for our neighbors. Through service of others, learning from others, and being in community we can imagine a better future for ourselves. In this Season after Epiphany, this “Ordinary Time,” let us continue to grow in spirit and love.

“Have you come to destroy us?” No, Jesus has come to restore us.

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

 

 

Sharing in the Spirit

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

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Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

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Good morning! It is an honor to be sharing the Word with you from the pulpit of Marsh Chapel again! Thank you to Dean Hill for this opportunity and to my colleagues here at Marsh Chapel for their support in organizing today’s worship service – especially our anthems from the choir for the day.

I want to invite you to take a moment to think about the best dinner you’ve ever attended. I don’t mean necessarily the meal that you ate – maybe that’s a part of it – but the best dinner experience you’ve had. I’m almost sure that this dining experience you’re remembering right now is with at least one other person…maybe a whole table full of people. How did you feel? What did you talk about? Maybe your dinner was a part of a celebration, for a birthday or an anniversary. Maybe it was at a family holiday gathering. Maybe it was with friends out at a restaurant. Maybe it was a home-cooked meal made by a family member. There is something about that dinner that sticks with you, a connection made, an emotion felt, an experience that cannot be forgotten.

Every Tuesday night in this building, something wonderful and amazing happens. Onions are chopped, sometimes with tears, dough is kneaded and shaped, chickpeas ground, tomatoes sliced, garlic sautéed. Simple ingredients are turned into a meal. And while all of this is happening, people gather. Some of us are in the kitchen, learning how to make whatever dish is on the menu that night. Some stand just inside or outside the doorway, carrying on conversation with those who are cooking, and others gather just down the hall conversing about the week so far or playing the occasional game of Jenga. We all come from different backgrounds – some of us from neighboring towns in Massachusetts, some from the South or the West, some from China, or Mexico, or India, or Nigeria. The places we know as “home” might differ, but in our interactions we create a new place of belonging for ourselves.

Global Dinner Club has grown in the last two years as an opportunity for hospitality and understanding across cultural differences as members of the Boston University community come together to share a meal and conversation. Most students, when they first come, ask the same question: “You do this every week? For free?” Yes, a home-cooked meal, prepared with care and attention by people who may or may not know each other all with the goal of sharing together. And sometimes those new people jump right in, offering to chop or slice, stir or roll, and sometimes they hold off for a week or two, observing what goes on before feeling confident and comfortable enough to fully participate. And that’s okay too – no one is ever told they must help or participate, but we hope they come around to it sooner or later.

Tuesday nights are wonderful and amazing because they are grounded in love. Every person who attends wants to be in community with others – even if they’ve had a hard day. Global Dinner Club serves as a release from coursework and other concerns, allowing space to only focus on cooking and enjoying food with each other for a few hours.

What is also amazing about Global Dinner Club is that it is antithetical to everything that the world wants me to believe about life in the United States at the current moment. It is people from all different backgrounds and varying ages coming together only with the agenda of eating and getting to know each other. Attendees find points of commonality – for instance, a favorite television show or a class taken – and from there the conversation grows. Or they find points of difference – for example, idioms that are commonplace in American English need further explanation to make sense for non-native English speakers. As an aside, this week I realized how Western the term “damsel in distress” is, and how hard it is to explain if you didn’t grow up with fairy tales about castles and knights and dragons. While there are barriers we have to overcome in understanding each other sometimes, and while there are many possible outside forces that prevent us from experiencing the joy of learning from others and growing in friendship, it is still possible. It gives me hope at a time when so much of our world seems to be in chaos. It reminds me that love is stronger than hate.

Consuming food for nourishment is a basic need for all human beings, but it becomes something so much more because it is shared. Eating together enables us to get to know one another. It is an intimate act. When I asked you to envision the best dinner you’d ever attended, I bet it brought back particular memories about whom you shared it with and the emotions you felt during that time. Sharing a meal unifies those gathered around a table through telling stories, revealing oneself enough to find common ground, and leaving behind quarrels or divisions to enjoy a meal together. We may, at one time or another, have sat at a table with someone who sees the world differently than us, but have been able to learn and grow from interacting with them over a meal. It is not the act of eating alone that brings us together, but the act of sharing in the experience of a meal – of conversation and eating, words and action – that enable us to grow into community.

In the lesson we heard this morning from Philippians, Paul urges the community of Christians in Philipi that they must be unified. That they mustn’t let in-fighting and quarreling divide them. They must act as servants to one another, acting in love toward one another. In order to “share in the Spirit” they must be willing to be open and humble as Christ-followers. Anticipating the needs of the other and looking toward the interests of the other before thinking of one’s self interests. Living in community with others is difficult, and Paul knows this, but he emphasizes that one of the ways that the community in Phillipi can come together is to let God be front and center in their minds as they go about interacting with one another, serving each other’s needs as God acts through them to do so.

A meal is a great place to put this into practice – not only are we able to meet the physical needs of others by providing the sustenance offered through food, but we are able to provide the emotional and spiritual support of others through listening and offering parts of our own journeys with them. Extending hospitality to others is a part of our Christian heritage, and a meal can be just that for those searching for it.

Sharing a meal is a sacred act. Today we will share in a meal together in Holy Communion. Other religious traditions also share sacred meals. Every Friday our Jewish friends celebrate Shabbat.  At the end of each fasting day during Ramadan, our Muslim brothers and sisters break their fast by sharing in iftar, and culminate their month-long fasting with an Eid al-Fitr dinner. In most worship practices within Hinduism, worshipers consume the prasad, the food which is first offered and then ultimately blessed by deities. Consuming food, especially together, is an important, sacred activity within many religious traditions other than our own.

Today, in a few moments, we will share in a particularly special and unifying meal in our worship service. The first Sunday of the month is always Communion Sunday here at Marsh Chapel. But today is an even more special day – today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. This first Sunday in October is celebrated throughout the Christian world as a time when we intentionally recognize how all Christians are connected to one another through sharing in the sacred meal of Holy Communion. Created in the early 20th century by the Presbyterian church, the importance and popularity of World Communion Sunday grew during World War II, when the world appeared to be tearing itself apart with conflicts on many fronts. Christian ecumenicism, bringing together many of the Mainline Protestant traditions and some of the orthodox traditions, helped people find points of connection rather than being defined by the theological traditions that separated their individual Christian denominations.  It resulted in the development of Christian-led reconciliation work in the face of on-going conflict that continues to this day through organizations like the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. Today, World Communion Sunday offers us a time to see how the Body of Christ extends across the globe in many shapes and forms as a unified whole. While communing with individuals who claim different denominational affinities, or none at all, is not out of the ordinary for us here at Marsh Chapel, today we affirm the call to come together as one in this sacred meal, open to all who wish to partake.

Our ritual of Holy Communion is not a full meal. At most, we usually get a bite of bread and a sip of wine or grape juice. But it stands for a bigger meal with a greater meaning for us. In preparation for today’s sermon, I read Lutheran theologian and historian Martin Marty’s The Lord’s Supper. It is a small book and easy to read, designed for the everyday person – I highly suggest it if you’re looking to learn more about how and why we do the things we do during Communion. In it, Marty reminds the reader that we must keep in mind the greater context of what we are doing through the act of communion.  He states: “The Lord’s Supper is often called “Holy Communion,” a coming-together of bread with body, wine with blood, God with creatures, and believers with one another. To realize through Communion that one is a social human being who shares common miseries and joys is a benefit of this meal. It serves to lift a person beyond mere “me-ness.” While we may come to church services looking to find something that will resonate with us individually, usually through a sermon or the prayers, we must also be reminded that the purpose of worship, and specifically communion, is to bring us together as a “we.” Not just as a “we” of people in one place, but a “we” of connection with all others, including God and the creation. Communion brings us back in touch with the earth, to see the way God works through the world.

Just like a regular meal we might have on a daily basis, Communion also consists of words and actions. And in order to be communion, it must have both to. In the Small Catechism, the instruction booklet of faith for Lutherans, Martin Luther explains that communion is more than just eating and drinking. It is the combination of words shared and the action of eating and drinking that constitute the sacred act of grace and forgiveness which makes Holy Communion a sacrament rather than just another meal. In the words spoken by Jesus that we repeat during Holy Communion, and following his actions with the disciples, we are a part of the sacrament. Jesus said “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.” “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” When we offer and receive, sharing these holy words, we are a part of the experience of the divine and are brought together as members of God’s holy family.

The meal we share in communion helps to feed our souls by offering us the grace of the divine and encouraging us to let that grace work through us in service of creating a more just and loving world. In coming together as a congregation, we open ourselves up to bear the burdens and serve the interests of others through sharing in the Spirit with one another. Our task is to continue extending the grace offered to us through our experience within Holy Communion by loving our neighbors and showing care for them. One way we may show care is offering a meal, or a place to rest to those who need it. Or we might gather supplies for those experiencing loss, like our community-minded service group MOVE is doing for people in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. If the intentions of our actions are grounded in faith, then we do much more than meet the physical needs of others. We also extend God’s love into the world.

We come together in worship to hear the Gospel, bear each other’s troubles, ask for forgiveness, receive God’s grace, and go out into the world living our lives being carried forward by the mind of Christ. Let us look for the ways in which we can all share in the Spirit with others, especially those who are marginalized or oppressed, creating a community of understanding and support, outside of this physical space and time. Let God work through us to bring forth justice and reconciliation in the world. Let us simply look up from our plates across the table to those sitting around us and share pieces of ourselves with others along with our meal. Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Grace, Love, Communion

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

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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.

Grace

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

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?

Communion

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.
Amen.

– 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/

Fear and doubt; Hope and faith.

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Click here to listen to the full service

John 20:19-31

Click here to listen to the meditations only

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?

Amen.

-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.

An Invitation

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 14:15-24

Click here to listen to the meditations only

An invitation.

Who: you!

What: this sermon

When: right now until…question mark?? (or approximately 20 minutes)

Where: 735 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, wbur 90.9 fm, wbur.org, our podcast

Why: well, to hear the Word of God in a new way with insightful commentary and explanation, or so I hope

RSVP: By staying in the pew, not changing the radio station, or not skipping over the sermon while listening to the podcast later

Invitations are all around us. I was invited to this pulpit today by our Dean Hill, asked to reflect on the word in light of our international student population here at BU. Thank you, Dean Hill for your invitation! In turn, I invited others – three of our participants in the service are international students here at BU – Eleanor Yan, who read the passage from Romans in Mandarin and English, Moises Rodriguez who read the gospel in Spanish and English, and soon after this sermon ends, Sanghee Lim, who will lead our Prayers of the People in Korean and English. I am thankful for their acceptance of my invitation as well as the help of the Rev. Soren Hessler in the extension of those invitations. Thanks to each of your for your help and participation today And then of course there is the invitation that we extend each and every week to all of you who are here or listening from far away. We invite you to be a part of our worshipping community, to hear the Word of God, to engage in prayer, to meditate on the musical offerings, to occasionally partake in the Eucharist, and most importantly, to worship God.

My role here at Marsh Chapel is to serve as the University Chaplain for International Students. Generally, when people find that out they ask what my job entails. What is a chaplain for international students? What do you do? I provide support for our international student population through pastoral care. I create opportunities for engagement, fellowship, and learning among our international and domestic student populations. I help plan worship opportunities like today and work with our interfaith and various faith student groups on campus. But mostly, I have the honor and pleasure of learning about and experiencing the various cultures and traditions present on this campus, and creating spaces for students to learn, explore, and be in community with one another. In short, my job rocks.

At the beginning of a school year, I would say that about 80% of a university chaplain or campus minister’s time is spent around the idea of invitation. Issuing invitations to students to come worship and events, being invited to beginning of the year receptions and gatherings, not to mention the running the actual events and gathering themselves. Here at Marsh Chapel we’ve hosted plenty of events and fellowship opportunities in the last week, meeting new students and welcoming back returning students. Joining them in fellowship over food, in discussion about faith, and giving space for clarity and mindfulness. Presenting them with open opportunities to interact through art, and opportunities to worship together. Our whole ministry staff team has put in hours of dedicated service to the community, often times by simply being present for a specific amount of time in a specific place. We have invited folks over the internet, over the radio, and via flyers and listings on the BU Calendar.

But perhaps one of our most effective ways of invitation was simply just being visible to others and enthusiastically welcoming them to join in our activity. You heard a bit about this last week, when the dean recounted our “greening of the dorms” activity out on the BU Beach. During this event, we stood out on the green lawn behind Marsh Chapel with small pots, paints, brushes, dirt, and seeds, inviting students to personalize their pottery and to take home planted seeds that will hopefully grow into delicious basil. What Dean Hill didn’t tell you was some of our invitation techniques. These included shouting “Hi! Do you want to paint a pot?” Or “Do you want some basil to take home?” or, and I think this may have been Br. Larry’s favorite tactic, wildly gesticulating at passers-by that they should join us by making large waving motions. The tactic worked, and most people, once they figured out what we were doing were enthusiastic about participating and conversing with us and other who had gathered around.

Not every interaction needs to be so lively, however. For example, Soren Hessler and Jen Quigley’s weekly offering of Common Ground communion on Thursday afternoons. And by every Thursday, I mean, EVERY Thursday, regardless of the temperature or meteorological conditions outside. They extend their invitation to passers-by rather simply, through a sign that reads: Common Ground Communion, Thursdays 12:20pm, Marsh Plaza, ALL ARE WELCOME. Having substituted for them once and also from hearing first hand accounts from both Soren and Jen, mostly you get a lot of stares, but usually there are a few who stop to take and eat. Through their simple sign they attract people, and have even created a small community of “regulars.”

As an expression of hospitality, invitation is the way we let others know that they are welcome into our space to share in a moment with us, whether significant or not. Invitation takes on many forms. The formal invitation, printed on cardstock, delivered through the mail. The evite – an electronic invitation sent via email. The Facebook event invite, which basically is what it sounds like. The informal invitation – which can be done in person, over the phone, or via text message. All of these forms of invitation require that the host extend the invitation, although not all require the same level of response.

There are rules about invitations. Who gets invited, when we invite them, how we expect to find out who is coming. For more formal affairs, invitations are exclusionary – only close friends or family, or important people are invited to such an event. These events generally require that the attendees are notified far in advance and that they send their response in enough time for the host to prepare for them. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the public event, those opportunities which are open to any person who happens to be in the area, and which may or may not require a response from the attendees. These events might occur at a moment’s notice and bring together a disparate group of people for one purpose, for example a protest or a flash mob.

While formal events still occur, for which people follow the rules of etiquette regarding invitations such as weddings and galas, our society has tended toward looser definitions of invitations and RSVP’s with the advent of social media and texting. When was the last time you received an invitation on paper to something? I’m willing to bet for many of you it was to a wedding, which has remained steady in the execution of formally extending and invitation (although even now, that may not always be the case).  Technology makes it easy for us to be wishy-washy on our responses – it gives us to say “maybe” rather than yes or no to an event, or to choose to say that we are interested in an event without committing to going. And believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing 7 “goings” and 40 “interesteds” on a Facebook invitation. What does that mean? How much food should I make. It brings to mind a campus ministry colleague’s posting earlier this semester: “Hmmm. Should I order 3 pizzas or 12 pizzas for tonight’s event? You just never know, do you?” Or about the first meeting of Global Dinner Club this semester, where we had about twice as many attendees as I was expecting, necessitating a last-minute run to the grocery store to pick up extra supplies. Ministry involves opening the door for community, but much of the time you’re never quite sure who will show up.

Today’s gospel revolves around an invitation and the accompanying customs of the time. The parable Jesus tells is in the midst of attending a banquet, a carry-over from the beginning of chapter 14 in Luke. Perhaps this is why this particular parable is left out of our lectionary offerings – it is too similar to the opening of chapter 14. This parable, like the one at the beginning of the chapter, also focuses on banquet etiquette, but does so in framing the story around a specific event rather than proclaiming general etiquette rules about where you should sit at a banquet and why. More specifically, the emphasis in the parable is on the responses the host receives from those whom he had invited first. Luke goes into detail explaining each of their excuses, framing them as the focus for this ethical tale. The first invitees, like the host, presumably have money and are at the same social level. They also presumably initially responded yes to the host’s invitation when he issued it. But, upon being prepared to receive the guests, the host is confronted with a barrage of lame excuses from them. The first two respondents are too concerned with their material possessions that they cannot attend. The first needing to survey the land that he just bought, and the second needing to try out the oxen he just purchased. It’s similar to having invited a friend to a dinner party, having them agree that they will be there weeks ahead of time, and then texting you two hours before to say “I just picked up my new iPhone 7, and I really need to test it out. Sorry!” The third response really gives no reason why, just “I just got married, I can’t come.”

Maybe you’ve been in the position of hosting a party or an event only to have a significant portion of people make excuses for why they can’t come at the last minute. Perhaps you understand why the host in this story becomes angered because of this. Or alternatively, we’ve all been in the position of making an excuse at the last minute to get out of going to an affair we’ve known about for a while. In justifying our behavior, we may assume that everyone else will follow through with their “yeses”, so us not showing up will not have any impact on anyone else. But if everyone cancels at the last minute, then the host is left without guests, and the event fails. The men who fail to show up at the appointed time in the story may feel that they have no need of what is being offered at the banquet (food and community), and therefore remain unaffected and somewhat unrepentant in their excuses.

What the host does next teaches us about the radical hospitality of God. Instead of trying to find more friends who might be able to attend, the host instead instructs his servant to invite the lowest of the low to the banquet; the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Does he do this out of spite for his friends that turned him down? Perhaps. But the host’s actions may also be out of recognizing who really needs and would benefit from such a banquet. Those who are hungry or left out from the rest of society would not turn down an invitation such as this. Or even if these new invitees have second thoughts about attending, the host tells his servant to compel them to come, to fill his house with people. And, in turn, to exclude those who initially turned away his invitation.

We could understand this story eschatologically, signifying the great banquet in the Kingdom of God and who or who will not be invited. It suggests that God’s invitation to the “great banquet” is available to all, but individuals must agree to accept it. In Lutheran or Methodist terms, that the grace of God is extended to all, but that we should not be distracted by other obligations or material gains in recognizing it. And this is an important reading of the gospel for all Christians, but we also need to recognize how this parable teaches an ethical lesson in addition to the theological points it brings forth.

But I think another way to look at this story is to see the situation as an example in present reality which is meant to teach the people Jesus is dining with and the audience Luke is writing for about proper Christian hospitality toward others. We are included in that audience. Christian hospitality requires both the host and those invited to be open to one another. Extending this form of hospitality is mutually beneficial for both the guest and the host. It calls on us to form community through our invitation, rather than to only acquire material goods. Even if material goods (i.e. the food) may be needed by those who do attend, the feeling of being connected to others and being considered a part of the community becomes what is ultimately important. In some ways, the Eucharist serves a similar function for us. It is the time when we all come together to share in a meal regardless of background or status and it anticipates the great banquet that will occur in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God’s invitation and the Christian notion of hospitality asks us to take on a radical form of egalitarianism, placing all on the same level. In welcoming the stranger, as Paul instructs in his letter to the church in Rome, and welcoming those from all walks of life, as the Gospel presents through Jesus’ parable, Christian hosts dismantle the levels of power which may otherwise exist. By extending an invitation to the stranger, we come to know the stranger as a person and care for them as a part of our community. We learn from the stranger and become fuller human beings. At the same time we are invited by God and by Jesus to rest and seek peace in them. To live as a Christian is to be both host to others as well as guest in the presence of God.

What we do here at Marsh Chapel is try to model this form of hospitality. Our stated mission is to be “a heart for the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city.” Our context in an area of the United States with the highest number of people self-described as “nones” … that’s n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s…those having no religious beliefs, according to the Pew Research Center. We are also in the middle of a University setting where young people begin to question the traditions they learned at home and become more skeptical. We exist in a complex matrix of belief systems, enriched by multiple perspectives from around the globe. And despite these challenges, we send out an open invitation to all.

We, as a community of faith, are happy to meet people where they are. We attempt to embody this openness in a place that can sometimes feel resistant and cold to hospitality. To the lost and the lonely, we offer a place to be oneself and to find others. We model Christ’s teachings. We learn from our sisters and brothers from other faith traditions. We welcome all whether believer, questioner, or none. We form community, give grounding, a sense of place, and facilitate growth, personally, spiritually, emotionally, vocationally, and communally. . We invite our students to claim Boston as a home away from home where they can grow and learn from people and perspectives from a many places around the world. We accept the invitations of others to learn and develop in our understanding of the world as well as expand our relationships within the BU community, in the city of Boston, regionally, nationally, and globally

We do all these things, not for our own sake, but because of the higher cause that we serve. For as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated in his writings while he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

How will we as a community issue an invitation to the world today? Will we accept an invitation from others? From God? Will we be committed to the yes that we give, or instead be “maybes” or “interesteds” who prioritize other pursuits at the last minute? The decision is ours to make. An ever-present invitation waits for us. How will we respond?

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Revealing Compassion

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

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Luke 10:25-37

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Good morning. I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak to you as a part of the Marsh Chapel Summer Preaching Series focused on a Lukan Horizon, drawing out the themes of compassion and justice within the Gospel of Luke. These messages are always relevant, but seem even more pertinent in our current situation.

Who would have thought that at the beginning of this week, amidst the fireworks and barbecues and time spent with family and friends celebrating ideals like freedom, democracy, and independence, we would end the week with these great tragedies? Here we are again. Mourning loss of life again. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the violence in our world again. Again. Again. Again. I don’t have words to express my outrage and brokenness in light of recent events. In the words of the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Elizabeth Eaton, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before.”   

It took me a long time to prepare for this week’s sermon. And by a long time, I mean it took me a long time to actually sit down and write. Repeatedly this week we, as a nation and members of a global society, woke up to news of violence and death from the night before in our own country. By Friday, I became afraid to check social media. The previous two days my news feed was filled with videos of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and accompanying lament, anger, and sorrow from my friends. It was devastating to realize that this is happening, again. Not that it has every really stopped happening. We’re just highly aware of it now because of our access to social media, phones with cameras, and live streaming. Our nation is steeped in a history of racism which perpetuates the same systemic injustice and hate toward people of color generation after generation. Friday was no different from the previous two days – I woke up to the news of 11 police officers shot, 5 of which were killed, while on patrol at a rally protesting the police shootings taking place in Baton Rouge and St. Paul. Photos from earlier that evening showed police officers and protesters taking photos together – a peaceful gathering that was shattered by gunshots aimed at police officers. After weeks and weeks of horrific news and terror in our own country (Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas) and around the world (Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, and yesterday in Balad), we are in crisis.

In all my grappling with the news this week, I turned to our gospel reading. I wanted a word of hope in this seemingly relentless barrage of death and destruction. What does the gospel have to offer us in this time of need? What is the good news of God given by Jesus that can help us in our lament?

Today’s gospel invites us to see and do.  We love the parable of the Good Samaritan. It exemplifies the message of Christ to us – to love God and in so doing, love our neighbors as ourselves.  It has permeated our culture so much that the term “Good Samaritan” is something that we find in news stories and even in our laws. In those contexts it means someone who helps someone else who is in a dangerous or life-threatening situation without expectation of recognition or acknowledgement. But that doesn’t really get to the heart of what is happening in this passage from Luke.

To understand the meaning of the parable, we must first truly understand the Lawyer and his position within his context. A lawyer in Jesus’ time was a religious official – the law was religious Law, the laws of the Hebrew Bible. In asking Jesus his initial question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the Lawyer already knew the answer…and Jesus knows that, turning the question back on him: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to him “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says he is correct in his reading and understanding of the law. But the Lawyer is not satisfied with Jesus’ answer. Perhaps in an attempt to trap Jesus into making a mistake, sensing that Jesus’ answer will go against Jewish teaching, the lawyer continues his questioning…”And who is my neighbor?”

The Lawyer’s concept of neighbor is limiting. In Jewish society at this time, there were boundaries constructed by rules about how one was to interact with others depending on one’s place within society. How Jewish people should interact with Gentiles and Samaritans; how women should interact with men; how priests should interact with Israelites. There were clear lines as to who you had to consider as your neighbor, and who you did not. And to act in love to someone who was on the other side of those boundaries was completely out of the question.

In Luke’s writing, Jesus often answers questions like the one posed by the Lawyer with a parable. A parable is a wonderful narrative tool because it requires the listener to actively engage in the story. It begs the question of who you identify with and why. It requires the listener to determine the moral of the story. It answers a question or resolves a situation in indirect ways, putting the onus on the listener to determine what is right and wrong. Utilizing a narrative device like this puts a “face” on the response that isn’t an abstract concept – it’s people in conceivably real life situations. An ethical dilemma.

What we often misunderstand in this story is the Lawyer’s aversion to a Samaritan. Samaritans were viewed as the lowest of the low, unclean people who had perverted Judaism by marrying outside of the culture, taking on new religious practices. That’s why labeling this parable as the “Good Samaritan” is necessary – the “good” is meant to sound like an oxymoron to the initial hearers of this story. The Lawyer would not trust a Samaritan and might not even travel into places where Samaritans were known to live, so for Jesus to set a Samaritan up as the “neighbor” in this story is anathema to the Lawyer. It is completely unexpected.

In contrast to the Samaritan, we have the priest and the Levite, men who are leaders within the Jewish faith. They avoid what they perceive to be a potentially polluting situation because of their adherence to the rules – the ritual impurity of interacting with a potentially dead body. Or maybe they’re afraid – the road described between Jerusalem and Jericho is a steep hill with twists and turns – making it ideal for robbers to hide. What if the priest and the Levite were being set up to fall into the same trap when they helped the man in the ditch? They were not willing to take that chance, for whatever reason, whether out of adherence to the rules or fear of the same thing happening to them.

The Samaritan does not allow himself to be constricted by rules or fear. He does not think of what social convention dictates about he should interact with this person – he only sees someone in need. The Samaritan sees another person, a neighbor, someone close in proximity to him, who needs help. He is the one who has compassion, the one who shows mercy. He acts in love. He is able to put himself in the place of the person who is hurting and recognize that what is most important is his safety. He is the neighbor to the man in the ditch.    

The Lawyer recognizes that compassion is the right action – he knows that it is better to care for someone who is hurting than to avoid their pain. He tells Jesus when Jesus asks who the neighbor is “The one who showed him mercy.” The Lawyer must learn from this outsider – the one whom he would have otherwise rejected – what the love of God and neighbor truly looks like. The Samaritan’s compassion reveals something far beyond what it means to be a neighbor to someone, it reveals the humanness of those that we stereotype into the other.

But the Samaritan isn’t just a rescuer. He doesn’t just take the beaten man out of immediate danger – he makes sure that the man’s wounds are cleaned and bandaged, that he has safe lodging, and that he is cared for by the innkeeper. He will come back to check in on the man’s safety and wellbeing later in the week. The Samaritan puts himself in a position of healing, of on-going care, along with the innkeeper. He doesn’t just assume that the man in the ditch will be able to find help from others, he connects him with support and comfort. He develops a relationship with him.  It’s the difference between putting a band-aid on a deep cut and expecting it to heal, and carefully cleaning it out, getting medical assistance, and ensuring its continued care.

So where do you see yourself in this story? Are you the man in the ditch? The robbers? The priest or the Levite? The Samaritan? The innkeeper? The Lawyer?

I think we all want to be the Samaritan. We know that what the Samaritan does is what God ultimately wants us to do in the face of tragedy or injustice. We all know that inside ourselves is the capacity to love each other the way God wants us to love. But sometimes our culture, our social systems, our preconceived notions stand in our way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we can’t be the Samaritan, but in many cases we may fall short. In some cases we may be closer to the priest or the Levite. I know I am guilty of this – of occasionally seeing someone who might be in need or hurting and avoiding them because I don’t have time or I’m afraid of being taken advantage of or being made unsafe. I fail to see the people who are in need of help.

In the case of what’s going on in our country today, we have broken and bloodied bodies to account for. These bodies are not the root of the problem, however. In order to properly heal this situation, we need to address the larger systemic issues in our world that contribute to the expansion and intensity of violence between people who perceive the other to be bad, or wrong, or threatening. In a post made today on the Religion Dispatches website, theologian and ethicist Emilie Townes got to the heart of the matter:

“We must stop and look at ourselves—all of us. Take an account of how we sanction or contribute to the madness that has overtaken us—a calculating, hoarding madness that fails to take in the complexity of this nation and our world. The rising death toll and the classism, sexism, racism, heterosexist, trans-sexism, militarism, and more that fuel this disregard for human lives will not stop the violence until we decide to stop them and then act to make it so.”

What is at stake here, today, in our context, is injustice. Racial injustice. Economic injustice. LGBTQ injustice. Religious injustice. We have to acknowledge these systemic causes rather than the isolated incidents that have occurred. Systems of injustice in our country have been never really fully acknowledged or alleviated – we’ve made strides, for sure, but underneath there have continued to be forms of aggression and domination that have increased the distance between people living in the same community. We let fear dictate how we are to respond to situations of injustice – we let it overcome us and keep us from doing that which is compassionate. We skirt by on the other side of the road and shout to the man in the ditch how to get up and help himself, instead of tending to his wounds and making sure that healing is on its way.

Forms of injustice are even evident within the church. My own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, continues to struggle with the challenges of systemic racism. The ELCA is the least racially diverse protestant denomination in the U.S. – a staggering 96% of our denomination claims white European heritage. There is currently a movement within the church, Decolonize Lutheranism, which aims to point out the ways that Lutheranism has in some ways held so tightly to its cultural heritage that it fails to see how exclusive it has become. How, in some cases, the theological standpoints of defining oneself as Lutheran, such as justification by faith alone being extended to all, have been superseded by assuming that everyone in the church will be of the same background. So, even sometimes as Christians we can fall short of acting like the Samaritan in this parable. We can create spaces that make others feel unwelcome, or fail to include them and their stories in our communities.

Right now is when we need God’s help the most. When we need to be reminded that love prevails over death and destruction. When we remember that God’s only son proclaimed to us the necessity of proclaiming good news to the poor, healing the sick, releasing the imprisoned, and freeing the oppressed.

How can we go and do likewise? How can the Samaritan’s compassion translate to our own compassion in seeking justice? How do we translate our fears and mistrust in to love? If we turn to the advice that Paul gives the church in Colossae, we are called “to lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as (we) bear fruit in every good work as we grow in the knowledge of God.” (Col 1:10) We can start by reaching out to those around us. Just like the Samaritan, we need to see and do. Instead of seeing the injustices that have been unveiled for us and letting them continue to harm, we need to act. By making connections with people we encounter on a daily basis. By checking in with those whom we know might be hurting, just to ask them how they are doing. By listening. By standing by. By giving a hug, or holding a hand. But most importantly advocating for justice that recognizes the full humanity of all people, but most importantly those who are oppressed, whether they are Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim or any of the other communities in our country who face outright discrimination and hate. We must see the people in front of us rather than get caught up in abstracted ideas about groups of people which may not even be true.

Let’s start here. Right here. In this very chapel. Let us see and act in the simplest of ways. Our neighbors are those who are in closest proximity to us – the person sitting next to you, or behind you, the people up here in the front, and those out in the narthex. Some of us know each other. Some of us don’t. Some of us have been coming for years, and some of us are visiting for the first time. But all of us are here, now, in a community of worship and fellowship, brought together by our faith. I invite you to seek out your neighbors in this building, right now, and greet them. Share God’s peace with them. Give them a smile, a handshake, if they agree to it, a hug. Take this recognition of those around you right now, and leave this building today reminded that our neighbors don’t have to look like us or even have to be someone that we know in order for us to show compassion to them. Let us remember that in every time, the peace of God is always with us, especially when we are in community with others.

May the peace of God be always with you. Let us exchange signs of God’s peace with one another. Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Take Care

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

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Acts 11:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
  2. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
  3. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
  4. Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
  5. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
  6. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
  7. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
  8. fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
  9. Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
  10. Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
  11. Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
  12. Young men and women alike, old and young together!
  13. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

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

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

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

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

The Bach Experience

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

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Ms. Chicka:

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

As the Chapel associate for Lutheran Ministry, and a two (hopefully three) time alumnae, and a former musician, it is a great honor to be in the pulpit on Alumni Weekend, Reformation Sunday, and during our Bach series. After all, Bach was a Lutheran, even if the piece today is a Catholic Mass.

I’d like to share a personal achievement with all of you. Two weeks ago, I posted a Facebook status about forgoing the gym to eat an apple cider donut. That status received 51 likes. 51! That’s the most likes I think I’ve ever gotten on a single status update. It was a proud day in social media for me. As many of us in the congregation, I utilize Facebook and Twitter to update my friends, family, and acquaintances with the exciting, confusing, joyful, upsetting, and sometimes mundane aspects of my life. And I look to see what my other friends are up to, liking and commenting on their daily adventures and mishaps, keeping me connected with people I would’ve otherwise forgotten or lost touch with had it not been for social media.

I am at the elder end of Generation Y, the Millennial Generation.  A generation that has been able to engage with thoughts and ideas from all over the world through the internet. A generation that is accustomed to screens, would rather text than talk, and is not afraid to share information with others. A generation that is often referred to as the “Me” generation because of how frequently we reflect upon ourselves, and often what we expect for ourselves from society. A generation that can carefully craft and edit their lives to alter how others perceive them online. As a generalization, we are not well known for our humility or our privacy.

The Pharisee in the Parable today’s Gospel is an exemplar of orthopraxy – he does everything he is supposed to, and sometimes even more, like fasting twice a week. Can you imagine what his status updates would look like? His prayers are thankful, but they fail to show any sense of humility. In addition, he degrades those whom he perceives as sinners in his prayers of gratitude, setting himself up as one who should be exalted for his behavior. If he were truly humble before God, he would be able to relate and emphasize with the needs of those who are “sinners,” seeing them as human beings who deserve respect and may actually need his assistance, instead of setting himself apart from them.

The tax collector, on the other hand, exemplifies humility. He does not boast about his accomplishments or his status, he only asks for God’s mercy. He is an example of a marginalized member of the Jewish community perceived as a traitor because of his association with the Roman Empire. He is not expected to act in a humble manner, but in doing so in this parable emphasizes the importance of a humble attitude. Jesus uses the examples of the Pharisee and the tax collector to warn the disciples against becoming too full of themselves.

Much like the Pharisee, we have no problem patting ourselves on the back. To further our egoism, we anticipate those red notification balloons that let us know our friends “like” our statuses, or that we’ve been retweeted, or favorited.  We like, no, we crave attention from others. Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of the book, Being Alone Together, points out that our self-identity has become so closely tied with our online identity, that we’ve fallen into the trap of “I share, therefore I am.”[1] She explains that we don’t feel like we’re living unless we’re sharing our lives through some other media. We also have the ability to self-edit in an online world, meaning that we can shape the way others see us – leading others to never truly know our real selves if they only encounter us online. As a fellow alum of Boston University, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would say, we suffer from the “Drum Major Instinct,” “to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.”[2] It’s just that today we have more opportunities to gain this recognition and receive feedback from others that let us know we are as important as we hope and think.

Humility, coming from the Greek word “humus” meaning ground or dirt, lowers one’s self importance. It is a challenging virtue to cultivate, especially in a society that encourages selling yourself and enables some of our deepest desires for recognition through immediate gratification systems, like social networking. Additionally, we’re told that as individuals we are responsible for our own futures, making it difficult to see that help from others and selflessly helping others is essential if we’re going to make it through our lives. We are relational beings and to refuse to recognize the other is to fail to fully live into our human existence.

Religious life has a special way of emphasizing the need for humility, especially before God. In worship, we set aside a time in which we humble ourselves before God – during the confession. Dr. Jarrett – how does today’s piece tie in with this idea of humility?

Dr. Jarrett:

Well Jessica, all these answers will be revealed in the first volume of my forth-coming book Humility: And I How I Achieved It.

Joking aside, I’m delighted to spend a moment with you to explore our musical sermon of the day. First I should say that any encounter with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is as humbling as thrilling a prospect to any musician. Today, we present the first of four installments in our Bach Experience Series on his greatest masterpiece The Mass in B Minor. Long hailed as the ‘greatest piece of music of all time’, the B Minor Mass is something of a Holy Grail for musicians and music-lovers. In its pages, we find music’s apogee, a musical Everest and from these heights, we find that perspective only gained from awareness of the ultimate.

But let’s back up just a moment. Today we hear the entryway in this great musical cathedral – the Kyrie, with its three movements. Through its sounds, we are struck by the solemnity, the grandeur, the urgency, and the humbling scope of God’s mercy. And, in the second movement, as we implore Christ’s mercy, we find assurance of pardon in the ease and bounty of God’s redeeming grace through Christ Jesus. Cast as a duet for two sopranos, sung today by Carey Shunskis and Emily Culler, the joy, variety, and contentment of life’s sojourn through Christ’s mercy practically leaps from the score. The lovely (and dare I say Human) Christe, is book-ended by two grand and noble Kyries. Here is where Bach teaches us about his kind of humility.

With the possible exception of a Beethoven, I can hardly think of a bolder composer than Johann Sebastian Bach. As with Beethoven, we are aware of the presence of extraordinary genius. And though we may not be able to articulate the reason, the music of both composers has the capacity to embolden the listener, to encourage vitality in our living, to inspire a zeal for humanity, in the way that only music can. But the music of Bach pushes a little farther for me. Bach reveals our possibility, who we know we can be.

A year or two ago, President Clinton spoke down the street at Symphony Hall. And one of his themes was that of ‘Framework’. In his context, our system of government, our social contract, our order of society creates a ‘framework’ by which we can excel at citizenry. And when this breaks down, we lose our model, our framework, to serve and help one another.

For Bach, the empowering framework is form. He might have said, the framework for Love is the Law – or rather, the Law is fulfilled by the Love of Christ. And Love is fulfilled best when informed by the Law. You see, Bach’s shows us how to live, how to express, how to engage, how to be joyful, how to be thankful, but the key to that freedom is found only in humbling ones-self before the source of that grace. If we lose sight of our source – God’s communing grace – we diminish our possibility to make a difference. The Dean exhorts us often to live fully as an engaged people, people of salt and light. Bach provides a path for us, fully authentic, fully committed, forged and humbled by the framework of God’s redeeming love.

Ms. Chicka:

It is important for us to humble ourselves before God, recounting what we have done and what we have left undone. How we’ve supported others, and how we’ve left others down. However, we must claim a balance between our humility and our pride. We can still be confident in ourselves, but we must temper that confidence with self-awareness. We can be proud, but we must temper that pride with modesty. Humility does not mean that we must always be meek and subservient to others, but that we recognize that there are appropriate times to do both.

This sermon would be incomplete without mentioning Martin Luther. It is Reformation Sunday, after all. The great reformer led the way for many Protestant movements by questioning whether the Church’s practices truly reflected God’s will or were corrupted by human desire. Luther is not particularly known for his humility, but he valued humility as one of the foremost virtues of Christianity. Humility enables us to serve God in the best way possible. It allows us to serve our neighbor in a way that our neighbor deserves to be served: not for our own benefit, but out of love and the needs of the other. In “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther reminds his readers that in having faith in Christ and receiving the grace of God, one becomes a “little Christ,” whose actions should seek to serve others. Our faith enables us to receive the grace of God and frees us to choose to serve others as Christ served us.[3] It is only through the recognition of the self in relationship with God that one can find a sense of contentment that removes egoism and promotes humility, opening the individual into deeper relationship and fellowship with others.

MLK, Jr. agrees with Luther’s idea. He states that our Drum Major instinct is best used in serving others. By possessing a heart that is filled with the grace of God, our desire to be “the drum major” is found in God, through our Christian love and devotion toward others. It is a self-less love that attempts to improve life for others not because one is coerced into doing so, but because one recognizes the value and worth of that other human being and his or her right to live in a just and loving world.

I’ve been pretty hard on my generation up until now in this sermon, but I’d like to close with some good news. Although we are called “generation ME” we are also called the “Civic-minded generation.”[4] These two labels do not seem to go together, but increasingly, individuals in my generation are concerned about the status of others as well as themselves. Participation in community service organizations, volunteering, and vocalization on social issues are hallmarks of our generation. Our worldview has been shaped by major events – 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic meltdown, and most poignantly for those of us here in Boston, the Marathon Bombings last April.

Our reliance on technology not only allows us to express ourselves, but it allows us to see ourselves on the global landscape – having the opportunity to interact and react to global issues from our laptops, tablets, or smartphones. Social media enables us to maintain connections, and in times of crisis, make sure our community is safe and that those who need assistance can find it. We are more connected than ever, and in some cases, more willing to help than ever.  Serving others through volunteerism and activism requires a sense of humility in order for it to work. One must be willing to listen to the needs of another in order to truly serve them.  BU is a great example of service-minded individuals, as 4600 volunteers participated in over 100,000 hours of community service last year alone.[5] And even today, the Servant Team of Marsh Chapel is exemplifying this desire to serve others through their drive for goods for the homeless that will be assembled into “We Care” packages right here in the Chapel this afternoon.

So a call to action for my generation: let’s make our legacy known as the Civic-minded Generation, not Generation Me. I’m not saying that we have to completely give up on the self-reporting we do in social media, but perhaps we should pare it down and instead use these platforms as means to spread awareness. We need to strike the appropriate balance between our online lives and our real lives, making sure that these two not only align, but enable us to maintain our humility. We can only truly make connections with others at a basic level if we see them as people, not just names or pictures on a screen. We can only ensure the health of our communities by being willing to be open to others. It is only through humbly listening to and interacting with our brothers and sisters that we have the opportunity to learn and grow into a community of “little Christs.” Amen.

 

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

 


[1] Bill Moyers, “Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together,” TV segment, Moyers & Company, PBS, Aired October 20, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2013 http://billmoyers.com/segment/sherry-turkle-on-being-alone-together/

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon, delivered February 4, 1968, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed October 20, 2013. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_the_drum_major_instinct/

[3] Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim, First Principles of the Reformation, London: John Murray, 1883. Accessed October 20, 2013. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/luther-freedomchristian.asp

[4] Sharon Jayson, “Generation Y Gets Involved,” USA Today, October 24, 2006. Accessed October 20, 2013. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-10-23-gen-next-cover_x.htm

[5] Boston University Community Service Center, “Mission and History,” Accessed October 20, 2013 http://www.bu.edu/csc/about/mission-and-history/