Sunday
May 15

‘This I Believe’ Meditations

By Marsh Chapel

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John 13:31-35

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Text of all four meditations coming soon.

Sunday
May 8

Recognition. Relationship. Representation

By Marsh Chapel

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John 10:22-30

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As an elementary school student my parents took my siblings and me on a weeklong trip to Washington D.C. We spent most our days in and out of museums and monuments. I was particularly in awe of the National Air and Space Museum and remembered being captivated by the planes and rockets. We were in the gift shop, and I was mesmerized by a small triangular prism that fit in the palm of my hand. I kept turning it over and over to see how the prism would refract the light. On one side, ordinary light entered the prism through a translucent pane and on the other side out came visible parts of the color spectrum. If you like music, think of the image on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. White light enters one side of a triangle, and a rainbow comes out the other.

My mom bought the prism for me and wherever we went, I would take it out to see if it would work. Without fail, wherever there was light, the prism would make what looked like a rainbow to me. Whether we were at the zoo or the Lincoln memorial my prism would show me something present but unrecognizable. Without the prism, the light looked clear to me, just like the light in this room. It seemed like normal light. But with a triangular prism with precise panels cut at just the right angles, I could see something more than with just my naked eye. While there are a lot of scientific tools that do similar things, the simplicity of the prism stands out to me and it changed the way I engaged with the world. It is not as if I go around always aware that the light I see holds a spectrum of colors not visible to my eye by direct observation alone; yet I know that beneath the observable surface is a reality infinitely more complex than what it seems at the first glance. There is more to world and life than meets the eye.

At times, we catch glimpses of the depths of reality. We get lost gazing at the stars and wonder of it all, our breath is taken away by the view of a mountain top. We are overwhelmed by a hug at the right time, or the perfect mother’s day gift which makes someone feel seen and heard. Sometimes, we witness death and destruction or receive life altering news. We experience transcendence or even recognize our own finitude at such moments. These moments can invite us to deeper recognition. They shape and mold us. It would be nice if there was some sort of prism that we could keep in our pockets and hold up to those moment or some devise that would allow us to capture the way they make us feel. When life feels too complex or we just need a little more surety, we could hold a prism up to and go beneath the surface. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize what is going on beneath the surface or even that more is going on.

For some, prayer, Word, and Sacrament might be like prisms which invite us to marvel at God and Creation. They are means of grace which can be centering. In a curious sort of way, they ground us on the solid rock. A wonder, is that these means of grace are in some ways, just ordinary. Water for baptism, bread for communion, ink and paper for Scripture. Hands and words for prayer, food for fellowship. Ordinary, like how there is nothing special about the light that goes through a prism. In a certain sense, there is nothing special about water, bread, ink, and food but through scripture, reason, tradition, and experience we can see that they are extraordinary. The mundane can disclose the Divine. Many of our deepest understanding stem from realities that cannot be seen with the eye alone. Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience can reveal the unseen bonds are there. We might need a sort of prism to recognize them but they are present.

Our Gospel reading invites us to consider recognition with regard to Jesus. Amid winter, perhaps replete with cold breezes, at Solomons portico during the festival of dedication— people gathered around Jesus. They inquire whether he is the Messiah, first asking how long he will keep them in suspense. The question seems straightforward. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” A simple yes or no would suffice. But Jesus does not answer the question in the way the group would have liked. He answers it in a way that preserves tension, ambiguity, and mystery. He answers in way that maintains suspense, not necessarily for the sake of suspense, but because of the way recognition and faith relate. Faith is not proof but belief and trust. Jesus responds to the question, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Sometimes, to recognize the voice of the Shepherd, we need to belong to the sheep. It is perhaps not as linear as that suggests. Belonging leads to belief. There is a danger to this sort of thinking when it is closed. The danger of circular reasoning. Faith sometimes falls victim to circular reasoning which confines it. And yet, so many through history and now are able to keep the circle open through exposure to change and life. Yes, sometimes, to recognize the voice of the Shepherd, we need to first belong to the sheep. Belong to believe. I believe Lord, help my unbelief. But perhaps, Jesus words should not be taken so linearly or even circularly but as a spiral which moves up and down, as well as side to side. A spiral is not confined to one axis just as faith is not confined to the mind, the page, or circular reasoning. It is where faith and life intersect that Jesus’ words come to be true. The very situations and contexts we find ourselves in are not obstacles to believe in Jesus as the Good Shepherd but the time and place where the words take on truth in time.

Perhaps, many first learn to seek, then learn to recognize. We learn to take out our prisms and hold them up to the light to make sure the color spectrum is still present. Through time, we learn to trust in the consistency of the presence of the other such that we do not always need to pull out the prism to know that God is with us. A trouble though, is that moments are fleeting. The experience we once had of the divine that we were so confident of, passes into memory. The cobwebs of the mind settle fading the original passion and experience. Life goes on and the circle is more comfortable than the spiral. Belong to believe but keep belief exposed to God’s ongoing presence and work enlivens faith. At some point, we recognize the Good Shepherd not only because we are the sheep, but because God relates to us as the Good Shepherd.

Recognition invites relationship. It stems from relationship and points back toward relationship. When we are in relationship we trust in the presence across unseen bonds. After years of relationship with someone, we learn to recognize their responses, body language, and other subtle clues about what they are thinking or feeling. I do not always need to be present with my spouse to know she loves me and to trust her even as I do seek to affirm these realities when we are together. Eventually, relationship informs recognition, even self-recognition. In other words, it is through recognizing ourselves as the people of God that we come to learn about what it means to be people. To love. To be loved. This type of being must be opened by the world to break out of well-worn circles and go into unknown spirals. Recognition invites relationships. Relationship with a present but elusive God.

Paul Ricoeur wrote, “The small miracle of recognition, however, is to coat with presence the otherness of that which is over and gone.” Recognition is not just about seeing but also relationship and presence. It is a mode of thinking or being which relates in the world differently as a result of engagement and it allows difference. “The small miracle of recognition, however, is to coat with presence the otherness of that which is over and gone.” Applied to God we might say that God is bigger than my preferences, positions, and predilections. That God is present but also other than presence.

Every year my undergraduate school would print an “April fools” edition of the school newspaper. I confess that I looked forward to that edition more than any other throughout the year. It was the one I read with the most care and derived the most joy from. One year, the front-page headline was in reference to the school’s science building campaign. The school had been trying to raise funds for what felt like a decade to renovate and update the facility. It seemed that every major event would end with a drive for the science building. I was not a science major so I did not care much for the efforts or pay close attention, except that it felt like the campaign would never end. I did my science liberal arts credits but spent most of my time with the theology crowd; although, I wish I had better equipped myself in the sciences too.

The April fools front page had a big picture of the current science building with a headline that said something like: “God answers prayers for new science building” and underneath in slightly smaller letters  “The answer is no.”    “God answers prayers for new science building: the answer is no.” In one swell swoop, the headline provided a succent zinger that still makes me chuckle when I think about it, and says something profound about God. God does not always respond the way we would like nor does God always respond in ways that we would like.

God is present with us, especially through Christ in Word and Sacrament and in the caring actions of people around the world, but God also remains something other than what we can conceive or imagine. There is an otherness of God that keeps a tension with the closeness of God. Recognizing the otherness of God is important to keeping faith living. A living faith is one which draws from the rich images of Scripture, history, tradition, experience, reason, and other sources. It is not threatened by difference and does not succumb to ethnocentric tendencies. It is enlivened by a diversity of opinions, expressions, and images. A living faith is one which lets God be God and us be human. It trades degrees of certainty and closedness for more porous boundaries and explorations. It does not force itself onto others, especially by taking rights aways. It knows that sometimes, God answers prayer with “no,” that God is sometimes more elusive than we would prefer, and sometimes Jesus refuses to break the suspense and tension we desperately want broken.

And yet, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Put differently, my sheep recognize my voice and are in relationship with me. Recognition, relationship go together and extend over into representation. When we are counted among the sheep recognizing the shepherd and in relationship with the Good Shepherd, we become representations. That is the root of Christians afterall, little Christs. We represent Christ when we act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly with the Good Shepherd.

Across our lectionary texts today, we see the common pastoral images for and used by Christ. We hear Christ refer to his people as sheep. The Johannine passage follows one of the “I am” sayings. Christ refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. “11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The Psalm for the day is perhaps the most familiar. “The Lord is my shepherd.” Revelation invites us to behold Christ, the lamb of God, around a host of worshippers. A diverse host from across boundaries which emphasizes diverse and universal aspects of the people of God. These bucolic and pastoral images invite us to reflect on the nearness of God. The presence of Christ. They invite us to peer into the world and boldly affirm Immanuel- God with us. They invite us to recognize through relationship and to represent.

There is, of course, a caution though. God is not mere light which a prism can fully reveal. God is greater than that which we can imagine and therefore, we must also hold onto the otherness of God.  We relate with God and the world as an unfolding spiral where we are invited into deeper love.

We live in the suspense that Christ refused to do away with. "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." It might not be that exact question for you but perhaps it is something similar. How long do I have to live with the unknown of unemployment when I trust in God’s provision? How long do I have to lament over the lost pandemic time and losing loved ones? How long will machines of war rake in profits while food rots unused.

We live in a world full of suspense. I cannot break the suspense for you today. There are times when irresolution speaks louder than resolution but amid the suspense, I offer you the prism and the spiral. Recognition – Relationship – Representation

 

- Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens, PhD Candidate in Homiletics at BU School of Theology

Sunday
May 1

Communion Mediation- Sunday, May 1, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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John 21:1-19

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The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us that we might ever be
his living servant people, by his own death set free.

Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.  His voice, although we often mistake or mishear or misunderstand it, carries over from shore to sea, from heaven to earth.  For the souls gathered here today, that voice—His voice—makes life worth living.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary nights or days or catches of fish or meals or questions or answers or friendships or loves or losses.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary moments.  When the Master calls from the shoreline, “children…have you…cast the net…bring some fish…have breakfast”, no one who hears will dare ask, “And who are you?”.  We dare not.  For we know.  Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.

His disciples stumble through all the magic and grit of a fishing expedition.  Many of us still find some magic in fishing, though few of us have had to depend on this sport for sustenance.  Still—we know the thrill of it!  And the disappointment.  The roll of the boat with each passing wave.  The smell of the water and the wind.  The feel of the fish, the sounds of cleaning, the sky, a scent of rain:  this is our life, too.  All night long, dropping the nets, trawling, lifting the nets with a heave.  And catching nothing.  The magic comes with the connection of time and space—being at the right place at the right time.  How every fisherman would like to know the right place and the right time.  It’s magic!  The tug on the line!  The jolt to the pole!  The humming of the reel!  A catch.  And woe to the sandy-haired, freckle faced girl or boy (age 12 or 90) who cannot feel the thrill of being at the right place at the right time!

John Stewart Mill once wrote that understanding the chemistry of a pink sunset did not diminish at all his profound sense of wonder at sunset beauty.  In fact, we might add, real understanding heightens true apprehension.

Easter is a season of new beginnings. The promise of resurrection is upon us.  Resurrection disarms fear.  Resurrection ignores defeat.  Resurrection displaces and replaces loneliness.  Resurrection will not abide the voice that whispers, “There’s nothing extraordinary here.  There’s no reason for gaiety, excitement, sobriety or wonder.”  Resurrection will not abide the easy and the cheap.  Resurrection takes a day-break catch, a charcoal fire, a dawn mist, fish, bread, and hungry, weary travelers, and reveals the Lord present, and Peter at the table.

The failing of this world, whether we see it more clearly in the superstition of religion, the idolatry of politics, or the hypocrisy of social life, has its root in blindness to the extraordinary.  Because we are unholy, we think God must be, too.  But hear—and today taste—the good news!  The King of love his table spreads.  And the humblest meal becomes—Breakfast with Jesus.

Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
Our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name professing and at one table fed,
to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit Led.

Raymond Brown taught us that 21 is an added account of a post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus in Galilee, which is used to show how Jesus provided for the needs of the church. The gospel never circulated without 21, which is an Appendix, supplement, or epilogue, including many stylistic differences, though the material drawn is from the same ‘general reservoir of Johannine tradition’, and is part completion and part correction? (RAH). Ecclesiastical and Eucharistic and Eschatology form the symbolism of the chapter.  C H Dodd taught us: ‘The naïve conception of Christ’s second advent in 21: 22 is unlike anything else in the Fourth Gospel’.  CK Barrett suggests that chapter 21 be read as if it were a metaphorical account of the birth of the early Christian church for the purpose of explicating the different, yet equally important, roles of Peter and the beloved disciple, penned by a second author (577). Read this way, we are to see the disciples as “catching men”, in “pastoral ministry and historical-theological testimony” (587).

That is, the Gospel of John ended originally with Chapter 20: These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).   And in all the twenty chapters, we have a glorious celebration of Jesus, Spirit, Cross, Resurrection, Life, Word, Love, Truth.  But not a word about church. Not a single word about institutional life, nor about leadership, nor about organization, nor about just how one is supposed to live, with others, by faith, in community.  For John, a new commandment is sufficient:  love one another.  For John, a new reality abides:  Spirit.  Live in the spirit and love in the spirit and all will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well, as Hildegard wrote centuries later.

But sometime in the years and decades following the conclusion of John in chapter 20, a later writer added our reading today.  Why?  Well, because it turns out that only love and spirit alone are not enough.  You need leadership.  So, Peter is rehabilitated and jumps into the lake fully clothed.  You need evangelism.  So, we have the quintessential symbol of evangelism included, fish and fishing and catch of 153.  You need stewardship.  So, we have the quintessential symbol of stewardship, the tending of sheep, with the unwritten subtext being the joy of tithing.  Do you love?  Then feed, then tend, then feed, then tend.  Along comes John 21, most probably a later addition, to amend by insertion: in a word, institutions matter.

The gospel today for us today is a ringing challenge, asking in the season of resurrection, just how faithful we have been to the care and feeding of the institutions in life that make life worth living.  We have had a frightful reminder of this word in faith over the last two years.  Read our Dean of Public Health, Sandro Galea, and his ringing challenge this week that we get religion, get religion, about investment in public health AND ITS INSTITUTIONS, including the Center for Disease Control.  We have had a frightful reminder and ringing challenge through this last year, following January 6, that we get religion, that we get religion about attention to democracy AND ITS INSTITUTIONS, including the Congress of the United States.  But you, friends, have had the benefit of such reminders and ringing challenges before.  Do you remember Baccalaureate Sunday, May 2018, here in Marsh Chapel?  After nine days and evenings of remembrance of the Martin Luther King Jr., the month before, including sermons by Governor Deval Patrick and Dr. Cornell William Brooks, come late May, we had two special guests, one sitting three pews from the pulpit, and sitting two pews from the narthex.  One a harbinger of health and its institutional needs, and one a greeting from government and its institutional needs, both honored in a prescient way by BU that year.  In front of the pulpit, John Lewis. Back by the narthex, Anthony Fauci.  Beloved, hear the Gospel of John 21:  institutions matter, they really matter

Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
But soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

The church as an institution matters.  Ask John Wesley.

The government as an institution matters. Ask John Lewis.

The post office as an institution matters.  Ask Ben Franklin.

Public Health organizations as institutions matter.  Ask Sandro Galea.

The CDC as an institution matters. Anthony Fauci.

The European Union and NATO as institutions matter.  Ask Vladimir Zelensky.

And one more.  Jesus came to save us from our sins, not from the need to use our minds.

Marsh Chapel as an institution matters.  The public ordered worship of Almighty God is not a matter of indifference, to you, nor to the current dean of the Chapel.  Come Sunday, in worship, one may hear and heed an intervening word, and be saved from lasting loneliness, abject anxiety, deep depression, or worse.  Community, meaning, belonging, empowerment, all are here, and you, beloved, you are offering these things, week by week.  Otherwise a college campus becomes a place with contact but not connection, a place with contact but nof fellowship, a place of contact without communion. You have something to offer, nothing to defend, and everything to share.

Institutions matter.

Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of our war,
we wait the consummation of peace forevermore,
till with the vision glorious our longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

Therefore, Christian people, as we work and fight, play and pray this week, let us resist with joy all that cheapens life, all that dishonors God, all that mistakes our ordinary sin for the extraordinary love, power, mercy and grace.   Let the sacrament sustain and nourish us.  In Remembrance.  In Presence.  In Thanksgiving.  Let the sacrament sustain and nourish us.  In bread and cup and life.

Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us. Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us. Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us.

Yet she on earth hath union

With God the Three in One

And mystic sweet communion

With those whose rest is won

O happy ones and holy

Lord give us grace that we

Like them the meek and lowly

On high may dwell with Thee.

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

Sunday
April 24

Faithful Resilience

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20:19-31

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Recently, my husband and I have started a new Saturday morning ritual. We get up reasonably early for a Saturday morning and head out to pick up a coffee and take a walk in our neighboring areas. Sometimes we wander the paths that track alongside the Charles River, noticing the birds that make their ways to the shoreline, weaving in and out of wooded areas that intersect with roads and town squares. Sometimes we explore Mount Auburn Cemetery, a gorgeous mix of cultivated trees, flowers, ponds, and wildlife in the midst of a functioning burial ground – a national historic landmark in its own right that draws birders, historians, and scientists doing urban ecological research to its grounds. Most recently, we found our way to Fresh Pond, aided by the trails the local Departments of Conservation & Recreation have built to provide car-free paths through Watertown and Cambridge. Each of these walks takes us about an hour and a half to up to two hours. We make our way, noticing the world around us, guessing at tree and bird species (Mt Auburn lets us cheat by having placards on all of their trees), greeting walkers/runners/dog owners as we come across them, and allowing ourselves to feel closer to something bigger than ourselves.

We took up this practice during the early days pandemic. You probably remember that when we were told to stay home and away from others, going outdoors for a walk was one of the few things public officials encouraged. Get outside. Get fresh air. Get some exercise. Being cooped up indoors for so long isn’t good for your mental health. It was one of the “safe” options when we knew little about the coronavirus and fear of getting sick or getting others sick was our dominant thought. In a time of high anxiety, the nature outside our front door helped us feel, if you will excuse the pun, more grounded.

Walking these areas also helped us grow in appreciation for where we live. Despite our urban landscape, we can easily access these greenspaces. We are lucky and recognize that not everyone has such access. It also made us realize nature’s healing properties. And it’s not just us thinking it helped our moods. Studies have shown that connections with nature can help improve individuals’ mental and physical health, decreasing anxiety and depression, easing muscle tension and lowering blood pressure and even decreasing the duration of hospital stays.[1] We don’t put in headphones on these walks so we can hear the birds singing, the lapping of water at the edges of the rivers and ponds. We occasionally take our walks on brutally cold or rainy mornings (usually more my husband’s idea than mine) but we get to see animals we might not otherwise encounter and appreciate the cycles of the seasons and weather patterns in nature revealing itself to us. These walks helped us get through the long stretches of us only seeing each other during lockdown. It broke up our days that seemed to run together. And now, it’s something that we can do to connect with each other after a busy week of work.

Nature has taught us resilience. We have seen it take over abandoned areas, with trees and grasses pushing through old pavement. We are reminded of the renewal experienced each year as new buds and blooms inevitably begin to grow during the grayest days of March and April. Nature also reveals the complexity of the world around us. The water levels of the Charles remind us of whether we’ve been having too much or too little rain. The presence of certain wildlife, or lack thereof, has made us question how human interference has or has not created problems. Mostly, it gives us hope and a sense of being connected to the Divine through the creation. Instead of viewing the world through our computer screens, which is something I will admit has taken up too much of my time lately, getting out into our local environment helps us to feel more complete. It makes us more aware. It refuels us. It is healing in a world that increasingly feels more and more out of control.

In today’s Gospel we encounter the disciples in a locked room on the first day of the week. They are fearful. Their world has been turned upside down by the recent events they’ve experienced. They’ve lost their leader. The state executed Jesus and now, who knows, they might be next because they are his followers. Hiding appears to be the best option because there is so much uncertainty around them. Despite the fact that Jesus has told the disciples that his time will come and that they will have to continue his ministry without him, they are still terrified. They were told to believe and continue on and yet they find it hard to in their present circumstances. Fear overtakes their faith, it freezes them and causes them to want to remain hidden from the world. They keep themselves hidden because they cannot move on. They are directionless and have only each other to cling to in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death.

Jesus then appears through the locked door meant to keep the outside world “out there” and the disciples safe “in here”. He wishes peace upon them and breathes the Holy Spirit on them. They recognize him through his repetition of peace, the words he shares with them. The whole thing is completely beyond comprehension for the disciples. No one expected a week after his death, that Jesus would appear, least of all the disciples who didn’t seem to believe Mary Magdelene’s testimony from the day of his resurrection. Everything is once again upended by his appearance, even if for a short time. However, Jesus’ words calm them and they recognize their savior.

Jesus’ presence fosters the disciples’ resilience. While Jesus had intended for his words before his death to provide a reminder to the disciples of how they were to proceed after he was no longer with them, they needed an extra boost of his presence and the work of the Holy Spirit to motivate them to proclaim the good news. They find Thomas, who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared and share the good news that Mary and Jesus have shared with them. Thomas, in turn, doesn’t believe them. Thomas has always been a questioner, a seeker. You may remember that in chapter 14, after Jesus telling the disciples that he is preparing a place for them with God, Thomas states that they do not know where he is going and therefore they cannot know the way. Jesus replies that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Evidently all of the disciples forgot this exchange. Thomas too comes to recognize Jesus’ power in his second appearance to the disciples. It is not that Thomas doubts, but that he wants to experience what the other disciples saw the week prior. The author of the Gospel instills in us as readers that we too should trust in Jesus’ resurrection not because we will be able to physically witness it as the disciples did but because we have faith in God. Thomas questions because he wants to be sure in his faith in God, securing and owning his faith. Thomas’ questioning is a form of resilience because it helps him to grow into his faith, finally confessing “My Lord and My God” when he encounters Jesus.

The resurrection and these subsequent appearances by Jesus to the disciples (including Mary) remind us of the boldness of our faith. Our Christian tradition is rooted in making a way out of no way. The impossible becomes possible. Refueled and reoriented by Jesus’ appearance and his breathing of the Holy Spirit on them, the disciples are now ready to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ ministry to others. Much like the second Genesis creation narrative, in which God breathes the breath of life into human beings, Jesus’ breath offers new life of ministry and resiliency to the disciples.

In the past few years, it may have felt as though we are in need of the Holy Spirit’s presence to build our resilience. Grappling with the on-going pandemic and anxieties around social behavior (should I continue to wear my mask? Is it safe to travel? Should I feel guilty about returning to some normalcy?), a war erupting in Eastern Europe, continued inflation, and to top it off, the looming challenges we are facing due to climate change, we may want to refuse to accept reality. It is easier to pretend these things are not affecting us because the grief and discomfort of facing these global challenges are just too much for us to wrap our heads around. We may want to lock ourselves away and try to hide out of fear of what the future might hold.

Looking at this time in our collective history, one might think that it would cause us to come together and be more willing to support one another. To anticipate global phenomena, such as a pandemic, and find ways to prevent or lessen their impact. This hasn’t been the case. For many, climate change and related issues of pollution and social and economic harm have dropped in people’s awareness. Rising gas prices have not caused our nation to seek out alternatives, but rather to double down on our dependence on fossil fuel consumption. War in Ukraine is motivated not just by ideological claims of Russian ethnic identity (as claimed by the Russian government) but also by the vast resources found within Ukrainian soil. Ukraine has the second largest natural gas reserves in Europe, as well as the sixth largest coal reserves. These fossil fuel deposits are generally found in the eastern part of Ukraine, which just so happens to be the area that the Russian government is interested in annexing back into Russian territory. Possessing energy means possessing power in our current global economy.[2]

How can we hope to be resilient in times when things seem so bleak? When some of us can’t even bare to look at the news because it only seems to be going from bad to worse? When we’re already experiencing the effects of global climate change – droughts, wildfires, flooding, pandemics – and it feels like it’s too late? When we find ourselves trapped in a metaphorical locked room afraid to face what is on the other side of the door?

Resiliency is thought to come from a variety of sources. Building connections, fostering wellness, finding purpose, and seeking help when needed, all help us through difficult times.[3] We see some of these in the disciples through their gathering and relying on one another in the absence of Jesus, and then their motivation to go out into the world to spread the word of his life and ministry to others. Coming together offers us the opportunity to support one another through challenging times, to have diverse perspectives and ways of approaching problems, to work together to make a way out of no way. Coming together with the Earth helps us to better understand its systems and the ways our actions impact it. The Holy Spirit binds us together to make care of the Earth a priority. Jesus’ ministry provides an example of seeking justice and healing for our neighbors, and our faith in his ministry bolsters us to face the challenges of today.

This past Friday was Earth Day. Earth Day generally encourages us to appreciate the Earth for how it supports us as well as cause us to examine the ways we interact with it and its many systems. A celebration of our shared commitment to the Earth while also bringing attention to the harmful and exploitative injustices tied to our use and misuse of Earth’s resources. COVID brought into sharp focus the ways in which our global community is deeply connected. Not only has the specter of the virus caused us to change our lives in drastic ways, it made social and economic disparities even more apparent. A pandemic itself can be the result of loss of biodiversity, harming the Earth’s own resiliency in preventing the ways in which natural systems can heal themselves. Earth’s health affects our own health and continuing to disrupt those systems will only bring harm to ourselves. Failure to see ourselves as a part of rather than separate from “nature” will diminish our ability to aid in its resilience.

If we do not learn some climate resiliency now and attempt to dampen the effects of climate change, we will find ourselves forced to adapt. As people of God, of the resurrected Christ, we are a resilient people. We are a people who through faith, have hope for the world. We also acknowledge the ways we fall short and the responsibility we have to care for one another. As the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, stated on 2021’s Earth Day “it is central to our holy calling to treasure the earth and care for it as our home, fully integrating creation care into our love of God, neighbor and all in the environment.”[4] Despite how deeply distraught we might feel in light of climate change or other global challenges, we have the ability to find resilience in a world that will inevitably change and have more challenges in coming years. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Orthodox Christian Churches, also known as the Green Patriarch offers these words of hope and resilience:

"It is never too late. God’s world has incredible healing powers; and human choices can change the tide in global warming. Within a single generation, we could steer earth toward our children’s future. With God’s blessing and help, that generation can begin now. For the first time in the history of our world, we recognize that our decisions and choices directly impact the environment. It is up to us to shape our future; it is up to us to choose our destiny. Breaking the vicious circle of ecological degradation is a choice with which we are uniquely endowed, at this crucial moment in the history of our planet."[5]

My call to you this Earth Day Sunday is to find ways you can become resilient and create change in this world. Acknowledge the ways you have fallen short in your care and concern for the Earth, repent of those sins, and work to remediate them. Find something you are passionate about and start there. Want to feel closer to nature or God? Schedule time to spend outside and see how it makes you more aware of your surroundings. Feel God’s presence in creation and the intricate ways we are connected to our environment. Find ways to connect with others around environmental issues and ways you feel motivated to address them. Are you passionate about economic or racial justice issues? Find out how these are connected to environmental justice and how they influence each other. Speak truth to power by holding government officials and corporations responsible for failing to protect and actively harming the Earth. Help communities of color and low-income communities gain access to climate resiliency planning so that they don’t have to bear the brunt of climate change effects.

There are ways we can build our resilience through our faith and help to envision a future full of hope adapting to the changes in our Earthly home. Even though we may be fearful about the future, we are not helpless. We are at a pivotal point in Earth’s history in which we can effect change. We trust in the risen Lord who forgives our sins and promises the establishment of a new creation, one in which we can aid in bringing about, full of justice and righteousness.  Amen.

[1] Miyazaki, Yoshifumi, et al. “A Review of the Benefits of Nature Experiences: More than Meets the Eye,” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Aug; 14(8): 864. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580568/

[2] David Knight Legg “Putin’s Ukraine Invasion Is About Energy and Natural Resources,” The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/putins-ukraine-invasion-is-an-energy-heist-natural-gas-russia-ukraine-invasion-oil-nato-conflict-11649186174

[3] David Palmiter, et al. “Building your resilience,” American Psychological Association: Psychology Topics, Updated February 1, 2020. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience

[4] “Earth Day statement from Bishop Eaton,” ELCA, 4/13/2021 https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/8097?_ga=2.50482976.8403975.1650755927-1272713125.1631808351

[5] Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarchate Press Office, “Environmental Justice and Peace: Quotes from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,” https://www.orthodoxcouncil.org/-the-green-patriarch-

 

-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Sunday
April 17

Easter Presence

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 24:1-12

Click here to hear just the sermon

 

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

He went home, amazed… (Gk: thaumazon) …He marveled, he wondered, he was rocked by amazement.  Peter, the rock on which the church, and the faith of the church, are built, here, in this verse added by a later scribe, went home…amazed.  There is no God language here.  No G-O-D.  There is no theological language, no God-talk here.  On Easter.  On Easter!  No.  If such God-talk makes you skittish, uncomfortable, makes you question whether you have a place at the Easter table, hear today’s Gospel: Easter sings Presence. Easter sings presence!

One summer some years ago our family made a three-day trip to Maine.  We stopped in Kennebunkport and swam in the ocean.  That day the newspaper carried a little book review of a short book called On Presence.  The review noted that the book had been written by Ralph Harper, an unknown Episcopal priest in Maryland, who also taught a religion course at the local college.  The book won a prestigious prize.  The author was quoted as saying, among other things, ‘After preaching almost every Sunday for the past 31 years, I know how hard it is to say anything honest’.  I stuffed the review in my shirt pocket.  I finally bought the book (though nine months later).  The book is about presence, sense of presence and practice of the presence of God.  It is about being amazed, amazed as was Peter.

Harper writes, we have too short a time on this earth to pass up any chance to find words and images to live by.  I believe almost everyone is capable of being moved by some person, place, (part of) nature, or individual work of art.  Of course, there is instability and incoherence in and about us all the time.  There is also the inexhaustible store of Being to keep us permanently in awe.

Harper writes, "Not everything can be said easily, except claims of absolute affirmation or denial. In time, most things can be said clearly, at least. And some of these things are so important that we should do everything we can to make them clear. Presence is one of those things. It is not a word that we should allow anyone to rule out of our vocabulary." (120)

This is our first Easter together since 2019.  It is good to see you.  Here is the Easter Gospel after two years in the Covid cave:  Easter Presence.

Howard Thurman, the Dean of Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 1953-1965, found God through poetry, through psalms, and through paintings.  Last week, Samuel Wells, formerly of Duke Chapel, and now in the pulpit of St. Martin the Fields, began his sober sermon, ‘Preaching in Perilous Times’, a meditation on the 23 Psalm, with, yes, Howard Thurman.  Presence, say in a poem.  A sense of presence, say in a psalm.  The practice of presence, say in a painting.

That is, our beloved former dean, Howard Thurman, was a poetic theologian, a theological poet.  Presence, his sense of presence, his practice of presence, intimate to the natural world, made him so.  He was 100 years ahead of his time 50 years ago, so he is still 50 years ahead of me!  Late at night, along his beloved Daytona Beach, he remembered walking alone and with his feet in the sand.

He wrote, ‘the ocean and the night surrounded my little life with a reassurance that could not be affronted by any human behavior.  The ocean at night gave me a sense of timelessness, of existing beyond the ebb and flow of consciousness.  Death would be a small thing I felt in the sweep of that natural embrace.’

Presence.  Presence of mind. (A great phrase).  It happened that a wonderful, beloved professor died in mid-lecture.  Later, the fifteen students from the class were gathered.  After initial awkwardness, there was a full presence in the room as they spoke.  One spoke a soliloquy on trauma and grief.  One gave a soliloquy on connection in hardship. One spoke a soliloquy on pride and love.  One gave a soliloquy on how others, his faculty friends, who had known him so much longer, might be hurting so much more.  ‘Let’s go visit them and offer our condolences’, one said.  And they did.  It was a powerful, poetic moment.  Where did we ever get the idea that 20-year-olds cannot say and do great things?

Presence.  Presence of mind. Last week Gerda Weissmann Klein, died at age 97, a survivor of the holocaust.  Before he was taken from her in 1942, her father implored her, if she was taken, to wear her ski boots, which she protested because it was summer.  But she did so.  By 1945 she was being marched 350 miles.  She survived, ‘in part she said because while many others wore sandals, she had her ski boots…and her imagination’ (NYT 4/9/22).

Today, Easter, 2022, may you discover or be discovered by such poetry, such presence of mind.

Dean Thurman was a lover of the Psalms.  Presence, his sense of presence, his practice of presence, intimate to the natural world, led him so. You cannot find, or know, Thurman without worship, sacrament, prayer, singing, spirituals, preaching—without religion.  And particularly the Psalms.  He had a favorite, or two.  Perhaps you do as well.  Pick two and learn them by heart this year.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

A sense of presence.  Samuel Terrien taught us:  Presence….does not alter nature, but changes history…through the character and lives of women and men….The elusive presence of…a walking not a sitting God, a God nomadic, hidden, elusive and free…a God of tent not temple, of ear not eye, of name not glory…a God who creates and calls out a spiritual interiority, a commission by command…a God of time not space, of grace not place…whose faith allows one to translate love for God into actual behavior in society…(393)

 Yet for some, perhaps for you, come Easter, the three letters, G-O-D, may be more fence than doorway.  Not only the agnostics and apophatics, but also, and more-so, the average person, the ‘reasonable man’ of insurance law, often stumbles on those three letters.  And here in part is why:  if God is God, he is not good, and if God is good he is not God.  That is, it is a hard to square the concentric circles of love and power, power and love.  20,000 innocent civilians have been slaughtered this month in Mariupol alone, according to recent estimates. We are tuned in because they lived in homes like those in Boston.  They shopped in stores resembling our own.  They used social media and the internet as do you.  They rode transit, owned cars, vacationed in Barcelona, spoke multiple languages and were part of the new or renewed Russian appetite for slaughter.  If God could stop that and didn’t, he is not good.  If God would stop it and couldn’t, he is not God.  For some, hence, the three letters, G-O-D, are more fence than doorway.  Nor does it help that our halting, partial overtures to a sound, liberal, biblical theology have left us shorn of vocabulary. Sin. We hardly name it.  Death.  We rarely face it.  The daily threat of meaningless.  We barely conceive it.  And then along comes a five-year political crisis for American democracy.  And then along comes a two- year hibernation in the COVID cave.  And then along comes Ukraine, with a whiff of nuclear bombast, nuclear bomblast, in the air.  January 6. 1 million dead. A corpse with hands tied behind the back. Creation, we see.  Salvation, we assume.  But fall?  The fallenness of creation?  The abject, dire, need, one beggar telling another where both can find bread, the impossible possibility in fallenness of salvation?  We were absent that day, or took another course, not that there is any.  Or we thought we had bigger fish to fry.  We in five years, in two years, in five weeks and two days, have had a refresher course in the need for liberal biblical theology.  Sin is the absence of God.  Death is the absence of God.  Meaninglessness is the absence of God.  But you, it may well be, are not at ease with those three letters.  They seem a fancy, a fiction, an antique mistake.

Sometimes they seem so to me, too—though in fact and full I hold fast to the ancient traditions and language—yet sometimes they seem so to me, too, at least given our current cultural, linguistic incapacity, our cultural, linguistic exclusion of the three letters, GOD. So, the Gospel offers an Easter gift, a saving one, another word, that means GOD, but may say so better, at least for some, for a time, in our time.  The word is PRESENCE.   A back porch entry, not a front porch one.   With Thurman, and with Peter today, you may find wonder, marvel, and amazement, in presence.  Peter was amazed…

Today, Easter, 2022, may you discover or be discovered by such a sense of presence, perhaps this season a doorway for you to faith, rather than a fence.

 Thurman was a painter.  He did paint with brush and canvass, and loved to depict penguins, among other figures.  Presence, his sense of presence, his practice of presence, intimate to the natural world, led him so.  But they were the verbal paintings, the metaphors in speech, that were his greatest gifts.  One favorite was ‘a crown to grow into’.  A crown is placed over our heads the for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.

Sometimes, as Ralph Harper wrote, we need the height of presence: “When I am moved by a painting or by music, by clouds passing in a clear night sky, by the soughing of pines in the early spring, I feel the distance between me and art and nature dissolve to some degree, and I feel at ease. I feel that what I know makes me more myself than I knew before. This is how the saints felt about God, and I see in my own experience elements that I share with the saints and prophets, the philosophers and priests.” (6)

Our grandmother loved Brother Lawrence, and his book, The Practice of the Presence of God.  (John Wesley also loved the book).  Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite lay brother, who was injured in battle, and became a household servant, a valet, a cook, a dishwasher.  My grandmother grew up near Cooperstown, driving a horse and buggy to the milk station, skating on the Hudson, once all the way to Poughkeepsie, later on driving a car like she drove a horse and buggy, side to side, born 25 years before suffrage, posting little notes on her kitchen door like, ‘do one thing:  there, you’ve done one thing’, and, ‘do you know who I like to cook a big meal for? ANYBODY’, teaching the Sunday school class no one else wanted, for 6th grade boys, wearing out the Jehovah Witnesses when they came to call (‘can’t you stay a little bit longer’?), with her detailed, exacting knowledge of the Old Testament, and in all and with all, living day by day to ask respectful questions, and then listen intently to the responses.  She loved the dishwasher of the 17th century.

He was all about presence.

Brother Lawrence: ‘the time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.

Brother Lawrence: ‘do not be discouraged…often, in the beginning, you will think that you are wasting time, but you must go on, be determined and persevere in it until death, despite all the difficulties.

Today, Easter 2022, may you discover or be discovered by such a rhetorical portrait, a word painting, a new favorite or an old one.

 

Presence.  A sense of presence.  The practice of presence. The faithfulness of Marsh Chapel, its fine lay leadership past and present, the beauty of its sanctuary, and its gifts of friendship for those near and far, are a lasting grace and help us.  In a world in which there is so much wrong, we need one another to help us hold fast to what is good—a poem, a psalm, a painting. Even today.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

He went home, amazed…(Gk: thaumazon)…He marveled, he wondered, he was rocked by amazement.  In Easter Presence, may we too marvel, wonder and be rocked by amazement.  It is Easter!  Can you allow a bit of presence to touch your heart?

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

Sunday
April 10

The Bach Experience- Sunday, April 10, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 19:28-40

Click here to hear just the sermon

Dean Hill:

It is not so long ago that we greeting Jesus at his nativity, singing carols and lighting candles of hope.  It is not so long ago that we witnessed his growth in wisdom and stature, in the knowledge and love of God, while as a teenager he taught in the temple.  It is not so long ago that this mighty young man Jesus stooped, fully human, for baptism in the surging river Jordan, the river of death and life.  It is not so long ago that we saw him take up his ministry among us, preaching and teaching and healing.  It is not so long ago that with Peter and James and John we saw him ascend the Mountain of the Transfiguration.  With him have we walked this Lent, step by step.

And now it is time to take the full measure of this Man, and to have the courage to let Him take our full measure, too.  The crisp air and vistas of the mountain pass have fed our souls.  But now it is time to head home, and turn our face to Jerusalem.

The road down the Mount of Olives, or down any mountain, can tax the traveler.  It reminds us all of earlier homecomings.

Odysseus walking the last few miles to Thebes.  Socrates walking to the center of Athens and the cup of hemlock.  Richard the Lionhearted sailing the English Channel, heading home.  A prodigal son, scuffling up the last mile of country road toward a dreaded homecoming, as we heard two weeks ago.  You, returning at last to whatever you have long avoided, wandering as you have in the Galilee of the rest of life.  At last, there is the Emerald City, and the road home.

Today, I raise just one question.  What was Jesus’ state of mind, what was on his mind and heart, as he entered the Holy City?

It is perilous, even arrogant, at this late date and from this great distance, to try to imagine Jesus’ state of mind as he descends the Mountain and enters the City.

Albert Schweitzer, before he went of to heal the jungle sick, showed convincingly how inevitably errant are most such attempts.  We paint our own inner lives into the life of Jesus, when so we try to see what cannot be seen in Scripture.  And yet, particularly at this point in his journey, at the entrance into the Holy City, and on the threshold of his own death, we are haunted—are we not?—by the desire to see what Jesus saw and feel what he felt and sense what he did sense, coming home.

Now Jesus is walking down into the city, down off the mountain, and down into the heart of his destiny.  He is going to his grave.

Some of the Gospel today, as Jesus heads home, is too true to be good.  He is not at home, not at home, in a world of injustice, abuse, violence, and death.  For him, in such a benighted world, there is no place like home.  He is not at home under the rubble of Ukraine.  And need to recall and recover our own tragic sense of life, and our own use of biblical terms like sin, like death, like the threat of meaninglessness.

As are we all, though it seems sometimes to be a conspiratorially well-kept secret.  We all are walking down the lenten mountain and into our lasting, our last future.  Every one of us is going to die.  We are going home.

Here is a possible sentiment in Jesus’ heart and mind as he descends the Mount of Olives.

He looks back upon his ministry and feels that there is no place like home.   He has found no lasting nest on earth, no lasting crib, no lasting domicile.   He has found opposition and rejection.  He has encountered misunderstanding and criticism.  To a harsh world he has brought a gentle manner.  To a wolfish world he has brought the labor of love.  To a selfish community he has brought the summons to service.  To an inconsistent dozen disciples, he has brought the steady presence of peace.   He has not found a home, not here.   There is no place like home, for Jesus, descending the Mount of Olives.   He has even said of himself, “foxes have their holes, and birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Some of greatest sentences ever written in English are devoted to a similar ennui, a similar existential vagrancy, Hamlet’s soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be’

And those of you who have been shot out of the saddle, riding for a righteous cause, as you dust yourselves off and bind your wounds, do so in the best of company, in the company of the crucified, for whom, on this green earth, as yet, there is no place like home.   But let me ask you something.  What other saddle would have rather ridden?  Some losing causes are worth support even in defeat.  I would rather be shot out of the right saddle than to canter comfortably all the live long day in the wrong saddle.  So dust off, bind the wound, and get ready to ride again.  We have not a person, dollar, idea or dream to spare, locally, nationally, or globally.  Not one.  And it is, let us confess it, an uphill pull.  But there is no other saddle you would ride in, for all the risk.  This is the place to be!

This hunger for home, this is what Paul meant:  this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Our beautiful Palm Sunday Bach Cantata may arouse again this hunger for home.  Dr. Jarrett, how best shall we listen this morning?

 

Dr. Scott Jarrett

This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. A slight momentary affliction. One could be forgiven for thinking it a little churlish of Paul to categorize the human condition as a momentary affliction. Especially if our only solace is acceptance of a future heavenly home that can only be verified by faith. That’s a tough one.

With our loud hosannas and palm branches waving, we commemorate Christ’s triumphal entry to the city of Jerusalem, riding on a lowly donkey. In a few days, we’ll recall the events of the upper room, a dear friend’s betrayal, another’s denial and recusal. We’ll observe the manipulation of a populace through lies and falsehoods – alternative facts, perhaps? We’ll observe the original washing of hands – an abdication of responsibility – moral ambivalence, a giving up and giving in when the fight becomes too difficult.

Today we offer Bach’s Palm Sunday cantata Himmelskönig sei Wilkommen. Beyond enjoining ourselves to those who shouted Hosanna in Jerusalem centuries ago, Jerusalem is in our hearts, and the Salem of joy, our eternal rest. Cantata 182 is a triumph of charm, sweetness, humility, mercy, and fortitude, a joyful dance. Listen for Bach’s interpretation of a royal French overture – no trumpets or drums here. Christ’s entry on a humble donkey represented by solo recorder and violin with pizzicato strings. Utterly charming and affecting. A Lutheran theology, a Bachian melody, an invitation to acknowledge our need for salvation, a joyful acceptance and confidence of the redeemer’s grace and mercy, all that we might take up the Banner of Christ’s Cross and Passion to be Christ for and with one another throughout all our momentary afflictions.

 

Dean Hill:

Whittier’s poem:

I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise

Assured alone that life and death God’s mercy underlies

 And so beside the silent sea

I wait the muffled oar

No harm from Him can come to me

On ocean or on shore

 

I know not where His islands lift

Their fronded palms in air

I only know I cannot drift

Beyond His love and care

Sunday
April 3

Communion Meditation- April 3, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

John 12:1–11

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Keep it for the day of my burial…

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, as we said last week, to come to himself.

 In the Holy Scripture there rise up moments in recognition of loss…that can become lines into the future.

One cascades upon us in Psalm 46…

Another falls upon us in Romans 12…

Another rises up and out of Psalm 121…

Still another can be found in any of the great poets, as with Frost and his mordant poetic lines…

Likewise, in these verses of John 12, there lingers an essence, a fragrance that eludes description. Why did Doestoevsky choose these verses as frontispiece to his greatest novel, Crime and Punishment? John seems to have distilled a potent nectar, more potent than that found elsewhere, from his knowledge of loss. Why are these verses so haunting?

I believe they astound us so, because they reflect a doubledeath. I believe the sense of glory found in the cross here comes from the hard lesson of loss, in a little church, somewhere in Turkey, turned out of the synagogue, and losing or about to lose, long after the death of Jesus, their last link with the primitive church. In the cross, in their loss, they saw both the death of Jesus, and the death of their beloved disciple, their beloved preacher, their pastor, John. The fourth Gospel is so strange and so startling because it operates at two levels, first that of Jesus and second that of John.  After decades of pastoral care, guiding them through change, leading them out ofthe synagogue, protecting them from their own worst selves, reminding them of Christ the Lord, and showing them how to walk in the light, the towering figure of their beloved preacher was overtaken by death.

First they lost Jesus, then they lost John. Both losses hurt with unspeakable pain. But here is what they learned: love carries us through loss. Love carries us through loss. Love outlasts loss. In fact, only self opening love can bring any meaning through loss!

You know this Gospel in your bones, in the old bone structure of Marsh Chapel. For you too have known the loss of Jesus, and the loss of a beloved disciple, an originating pastor, who guided and lead, and reminded and showed, and at last was overtaken by death. You too know about the two level drama of faith, the loss and love of Jesus Christ our Savior, and also the loss and love of a beloved disciple who built the Chapel, who located it on Commonwealth Avenue, who helped us through a depression and a war, who had a vision and built a building.. And then, he died. He is buried right under our pulpti, his ashes and those of his beloved wife  are interred here. And every moment of loyal offering, and every baby baptized, and every couple married, and every moment of eucharist, and every funeral service bringus back here, to the twin shadows. The cross of Christ and the ashes of Daniel Marsh.

We can feel the Gospel, the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of the Fourth Gospel, here.

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, to come to himself.

Sometime ago we knew, not well, but well enough a man who embodied Irenaeus saying, the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  Born of two Irish immigrants in 1926, John Joseph Murray, by the time we crossed his path 65 years later, exuded life.  Says my friend, I don’t have to drink the whole ocean to know it is salty.  Salt.  Salt and light he was.  An Army veteran.  A father of 8.  A rising star in a great corporation who quit on the spot when that business invited and funded Joseph McCarthy to speak in Syracuse.  He marched with MLK in 1963.  Then a leader in research and in national management circles.  A weekly voice in the Thursday Morning Roundtable, a breakfast for city leaders.  But it was his smile, it was his vigorous bicycling, it was his bee-keeping, it was his presence and advocacy at pretty much every significant critical gathering in that decade, it was his full partnership with his wife Nancy, it was his neighborly gracious friendship, it was all these and other marks of humanity that linger, now a month beyond his death.  Sometimes, and often early in young adulthood, something happens that quickens, inspires, frees, empowers, illumines, changes a person, for the better and for life.  That is Word and that is Sacrament.  Reading his obituary a fortnight ago, one came upon a remarkable record:  John was a proud “Christian Brother boy” too, graduating from Manhattan Prep and Manhattan College. On John’s first day at the Prep he was exposed to Dorothy Day through her newspaper The Catholic Worker. He read it and was hooked. She exposed him to the impact of mercy on hopelessness and set him on a path of peace and justice. He felt he had three crucial mentors in his life: Dorothy Day, Father Charles Brady and, the best of his life, his wife Nancy. (Syracuse Obituary for John Joseph Murray, obits.syracuse.com).  One part of him, at a young age, once freed up, freed up the rest of him.

Keep it for the day of my burial…

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, as we said last week, to come to himself

In the Holy Scripture there rise up moments in recognition of loss…that can become lines into the future.

New York Times January 21, 2022:  Hundreds of people gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate an important moment for Catholics in New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivered a homily on the life of one of their own, Dorothy Day, a native New Yorker and anarchist writer and activist who died in 1980.

The sermon last month represented the end of a 20-year inquiry by the Archdiocese of New York on whether Ms. Day should receive sainthood, a question the Vatican will ultimately decide…

Ms. Day loved the church and its rituals and devoted her life to the Gospel, which she felt drove her to renounce material possessions and commit herself to a life of activism on behalf of the poor, a devotion to pacifism and opposition to both capitalism and communism. She often described herself as an anarchist.

Presence.  Thanksgiving.  Remembrance.  Presence.  Thanksgiving. Remembrance.

 As in Psalm 121…

As in the Canadian Creed…

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

Sunday
March 27

Lenten Series 2022: The Work of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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We listen to St Luke this year.  We do so, one step at a time, one Sunday at a time, one episode, teaching, exhortation, miracle, or, as today, one beloved, venerable parable. at a time.  Still, there are some outstanding features of the Lukan horizon, which we may simply name as we go forth.   First, Luke displays a commitment to and interest in history, and orderly history at that.  Both Luke and Acts are cast in a distinctive historical mode.  Second, Luke employs and deploys his own theology, or theological perspective, including this emphasis upon history and the divine purpose, or better said, divine meaning, in history—on this more in a moment.   Third, Luke highlights the humanity and compassion of Jesus in a remarkable way.  The Christ of St. Luke is the Christ of magnificent compassion, embodied in the humility of a birth among shepherds.  The poor, women, the stranger, the injured, those in dire need all stand out in Luke, as the recipients and subjects of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace and compassion.  Fourth, Luke carries an abiding interest in the church.  Ephesians says that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers.’ That catches the spirit of the author of the third gospel and of the Acts to follow.   It is this feature of Luke, the Lukan passion for compassion, upon which our passage has centered this morning.  So, we are taught:  know history, think for yourself, love the church, have compassion.  Dorothy Day, our Lent 2022 theological conversation partner, would have agreed.

Now I put it to you:  how long has it been since you have had a prodigal thought?  The prodigal son is prodigally reckless in departure.  But he is prodigally excellent and ecstatic in return.  His negative prodigality in descent is eclipsed by his positive prodigality in resurrection.  How long has it been since you have come to yourself?

Though no one says so, and to my knowledge no one has yet so written, Luke 15 may be the most Gnostic of chapters in the New Testament.  It is about gnosis, self knowledge, coming to oneself. As the Gnostics taught, we are trapped in a far country, a long way from our true home, like a man who has squandered his birthright, and moved from light to darkness.  As the Gnostics taught, we are meant to get home, to get back home, to get back out from under this earthly, fleshly, pig slop bodily existence, and back to higher ground, to heaven, to the heaven beyond heaven, to the land of light, to the loving father, like a prodigal son returning to the home that is truly his.  As the Gnostics taught, there is just one way to get back home, one key to the magic door.  That way and that key is knowledge, self knowledge, the knowledge of one’s own self—whence we come, wither we go.  As the Gnostics taught, salvation comes from this sort of esoteric, personal, soulful knowledge.  When he came to himself…

It is jarring, I give you that, to admit that this most traditional and most popular and most orthodox of parables may well have grown up outside the barn, outside the fences of mainstream Christianity.  But there is nothing orthodox about the prodigal and his coming to himself.  His is truly a prodigal thought.  I need to get back home.  Back to the land of light.  Back to the pleroma.  Back to the God beyond God.  No ‘Christ died for our sins’, here.  No ‘lamb of God’, here.  No settled orthodox Christology here.  No cross, no gory glory, no Gethsemane, no passion of the Christ, here.  It all comes down to self awareness, to awakening, to a moment of clarity.  When he came to himself. The parable of the Prodigal Son is the most Gnostic, most heterodox, most Johannine of them all.  Stuck here in the middle of Luke, read here in the middle of Lent, interpreted here in the middle of March.

The Gospel challenges us to come out from hiding.

You cannot hide behind a distrust of organized religion today.  The prodigal thought soars beyond that.  You cannot hide behind a disdain—often altogether true and righteous--for clergy, for formality, for robes and choirs and altars and candles.  This prodigal thought pierces all that.  You cannot hide behind the hideous moments in religious and Christian history—many there be—as a way to fend off the gospel, at least not this morning.  The knife cuts deeper, to the deeps, to your very soul.

Nor can you even hide behind a critique of Roman Catholicism today.  Prodigal thought soars beyond that.  You may reject the celibacy of the priesthood, the sacrifice of the mass, the subordination of women, and the infallibility of the pope.  But many, very many, Catholics do the same.  No, the gospel undercuts your smart but narrow critique, and asks about your soul.  You do have one you know.

Luke 15 asks whether you are coming to know yourself?  Are you?  This is the parable, oddly enough, that calls the seekers’ bluff.   Today the Gospel attacks where you have finally no ready defense.  It moves to your mind, your soul, your own most self.  Dorothy Day would emphatically agree.  In this very hour, we are caught in an awful dilemma, a tragedy of global proportions today.  We pray for those seasoned sober leaders, President Biden and others, seeking somehow to balance a rigorous resistance to heinous, unprovoked warfare and slaughter in Ukraine, with a measured restraint to keep this horror from becoming a global conflagration.  At the least we can find ways, say through UMCOR, to support refugees, now with our means, and perhaps later with our spaces.  Dorothy Day would admonish us to do so.

The Work of Dorothy Day

How surprised, stunned, even, we were to learn that the Roman Church itself has this winter proposed her for consideration for sainthood, after 20 years of study.  Not only her life, troubled as it was, nor only her faith, radiant as it was, has brought this consideration of canonization.  More than either of these, it was Day’s work that did so.  Hers was a work life of continuous experimentation.  In a way, she embodies our parable today.  We think of her obedience, as with the figure of the older son at the end of the parable.  But her life began much closer to the waywardness of the younger son with which the parable begins.  In a way, as with the prodigal, and strangely, that early prodigality somehow quickened in her a prodigious generosity, a prodigality of work.  Our biographer guides, Loughery and Randolph, often cited in these sermons, have taught us so.

For instance, after WW II, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers began to experiment with farming, with country living, including a purchase in Newburgh, NY.  She was a 21st century soul, ahead of her time in world consciousness, in ‘thinking globally, acting locally’, in communal living, in critique of technology, in continuous experimentation, and, in Newburgh and elsewhere, in love of nature and regard for the natural world.  And she wanted people to learn and go, to grow and move.  Of the Catholic Workers Houses she said, This is a school.  No one is meant to stay here forever. (251)

 For instance, later in her life, Dorothy Day received a visit from the famous author Evelyn Waugh.  A friend had encouraged him to enjoy all the great good things in New York, but also to make sure to see the poor of the city, and especially to visit with Day.  He offered to take her to a fine restaurant, one she in fact had known well over the years, but she declined, inviting him rather to a simple restaurant, and then to visit the hospitality house nearby.  Waugh’s biographer later wrote:  Waugh encountered in…Day a personality as tough and autocratic as his own, yet infinitely less selfish—a disarming combination.  Confronted by this genuine ascetic whose entire working life was devoted to practical charity, he discovered a more sympathetic version of a close friend’s argument:  that the aims of Christianity and capitalism were fundamentally opposed.  It was not an idea he cared to ponder for long, but he retreated to the Plaza somewhat chastened (238).  Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause oen, you?, to come to himself.

For instance, The Catholic Worker began as a newspaper, but fairly quickly expanded into a movement.  The movement, with Dorothy Day at the head was devoted to hospitality, and hospitality in particular for the poor.  Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day were committed to radical hospitality for the poor.  ‘Voluntary poverty brought into living practice the radical egalitarianism preached by Jesus’. (150)…’There are three things you have to accept about very poor people who have lived on the street…they don’t smell good, they aren’t grateful and they are apt to steal’ (152).

The work with and among the poor, it should be emphasized, was every bit as much about the spiritual development of the worker, as it was about the care of the needy.  The houses of St. Joseph offered hospitality to the guests, and spiritual formation to the workers.  And the conditions in these houses were very rough.  As the Catholic Worker movement, publication and hospitality and all, began to expand, so did Dorothy Day’s work in public speaking, which would consume much of her life over the next forty years or so.  Hers was a wide angle vision, a high hope, a global voice: If working men and women were solely concerned with better wages for themselves and not with larger ideas about community, societal change, and our God-ordained obligations to one another, the labor struggle would mean nothing in the long run (181).

 For instance, an especially striking outgrowth and outcome of her earlier work with the Catholic Worker emerged with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  For Progressive Catholicism worldwide, the Spanish Civil War produced the horns of a very difficult dilemma.  On side were the republicans of Barcelona and elsewhere, like Hemingway’s Robert Jordan, committed to liberty and justice and progressive treatment and care of the poor. On the other side were those who supported the Church, the Catholic Church, and its traditions and clergy and history and culture.  One Progressive.  The other Catholic.  Spain tore American Progressive Catholicism in half.  Support the Church and stomach Franco, or support freedom and stomach Stalin.  She and her communities were torn apart from both sides.  She largely sided with the republicans, but not enough to satisfy everyone.  Still, the Catholic Worker movement and paper, like Allan Knight Chalmers and others, voiced and continuously retained a strong, clear utterly pacifist position through the Spanish War, the Second World War, the Korean Conflict and the War in Vietnam. This split the movement.  The Detroit, Cleveland and Boston houses agreed with her; the Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles houses did not (199).

For instance, by the 1950’s, Day and The Catholic Worker were involved in opposition to nuclear war, arms and weaponry.  Some of us grew up with weekly air raid drills, in which all in the elementary schools were sent to sit underneath our desks in preparation for a nuclear attack.  Day and her community chastised this (in hindsight clearly misguided) practice because it purpose, she asserted, was allowing the government and the military-industrial complex to render the unthinkable thinkable and therefore less in need of an immediate solution (264).  Our own experience of January 6 is similar, to take what would be utterly unthinkable, the assault on and desecration of the nation’s capital, and to normalize, or accommodate, or make space in the mind and the culture for such travesty.  In a year, already, we have seen just how successful that kind of project can be.  One ongoing, continuous aspect of her work came through acceptance of many invitations to speak, lecture, occasionally to preach.  And she had influence.  After Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), he included in the preface: It was through Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement that I first came into contact with the terrible reality of involuntary poverty and the magnificent ideal of voluntary poverty (297).

Born, recall, in 1897, Dorothy Day was vibrantly active in the late 1960’s, in opposition to the war in Vietnam, the ultimate heartbreach for Dorothy Day the citizen as well as Dorothy Day the Catholic, shattering hopes formed fifty years earlier that her country would ultimately use its power and prestige for greater ends (308).  Born in 1897, her view of the youth of the 1960’s was anything but starry-eyed…(including) acerbic comments about the long haired, sexually active, drug-indulging young women and men she encountered so frequently in New York and on her travels (315).  She made time to visit, and admire Haley House, here in Boston, and said in ringing oratory: Our present capitalist, industrialist system is inhuman and wicked (330)…we don’t measure our success, we don’t despair and we don’t judge; we simply do the work God intends us to do.(336).  These are steadying late pandemic words for us, in 2022.  Do the work God intends us to do.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.  And she found time every Saturday afternoon to listen to the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.  The work with the poor continued on: A Catholic Worker house, unlike a Salvation Army shelter or city shelter, would expect nothing, demand nothing from (the poor).  Many of us, myself included, might well have difficulty with this.  Yet she was not a 21st century feminist, at least not in the standard sense.  Poverty, race and religion were more important to her that gender (349).  She spoke in public for the last time in 1976, suffering a heart attack that year, the same autumn some of us began seminary, up the street at UTS.  St Joseph House and Maryhouse remain, four decades after Dorothy Day’s death, exactly where they have always been, but surrounded now by chic eateries, high price co-ops, boutique hotels and chain stores (360).  One wonders.  Could Dorothy Day cause us to come to ourselves?

 We give Day the last word: “We must practice the presence of God. He said that when two or three are gathered together, there he is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms. When we pray for our material needs, it brings us close to his humanity. He, too, needed food and shelter; he, too, warmed his hands at a fire and lay down in a boat to sleep.”

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

Sunday
March 20

Lenten Series 2022: The Faith of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:1-9

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Ah the fig tree. From the fig tree learn its lesson. You know what it means to be a fig tree in the New Testament. It is like being a turkey in late November, or like being a green beer on St. Patrick's day. You know you are going down.

People step aside when they hear that the story is about a fig tree. They step back ten feet, because they know what is coming.

Sure enough, at least at the outset, doom descends. In stomps the owner. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Fee fie foe fum. Yes, we know what is coming. I have seen this lousy, lazy, no good, flee bitten moth eaten, barren, fruitless, faithless, heartless, ruthless fig tree for three years, and nothing. Where is the fruit? Where is the beef? Show me the money! Yes, we have a sinking feeling about the old fig tree, having heard a sermon or three. Is there not fruit? And here it comes… Cut it down, throw it in the fire, off with their heads.

And in the other Gospels, that is that. One dead fig tree, and let it be a warning to you. I came not to bring peace but a sword. Not a jot or a tittle will pass away. Woe to you…

Which is, of course, what makes today's lesson so interesting. Guess what? It's not over, at least according to Jesus in Luke 13. No, it's not over, yet. This is the Gospel according to Yogi Berra. "It ain't over 'til it's over". With a little cunning and creativity, a little psalmist and saint in him, this lowly vinedresser says, "Well, hang on a minute…" There is something there. He sees something. Something alive, something at work, just beyond our comprehension.

Hope, stubborn and maybe even unreasonable, is what the vinedresser in our parable displays. He has a certain confidence, perhaps a confidence born of obedience to a great and loving Lord, yet still a confidence that where there is a will there is a way, no matter what the immediate cornstubble evidence suggests.

One struggles to intuit why this altered fig tree parable was so important for Luke and Luke's struggling church. As we saw last week, all these chapters 10 to 20 Luke has added to Mark's asperity. They must have had singular meaning for Luke's church fifty years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Perhaps, perhaps, the parable is meant to give trusting patience to those who are waiting out what scholars call the "delay of the parousia", or the expected but not actualized return of Christ on the clouds of heaven (1 Thess. 4-5). "Give me just a little more time…" sings the gardener.

Let it be, he says. Let it be.

His is not a naïve view, stubborn, maybe, unreasonable, perhaps, but not naïve. No, he recognizes that there comes a time when it is too late in every venture. He recognizes that the power to kill and give life is not his own. He recognizes that human labor and human investment is required for any progress. He recognizes the messiness of manure and dailyness of water, the messiness of history and the dailyness of grace. He recognizes that hope for the future is confidence, finally, not in human wisdom, but in divine grace. He recognizes the rigid limits of nature and history. He is a realist.

But he trusts, senses, hopes that there is something there, something alive, something not quite phenomenal, something just beyond our comprehension.

You could compare his sense, his hope, to a March day when it is still winter. Yet, there is a sense, a feeling. There are geese flying past, v by v. There is a blueish tint in the evergreens. There is more light and better light. There is wind, but not with quite the bite. One can fairly taste the maple syrup brewing miles away. Spring is coming.

Give me just a little more time, he asks. Do you have the feeling that he will ask the same a year from now, if things are no different? Well, yes. He harbors an inexplicable but crucial sense of trust that things will work out.  Our Uncle David used to say, with a grin, ‘It will all work out.  Or else it won’t’.

Here in Luke, not judgment, but grace is affirmed, not death but life, not authority or force, but growth and change.  In Luke 13, the question of ‘Why?’ is set aside in favor of the challenge to repent.  Governmental terrorism, in the hands of Pilate, and natural accident, in the case of a Tower in Siloam, are simply admitted to be what they are—utterly random in impact.

In the parable, the gardener points away from past performance and points toward future potential.  Time.  Time is given.  A time of reprieve, a time of reckoning, a time of recollection, a time of restoration.  Time heals.  There is impending judgment, but there is time for change.  This is Luke’s own material.  This is Luke’s own toddler, budding attempt to deal with what John, alone, later, in full adult fashion, addressed, the church’s abject disappointment that the expected return of Jesus, on the clouds of heaven, ‘before this generation passes away’ (Luke 21:32) has not happened.  The first century is ending and Jesus has not returned.  In the main, Luke simply continues to hold out hope, soon and very soon, of the traditional expectation.  Not here in the parable of the fig tree.  Here he finds, channeling his inner Fourth Gospel Spirit, the possibility that more time may be a good thing.  We would all say so, 20 centuries later, since more time has become our time!  The Greeks taught us that life is long.  Give it just a little more time.  Not: Especially, and perilously, too authoritarian and too inflexible, and too inerrant, a view of the Holy Scripture.  Scripture entirely alone, not Scripture in tradition by reason with experience.  No, says Luke, change, over time, can come and can become lasting goodness.

We who wrestle to support leaders who balance resistance with restraint, resistance to naked and brutal warfare of choice with restraint to retard such from becoming global conflagration, we need some measure of such hope. Hope is one gift of today’s gospel.

Dorothy Day

Hope is one gift of today’s gospel. The other is faith.  Hope and faith, the gifts of grace today.

Our Lent 2022 conversation partner is Dorothy Day.  Our guide to her life, faith and work is Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. John Loughery and Blythe Randolph.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2020.  The citations in these sermons are from this recent, excellent biograpy. As we saw las week, Dorothy grew up in a non-practicing Protestant home. But when her daughter was born she determined to locate herself in faith, and in the Roman Catholic faith tradition. She found faith, and was found by faith. She did so in a remarkable but typical way:  she approached a nun whom she saw crossing the street in Staten Island.  Sister Alyosia.  The sister  provided reading material, catechisms, an interview with a priest. Tamar was baptized the next year, 1927 (Lughery and Randolph, 111).  Dorothy herself was baptized six months later.

‘Faith in God and Christ as the Redeemer, a belief in Transubstantiation and the life to come, the veneration of Mary and the saints, delight in saying the Joyful Mysteries and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, a willingness to be guided by a confessor and to accept the role of confession and absolution in a redeemed life, respect for the papacy and a two-thousand-year-old tradition: indeed, it wasn’t ‘a little’.  It was everything. (116)…Religion was the necessary corrective to the ‘narrow hermitage of the self’ that characterized modern life with its imprisoning walls of egotism and alienation.  A fellowship of faith spared one the desolation of aloneness. (Loughery and Randolph, 120)

            Yet the major influence in the composition of Dorothy’s faith, over time, came from an eccentric philosopher and activist, Peter Maurin.  A word on Maurin: What Peter wanted to talk about was the Church, Catholicism, the state of the world, the salvation of souls, the extent of the compassion Christ asked of us, the intellectuals he had known in France, American’s attitudes toward poverty and the impoverished, his plans for a Catholic newspaper, Dorothy’s evident potential as a writer and leader, and the need for more discussion and debate about what a Christian life looked like—the ‘clarification of thought’ was his favorite phrase (133).

            Both Maurin and Day were greatly influenced by the work of Jacques Maritain.  Maritain deserves more attention even today.  By whatever combination of lasting influences, Maurin and Day came at last to create the lasting publication, The Catholic Worker, published first in 1933 in the depths of the depression, and which still exists and still sells for a penny.  At its height it had 100,000 subscribers (Loughery and Randolph, 141).  One of its first extended interests was the coverage of the Scottsboro Boys case, one of whose primary exponents and supporters was Allan Knight Chalmers, who became a BUSTH professor of homiletics, and from whom today’s preacher received his middle name.

            In sum, the very basic, rudimentary aspects of Christian faith lived out in the Catholic tradition were crucial for her.  Daily, weekly mass.  Prayer.  The Rosary. All.  Her biography put it this way:   During times of stress, Dorothy found solace in the rosary and her attendance on daily mass, of course, and from conversations with her confessor and with those people…who understood her point of view (276)…For more than thirty years she read biographies of those whose lives she found instructive about different paths to holiness, the saintly and the venerable—e.g. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri, Francis de Slas, Vincent de Paul, Cardinal Newman, Rose, Hawthorne Lathrop, Theresa of Lisieux (Loughery and Randolp, 289).

Faith.  Hope.  Hope and faith, the gifts of grace today.

Wrote Dorothy Day:  “What we would like to do is change the world...by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.” 

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

Sunday
March 13

Lenten Series 2022: The Life of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:31-35

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Bring to our troubled minds

Uncertain and afraid

The quiet of a steadfast faith

Calm of a call obeyed

Sometimes an encounter with a radically committed person, one like Dorothy Day, can free up a part of a person in soul and spirit in a way that frees up the rest of him or her.  One wonders whether that might happen for some, for some of us, this Lent?  These three weeks we converse with Day, her life and her faith and her work, even as we listen for the Gospel in Luke.

No other Lukan passage, nor any in the Gospels together, so firmly as ours today fixes Jesus and his Word, the church and its Gospel, in the waves, swells, eddies and swirls of politics.  Amid much happier parables, chapters 8-18, blessed and beautiful and exclusive to Luke—Samaritan, good; Son, prodigal; Steward, dishonest yet somehow noble—Jesus accosts us and upbraids us today in full cultural mien.  The governmental power of the day is Herod, whom Jesus dresses down, insults even, as ‘that fox’.  The warning about power and its move against truth comes, perhaps with a strange motive, but cast by Luke in the affirmative, comes from Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees.  Jesus is fearless, here, though not so such in the garden of Gethsemane later.  He places Himself, or rather, Luke places himself placing himself, in the centuries’ long tradition of the Hebrew Prophets, a tradition pristine, golden, unlike any other in religious history, four the greater and twelve the lesser.  All found their way, or their voice, or both in Jerusalem, the religious and political center.  Jerusalem whom Jesus loves, loves so much, loves like a mother hen, loves like a momma, like a hen gathering her chicks.  A striking, feminine image of the divine, strong and true.  The Gospel is social through and through, as Luke here today reminds us.  Read the Bible and Luke and Luke 13:  Jerusalem! Jerusalem!  Or for us today:  Pollution! Pandemic! Politics! Prejudice! Pocketbook! Peril!  Jerusalem! Jerusalem! There is no holiness save social holiness, taught Mr. Wesley.  None. No other Lukan passage, nor any in the Gospels together, so firmly as ours today fixes Jesus and his Word, the church and its Gospel, in the swells, eddies and swirls of politics.

What do we find in Luke?

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 85 or 90 of the common era (in fact, possibly much later).  Traditionally ascribed to Luke the physician, its author and that of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is finally unknown to us.  We know him only through the writing itself.

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark.  An example is the memory of a part of our passage today, Luke 13: 34ff.  Like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earlier gospel of Mark.  But he made changes along the way, or construed the gospel according to his own desires and emphases.  This is hopeful for us, in that it is an encouragement for us to take the gospel in hand, and interpret it according to our time, location, understanding, and need.  In fact, we are summoned and ordered to do so, and not free not to do so.  Second, Luke uses a collection of teachings, called Q, as does Matthew.  An example is our Lord’s Prayer, later in the service.  Luke’s version is slightly different from that in Matthew, as is his version of the beatitudes and other teachings, found in the ‘sermon on the plain’, rather than the ‘sermon on the mount’.  Third, Luke makes ample use of material that is all his own, not found in Mark or elsewhere.  The long chapters from Luke 8 or so through Luke 18 or so, where we find ourselves this morning, are all his.   Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.  And what does Luke say?  Ah, this will take us the rest of the year and more fully to unravel, including our work this Lent.

 For our Lenten Sermon Series, beginning today, will engage in conversation with Dorothy Day, a Lukan Christian if ever there was one.  In this Marsh Chapel pulpit, from 2007-2016, Lent by Lent, we identified a theological conversation partner for the Lenten sermons, broadly speaking, out of the Calvinist tradition, so important to the first 200 years in New England.  In the next decade, we have turned to the Catholic tradition, so important in the last 200 years in New England.  With Calvin we encountered the chief resource for others we engaged over ten years—voices like those of Jonathan Edwards (2015), John Calvin (2014), Marilyn Robinson (2013), Jacques Ellul (2012), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin)(2011), Karl Barth (2010), and Gabriel Vahanian (2007), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008), summarized with the help of Paul of Tarsus (2016).  Then in this decade, beginning with Lent 2017, the Marsh pulpit, a traditionally Methodist one, turned left, not right, toward Rome not Geneva, and we have preached with, and learned from the Roman Catholic tradition, and some of its great divines including Henri Nouwen (2017) Thomas Merton (2018) John of the Cross (2019), Teresa of Avila (2020), and St Patrick (2021).  In future years, it may be Ignatius of Loyola, Erasmus, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, or others, one per year.  Perhaps you will suggest a name or two, not from Geneva, but from Rome?  For those who recall, even if dimly, the vigor and excitement of Vatican II, there may well be other names to add to the list.  Yet something about this past year and its hurts, something about Covid life in Boston it may be, something about the events and outcomes of late autumn, something about immersion in the home of the bean and the cod for several years, something, a connection say with our many Roman Catholic friends, listeners, correspondents, partners in the fellowship of the Gospel, brought her forward.  Day was viscerally engaged in the political struggles of her era, out of her hard won understanding the rudiments of Christianity.  Hers may be a very timely voice for us in late Covid, winter, 2022.  Today we mark two years of Covid, costly, costly years.  Right now, we are viscerally engaged in our own struggles.  We are seeking to support, for instance, what is right and best in Ukraine, with measures both of resistance and restraint, resistance to merciless brutality, and restraint before the prospect of nuclear conflagration.  One pastoral word, among others, might be today to keep us focused on our own circles of influence, the places where we can actually make a difference, over against the global and endless circles of concern which we carry. (One such is the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.)

 Today, perhaps, we can begin to converse with Day, in connection to her sense of spirit throughout the course of her long, troubled, and difficult life.

In Covid autumn, 2020, our son gave as a birthday present a book,

(Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. John Loughery and Blythe Randolph.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2020.).  Initially, it lay unread, but still at hand.  Books have a way of staying around, of quietly reaching out to us.  Its first chapters, about her raucous wayward early life, were at the first off-putting, even as much as they were news or unknown, so again, it moved back in the pack.  Somehow, though, the tome came on and proposed, even insisted, to be read.  Read it was.  And what a gift, one of the quiet Covid gifts that kept us going through two years, marked this day, two years of rot, of loss, of diminishment, of worry, of hurt, of anxiety, depression, loneliness and deadly wreckage, especially for the least, the last and the lost. We have miles to go in recovery before we sleep. And what better document to peruse in Covid?  It became read because it demanded to be read and should have been read.  And was.

Born in 1897, Dorothy was raised in vaguely Episcopalian home, with two brothers, a philandering father, and a devoted mother.  What is striking to the average revisitation of her early life is just how chaotic, tempestuous, conflicted and hard it was. (It seems, at least to this observer, that she spent much of the rest of her life trying to escape her youth—its emptiness, its infidelities, its spiritual sterility, its abandonment of faith and church and God.)   She was raised for a time in Chicago, went to college in Champagne Urbana on her own steam and dime, and for some decades lived a bohemian life.  She drank heavily, loved widely, moved frequently, and befriended generously.   Most of us know her, if at all, through the lens of The Catholic Worker, which is fair enough.  But prior to the advent of that publication, she had already developed an experienced writing life, largely in New York City, which included community, consort and conversation with some of the leading cultural, theatrical, musical and political leaders of the time.

Dorothy was a convert to Catholicism, drawn heavily, as are so many seminarians today, to the biblical and historical Christian commitment to justice, and for the poor.  Wrote her biographers Loughery and Randolph: The belief that material comfort—and, in particular, wealth—might actually be dangerous, putting a distance between God and one’s fundamental humanity, wasn’t a notion Americans were or are comfortable with.  She came to believe that the true objects of devotion in Western culture—security, affluence, national pride, an enthrallment to innovation and technology—were the sources of our undoing as a moral society, and she was impatient with anyone who made religions seem reassuring rather than demanding and transcendent.  The New Testament called on all believers to fight racism, war and poverty, or it meant nothing at all.  Faith was less about solace than a call to action and disruption.  Piety and conformity to social norms had little to do with each other. (2).

 Following her younger years in the mid-west, Dorothy Day primarily lived in New York City, in and near the Bowery.  She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin, which had some critical success and modest sales.  The reading and re-revisitation of her younger adult years is simply harrowing.  She embraced a series of, frankly, violent men, who after a time each left her, one leaving her pregnant which led to an abortion.  The homes were harrowing, the circumstances harrowing, the labor required harrowing.  One Greenwich Village apartment engulfed her in a gas leak, leaving her unconscious, and almost leaving her dead.  Yet she read widely and knew many of the great writers of the age—Maugham, Wolfe, Lawrence, Wharton, James, Merton, Anderson, Auden, O’Neill (one of her consorts), London, Dell, Fitzgerald, Monroe, Merton, Berrigan, Crane, Porter, Chesterton, Maritain, Sanger, all--and wrote for various radical publications:  The Call, the Masses, The Liberator, others.  In 1926 she gave birth to her daughter, Tamar, (Hebrew for Palm Tree) (106).

One of the ways, it seems, that over time Dorothy Day could handle and withstand the kind of stress and difficulty of her activist life, had to do with the regular use of retreats.  How else would she be able steadily to speak out, as she did in a letter in Commonweal in 1948:  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brothers…and the Russians are our brothers, the Negro is our brother, the Japanese are our brothers, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Filipinos, the Jews and Arabs.  (235).  In the same issue, the editors of Commonweal wrote a strong critique of Day and her letter.

Dorothy Day’s life, work and faith are described in her best-known book The Long Loneliness, 1952.  Asked her biographers:  How much of Christ’s message were Christians really willing to accept? (256) (She was) committed to building a new society within the shell of the old (258).  A new society within the shell of the old.  Hm. It is striking just how faithfully, consistently, sacrificially and fully Day combined a dual allegiance:  both to her progressive ideals, and to the Roman Catholic Church, though she acquired many critics from both communities.

She was buried on December 2, 1980, following a funeral service at the Church of the Nativity on Second Avenue.  The readings in the service included Isaiah 58: 6-12, 1 John 4: 11-18, Matthew 5: 1-12.  The recessional hymn was ‘A Mighty Fortress.  Her eulogy included her own motto, or statement, or credo: All my life I have been haunted by God. (369)

Sometimes an encounter with a radically committed person, one like Dorothy Day, can free up a part of a person in soul and spirit in a way that frees up the rest of him or her.  One wonders whether that might happen for some, for some of us, this Lent?  One in one such moment prayed, Lord make me common as sagebrush, then set me on fire for the Gospel.  She and others point us to the living Christ, who promises today, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.

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