Sunday
September 4

Listen To Your Life (Matriculation, 2022)

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 14:25–33

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Gracious God, 
In this holy moment, a day of new beginnings: 
We summon the better angels of our nature to sit quietly before you in gratitude. 
For the gift of your love to inspire us in our freshman year, to quicken us to try, to join, to sign up, to get out, we are peacefully thankful. 
For the gift of your presence to sustain us in our sophomore year, to strengthen us to continue, to persevere, to stay up, to move on, we are simply thankful. 
For the gift or your power to embolden us in our junior year, to encourage us to achieve, to give, to change, to travel, to grow, we are spiritually thankful. 
For the gift of your peace to illumine us in our senior year, to steady us to plan, to finish, to complete, to leave, we are personally thankful. 
Help us to love what is lovely, to be present to what is real, to find strength in what lasts, and to know peace in what honors, but surpasses, understanding. Help us to listen to our lives, to learn deeply from our own experience. 
Inspired by your love, sustained by your presence, encouraged by your power, confirmed by your peace, day by day our life before you flows on in endless song. 
Empower us we pray to listen to our lives, with keen care to listen to our lives 
For the privilege of these coming few days, these fast four years, we are thankful. Amen. 

 

Beloved children of God, hear the Gospel, so befitting Matriculation, the Gospel According to St. Luke in the fourteenth chapter and the 25th verse. 

Count the cost.  Ahead of time, count the cost.  By way of illustration:  in business, and in war.  And in everything in between.  Count the cost.  How could we not think this morning of those suffering the terror of warfare in Ukraine?  How could we not think this morning of those—so regularly the least, the last and the lost—suffering the jolts and tides of inflation and coming recession? 

Do the arithmetic, study the detail, count. 

You, careful listener, you recognize that Luke 14: 25-33 is not Jesus talking, but Luke writing.  You realize that Jesus left no written record, like Socrates in that.  You recognize that he spoke Aramaic, not Greek, and whether or not he was literate.  You recall the arithmetic of his life, death and destiny, the years 4bce to 33ce, and the distance of those from our reading, Luke 14, in 85ce, at the earliest (some would date Luke much later).  What we hear this morning is, in the first instance, not the voice of Jesus but the composition of Luke.   Of course, and granted, there will be traces of Jesus’ voice, along the way, particularly in Luke 9-19, especially, and especially there in the parables, his own mode of teaching, without which nothing.  In all, though, and on the bigger whole, this is not Jesus’ voice but Luke’s writing.  This makes all the arithmetical difference in the world, these 50 years and 2 opposed forms of rhetoric. 

Now, it may be, gazing again at the bulletin, or ruminating on the remembered reading of the Gospel, the high-water mark of our worship each Sunday, you begin to wonder, to ponder, to question.  Good.  We learn most from the questions we ask, and most of us most of the time need more reminder than instruction. Sitting in the balcony, seated with your family, pondering whether to join the choir, or whether to return to Chapel for dinner or study.  Perhaps these are your questions, or some of them. 

Why this discussion of hatred, when the Gospel in other clothing is centrally about love?  Why this denigration of family, when the family is one of the protected entities in the Decalogue, the ten commandments:  protection of truth, of communication, of speech, of worship, of family, of life, of property, of marriage, of law, and of commerce?  Therein, whence the rejection of life itself, when otherwise the Gospel acclaims life, having life, and having life in abundance?   There seems to be some counting and accounting needed. 

More so:  What is the mention here of the cross?  Jesus in this narrative, in these chapters, is preaching, teaching, healing, going about in Galilee and Judea a free itinerant prophet.  All of a sudden, here comes a word from much later, ‘cross’.  Was Jesus making a prediction that only he could see and understand?  Or is this a clue to the fountain and origin of this passage, the church’ struggles and the mind of Luke?  Cross?  Cross?  I thought we were sharing parables and blessing children and rounding up disciples.  Moreso, the cross is ‘one’s own cross’.  The writer seems to assume that all will get the reference, including you, and me, to the cross.  How all this talk about the cross when Jesus just now in Luke is teaching in parables and healing the sick, a long way from Jerusalem and ‘the cross’? 

Even more so:  How is it that all of a sudden, everyone around Jesus is expected to be a monk?  Ridding oneself of all, all, not most, not much, but all possessions?  All.  That’s at a lot, even in an era of tunics, ephods, camels, donkeys, sandals, fishing, shepherding and travel by foot.  All?  What is transpiring here? 

Nor does this seem metaphorical, in a way that some current preaching would likely choose.   Hatred—well, you know, not exactly hatred but mature self-differentiation.  Life—well, you know, not exactly life in the sense of breath and nourishment, but in the sense of deep meaning.  Cross—well, you know, not exactly crucifixion in the bloody and excruciating physical sense, but self-discipline, more in the sense of yoga.  Possessions—well, you know, not in exactly the form of car, home, bank account and pension, but in the sense of a general materiality, of not letting your possessions possess you.  No, actually Luke 14 does not seem or sound metaphorical at all, regarding hatred, life, cross, or possessions.  It sounds literal, actual, straightforward enough. 

To faithfully interpret these kinds of verses we shall need in the next generation—your generation—a full and fulsome liberal biblical theology.  Maybe one or three of you will invest in such work. 

Forgive what is only an interpretative guess, even less than that, yet after many decades of hearing these harsh words, even in Luke–the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of love, the Gospel of church, the Gospel of freedom—these are phrases that sound like the esoteric, ascetic, anti-worldliness of the emerging gnostic movement.  It is as if here, in Luke and Matthew, by way of Q, some measure of the enthusiastic pessimism, the bodily asceticism, the turning away from the world which we know in full in full Gnosticism, has grown up alongside the gospel, wheat and tares together sown.    There are strong parallels, almost identical, in the Gospel of Thomas, a gnosticizing document of about the same time as Luke. And there are strong parallels in Poimandres, a fully gnostic document of about the same time as Luke (Fitzmeier, Anchor, 1064). 

Uncompromising demands regarding self, regarding family, and regarding possessions may well be part of the life of faith, warns Luke out of the gnostic shadows of his sources.  He warns us as we come to faith.  He reminds us of the gift of faith. Like all serious engagements, this spiritual one is not be entered into lightly, but reverently, discreetly and in the fear of God.  ‘Jesus counsels his followers not to decide on discipleship without advance, mature self-probing’.   It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘come along, I want to make this for you the hardest decision of your life’. 

So.  This may mean that the struggles under this passage of Holy Scripture, our sufficient rule of faith and practice, are from 85ad, not 30ad.  That there is in the emerging church a set of conflicts that require some arithmetic, some counting and accounting.  How much home, how much away?  How much kindness, how much honesty?  How much self-affirmation and how much self-abnegation?  How much materiality and how much spirituality?  Before you set out, to go to college or to take a job or to move in together or to get married or to sell the farm or to go to war or to build a tower, well, you might want to…do the math. 

 

St. Luke wrestled with formational questions in the first century: For whom is the gospel? What are the definitive texts? And especially, who shall hold authority?  What, How, Where. And Who? Here Luke wrestles with these costs and their accounting.  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” said Paul.  

Aristotle taught us to attend to the true, the good, the beautiful. In the late fourth century there emerged a good, great leader of the church, Ambrose of Milan. In just eight days he went from unbaptized layman to Bishop. His rhetorical skill, musicianship, diplomatic agility and attention to the preparations for Baptism provided the power behind his lasting influence in Northern Italy.  

The greatest teacher of the earlier church, Augustine of Hippo, came to Milan a non-Christian. From the influence of Ambrose, he left baptized and believing and worked a generation to set the foundations for the church over a thousand years to come.  

Ambrose inspired Augustine.  A quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated person, a plow horse not a show horse.  A plow horse not a show horse. A lot of progress can be made when we do not linger too long over who gets the credit.  

Some years ago, we went to a church meeting near Canada on a very cold night. It was led by our Bishop. For some reason I was not in a very happy mood, nor was I very charitable in my internal review of his remarks that evening. I do not recall his topic or theme. I remember clearly seeing him help to move hymnals, borrowed from other churches for the large crowd, so they could be returned. Snow, dark, long arms carrying a dozen hymnals into the tundra.  

Think of someone you have known who  properly counted costs, who lived with heartfelt passion for the common good, who lived in selfless ways, a ‘person for others’, to cite Bonhoeffer.   

 

Every one of us has some influence. If you have a pen, a smart phone, a computer, email, a tongue, a household, a family, a job, a community—then you have some influence.  

Who taught you, by precept and example, how to use it? How much of what you picked up needs keeping and how much needs to be put out on the curb?  

A simple passion for the common good of the servants of God is at the heart of faithful living.  What is new?  Here is what I need you to do for me.  What should I pray for you?  This is what we learn when we listen to our lives.   

This was the phrase Frederick Buechner, an exemplary chaplain of another era, who died last week, tried to summarize his hundreds of sermons and 95 years of life:  listen to your life.

Gerson wrote: When the late Frederick Buechner — novelist, preacher, Christian apologist — was asked to summarize the single essential insight of his prolific writing and speaking career, he would respond, “Listen to your life”.

“If indeed there is a God,” he explained, “which most of the time I believe there is, and if indeed he is concerned with the world, which the Christian faith is saying … one of the ways he speaks to us, and maybe one of the most powerful ways, is through what happens to us.”… “Pay attention to moments,” he said, when “unexpected tears come to your eyes and what may trigger them.” He was talking about those sudden upwellings of emotion we get from the sublimity of nature or art, when we see a whale breaching, or are emotionally ambushed by a line in a film or poem. We are led toward truth and beauty by a lump in the throat.  (M Gerson, WAPO, 8/22/22). 

May what Paul wrote of Philemon be said of us: When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 

 

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

Sunday
August 21

Let Your Shoulders Down

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:10-17

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  

Her name was Mozelle Cogman Goins.  She was born in Macon Georgia in 1902.  As was the norm in some parts of the south.  Education for African American students ended at the eighth grade so that a woman could join the domestic work force.  Not one to follow in the steps of convention Mozelle applied to the incoming class at the University of Detroit Law School entering in either 1919 or 1920. She arrived for her first day of class and came into the office to register and was met with a “deafening silence” a direct quote from her grand-daughter Pat Rencher.  Nevertheless, they allowed her to attend class.  After her first year she was told that some of her papers were not up to par.  Not to be deterred she rewrote and submitted those papers, and the Law School allowed her to advance to complete her second and third year. 

 The Detroit Free Press published the 1923 graduating class from the U of D Law School and Miss Cogman was among the graduating class.  However, the story didn’t end well.  A week after the picture was published, she was called into the office and told she never completed her assignments from her first year and therefore they would not confer her a law degree. 

She later married, owned a dress shop, worked for social service agencies and remained active in community affairs.  After a conversation with Pat this week we realized that Mrs. Coins and my grandmother Eunice Gunther Lowery were friends and very active in the Detroit African American community.  My friend Pat recalls the law books that were in her grandmother’s library and how people would stop by the house for consultation and advice. 

 Detroit attorney Leslie Graves tried in the 1980’s to petition U of D Law School to grant her law degree.  The school only gave a commendation but no degree.  Currently The Hon Kathey Gilforf is leading an effort to confer the degree for the class of 2023 which is the “Year of the Woman.  Mrs. Coins passed way in 2002 at 100 years old.  A pioneer and a trailblazer whose story deserves to be lifted up and acknowledged.  

 Cole Arthur Riley writes in her new book “This Here Flesh”. You cannot tell the story of injustice without telling the story of power. Injustice has survived by cowering behind the guises of morality and ethics. And that power, which is stolen, malformed, or inequitable will, no matter how well intentioned, always cast its weight in the wrong places. This is rarely accidental. Injustice has survived by cowering behind the guises of morality and ethics. She goes on to quote the Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his every act of protest confers dignity on him.”  

 I don’t know if the expression “we made it through” is an apt description to describe this historical event.  However, there are still people who to this day generations later who are still figuratively carrying the weight of the world, the weight of daily injustices and micro-aggressions, the weight of grieving young people, the weight of this week trying to get to your job on-time if your only options are to get to work in the Orange and Green line trains.  What I do know is that people will always come together in the face of injustice, to support each other, cook for each other, hold each other, cry with each other, hold space for each other when on some days that was all that is all we can offer.    It is love and an awareness that no one should have to shoulder anything alone that keeps them together. 

 If you’ve been here or have listened the past several Sundays, you know that our Hebrew Bible readings have been proclaiming harsh and judgmental words from the likes of Amos and Hosea, from Isaiah, and this morning from Jeremiah.  While this morning’s reading describes the call of Jeremiah to be God’s prophet (despite Jeremiah’s protests that he is too young for the job). Jeremiah himself describes that job given by God (which will unfold in the coming chapters of the book named for him) this way: “See today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow….” 

Please notice something else in this morning’s reading from Jeremiah, the last phrase. “…to build and to plant.” We sometimes forget that the prophets in their harsh language were calling the people of Israel back to lives faithful and responsive to the will of God. Using Jeremiah’s imagery, we must remember that “plucking up”, “pulling down” or even destroying and overthrowing in God’s Garden are actions that need to happen before new growth that Jeremiah talks about can occur. 

 I want us to try something this Sunday.  You know they say that when we are tense, we tend to hold our shoulders up near our ears.  So, try this, hold your shoulders up to your ears in a tense position.  Then try to move your head to the left, now to the right.  It’s hard right?  Now try and move your body, to the left, to the right. It’s hard.  Now let go with an exhale. 

 There is an expression “he / she/ they look like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.” What we just did was an example of that statement.   

When you are carrying the weight of the world it is hard to move. 

 We don’t know what weight the bent over woman was carrying: perhaps she was the victim of some sort of oppression, perhaps her binary pronoun did not match their non-binary authenticity, perhaps she was the victim of domestic abuse.  If it wasn’t for the fact, she was bent over she would just have been another woman going on with her day-to-day activities.   

 But Jesus noticed that she was carrying the weight of the world and had been for so long that people assumed that she had an infirmity.  But Jesus sees her suffering and he heals her on the Sabbath.  Notice here that Jesus approaches the woman.  Not the usual healing stores of the infirmed approaching Jesus for healing.  

In the second half of the Gospel the woman recedes from the narrative, and we move into Jesus’ encounter with the leader of the synagogue. It’s not the healing that concerns the leader of the synagogue, it’s that Jesus heals on the Sabbath day. 

The Sabbath was meant to be a complete day of rest as God had rested on the 7th day.  No work was to be done, no farming, no fishing, no shopping, no cooking, no healing.  The leader was caught up in the when’s and the where’s of the letter of the law by pointing out that this was not the day.  Pick another day to heal.  But Jesus saw the same law much differently.  The law did not trump God’s action when it came to God’s children especially this child of God, the daughter of Abraham.  From where Jesus stood, what better way to honor the Sabbath than by setting a captive free? 

 This is why he came after all.  Early on in Luke’s Gospel Jesus made know his work in the world as he read the words of Isiah: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19.  

 The invitation that Jesus gave the woman who was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders is the same invitation he extends to us today. 

Jesus says: Stand up!  Breathe and let your shoulders down with whatever the weight of the world that you are bearing. 

 He invites us to stand up and be transformed, and to be released from the things that leave us bent over, feeling low and less than, to be released from whatever bondage messes with our self-worth and our self-esteem.  We are invited to come from out of the shadows and valleys, and into the light of God’s amazing and healing love. 

 So many times, we try to put our best foot forward and never let on how burdened we may really feel.  Some of us come into a place of worship with our brokenness and we feel that if we keep a smile on our faces and pretend that everything is alright no one will ever know the weight that we are facing.  Once inside places where we think we are safe we still are unable to look up and see the world around us.  We may feel alone or forgotten.  We may struggle to see and remember that God is present.  But like the woman who stood tall in the synagogue that day, we are the children of a loving and caring God.  God’s grace working among us and through us helps us to stand up straight. 

 This summer I served as a delegate for The Episcopal Churches 80th General Convention.  A triennium convention that was delayed for a year due to COVID.  A convention which historically been held over eight days was compressed into four days of legislation and as a self-described church nerd I was so to speak in my element.  There were two important and moving highlights from General Convention.  The first was the expedition of the late Right Rev. Barbara C. Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion and who served as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of MA. It was moved that Bishop Harris who passed in 2020 be included in the episcopal calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  The historical significance of this is that General Convention usually doesn’t add people until 50 years after their death. 

 The other important piece of legislation was the creation of a fact-finding commission to research the denominations’ role in the federal boarding school system that separated generations of indigenous children from their families and cultures in the 19th and 20th century.  These actions come as U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland kicks off “The Road to Healing,” a national listening tour in which the secretary will hear from survivors of boarding schools in the United States. 

Convention members heard testimonies from clergy who had officiated at funerals for children whose remains had been repatriated from the former Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.  Others spoke of pushing the city of Albuquerque to acknowledge that children had been buried beneath a public park constructed on the former site of a Presbyterian run boarding school. 

 Still others shared their experiences as survivors themselves, or descendants of survivors.  Ruth Johnson of the Navajoland Area Mission attended two boarding schools – an experience which is still hard for her to speak about.  She spoke about being ill and being beaten and she ended with “I could have easily been one of those who didn’t make it home.”  

 To quote Bishop Mark Lattime of the Diocese of Alaska, “This is important work, and it’s for all of us.” “You might think your diocese doesn’t have a history with boarding schools with Indigenous people, and – while that might be true- there isn’t a diocese in this church that doesn’t have a history with Indigenous people.” 

 I want to tell you: there is no day, week, hour or moment that the God who formed and created us does not see our plight or hear our cries.  Our God energizes us and gives us hope no matter what trail, burden, or injustice we might face.  And God gives us one another to share in that hope. 

 I would like to stand before you and preach that we are beyond being bent over carrying the weight of the world but we all are aware that recently we have witnessed firsthand the actions of the weight that is being pressed down on innocent children, the weight being pressed down on those who feel that they are not heard, the weight of families whose loved ones have died as a result of guns violence.  We are never in a position in God’s eyes to oppress another, belittle another, scare or gaslight another or to act like another is less than.  That thought that it doesn’t happen here, it won’t happen here, it doesn’t apply to me disconnects us from the love of God and from our neighbor. 

 Like so many prophets known and unknown, past and present, like Jesus himself, we have been put on this earth so that we might find a way to ease one another’s pain and release from bondage and set them free, to raise up people and children who will stand tall knowing that they are precious children of God and worthy to share in God’s love. 

 It was a Sabbath day when the bent over woman was told to stand and stand she did and she praised God. 

With God’s help, any day is a good day to help others to stand. 

Amen 

 

Benediction: 

God loves you. 

Beloved people of God, forth from this place and share God’s love with others. And now may God’s grace, peace, joy and love abide with you now and forever. Amen 

 

-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministries

Sunday
August 14

Judgment and Grace

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 12:49–56

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A written text of this sermon is currently unavailable.

-Mr. William Edward Cordts, Friend of Marsh Chapel

Sunday
August 7

Have a Good Summer

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 12:32-40

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A written text of this sermon is currently unavailable.

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

Sunday
July 31

Litmus Faith

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 12:13–21

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Have you ever used a litmus test? A litmus test is a test using a special colorized paper. You dip the paper into a liquid and the color of the paper will change to blue or red, depending on whether the liquid is an acid or a base. The blue part of the paper will turn red if placed in something acidic and red paper will turn blue if placed in something basic. Many schools use the litmus test as a hands-on science experiment for students. It’s a relatively easy science experiment for kids that is still fun.

The term litmus test is used more broadly as a way of determining whether something will pass or not. It is widely used in politics, especially concerning court justices and presidential candidates. Hot button issues can be polarizing litmus tests which supposedly determine party affiliation or other meaningful political information. A lot of times certain issues become a sort of litmus test for things like dating, friend groups, or voting. Litmus tests are also used in churches. What is a sacrament, how often should communion be celebrated, and do you baptize or dedicate an infant? Calvinism or Free Will? Depending on the results of a litmus test during a sermon, we might tune in more closely or think harder about what we should have for lunch. The simplicity of a litmus test is helpful for making quick decisions. It recognizes that our pre-judgements often shape how we experience what is going on around us.

As a science project, a litmus test is straightforward. The results are either acid, base, or neutral. The paper shows the results of what is present. It is a fairly objective process; however, when the idea of a litmus test gets applied to other realms, like politics and theology, the process becomes much more subjective. That means that our experiences, identity, and other elements factor into the process. The results are rarely as straightforward as acid, base, or neutral and almost always some element of choice is involved. The subjective element allows for nuance and situational aspects to be accounted for, but too often the limitations of subjectivity are taken as objective fact. What I mean by that is something grounded in the perspective and experience of a person is taken as truthful constants; rather than, as something interpreted from a particular point of view. Interpretation always extends from who we are. It extends from our points of view, even as it comes back to shape our point of view. What we see in a text or in life, is partly influenced by our experiences of life.

To give this a concrete context, think about the national debates over what is currently written about in history books, especially with regard to race and racism. States and school systems around the country are banning and altering curriculum in dire dystopian fashion. On the one hand, this is wrong, untrue, and harmful. And on the other hand, it is actively shaping the point of view of younger generations so that their experiences of the world are marked by a certain understanding of the world and events. When I was in high school, a history teacher made it a strong point that the Civil War was not fought over slavery. We were told multiple times that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. We lost points on essays and exams if we claimed otherwise. We were told the Civil War was fought “to preserve the Union” and over “States Rights.” To use this litmus test from history is to lose all nuance and complexity over past events while allowing a present system of injustice to persist.

The stakes are high when it comes to history books, which is why the conflict is so important and strong. The danger is not only misinformation but a complete inability to engage truthfully with the past so that present oppression can continue. Prior point of view largely impacts present understandings and experiences of the monuments. And this is where the metaphor litmus test breaks down a bit. Because of elements like choice and experience, a litmus test outside of science it is not simply a means of determining acid, neutral, or base. It is often a choice to interpret the information or experience filtered through prior beliefs. The metaphor litmus test is popularly used as a way of testing beliefs or views on a matter. In practice, the litmus paper interacts with a solution to show you what type of solution is present, but in everyday practice, the litmus test actually reinforces preconceived beliefs to avoid honest and difficult engagement. While there are necessary reasons for this detachment, especially the survival of people constantly threatened by policies and views of others, there are consequences. Rather than deny point of view, experience, and subjectivity, we can account for the ways they influence us as we engage in discourse, especially the ways we approach differences.

Colossians 3:11 says, “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” While some of the particular markers of identity may not be readily recognizable to modern readers, the summary solidifies the point. “Christ is all and in all.” Some have taken to interpret this text as a denial of earthy identity. The only identity that matters is that which we have in Christ. Others have cited this text as a defense of color-blind approaches to race and racism which deny the significance of race or the presence of modern racism. For these approaches, difference is an obstacle that gets in the way of unity. In a vacuum, these approaches might have more merit than detriments but in our actual context, they have more detriment than merit. They become a litmus test, a tool which denies difference an opportunity to flourish. They also deny subjectivity to marginalized people and creates maladaptive identities in those with power. Our unity in Christ does not come at the cost of diversity and uniqueness. In fact, it is our differences and uniqueness which lead us even further into the divine mystery. At the same time, our unity and diversity in Christ also does not claim that all experiences of the world are equal. Some, lead toward justice and equity, while others lead toward hate and oppression. Perhaps, a better litmus test for politics and theology would be one that determines whether the course is loving or not. If only it were that simple…

The prophet Hosea lived in a contentious time in Israel’s history. He was a contemporary of the prophet Amos, whose words against the rampant social injustices are so strong. Amos denounced those who hoarded wealth unjustly and those who participated in harmful economic policies which kept the poor in poverty. Amos was especially critical of those who did so with a veneer of theological legitimacy. Those who built large barns off the backs of the poor, all the while, referring to their wealth as evidence of God’s blessing. Jesus’s parable, and Hosea’s message to these people are similar. That which is given, can be taken away and God desires justice not sacrifice. God desires faithful obedience not gifts that are lessened by how they were acquired. Hosea warned that the Assyrians would be a means of God’s justice for the injustice he witnessed. Where Amos rallied for social well-being and justice, Hosea emphasized faithfulness and knowledge of God. Two prophets, each revealing a part of God’s heart. Each complementing the other and trying to guide a people to live justly.

As you know, Old Testament prophets were not people who possessed crystal balls that could predict the future. They were God’s messengers, often in words and deeds. They discerned the word of the Lord and passed it along to the people. But this was an interpretive enterprise. The life of the prophet, the experiences of the prophet became a part of the interpretive process. The prophets were not passive people who recorded a voice they heard from beyond but active interpreters of their historical and social situations in light of their understanding and encounters with the Divine. The Word of the Lord came to them, but they were intimately involved in discerning and interpreting the Word. More often than not, the prophets of the Old Testament responded to their social and historical situations rather than making predictions about the far-off future. This means that prophets were far more human than popular imagination can make them out to be but also that we are invited to the same interpretive activity of the prophets. We interpret and discern the time we are in, in connection with others and the faith of ages past.

By nature of their inclusions in our Scripture, it can be easy to miss that the prophets were not always accepted by the people. They did not always champion popular views and they frequently engaged in polarizing prophetic ministry. What Hosea claimed of God was not readily accepted in his day, partly because there were other prophets who made opposing claims to Hosea. It is not surprising that a study of the prophets shows that often the most popular prophets, those who do not have books named after them in the canon, were the ones who predicted good things for the people and required very little change.

Some of these other prophets made their claims by virtue of other deities, like Baal as the Hosea reading says, but some prophesied differently from the canonical prophets and still in the name of YHWH. When we peer beneath the surface of our prophetic literature, we see communities in tension over how to interpret the times and God’s involvement in the world. We see different voices, sometimes even competing voices vying for legitimacy. Just as those who put the biblical cannon together had to ask, which prophets authentically spoke for God, we too have to discern between the myriad of voices in the present who claim to speak about God in our time. This is no easy task.

Hosea’s prophetic ministry began around 745 B.C.E. The book which bears his name utilizes many metaphors to discuss the relationship between God and God’s people. Metaphors are helpful in that task because we need something which helps us describe in human speech something that is greater than human speech. While still limited, metaphors help us grasp the mystery of the divine. Hosea uses the parent-child metaphor for God and Israel throughout the book and in the passage we read today. “11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” The passage continues to note the ways God nurtured the people of Israel. Mention of Egypt and the Exodus, teaching Ephraim to walk, holding the people in arms, and providing healing.

We see that Hosea claims God is not only a parent to Israel but a good parent. A parent who loves and cares, a parent who helps develop the child into adulthood. God is faithful in steadfast love for the people. Hosea draws from the covenant tradition here. His imagery is either a reminder or a further development of God’s covenant with Israel in the wilderness after Egypt. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” This is the level of care that many would desire from their God. Love, care, and nourishment. If you have taken care of a parent, child, or pet perhaps you can relate to the connection between love and care.

But, Hosea also claims that the people were not steadfast in their faithfulness to God. “11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.” Because of their unfaithfulness, Hosea warns the people that they will return to Egypt and that Assyria will rule over them. Hosea speaks of God’s love and God’s steadfastness but also of impending wrath and destruction. Hosea sees the historical rises of Egypt and Assyria as a real threat to Israel but interprets it in light of his understandings of God’s desired faithfulness. In other words, Hosea interprets the international scene from theocentric and Israel-centric standpoints. He engages the past and the history of the people to interpret the present.

When I teach this passage to Old Testament students, we take a long pause here to discuss the connection between history and the present with God’s action. Many students are quick to embrace Hosea’ theological methodology, connecting events around him with beliefs, and engaging the times with God. Sometimes these events are specific and other times they are more general. Such efforts, I think are commendable. Because I believe God is active in Creation, I too want to make sure my beliefs and theology reflect the possibilities opened by that posture.

However, after some time, I like to play the devil’s advocate with them. I bring up examples of pastors who have made claims of God in the aftermath of events like Katrina or Supreme Court cases which I assume are in opposition to the student’s beliefs about God and Creation. They usually see the difficulty. When Christians claim God is not bound by the pages in a book but active in the world, much can be claimed of God that is not noble, true, and right. When Christians claim the totality of Euro-American centric theologies, even ones grounded in the genuine experiences of those peoples, harms take place. But then the question rises, how do we discern the word of the Lord among the cacophony of those claiming to be prophets?

There is no litmus test to determine definitely just as the people of Israel had no litmus test to determine a true or false prophet. It is one reason; we speak of being cautious while making universal claims about God and all the unknowns. With the biblical witness, we have the advantage of time and those who have discerned for us in the past. We look back as modern interpreters who can discern and interpret God’s activity over the course of hundreds and thousands of years. Scripture guides us through the past and offers direction for the present. I do not think we should not be tempted by approaches to Scripture that claim to speak absolutely about absolute matters. Scripture does not speak in one voice but in many. It is among its many voices that we are called to witness the work of the Holy One. This invites us to discern, the multiple voices and traditions present within our tradition, even as we recognize that not all voices are good. Just as ancient Israel had to discern which prophets to listen to, we too are invited to this process of holy discernment among the myriad of voices claiming to speak for God today.

Perhaps, a key to a healthy Gospel is not so much the absolute surety of a litmus test but an openness to keep dipping beliefs and experiences into the living water as a means of being transformed into God’s likeness. It might mean we need to change pre-conceived notions and deeply held convictions, but it might just start us on a journey to a more equitable and just world. Led by the hope of the Gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

-The Rev. Scott Donahues-Martens, PhD Candidate, BU STH

Sunday
July 24

Ask. Seek. Knock.

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 11:1-13

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On a Sunday in February of 2019 my hospital pager went off when I was sitting in my home. My wife and I rarely watch the Superbowl, but the Patriots were playing and we lived in Quincy. It was half-time and the ICU requested that I come in to see a dying patient and support the family. I made the trip in and said a prayer outside the ICU doors. You never know what exactly you are stepping into in a situation like this. I found my way to the room, opened the glass door and moved the curtain. The room was decorated with Patriots gear and filled with people wearing Patriot’s Jersey’s. An older patient lay in bed with a large Patriots blanket. I thought, “well this visit might be a bit different.” The family expressed their thanks that I had come but rarely took both eyes off the screen. At the same time, they were attentive to their loved one. Frequently speaking, squeezing hands, and sharing a memory during a commercial. By the time I arrived, it was the third quarter. We watched the game for a while. Talking during commercials and downtime—gasps, and squeals during plays. The patient going in and out of consciousness but was surprisingly alert for end of life.

At one point I said, “Big fans,” “How could you tell” was the response. They shared that watching the Patriots together was a family ritual. They lived near the stadium and frequently went to games in person or gathered in someone’s house on a rotating schedule. It seemed that this family ritual would not be interrupted even at the end of life. This family ritual helped us navigate the end of life situation. I chose not to fight it but embrace it as a part of our end of life ritual. Eventually, the fourth quarter came and while everyone mostly watched the TV screen, I kept an eye on the other screen in the room. The screen which recorded vitals. Aware that the patient might not make it to the end of the game, especially with the stress of a 3-3 tied Superbowl, I asked if we could do the prayers they requested during a commercial. The family came fully to the reality of the situation at that moment and said yes, but someone did request I put in a good word for Tom Brady while I was at it.

We prayed and read the commendation of the dying liturgy, which includes the Lord’s Prayer. The family participated and recited many of the familiar prayers, especially participating during the Lord’s prayer. Prayer was also a family ritual. One that was passed down from generation to generation. Another familiar path in an unfamiliar time. One that connected them to each other and to God. By the time we finished, what would be the Patriot’s touch-down drive was in full swing. The room anticipated that this could be big and celebrated with great enthusiasm when they scored. Lots of high fives, lots of “did you see and they are going to do it.” Because the drive started during our prayer, they told me I had to stay to watch the rest of the game with them. They didn’t want to risk it, they said. I stayed. We watched the game and the Patriots won. The family celebrated, smiles on the patient’s face whose eyes were more often closed than not toward the end of the game. The next day, I discovered that the patient passed not long after I left, still surrounded by loved ones, still basking in the ritual of gameday, and the practice of prayer.

On my drive back home from the visit, I reflected on how the ritual of prayer and the family’s gameday rituals intertwined. They worked together in this instance. I thought about the liminal space between the sacred and secular that ritual can mediate. End of life is a fragile liminal space. Patriots and prayer were reminders of the family bonds in that space. Like a child who brings a favorite stuffed animal or toy on a long trip, the familiar can guide us when we are in unfamiliar territory. Part of the depth of meaningful rituals is the way they imprint in our consciousness when engaged with intentionality.     They become a sort of grammar for our lives. Not the feared grammar of elementary school but like the way of first learning to speak.

When we first learn to speak as, we hear words recited by others, mostly unsure of their meaning. Infants, babies, and toddlers hear a variety of words every-day for months and years. They hear them for a long time, sometimes even trying to repeat words with coos, grunts, and garbling. Eventually it comes together, and the sound of words comes out, even if adults do not fully understand. Then, little by little, the words make more sense. Intention and meaning become clearer. Full sentences eventually come and the connection between speaking about what is in the world around us becomes even stronger. Just as we learn to speak through practice, through use, our faith rituals are also embraced through practice and reflection. We learn the Lord’s prayer by practice and reflection. We embrace it through the memorization of words and the enactment of their meaning in the world.

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar prayer. Most of us can recite it by heart. We’ve heard it, read it, and hopefully lived it in one way or another. In many ways, it is a paradigmatic prayer of Christian prayer practices. It is frequently one of the first prayers memorized, either intentionally or learned through weekly use. While the memorization of the prayer is one way of internalizing the meaning of the prayer, the significance of the Lord’s Prayer should not words alone. Rituals are rarely about the words alone. Do not get me wrong, the words matter. Words matter and written rituals are frequent examples of words that do something. Like a couple who says I do at a wedding to enter into marriage, the Lord’s prayer changes how we relate to God, the world, and each other.

For many of us, we learned the Lord’s Prayer as it is recorded by Matthew rather than Luke. Luke’s account is different. When I come to Luke’s, I have to slow down. I have to remind myself to read the words on the page because my mind so quickly jumps to Matthew’s account. If I do not read slowly, I miss the differences, especially because most of the differences are subtle. They would likely go unnoticed if not for the ingrained memorization of Matthew’s account.

Like other sections of scripture, ancient manuscripts themselves do not always agree on the words of the prayer, in both Matthew and Luke. Lines are different, some lines that are considered stock to us seem to be later additions. The changes are illustrative of one of the first Latin phrases many in theological studies learn, lex orandi, les credendi which means, the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.    The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. What we pray shapes what we believe. Pray can be a form of primary theological speech, not just secondary reflection. Prayer is a crucial element of the grammar of Christian faith because it is a central practice. It is a practice which connects us to each other, Creation, and God. Prayer tells us what we think about God and the world. It has a way of reflecting our core beliefs and values. And, as the ancient Church taught, , lex orandi, les credendi. Prayer shapes our beliefs. Prayer shapes our attitudes. Prayer not only informs it also forms. It forms our beliefs, values, and actions.

Luke’s account of the Lord’s prayer places the Lord’s prayer in the context of Jesus’ own prayer life. Jesus was praying in an unnamed place and the disciples requested Jesus teach them to prayer as John taught his disciples to pray. Luke situates the Lord’s prayer in Jesus’ prayer life but also underscored the catechetical nature of the prayer. It is an example of how to pray and what to pray.

Following many Psalms, the prayer begins with honor to God’s holy name. “Father, hallowed be your name.” Jesus prays to God, the father. The prayer then moves to welcome God’s kingdom coming. “Your kingdom come.” Missing, although present in some ancient manuscript’s the line “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Nonetheless, this line is truly, one of the most radical prayers in all of scripture and one that is incarnated, to small degrees, every time we allow the Lord’s prayer to shape our lives and situations. To pray for God’s kingdom to come is to recognize our common need for the divine. It recognizes our dependence on God’s love and activity. It is also a call for Christian unity. We desire God’s Kingdom not our kingdoms.

A petition for daily bread. “Give us each day our daily bread.” The grammar of Greek here is interesting. Give us daily bread—each day. The bread is daily bread, the request is to have it each day. Daily bread each day. Perhaps, a reminder of when the people wandered in the desert and relied on God for mana. Mana came each day but it was daily mana you could only collect what was needed because it spoiled. Storing mana led to spoiled mana. Praying for daily bread is a reminder that God is Creator and Sustainer.        The prayer shapes us attitudes around sustenance and possessions. Another radical value formed through this prayer is contentment with what we have rather than the insatiable desire for more. To rely on God for daily bread is to trust.

A few months ago, my two year old and I were in a rhythm every morning. He would wake up and almost always ask for Blackberries for breakfast. It was a new food item to him and quickly became a lasting favorite. We only give him a couple at a time, and it was fun to watch the enjoyment on his face while he ate them. On one particular morning, I woke up well before he did, so I put the blackberries at the table where he sits on his placemat. But without thinking, I left out the plastic container from the story on the counter. When my son woke up, he ran out and he saw the Blackberry container on the counter. He immediately started asking for blackberries. I tried to get through to him that I had already gotten him some, that they had been washed, and that they were ready for him to eat at the table. He was so focused on the containers on the counter though. No matter how many times I told him that I had already given him some and that he could just go to the table to get them, he just kept reaching for the containers. He couldn't see his portion which was ready for him because he was so focused on what he didn't have. The Lord’s prayer is a Christian practice that helps shape contentment. It enables us to see what God has given us and what God has worked around us. It is easy to miss what we have longed for stuff that we do not really need but nonetheless holds power over us. Daily bread is a form of contentment.

The Lord’s prayer moves from physical sustenance, daily bread, to forgiveness. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” First, the forgiveness of sins from God, then the language changes from that of sin ­amartia to debt opheiló. The Lord’s prayer reminds us that we need to be right with God and we need to be right with our neighbors. The term, Opheiló, debt initially carried more legal and economic weight than moral implications. While not exclusive to Luke, we see Luke’s emphasis on human social relating here, especially connecting social relating with economic relating. Luke consistently reminds us that how we interact with other people, and how we interact with money are directly connected, further emphasizing the need for contentment. The communal language is also present throughout the prayer. Give us, forgive us, as we. Community

The final line in Luke’s account is “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We are so used to saying, and deliver us from evil that it is hard to stop there. Some scholars see this line in cosmic terms while others see it as more mundane. Is it some present hardship, or a final ultimate battle? Many scholars argue it is not a request to avoid hardships altogether but a request for God to see us through hardships and trials. A request that even when the valley of the shadow of death is near, God is present with us with rod and staff to comfort us. Like the Gettysburg address, the Lord’s prayer is short but every line conveys depth.

A popular understanding of prayer is as a means to influence or shape God. This is one view that is supported by Scripture but another view of prayer reminds us that God shapes our through prayer. Prayer is a guide which invites being shaped, like clay in the hands of the potter. Prayer places us into the hands of the potter.

The Lord’s prayer is Catechetical, which means it was used to teach the early followers of Jesus what to pray and how to pray. This use of the Lord’s prayer continues today. It is taught in catechism and Sunday school rooms. The prayer informs us.

The Lord’s prayer also became liturgical. It was recited in worship services. It was used in baptism and the eucharist. We recite the Lord’s prayer when we gather for worship. The prayer forms us.

The prayer is also enacted through faithful living. These are not only words on a page but an invitation to live into the reality of God’s kingdom on earth. The prayer is performed by living. Inform, form, and perform. Each captures different uses and facets of the familiar prayer.

The passage in Luke continues with a lesson on the importance of perseverance in prayer. which Jesus summarizes by saying, “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Ask, search, and knock. Inform, form, and perform.

 

-The Rev. Scott Donahues-Martens, PhD Candidate, BU STH

Sunday
July 17

Woven Promises

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:38-42

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In the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here in Boston, there is a tapestry room. The room is grand with walls displaying enormous tapestries. Many of the tapestries depict images or scenes, one even showing parts of Abraham’s story. These textile artworks are woven together thread by thread to make their images and tell their stories. They may not always have the vibrancy of oil and canvas, but they are commanding. At its essence, a tapestry is a collection of dyed threads. Because the thread is dyed before being woven into the final product, it takes an enormous amount of precision and patience. It takes vision to see the final product and precision to actualize the vision. When connected to the whole, each thread becomes a part of something larger. Colors work together to form beautiful images.

I’m struck by how each individual thread alone is small. Just a piece of thread. A single piece is easily broken or blown away by the wind. These individual threads are vulnerable to tearing. When they are woven together into a tapestry though, the threads become stronger together. The small thread vulnerable to tearing alone is less vulnerable when surrounded by a community of threads woven into each other. On a tapestry, the horizontal threads, the weft threads are woven through the warp threads, that are the vertical ones. Horizontal and vertical, weft and warp, hold each other tightly to prevent the tapestry from coming undone or fraying. They work together to hold one another in place.

When I was young, whenever I had a thread break away from a piece of clothing, my mother would tell me not to pull it. I generally did it anyway but pulling it risks making a minor snag into a big problem. Because of the way cloth is woven together the threads hold the other together but it does not make them invincible. So, pulling on loose threads can risk the safety of nearby threads as well. Tapestries are similar. Despite their strength, when threads fray or get pulled out, sections of the tapestry can be weakened.

Perhaps, the tapestry can serve as a metaphor for community. Ideally, threads work together, holding one another up. Each plays a part, drawing attention to each other. Each thread contributes in its unique way to some image or scene. Each thread matters to the whole but no one thread dominates the others. They are interconnected and interdependent. At the present, our social tapestry is frayed and fraying at a rapid pace. Loose threads are visible, and many have been pulled threatening the whole structure. The more this occurs, the greater the potential for continued degradation and destruction. Loosening threads threaten our social tapestry. We are coming to see what many around the world have experienced for much longer, societies are not always safe or stable. Many of you are already aware of the fraying tapestry. Perhaps, many of you also feel a sense of paralysis over what to do. Let us listen to the Gospel according to Luke for the inspiration of the Spirit who has weathered ages past and will see ages to come. We turn to Luke, not to escape our world and troubling situation but to remember the promise of the Gospel. Let us search for the good news.

Directly following the parable of the Good Samaritan, last week’s Gospel reading which ends with “go and do likewise” is a short scene involving two sisters, Mary and Martha. The text says that Martha invited Jesus to her house. Jesus was presumably traveling with the disciples and others so this may not have been a small invitation. A good-sized entourage was likely with Jesus. There was no texting so maybe Martha knew she would be hosting but perhaps she had no idea. Either way, it seems Martha was busy trying to get everything that involved hosting together. I sympathize with Martha here. Hosting is hard work. Cooking, cleaning, filling drinks, making sure it is not too hot or too cold, hoping the conversation, barely audible from the kitchen is entertaining for everyone present. Hosting is a big responsibility and has social norms and expectations. Hosting can be a high-pressure activity, even if a lot of the pressure is self-imposed.

The social norms and responsibilities were even greater in the 1st century than they are today. In ancient Greek literature, we read about hosting in language reminiscent of the sacred and friendship. We also see examples of the high place of hosting and hospitality in the Hebrew Bible. Acts of hospitality or inhospitality feature prominently in the Genesis patriarch stories and in other places throughout Scripture. Hospitality was more than good manners, it was meeting the needs of guests’, often considered friends when under the roof. Meeting guests’ needs goes above and beyond warm smiles and being polite. It is caring for the person. Amid trying to get everything done and be hospitable, when Martha saw her sister Mary at Jesus’ feet, she questions what was happening. Perhaps, she wants help, perhaps she feels the impropriety of a woman learning at the feet of a man should be questioned. Possibly both.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Martha would like help. Hosting is hard and she might be used to her sister doing the work with her. Interestingly, she turns to Jesus for that help. She questions Jesus about his care over her sister leaving her to do the work, even while it is her house. As host, Martha had the authority to request Mary’s help, but she defers to Jesus, her guest but also the Lord.

Teeming with gender roles and expectations, Jesus’ response, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, defies typical roles. Women were not to learn at the feet of teachers, but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet choosing to defy the social and gender norms in normal circumstances, let alone when hospitality was involved. Expectations were flipped. Even still, it is important not to create a binary system of womanhood from this Lukan text. We should not go around labeling people Mary’s and Martha’s when it seems to me that Luke was pushing back against gender norms and societal expectations not creating a system of labels and boxes. This passage shows that there is more than one way to be but, perhaps we should go even further to remind ourselves that life and situations are complex. We embody a myriad of roles or positions throughout our lives, none of which have to be raised to ontological necessity. Sometimes, we embody the role of host and sometimes we embody the role of learner, and sometimes even both at times. Personhood, identity, and roles are more complex than labels. Labels can be useful, especially as they provide orientation. But it is important to recognize the role of the situation in our actions. We all perform different roles and actions in different situations and contexts. Rather than threatening our core senses of selves, the very situations we find ourselves in are the places where action and being come to fruition.

Along with homilician David Schnasa Jacobsen, I see this with the Gospel too. The Gospel is not completely understood as something apart from the situations we find ourselves in but speaks to, from, and with situations. That means that our present situation of a fraying tapestry is not without the Gospel. It pushes us to hold up where we are, context with our faith, text and belief in the hard work of discernment. In this way, the Gospel becomes something more than ancient creeds and words on a page, it incarnates through us into the world. This mode of discerning the Gospel has less surety and more openness which can make it uncomfortable, but it also holds the potential to be revelatory in this day and age.

After the parable of the good Samaritan, where someone typically looked down upon was the paragon in the parable, Jesus once again defies custom. He responds in favor of Mary. “10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Martha is concerned with hospitality. A good concern. A needed concern. God bless those concerned with hospitality. She wants to care for those who have come under her roof. Martha is actively doing. Like many others who invited Jesus to their house and showed hospitality, Martha does not want to miss the opportunity to show hospitality but unlike many others who order servants to do the hospitable work, Martha seems to be doing it herself. Feeding, washing, and caring are holy work.    Mary wants to learn from Jesus. Both are worthy and often Luke pairs a parable or a narrative with another parable or narrative which inform the other.

Maybe the Parable of the Good Samaritan, with its emphasis on action and the story of Mary and Martha, with its emphasis on listening, form a sort of pair. The Good Samaritan emphasizes action and this narrative listening at the feet of Jesus. Perhaps, each in unique and varying situations are needed. What is “better” for Mary may not have been better for Martha and vice versa. Perhaps, it is the very situation which determines which is “better” to use Jesus’ words. But no matter what, like the weft and warp of a tapestry they mutually inform and hold each other in place. The strength of the tapestry is not the weft or warp alone but their interconnected woven nature. The strength of faith in belief and action is also in their interconnected woven nature. Take away “Go and do likewise” or take away faith at the feet of the Lord and the tapestry falls apart. Each person contributes in their unique manner to the whole in a way that fundamentally matters. Uniqueness and diversity give the tapestry its beauty. Threads woven together, lend the individual strands their strength.

I spent the first summer in seminary working for the seminary grounds crew. There were about 6 of us Master of Divinity students who did everything from mowing to weeding and trash pick-up to planting. We spent one whole month weeding and mulching, weeding and mulching, weeding and mulching. Into the second week of mulching, we confessed that each of us had felt job envy at some point. You see, on the first day of mulching we all selected a part of the overall job. I used a pitchfork to get the mulch off the dump truck and into the wheelbarrows, three people moved the wheelbarrows from the truck to the flower beds, and two people spread the mulch in the flower bed. We all played our part but after a few hours of this day in and day out, it was easier to focus on the ease of other tasks and escalate the hardships of our own. We referred to this feeling as job envy. Envious of the desirable parts of others’ roles while neglecting the desirable parts of your own job. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”

We tried rotating jobs but really came to see that the initial jobs we had all chosen were the ones we wanted to do. So, we stuck with the same jobs and tried to keep the job envy at bay. The six of us all played a part in the overall work. Even while our attitudes toward each other and the work impacted our experience of each other and the work.

Community takes work and a desire or commitment to community. As I read old accounts of Methodist camp meetings and society meetings, lately I have been struck by the communal aspect of discernment. Faith and discerning the promise of the Gospel was not something done in isolation, it was communal by purpose. People gathered to read the ancient text, sing, and share their lives together. It was personal and communal balanced together. People affirmed, challenged, or illuminated in community with one another held together by a common desire to love God and neighbor and interpret the times. What I sense in these old accounts is an understanding that God’s promises to Creation, God’s promises to us are woven together. Because God is not my God alone and because I am not the only person in Creation, discerning the will and promise of God should be communal because the tapestry is strongest when the threads are interconnected. My understanding of God and life are enhanced through engagement with others. Woven promises connect and form strong bonds.

This is a different view of faith and spirituality from the strong “personal relationship with Jesus” language of my youth. I still see some merits in that image and language, but I also think it has its limits. God is not my personal God but God over everything. My view and understanding of God are enhanced by listening to others and engaging others. I think if faith is going to continue to be a voice of goodness and purpose in the world, it will do so through more communitarian ideals. It will do so by returning to a vision of faith discerning in community and with community; rather than, highly individualistic manners. At a time when the social tapestry is frayed and fraying, the church can lend strength to the threads of life. No matter what isolated individualism would have us think, our lives are woven into Creation and into the lives of others. Just as my family, friends, and people I’ve encountered are a part of my memories, I am a part of other’s memories. The social tapestry is complex.

Colossians invites us to be reconciled with Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all Creation. The one present at Creation and who it is through that Creation came to being. “1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” To be a part of God’s tapestry is to recognize that Christ is part of what holds the threads of Creation together. Christ’s promises are not ours alone to possess but are directed toward all of Creation. Which calls us toward responsibility. We are not responsible for the whole tapestry but perhaps, with wisdom, guidance, and love we can be threads which strengthen; rather than, fray. Perhaps, we can be threads that help hold the threads around us together in strength and love.

When we care for one another, the tapestry of Creation strengthens. When we listen to those who need to be heard, the tapestry strengthens. When we encourage and promote self-care and mental health, the tapestry strengthens. When we participate in loving communities and churches, the tapestry is strengthened.

Amos knew something of the need for a strong tapestry. In fact, the Amos passage for today begins with fear over a frayed social tapestry. Fear that inequality was irreversible without divine intervention and fear over how God will intervene to end the inequality of the day to right the iniquity of the time. Amos speaks of buying the poor for cheap prices, using weighted scales, and padding grain with useless bit unfit for eating.

 

-The Rev. Scott Donahues-Martens, PhD Candidate, BU STH

Sunday
July 10

Ode to Mercy

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:25–37

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Against a dark background of economic need revealed in violent thievery, our Gospel sings out a majestic ode to mercy.

Against a dark background of cultural violence revealed in highway robbery, the taking of what is not one’s own, our parable pronounces a poetic ode to mercy.

Against a dark background of racial contest, revealed in the starring role of the Samaritan, our Lord acclaims a gemlike ode to mercy.

Against a full and darkly difficult background of taking what is not one’s own, Luke’s own biblical theology starkly epitomized in chapter 10, perhaps and rightly the best known and most beloved passage in Scripture, gives melodic voice to an ode to mercy.  We listen this beautiful Sunday morning, first for a moment to Luke, and second for a moment to the Samaritan.

What meets us in St. Luke this summer?

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 85-90 of the common era (though there is now some significant resistance to this view).  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.

What do we find?  Or what shall we find in prayerful conversation with Luke across the summer?

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark: like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earliest gospel, 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. This requires that so long left behind over fifty years, a sound liberal biblical theology.  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, very much including the pinnacle parable this morning, are all his. Examples include some of your favorite parables, like today’s Good Samaritan, and like the lost sheep, and like the Prodigal Son, and like the Dishonest Steward.  We have Luke to thank for the remembrance of these great stories. Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.

Luke weaves together his own perspective and materials with that of the rest of the Scripture.  Luke has a passion for compassion, and sings out as today a song, an ode, an accolade through and through to mercy.  To justice.  Real religion, by Luke’s measurement, is not ever very far from justice, from a concern for justice, for the just cause, the just word, the just deed, the just perspective.  Including today.  Luke draws from the whole, the whole of Scripture to craft his two books, the Gospel and Acts.  So, look for a moment at the rest of Scripture.  Tragically, sadly, in this last month, we may be closer than we have been in a long time to real, though harshly administered, reflection on matters of interpretation of ancient documents, whether the Holy Bible from thousands of years ago, or the US Constitution, from hundreds of years ago.  Interpretation really matters.  Biblical theology, a sound mode of interpretation, really matters, counts, and lasts. A purely originalist view, whether for Constitution or Scripture, will bring its own maladies, as bear witness following the Supreme Court decision, leaked earlier, but announced last month.  Are we to read these documents only as collections of topics from the past, cemented in antique times and places?  Or are we to read them regarding their themes, their living themes, not just their topics, and the lasting, growing, consequential outworking of these themes, in both history and theology, or in both history and philosophy?  Topics of themes?  Origin or meaning?  There is a biblical theme, today, undergirding the Samaritan, the most marvelous of parables, the theme of justice.  It lives throughout Scripture.

Read the books of the Law, like Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt….For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat.”

Remember: the Hebrew Scripture, our Older Testament, was largely composed in the dark days of a later slavery, the bondage of Babylon.  In that moment of memory, the community of faith recalled keenly their earliest history of God’s love and power, the God who brought them up out of the land of slavery to the land of milk and honey.   They mused:  We know what it means to be poor, to be oppressed, to be outcast, to be downtrodden. Once we were ourselves. THEREFORE, there will be justice in our land for the poor. You and you all know that too, and may need to search your extended family histories and memories for what happened to your people in the Great Depression.   We learned something, or were reminded of something, then, as were the Israelites dragged again in chains to Babylon in 587 bce. Luke writes in earshot of Babylon.

Read together the books of the Prophets, the very heart of the Old Testament.  In all of religious literature, in all human history, there is nothing quite as sobering, as piercingly and stingingly direct, with regard to justice, as these 16 voices, four the louder and twelve the lesser.   Malachi teaches tithing. Isaiah affirms holiness. Hosea preaches love. Micah shouts, ‘do justice, love mercy, walk humbly’. Together the prophets consistently rail against human greed, human selfishness, human covetousness, human apathy.  The harvest here for our theme is so plentiful it is difficult to select an exemplar, there are so many.

Perhaps Amos will do best, our lectionary guest this morning. In the eighth century BCE, a shepherd boy from Tekoa went down to the gates of the big city, Jerusalem, and cried out against it.  He pilloried the shallow religion of his day. He assaulted the reliance, the naïve over-reliance of his government on weapons of war, he bitterly chastised the amoral, post moral practices of human sexuality of his day.  But he saved his real fierce anger for injustice.

“I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes—they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted” (Amos 2:6-7).  “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 21-24). Recall Martin Luther King reciting these verses, down in the sweltering little jail house of Birmingham Alabama, 1963.

Read together the books of Wisdom, especially, as we do each Sunday, the book of the Psalms. Let us read together the books of Wisdom.  Love is for the wise, and justice is the skeleton of love.

“When the just are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan…The just man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge…(Proverbs 29)

‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now arise’, says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs’ (Psalm 11: 5).    “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge’ (Psalm 14:6).

In an odd way, the most sobering judgment about justice is offered by Ecclesiastes, who speaks least directly to the theme.  But his philosophy is clear, his thematic emphasis.  He looks at all the toil of the sons of men, and sees—vanity.  He warns: that for which you strive will not last, that for which you suffer will not endure.  “What has a man for all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun?  For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest’’(Ecc. 2:23).  As an Indian proverb puts it:  ‘In his lifetime the goose lords it over the mushroom.   But in the end, they are both served up on the same platter’.  Each a reminder:  Justice lasts, not acquisition.

More: to understand, or interpret, the Good Samaritan, this magisterial parable, one needs more than origination, more than topics, more than the geography between Jerusalem and Jericho.   One needs to hear it in the heart of Luke, and in the fullness of Scripture.  One needs a sure grasp of the great themes of Scripture, not just the topics.

So, listen second, this morning again to the Samaritan.  Against a full and darkly difficult background of the taking what is not one’s own, Luke’s own biblical theology is starkly epitomized in chapter 10, perhaps and rightly the best known and most beloved passage in Scripture, which gives melodic voice to an ode to mercy.  An ode is:  something that shows respect for or celebrates the worth or influence of another (Webster).  An ode in the general sense, and one…full of surprises.  Surprises…Notice them…In Luke 10…

 The breadth of life promise, do this and you will live…

 The honesty about random peril, hurt, along the road of life…

 The abject failure of the clergy—priests, levites-- to respond…

 The heroism of the excluded, the heroism of the Samaritan…

 The touch, time, treasure, tenacity of the care (seeing, anointing, bandaging, carrying, paying, returning)…

 The timely, welcome open space at the inn unlike Christmas…

 The jarring turn of neighbor from object to subject (not who to care for but, who cares)…

 The questioning of the questioner…

 Such a Diamond! Gem! Masterpiece! Parable…

In our own moment, we may be nourished by such an ode.  How dearly we need that nourishment.

For we now awake every morning, unlike those mornings prior to November of 2016, when still there lingered the prospect of a common hope, arising to see in every direction--the taking of what is not one’s own.  Pollution, Putin, Pandemic, Politics, Prejudice, Pistols, and Pain.  Climate pollution, the taking of the green earth by one generation, when it surely belongs to future generations.  The taking of land by one country, in inch-by-inch slaughter of another.  The taking of public health, like water and air a common good, not one’s own, but taken nonetheless, mainly by not facing it as a whole, as a nation, together, as in the pandemic. The taking of political activity, engagement, and truth, and making of it into a seedbed for autocracy.  The taking of the tragic history of racial injustice—THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD—and making of it into a mode of argument, jousting, contest.  The taking of freedom from fear of gun violence, a freedom owed children in schools and at parades, as if their freedom from trauma were ours to take.  And now, in addition, the taking of women’s bodies, and the coming frightful multiplication of needless and heedless pain.  Women’s bodies are women’s bodies.  The theme underlying all these: the sordid taking of what is not one’s own, the rapacious seizing of what is another’s, what belongs to another.

How utterly, staggeringly different, our Samaritan gospel today, the picture judging us from antiquity, the account of love of neighbor.  Yet, there are glimmers of encouragement, in every day and week.  We have had a week and more of reminders, like that of the Samaritan himself, of how good life can be.

One loves his northern neighbor by the honoring of Canada Day with a Maple Leaf flag…

One loves her next door neighbor with anniversaries and birthdays with strawberry pies… 

A community loves the neighborhood by funding block parties for dancing, county fairs for the dairy princesses, symphony concerts on village greens with the star-spangled banner all standing, some Strauss some dancing to it, the requisite John Williams compositions all nodding, and a Sousa march as cherry on top…

 Our own existential plumb line inherited from Amos and the truth of Holy Writ, of biblical theology, is not entirely forgotten, in our common culture, nor is our own existential call to mercy in the glorious example of the Samaritan.  And that is truly good news.

What shall we do?

 Jesus answers, a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…

 What shall we do?

 But you are doing it.  By private prayer.  In attendance on ordered worship. In a ministry of outreach to the shut in and home bound.  In preparation for a holiday barbecue.  In the planning for choirs and programs, and study groups to come.  In offering a kind word. In charitable, generous giving. In noticing hurt and offering help.

 What shall we do?

 Jesus answers, learn from the Samaritan…

Jesus answers, show mercy

And Jesus gives us something we can do to preserve a glimmer of personal encouragement, the practice daily of the love of neighbor

 An Ode to mercy…

Go and do likewise…

 An Ode to mercy…

Go and do likewise…

 An Ode to mercy…

Go and do likewise…

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

Sunday
July 3

Go on your way

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Click here to hear just the sermon

 

The Summer at Marsh chapel is a slower time of year – our weekly programming takes a hiatus in between semesters. We spend our time focusing on planning for the next academic year and continuing to worship together each Sunday morning. One of the regular opportunities we have for student engagement over the summer is during orientation sessions. BU is a large institution, which means each entering class is several thousand students. In order to accommodate the number of new students and give them and their parents the appropriate amount of information they need before they start their first year, there are several sessions throughout the summer where students meet other first year students, do team building activities, and go to sessions about student accounting, safety, and general college life. Our involvement during orientation is to welcome students and explain what religious life entails at the university. We offer information about the many religious life student groups we have and our times for worship and engagement at Marsh Chapel. This year, we’ve been doing this by setting up a table on the plaza and offering Marsh Chapsticks and candy to students. Honestly, results have always been varied when we do this. Religion isn’t necessarily a flashy draw to young adults. Most of the time people avert their gaze away from us when we make eye contact or say “Hello” but then walk hurriedly past.

If you’ve ever been in a position of engaging the general public to get interested in a cause, your place of work, or even just to take some free promotional items, you know what a challenge it can be. People are wary of strangers approaching them, as they should be in a lot of cases. Trusting someone you’ve never met before is difficult. Making sure they’re not trying to deceive or harm you should be a concern. When you’re on the side of trying to provide that information to people it’s even harder to get them to engage you. You have to be non-threatening. You have to invite them over and say “no problem” or “thanks for your time” if they say no to you. Your job is not to force them to listen to you, but to offer an invitation for engagement which they can take or leave.

If they do take up your offer to talk, you have to be willing to listen to what they say and offer your truth to them in a way that isn’t judgmental or coercive. If it’s information they want, then give them that information. If it’s deeper questions about what you do, try to answer that in a way they can understand. Every once in a while you make a connection – someone who is looking for a place of worship, looking for how to practice their faith now that they're leaving home, or how to go about exploring new or different faiths. Those are the highlights, but more often than not we encounter folks who are sometimes even embarrassed to talk to us because, in their own extremely apologetic words “Sorry, I’m not religious!” The expectation that there’s going to be some sort of judgment from us as to whether someone is religious or not might seem difficult to grasp for those who are involved in our community at Marsh, but in the wider world the judgment for not holding the same beliefs can result in conflict.

As we’ve been exploring Lukan Biblical theology together for the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed Jesus rejected again and again. In the first story, even though Jesus has committed a great act of healing by casting out demons in a man marginalized by society, the community which had rejected the man does not accept Jesus either because they are afraid of the power he possesses. Instead of the man joining the disciples, Jesus tells him to go back to his community and show them what God has done for him. Jesus is rejected but he doesn’t let that stop him from continuing with his ministry. He deploys the man as an apostle, sharing the Good news of God’s kindom with the world.

Last week, at the beginning of our narrative, Jesus sends messengers to a village of Samaritans in order to prepare a place for him to stay. The Samaritans will not allow Jesus to stay as their way of life is so different from the Jewish way of life. In response, John and James want revenge on the Samaritans. How could they not accept Jesus? How could Jesus not be upset? Well, in fact Jesus was upset, but with James and John. They missed the point of what Jesus is trying to do in his ministry, share glimpses of the kingdom of God with those around him. And if people don’t accept it right away, then he moves on to the next village to proclaim his message there. Jesus teaches his disciples about his mission in the world, they follow him, but when left to their own devices, they often miss the mark of what it is they are supposed to be doing.

This week we transition from learning about what discipleship looks like to what it means to be an apostle. Now it is commonplace that people will often use these two terms interchangeably. However, they do mean different things. A disciple is a learner of Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent out by Jesus. The important thing to remember about this is that the two are not independent of each other. Exegetical scholar Brian Stoffregen notes “Discipleship without apostleship leads to stagnation. Apostleship without discipleship leads to burnout. A life-giving faith requires both: the inflow from disciplined learning and the outflow of being sent into the world with a message.” We are called to follow Jesus but we are also called to go out into the world and bring along messages of peace and God’s kindom. Disciples and apostles are two faces on the same coin, bringing the reality of God’s Kindom into the world by living out Christ’s teachings.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is ready to send out the seventy in pairs to each town as apostles, making the way for him as he will eventually reach each of these towns. Much like discipleship there will be hardship in being an apostle. They are lambs being sent out amongst wolves – the world around them will be hostile to their message. Not only that, but he tells them to go without any sort of supplies and to rely on the hospitality of strangers to survive in each town. They are at the mercy of those they encounter – they are not to conquer in the name of God, but to be welcomed in and show graciousness to their hosts by sharing God’s peace with them. Their goal is simple, to bring news and action of the Kingdom of God into reality for those they encounter. They announce a message of peace, which sometimes will then rest upon those who receive it and sometimes will not. He also indicates that they will possess the ability to heal others and have demons submit to them. These are powers Jesus himself has but as his representatives, they also possess them.

Despite the fact that they have these cosmic gifts, Jesus warns them about rejection and getting lost in their power. Again, they are to bring a message of peace. If their message is not received, they should shake the dirt off of their shoes and move on to the next town (sound familiar from last week’s reading?) They are also not supposed to get too caught up in the power that God has given them. Their power ultimately lies in heaven, in the faith they have in God, not in their ability to cast out demons or heal people. They’re not to revel in these abilities but instead continue doing the work of God’s Kingdom by bringing the love that God shows to the world through Jesus.

Amy G. Oden, a Church History and Spirituality scholar, succinctly states what Jesus’ instructions are to the seventy:

“Jesus does not instruct them to argue, convince, or threaten if they are not welcomed. He does advise them to signal their moving on by shaking dust off their shoes (verse 11). In this way, they are not weighed down by rejection, or paralyzed with trying to figure out what they did wrong or could have done differently to produce a different outcome. Instead, Jesus invites them to move forward in the confidence of these two proclamations, “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.”

 

Jesus sends the 70 out into the world and this should also be an invitation to us. First, we don’t know who the 70 are. It doesn’t say if they are a specific gender, because we know that Jesus attracted followers regardless of their gender, which means any person can do this work. Second, 70 is a lot of people! This isn’t some select group who can know and share this good news – it’s everyone! Also, he doesn’t expect them to get it right. We know from Jesus’ interactions with the disciples that they often still don’t understand what God or Jesus is up to, even if they are willing to follow Jesus’ teachings. These apostles are sent out with the simplest message and, if they trust in God, they will be able to share that message with others. The 70 apostles will make mistakes because they are human, and human desires are constantly in battle with what God wills for the world – that is the nature of sin.

The power of the apostles evangelism lies in God. It isn’t their responsibility to change what God offers to fit to the demands of the people. Instead their role is to embody God’s peace and to offer the knowledge that God’s kingdom has come near to the people they encounter. As Christians today, this kind of apostleship seems foreign to us. First of all, many of us in mainline protestant denominations, particularly in new England, cringe at the thought evangelism. Perhaps it’s because our culture has repeatedly told us that religion is something you do not discuss in polite company or perhaps because we are challenged by the ways some of our more evangelical brothers and sisters go about evangelizing. But evangelical, despite the connection with more conservative forms of Christianity in the United States actually means “those with good news.” It’s why Martin Luther preferred to use this term to describe his movement in the early years (before others started calling them “Lutherans”) during the protestant reformation, because it was a return to the good news, the Gospel, rather than the abuses of the Catholic church at the time. Jesus is calling the apostles to be evangelicals. We are also called to this task in sharing our experiences of God with others and listening deeply to their stories and experiences.

Despite this, often times evangelism gets corrupted into coercion. In fact looking at our current national situation, it would appear that this coercive type of Christianity has a grip on our national politics. Jesus doesn’t say to argue with people about being a Christian – he says to offer what God has offered and if it is not accepted, move on. The Gospel speaks for itself. Jesus isn’t a part of the powers that be, it’s why he’s constantly reminding the disciples and now the apostles that they are lambs among wolves. Christianity that comes to serve the interests of individuals is not Christianity, it coopts the message of the Gospel, which is to point toward the kingdom of God rather than the powers of individuals here on earth. When people use God as a means to oppress others, they are not proclaiming the Gospel. When they push their ideology on others without considering how it fits into God’s message of peace and what Jesus has taught about the Kingdom of God, it is no longer evangelism on behalf of God. The idea of forcing beliefs on others is not what Jesus instructs. Jesus is not here to declare revenge on those who reject him, he is in the process of establishing a new creation that radically transforms each and every one of us.

God doesn’t grant us dominion over one another – see Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are to work together, not create divisions, in order to fulfill the Gospel. We are made new in Christ and in that newness of creation we develop new ways of relating to one another that look nothing like our human-centered hierarchies. Our mission is to invite people into this new creation; to live in the world in a way that is completely different than anything we can imagine. Our vision of a new creation helps others to become a part of something that is beyond our current comprehension.

It begs the question, how will we show up for God in the world in such a way that others feel welcomed to our community. How can we continue the tradition of brining the Kindom of God near to others that they will feel compelled to learn more? We should be good enough  apostles that we create new disciples, receiving the peace of Christ and experiencing the Kindom of God on their own to then share it with others. We do not to coerce but invite. Not oppress but to liberate through the gospel. Not to harm or conquer, but to share love and healing in a reciprocal relationship. Our conception of evangelism need not be forcing people to submit to the will of God, but instead showing through our actions, our invitations, our mere presence as a Christian that we welcome and affirm all people and encourage them to explore their faith without intimidation.

Going back to the beginning of this sermon, tabling for student attention doesn’t get easier as the years go by. But each year, nevertheless, we meet people, few in number, who find a home in Marsh Chapel. Maybe it’s on Sunday morning, in the choir, or during community dinner on Monday evenings. But what I will tell you is that for most of the students who come to our activities for the first time, they say “wow, how come more people don’t know about this?” That is a question that should stick with you. How come more people don’t know about this? And what can we do to help people recognize the peace offered here in ways that will encourage people to learn more? Marsh Chapel is not perfect, none of us are, but we help create places where students can be their authentic selves and connect to something larger than themselves. We might feel ill equipped to do this work, but Jesus shows us that you don’t need to have anything to be able to share his message with others except an attitude of humility and a willingness to engage people where they are. By living out our faith, by showing hospitality and grace to others, we continue Jesus’ commission to “Go on your way.”

 

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

Sunday
June 26

“…But First,”

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 9:51-62

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Good morning. What a week. Any pastor or preacher will tell you that what you think your sermon for Sunday might look like on Monday or Tuesday can be radically different than what actually develops by Saturday evening. Consider this sermon to be the work of the Holy Spirit in a hurting world. Consider it living into the reality of being a person who must navigate between being living in the world that we have created as human beings and a member of God’s eternal kindom. If we’re being extra specific, consider it me living out my Lutheran identity as both sinner and saint, of this world and the next, of one freed by Christ and bound to serve and love my neighbor because of that freedom.

So first, a check in. How are you? If you just said “good” I bet you were just trying to exchange a pleasantry with me. I once had a therapist who would start every session by asking me “how are you?” to which I would reflexively respond – “good.” We had to work on that. So let me try this again, How are you? Take a second to think about it. The world has been an extra difficult place to be in the past few years, if not the past few weeks and months particularly. If you are a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, a parent, or any combination of these identities you may be finding it especially difficult right now.  How are you doing? When is the last time you checked in with yourself to really truly explore how you’re feeling? When is the last time you had a conversation with God? When is the last time you felt supported, whole, cared for? When is the last time you felt the Holy Spirit guiding you forward, or took time to see if you could sense it’s work? It may be hard to identify right off the bat. But really think about a time recently when you have felt God’s presence close to you, making things clearer or more obvious.

As we continue our exploration of Lukan theology this third Sunday after Pentecost, we find ourselves on the road. We might think that this passage is more appropriate for Lent – Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem where he will die. But in this season after Pentecost, when we are constantly reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the world, it is helpful to journey along with Jesus and the disciples. These summer months we will journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, meeting people, hearing their stories, and experiencing Jesus’ teachings and love along the way.

When Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans for a place to stay, John and James are upset. In fact, upset might be too timid a word. They want to condemn the Samaritans by having fire rain down upon them from heaven. They are angry. You might relate to them on any number of issues right now when you feel rejected or displeased with something in our society that shakes your core beliefs. John and James are ready to show the Samaritans what they believe God’s power can do – after all Elijah had done this in response to soldiers who had tried to stop his prophetic mission. But Jesus isn’t Elijah. Jesus isn’t bothered by the Samaritans rejection – he has been rejected by his hometown and this rejection by the Samaritans doesn’t appear to be worth his time. His ministry is not one founded on vengeance – it is one focused on restoration and transformation. He continues on his journey. He moves forward. He can only do what he is called to do if he advances to the next village, the next stop along the way, preaching and teaching to each he comes along. Jesus shows us that while sometimes anger and fury are necessary (see Jesus in the temple) that one must also keep in mind what is at the heart of God – a transformational love which will establish a kin-dom far different than anything we experience out of our own creation.

The gospel lesson once again leads us to see how radically different God’s kin-dom is from our reality when the question of discipleship arises. Jesus is very harsh with those who would be disciples. He reminds them and us how difficult being a disciple really is – no place to call home, no adherence to cultural norms, no time to even say goodbye to your family. Jesus commands a radical shift in understanding what a good life, what a life rooted in God, really is. Jesus’s ministry and the disciples who follow him must be focused on the future and the important task of proclaiming God’s kingdom to the world. Jesus and the disciples are single-minded in the task they have set before them – they cannot be distracted by the worldly demands of what is good or comfortable.

God’s good can be very different from the “good” our social conventions tell us to seek out. Our human good is often rooted in sinful power structures, particularly in using or stratifying people by economic worth, race, or gender. These power structures serve to focus us on human wants and needs over the call of God’s love and justice. It is easy for us to reject those things we consider to be evil in order to be followers of Christ, but sometimes what is more difficult is to reject the things we are told to see as good that keep us from our call to love God and neighbor. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable and even reject some of the things that help us have what our society deems to be the “good life” if we are to truly follow Christ’s command to love.

Lutheran theologian and ethicist Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, author of Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, puts into perspective our drive toward sin and the redemptive quality of Christ’s love in the paradox that is the life of a Christian:

“We are alienated from God and as a consequence of this alienation (sin), we will betray (to some extent) the ways and will of God. Instead of living according to God’s commandments to love God, self, and others, we will live as “selves curved in on self,” captive to self-interest. The profound paradox is that simultaneously, we are saved by God. Salvation frees us from living as “selves curved in on self,” and saves us for loving God, self, others, and this good Earth. God renders us living abodes of God’s justice-making love. This paradox reverberates with power for the good. It means that regardless of our implication in cruel forms of oppression, human beings also are capable of and called to lives of justice-making love.[1]

Just because there is sin, just because there is harm and hurt and destruction does not mean that we are not capable of seeking the ultimate good.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” These are good words to hear this week. It reminds us that as followers of Christ we are not only called to live in line with the Spirit’s ways but that we are to be dynamically involved with the Spirit, moving through life guided by it. Like Jesus who continues to move forward in his ministry even when he encounters obstacles, Paul urges the Galatians to continue their spiritual journey guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Galatians has some very important lessons that can be interpreted for the modern-day church. Paul highlights the tendencies of human nature which continue to repeat themselves generation after generation. Last week, the section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed the false ways human beings try to create hierarchical structures of who is considered to be more or less Christian, or in or out from society, who has power and who is powerless according to their own standards in the name of God. If that doesn’t sound at all familiar, you haven’t been paying attention recently. Our human existence is plagued by the drive toward sin, toward that which directs us away from or interferes with our relationship with God. This week, Paul reminds the Galatians that their commandment from Christ is to love one another, which is obviously something easier said than done.

How will we love our neighbor as ourselves? How? How are we doing it right now? If you are a conscious breathing human adult living in the world today, you can see the many, many, many ways in which we are failing at this. We turn a blind eye to the harm created by exploitative systems. We blame poor people for not wanting to work when the wages offered are not enough to survive on. We witness an unjustified war, rooted in nationalism and economic gain. We fail to give equitable access to healthcare to all people. We helplessly look on as mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting takes place and then are deflated when laws that have been proven to lower gun violence are declared unconstitutional. We are left stunned when bodily autonomy is taken away even when we knew it was coming. There are so many hurting and upset people in this world right now. As we continually experience trauma after trauma, we might begin to feel numb about knowing what to do next. We grieve our present reality and look to the past for guidance on where we’ve been and how we got to this very confusing and challenging place. However, we cannot get stuck on focusing on things that have already happened. We have to face toward the future. Jesus knows that his future lies in Jerusalem. He sets his face toward it. He will spend the next ten chapters of Luke on that trek, teaching and healing people along the way. The work of God’s kindom calls us to continue to move forward in an ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit and our community in order to seek God’s love and justice.

To move forward from this place of despair, our understanding of God must be relational. We cannot hope to have a glimpse of the Kindom here on earth if we refuse to be in relationship with one another. We need to be reminded of the ways that the Spirit is present in our lives and look for its fruits as a means of identifying that which brings us into fuller relationship with one another and with God. Our discipleship is a journey, but it is also an opportunity to learn and care for one another. Listen to the fruits of the spirit again: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. None of these mean anything outside of being in relationship with God and with one another. When one of us is harmed, all of us are harmed. When we have in-fighting about who is right and wrong we run the risk of destroying all. Think back to last week’s reading in Galatians – Paul emphasizes that all of the divisions between people, particularly the ones we place on each other, dissolve in the body of Christ. If we succumb to in-fighting over these human made structures, we weaken our expression of God’s love and ultimately destroy ourselves.

One of my favorite parts of my Lutheran heritage is Luther’s 1520 treatise, The Freedom of a Christian. Luther builds upon the concept that Paul points out to the Galatians in his epistle – you are freed by Christ by the grace of God but with that freedom you are to care for and be in service to your neighbor. The freedom gained through God’s redeeming love in the death and resurrection of Jesus binds us to one another. We are to be in service to, to look out for, to love each other in the way that God loves us. That is what we are here to do. That is what our baptismal vows call us toward. We have to be able to look our neighbor in the eye and treat them with the dignity they deserve in all of their complexities as human beings.

God seeks out the uncomfortable. In Christ, we know that God is intimately familiar with the suffering we endure. God also knows what it means to be in opposition to the human power structures that divert us from God’s will and how costly following Christ can be in those circumstances. God de-stablizes the status quo. God causes us to question those in power about what their motives really are – to use their power for freedom, justice, righteousness, or to hold on to power for power’s sake – to control, to harm, to be indifferent about the suffering of others. If the world does not care about seeking justice for all, we must commit ourselves to live out the body of Christ in the world. In the words of Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, being the body of Christ in the world is a “form of God’s overflowing love embodied in community that acts responsibly in the world on behalf of abundant life for all, especially on behalf of those who are persecuted or marginalized.”[2]

We must continue forward following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our sightline is set on God’s Kindom, a place where joyful abundance, justice, and peace is set forth for all people. We may share in John and James’ fury at being denied what we believe to be the right course of action, but we follow Christ, through the challenges, through the discomforts, through the hardships clinging to one another as siblings sharing in God’s grace and unconditional love.

In closing, I would like to share a prayer from the Rev. Micah Bucey for times such as these. Rev. Bucey is a minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and is author of The Book of Tiny Prayer (you can also find him on Instagram @revmicahb). The prayer is titled “A Tiny Prayer (for those who need to fume today)”:

Let us pray:

May you give yourself the permission you require, knowing that the ground feels shaky, the air feels thick, the future feels scarily uncertain, and then may you reconstitute this anger into action, connecting with those who are also transforming their rage into a radical recommitment to love, trusting that this sparking electric current presently flowing through your body is simply seeking redirection in order to refuel your continued participation in our hopeful revolution.

Amen.

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

 

[1] Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D.. Resisting Structural Evil : Love As Ecological-Economic Vocation, 1517 Media, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/bu/detail.action?docID=3380907.

Created from bu on 2022-06-25 13:04:39.

[2] Ibid.