May 5

Living Grace

By Marsh Chapel

John 14: 23-29

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Come with me for a moment, if you will, and by the mind’s eye, by the imagination, as we walk a little bit across our beloved city.

We can leave Marsh Chapel and head to the left, due east.  The trees and flowers are fragrant and in bloom.  We will saunter and wander down the Commonwealth Mall, past the statues and benches and people enjoying a free Sunday.   At Dartmouth we will turn right, due south.  Now you will want to pause at Copley Square.  Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our sister congregation at Trinity Church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.   Take a moment with me to stop by the office of our brother congregation at Old South church.  We will leave a calling card and say a prayerful word of greeting.  Take a moment with me to read the cards and notes, see the flowers and gifts, in the people’s memorial, there, across from the library.   Remembrance, thanksgiving, presence—you feel them all, these emotions of living grace, these sacramental emotions of living grace.  I want to give us a moment to pause here.  By the living grace of God we can face grief with grace, hatred with honesty, and death with dignity.  There is a spirit of truth loose in the universe, to guide us on our walk this morning.   Many of us have already, personally or individually, made this same hike, but we have done so together, until now, and now we do so, together, by the mind’s eye, by the imagination.  There are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Now we will head back to Marsh Plaza, walking west on Boylston.  These blocks have become brick to brick familiar to the whole globe, not just to those of us in the ‘hub’.  It is important for us to take this walk, and it is important for us to take this walk together.  You may want to look at some running shoes in Marathon Sports.  Or if you like the gracious narthex of the Lennox Hotel, we could rest there a moment.  We will stand for a moment in front of the Forum Restaurant, and there, look for a moment, at another makeshift memorial.  By the living grace of God we can together make our way into the past, in memory, and into the future, in imagination.   We see ourselves being filmed from the camera atop Lord and Taylor.  We greet a friend who is seated in a nearby restaurant.  The eyes film over, somehow.  But we are walking together, and we can walk on.  You can walk fast, or, like me, walk slowly.  It is after all your own imagination.  Take things at your own pace.  Coming back, up Boylston, across Hereford, left on Commonwealth, and on to the Chapel, there are some things we need to face, again.  Here.

Two young men of limited abilities, armed with the Internet, $100, and some kitchen utensils, brought the fifth largest metropolitan region in the country to a many day standstill.  Coffin:  God gives us minimum protection and maximum support.  In our neighborhood.   Loss of life and limb, of property and security.  Here.  Present together to receive the living grace of God in Eucharist, present together across the airwaves to receive the living grace of God in the spoken word, we face together all the potentials of an open future and the extent of human freedom.  This is our shared situation.  We need to level with each other about this.


Our Scripture, today in particular and every day in general, promises the presence of the spirit of truth, loose in the universe.  The potential for harm is, like death itself, ever present.  The potential for living grace, like life itself, is ever present.  The psalmist sings of a living grace.  Lydia embraced such a living grace.  John, ever unique, names this grace with a new name, the paraklete, the counselor, the advocate, the holy spirit, who abides in the experience of peace.

For all the familiarity of these lines from John 14, the actual meaning, in history and theology, is darkly or obscurely understood.  In particular the novel figure of the paraclete, related in some manner to the holy spirit, to this day is a source of wonder and perplexity for those who study these passages.  We are standing on high precipice, ice beneath our feet, wind swirling about our temples, as we receive the promise of the counselor.  The living grace of the living God we know in living.  Our scripture assumes that we shall be in need of some counseling, some advocacy, some aid.  We are.

Today such sustenance is given in a living grace, a lively grace that teaches and reminds.  Let me show you.  Let me remind you.  We need to learn and remember, though, the clear statement here.  You will be taught, reminded.  This is you plural, friends.   You all.  The gift of the living grace is made to the gathering, the community, the whole.  Not to you but to YOU.  These things I have spoken to YOU (plural).  While I am still with YOU (plural).  The spirit sent will teach YOU (plural).  Reminding of all that I have said to YOU (plural).  Peace I leave with YOU (plural).  My peace I give to YOU (plural).  Not as the world gives do I give to YOU (plural).

Living grace makes of us a community by making of us an addressable community, speaking to us together:  speaking us together. We may deconstruct the Scripture, but Scripture reconstructs US.  The gospel, spoken and heard, reshapes us into a living grace.  Reclothes us in our rightful minds…That is, in our situation, our SHARED situation, we are promised something, but the promise is to the plural YOU.  YOU, YOU ALL, ALL YOU ALL.  Our way forward, that is, on the strength of this Gospel, lies in forms of partnership—meaning is found in community, belonging is found in fellowship, empowerment is found in friendship.  Each one’s death diminishes me for I am a part of humankind.  The dark mystery of the Counselor remains, but there is nothing unclear about the spirit’s attention—focused on the common, the commonwealth, the common good.

The far too familiar lines of this strange moonscape of a passage come to a crashing conclusion.  ‘Let not your hearts be troubled’.  Heart-S.  We are, at heart, gifts of one another to one another, hearts whose heartbeats are felt by one another, souls whose soul is born in soulful connection to one another, meant to live for one another.

On television sometimes I hear some commentator say, ‘Let not your heart by troubled’.  I want to write in the S at the end.  It changes everything.  Heart-S.

Living grace is the grace to live together, which takes wisdom, power and goodness.  This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.  Together we search for wisdom, power, goodness.

Wisdom forms design, power allows action, goodness does good.  Research, policy, practice.  Teaching, deaning, pastoring.  Preaching is over all.  Eucharist is over all.  Grace is over all.

Let us receive some wisdom about anger.  Our anger is real, and needs to be felt, seen, heard, understood and processed as real.  I refer you to the sermon of April 21.  You will not get away from the marathon bombing without facing your anger, your hatred, even, for those who did this.  Be angry, the Bible says, but let not the sun go down on your anger.  Hate what is evil, the Bible says, but overcome evil with good. We need to acknowledge that anger, even confess it, even speak it, so that we do not repress it.  Beware, my friend, beware the return of the repressed.  You have reason to be angry. Oklahoma, Nineleven, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Boston.  But you also have resources with which to deal with it.

Let us receive some power regarding hatred.  Romans 12: 9 I get…It is the later verse, 20, ‘feed your enemy…and so pour burning coals on him’ that is harder to interpret.   We may in part finally understand, at a gut level, Paul’s admonition.  Is there any other way to channel the anger and honest hatred of evil that we feel?  What a wise leverage, a Syracusan, a Archemedian leverage of anger for good, of hatred for love.  Let us together try it.  We have the possibility of regeneration right here, a living grace.  Shmuel Eisenstadt distinguishes irreversible collapse from ‘collapse with a possibility of regeneration or renewal’ (eg UMC)…’ability to reflect on themselves…reference to shared, lofty visions…allows reshaping…allows continuity…eg Roman Empire and Han Dynasty’ This is why, may I gently say, connecting with a community of faith is so primary, so irreplaceably important.  We worship TOGETHER come Sunday.

Let us receive some goodness for the journey.

One wrote: We just wanted to thank you all for your kindness and hospitality.  On Marathon Monday, when our race came to an end at Mile 25, we were so disoriented about what was going on.  Without any cell phones or money, we wandered the streets a while confused about what to do and worried about our loved ones at the finish line.  We met wonderful people that day,.  Some gave us money to get a taxi, but there were none to be found, others told us to go to the chapel and walked us to your doorsteps.  Everyone at the Chapel was so nice and helpful, bringing us food, hot tea, and letting us use your phones.  We felt safe!  You helped us to reunite with our families.  Thank God that they were OK and thank God for all the wonderful and kind people who we met that day at Marsh Chapel.  With love…

Another wrote: I want to express my gratitude and that of my entire family for the comfort and care provided to us on 4/15.  We sought refuge and we received that and more…Your staff was wonderful and their comfort was most appreciated.  It is hard to understand how someone can cause so much pain.  The benefit of being reminded in tangible ways of the goodness and kindness of others helps to create a sense of balance—thank you for that.  Sincerely…

It will take the wisdom, power and goodness of another generation to design, build and desire a better world.  Here is our prayer for them, the class of ’13, but it is truly a prayer for us all:

Seniors:  “13 prayers for the class of ‘13”

May you finish your papers, wake up for your finals, and pass your courses

May you find a job when you are hunting for one, and be found by a calling when you are not (hunting for one)

May you remember your mom on Mothers’ Day, seven days from today

May our recall that there are two ways to be wealthy:  have a lot of money, or, have  very few needs.

May you honestly face death, as we have done this spring, and so discover the precious value of every breath, as we also have done this spring.

May you, with the Greeks, see in tragedy the seedbed of nobility.

May you bring a sense of purpose to days and events which lack both (sense and purpose).

May your return your overdue library books.  May you find your overdue library books.

May you with Samuel Johnson keep your friendships in good repair, with John Wesley and Mother Theresa remember the poor, with Lord Baden Powell do a good turn daily, and with Bill Coffin take yourself lightly so that you may fly, like the angels.

May you have a life long, rapturous, torrid love affair—with Boston, dear old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, and take your first born to Fenway Park, and remember the radiant, sun-dappled happiness of this morning all your days.

May life be good to you, and may you be good to life.

My dear ones, my dear friends, who so resemble my own dear children, may you be safe, may you be well, may you be happy.

May you as a generation find the wisdom to design a better world, acquire the power to build a better world, and have the goodness to want a better world.

May it be so.


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

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