September 7

The Marsh Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 18: 15-20

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 Ecclesia.  Symphonison.  Pragmata.  Church.  Agreement.  Issues…

Welcome to the ministry of Marsh Chapel!   Here you will find a heart in the heart of the global city, and a worship service in the service of the global city.   Here you will find passionate interest in matters related to gospel voice, personal vocation, and congregational volume.  I look forward to knowing your name!

Please take advantage of the opportunities here for ministry, for music, for hospitality and for international engagement.  Find your way to your own true interests in our midst.  Get to know Br. Larry, Dr. Jarrett, Mr. Bouchard, and Rev. Longsdorf.  I look forward to their knowing your name!

For Marsh Chapel to be a if not the leading liberal pulpit in the country, an if not the exemplary collegium for vocational discernment in our time, and a if not the largest University congregation in the country, we need you.  We need your Sunday presence, your tithing generosity, your acceptance of service roles, your prayer before worship and night and day, and mainly your own best self.

Our preaching this year, September 2014 to May 2015, will cycle around and through an engagement with Spirit.  We will of course follow the common lectionary, and offer ordered 11am Sunday worship in the Marsh tradition.  The sermons will test the spirits (1 Thess. 5) to see if any be of God (1 John 4).  The sermons will speak with those who are ‘spiritual but not religious’.

In particular, the first Sunday sermons, normally delivered from the chancel, will explore ‘The Marsh Spirit”.  What is the particular, soulful spirit of our community here, over 60 years?  What makes Marsh Chapel, Marsh Chapel?  Then, also, once each month a theme sermon, will explore what the Spirit is saying to the Church on issues of moment (the moral equivalents of war, religion on campus, safety and student life, drones, law and love in the United Methodist Church, and other).  Advent and Lent will give us seasons of Spirit cycles.  In Lent, we will debate Jonathan Edwards, but on the matter of Spirit.

So find your way to the Paraclete.  Open your door to the Spirit of Truth.  Study a little about the Holy Spirit.  Channel your inner Third Person persona.  And get ready.  The word this year: Spirit.

We began in a more general way a bit last week.

The Spirit offers grace in invitation, compassion, vocation, and aspiration.

We are a people alive in welcome to others, because we have been welcomed.  Frost:  You come too…

We are a community attuned to hurt, for we have known that pain.  Frost:  Treason, to go with the drift of things….

We are a congregation that has developed a culture in which a sense of calling is celebrated.  Frost:  Yield who will…

We are a gathering of women and men who look out, and look down, but who regularly look up, to aspire to height and heaven and wholeness.  Frost:  It asks of us a certain height…


Our spirit at Marsh Chapel is one of inquiry.  We are learning together:  from each others’ voices, through each others’ thoughts, out of each others’ conflicts, with each others’ histories and mysteries.

The Marsh Spirit includes the experimental creativity honored by Daniel Marsh, by Howard Thurman,  by Huston Smith, by Floyd Flake, by Robert Neville, and by our learning together in these years.

The Marsh Spirit, which we explicitly explore, this year, on our Eucharist Sundays, is an unabashedly liberal one.   Compassionate, not permissive.   Curious, not fearful.   Coherent, not chaotic.   Traditional and Scriptural, but not unreasonable or impersonal.   ‘Test the spirits, to see whether any be of God.’  Scriptures of every religious tradition direly need to be fettered by our experience and our reason, alongside our traditions of understanding.

Liberal in the Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Bostonian, Personalist manner.

Theologically liberal, that is, not necessarily politically so, all the way.  For instance, often you have heard our voice inquiring about the health of gambling.  Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts might want to inquire about virtue and vice in publicly embraced gaming.  Have you lived near Atlantic City or in Oneida NY?   You might want to inquire of those who have, what the consequences have been.  We have lived near a major casino:  blighted neighborhoods, children left for hours in back seats, people with cash to use for slots but not for heath care, a few solid jobs and many, many poor people made poorer and poor children made poorer.

Our College of Arts and Sciences has a hospitality table in the main hall for the first week of classes.   Here is a place where information of moment and meaning may be given over to those in need.  Call it a sermon table.

Three students were discussing the heat and humidity, the first week and first weekend, causes curricular and extra curricular.  Said one, pointing down the hall:  I had a class in that room.  It was terrible.   A passerby asked:  Which was terrible—the room or the class?   Well, in this case, it was the room.

But there along Commonwealth Avenue, inside a great Cram and Ferguson building, there arose a momentary insight into the troubles of interpretation.  Which—room or class?  In order to know, to hear properly, you have to dig a little deeper, ask a question or two, probe and inquire.

Our spirit at Marsh Chapel is one of inquiry.  We are learning together:  from each others’ voices, through each others’ thoughts, out of each others’ conflicts, with each others’ histories and mysteries.

We inquire after truth.  That which has been believed always and everywhere by everyone, as John Wesley put it.  Nothing human is foreign to us—nihil humanum, as Terence put it.

How shall we do so?

 One:  Talk

In verse 15, Matthew begins to give advice about how to life in community.   Community involves difference, but also can involve hurt.  Communication makes community.  Matthew’s Jesus teaches us to speak to each other in our presence and not of each other in our absence—to each other in our presence not of each other in our absence.

This week I received a triangulating e-mail.  It came from the leader of organization I dislike, seeking support for a person I do like.  I loathe one and love the other.  The triangulation in the communication forces me either to support an organization I do not like or to disappoint a person I do like.  What do you do in such a situation?  The kinder approach from the organization would have been a visit, or a phone call, in which sensibilities could be explored.  But now we have the e-document:  eternal, irretrievable, international, indelible.  And the tangled triangle.  It will take 3 hours or more to unbind and loosen this knot.  You know, there was time when people had to come and see you before they so complicated your life.

I think on inquiry, that Matthew 18: 15 teaches me how to respond.  I shall not send a steaming reply, tempting as that would be.  I shall not reply from a distance at all.  I must go and see my interlocutor.  I must make a visit to the author of the e-mail and find a way through the horns of the dilemma, the Scylla of support for an organization I dislike and the Caribdis of hurt to a person I do like.

In verse 17, Matthew provides a further suggestion, to use if the earlier ones fail.  Tell the whole church, his Jesus says.  We are clearly hearing overtones of what was needed in Matthew’s community, toward the end of the first century.  Jesus may well have taught in such fashion, though the use of a Greek word like ‘ecclesia’—twice here—probably indicates this is later material placed on Jesus’ lips.  But the import remains—gather the community for deliberation.  Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

Two:  Remember

In verse 16, Matthew quotes from Deuteronomy 19.  That is, he goes back to the basics, back to the starting point, the Old Testament, back to kindergarten, if you will, as many of gone this week.

New York City has more than doubled, from 20K to 55K, the number of 4 year old children in free universal pre-kindergarten.  Who says things cannot change for the better, and quickly?  In Albany our four year old granddaughter entered a similar program and her Dad wrote:

“According to Anne, Sally’s drop off went very smoothly.  True to form, Sally walked into the school confidently and eagerly and, unlike many of the other kids, refused to hold her mother’s hand.  She knew right where her classroom was and where to go, found her cubby right away, put her things in it, greeted and hugged her new teacher, and then found a book, sat down on the carpet in the spot marked for her, and started to read quietly while the other kids filtered in.  I’m so proud of her!!!”

Robert Fulghum had it right a generation ago:  Everything I have ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten:

1. Share everything.

2. Play fair.

3. Don’t hit people.

4. Put things back where you found them.


6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.

8. Wash your hands before you eat.

9. Flush.

10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.

12. Take a nap every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

15. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

 Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Three: Walk

In verse 18, Matthew strongly affirms the lasting power of such church considerations, even saying, similar to our reading two weeks ago, in the phrase, ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’,  that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is forgiven on earth is forgiven in heaven. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 19, two or three, when truly together, suffice to form a judgement.   Our English words ‘symphony’ and ‘pragmatic’ are rooted in the Greek here for agreement and matter. Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

In verse 20, to conclude, the gospel further celebrates the precious joy of common life in the present, in the here and now, and it only takes a few, ‘wherever two or three ARE gathered in my name, there I AM as well.’ Get things moving in the community—get people walking together!

This is the announcement of presence, in word and table, in audition and celebration, in pulpit and altar.

In the spirit I call you to the Marsh Spirit of inquiry.  In conversation, memory, and exercise.  If you have not had a real conversation once a day, you have missed something.  If you have not memorized something once a week, you have missed a chance to be mindful.  If you have walked along the sea shore, near Boston, once a month, you have missed the cleansing of the spirit.  If you have walked down to the harbor and back to BU once a year, you have missed something.

I can not speak to you if I have not spoken for you and I cannot speak for you if I have not spoken with you.  To needs for and for needs with.

So the Apostle had made us an urgent appeal, an appeal to love one another.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Wind is a gift of the sea.  Salt sea breeze is a gift of the great oceans deep.  Spirit, a spirit of inquiry, is a gift of God, our gift to share.

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

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