December 7

The Marsh Spirit

By Marsh Chapel

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Isaiah 40:1-11

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1. The Marsh Spirit is one of patience.

To get to Bethlehem you first have to go down to the river.

Patience—purposeful longsuffering.  In the dark, the dank, the misty quiet, out in the wilderness.  We know: loss, injustice, violence, misunderstanding, miscommunication, misapprehension—mistake.

Sin, death, meaninglessness.  Pride, sloth, falsehood.  Superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy.

2.  “River Cruise:  Change your Views”

See the shoreline.  Boston.  New York. Islands.  San Diego.  The Charles River.

All of the landscape is the same.  Kenmore.  CAS. West Campus.  Commonwealth.  Bay State.  Esplanade (down to the river on grass).  Our existence is the same.  Situation.  Location. Station. Temptation.  It is all the same.  Except.

Except our angle of vision, our point of view, our perspective—these are utterly different.  On the river.  We see, perhaps, as others outside see us?  As the past and future see us?  As heaven sees us?

Every sermon is such a change in perspective, as is every service of worship.  To re-clothe in the rightful mind.

Come Sunday, every Sunday, here at Marsh Chapel:

The Chapel’s gothic nave, built to lift the spirit, welcomes you

The Chapel’s sixty year history, at the heart of Boston University, welcomes you

The Chapel’s regard for persons and personality, both in its Connick stained glass windows and in its current ministry, welcomes you

The Chapel’s familiar love of music, weekday and Sunday, welcomes you

The Chapel’s congregation of caring, loving souls, in this sanctuary, welcomes you in spirit.

Welcome today as we enhance our endowment.


It is an endowment vocal not visible, audible not audited, psychic not physical, moral not material.

Listen for its echoes…listen…listen to the voices of Boston University and of Marsh Chapel…

All the good you can…

The two so long disjoined…

Heart of the city, service of the city…

Learning, virtue, piety…

Good friends all…

Hope of the world…

Are ye able, still the Master, whispers down eternity…

Common ground…

Content of character…

3. Vivian Benton Skeele

In a personal mode, let me offer a remembrance of patience.

3.  Mississippi and Hudson River Views

In a pastoral mode, let me offer three overtures in reflection upon the events in Ferguson, MO and New York city this past few weeks.   These brief thoughts follow on sermons delivered this fall at Marsh Chapel, which already have addressed the tragedy in Ferguson (8/24, 9/7, 10/12, 10/26, 11/23, 11/30), and on the Marsh Chapel forum held here on 9/3, and on several other group and individual conversations.

First, it may help us most, and this counter-intuitively, to place ourselves sub specie aeternitatis, under the gaze of God, and approach this particular but revelatory event from a spiritual, and theological perspective.  In prayer.  In thought.  In worship. In gathering.  In conversation.  To remember that we and all whom we encounter are children of the living God.  We are not economic engines, solely, nor political operatives, mainly, nor cultural agents, centrally, nor partisan players, primarily.  We are angels in waiting.  And those whom we greet and consider are so, too.  As children of the living God, grounded in grace, sustained by spirit, we may have food for the work and bread for the journey.  General calls for ongoing conversation are well meaning but misdirected without daily rations.  Theologically then we will again brood over sin, death, meaninglessness.  Theologically then we will confess pride, sloth, falsehood, hypocrisy, sloth and idolatry.  Theologically then we will return to admission of evil, both banal and horrific, to admission of the enduring hardness and hardship of injustice, to admission of our complicity, hate to say so as we do, in the gone wrong part of life.  Isaiah Berlin would agree.  If nothing else, a spiritual, theological perspective will perhaps improve our capacity to listen.

Second, it surely will help us, and this more obviously, to read some history, some good, probing history.  Ferguson comes 200 years or so after much of our American economy, politics, culture and struggle were forged in cotton.  You can read Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.  But the calculation is closer to home.  30% or 40% of slavery is still with us today—in economy, culture, politics, and struggle.  From 1810 to 1860 a  quarter-million slaves from the Old South were re-sold into the New South (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and, yes, Missouri).  Mothers had their babies torn from their arms on the now beautiful Baltimore harbor.  Husbands were whipped away from wives, and marched to Birmingham.  Children were held up like pumpkins and sold to the highest bidder, then sailed down to New Orleans.  They were herded into what had been Indian land (the Native Americans having been either slaughtered or ‘re-located’ to Oklahoma).  With cost free land and cost free labor trees were cut, fields were plowed, cotton was planted and harvested, mills in the north were set to work, all or almost all funded by a tsunami of credit, legitimated by the US government and various banks.   You know, you, even you, I, even I, can make money if you pay nothing for land and pay nothing for labor.  But the bills do accrue into the future, not just for the enslaved, but also for the enslaver, and for all those, both north and south of the Mason Dixon line, who benefitted from slavery and the torture it took to keep people chained. If nothing else, a historical perspective will perhaps improve our capacity to lament.

Third, we need to act.  I do not mean re-act.  To act we need a moral compass.  To find a moral compass you need a community of faithful women and some men, acquainted with wonder, vulnerability, and self-mockery, with mystery, generosity, and, yes, morality.  You need a church.  I am glad to host a vigil, as we did Tuesday night. But my interest in your presence will be quickened, made real, if I see you in church, praying, tithing, teaching children, visiting the sick, studying the Gospels, singing hymns, living a life in which you are really alive before you die.  Go somewhere once a week to gather with others, admit your mortality and fragility, and grow up, Sunday by Sunday.  The kinds of labor that it will take in this country for us to live down chattel slavery will require a moral compass rooted in ancient faithfulness.  Over time, then, you with others, over much time, will gain the footing, find the leverage, provide the strength to make real change in real time.

How should you respond to Ferguson?  Spiritually, historically, and morally.

4.  Marsh Geist

In a preaching mode let me invite you to breathe in the Marsh Spirit of patience.

Particular.  Different.  University.  Protestant.  Interdenominational.

Worship:  1/14 of your week (1/2 of one of seven days).

Discipleship.  Hill or Wiesel?

Fellowship.  Yes, Sunday (Open House, regular meal, other).  But otherwise?  Basketball, Brittain War Requiem, Interfaith Evening, Hockey, GSU.


If the music of Marsh Chapel has touched you

If the preaching of Marsh Chapel has helped you

If the liturgy of Marsh Chapel has encouraged you

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This could be a first time gift of $40, for cushions or ministry

Or a lifetime gift of $4M, to finish endowing our deanship

Or anything in between

This Thanksgiving, please consider a thoughtful gift

In support of music that touches, preaching that helps, and liturgy that encourages

So that what has been meaningful to you may continue to be meaningful to others

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As we prepare to receive the morning offering, we especially encourage our radio and internet listeners to take this moment to go to the Marsh Chapel website (\chapel), click on the giving link, and make a generous contribution to support our ministry.  You may also simply send a check to Marsh Chapel, 735 Commonwealth Avenue.  Your tithes and generous gifts will strengthen our Marsh Chapel ministry, a heart in the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city.

5.  The Beginning of the Gospel

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sin

Ring the bell, sing the song, tell the tale

The beginning of the good newsa of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.b

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,c

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,d

who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight,’ ”

John the baptizer appearede in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you withf water; but he will baptize you withg the Holy Spirit.”

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

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