October 20

Not to Lose Heart

By Marsh Chapel

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Jeremiah 31:27-34

Luke 18:1-8

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Parable of Persistence

Hear ye hear:  the honorable Unjust Judge is presiding this morning in our homiletical courtroom.  Before him, a persistent woman, who employs time and voice. (You have time and you have voice.) Like Christ himself, she implores the implacable world to grant justice. Like Christ himself, she comes on a donkey of tongue and patience. Like Christ himself, she continues to plead, to intercede. Like Christ himself, she importunes the enduring ‘gone-wrong-ness’ of this world. Like Christ himself she prays without ceasing. Like Christ himself she persists. She is an example to us of how we should use whatever time we have and whatever breath remains–to pray. It is prayer that is the most realistic and wisest repose for we the anxious of this anxious autumn. By prayer we mean formal prayer, yes. But by prayer we mean the persistent daily leaning toward justice, the steady continuous pressure in history from the voice of the voiceless and the time of the time bound.  And the daily practice of attention, alertness, being alive, being around. Prayer public, prayer private.

Ours is a long wait. And that is just the point: we feel the length of the wait.

Notice, waiting with us, this poor widow. She lacks power, authority, status, position, wealth. She has her voice and all the time in the world. Like Jesus Christ, whose faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of the word. 

He told them a parable about how they ought to pray always and not to. lose heart.  

Heart and Service

Sometimes prayer is public, even institutional.

On this Family and Friends weekend, we can remember the persistent prayerful work of Boston University, across nearly 200 years.

Boston University is an institution with a long history of outreach and engagement, said recently our President Robert A. Brown.

Boston University lives in the heart of the city, in the service of the city, said President Lemuel Merlin, 1923.

One deeply embedded value and strength of Boston University, today, and found in every school and college is this long (1839) history (Methodism) of outreach (heart) and service (in the world, for the world).

The three medical campus schools lead the way with care for the urban poor (MED), with daily recognition that public health means social justice (SPH), and with the most global dental student body of any school or college at every commencement (GSDM).

All fourteen schools on the Charles River campus show the shadows and lingering long-term influence of heart and service.

Reflect on the current emphasis in QUESTROM upon ethical business and business ethics.

Remember the BU educational 25-year commitment to the Chelsea city schools, and the to year work in urban literacy Initiative on Literacy Development, our outreach to Boston Public Schools so strongly enhanced by the Wheelock merger.

Rejoice at the concept of ‘citizen artist’, the ‘social artist’, affirmed at the College of Fine Arts, the best of theater and music and visual art, brought to the street level (along with the Arts Initiative).

Reflect on the curricular and co-curricular engagement in the School of Theology, the ongoing voice of ‘The School of the Prophets’.  

Remember the Social Work engagement with neighboring hospitals and schools, in internships and partnerships.

Rejoice at the ongoing vitality within Metropolitan College of a now veteran program in prison education.

Reflect on the School of Engineering support for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Remember our School of Hospitality emphasis on servant leadership.

Rejoice at the communal nature of education in the College of General Studies, modeling dimensions of shared learning and living with great effect.

Reflect on the College of Arts and Sciences, and its PARDEE School, committed to world peace.

Remember the School of Law and its honored graduates who have defended the legal system of this country, ‘a country of laws and not of men’.

Rejoice at the varied commitments through The College of Communications to the development of an educated populace, on which the rest of democracy depends.

Reflect on Sargent’s lectureships on physical and occupational therapy, open to the public, and applicable to the work of many other schools and colleges as well.

To these vital forms of ‘outreach and engagement’ in schools and colleges, add the Howard Thurman Center, the ROTC program, the Hubert Humphrey Scholars program, the Community Service Center, the Office of Religious Life, the Elie Wiesel Center, the Sustainability Center,  The BU Initiative on Cities, and others, all of which to some measure reach out beyond the University to serve and help the larger community, across the region and around the globe. Boston University exemplifies a culture of ‘outreach and engagement’, working in the world for the world.

Public prayer. As in the life of Elijah Cummings, now of blessed memory, a life reminding us that Elijah is coming, and a voice teaching us that ‘diversity is our promise, not our problem’.

Your alma mater, at her best, institutionalizes prayerful persistence.

He told them a parable about how they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Sometimes prayer is public.

Enjoy Your Wife

And sometimes prayer is private.

Sometimes, that is, prayer is personal, meant to wake us up to what lasts, matters, counts and is real.

Speaking personally, one summer holiday joy comes from sitting alone, anonymous, a regular citizen of the planet, enjoying a pub lunch.

In Bermuda, one favorite such hide out, for the hours Jan is shopping in Hamilton, is ‘The Hog Penny’.  Its name fits British Bermuda, as does its dark wood interior’; as does its English, English not haute cuisine, meals, shepherds’ pie and chips; as does its broadcast of cricket on the ‘tellie’; and does its public house, pub mood.  Since our honeymoon we have gone to Hamilton, Bermuda, she to shop, and I to blend into the British Bermuda woodwork, and be alone.

She and I no longer need to identify our individual itineraries.  Marriage works sometimes that way. She knows where to find me, as she did, mid-shopping expedition, this August.  A surprise hug from behind came as no surprise to me; a big kiss or three, some reports from the field of shopping battle, happy and tearful memories of the same place, the same dark wood interior, every five years or so to August, 2019.  Downing a glass of ice water, she is off again on the hunt, leaving me to read. Other years the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or both, in print, but now, sadly no longer available, in print, on the Island. A hug, a kiss, a reminder to show up on time for the ferry back to the hotel, and we are separate, again.  As one day, a long stretch of decades ago, before marriage. As one day, again, someday, when we cross the river.

I notice one other customer, alone at the dark farther end of the Hog Penny oak bar.  Six empty chairs separate us. He slowly rises, and begins slowly to approach. One chair at a time he slides his full glass gently, carefully, toward me, then rounds the chair at hand, and then pushes his glass another chair length, and again the glass, round the chair, catch your breath, start again.

He is wearing a yellow golf shirt, tan pants, loafers, eyeglasses without frames, and is, say, 15 years my senior, my father’s age when he died, balding, thin, and short.  I have learned over the years to watch for clues, signs that such an one, approaching, in such a setting, may want to sell me insurance (it happens), or invite me to church come Sunday (also), or need a loan (at least once).  I enjoy meeting new people, but this is vacation, a few precious summer hours in the beauty of Bermuda. So, I am leery.

Here he comes, slide the glass, round the chair, slide the glass, round the chair, take a breath.  No signs of trouble do I see. But still I am on the alert. A temporary lay person is a full-time pastor who has seen this movie before.

He leaves one empty chair between us.

‘Where are you from?’, he asks.


‘How did you get here?’

‘We flew direct from Logan’.   A little silence, of which there will be more than a little more.

‘How about you’, I volley back.

‘By boat, from New York City’.

‘Do you live there?’, I venture, trusting the moment a little more.

‘Nearby.  Long Island.’

‘Oh, I know Long Island’, I rejoin.  ‘I will be there near Bayshore, Point O Woods its called,  later in August.’

Then there is a long pause, as there were many in the conversation.  He seems not to know how, exactly, to proceed. At these pauses, I jump in to prompt a couple of time, but then leave him to his silence.  I notice he is making steady progress through his drink, which gladdens me to see, somehow, and it clearly does him, too. Silence. He is from a generation, one might say, in which is expected, a common courtesy, to offer a bit of conversation, gentle, genial conversation, to a stranger who is alone.  Of course, as with so much else of human being and meaning, the smart phone and internet have eclipsed this human practice. Or killed it off, outright.  

The silence is sounding more fully resonant now.

He perks up.  ‘That was your wife?’, he asks. ‘I mean’, he corrects himself, ‘She is your wife?’


‘She is so pretty, so happy’, he says smiling.

‘Yes’, I say.  ‘Well’, I add, ‘especially on vacation, and especially out shopping’.

He ponders this a bit, then asks, ‘Have you been here before?’

‘Yes’, I say, ‘about a half-dozen times.  It is one of the world’s most beautiful place, in nature and in culture.’

‘Yes’ he says, drawing a deep breath leading to another long pause.

His eyes dim, then brighten, then dim, like the sun ducking in out behind a cloud bank.  Silence. More uncomfortable with the silence than he is, I interject again: ‘Did you sail to Bermuda with friends or with family?’

‘No’, he says.  ‘I am here on my own’.

Now, somehow, I have the sense to the let the silence be long, be quiet.  Lonely.

Then he looks up and addresses me: ‘My wife and I have come here over the years.  She would shop and I would come here and have lunch, or not.’

She would shop.  I hear it.

I clumsily and with a sense of foreboding repeat, ‘She would shop?’

‘Yes’, he adds.  ‘She and I planned this trip a few months ago.  She was really looking forward to it.

‘Oh, I…’ then I stop mid-sentence.

‘She died in April’.  Silence.

‘I am so very sorry for your loss’, is what I come up with to say.

‘Thank you.  I was going to cancel, but decided to come alone, to come by myself, alone.

‘I am so truly sorry for your loss’, I clumsily repeat.  I am having a hard time seeing him, for some reason—maybe the humidity has clouded my eyes.  I wipe my eyes a bit.

‘Thank you.   I appreciate that.  She loved this place.  Bermuda and its beauty she so loved.  We both did. Together.’

‘I am glad you came.  I am glad for your memories.  I know how meaningful it must be for you to be here.’

‘Thank you’, he responds.  ‘I guess I am glad. The memories are good.  But painful too.’

Here more pause.  A light silence. A good silence wherein what is said and what is heard can sink down in and settle in.  Be heard. Like a sermon, a conversation is not about getting something said, but it is about getting something heard.

He made strong headway with his drink, and I look at my watch to see that the spousal warning to get to the ferry on time was a typically wise one.  I have an assignment to be in line for a seat on the ferry looming.

I paid the bill.  I checked to make sure I had my glasses, my wallet, my book, and, yes, my phone.  I stood next to him. His eyes were lighter and just a little moister.

‘I am sorry for your loss’.

‘Thank you.’

I turn to go, and he catches my arm for a moment.  What he says next he does not say pendanticly, or religiously, or emotionally, or emphatically.  He just says it. In a quiet voice. In a good voice. In a kind voice. And he said it twice, in a prayerful tone:

‘Enjoy your wife.’

‘Enjoy your wife’.

Sometimes, prayer is personal, meant to wake us up to what lasts, matters, counts and is real.

 Prayer public, prayer private.

And he told them a parable about how they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

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

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