October 24

Your Faith Has Made You…Better

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 10: 46-52

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Son of David

Our faith can make us better if and as post-Covid we carry out the quiet.

Much of the Bible is about failure, difficulty and defeat.

Many of its stories, letters and teachings record ways people have lived with difficulty, defeat and failure.  This makes the Bible a challenge for us to understand.  For we as a people have run and swatted and laughed our way past learning the language of failure.  We don’t admit to it.  We won’t accept it.  We do not countenance it.  Even when sometimes we clearly lose, we have a hard time admitting it.  And this goes well beyond sports and politics. We forget Abraham Lincoln who in loss could say, ‘it hurts too much to laugh, but I am too old to cry.  So, sermons, this one and others, which are fumbling footnotes to Holy Scripture, hit us from the side if they hit us at all.

But by grace, it is the resurrected Christ who addresses us in the preaching of the church, in the announcement of the gospel.  The passages of the Gospel allow us safe passage into the Gospel because Jesus is present to us. Bultmann: “In all the sayings of Jesus which were reported, He speaks who is recognized in faith and worship as Messiah and Lord, and who, as the proclamation makes known his works and hands on his sayings, is actually present for the church.” (HST, 348).

This morning our blind beggar, ‘Bar Timeaus’, Tim’s son,  shouts out an unexpected nametag for Jesus.  ‘Son of David’.   To call Jesus such is to remember…failure…to remember…difficulty…to remember warnings unheeded from long ago…to remember David.  For to remember David you have to remember Saul and to remember Saul you have to remember Samuel, and so on…

Bartimaeus calls Jesus by the name of David—David the personification of millennial portent, of national pride…and of Psalm 51 failure.  Son of David!  He throws off his garment—maybe a sign of baptism—and comes naked to see if there is another chance for him.   Here is another in Mark’s ‘book of secret epiphanies’ (Dibelius\Bultmann).  His ‘faith has made him well’, a saying and a truth most precious to Martin Luther, whose Reformation we honor next Sunday, Luther who fearlessly, willfully and willingly forever splintered the unity of the church into pieces, fragments, for the sake of…the Gospel, for the sake of…betting better:  faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. (M Luther, introduction to Romans).

Our Gospel of Mark seldom uses the title, ‘Son of David’, in order that Jesus not be mistaken for the hoped-for national Messiah, the hoped-for political conqueror, the hoped for restorer of Israel.  Mark’s Jesus is known by faith, in and through failure, difficulty and defeat.   And sure enough—are you ready for faith?—here it is, good news, for us this morning, your faith has made you well.  The gift of our faith can make you, well…at least a little better than you might been otherwise.  This is the discipline of faith, discipleship made real in earnest living, in daily discipline.  You can hear the beautiful Head of the Charles regatta behind us today, but the beauty of it comes from discipline, rowing crew workouts at 5:30am on the Charles, rain or shine.  This too is BU parents’ weekend.  This parents’ weekend we can honor both our biological and our spiritual parents, both our physical and our personal mothers and fathers, who have taught us the disciplines of faith.  Of blessed memory Barbara Steen, our dear friend, in her late eighties was still making a daily list of five people to telephone.  Of blessed memory Joe Yeakel who said of ministry,  the one on one things matter most.

What Have You Learned?

Discipline is itself a reminder that life is unspeakably precious.  We learn this again in peril.  A dream hurts and astonishes us, waking us in a sweat, as we or someone we love or something we truly dream, dies.  A novel or film grip us, with a reminder that life is fragile, sacred, brief, uncanny, unfathomable, in a word, precious.  A verse of Scripture, not say that one interpreted in the sermon, but a bystander reading, a lectionary reminder, a fellow traveler in worship, Job say rather than Mark, rises up and holds us by the throat.  All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…All flesh is grass, it withers and fades…  An accident, a car ahead hits a deer on the shoulder of the road, and we are again jolted.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels…We have this treasure in earthen vessels…We have this treasure in earthen vessels…Life is unspeakably precious.

This fall, in the close to post pandemic pileup, meetings now held, weddings rescheduled for the fourth time, a conversation about conflict postponed until face can meet face and eye can meet eye, and I can meet Thou, this fall with that vast underground of unearthed anxiety depression worry concern exhaustion dismay fury incomprehension, all of which stand us up to be reminded:  life is precious.  We are given, you are given, I am given, one day at a time, one year at a time, one season at a time, with no particular guarantees, none really, of what may not or may in fact follow.

Yet, in this precious life, also we realize, we can do this…we can do this…we can do this…It may be difficutlt, even close to awful, but we can do it.  Teaching by zoom.  Learning by zoom.   Sort of teaching, sort of learning, by zoom.  Not really teaching and not really learning by zoom.  You have survived and lived to tell the tale.  Listen to the most honest least jaded voices, elementary age students, in this case our grand children.  “My teacher piled up things in a folder and expected we would find them…I could not understand what the teacher was saying and I could not figure out how to ask what it meant…Sitting looking at that screen was just awful…it was really very stressful…My music teacher would not let us sing, saying ‘I’m not getting’ the ‘rona just so you can sing…Covid.  No fellowship before, during or after class.  No learning from or with peers.  No seminar surprises, awakenings, unexpected and unplanned encounters. Zoom kept students occupied, teachers working, and schools above water.  But at what lasting, further and future cost?  We learned that we can do things we detest, when we have to do things we detest.

And, sad to say, we have been again reminded that when the going gets toughest those on the margins have it toughest.  Under tents along the railroad track.  In encampments in one Bowery or another.  In poor homes, without more than water and some corn flakes to eat.  And bad water and leaded pipes to boot.  In tiny conditions not fit for human living, but still a roof and a sink and a sagging sofa. Panhandling for change at a highway exit, after a lifetime of employment.  In a wheel- chair in front of a thriving Dunkin’ Donuts.  Spending a first night with little children in a shelter for battered women.  Battered women.  Battered.

Or look in another direction.  Look at real estate prices.  Look at the stock market.  Look at automobile values.  Look at vacation home values.  Look at the gains, the profits, the advance in abundance and the abundance of advance, for some.  But these advances were  based on and protected and built on: 12 hour nursing shifts, burials without family and without full protection, ventilators ventilating the soon to be dead, police and fire fighters whose duties never decrease and never cease, on call for ever physicians teachers counselors clergy technicians home-health-aides salvation army food providers plumbers electricians chefs fast food workers uber-drivers janitors sewage system workers bus drivers pea pod deliverers.   And we complain that minimum wage as risen to the astronomical height of $15 an hour?  Really?

Also, we learned silence.  ‘Fear not the fallow’ said Dean Thurman.  ‘Carry out the quiet’ says Dean Hill.  You do not need endless cable TV to have a happy life. The same for email, zoom, texting, techne, all.  Carry out the quiet.  For a good life you do and will need quiet.  Pandemic for all its needless, heedless and grotesque trauma afforded, for those who would receive it, a modicum and measure of quiet.  Soon we will be dead.  Why live as if you were temporarily immortal?  You and I are not immortal, not even temporarily.  More than a fat bank account, and more than a new motorboat, and more than a raise or promotion or election or victory you need…quiet.  Carry out the quiet, from the pandemic. Our faith can make us better if and as, post-Covid, we carry out the quiet.

You need an hour a day. 8am.  You need a day a week.  Sunday.  You need a week a quarter. Thanksgiving.  You need a quarter a year, summer.  Carry out the quiet.  For a year and half, after writing and recording the sermon, there was a new hour listening to the finished recording and then another new hour listening to the broadcast, come Sunday, two new and fresh hours of golden quiet.  We became radio listeners ourselves, alongside our faithful radio congregation.  Two new hours. Golden quiet.  Golden quiet.  Quiet makes you think.  All these years, did you really need to be running to another (fruitless) meeting, stopping for another (mundane) consultation, attending another (marginal) event, traveling to another (desultory) location, attending yet another (obligatory) denominational session, serving up yet another (underappreciated) lunch or dinner or social or gathering?    Carry out the quiet.  Especially if you are an extrovert, or even an extreme extrovert, carry out the blessed quiet from COVID, carry out the quiet.  It is the basinet of faith, and your faith can make you, if not well, at least, well…better.  By the time we became truly comfortable with Covid quiet, loneliness, and stillness, it had ended.  But it carried a lasting and an authentic question of faith, within the divine gift of faith, a kind of healing unto spiritual sight, a kind of healing unto spiritual sight.  Can you carry out of pandemic a purposeful respect for quiet?  Can I? Especially now.  For the preacher, like the artist, and for the life of faith for all in all, ‘in times of crisis and great injustice some inner distance from the maelstrom is required’ (repeat) (Mark Lilla).

Shimmering Beauty

Your faith makes you…better.  And we are better when we carry out the quiet, day by day.

For some of the summer, we rely on NPR radio alone, its classical music and occasional weather and news, as our only technological engagement with the wider world.  At first, the abstinence from all other is jarring.  But then. Alone in the earlier mornings, when the fitful restlessness of work life gradually abates, as it can over time if we give it time, as Anne Murrow Lindbergh reminded us, sometimes there is quiet, and in the quiet, sometimes, there is a momentous moment.

The announcer said something about Debussy, whom you may remember from required (back in the days of required courses) college introduction to music.  We sat on a carpet and listened and were tested later on baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and contemporary music.  Debussy.  The French name made a mark.

Then onto the radio waves came a light, flowing harp beauty.  It was a shimmering beauty, light and alluring, quiet, gentle, unlike really anything one could remember hearing before.  The host named the piece as an Arabesque, perhaps the second such from Debussy, though we may have mistaken that.  The lake breeze lifted the notes, and there was throughout the room for a few fine minutes a shimmering beauty.

Like its cousins, truth and goodness, such a beauty leaves a mark, makes a lasting mark, a beauty mark you could say.  Time stops.  Imagination awakens.  Troubles recede.  You are caught up in something larger than yourself, as sometimes happens in religious experience too.  Even in church.  Even in the course of head of the Charles parents’ weekend sermon meant to remind you that your faith has made, can make you…better.

In this music, it seemed to this untrained ear, there rose and fell a kind of oriental melody, a lightness, a veiled impression.  And it seemed that the better person to listen was the non-musician, the kind of person listening in that moment, who has no musical education, other than that incurred through a short course, spouse, family, and various church musicians.

It is the ear, often, rather than the eye, voice rather than face, the audible invisible, that carries an uncanny power.  The triumph of the invisible over the visible.  The voice remains with us.

And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?  And the blind man said to him, ‘Master let me receive my sight’.  And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well’. 

May faith make us well…or at least a little better.

Our faith can make us better if and as post-Covid we carry out the quiet.

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

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