June 19

What God Has Done

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 8:26-39

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Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

This summer we listen for good news in the biblical theology of St. Luke.  We do so with the aid of minds and voices of proven preachers, who have earned or are earning doctoral or graduate degrees in theology, our blessed and dear colleagues here at Marsh Chapel, Rev. Drs. Coleman, Chicka, Gaskell and Rev. Donahue-Martens, ABD, and Mr. William Cordts, who together bring a confluence of five rivers of loving grace, five tributaries and contributaries of loving freedom. Further, this summer, we follow the lectionary, or rather, the multiple lectionaries of our life here:  that of the Scripture, say Luke 8; that of the University, say Baccalaureate or Matriculation; that of our nation, say Juneteenth or Fathers’ Day; and that of the Chapel itself, say Independence Sunday and barbecue (July 3 this year).

What does Luke say, and how does he say it?

This will take us all summer and more to unravel.  We shall strive do so, one step at a time, one Sunday at a time, one parable, teaching, exhortation, miracle, or, as today, one narrative at a time.  Still, there are some outstanding features of the Lukan biblical theology, which we may simply name as we set forth. First, Luke displays a commitment to and interest in history, and orderly history at that.  Both Luke and Acts are cast in a distinctive historical mode. In fact, Luke has his own schemata for sacred history, in three parts: Israel, Jesus, Church: the time of Israel, concluding with John the Baptist; the time of Jesus, concluding with the Ascension; the time of the church, concluding with the parousia, the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven, at the end of time.  Second, Luke employs and deploys his own theology, or theological perspective, including this emphasis upon history and the divine purpose in history.   Third, Luke highlights the humanity and compassion of Jesus in a remarkable way. The Christ of St. Luke is the Christ of magnificent compassion, embodied in the humility of a birth among shepherds.  The poor, women, the stranger, the injured, those in dire need all stand out in Luke, as the recipients and subjects of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace and compassion. Fourth, Luke carries an abiding interest in the church.  Ephesians says that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principles and powers.’ That catches the spirit of the author or the third gospel and of the Acts to follow.  History, theology, compassion, and church are hallmarks of Lukan biblical theology.

Our apocalyptic passage today, so colorful and wild, still, at heart, fully acclaims the gospel as did St. Luke so long ago.  That is, indicative precedes imperative.  Indicate precedes imperative, in history, theology, compassion and church. We first use the indicate mood, long before, and in some cases entirely without, our currently preferred theological mood, the imperative.  The gospel, happily, acclaims in the indicative, not the imperative.  The gospel is about what God has done, first, not about what we might do, a distant second, if that.  Indicative precedes and preempts imperative.  What God has done outlasts, outshines, overshadows, outranks, outdoes what we might do, or not.  That is what makes the gospel good news, rather than just news.  It is a large loss that so much biblical theology, including Lukan biblical theology, of our generation has lost this sense, and has eclipsed the indicative of the divine compassion with the imperative of the human.   What God has done.  What God has done. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

And let us hold most closely the divine compassion in Luke.  At every turn, there is a return to the least, the last, the lost; those at the dawn of life, those at the twilight of life, those in the shadows of life.

Notice, record, the way Luke puts it, beginning, middle and end:   He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away…The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?…Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old…When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind…You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just…Said Zacchaeus, ‘behold Lord the half of my goods I give to the poor’…They contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty…

In all this, and more, Luke draws on the well-springs of inheritance from the Older Testament, the Hebrew Scripture.  The Bible, fore and aft, trumpets justice, economic justice, justice for the poor, and for all! If all we had were the poetry of that shepherd boy from Tekoa, Amos, that would be sufficient.

Compassion resides in the heart of St. Luke’s gospel, a passion for compassion that wells up into a yearning for justice, one the five rumors of angels our beloved Peter Berger, of blessed memory, did acclaim.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  Let justice roll down as waters.  We now have further voice and space to recognize the arrival of justice, in remembering and celebrating Juneteenth, now a national holiday

Our own Andrea Taylor, BU Senior Diversity Officer,  reminded us on June 13, 2022:

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, memorializes June 19, 1865. On this day, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people that slavery was formally abolished by President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Still, two and a half years later, Black people in Galveston toiled under the horrors of slavery until Union soldiers came to enforce the President’s order.  

Since that date, African Americans recognize Juneteenth as an opportunity to commemorate the resilience of their ancestors and the ongoing struggle for racial equity. From sharing family stories to sipping on red drinks that symbolize the perseverance of their predecessors, Juneteenth ushers in unique ways to celebrate the monumental impact that the Black community has had on the United States and beyond.

Last year, Boston University added Juneteenth as an official holiday on the University’s calendar to make BU “the diverse, equitable, and inclusive community that best embodies our values,” President Robert A. Brown announced in a letter sent to the University community.

Dean Elmore views this change as a sign of hope.“I say I’m hopeful from the standpoint of people digging into the narrative and understanding the wisdom and knowledge Black folks have.” He believes the celebration can be an opportunity for individuals who are not familiar with the holiday to learn more about Juneteenth and engage with its history…   

…And, then, on  6/15/22: This year, as individuals and communities seek to reunite as we come out of the pandemic and as you enjoy normal family connections and gatherings, try to imagine the depth of feeling experienced by slaves in the 19th century when they were freed and able to reunite with family and friends separated by slavery and subsequent family disruption in the Jim Crow era. 

Or listen to our own Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman:

Juneteenth and Emancipation Day—both markers of history—signified freedom for enslaved people in America. What I thought as a child was that Lincoln freed the slaves and one day you were enslaved and the next day you were free. While in the beautiful mind of a child one would wish that was the truth, what I learned from my family’s oral stories was that, unlike the fast rate of speed of news stories today, it was word of mouth carried by those who journeyed trying to find their missing family members. But once former enslaved people heard the word, they mobilized into action and began to set a course for their independent lives.

As individuals, and as a country, we continue to try to grow in our own passion for compassion, now including the celebration of Juneteenth, and our ongoing appreciation and understanding of its meaning and significance.  It is a glimmer of hope, of some substance, to add this to our shared calendar.  For all our natural and inevitable worries, morning by morning, about pollution, Putin, pandemic, politics, prejudice, pistols and pensions, the seven or seven of our daily anxieties, yet we can recognize and celebrate that some change, some progress, some days, does come.  This is one.

Our forebears, our mothers and indeed our  fathers, whom especially we honor today, did guide us forward.

Senator Rafael Warnock, whose mentor Dean Lawrence Carter of Morehouse is part of our extended Marsh Chapel family, remembered his father the other day, in moving oratory.  It was a call for us to do the same, to see in those who raised us a measure of what God has done.  In prayer I trust you will do so this afternoon.

To wit, in the spring of 1973 six freshmen from Ohio Wesleyan University drove a large Oldsmobile in the rain, across eastern Ohio and Central Pennsylvania, bound for a lake cottage in upstate New York.  We had planned to meet my father there for a late dinner, and the beginning of a summer break.  But in the driving rain on route 80, the car went over an embankment.  Passengers and luggage went in all directions.  I had been bringing two white lab mice, in an open bucket equipped with a drip water dispenser, as some sort of gift for my younger sister.  After the crash the mice were gone, the car drivable but without windshield wipers, and the six freshmen rightly frightened.  We inched along in the rain in silence.  Memorably and humorously, about an hour into the silence a roommate in the front seat started shouting and screaming at the top of his lungs.  It turns out that at least one of the mice had survived, and was crawling up his left leg.  We inched along in the rain in further silence, one headlight, no wipers.  Near dawn we turned down the camp road to see lights burning, and a little smoke coming from the chimney.

Dad had paced all night, after we had called to tell him our delay, and greeted us with a fierce joy.  He fixed us a lumberjack breakfast.  As we went to sleep, I could see him stoking the fire, before going off to work, to meet the challenges of 1973, after a sleepless night.  The challenges of 1970’s, by the way, included war, reproductive rights, racism, nuclear weapons, impeachment, division, and inflation.  Hm. A familiar list. Just before dozing off, I heard him singing, heading off to work: “Every time I feel the spirit moving in my heart I will pray.  Every time I feel the spirit moving in my heart I will pray”.

This was a mere twenty years after he was graduated from BUSTH, 1953, having arrived in summer 1950, just six months after Marsh Chapel was dedicated in March 1950.  (We have an upcoming 75th anniversary of this dedication to celebrate here in a few years).

That song at the hearth and from the heart still resounds, rings out, true of Dad’s life and faith.  It is important for us, and especially for the coming generations, to remember clearly how our forebears lived, and what they lived for. Take a moment to do so this afternoon.  COVID has stolen much of such communal remembrance. Lost are those who lose access to their own best past.  Happy are those who find access to their own best past.  In that personal song of spirit, experience, and prayer were many of the cherished beliefs and values for which he lived, by which many have lived, by which many of your forebears lived.

Here are some of them.

Dad lived in the openness, the magnanimous freedom of grace, the freedom for which Christ sets us free, on which we are to stand fast, and not to be enslaved again.

He lived convinced of the lasting worth, the ultimate value of persons and personality.

He lived and taught that love means taking responsibility.

He placed the highest premiums on marriage, family, children, and friends.

He had a rare, great capacity for friendship.

He could be restless with and critical of those perspectives which narrow the wideness of God’s mercy.  And he could be restless with and critical of those practices in personal and institutional life which did not become the gospel, were not becoming to the gospel.

He trusted that wherever there is a way, there is Christ, wherever there is truth, there is Christ, wherever there is life, there is Christ.

He honored his own conscience and heart, and expected others to do the same, for  the conscience of the believer is inviolable.

Many could testify to the toughness of his love and to the love in his toughness.

And as I heard him say, circa 1990, during a meeting in the Oneida Methodist church sanctuary, ‘because I am loved, I can love’.

Dad nearly died in September of 2008.  In November of 2008, as he recuperated, I saw him one morning learning to walk all over again, with my mother ever present and loving alongside.  It was a miraculous sight, as was the rest of his healing.  As is all healing.  He told us in those days about a vision or dream he had had, in the coma.  I share it with you to close, not as evidence of eternity, for heaven neither needs nor admits of evidence from us, but rather as evidence of a longing for eternity, and so a comfort and an encouragement.  What I would give to see my parents again. He said that in the hours near death he saw a kind of light, shining through what he described as a lattice work.  “Behind and around me I could hear voices”, he said…so…

 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

 Sursum Corda.  Hear the Gospel: Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”


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

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