September 11

Finding the Lost

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 15:1-10

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“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Perhaps it is fitting that this week’s lesson presents Jesus, in his primary colors, not as teacher of righteousness, but as savior of sinners. One whose joy comes in finding the lost.

We long for, hunger for, good news, in a time of loss. Come September 11, a nation remembers 3,000 dead 21 years ago, a time of loss. Come Thursday afternoon past, the globe remembers the decades of selfless life and service of a Queen, and now grieves the death of a global Queen, a time of loss. Institutions near and far experience transition in leadership, with a sense of loss. A denomination reels from the shocks of sudden and coming division, and there is loss. A freshman, class of 2026, away from home for the first time, feels loss. You can feel lost in a time of loss. As Queen Elizabeth said in 1997: We have all been trying to cope in our different ways. It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: disbelief, incomprehension, anger and concern for those who remain (NYT, 9/9/22). Entering the autumn of 2022, together, for all our losses, we are intent on sewing together again, knitting together again, the fabric of our common life. Jesus’ parables tend to remind us, through thick and thin, of what matters, lasts and counts. As today. Those who follow and heed him, as we are trying to do, can rejoice in that: joy in the presence of the angels of God.

This Sunday, this year, ‘September 11’ we remember both in the opening prayers and in the sermon for today. Our bulletin for the day, as in other years, lists the names of those BU men and women lost on that tragic day, 9/11/01. In 2011, we telephoned the families of those who died that day, to express our continued remembrance of them, and our shared sense of ongoing mourning and grief. They were some of the most memorable pastoral conversations of my time here at BU thus far. Boston University memorial services have been held every five years at Marsh Chapel and on Marsh Plaza (2006, 2011, 2016, 2021). The service for 2011, held on the Plaza, included in leadership President Robert A. Brown, Robert Pinsky

(former Poet Laureate of the USA and current BU faculty), the University Chaplains, and the Marsh Chapel choir.

In addition, throughout this past week we have joined with others in welcoming a new class of students, the class of 2026. Throughout this past week on campus there has been a palpable, shared, expressed desire to connect, to know, to invite, to welcome. You make it evident right now in our service of worship. You all have more than done your own part in this: an opening brunch, a chaplains’ meeting, a Marsh Chapel matriculation service, the University Matriculation, a first class day breakfast, a greening of the dorms, a midweek worship service, a co-curricular programs fair, a religious life fair, a garden party, choir practices and auditions, staff gatherings, a completed term book, a reception for theological students, a big Saturday SPLASH, barbecue luncheon today following worship, and many individual greetings, conversations and prayers. All this in aid of helping, supporting, and guiding 18-year-olds toward places, spaces, and gatherings wherein they will be ‘found’, wherein they will find themselves at least in part, wherein there will be a shared joy, a heavenly joy, an angelic joy, joy in the presence of the angels of God.

St. Luke encourages us with a word about finding the lost. It is notable that here, in this congregation and listenership, the numinous oddities of language in Luke 15 you do understand and use. We hear you use these great words, and use them well. One says to his son, in the pew, as the Scripture is read, “I remember—a parable is a story with a message, and I remember that Jesus always taught using parables. He taught by telling stories. These parables were set in the countryside, and were about people and about justice. Jesus taught adults with simple stories.” You understand ‘parable’. Someone else, driving home today, interprets the word ‘joy’ for her rider: “Joy is God’s delight, given us by God’s spirit. Joy is one of the footprints, hallmarks, earmarks, landmarks, benchmarks of the Holy Spirit. What pleasure is to the body, joy is to the soul.” I might have thought that ‘repentance’ would throw you, but no. In the choir, disrobing, an alto tells a bass, “Repentance means to turn around, to head home, to dust off and try again, like that story about the son and the pigs.” And angel, you might add, means messenger, and presence means joy, and heaven means the message of the presence of joy. Then, at Monday evening community dinner, talking to a theological student, an engineering student might ask the definition of sin. The response: Well, it literally means to miss the mark, but it has two parts. First is the personal part, ‘lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy, pride’. Or as Howard Thurman would say, ‘cutting against the grain of

your own wood…listen for the sound of the genuine, listen for the sound of the genuine…you are the only person like you, just like you, that the world has ever seen…listen for the genuine inside you’. Second is the pervasive part, the gone-wrongness in life. Sin is the power of death, throughout life. Sin is the condition of life under which treachery takes place. Sin is the absence of God. Sin is an orb of confusion in the world. Personal, pervasive. Well said!

We could add, sin is personal like that expressed in our epistle, 1 Timothy. Jesus comes for others, as 1 Timothy said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost”. When one is lost, as here and also in the later account of the Welcoming Father, one can become anxious, depressed, dislocated, and alone. Someone found is the cause of inexpressible delight, joy. Including the lonely, discovering the dislocated, reconnecting with the disappeared—these moments provide a heavenly joy, (vs. 7), a consequence of the discovery of the lost we are intent on sewing together again, knitting together again, the fabric of our common life.

We could add, sin is pervasive, like that expressed in our reading from Jeremiah. Sin has a corporate, expansive, even institutional reality. We mistake its power, if we see it only, say, in personal life. That of course is real, and true. Sin is like the advance or retreat of a great thunderstorm, a frontal advance, though theological not meteorological. Sin is like a city blacked out, a power far beyond any individual lamp turned down, any individual light switch hit. Sin is a shadow, the one great shadow. Whatever is not of faith, is sin. And that is quite a lot in this world. Sin is all that mutes the voice. Do we blame sheep—hardly by the way a comprehensively intelligent beast–for getting lost? It is his nature. Do we blame the coin—inanimate, hardly noticeable—for getting lost? It is Isaac Newton’s gravity at work. But we only see sin clearly when we are ready to see it, by revelation, and often only once we have left its borders behind. Like all lasting reality, we know it in retrospect.

Sin is what Jeremiah, in all the autumn readings of 2016, was warning us about, what we could and would not see in the coming religious, cultural, social and ultimately political condition of our country. It is hard but saving to have Jeremiah with us again all fall this year. Sin is what Jeremiah was warning us about in all the autumn readings of 2019, what we could not see in a coming pandemic, and an unprepared infrastructure and a mendacious national leadership, and ultimately, touching home right in these pews, the

deaths of a million just in our own land. It is hard but saving to have Jeremiah with us again all fall this year, and to hear his harsh warning again today.

That is, the power of sin vastly surpasses any individual, human attempt at cure. Individuals may behave morally or immorally, usually some of both. But corporate, pervasive sin lives on, as R Niebuhr taught so long ago: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”. Sin is that ‘inclination’. And, “if social cohesion is impossible without coercion, and coercion is impossible without the creation of social injustice, and the destruction of injustice is impossible without the use of further coercion, are we not in an endless cycle of social conflict?” Sin is that ‘impossible’.

As Wesley said, “sin remains even when it does not reign.”

We have much to do to wrestle with pervasive sin, with the global challenges of pollution, Putin, pandemic, prices, prejudice, politics, and pain. Jane Addams said it of our nation, but her insight now fits our world: “The blessings which we associate with a life of refinement and cultivation must be made universal if they are to be permanent. The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in midair, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life”.

Jesus’ parables tend to remind us, through thick and thin, of what matters, lasts and counts. We smile to recall Queen Elizabeth saying and repeating, as was remembered this week, ‘our determination to do the right thing will stand the test of time’. As today. Those who follow and heed Jesus, as you are trying to do, can rejoice in that. Daniel Marsh was one such. Boston University has had ten presidents since 1869, and the chartering of our school. Five were Methodist Ministers—Warren, Huntingdon, Murlin, MARSH, Case. The other five—Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian and Brown—were a lawyer, a philosopher, an historian, a physician, and a chemical engineer. Daniel Marsh came in 1926 from the Smithfield Avenue Methodist Church pulpit in Pittsburgh, and retired in 1951. In 1968 with his second wife, Arline, he was interred here in the chancel of Marsh Chapel, a long time by the way before cremation and columbaria were widely practiced. He built the buildings to the left and right of us, and he built the chapel later named for him. But he did so through thick and thin. A lack funds. A great depression. The second world war. Post war inflation. But he persevered. He wanted this great university to have at its spiritual, geographical, historical, architectural and

religious center, a chapel, devoted to gathering the lonely, healing the broken, comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable, and especially, especially, finding the lost. He wanted the partnership of the gospel—the fellowship, sharing, commonwealth, partnership of the gospel to be spoken and lived, that those lost might be found, that those enmeshed in sin and death and the threat of meaninglessness, might be discovered, embraced and loved. Until her passing in autumn 2019, his daughter, Nancy Marsh Hartman, was in church in the front pew every Sunday—that is every Sunday, teaching others by example how to sing, sing lustily, the hymns of faith in the Methodist tradition. She could tell you about pursuing what matters, lasts and counts, through thick and thin. You know she must smile from on high, to see her chapel filling up in the autumn of the year. She would remind those in, or entering, ministry, that the minister is present for those who are not yet present. She would ask, without speaking, who is not here, not yet here who yet could be? She would whole heartedly share the sentiment of Queen Elizabeth, Christmas 1957, I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else, I can give you my heart (NYT 9/9/22)

You beloved come from a long line of warm-hearted people. In the spring of 1973 at Ohio Wesleyan University, a small Methodist college for small Methodists, the telephone rang in the hallway of the TKE fraternity. You know that the telephone was invented in a Boston University laboratory by Alexander Graham Bell about 1880, a beautiful, human, vocal mode of discovery and communication. No one answered because, well, it was early morning. The phone was across the hall though and without voice mail to interrupt, it continued. Bleary eyed, I woke and answered. Is that you Bob? This is Professor Freiburg. Your biology final exam began 10 minutes ago. WHERE ARE YOU? The next ten minutes witnessed the fastest bicycle ride on Sandusky Street in recorded history, and the taking of the one empty seat and the taking of a last test in a great course by a beloved teacher, one who cared enough to find the lost. God is at work in the world to make and keep human life human, but good in history never comes without humans at work on it, without a faithful people of warm heart.

Hear Good News: Entering the autumn of 2022, together, for all our losses, we are intent on sewing together again, knitting together again, the fabric of our common life. With confidence. Our 10th President Robert A. Brown used that word, confidence, Latin con fide, ‘with faith’ this week: “I think we’re just a very different University today, not just for students, but for faculty and staff, too,” Brown says. “We’re much more mature. We’re

much more confident… I think the best is yet to come.” Jesus’ parables tend to remind us, through thick and thin, of what matters, lasts and counts. As today. Those who follow and heed him, as we are trying to do, can rejoice in that: joy, joy, joy.. in the presence of the angels of God.

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

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