Archive for the ‘Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music’ Category

November 19

The Bach Experience- November 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 25:14–30

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

Ponder Jesus’ parable of the talents. (One still hears the mystical reverberation of it from William Sloane Coffin, in his very first sermon at Riverside Church, autumn 1977, who preached magnificently then on it, and concluded by singing ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”.) Life is a gift which inspires continuous giving, says the Lord. Talents are meant to be shared, says the Lord. What we have and who we are we are meant for us to invest in the future, says the Lord. This means risk. There is risk, always there is risk, in investment. The risk is real, and should be reasonable, and can be managed. But it is risk still. All walks of life, including yours and mine, involve real, reasonable, manageable risk. Let us apply the lesson, you and I, to our own lives and work. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said of a sermon he once heard: ‘I applied it to myself’. This morning, in particular, let us think about those faithful people who preceded us at Marsh Chapel, now glistening as angels in the heavenly church triumphant, to whom the Lord may have said: “Well done thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. We will set you over much. Enter into the joy of the master”. 

As now Bishop Ken Carter said about this parable, as our guest in this pulpit, a dozen years ago: “We hear themes of patience and trust in the Gospel from Matthew today. The Master, who can be interpreted either as God or as Christ, gives the generous gift of a “talent” or large sum of money to each of his slaves. Now, we could just take the “talent” at face value as a story about sound financial investment, but instead, let us consider Jesus as the Master and the talent as the good news of Jesus Christ entrusted to Christians after Jesus’ death, but before his promised return. The lesson we learn from the third slave is that what is given to us from God or even through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what is entrusted to us, is not meant to be hidden away as some sort of secret, but rather is meant to be shared with others…we are meant to share the good news of Christ with others’’.  Or as our colleague Rev. Dr. Chicka said once, preaching upon this parable, ‘God entrusts us with this message and we, in turn, place our trust back in God.”

Dr. Jarrett, the gospel rings out to us in Matthew, but also in Bach’s own chosen text for today’s beautiful cantata, Psalm 130, de profundis, out of the depths.  For what shall we listen upon this majestic, mystical Lord’s day?


Dr. Scott A. Jarrett, Director of Music:

One of Bach’s earliest vocal works, Cantata 131 draws almost exclusively on Psalm 130 for its text. There are two chorale verse layered within the two solo movements of the cantata, but otherwise Bach sets each line of text with its own motivic and melodic properties. Even at a young age and with little to no experience composing in the genre, Bach reveals his considerable skills in musical form, structure, symmetry, and contrapuntal textures. Of the roughly five sections, the first, third, and fifth movements feature the full vocal and instrumental ensemble. And each of these three movements contains two sections, the first more syllabic and homophonic moving to a second section characterized by polyphony, fugues, melismas, and other hallmarks of contrapuntal maturity. The second and fourth movements feature solo baritone and tenor, respectively. the most interesting feature of these movements is the elegant layering of a chorale tune sung by sopranos in the baritone aria, and then by altos in the tenor aria. The musical effect is similar to hearing a chorale prelude on the organ, with newly composed material ostensibly in the foreground, and the chorale tune on a solo stop entering variously over the course of the piece. Because both soloists and the chorale singers employ texts, the layering takes on a theological, even mystical, purpose. One hears the chorale tune almost as an after-thought, a hazy aural image, whose presence is more subliminal than obvious – is it evocative, sentimental, nostalgic, clarifying, troubling?

And here is the wonder of Cantata 131 – from the hands of a 22year old Johann Sebastian Bach, the music colludes with the Psalmist phrase by phrase finding each us in our own depths, our own melancholy or despair; and phrase by phrase, our faith is renewed, restored, revived, as we wait upon the Lord assured of his mercy and plenteous redemption. You’ll identify with the sincerity, doubt, or dolor of the fourth movement – I know I’m supposed to wait, but how long? How long until God’s mercy and redemption flow like a river? Just how long until justice rolls down like water?

And like a splash of cold water, Bach answers with three marble columns in the three opening measures, each calling Is-ra-el, Is-ra-el, Is-ra-el. Worried frenzy interrupted, and the posture of devotion resumed, hope in the Lord! For in the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. The final verse surges off the pages, the promise of redemption as the refiner’s fire in ascending chromatic tones, or the well-spring of the Holy Spirit in sixteenth-note melismas for the word “Erlösen” or Redeem.

However deep, however low, the assurance of pardon, mercy, redemption, a new day, a second chance – this is the hope of the word. The word made flesh. The word of the Lord endureth forever. Longer and outlasting those that wait and hope in the Lord.



 Faith does not exclude us from calamity, but faith prepares us to fight it.  Faith does not give us the capacity to understand, but it does give us the courage to withstand.   Faith is not an answer to every question, but it is a living daily question of ultimate concern.  Faith in God is faith in God, not in another creaturely being.  Our faith in God is cruciform, faith in the crucified God, who has chosen to make our vulnerable condition his own. I know the early church rejected patripassianism (the teaching that in the suffering of Jesus on the cross God the Father also suffered).  But barely. But barely.  And developing the capacity to meditate on profoundly unanswerable questions of human suffering is why three times a fall 1000 of us used to go and listen to Elie Wiesel. Faith does not protect us from calamity, though it does weave us together into the shared human experience and history of loss.

Hence the dire need for salvation, offered us in musical mystique, Scriptural grace, the quiet of the Sunday liturgy, a restoration it may be of our rightly minds.

For, as citizens of both country and globe, we weep, weep in this autumn of conflict and tragedy, and so mightily benefit to hear the truth, goodness and beauty of this morning’s word and music, Scripture and song.  It may be that the dark struggles of this year, this autumn, over time, may make us both more human and more humane.  Let us pray so.  One of my students this fall grew up in Stockbridge, MA.  She remembers seeing Reinhold and Ursula Niebuhr there, when he, at the end, was convalescing following a stroke.  Her mother made sure she knew who he was, he who wrote ‘The Irony of American History’.  When he died in 1970, and was buried out of that village congregational church, his eulogy—do you remember who gave it?—was delivered by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, he who wrote one of finest theological sentences ever to emerge in American English.  The sentence begins with the word ‘different’ and ends with the word ‘same’, and its musical balance and cadence recalls us to our rightful humanity, our rightful mind:  Different are the languages of prayer, but the tears are all the same.  Different are the languages of prayer, but the tears are all the same.  Different are the languages of prayer, but the tears are all the same.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music


October 15

The Bach Experience, October 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 22:1–10

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

We are living in and through a dark and difficult time, this fall.   Our climate shows significant signs, in our lived experience, of steady and worrisome warming.  Our nation continues in the grip of deep divisions, and, of more concern, a palpable willingness on the part of some to jettison centuries of hard-won democracy for autocracy, and its false promise of ‘escape from freedom’, as Erik Fromm called it.  Our culture languishes in the doldrums of a pervasive malaise, not unrelated to our fear of freedom, and its demands, and its rigors, and its openness to human flourishing.  The dark night of warfare has fallen and stayed grounded into Europe, for a year and a half, with the fate of our Ukrainian sisters and brothers in the balance, with no end in sight.  Now, in addition, we have the advent of a full blown catastrophic second war, perpetrated through terrorist violence, horrific and unspeakable violence, upon the people and traditions of Israel, which people and traditions our own Elie Wiesel over four decades here at Boston University did so much to illumine and honor, say: The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it is indifference.” 

How we miss his voice, his presence, his warning and his wisdom today.  Our youth and young adults, still wriggling free from years in the screen prisons of COVID, need and deserve and require expanded care and services related to personal, emotional and mental health, at a rate and with a range quite difficult for other generations fully to grasp.  The challenges of poverty, of racism, of sexism, of inequality and injustice, of health care, of educational disparity, and the ever--present clouds of greed, malevolence, mendacity and despair continue to lap at the shores of our existential beaches, without pause and with ongoing wind strokes of pain.  We are living through a dark and difficult time, this fall. 

While true for every season and age, it is acutely the case for our time that an honest, a necessarily honest admission of our condition should also and more so be soothed by, and challenged by, the promise of the gospel, and the prospect of better days to come.  It is acutely the case for our time, for this very day, this day of rest and worship, this sabbath day, that a pause, a discreet hour of ordered worship, should be observed, and honored, including today by way of word and music both, the stringent candor of word and the soothing beautiful balm of music, together.  The ordered public worship of Almighty God upon the Lord’s Day is not a matter of indifference.  It is a savingly crucial hour, that brings a ray of light into the dark, a note of promise into the silence, a reminder of joy into the pain, and a source of get up and go again power into the despond.  It is thus fitting to hear the negativity of the last third of St. Matthew, including the harsh cold parable this morning, as a partnered honest admission of our own condition, the condition our condition is in.  For Matthew cries out over the rejection of invitation, the rejection of welcome, the rejection of love.  And he will not be consoled, like Rachel weeping for her children, and like Israeli mothers today weeping for their now soldier sons, no dishonest avoidance here.  His parable matches our own angers.  When things are not right, saith the Scripture, let us be honest that things are not right.  And then let us turn and listen for the true, the good, and the beautiful.  As in our cantata this morning.  Dr Jarrett, what does this morning’s Cantata bring us? 


Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett's contribution to this sermon is not currently available. 


The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

Presence in an ordered service of divine worship, your presence here today for instance, is one sign of trust that in this life we are being addressed from beyond.  Your presence this morning is an indication, a witness if you will, to your intimation or confidence or something in between, that you are ‘hearing voices’, that you are called, spoken to, addressed.   

The parable of the wedding banquet, retold in Matthew from a kinder Lukan version, rests on this conviction of a divine beckoning and calling.   

I think we seldom recognize what a powerful thing an invitation can be.  Pause and recall a time or two when you were savingly invited. 

We know the power of an invitation when we hungrily receive one heartily desired.  Nothing in all the world ever happened between persons without invitations.  Every sermon is in some way an invitation to you, to take a step in faith, to take a step, one step, in faith. 

That is, you receive today, again, a personal invitation.  The invitation is meant for you, sent to you, an event for you.  You are invited to attend the wedding of heaven and earth! to lead a godly life! to lead a life worthy of God! to live in faith and by a conviction, which is a trust, faith is a personal commitment to an unverifiable truth.! If we had all proof we want we would not have all the faith we need.  Will you come to the banquet?  Will you take a step in faith? 

The voice of invitation is an enticement, a coaxing, a luring, a courting.   

President Biden this week offered such an invitation, a biblical one, tucked into perhaps the greatest speech thus far in his administration, saying: This is a moment for the United States to come together, to grieve with those who are mourning.  

You remember that our gospel writer for today,  St Matthew, the Evangelist, has a passion.  It is invitation.  The point of the Gospel of Mathew the Evangelist is that he is an evangelist.  This is his love.  His first love.  To seek the lost, to hug the lonely.  And it is a passionate love.  I can see your passions, in architecture, history, homily, mission, symbol, country, group—these inspire passion. As, especially, does music. Matthew offers the gift, divinely wrapped, of his passion:  sharing an invitation, perhaps a first encounter with Christ for those c’est vouz?, who do not know a single verse, cannot recite a single psalm, cannot describe baptism and communion, do not a favorite hymn, and have no lived experience of church committee meetings.  This is the great joy of faith, to share it.  Do so. You only have what you can give away.  


-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

April 30

The Bach Experience- April 30, 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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John 10:1-10

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RAH:  The name of God's act is resurrection. Without it our faith is in vain and we are still in our sins, trapped, enslaved, the creatures of various conditions beyond our control or understanding that steal our freedom, and so our humanity. More. Without resurrection there is no response, because there is no responsibility at all.  But with resurrection there is joy, there is freedom, and there is response. 

John 10 today shows us the fullness of emptiness, presence in absence. John has always more than one opponent or contestant. He is fighting always on two fronts. So much for tradition, so much for culture. So much for depth, so much for breadth. So much for Judaism, so much for Gnosticism. So much for church and so much for community. So much for memory, so much for experience. John contrasts the freedom of Christ with fragile, formulaic faith. Things do not always fit into little boxes. The Hurricane winds of change, the reaches of pandemic and post pandemic, say, rearrange every manner of dwelling. 

The Gospel of John, more than any other ancient Christian writing, and in odd contrast to its prevalent misunderstanding abroad today, knew the necessity of nimble engagement of current experience, and the saving capacity to change, in the face of new circumstances.   The community of this Gospel could do so because they had experienced the Shepherd, present, ‘here’, here and now.  In distress, we hold onto divine presence, we hold onto the Shepherd– hic et nunc. Speaking, and hearing.  They found that in speaking of the Shepherd: ‘he is here’.  ‘I am…’  That is all, still, we have, the voice.  Utterance.  ‘I am…’  The ‘here’ is in the hearing.  Can you hear that?  It begs to be heard, here. Come in and go out and find pasture. A resurrection moment.  

Which may bring us to the Cantata this morning, a joyful, even jolly, happy piece, befitting its Christmas birth, and also embracing our Easter rebirth.  Mark this day!  So shouts the Cantata, and so it reminds us of the precious gift that is every one day.  Dr. Jarrett, how today does the music shape, form, mold and teach us? 


SAJ:  The name of God’s act is Resurrection. And what is resurrection? Rebirth, renewal. The chance to grow. The chance to grow again. This is the Grace of God, freely given. This last Sunday of April, a gentle rain falls outside, nourishing the earth’s annual rebirth. The rain falls freely to the earth, just as God’s grace. Freely given.  

By God’s grace, woman and man were created in a garden long ago. And by God’s grace, he created them free, and free they have remained. Freed daily to choose Grace. What would you choose?  

God’s grace revealed anew in a Bethlehem manger, a second Adam: Light and life to all he brings, ris’n with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his Glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.  

The name of God’s act is Resurrection. Second Birth, a covenant renewed. Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Will you follow him? Will you choose God’s grace?   

Grace is the central theme of Bach’s Christmas cantata written in Weimar in 1714. “For the dawning radiance reveals itself to you as the light of grace.” 

“Let us then ever trust in Him and build upon His grace.” 

“May we ever walk in grace.” 

As with the two fronts of John’s Gospel, so too, our cantata embraces the paradox of God’s majesty clad in the humility of the manger; our Salvation born of a lowly Virgin, homage paid by the Shepherds. And in the fullness of time, our Prince of Peace, will arrive in Jerusalem not on a mighty steed, but a humble donkey. Ride on, King Jesus! “Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die; bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, thy power and reign.” 

The name of God’s act is Resurrection. A saving Grace. A healing Grace. Freely given, that we might be freed of sin and death. Christians, etch this day in metal and marble stone. Mark this day. Mark this day, for God’s grace. Will you choose God’s grace, will you embrace it?  

How will you respond to cynicism? Negativity? Hopelessness? Fear? Will you simply acknowledge? Why not “Yes, and . . .” Choose it, yes, and proclaim it. Freely given that we might be free. So Christian, Mark this day. Choose Grace. Choose Resurrection. Proclaim Renewal. Live in Resurrection.  

Soar we now where Christ has led, Following our exalted Head, 

Made like him, like him we rise, 

Ours the cross, the grace, the skies.  

Alleluia. Alleulia.   


RAH:  As one for whom Christ died, and for whom God has raised him from the dead, now in the hearing of this good news, you have responsibility. You are free. You have the power to respond. Our past has been forgiven and our future has been opened (Christ has overcome sin and death). But that leaves you holding the bag, if not the burial cloth. Ability to response, response-ability, is forever set loose on Easter.  

I heard again our own Inner Strength Gospel Choir, in their 50th anniversary celebrations and fellowship and concert this weekend, in their honoring of our own Herb Jones in 20 years of leadership, and their response and responsibility to one another, over decades, and to faith welling up from that resurrection ‘inner strength’.  Mark this day! 

I talked with a young couple not long ago, just after their son was born. Early in the morning the contractions began. Panting and blowing and praying and waiting, the birth progressed. Suddenly-miracle! - ruddy and pink and crying and blinking there appeared a new born. You can revisit that moment, that sense of the miraculous.  Mark this day! 

I remember devotions in a meeting, given by a young man who has a telescope. When he was nine his neighbor taught him about the heavens. On a clear night he would call over next door, "Mikey come on out. I've got my scope. It's clear. Let's listen to the stars." Listen to the stars…Mark this day! 

I read Isaiah Berlin on his life mission. "Collisions, even if they cannot be avoided, can be softened. Claims can be balanced, compromises can be reached; in concrete situations not every claim is of equal force: so much liberty, so much equality; so much for sharp moral condemnation, and so much for understanding a given human situation; so much for the full force of law, and so much for the prerogative of mercy; for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless. Priorities, never final and absolute, must be established." Is there a time in history in which, we would have been more receptive to the mission of softening collisions?  Mark this day! 

 I hear the voice of Harry Belafonte, bringing us southern charms, warm breezes, music for dancing and dreaming, a voice for the ages, now given over to heavenly rest, to joy, to resurrection.  Mark this day! 

Therefor let us ever trust Him 

And build upon his Grace 

For He has bestowed upon us 

What now delights us forever 

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

January 29

The Bach Experience- January 29, 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 5:1-12

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For the text and translation of the cantata, please open the January 29, 2023 bulletin in a new tab. A portion of the sermon is available below.


Dean Hill:

By grace, with the encouragement of truth in Scripture, of goodness in the women and men of this faithful congregation, and of beauty in the highest reaches of musical splendor in Bach this morning, we are gathered and addressed.  There is much about us that occludes, that shadows, the lastingly true, the sturdily good, and the elegantly beautiful.  Our culture is awash, sometimes overcome, with these shadows.  We see photos of young widows in Ukraine.  We watch reports of gruesome gun violence in California.  We mourn a racist, heedless, needless death in Memphis.  Sometimes it threatens to become enough to take away our confidence, our courage, our willingness to lift another foot, to take another step forward.

So, Sunday. Sunday comes to bring encouragement, including this morning.  Matthew adorns our shared life with beatitudes, inverted blessings, which invert the expected blessings, finding makarios, happiness, blessing, on the underside, weakened, distaff side of life. So, worship of God on the Lord’s day is not a matter of indifference, not at all.

For we have left St. Luke, now to follow the trail of Jesus’ life, death and destiny, this year, 2023, in the Gospel of Matthew.   Matthew relies on Mark, and then also on a teaching document called Q, along with Matthew’s own particular material, of which our reading today is an example.  He has divided his Gospel into five sequential parts, a careful pedagogical rendering, befitting his traditional role as teacher, in contrast to Luke ‘the physician’, whose interest was history.   We have moved from history to religion, from narrative to doctrine.  Matthew is ordering the meaning of the history of the Gospel, while Luke is ordering the history of the meaning of the Gospel.  You have moved from the History Department to the Religion Department.  Matthew has his own perspective.

Every word is meant for a particular time, but not for all time.  For all time, and for our time, we have the staggering responsibility to fit the teaching to a new era, another epoch.  Whether or not ethics is situational, it is certainly epochal.  Our response and resistance to a megalomaniacal regime can be guided by but not directed by these precious verses of Holy Scripture.  Their application is, to use a marvelous American idiom, ‘up to you’.   And this will be inevitably be difficult.  Experience, freedom, presence—the invisible divine in life—are demanding and difficult.

Matthew has his own perspective.  Remember: ‘A literary work or a fragment of tradition is a primary source for the historical situation out of which it arose, and is only a secondary source for the historical details for which it gives information’ (45).  (Wellhausen.)

Some of that perspective involves a developing and developed Christology, an understanding of Christ.  Matthew is apparently fighting on two fronts, both against the fundamental conservatives to the right, and against the spiritual radicals to the left.  In Matthew, Gospel continues to trump tradition, as in Paul, but tradition itself is a bulwark to defend the Gospel, as in Timothy.  Matthew is trying to guide his part of the early church, between the Scylla of the tightly tethered and the Charybdis of the tether-less. Our forebears taught us so.  That is, with Matthew, they wanted to order the meaning of the history of the gospel.  They aspired to do so by opposition to indecency and indifference.  They attempted to do so by attention both to conscience and to compassion.  That is, they lived daily with a yearning to transform the culture around them in the spirit and into the form and face of Jesus Christ.

For example:  we today hear a reading and rendering of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most beloved and best remembered of Jesus’ teachings.   At the outset, we face a raging river to cross.  For when were these teachings meant?  For all time, for Jesus’ time, for Matthew’s time, for our time—for the time being?

Let us let the beauty of the moment bathe us for a moment.  How today Dr. Jarrett shall we hear Bach?


Dr. Scott Jarrett's portion is not available at this time.


Dean Hill:

Gracious God, loving and holy and just,

We lift our hearts in thanks and praise this morning.

We come to this sanctuary ready again to live as glad hearted women and men.

With glad hearts, curious minds, and eager spirits we offer ourselves in worship.  Bless us, we pray, by thy presence, which we invoke in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Are we as ready to receive the gifts of grace as we should be?

Have we been prepared, in these days, to notice the bountiful goodness by which Divine Love has touched us?

Do we need to confess a little slowness, a little occasional lack of perception, shortness of spiritual breath, a slight or not so slight disregard for what we have been given?

O Lord, as a people of glad heart, we confess that we have not always been fully a people of open hands.  Open us in these moments of silence, to a new rebirth of wonder.

Great art thou, O Lord our God, and fully to be praised, morning by morning.

We pray for thy blessing in this hour, thy gifts of confidence, certainty and sureness for the days to come.

Help us to receive, with confidence, the many surprising gifts embedded in our personal lives.  Help us to notice the unexpected possibility, the new friend, the unusual word, the strange connection.  Help us to see more than we plan to see, to receive more than we expect to receive, with the confidence born of obedience.

Teach us to claim some certainty in the midst of uncertainty, as a church and and as a congregation.  Teach us we pray the path we best should trod into the unforeseeable future.  Teach us rightly to connect yesterday with tomorrow, in the light of thy certain love.

Shower with cool saving rain and moist power the leaders of this world, with sureness to seek justice and peace.  Help those in the torn out conflicts of our day to continue daily, surely, to seek the promise of the Prince of peace.  Kindle daily in the hearts of great leaders an even greater desire for peace, with a sense that surely goodness and mercy shall follow.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,  Amen.


-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music



November 20

The Bach Experience- November 20, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 23:33–43

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SAJ: In September, we opened our Bach Experience series with Cantata 147. Along with with Cantata 10, and of course Bach’s magnificent Magnificat setting, the first chapter of Luke has provided centuries of musical creativity and inspiration. The parables of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels are the departure point for many cantatas, but Luke’s voice is prominent in the liturgical schedule of readings for Bach. Of the cantatas Bach wrote in 1723 for the 26 Sundays after Trinity, nearly two-thirds are based on lessons from Luke --  the Sermon on the Mount, Zechariah’s benedictus, the parables of the unjust steward, the good Samaritan, the pharisee and the publican, prophesies of the great tribulation, and Jesus’ raising from the dead the young man from Nain. 

And once more, we interweave the power of Scripture with the glory of music, the word spoken with the word sung. Bach and Luke meet today in Cantata 70 Wachet Betet Betet Wachet, as Jesus foretells the second coming. Before Bach, help us regard St Luke. His voice has guided our Sunday by Sunday experience this past year. On this final Sunday of the liturgical calendar, Dean Hill, help us look forward by looking back to a year wherein we have heard the voice of St. Luke, Sunday by Sunday?  

RAH:  Yes, Dr. Jarrett, we indeed have spent the year with St. Luke, and conclude our conversation with him this morning.  There are some outstanding features of the Lukan biblical theology, which we may simply name as we set sail for other shores. On this Sunday which honors the reign of Christ, especially, this is most fitting. 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.   History, theology, compassion, and church are hallmarks of Lukan biblical theology, and signs of the reign of Christ, and emphasize the promise of what God has done, in the indicative mood, over what we can do, in the imperative mood. 

SAJ: Indicative and imperative. Pluperfect. Subjunctive. Declension, conjugation. I can almost smell a pencil sharpener nearby, and I bet if we’d diagram a sentence or two, we might even recall the smell of the mimeograph machine!   

But back to our grammarly moods – indicative and imperative – In the eleven movements of today’s cantata, I count 23 imperative verbs: Rejoice greatly, Celebrate with the Angels, Triumph eternally, Lift up your heads, Be of good cherr, Tremble, o sinner, Sound the last trumpet!, Flourish in Eden. Serve God eternally. Lead me to the gates of heaven. Lead me to promised rest, lead me to everlasting joy. Cantata 70’s title has is entirely imperative verbs – Wachet betet betet wachet. Watch pray, pray watch.  

Bach and his librettist are creating a musical sermon, a theology of which is likely downstream of the great Lutheran preachers and teachers, all of whom are downstream of Luther himself, continuing all the way to the Ursprung – the evangelist’s record of the life and teaching of Christ.  

Is this river cruise similar to a pure science flowing downstream to its related applied disciplines? Philosophical or practical? Ideal or pragmatic? Visionary or realistic? 

RAH:  Just so, Dr Jarrett.  That is, indicative precedes imperative.  Indicative precedes imperative, in history, theology, compassion and church. The gospel is about what God has done, first, not about what we might do, a distant second, if that.  JS Bach, a good Lutheran, would heartily agree.  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. What God has done! 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.  

Further, Dr. Jarrett, over 16 years we have endeavored to render the good news in a bi-lingual manner, on these Bach Sundays, Scripture and Cantata together, juntos, conjoined.  For those of us today, especially, who are listening from afar, who hear but do not see, what are two of the themes of this particular Cantata to which we should caringly attend, in the dialogue of the soulful song and sacred page? That is, first, what in the music should most listen for?   

 SAJ: Today’s images are exciting and dramatic, and Bach manages to cover all the ways in which one can be excited and dramatic. The second coming, in many ways, represents the ultimate test of faith. If we acknowledge that faith is that fuzzy intersection of doubt and certainty, here, the believer (also a sinner) is at once terrified of the day of judgement, then finds a deep breath an enough confidence to sustain their faith a longer. Repeatedly, at macro- and micro-levels, Bach meets us in a crisis of faith, neutralizes our fear through Christ’s love, giving the needed strength and confidence to match Christ loving embrace for eternal pardon and peace. The arias take this tri-partite journey individually and cumulatively.  

 Two extraordinary moments from the baritone bring us to the edge, a terrifying foretaste of the final destruction of heaven and earth. But the second instance might just model how each of us could meet that moment when it comes.  

RAH: And then, second, what in the word, in the words sung, is most telling for us this morning, listening to Bach?  

SAJ:  The signal of the last day, the day of judgement is the trumpet. “Behold I tell you a mystery, we shall be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Bach features the trumpet throughout the cantata, in chorale tunes and in the triumphant arpeggio that is the motto heard in the first measure of the piece. Geoff Shamu is out trumpeter today – Geoff will you play the motto for us??  

SAJ: So, Dean Hill, in conclusion this morning, how shall we think about what he have heard, and shall hear? 

RAH:  Well, it may be, Dr. Jarrett, that our living of these days, and our life in Christ this day, carry both a dimension of practice and promise.  

In practice, our envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is be a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city.  Our use of President Merlin’s epigram means city as the global city, and service as worship and work.   Our foci guiding this envisioned mission are voice, vocation, and volume.  One aspect of this today is the work of sermon and cantata. 

Twice a term, you engage our collegium, choir, community and listenership in a full morning of teaching about JS Bach, and enjoyment of a Bach Cantata in worship.  This Bach Experience, lecture, gathering, brunch, worship, and sermon, are novel and experimental advancements, in learning and performance, a part of our practice of faith. 

SAJ:  And regarding promise? 

In promise, we turn to Holy Scripture. Our conclusion in the reading of St. Luke comes today with Jesus upon the cross.  Every benediction in ending for a service of worship, including this morning, carries a sense of an ending at hand.  Our own mortality, our own full physical limitation, our own death, at some unforeseen point, is both shadowed and overshadowed, just here in Luke 23, just now on Calvary.  Perhaps more than anything else, our own mortality, our limited humanity, dust art thou and to dust thou shalt return, call us to faith, and awakens us to faith.  Our Christ and his final consort address us, with a promise, a promise that in life and in death and in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God.  Jesus even promises paradise in that hour, in that liminal moment.  The reign of Christ, somehow, says our Gospel, and somehow, sings our Cantata, continues and conquers, though how and how so who can say?  It may be that the single purpose of Sunday worship, every seventh day, every Lord’s Day, is a clinging to the ringing of this dominical promise, our own everlasting hope.  The Lukan Jesus has the last word, and offers that word a lasting promise, a last word in lasting promise…today you will be with me in paradise. 

We are given and receive in faith the divine promise: He keeps them in His hands, and places them in a heavenly Eden.  May it be so! 

RAH: We are given and receive in faith the divine promise: You shall flourish in Eden, serving God eternally. May it be so! 

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music


September 25

The Bach Experience- September 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 16:19–31

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Dean Hill:

Especially throughout the COVID summers, we came to rely on the radio, its classical music and occasional weather and news, for our summer technological engagement with the wider world, out in the woods of Empire State.  Alone in the earlier mornings, when the fitful restlessness of work life gradually abates, as it can over time if we give it time, sometimes there is momentous moment. 

 The announcer said something about Debussy, whom I remember from required (back in the days of required courses) college introduction to music.  Therein we sat on a carpet and listened and were tested later on baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and modern music.  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 I could remember hearing before.  The host named the piece as an Arabesque, perhaps the second such from Debussy, though I may have mistaken that.  The lake breeze lifted the notes, and there was throughout the room for a few fine minutes a shimmering beauty.  For two summers and more we could not sing together, or perform together, or worship together, in COVID. We will never any longer take the thrill of congregational and choral singing of the hymns of faith for granted.  These are beautiful moments. 

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. 

In this radio carried music, it seemed to this untrained ear, there rose and fell a kind of oriental melody, a lightness, a veiled impression.  And it seemed to me that the better person to listen was the kind of person listening in this moment, who has no formal musical education, other than that incurred through spouse, family, and various church organists and choir masters.   

 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.   

 It happens that my mentor Bishop Joseph Yeakel died in this same summer time week.  He taught us: you can only preach what you know…the one on one work is the most important ministry…your staff need to be creative and loyal both…people remember what you do more than what you teach...most of us need more reminder than instruction 

His contemporary, a long-retired minister, had a dream the night before, before he knew of Joe’s death, that he had been asked to preach at the memorial, but had not prepared a sermon.  Dreams are such strange things.  Invisible, shimmering, beautiful, too. 

 Across the radio waves again, Dr. Jarrett, we assemble our listenership.  With joy and peace in believing, with joy and peace in the true, good and beautiful.  For what, this Lord’s Day, shall we most listen? 


Dr Jarrett's section is not available.


Dean Hill:

In these weeks we listen also to, and soberly remember, Jeremiah. 

The prophet Jeremiah excoriated his people, hoping against hope to keep them in faith along. For four decades he challenged, criticized, and vilified his beloved country, and its leadership, and its people.  They heeded him not.  

Jeremiah exclaimed: False prophets deceive people with their optimism.  The temple has no efficacy in and of itself.  The true circumcision is not of body, but of mind and heart.  Even the Bible can lead astray: Even the Torah may become a snare and a delusion through the false pen of the scribes. 

Notice some of the themes from the sixth century bce:  Deportation, false optimism, betrayal of heritage, forgetfulness of history, ineffective leadership, personal failings which damage the nation, turning of a deaf ear toward the voice of God. “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 

Jeremiah, whom we have heard in the background of our worship and preaching for some weeks, speaks to us again. today.  He warns us, he warns us, week by week he has warned.  And then, remarkably, in today’s reading, he stakes his life on hope, an unseen hope, a powerful hope of what may yet be. May his memory, just here, truly help us. 

The beauty of the music this morning is itself a sort of baptism of hope.  We sometimes long to take a spiritual shower, to bathe ourselves in the living waters of grace, faith, hope, life, and love.   Especially, it might be stressed, on any college campus today, the need for spiritual cleansing is continual.  We need both judgment and mercy, both honesty and kindness, both prophetic upbraid and parabolic uplift.  And we get them, thanks be to God, in Jeremiah and in Luke.  But look!  They come upside down.  In a stunning reversal, kindness and gentle hope are the hallmarks of our passage from Jeremiah, while wrath and hellfire explode out of Luke. 

Listen again to the voice of the prophet, one of the great, strange voices in all of history and life, one of the great, strange voices, in all of Holy Writ.  Jeremiah.  All is lost, in Judah, as Jeremiah addresses Zedekiah the King.  You will be a slave in Babylon, King Zedekiah.  You will be given into the hand of your sworn, mortal enemy, and so too will be the fate of your city, your temple, your people, and your country, King Zedekiah.  But. Nonetheless.  Nevertheless.  And yet. These are resurrection words. But. Nonetheless.  Nevertheless.  Still. Even And Jeremiah put his money where his mouth is.  Or was. 

With his beloved country in ruins, Jeremiah does something great, something remarkable and hopeful and great.  Jeremiah buys a plot of land.  One day, a long time from now, he muses and prays, there will be some manner of restoration: ‘I cannot see it.  I cannot hear it.  I cannot prove it.  Sometimes I cannot believe it.  But, hoping against hope, I will buy some land, and someday, somebody, somehow will use it’.  This is faith:  to plant trees under which you will not sleep, to build churches in which you will not worship, to create schools in which you will not study, to teach students whose futures you will not know—and to buy land which you will not till.  But someone will.  Or at least, that is your hope.  You have done some things this fall.  You offered a morning prayer.  You attended to worship. Good for you.  You sent a check to support something or someone.  Good for you.  You went and volunteered to make contacts and calls. Good for you.  You spoke up and spoke out, regardless of the fan mail, family disdain, and other costs.  You did something.  Will it make a difference?  Who can say?  But it does make a difference, for you, if for no one else.   

Go.  Go.  Go and buy your little plot of land. 

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

January 30

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 4: 21-30

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Consider us with Your love, enclose us within Your mercy!

So, in word and song, we bow before God this morning.


In word, this year, the word as given through the Gospel According to St. Luke.

What meets us in St. Luke this year?

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 90 of the common era.  Traditionally ascribed to Luke the physician, its author and that of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is finally unknown to us.  We know him only through the writing itself.

What do we find?  Or what shall we find in prayerful conversation with Luke across the next year, and beginning today amid Cantata and Liturgy?

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark. An example is our passage today, the depiction of Jesus rejection by his own home town.  Like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earlier gospel of Mark. But he made changes along the way, or construed the gospel according to his own desires and emphases.  This is hopeful for us, in that it is an encouragement for us to take the gospel in hand, and interpret it according to our time, location, understanding, and need. Second, Luke uses a collection of teachings, called Q, as does Matthew.  An example is our Lord’s Prayer.  Luke’s version is slightly different from that in Matthew, as is his version of the beatitudes and other teachings, found in the ‘sermon on the plain’, rather than the ‘sermon on the mount’.  Third, Luke makes ample use of material that is all his own, not found in Mark or elsewhere. The long chapters from Luke 8 or so through Luke 18 or so, are all his. Examples include some of your favorite parables, like the Good Samaritan, and like the lost sheep, and like the Prodigal Son, and like the Dishonest Steward.  We have Luke to thank for the remembrance of these great stories. Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.

But regarding Word, what does Luke say, and how does he say it?

This will take us the year and more to unravel.  We shall 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 horizon, which we may simply name as we set forth, a sort of map for the journey ahead. 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 Lukan Christ bring this word:  a passion for compassion. 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.

Hold most closely the 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.  Those who decry preaching that engages life, culture, politics, economy and the cry of need about us have not read Luke, not even a bit.

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…

Dr Jarrett, what grace, and sung beauty does our Cantata bring us today, alongside the compassion of St. Luke?


Dr. Jarrett's response text is unavailable at this time.


 Dean Hill:

What shall bring to application of Scripture and Cantata?

First, forbearance.  “Let your forbearance be known by all men.”  Forbearance is a patient power to bear with others and their needs.  To help others get things right.  To guide by presence and voice.  Forbearance is a kind of prevenient forgiveness, a gift ahead of time.  We look for and lean on people who bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, like mothers bear children and fathers bear with children.  Institutions depend upon forbearance, and discern their leadership there.  It is this grace to bear with that helps us in tight places, helps us through tense meetings, helps us manage tough interviews.  It takes faith to show forbearance, and it takes something else, too.  It takes a peace, like a river, down deep in the soul, a freedom from anxiety.  “Have no anxiety about anything, but in all things through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving bring your entreaties to God”.  It makes me anxious to read the sentence, because I can scarcely live it, in full, for a whole day.  Yet as we grow in faith we find, over time, the peace to be forbearing, to be present but not anxious.  We affirm forbearance in Cantata and in Scripture.

Second, joy.  Our passage is best known, perhaps, for its triumphant affirmation of faithful joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say, Rejoice!”  It is startling for us to hear this sincere word, written in prison.  It is one thing to be joyful in the summer, another in the winter.  One thing in the meadow, another behind bars.  Joy is more than happiness.  Joy is bone happiness, or happiness put to music.  Sometimes it is expressed in humor.  One winter in our church there was a high moment, when our youth performed Godspell.  It makes us older people very happy to see a stage full of handsome, talented 17 year olds.  Since his grandson played Jesus, and very well, I said to the three generations:  “Son and Father I understand in the Trinity, along with Spirit, so Daniel and Al, my theology can comprehend you two, but Albert I have no way to comprehend the role of the Grandfather of Jesus”.   Joy also a playful musing (musing is a crucial spiritual term), and he carried the thought along.    We affirm faithful joy in Scripture and Cantata.

Consider us with Your love, enclose us within Your mercy!

So, in word and song, we bow before God this morning.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

November 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Due to technical difficulties a full recording of this service is unavailable.

Luke 21:25–36

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

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  After months of screen, of zoom, of facetime, of text, of email, of distance, of attention to spaces, electronic spaces to which nuance, humor, personality, humanity, and connection so often go to die, we have this autumn been returned to the land of conversation.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  There is a robust magic in conversation, whereby John Wesley named conversation a means of grace, alongside prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and fasting.  Conversation.  One step in and toward faith begins with a regard for conversation.

In our current Marsh Chapel ministry, on Bach Sundays, we engage a conversation.  We model that conversation in two voice dialogue, Director and Dean.  The conversation engages past with future, Scripture with music, wisdom with beauty, and Bach with experience.  Our COVID time has muted conversation, to some degree, but has not squelched it, at least not yet.

In conversation, there abides, or lurks, the lasting possibility of heart to heart communication, heart by heart communion.  That potential seizes you, not the other way around.   You are longways, say, into a talk with an old dear friend, and of a sudden, you realize, you intuit, just how much that friendship means, a friendship planted and grown in conversation.  You are gathered before dinner, and the children, coaxed, begin to sing the songs of memory, of history, of Zion, of nation, of upgrowing.  The folksongs, the hymns, the partner songs, the spirituals, the camp fire rounds, multiple rounds, give off an invisible glow, a kind of verbal hearth.  Or, there is a moment of difference. Some things, like some malignancies, you can never cure but you can manage.  They are manageable but not curable.  They can be managed, managed to ground, even though, unseen, the malignancy remains.  In conversation, in the magic of conversation, such hard and dark and difficult truth can surface.  You realize afterward, that one loved one, in one seemingly innocuous conversation, was trying to say something, something like, I am worried about this medical procedure…  But the clues and hues and dues and schmooze are sometimes too indirect, too subtle, and you miss the marrow and meaning of the talk, only to recall it, only to get it, later, much later, too late.  You are in a meeting, and all of sudden the temperature shifts, and sunlight and warmth become cave darks, stalactites and stalagmites.  And the conversation flickers, withers, and dies.  Something is in there.  It would be utterly invisible and inaudible by zoom.  But in conversation, in presence, with embodied silence, and incarnate body language, you see and hear.   She is really hurting.  He is really angry.  I am in over my head.  They want something they can never have. Somehow, conversation.

Dr. Jarrett, what does the music and beauty of Bach bring us in conversation this morning?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

There is a healing power, a healing grace in conversation.

I have a friend and colleague, a musicologist and viola da gamba player, whose research focuses on what he calls “Polyphonic Intimacy”. The notion that western music, with it’s subjects and counter-subjects, point with counter-point, strands of consonance and dissonance woven together, trace their roots in mirroring human conversation. Imagine one monk chanting the Te Deum. His neighbor in the cell next door, a plucky fellow he, decides it’d be fun to sing along with his pious brother, but does so in what we’d call today harmony. A musical conversation is born. A point and counter-point. Harmony. A musical conversation. Better yet, a musical congruence, where I shape my conversation to yours. Or perhaps the kind of conversation where a couple can complete each other’s sentences, or allow the conversation points to gather one on the other. There are unlimited possibilities. But the idea that music, making music, making music with others in community, can mirror societal discourse, modeling a path for our disparate voices to find commonality, unity, perhaps even fostering social cohesion.

Could it be that music has such healing power, a healing grace in music’s conversation?

Soprano and Alto. Tenor with Bass. The “I and Thou” reflected each day in the Imago Dei. And this Advent Sunday, the Christian Soul with Christ as Bridegroom, that long awaited restoration of Thou in me, Thou in you — conversation as dialectic. Music amplifies, augments, colludes, and collides with that conversation in powerful, yes even healing ways.

Soar joyfully, ye voices, aloft to the sublime stars. Love draws nigh. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Love and Faith prepare a place for you in my heart. Come, dwell within.

Listen today for two virtuoso Oboes d’amore in musical conversation with one another (No 6), or in No 2, doubling, and thereby musically affirming, their soprano and alto conversations partners. Each aria, singer with solo instrumentalist, modeling a musical conversation, whose features, parameters, and sights are given to us by Bach. A space to make sense of it all, a thoughtful interplay revealing a path to reconciliation and renewal, affirming Thou in me, Thou in you.

There is a healing power in and through music, and, yes, a healing grace revealed in music’s conversation.

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

Pastoral ministry, cut to the chase, is the dangerous and difficult pursuit  of an faithful 20-minute sermon a week, alongside 25 genuine conversations a week.    I and Thou.  There yet remain some circles of ministerial wisdom shared in conversation about…conversation.  Think of Seward Hiltner at Princeton, of Homer Jernigan at BU, of Henri Nowen at Yale, of Ann Belford Ulanov at Columbia and Union.  They are not with us any longer, and not with us to remind us that the most the important things in ministry are the one-on-one things. Pastoral ministry is preaching.  Pastoral ministry is conversation.  Sit down and listen, listen, listen…until… until the cows come home.

With some exception, for the minister, every hour spent on a machine, every hour spent with zoom, with text, with email, with computer, is an hour spent apart from conversation, and so apart from life itself.  Here is a warning word for the minister. Walk with a friend.  Sit for intercessory prayer.  Call somebody on the phone.  Set a lunch date.  Offer a coffee.  Take with happiness the unannounced visitor to your office.  Steer the conversation, when you can, away from doing and out onto the broad meadow of being, out toward memory and view, on out to where heaven and earth pass away.  Keep a journal.  Write a sermon.  Craft a poem.  Design and experiment.  All of us are so challenged, so called, for ministry emerges from baptism first, from ordination second.  All the baptized have entered ministry.

My grandmother grew up on a dairy farm near Cooperstown, NY.  She graduated from Smith College in 1914.  She taught school and married later in life, raising three daughters.  She spent her later life in a modest Syracuse home, surrounded by piles of books, mounds of newspapers, and letters written or to be written and received, often long ago.  She and her college roommate wrote each other once a week from graduation until death.  She seemingly feared no conversation, and celebrated all conversation, no matter how middling or shallow or tiresome.  Famously, she was thrilled, overjoyed, to have the Jehovah Witnesses come into her Methodist living room, on their mission.  She loved to talk with them about the intricacies of Leviticus.  She always wanted them to stay longer than they could stand to stay.  They left worn out, bedraggled, dog tired, and exhausted.  She just smiled and put a roast in the oven. They had been engaged in real conversation.

To listen is to love.  To listen is to take one step in faith.  People do not always know what they think and feel until they say it, until they say it to someone they know is listening, and really cares.  This is not psychiatry, not psychotherapy, not formal counseling, nor any other of the—very wonderful, soulfully salvific, and endlessly helpful—forms of care.  This is conversation, a means of grace.  As a person of faith, it is yours, to receive and to give.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  Today is our first day, our first Sunday, in a year of conversation, with St. Luke:  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

October 31

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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John 8:31–36

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The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Good morning! Can I say what an absolute thrill it is to get to share God’s word with you today? I’m always excited to preach when the Dean offers, but to get to share those duties with my friend and colleague, Scott, discussing Luther and Bach on Reformation Sunday which also happens to be Reformation Day? It’s like the Lutheran Superbowl! I even wore my team’s colors – Red - (and insignia – the Luther Rose that appears right here on the bottom of my stole)! While I know today is another holiday observed in the US, *ahem* Halloween, October 31st will always be Reformation Day for me, first and foremost.

All kidding aside, Reformation Day is a significant marker of changes within the church and a reorientation to the personal, unmediated relationship people have with God. It is where many of our familiar forms of Protestantism find their roots, in one way or another, emphasizing the role of justification by faith and God’s unconditional gift of grace. Many of us are familiar with the general story of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of the Schloßkirche, or Castle Church, in Wittenberg. What began as a conflict with the Church over the use of  indulgences to assist people in attaining absolution, not only for themselves but for those who had died, resulted in centuries-long changes and divisions within Christianity that continue to this day. It also began a major shift in theology, emphasizing the ever-present role of God as our foundation as mediated through the Means of Grace, which for Luther are the scripture and the sacraments. The abuses of the Church were causing people to falsely put their hope in what they had to “do” to achieve salvation, straying them from the true guidepost for a life of faith, the Gospel. As we heard Dean Hill say in his sermon last week, Luther risked fracturing the Church apart for the sake of the Gospel.

One of Luther’s driving factors in challenging the church was that people’s souls were on the line. In convincing people that they had to buy indulgences to ensure salvation, the church was misdirecting and misinforming people about how salvation is attained, notably through faith, Sola Fide. Luther’s focus was not to separate the Church into factions, which is what ultimately happened, but to reform the church to a radical return to the Gospel as the guiding principle, Sola Scriptura, by scripture alone. Luther’s theological perspective removed power from human institutions, which are inherently corrupt because they are made by corrupted beings (we are all sinners), and instead emphasized that God is the only true source of power, love, and grace. God’s effort is what saves us, not our own. It is difficult to hear this in a culture that puts so much emphasis on achieving whatever you want in life if you just work hard enough. The Lutheran message of salvation Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, (scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone) squarely places responsibility for our salvation in the hands of God.

In today’s Gospel, we hear a familiar phrase, “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” Despite the fact that this line of scripture does not occur in our regular readings, we have heard it, or forms of it, echoed in our society. Hearing this quote out of context may cause us to question “what is the truth?” as some sort of abstract concept, or what are we being made free from? However, in context, Jesus all but tells the disciples and us what the Truth is. In the first half of this sentence Jesus states, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” then follows it with “you will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free.” Continuing in Jesus’ or God’s word makes one a disciple of God. The Greek word used here is “μενω” meno, which is more than just continuing to follow in Jesus’s teachings. Instead μενω indicates “abiding” in the word – accepting and remaining in relationship with Jesus who is the word. The question here is not “What is the truth?” but rather “Who is the Truth?” Abiding in God’s Word enters us into a transformative relationship with the Divine in which we come to know the Truth by having our lives completely reoriented through the radical love we encounter in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are made free through our faith, which comes in abiding in God’s word. In Luther’s language, we are justified in by our faith in Jesus Christ, made free from our sin through God’s gift of grace.

When we are set free from sin through God’s grace, we are set free to love and serve one another. One of the most common critiques of Lutheran theology is that it de-emphasizes the role that works play in the life of the Christian. Yes, Lutheran theology does say that faith and not works is what justifies us to God, but the freedom that comes from our faith and trust in God and God’s promises enables us to share love with and be in service to others. Good works flow out of a life grounded in faith. The relationship we have in trusting in the triune God transforms how we think and act in all ways in the world.  The problem with how many of us conceptualize our approach to a life of faith is that we think “God wants me to do that” as the driving factor for the decisions we make. It may very well be that God does want us to do the things we are intending, but we must be aware that we can’t do it alone. It is faith in God that supports us along the way.

Psalm 46 speaks to God’s constant support of God’s people throughout the ages. God is not only our support, but our refuge and our strength. When we fear, when we face uncertainty, God’s presence provides the security to help us continue on our way. In the Psalm, the whole world is in tumult. Natural disasters, political upheavals, and even the notion of change itself are realities that the human community has come to face time and time again, including in this passage. I’m sure many of us can relate to this feeling of chaos. It appears as if almost everything is in upheaval and the world does not feel as ordered or certain as it may have in the past. God is still with us through these times of trial, however. God remains steadfast when everything else is in a state of flux.

Many of us are experiencing fear and trepidation about what the future will hold for our communities, our country, and the world. Turning on the news, looking at the internet, or even hearing the weather report at this point can induce a sense of panic. So much has changed for us in the past year, some definitely for the better, but much that has caused us to feel alienated from the world that we once knew. We do not know what to do in facing such huge societal and global problems such as a continuing pandemic, political division, racism, bigotry, economic upheaval, and increasingly destructive natural disasters due to climate change. These issues are so large and have created so much harm that we are overwhelmed. We come together today as a community of faith to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and lay down these burdens for a while, finding sources of hope and bolstering our faith.

God’s advice to us in these times, according to the Psalmist, is to “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Be silent. Have faith. These are things you need to be a follower of God. You may remember Dean Hill’s call for us to seek out the quiet in order to feed our faith in last week’s sermon. “‘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.” When we share in this stillness, this time of reflection with the Divine, we can discover the ways we abide with Jesus. We can hear the still small voice within us, helping us to see the world in a new way. Silence sustains us for action.

Psalm 46 was also the inspiration for Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress, which most will probably identify as “the” Lutheran Hymn. I believe our Music Director might have some more to tell us about “A Mighty Fortress” and how another famous composer, J.S. Bach, interpreted Luther’s original hymn and theology for BWV 80. Scott?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

(Text forthcoming)

The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Thank you, Scott. This Reformation Day, we are reminded of all the ways the Church has faced challenges in the past and have the opportunity to envision what hope we can bring to the Church of the future. In coming together today and each Sunday as a community of faith to share in God’s word, including the musical offerings we are about to hear, we are emboldened in our assuredness of our salvation through Jesus Christ. May God guide us in the spirit of this ongoing reformation, awakening, affirming, and strengthening our faith. God is our foundation, and we are constantly renewed and reformed by abiding in God’s Word. We are set free from the bondages of sin by the Truth established for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s one true Word.  Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

September 26

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Mark 9:3850

Click here to hear just the sermon

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

Time and space are not quite as absolute in determination of our being as sometimes we think. It helps to have a bifocal, stere-optic vision, a two-level drama, of sorts.

That is the nature of the New Testament, shot through from Matthew to Revelation with apocalyptic language and imagery. Our Holy Scripture, both Holy and Scripture, is both heaven and earth.   It is both sacred and secular, at the same time, both divine and human. Its Word walks with human feet and sings with divine voice. Its word faces earth: 670,000 souls gone on to the church triumphant, in one country alone. Its word sings with a divine voice: each one of these is a child of the living God.

The apocalyptic warnings of Mark 9 are not to be taken literally. We know this. We know about hyperbole. Let us pause one good moment to recognize that, and why, and so, we do not understand the Bible as utterly inerrant. The Bible is inspired and so inspires us, and is our first point of reflection, prototypical but not archetypical—first but not exclusive in the church’s long history of the search for truth. These verses, harsh and judgmental, need careful interpretation. So, Matthew cuts half of them, in his use of Mark 20 years afterward. So Luke cuts all of them in his use of Mark 20 years later. Even Mark himself shifts the weight from fear to hope, even in this passage, as he wrestles to interpret what he has inherited, from whatever source: be salt, have peace among yourselves, who is not against us is for us.

So, it is particularly appropriate this special Sunday that we hear a cantata, a beautiful gem of sacred music.

In our time, to express a faith amenable to culture and a culture amenable to faith, to unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, we have Bach’s  music in this beautiful 16 minute poem. For all our fears, of heaven and of earth, it does ring out a note of hope, does it not?

Dr. Jarrett, for what shall we listen today, we who remember St. Augustine’s proverb, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage’?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

The Feast of St Michael, celebrated each year in late September, with its fantastic images of Michael the Archangel slaying Lucifer, the Old Dragon, surely must have come as welcome reprieve from more didactic lessons on the weight of sin that marked the liturgical calendar in late summer. Bach’s musical essays written for Michaelmas prove daring innovation, bravura, and an astonishing capacity for both imagery and imagination. After a year of testing out the capabilities of the very fine Leipzig musicians, including chief of the local Stadtpfeifer Gottfried Reiche, Bach boldly deploys all his singers and players with confidence and ease.

The whole of Cantata 130 is framed around Paul Eber’s Chorale “Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir”, known to the English speaking world as the Doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Consistent with other cantatas from the second Leipzig cycle, the chorale tune is heard in long tones in the soprano part throughout the first movement. Despite the familiarity and prominent position of this famous tune, Bach’s newly composed music played by the instruments from the beginning both colludes and collides with the Chorale in one of the thrilling, majestic, and playful openings of all the cantatas.

The inner movements remind us that though Lucifer was defeated by Michael and cast down from Heaven, he still burns with deceit and torment for God’s little ones here on Earth. The tail of the serpent ensnares us at any time without notice or warning. Only the eternal presence of God’s angels all around us assures both protection but also victory. We are reminded that it was Michael who was with Daniel and who ushered Elijah to the throne of grace on a fiery chariot. And that, just like them, when we journey to heaven, Michael, the standard bearer, will safely guide us.

Both arias are bold departures with regard to instrumentation and style for the Leipzig Thomascantor. I challenge you to find other examples of trumpets and timpani deployed as the obbligato instrument for a bass aria. Bach and Reiche must have had a wonderful regard for one another. Professor Terry Everson plays the heroic parts today over and around Craig Juricka’s baritone. Whether the tail of the Serpent or the brandished saber of Michael, this marks one of the most difficult and exciting uses of these instruments.

The tenor aria sung today by Ethan DePuy features the Flauto traverso, also new to Bach in Leipzig. Cast in a pastoral gavotte in the new style, we are assured that Michael will be with us to the end.

The stere-optic vision heard in today’s cantata is indeed a multi-valenced thing.

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

Those who have paused, here, or now, to worship with us at Marsh Chapel in the last decade, are aware that we lift the Gospel, come Cantata Sundays, in word and music, together, juntos, in harmony.

Bach brings us the reach of beauty around the globe, a global sphere of orientation.  Bach brings us a stretch toward the universal, the reach up and out to what fully lasts, truly matters, and really counts.  Bach brings us an artistic angle of vision, rooted in Scripture and in an earlier Lutheran garden, nonetheless known by heart and in the heart, far and near, with those, today you and me, who will pause for the offering of the gift of faith.  Bach brings us beauty, a paean for sure to the true and the good, but no avoidance of the beautiful.  In our time, this hour, especially this week, we can truly appreciate, benefit from such a global orientation, a high universal reach, a feeling in faith, and the bathing of such beauty.

Given the maelstrom of this moment in our current climate, our current politics, our current globe, our current culture, the wind blasts of charge and counter charge, the examples of courage and also the instances of failures in courage, near and far, we, come Sunday, maybe especially this Sunday, look for the God who is a rock in a weary land.  Said Dr. Emilie Townes, ‘we want to cultivate a vibrant community of hope… we hope to beget an ever more piercing faithfulness’.  An ever more piercing faithfulness.  Yes.

Today we receive the gift in memory of the faith of the church, and we give ear to the beauty of our first Bach Cantata of the year.  We are truly ‘blessed’.  All the senses—sight, sound, scent, touch, taste—are enlivened today.

This is truly good news, especially for those who may be in mortal need of a living reminder, as the Scripture says, that we are ‘children of God’.  For we can sometimes acutely need such a reminder of belonging, meaning and empowerment.  Even at eventide.  Even at night.  We are acquainted with the night.  You are acquainted with the night.  As our New England poet memorably put it:

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

So, it is particularly appropriate this special Sunday that we hear a cantata, a beautiful gem of sacred music.  It is angelic music, written to harmonize with the music of the spheres, and to recall the angels of Scripture, the revelations of Scripture, the heavenly messages and messengers of Scripture, a worthy work to honor St Michael and all the angel chorus.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music