Archive for the ‘Guest Preachers’ Category

Sunday
July 25

With fidelity and novelty for all

By Marsh Chapel

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John 6:1-21

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       A few years ago, there was a common news trope that began “Millennials are killing.” Over the years, millennials have been accused of killing many businesses or industries. Exact dates range for classifying the millennial generation but millennials were born roughly between the early 1980s and late 1990s. For a while, it seemed that millennials were killing off an industry or product every month. Listen to just some of what millennials were supposedly killing, the restaurant chain Applebee’s, starter homes, the institution of marriage, napkins, cereal, golf, diamonds, department stores, football, oil, and American cheese. Most of the news articles that began with “millennials are killing” noted shifts in general shopping trends among the avocado toast-loving generation and made predictions from those trends. Despite the plethora of articles claiming these industries were being killed by millennials, most have continued or adapted.

Attached to the writings about millennials killing thing, were articles that made even grander claims about the millennial generation. Most of these articles were quick to point out supposed flaws in the rising generation. Articles lamented that millennials have a problem with authority, reject corporations and institutions, are addicted to screens and video games, and do not possess useful skills. These types of articles become a type unto themselves. They took off the same month I graduated college with a May 2013 cover story in Time Magazine titled “The ME ME ME Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitle narcissists who still live with their parent.” The article critiques the so-called participation trophy, entitled, feelings oriented, math averse, Iphone loving generation. At least, the author of that article did mention positive attributes of millennials and ended on a more rounded note. Other sensationalist articles went further lambasting millennial culture as destructive to civilization and predicted that a collapse was imminent. With all of the claims about the millennial generation, it is sort of a wonder that we have made it to 2021 given these dire assessments.

While it is true that millennials and the younger generations are different from their parents that has been the usual way of the world throughout history. Younger generations have a harder and harder time accepting the inherited ways of being and doing. It is also not uncommon for older generations to complain about younger ones. This tradition can be traced as far back as ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow, after all. We have all likely heard the phrase, “well back in my day we did it like this” or “when I was a kid, we played outside.” Generational differences are not easy to navigate. It can be hard for waning generations to see waxing ones. Older generations tend to have nostalgia for the way things were, especially when traditions or methods worked for them.

Younger generations sometimes have a hard time listening with empathy to the perspectives of those older. In the present situation, millennials have struck back with the phrase “Ok Boomer.” The phrase “Ok Boomer” on social media and news articles was employed in divisive manners to suggest that the boomer generation was out of touch with unfolding new realities. “Ok Boomer” is a way of dismissing the perspectives and insights of the older generation. It can be hard for waxing generation to engage with waning generations too. There seems to be a present generational cultural conflict. Like many conflicts, this one thrives by arguing on uncommon ground. Talking past each other results in more clicks, likes, and subscriptions than talking to each other. The unfortunate result though, is that strained conversations around dinner tables have gotten even harder, phone calls and zoom sessions have gotten shorter, work-place meetings and memos are accompanied by eyerolls, and apathy has ensued. When apathy reigns though, everyone loses. Even when there are significant difference that need to be addressed, generational conflict should not resort to apathy. Nor should it resort to a winner take all approach.

To my mind, much of the generational angst, on both sides, revolves around anxiety over the future and questions of authority. Many are anxious about the future of the environment, the economy, the world, faith, and a myriad of other areas. This anxiety is increased because many of the traditional houses of authority have fallen in the wake of the postmodern age for younger generations, while older generations can still meaningfully cling to them. Many of the sources of comfort and hope no longer speak transgenerationally. It is almost as if different languages are being employed which speak past each other. Little effort is made to translate across differences in mutual manners. The seams appear to be bursting as what holds us together lessens and what brings us apart grows.

There is still time though. We may be in a moment of crisis but moments of crisis have a way of bringing more out of us than we otherwise thought possible. There is time to listen across the age gap for mutual understanding and mutual care. There is time to stop reading sensationalizing articles that exist for profits rather than to inform. There is time to move past indifference toward mutual accountability that empathetically listens to the perspectives of others. There is time for fidelity and novelty. When novelty meets fidelity productively, genuine encounters can take place. Both novelty and fidelity are necessary ingredients to a well-rounded culture and to a well-rounded faith.

Fidelity reminds us that a core essence of knowledge and wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. Fidelity reminds us to heed those who have walked where we walk. Fidelity is a reminder that the God of those who have gone before us, is still with us today. Novelty calls us to consider the present moment with care. Novelty reminds us that we tread on unsodden soil that has never been walked before. Novelty calls us to consider the situation which fidelity arises from and speaks toward. Novelty listens to the new things that God may be doing by discerning through fidelity what God has done. Today, no matter what generation you are born to or feel you belong to, let us listen to ancient voices from scripture with fidelity and novelty together.

Turn with me and consider with me the story of David and Bathsheba. To understand the dynamics of this narrative, we need to understand a bit about King David. King David looms large in the biblical tradition. He is most remembered as the person who killed Goliath when no one else would fight the giant. Despite coming from humble origins, he is often considered the hallmark king of the United Israel. Most of the biblical writers look upon David with favor. I Samuel tells us that God anointed David king over Israel. David is said to be a man after God’s own heart. The biblical narrative tells us that God entered into an eternal covenant with David that his line would rule forever. Christians interpret this covenant from an Christological perspective. Jesus is viewed as the promised messiah in the line of David.

But the story recounted today, of David and Bathsheba, is not a story of triumph but one of terror. It is an instance of abuse of power, position, and sex. II Samuel begins this narrative by saying it was spring when kings would go out to battle. It seems that David, the mighty warrior decided to stay in Jerusalem. Instead of going out with his army, he sent generals in his stead and stayed behind. One afternoon, he saw Bathsheba bathing and sent men to bring her to the palace. Despite knowing that she was married and with no indication that she was given any choice in the matter, the texts says she was brought to David and he laid with her. She became pregnant from David’s actions. Again, with no indication that she was consulted, David devised a plan to hide the fact that the child was his by bringing Bathsheba’s husband back from battle. His hope was that Uriah would lay with his wife and think the child was his. Rather than be accountable to or for his actions, David attempted to create a situation where Bathsheba would have to live a lie for the rest of her life. Bathsheba would have been destined to wake up every day and pretend the child belonged to her husband. David offered gifts to Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, but the plan did not work. Uriah slept at the entrance of David’s house.

David questioned Uriah about why he would not go back to his house to be with his wife. Verse 11 says “Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.’” Uriah shows his character here, which is in direct contrast to David’s. He refuses to engage in the comforts of home when his brothers are on the battlefield. Uriah even made an oath not to do such things. What intrigues me about his oath is that he involves the king to give it a stronger sense of sincerity. Uriah does not say, as surely as I live I will do no such things he says, “As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Uriah invokes an oath as a servant of the King binding himself by life the King. Uriah trusts in David’s character but that trust is misplaced. David tries to get him to break his oath by getting him drunk and when that fails, he signs death papers.

David wrote orders to his general for Uriah the Hittite to be placed where the battle is most fierce and then for the army to be pulled back. The intention is clearly preserved in the last line, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” I am no legal scholar, but the plan seems to amount to premediated murder to me, even if David is not the one holding the weapon. It seems that David got a little too used to killing on the battlefield and resorted to it as a means of disposing a loyal fighter. Uriah the Hittite who trusted David, was disposable to David. There may be a variety of reasons for why he was disposable but it intrigues me that the text preserves Uriah’s ethnicity. The text tells us so little about Uriah but it mentions multiple times that he is a Hittite. He is a Hittite, presumably from Anatolia or modern-day Turkey. We aren’t sure what he is doing in Jerusalem or what he is doing fighting for David, but his loyalty to David and his fellow soldiers is well attested in the text.

To David, Uriah was an outsider, a foreigner, someone David could more readily dispose of, perhaps, because of his status as a foreigner. No ancestral family would come looking for the body or asking questions about what happened. No protests on the street corners of Jerusalem. No chalk or candle vigils at the site of the murder. David sent him away to be killed and made the man carry his own death certificate. Cold, cold blooded through and through. In state sponsored killings, the state too often gets away free.

It is hard to sit with this David, especially when most biblical writers do not. Biblical writers gloss over these actions of David to emphasize the regal king. The story of David and Bathsheba is one that tends to be missed. Or, if it is told, it is an example of how even a great man like David can sin. It is often an object lesson on the potential pitfalls of lust and the importance of repentance. Bathsheba tends to be made out to be an opportunist, if not a seductress in these readings. These readings, like versions of history told by and controlled by the victors, gloss the perspective of victims. Rarely is this narrative considered from the perspective of Bathsheba as a real person and not an object of David’s desire. Rarely is this story considered from the perspective of a woman made a widower by a King who brought her out of her home multiple times. Rarely is this story considered from the perspective of a mother who lost her child or a husband who lost his life.

This perspective is hard. It stands in critical contrast to how much of the biblical narrative portrays King David; yet, it is a voice calling out to be heard. It is a voice that should no longer be neglected within our tradition and within history. These perspectives should not be ignored or silenced any longer. The negation of the oppressed, the drowning out of these perspectives, leads to cynicism and apathy. It leads to rejection of the structures which preserve powerful perspectives. The listening to the oppressed can lead to critical accountability. Critical accountability can be a source of change. Critical accountability may be what we need in this present age.

The younger generations are generally skeptical of power, wealth, privilege, and authority. While some of this extends from cynicism, part of it also comes from hope for more equitable ways of living. The cynicism is widely discussed and talk about. It is often a source of conflict but there is also the possibility of hope when accountability mediates cynicism and involvement. Cynicism is strong, hope can be stronger. There is strength left in the older generations for this critical accountability as a place of common ground with younger people. Novelty and fidelity are not without expression in pockets of the world, but the pockets need to be nurtured to grow. Critical accountability can be scary. It might look like challenging cherished notions and asking hard questions when it is easier to stay silent.

This summer, it is hard to remain silent concerning those people who face food and housing insecurity when we are in the midst of a billionaire space race. When some have billions to frivol away and others have little, questions need to be asked, especially when tax codes allow billionaires to avoid paying an equitable share. Wealth inequality needs critical accountability. This summer, we are also all too aware of voices crying out from unmarked graves on school and church properties. The church and history need critical accountability. This summer, we are too aware of what happens when systems and structures lack transparent accountability. Apathy and cynicism are the easy way out. Generational conflict that prevents meaningful change and dialogue serves no one. But, fidelity and novelty can meet in critical accountability through God’s liberating Spirit. This is a vulnerable place. It requires people and generations to be exposed to one another. To find common places to work together for common good.

Countries around the world, including Canada and the United State are undergoing a historical reckoning. This historical reckoning is looking at glossed over acts and policies of domination and violence that have been dismissed and covered up. While some chalk this up to generational or culture wars, it is actually an attempt to be honest about what occurred in the past and how it continues to impact the present. In the present time, we are tasked with assessing not only intent but also action. We are aware that words can be cheap and action can be costly. We assess not as judge and jury but as voices bearing witness to a Gospel seeking to be expressed to each time and place. The Gospel calls us to truthful telling and genuine justice. May we hear with fidelity and novelty for all.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics, Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
July 11

A Conflict of Interpretations

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 6:14-29

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I worked as a lifeguard at the Wesleyan church camp in Central New York for two summers during my college years. The days were filled with long hours of sunglasses and smelled of a mixture of chlorine and sunscreen. The teen week was always a rambunctious time, which recalled my memories of teen camp with my cousin at that very camp. On one particular day while lifeguarding during the teen week, a camp counselor was looking to impress someone or just had some extra energy and asked if he could do a flip into the pool. Flips were strictly forbidden, even diving was for that matter. The pool was not very deep and it would only be a matter of time before there was a mishap if flips were allowed. To my surprise, my supervisor, the aquatics director said that he could do the flip. This seemed out of character to me because I knew her to be someone who cared deeply about safety. She was a person of great faith. I recall many a “how is it with you soul today” greetings at the morning pool chemical test or a “what are you reading in Scripture” while vacuuming the pool. She turned mundane maintenance tasks into opportunities of spiritual companioning.

My heart started to beat faster when she gave the OK for the flip. My mind started playing out multiple scenarios, none of which were good. I ran through a mental checklist noting where gauze was for a nose bleed or the backboard if something really bad happened. I watched as the counselor took his steps backward to prepare his approach, teenage campers all cheering with glee. He started to run and leaped into the air. By this time, I was holding my breath and my body was ready to jump from the lifeguard tower. Up into the air he went and down into the water with a splash. It went fine. There were no issues. He pulled himself out of the water. The tension in my body released. I sighed with relief. My aquatics director looked at him and said, “That was a bit of grace.” “That was a bit of grace.” … She didn’t mean the flip was graceful. It was ok as far as flips go. There was nothing particularly bad or good about it. I think she meant that the bending of the rules was a form of grace. The acquiescence to play in an unusual manner due to the expectation of success was a bit of grace. No matter what the original intent was, I spent the rest of the day wrestling with the naming of a pool flip grace.

Just what type of grace is a pool flip? Was it, prevenient grace, the grace the comes before? Justifying grace, of forgiveness? Sanctifying grace of restoration? Cooperative grace which calls us to participate with God as conduits of grace? None of these types of grace fit. Grace. Unmerited favor, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, hope, none of this matched my expectations or experiences of grace. None of it matched the books that I had read in preparation for ministry or the theology lectures my professors gave. But it was grace nonetheless. In the recesses of my being, this memory recalls an experience of grace that defies expectations and stuffy definitions. Do not get me wrong, I like the safe sometimes stuffy definitions that sit in stacks on shelves in libraries. I take joy in reading and the expansion that occurs through the gift of written language.

But, experience is often different from well-meaning definitions. Sometimes definitions obscure as much as they reveal, especially with something like grace. Sometimes definitions make it hard to see what is happening before our eyes. Sometimes, what is stuffy needs to be taken outside where the wind blows a little more freely. When the creative Spirit blows in or over or above our experiences, grace abounds in unexpected places. Can a pool flip be grace? Can the grace to play be a Balm in Gilead, a cup for the thirsty, food for the journey, or the courage to be? Try it sometimes and see. See if jumping into cool water on a hot day offers more than just relief from the heat. See if watching children take joy in play is a source of healing in a broken world. By grace, I hope it is so. Beloved, there is transforming freedom in recognizing when events are moments of grace. In our present age, we desperately need grace. To find this grace, to see this grace, even to risk being found by this grace may require us to search differently, to see differently, and to think differently. Beloved, there is orienting hope in being found by grace in unexpected places.

I have pondered the memory of the pool flip most recently as the father of a 16 month old. My son is at the stage where he loves to point at something and he waits for me to name it. Whether it is the animals on his placemat at the dinner table or trees on our walks, the pointing never seems to end. He points, I name, he points somewhere else, and I name something else. Because of COVID, this toddler has not traveled more than 25 miles from Boston, but he is soaking up the world around him. Recently, there has been the joy of recognition on his face more frequently. He sees a cat in a book and points to the cat in the room. On our walks, he remembers and points to the street grandma and grandpa stayed at when they came to visit. He is learning about the world and his place in it all the time. Occasionally, he even says a word or two.

I have come to enjoy the pointing and naming. When my son points, he does so with the trust that the words his mother and I say are correct. His understanding of the world and reality itself is forming through this naming. While it may seem a game to him at times, it is a game of ultimate importance. For eventually, the naming will be more complex. Terms like love, God, and grace will appear. I sometimes wonder, how will these be named for him? I can tell him what Calvin, Wesley, and Tillich said. I can read Cone and Thurman, along with creeds and confessional statements. I can provide a reading list that will keep him busy for years to come. But, these ultimate questions, these ultimate concerns cannot be fully understood through books and in minds, they also have to be experienced in life and in the heart. So, I have come to hope that as we move through life, experiences will come that can be named as grace. Experiences can come that reveal God’s presence in the now. Opportunities to humbly see God at work through people who bear one another burdens. Through people who take up the mantle of justice, faith, hope, and love. I also hope to see grace in other places like sunsets, ocean waves, and learning a new language. The joy of rapidly melting ice cream cones on a hot summer day or traveling to see family. The hope that a new day will come in times of trouble.

Naming and framing what is going on around us is a key part of understanding the world. But events do not come with labels. We are not given an omniscient Hollywood narrator who offers much-needed guidance and perspective. Surely, we are not empty-handed. We have the Spirit, Scriptures, and the wisdom of others as we interpret. We engage in competing interpretations of life and being.  Paul Ricoeur marks the time as one involving a conflict of interpretation. Who is to say whether a pool flip is just a pool flip or something more meaningful? How we interpret makes a big difference. How we respond matters to life and the world.

We bring many voices with us when we interpret events. Voices from the past, some good some not so good. We bring the echoes of favorite teachers, parents, good books, sacred texts, and hopefully the Holy Spirit. Faith communities are an important place where we learn to interpret with care and love for one another. Faith communities are a place where we name these realities for those around us. Just as my lifeguard supervisor expanded my understanding of grace, so can you. We might fumble through at times in our communal efforts to name grace but we fumble together. We tend to the sacred in our midst for the sake of our souls and for the sake of those around us. This is holy work. It is the work of actualizing the Gospel. The Gospel is not merely words on a page, it is experienced in the here and now as radically transforming love. It is experienced as the liberating love that allows all of Creation to co-exist in mutual care.

Mark wrote as one seeking grace in Jesus Christ, amid conflict. Mark wrote when newly formed traditions were in conflict and required careful interpretation. Mark wrote as one looking to discover Jesus and the continuing significance of the Christ event of Jesus. On the one hand, the situation is very different now, and on the other hand, the situation bears remarkable similarities. Throughout the Gospel account, various encounters with Jesus reveal his authority, power, and identity to those who met Jesus and significantly to us. In a very real way, the Gospel is addressed to us. We are not the original audience of Mark’s gospel account, but we are included in the original audience of the Gospel for the Gospel is addressed to all. It is not bound by space, time, or circumstances. The Gospel is a thread that runs the course of history, inviting us to see Christ. Inviting us to be with Christ. When the Gospel is unhindered by the confines of pages, its power to include us in God’s unfolding story is radically realized …When the Gospel is unhindered by the confines of pages, its power to include us in God’s unfolding story is radically realized.

Through grace, the Gospel draws us closer to Jesus and reveals to us the Christ. Mark records many significant encounters with Jesus in his Gospel account. Today’s Gospel story takes place after Jesus sent out apostles who preached and proclaimed healing. These apostles ministered in the name of Jesus and the word spread. The word concerning Jesus spread to the point that it reached the ears of the ruler, Herod. Marks says that Herod did not know what to make of it. It seems that some discernment went on to figure out with this guy was that people followed. Mark’s narrative portrays a conflict of interpretations. Perhaps because he was religious, some associated Jesus with the prophets of old, people like Elijah, others even claimed he was John the Baptist back from the dead. Same person, different interpretations. Mark’s story says that these people were asking just who this Jesus was. Presumably, they were trying to access what it meant for them. People in power generally do not like disruptions and variables in their equations. People in power have a stake in maintaining the status quo and Jesus was disrupting the status quo.

His association with prophetic figures tells us something about the people he hung around. Jesus was clearly an advocate for the poor and powerless. His association with prophetic figures tells us something about the message Jesus proclaimed, that he came to free those in need of freeing and heal those in need of healing. Rather than go investigate further, Herod and the people in power pontificated. People in power tend to believe they can name reality accurately, regardless of whether or not their assertions are true. We all have opinions and interpretations, hence conflict, but privilege and power afford undue dominance to certain positions. They said, he is Elijah, he is a prophet. He is John the Baptist back from the dead. Imagine that, Mark tells us that Herod believed that Jesus was his cousin raised from the dead. This would have been no small thing for Herod who ordered John’s head be placed on a platter. In a certain sense, Herod’s wealth and position of power impacted what he saw and what he was willing to see about Jesus. Herod looked at Jesus as a threat to the status quo.

When we look to Jesus, we also look from our own positions. This is not bad in and of itself, but it necessitates caution. Our positions are not the whole story. Schleiermacher says avoiding misinterpretations is a key to good interpretation. We have to weed out bad interpretations to arrive at good ones. Our voices are one part of a greater song. It takes care not to limit Jesus to our positions and to be open to expansion. We grow in grace with others and through others. Like grace, Jesus is more expansive than pithy definitions. Jesus avoids being domesticated by checkboxes, voter registration cards, and fill in the blank answers. Interpreting the significance of Jesus to our lives and in the modern world necessitates weighing through a conflict of interpretations. Mark and the Gospel accounts are helpful guides in this work. They are a witness to history and in history. They are a key part of our tradition. They are prototypes for naming the mysteries of God and grace in our time.

Along with Mark, let us also hear from former Dean of this Marsh Chapel, Howard Thurman’s, Jesus and the Disinherited. This work invites us to consider Jesus from the perspective of those with their back against the wall. Thurman used the phrase “backs against the wall” to talk about those in need. The poor, the sick, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. Those with their backs against the wall are in a very different position than Herod; therefore, when they look to Christ, they often see more than Herod did. Thurman was the grandson of American slavery. Thurman was the grandson of people who called Jesus friend, despite learning about Christ through white slaveholders and white preachers who used Christianity as a tool of oppression. Thurman knew a different Jesus and engaged in a conflict of interpretations to insist Jesus is among the disinherited.

Despite the harm done in the name of Christ, Thurman was unwilling to give up Jesus. Thurman rejected Herod’s definition of Jesus and those who used Jesus for harm. Thurman was unwilling to allow Christ to be defined by those who do harm, when he knew Christ to be a poor minority Jew who lived under military occupation. This Christ is the one who identifies with those who have their back against the wall because Christ had his back against the wall and continues to be with those who have their backs against the wall. Because Thurman was the grandson of American slavery, he saw something in Jesus that the powerful Herod could never see. Thurman looked to Jesus and saw life. He saw survival for the oppressed. Thurman looked to Jesus and saw existence itself as possible for those who are told day in and day out that they do not matter. For those who hear every day in a million ways that this world is not for them, Thurman heard a different melody from the mouth of Jesus. A song of Gospel love and liberation for all.

At times, I wonder with preacher Fred Craddock, whether it is possible to know the words of this Gospel song but to be singing the wrong melody. In the conflict of interpretation of Jesus, the words of the Gospel need to match the Spirit’s sacred melody for this time. We discern the words and melody together. Sometimes there is conflict in this discernment. Sometimes there is agreement. Let discern together for the sake of love and liberation for all. Let us listen for the Sacred Word to match the sacred melody in our time and for our time.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics, Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
May 30

A Third Way

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 1: 1-15

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable.

-Mr. William Edward Cordts

Sunday
May 16

Boston University Baccalaureate

By Marsh Chapel

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This year’s Baccalaureate speaker is Catherine D’Amato (Hon.’21), president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB).

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Sunday
April 18

Imagine That

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 24:36-48

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When I was young, my family moved from upstate New York to Northeastern Pennsylvania. We settled outside of Harford Township. A town with just over 1000 people at the time and still is not much larger today. I have grown accustomed, especially in New England to emphasizing the Harf. in Harford. There is no t in the name, but there is a yearly fair. The Harford Fair was always held in late August just before the start of school. The Fair held the promise of fireworks, friends, food, animals, and many other wonders to children and adults alike. Kids below 12 were always free, so my sister and I frequently roamed the fairgrounds.

Over time, my sister closest in age and I learned how to glean at the fair. There was loose change to be found below the bleachers after sheep showings and tractor pulls. We generally found enough for pizza or ice cream. A booth offered apples if you made a hole in one at mini-golf. It was free and the attendants were gracious if you missed. You just went back in the line until you made the shot. You could get free water from the Baptist booth, candy from Democrats and Republicans, popcorn from a local bank, and you could watch a 30-minute Christian cartoon in the shade to break the August heat. There were even a few years when family artwork won some ribbons at the school-house exhibits. To us, the fair teemed with possibility. We never quite knew what we would find, whom we would see, and the fun we would have but every August, the fair came and went.

Usually, we would watch the yearly fireworks as a family, and that meant a trip to the midway. The midway was the location of the rides and carnival games. We spent more time watching than playing there, but the lights and action were fun to see. You could feel the wind whipping from rushing rides, hear balloons popping from darts, and smell French fries. At our family trip to the Midway, Mom and Dad, or my older siblings, would slip us a few dollars and we would play some skee-ball for 10 cents a game back in the day. We would also play a ping pong ball toss game. For a dollar or two, you would get a basket full of ping pong balls, enough for all of us to take many turns. The objective of the game was to throw the ping pong balls into a narrow-rimmed cup. Most did not make it and fell to the wayside. Like many carnival games, the odds weren’t really in our favor to win the big prizes. The balls would hit the rims of the cup and bounce off but most years, one or two of us would manage to get a ball in a small prize cup. The small prize was always a goldfish in a plastic bag.

Whoever won the fish got to name it and it was theirs but we were all excited no matter who won. Throughout the evening, the fish would be thoroughly examined before being brought home. The fishbowl full of water would already be prepared and fishfood ready to be sprinkled. No matter what we did though, no matter what we tried, no fish ever lasted more than a few days. Most had gone belly up overnight. This meant that the fishbowl sat empty for most of the year. It sat empty until the fair rolled back into town. The empty fishbowl resided on a shelf across from my seat at the dinner table. I’d look at it longingly. It was a sign of death and failure. A source of discomfort. A wound for a child who mourned the loss of fish barely known and hardly attached. The empty fishbowl was a sign of death; yet, by grace it was also something else. It was also something more.

By grace, the childish wound of the empty fishbowl was also a sign of hope. For every year, with hopeful expectations I imagined what it would look like to have the fishbowl be a place of life. Every year, I looked forward to filling it with water with the hope that that year, things would be different. Filling the bowl with water each year and hoping took faith. Imaging the empty bowl full was an act of faith. This involved looking past what was to what could be seen through the childhood imagination. It was dreaming and wondering what could be if things were different.

There is a difference between childish imagination and the wonder of children’s imagination. Too often, the wonder of the imagination is set aside as childish but imagination is central to the recognition of what is real and what really matters. Science, language, arts, theology all rest upon some form of imaginative thinking and imaginative expressing. The imagination provides us meaningful paradigms to interpret life and hope in faith for goodness. The imagination does not have to be an escape from the world it can be a way of hoping for the world to come. Sometimes we have to imagine to recognize what cannot be seen otherwise. Sometimes we have to imagine to wonder at what could be. This type of imagination does not have to be childish or lead to passive reception of wounds. This type of imagination is not an opiate of the people it can be the very work that propels us to action. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream stemmed from a holy imagination that refused to allow white racism to dictate the terms of reality. He dared to dream from a different imagination. His imagination sparked hope when many thought hope was lost. The imagination can be a spark that rises from ashes to kindle new possibilities. It can propel us toward recognition of the ever-elusive presence of divine love in loose in the world today. This is desperately needed in this time of great woundedness.

Luke writes about wounds in this post-resurrection narrative following a post-resurrection narrative. Prior to this reading, Luke records that Jesus encountered disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus and the disciples spoke but the disciples did not recognize Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught but recognition did not come through quoting texts and convincing speeches. The disciples came to recognize Jesus when bread was broken. Broken bread. The bread of the Eucharist gives life but to do so has to be broken. Perhaps, another way of saying broken bread is wounded bread. After recognizing Christ in the wounded bread, Christ disappeared from the disciples. Then, the disciples turned around and went back to Jerusalem.

After returning to the eleven, it was while they were still speaking that Jesus appeared to them and said peace. Despite having just heard the testimony of those on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were startled and terrified when Jesus appeared to them. The text says that the disciples thought Jesus to be a ghost. A phantom spirit present but not physically there. He addressed the doubts verbally but then did something odd. To alleviate the concerns, Jesus invited the disciples to touch and feel his flesh but before doing that, he showed them his hands and feet. That is odd. Jesus did not ask them to look him in the eyes or tell them something that only he would know. He draws attention to his hands and feet. He showed them feet that journeyed with them and hands that had served them. He showed them hands and feet that they would recognize. But these hands and feet were not unchanged by the cross. Recall the Johannine passage read last week which makes explicit what Luke points toward. The hands and feet of Jesus bear the marks of the nails from the cross. Jesus drew their attention to the wounds of the cross.

Practical Theologian Mary Mcclintock Fulkerson tells us that “like a wound, theological thinking is generated by a sometimes inchoate sense that something must be addressed.”[1] Wounds, true wounds, cannot be ignored. They seek to be addressed. Theology, belief and faith about God often stem from wounds or relate to wounds. Wounds that could lead to questions and fear. Wounds that need to be addressed. Luke and John affirm that wounds can also be a place of recognition. A place where God has gone before us, not to justify, redeem, or cause wounds unilaterally, but to be recognized. Wounds can be a sources of imagination. Faith in Christ does not take away wounds, but faith in Christ is faith in a wounded God. Christ knew wounds and Christ knows wounds. This is the Christ that Black Liberation Theologian James Cone imagines as present among the lynched and suffering. Christ present and wounded at the site of suffering. Cone also tells us that it doesn’t take rope and a tree for a lynching to take place. They just as easily take place at the barrel of a gun. But whether it be at the barrel of a gun, the lynching tree, or the Roman cross, the God who suffers is the God of the oppressed. The risen Christ is the wounded Christ. Christ showed his wounds to the disciples so that they could imagine and recognize different possibilities.

In order to address their doubts and fears, Christ showed the disciples his hands and feet. Recognition did not come through a whirlwind of cosmic power or a glorious triumphal miracle. Recognition stemmed from wounds. The cross is foolishness but honestly, radical love involves foolishness. Imagining God’s radical love cannot speak past wounds or over wounds. It cannot spiritually bypass materiality. Jesus invited the disciples to see the very places where the nails were driven into his body. The resurrection did not take the scars away. Recognition of the scars led to recognition of Jesus as the Christ. “39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” See that it is I myself, or in Greek, egō eimi autos. egō eimi, I am. Jesus convinced the disciples of his personhood and presence by drawing attention to his scars. Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself… We see wounds all around us today. Wounds of the economic divide, racial divide, and political divides. We see wounds but do we see Christ? Do we imagine the wounded Christ present and propelling us toward change? The risen Christ is the crucified God. There is a great temptation to forget that. There is a great temptation to join Peter in his avoidance of Christ as Isaiah’s suffering servant. We cope with the wounded Christ on Good Friday. We sit unsettled with the death of Christ on Holy Saturday, but what about the wounded Christ as the risen Christ in Eastertide? This Christ is unsettling. Wounds are unsettling even as they call to be addressed.

In this Lukan scene, Jesus calls the disciples to witnesses to these things. Part of the resurrection, part of the witness is to wounds. Witnesses are those who have seen and testify through belief about that which they have seen and know. Christian memory is a witness to this Christ or it misses a core part of how to recognize Christ and imagine Christ. Christian witness is partly kindled from the imaginative spark called forth from wounds. To always miss wounds is to risk missing Christ. Wounds should not be unilaterally glorified or celebrated but they also cannot be ignored.

The disciples were looking right at Christ, but until bread was broken, until the wounds were shown, recognition of the risen Christ did not take place. This Christ is present in the work of love and liberation today. This Christ is present in places of suffering and oppression seeking to bring about wholeness and restoration. This Christ is recognized by wounds and in wounds. This work often takes form as resistance and counter-narration. The temptation to see Jesus only when the fishbowl is full precludes the work of imagining Christ when the fishbowl is empty. It is not just a good times and in bad time’s reminder, it is a question of faith, presence, and Christology. Christ is wounded even in glory. This Christ does not call us to ignore pain and circumstances or seek out suffering. This Christ is a reminder that the power of God is not in chariots and horses, nuclear weapons and guns but in everyday resistance to suffering with the wounded God.

The wounds of Christ are meant to imagine a world without wounds.  In The Cross and Lynching Tree, James Cone put it this way, “The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair.”[2] These are ongoing activities seeking present day actuality. Wounds can help us identifying the liberating presence of incarnate resurrected love today. The risen love is loose in the world today but if we cannot recognize it, we will not see it.

Luke-Acts should certainly be read and interpreted together but it is significant that this wounded resurrection account frames the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel account. The final image of Luke is of the ascension but before the ascension, Jesus opens up the imaginative interpretive possibilities latent in the experiences and memories of the disciples. He shows the disciples how to interpret Scripture Christologically but also how to believe in the presence of wounds. The risen Christ continues to be present in the work of justice, liberation, and love today. The end is a new beginning. One unforeseen and unimaginable without the grace of God. But by the grace of God, we can imagine this world.

A few years ago, I was stuck in traffic on my way home from downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. Zip-tied to a bridge over the freeway was a sign with one word written on it. The homemade sign said, “Imagine.” I’ve always wondered, “Imagine what” but even in imagining what, the sign has generated imaginative thought. The resurrected Christ is a Christ who asks us to recognize wounds and to imagine other possibilities. The imagination is not always an escape from the world it can be a way of hoping for the world to come. We stand at the intersections of wounds and woundedness. We recognize the risen Christ as the wounded Christ. We see the scars, and let us dare to imagine something different. Let us dare to imagine a world where people can get home safe regardless of skin color. Let us imagine a world where people can get home safe regardless of sex or gender. Let the imagination come to be, by the grace of the risen wounded Christ. Let us incarnate the love of God loose in the world today. Imagine that.

[1] Places of Redemption, 14.

[2] 150.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
January 24

The Gospel Ground

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 1:14-20

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In April of 1521, Reformer Martin Luther stood trial for his beliefs and convictions. With full knowledge that heretics of this magnitude were generally put to the death, at the conclusion of his defense he famously uttered, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” Luther’s theology and convictions led him to stand firm when it would have been far easier to stand down. He is generally viewed favorably for standing strong for what he believed to be true, especially as it challenged existing paradigms and structures. In the United States, we face a situation where many have strong convictions rooted in their beliefs. We know all too well though, that convictions cannot be equated with truth and that convictions can have serious repercussions.

As a nation, we are coming through the postmodern breakdown of all truth to a place of competing truths. There is my truth and your truth but very little of our truth. There is little work across the aisle, across the pews, and sometimes even across the dinner table. In many ways, truth has been reduced to individual experience. There are benefits to recognizing the perspectival, contextual, and experiential qualities of truth; however, truth also exists, or perhaps “insists” to borrow language from Caputo, intersubjectivily. It is never the sole property of one person, one view, or one party. So we come to a point of crisis or at least confusion, there are different “Here I stand” situations across the nation and world, which raises the question, how do we interpret these convictions amid competing truths.

Like many of you, I am still processing the January 6th insurrectionist attack that took place. My soul is weary and my mind is full as I try to keep a grip on reality. It is not always easy to separate fact from fiction in the best of times but given the breakdown of civility and a lack of candor, it is unfortunately not too difficult to understand how conspiracy theories are being legitimatized and how radicalization is being actualized. We live in uncertain times. We are in difficult times but we do not mourn as those without hope. We are those with faith because of the promises of God poured out through grace. We are those who can imagine a world of equality and freedom because we have seen and tasted a Gospel that lays claim on our being in the world. This works to ground truth, not as some absolute that can be offered in pietistic pithy phrases, but grounded in a Creator who continues to create, a liberator who continues to liberate, and a healer who continues to heal.

We heard last week the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. through his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. There is a great sense of urgency in the words of King, especially read back through his death and through current events. We find also a sense of urgency in our lectionary passages for the day.

From Jonah, we hear the most effective 8-word sermon that still left the preacher disappointed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” From Paul in 1 Corinthians we hear the hope of the imminent return of Christ and the passing of the present age, “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short” and a little later, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” From Mark, we hear recognition that the nearness of the Kingdom is at hand and the imperative to believe in the Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” These texts placed together by the lectionary on this third Sunday after the Epiphany communicate a sense of urgency. They communicate a sense that something has happened, is happening, and that something is about to happen. These passages teem with expectations of the eventfulness of God’s presence and work in the world. These passages dream with expectations.

The writers of each of these passages wrote of a God of power and strength capable of acting in and upon the world. A God whose words and actions can rupture into time to re-orient particular places and even time itself. They drew direction and purpose from the meanings derived from these understandings and symbols of God. They also understood the importance of responding to the call. While God spoke through messengers and while God is envisioned as the one bringing about aspects of newness and change, the urgency in the passages is not just what the divine is doing or will do, but how humans will respond. The promise of Divine activity is at the same time a call for human responsibility. The call and response provide ground and grounding as God works in, with, and through people for justice, liberation, and love.

This can be a painful process because of misplaced affection and direction. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want his enemies to repent and he actively ran from the call. Jonah knew God to be a God of forgiveness when repentance was genuine. When Jesus called, the disciples put down their nets and they followed. As fishermen, their nets were their livelihood. It was one of their most important tools but a new call requires new tools. Following Jesus did not take away who they were but it did change how they understood the world and their vocation in the world. They could not bring everything from their old life into their new life. Growth rarely comes without growing pains. Often, the Gospel is bad news before it is good news but it is bad news that brings about good news. The Gospel is bad news to parts of the old that should no longer be. It is bad news to powers and principalities. It is bad news to idolizing understandings of God and lies that deceive.  The call of the Gospel leads to restoration and transformation. While the Gospel is for me, it is also for you, and for us. Whenever the Gospel stops being for everyone, it is no longer the grounding Gospel.

It is in the hopes of proclaiming a Gospel for everyone that I share the following about myself with you. I grew up in white America. A town that still is 98.9 percent white that played the country music which described it so well. I lived on a dirt road listening to the crickets and cows in my back yard. I was raised to love God, my family, and the United States of America. I was taught that we were always the good guys. A city on a hill blessed by God and built upon religious freedom. I learned early in life that the United States was formed as a nation set apart for the peace of the world. I pledged allegiance to the flag every day, in fact, I led the pledge of allegiance in my high school over the intercom for years. My mother, who taught me AP government in high school, instilled the hope that if injustice was occurring, that we the people could always form a more perfect union through democratic practices.

While much of what I learned had good and truth in it, there were also many falsities and untruths. In elementary school, I was taught that indigenous people were uncivilized aggressors and that the “holy” pilgrims just wanted to worship God in peace. In high school, I learned that the Civil War was fought to preserve the union and that it was fundamentally a conflict of state rights. My teacher would not accept slavery as a cause of the Civil War. There are myriads of other white myths that formed and informed me. There was a lack of truth about the histories of non-white people and a great fear of “the other.” The other, who takes away jobs and who is a threat to democracy and family values. There came a time when I had to separate fact from fiction and truth from lies. There came a time where the call was a choice. Do I love “the other” or do I run to Joppa? Do I follow a Gospel unbounded by nations and nationalism or do I hold onto my nets which tangle truth with lies?

Some might say I became disillusioned. When what I held to be true but learned was only partly true and mostly false fell apart, I felt wounded. I struggled. I wonder if some of you are there today. In despair and disillusioned. Wondering how to move forward in faith or move forward at all. Maybe you are there for the first time, maybe you are there for the 10th time. While it is a hard place to be, there are times when we need to be disillusioned to myths in order to see the truth.

Like you, I watched in horror on January 6th, 2021. I watched a crowd of overwhelmingly white Americans attempt a coup upon not only the particular people in power of this country but the entire American democratic process. I watched people declare that they would rather kill those who they disagreed with then live in tension. I watched people break windows, scale walls, and propel chemical agents. I saw pictures of blood, zip ties, gallows outside the Capitol building, and guns were drawn. I saw democratically elected officials wearing gas masks, laying on the floor, with fear for their lives in their eyes. I saw flags of racism, hate, and sedition in the hallowed halls of government. As an ordained Christian minister, I confess the most offensive images were those with crosses. To authorize a political insurrection with the cross is not only to misunderstand the cross, it makes an idol out of the sacred symbol. Those were really nets. Good for trapping and killing. The cross is not for trapping and killing but freeing and living.

I wept as I held my 8-month-old son who bears the same name as the officer murdered by an insurrectionist mob. I wept that the day Georgia elected its first black senator, Confederate flags representing a system where not all were free and equal were proudly displayed in his future place of work. I wept and I am still angry.

I am angry at calls for unity that come with no accountability. There can only be unity when there is accountability. There can only be unity when there is trust. When trust is broken, it takes time to be restored. I am angry at the excuses and lies that created this moment in history and that attempt to say what happened didn’t really happen.

Beloved while it is necessary, disillusionment can be dangerous. It can just as easily lead to apathy as it can lead to change. We’ve seen a part of this danger in a concrete form on January 6th but it is also the case that many people have experienced disillusionment their whole lives. Disillusionment itself can become a net or ground for those who repeatedly choose it or are forced into it.  Through time, I have come to see that “my America,” the America that provided me with opportunities and liberties, was not everyone’s America. Through time, I learned that “my America” was not only not everyone’s America but also that “my America” depended on America not being America to others. My upward mobility, my success, my financial independence, my gadgets and gizmos galore depended, yes on my hard work but also on the backs of others. My load was lighter just like my skin … because of my light skin.

Like you, I am still wondering where we go from here to heal from the traumas of history and recent events. Like you, I still wonder how to partner with others and God in redemptive work in the world. This week I heard echoes of the call at the inauguration of President Biden, especially in Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” Listen now to a part of this powerful poem. “When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never ending shade? … If only we dare, it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter or nation, rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded, but while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated in this truth. In this faith, we trust for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption. We feared it in its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter. To offer hope and laughter to ourselves. So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be a country that is bruised. But whole benevolence, but bold, fierce, and free … When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid, the new dawn balloons, as we free it. For there was always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Beloved, bravery is necessary to keep searching for light. Bravery is necessary to hear the call of the Gospel and respond with love and liberation for all. The Gospel and democracy are not the same, neither are faith politics. They should not be confused but they can mutually inform and critically engage when done responsibly.

President Biden reminded us this week that democracy is fragile; perhaps, it is time that Christians recognize that the Gospel is fragile as well. Perhaps it is time to see that the Gospel is not a weapon but an invitation, it is not a trump card but a call to live for the sake of God and “the other.” It is not some transcendent universal past panacea but hope of what is to come that alters the present. Caputo put it this way, “The name of God is possessed, not of ontological foundations, institutional support, a large bank account, Swiss guards, a television network or ecclesiastical authority.” He goes on the say that God is found and experienced in the call and response of the everyday lives of people. He calls this urgent eventful aspect of God the “poetics of the impossible.” The “poetics of the impossible” led Jonah to Nineveh when he wanted to go to Joppa, Paul to Corinth where he was rejected, and led the disciples to drop their nets.

The “here I stand ground,” the grounding of the call and response of a liberating God, is the call of the Gospel. The “here I stand ground” is not the moral high ground, the military high ground, or the political high ground. The Gospel ground is sustained by faith and driven by truthful conviction. The “here I stand ground” is the ground of love and service. The call can still be heard today but listening must precede speaking, learning must precede teaching, and accountability must precede unity. There are times when the Gospel has to dislocate us before it can locate us. Stand in the work of the Gospel.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
August 16

Resilient Love

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 15:21-28

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In the 1992 classic movie, The Mighty Ducks, a successful lawyer was sentenced to 500 hours of community service. He ended up coaching a ragtag group of children how to play hockey and how to be a team. In typical Disney fashion, this helped the coach, Gordon Bombay, to connect with the childhood loss of his father. Before the team’s success though, Bombay lost the trust of most of his team. In a pivotal scene of the movie, he revealed to one player that he frequently replays losing the championship game for his childhood hockey team. Bombay was selected to take a penalty shot which he missed and the team went on to lose the game in overtime. He says that he missed the shot by a quarter of an inch. Throughout the movie, the missed shot is shown multiple times and the viewer sees the puck hitting the goalpost.

While missing a shot in a children’s hockey game by a quarter of an inch seems utterly insignificant given everything going on in our world, the movie viewer is given the sense that things might have been different for Bombay if he had just scored the goal. After recounting the missed shot and saying that, a quarter of an inch would have made the difference, one of Bombay’s players says “‘Yeah, but a quarter inch the other way and you’d have missed completely.” Bombay responds, “I never thought of it that way.” Just like that, Bombay’s outlook is re-oriented by this line. This new perspective changes him. He can’t go back and take the shot again, but he has some say in how the memory shapes his life. He permits to accept that he missed the shot and that changing what happened, either for success or for greater failure, was impossible. While a quarter of an inch one way would have led to success he could have just as easily missed completely if it went a quarter on an inch the other way.

Throughout life, we must learn to deal with failure and success, as well as the margin between success and failure. As a hospital chaplain, I consistently listen to stories that people tell me. These stories often contain triumphs and despairs. Part of my chaplain training is to learn to recognize the degree to which these memories shape the present. It is clear to me that the past continues to impact the present. I have learned not to take for granted the impact that memories or events can have, even ones that seem insignificant to others. Unrequited love from 30 years ago, moving to a new state, the loss of a pet, or a missed hockey shot. People respond to events in life differently. We are unique and people interpret life and events out of their individuality. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how events or memories shape us. There is no measuring stick by which we can definitively determine how much pain or for how long painful events linger.

What is clear is that tragedies and hardships of varying magnitudes, can leave marks on our minds and souls. Some have taken to calling these marks soul wounds. Soul wounds are invisible marks left from traumatic or troubling events. They can be memories that refuse to be integrated into identity. Events that linger far beyond what is considered conventional. Feelings that flood the mind at unwanted times and overwhelm the sense of self. Strung out emotions and isolation pervade as powerlessness and a lack of agency abound. Soul wounds are serious. Sometimes, the wounds are so deep and strong that they make people question their whole understanding of reality. Then, there are times when people are unaware of the potency of soul wounds. Often times because they remain hidden beneath the surface. In these situations, they are hidden but powerful and impactful. Escaping recall and language but shaping reality.

Soul wounds can impact anyone regardless of race, class, or gender. They are not bound by geographical location or education. Numbers 1-9 on the enneagram, any combination of letters from Myers Briggs INFJ, ESTP, anyone can be hurt and that hurt can linger far beyond the initial wound. Recognizing the ongoing impact of soul wounds, of losses and failures would be easier if we could see the scars that these events leave. Unlike our bodies which often retain marks of serious injuries that can be seen by others, soul wounds are invisible. You can ride the T with a train full of people experiencing myriads of misfortune and not know. Certainty, there can be the visible signs drooping heads, sluggish shoulders, and misty eyes but for the most part soul wounds are obscure. Their obscurity helps them persist. Their obscurity also reminds us that soul wounds are often outside of our direct control. Soul wounds can lead to a sense of powerlessness and a lack of autonomy over the self. These wounds though, do not determine who we are nor are we completely defenseless against their impact. Coping tools and resiliency, of which faith can be a major contributor, can help in times of trouble. Certainty, new perspectives, love from others, and other forms of support can mitigate the impact and effects of the wounds. Yet, it is hard when every day it feels like pieces of the self are under threat from various sources.

The encounter recorded in Matthew 15 with the women in the districts of Tyre and Sidon is complicated. The text says that she is a Canaanite woman. Like many of the women of the Bible, her name was not deemed worthy of being written down, after all, papyrus was expensive.

While her name was not worth mentioning, her ethnicity was worth recording. She was a Canaanite. The supposed ancient enemy of the Israelite people. This marker of identity, this label given to her by the narrator, is not polite. It isn’t even neutral. It is downright troubling. It is, to be frank, an ethnic slur. A racist slur. The mistreatment and prejudice did not end with the narrator though. After revealing that her daughter was being tormented, she was ignored. She was not deemed worthy of a response, other than by the disciples who want to send her away. Her suffering was deemed an inconvenience. It was deemed an inconvenience to those with privilege. Even when her suffering was named and put out in the open, there was no compassion from the disciples. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” They do not even say, heal her daughter and send her away, for she keeps shouting after us. Just send her away. Her shouting, her suffering is bothering us. They did not want to see or hear it. Her wounds, her tragedies, her very life and the life of her daughter were measured and deemed inconsequential.

With all the resiliency and tenacity that comes from living on the margins where a quarter of an inch is the difference between life and death, this woman pushed. In the midst of an unsafe situation where she was outnumbered by a group of men who do not care what happened to her or her daughter, who do not look quite like her, who do not speak quite like her, she risked her life out of love for her daughter. Beloved, if you want to know what Gospel love is, perhaps in Matthew 15 we ought to look at this woman who refused to accept what the world and religious people told her about herself. She refused to accept what the people in places of power said.

If we want to see Gospel love, perhaps it is the insistence that Canaanite lives matter and that when one group has the means and resources to save others, “no” is not an acceptable answer. She refuses to accept “no”, she refuses to accept that the position has been filled, the house has just been sold, or that things will be better for the next generation. She offered her daughter resilient love that would not stay unseen and unheard.

She pushed. We cannot say exactly why but she pushed surely partly out of love and desperation for her child. What loving parent would not push for the sake of their child? We must be careful though not the make her suffering redemptive for that too easily becomes co-opted by power and privilege. There is such a thing as redemptive love and suffering can be redemptive but here we see resilient love. It is not suffering that saves but resiliency in the face of adversity. Resilient love that demands to be seen and demands to be heard. Resilient love that claims a place at the table. Resilient love, not a feeling that comes and goes, waxes and wanes, but a way of being. This is resilient love. Resilient love is Gospel love.

The story is complex. This encounter is complex. People are always more complex than they are made out to be. Jesus is more complex than he is often made out to be. It would be a much easier story without versus 24 and 26. You see, these verses seem to reveal that Jesus bought into the racialized ideologies of the time.  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is not only Israel first, but it is Israel only. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Nevertheless, she persists. She came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” These are not the words of the narrator, these are not the words of the disciples. These are red letters and that does not stop them from being another racial slur. Jesus refuses to heal when he can and refuses to see the women in front of him as a person. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Sure, the Greek is diminutive which is perhaps more appropriately translated as puppy instead of dog but the inference is no better. He does not see her because he does not have to see her. He compares her sick daughter to a dog.

Michelle Obama, in a recent podcast, shared that she feels the ongoing racial strife, and lack of response to the pandemic in the nation, has left to her experiencing low-grade depression at times. While I do not think that depression and soul wounds can be correlated or equated, there certainly can be similarities. And, her sharing her experience names the wider truth of what is going on across the country and world. Whether it is soul wounds, depression, or trauma the nation is facing a challenging time. People are facing challenging times. A time when a quarter of an inch in any direction can have monumental ramifications. The ongoing water in which we currently swim, the soil in which we are attempting to draw nutrients, provides additional challenges to individual and communal thriving. How can plants thrive when the soil is sick? How can fish swim when the water is poisoned? Although, many of the challenges have always been present and have been unacknowledged by those in places of privilege.

Between the myriad of pandemics the country is facing, and the personal challenges, this season feels a bit like the state of Narnia is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe. When the Pevensie children first arrive, they learn that the fictional country of Narnia is in a perpetual state of winter. They are told that it is always winter and never Christmas. We have had summer without beaches and barbeques, virtual fireworks for the Fourth of July, and empty churches for Easter. We have watched death and destruction on the news and streamed on the internet. We are living in an age of dislocation. It is almost as if someone forgot to turn the calendar from Lent to Easter and then to Eastertide. Always winter and never Christmas. Christianity has a place for trauma, tragedy, and soul wounds but we usually prefer it to stay compartmentalized. Death and silence are acceptable topics on Good Friday and Holy Saturday but Easter has come and gone. It is now time for hope, joy, and love. It is now time for the resurrection. But what do you do when it seems like the resurrection just will not come? Perhaps even harder, what do you do when the resurrection has come and gone but it does not seem like anything is different? Is it now a time when it is always lent and never Easter? Sorrow, grief, anguish, despair, and isolation are refusing to be contained and controlled. They are refusing to stay silent. The impact of their discordance is seen across individuals and communities. In the face of such, we must learn resilient love. Resilient love clings to hope in order to fan the flames of change. Resilient love recognizes brokenness, trauma, and tragedy. It does not force joy and triumph before they are welcome but it does not give up.

The power of the cross is a location of redemptive love in triumph but the cross is also a location of resilient love in brokenness. The cross is a symbol of tragedy, and not just triumph. Life is a process of interpreting meaning. There are times when events and situations align. There are times it seems that nothing goes right. Everything seems broken beyond repair. Sometimes the difference between the two is just a quarter on an inch. Faith reminds us that life is meaningful and purposeful in seasons of Lent and seasons of Easter. Faith calls for redemptive and resilient love.

I sometimes wonder how different life would be if people were able to see soul wounds. We can show each other physical scar and wounds. We can see when people are physically bleeding and hurt. When pointed out, people often share the story behind the wound but soul wounds often remain unseen and un-narrated. On the one hand, this protects the agency of the person by preventing unwanted vulnerability, on the other hand, it too often allows the harm that caused the wounds to persist. Would we be more compassionate to each other if we knew the weight of pain and sorrow we bore? Would we bear each other’s burdens with more care if we knew? We cannot see soul wounds but we can learn to be more attentive to emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of those around us, including our own. We can learn to give and receive resilient love.

Like many outside of places of privilege and power, the woman in Matthew 15 learned to survive on crumbs. She learned how to glean on crumbs that others did not want. Crumbs from the masters’ table. This is what she asked for from Jesus. She asked for crumbs and knew that she would work hard to live on less. On the one hand, she gets what so many others miss. That a crumb from the Messianic Banquet is enough to sustain life, on the other hand, her story asks why do some get seats at the table and others crumbs that fall.

 I confess that as a white person, I am tempted to want to celebrate that Jesus changed here. I want to make the story better by saying that the ending ties everything up; however, we must resist such interpretations of texts and life. It is too neat. The change does not negate the harm. It is good that Jesus did change as a result of his encounter with this woman. He affirms her faith. He heals her daughter. There are other sayings and stories that reveal a more inclusive ministry; however, Jesus’ changed perspective may not be what the text is about for us today. This is a story of a mother’s resilience who persisted in the face of prejudice and privilege. This is perhaps a time, where Jesus learned about Gospel love from another person. From an outsider who was written off. This is the Gospel as the resilient love of a mother who advocated through adversity, who refused to accept no as an answer. Thanks be to God for the Gospel of resilient love.

 

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
July 26

The Parabolic Path

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

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A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. What do these have in common? Some are valuable and others are cheap. Some are organic and others are inorganic. Some serve an essential purpose and others are ornamental. We could continue to make such comparisons but fear not, this is not a Sesame Street game of “one of these things is not like the other.” Besides being used in parables by Jesus and recorded in the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, these earthly objects do not have much in common. Yet, Jesus says that each of them is like the kingdom of heaven. Each provides one part of a comparison. These comparisons describe to us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is not that each is like the kingdom of heaven in their atomic or chemical make-up such that if we gathered all of the objects together we could put the kingdom of heaven on a table, but the parabolic comparison shows that each has the capacity to reveal the kingdom of heaven. In their capacity to reveal the kingdom of heaven, the materiality in the relationship between the earthly and heavenly is indispensable. What is seemingly mundane can disclose the sacred. The parabolic path is marked by a participatory presence.

The parables of Jesus show that everyday objects can participate in the divine economy. On the one hand, we learn about the kingdom of heaven through the particular comparisons Jesus makes, and on the other hand, we learn that such comparisons can be made. This is significant because it reveals the potential for a sacramental quality of Creation and life. Not everything is a sacrament but Creation has the potential to be sacramental. For a society that goes through its everyday existence with a loss of amazement at life and the world, this is a word of Gospel. It is good news because it re-orients our experience of existence. It invites imagination, wonder, and excitement into life. It reminds us that every person, made in the image of God can offer insight into the kingdom of heaven. Every lush garden or arid desert has the touch of its Creator. Even time can be sacramental. There is a time for weeping and a time for joy. There is a time for work and a time for rest. While it may seem obvious, it is worth stating that how we approach life impacts how we interpret our being. The kingdom of heaven is a potential present reality through the parabolic path. The parables help re-orient toward a participatory nature of existence. God participates with humanity and humanity has the potential to participate with God.

In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor shares a story where a seemingly ordinary childhood encounter transformed her outlook on life. One Sunday her pastor asked her to sit in the front pew and listen attentively to his sermon. He offered an illustration of Taylor nurturing tadpoles in a birdbath and watching them grow into frogs as an example of participatory Creation care with God. Listen to what she writes about the aftermath of the sermon:, “I could not wait to find further clues to heaven on earth. Every leaf, every ant, every shiny rock called out to me—begging to be watched, to be listened to, to be handled and examined. I became a detective of divinity, collecting evidence of God’s genius and admiring the tracks left for me to follow.”[1] After that sermon, she viewed Creation in a whole new manner. She looked for ways in which God was revealed through God’s work of and in Creation, partly through her own participation. She became a detective of divinity.

Detectives are people who have gained the skills to be able to interpret what untrained eyes and ears might miss. Detectives are people who can make sense out of seemingly incomprehensible data. They can connect the dots. For Taylor, God’s work was present in her life but for her to see God’s work, someone had to point it out to her. Someone had to name it as such. Creation drew her childhood wonder which only grew when nurtured to recognize the wonder of the Creator. There is a difference between seeing and understanding. It can be easy to see what is going on but it is a lot harder to recognize what is truly happening. What would it look like to be a detective of divinity and where would you look for traces of the divine.

The parables can help us here because they remind us that we do not have to look exclusively in the grandiose. The kingdom of heaven can be found in modest places. It is not only the mountain tops and majestic waters that invite us to see the hand of the Creator. As magnificent as the sublime is, it should not overshadow the possibility of revelation in other places. With open eyes, the kingdom can be found in bound books, coffee conversations, and even socially distant zoom meetings. Perhaps, it is hard to see the kingdom in the everyday because we think it ought to be something so magnificent that it cannot be mediated in the ordinary. Surely, the kingdom is greater than simple seeds, cooking ingredients, and fishing tools. Yes… and no. These do not exhaust the kingdom but they do reveal. Excluding the common from the kingdom attempts to preserve the mystery of the infinite and offers due regard. Yet, by itself, it misses that God chooses to reveal Godself through everyday materiality.

It is a wonder that God trusts the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to comparisons with earthly objects. Then again, God is wonder. Enlightenment rationality for all of its benefits has shaped us into a society that sees value in what people and objects produce; rather than, in how they participate with God and others in communal thriving. Parables whisper invitations to pause and listen to another hum of the universe, where God holds all of creation together. This hum contributes as the core of a song that includes many voices. This song resounds with all that is true in philosophy, science, medicine, music, and is guided by the constant resonance of the Creator. The parabolic path hears this hum in conjunction with life. The song is always present faith and life do not need to be bifurcated.

In two of the parables, the treasure and the pearl, Jesus reveals that the kingdom of heaven may be found by those who are looking. There is no guarantee that the kingdom will be found or that finding it is easy. But this reassures us that looking and finding can take place. While we cannot create a scientific method or formula for discovering and quantifying God’s presence and work in the world, whether or not we are open to it makes a difference.

Openness to the kingdom requires openness to the world. It may seem counterintuitive but it is in and partially through the world that the kingdom comes to be. A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. These are all things of the world. These are items with the potential to lead us toward the kingdom. When you think about it, none of these particular items are necessarily religious or holy. They are just stuff; albeit, with various degrees of value. But, we do not regularly find mustard seeds and nets in the church buildings; however, it is not only in church buildings where we should seek God’s presence and work. The institutional church does not have a monopoly on the work and presence of God. In fact, there are times when the church must observe what God is doing elsewhere to listen to God’s call. The Gospel is deep and wide.

This is a time of listening where discernment of the Spirit’s presence and work in the world is needed. In an age where we stand on the brinks of nuclear, ecological, economic, political, and interpersonal disasters the church must engage with the world and it must do so from a position of humility. The church can no longer presume to have all the answers or the exclusive understanding of truth. The church cannot always presume to set the agenda for the conversation and must learn how to cooperate with others. Cooperation is no small feat, especially when considering how hard it is to get different denominations to cooperate. The church cannot abdicate its theological voice and responsibility but we are called to listen to collective wisdom. Doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, social workers, lawyers, parents all have the potential to lead us toward truth and communal thriving. Detectives of divinity can come from anywhere.

In the 1960s the Catholic Church convened the Second Vatican Council and drafted a new document on the relationship between the church and the modern world. This document, Gaudium et Spes begins, “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”[2] This underscores that the church has a responsibility to the world and all of humankind. Gaudium et Spes sought to approach this responsibility from a place of mutual respect.

For too long and in too many places still, the relationship between the Church and the world is marked by opposition. Fraught with tension, this rivalry has had detrimental effects. History and science were rejected and social progress characterized as unbiblical. I am not suggesting that the church must uncritically accept all positions but abnegation with the modern world is untenable. For too long the concerns of the world have not been the prominent concerns of the church. For too long the desire for superiority has prevented cooperation. The anguish of COVID and racism must be the anguish of the church. The anguish of a system that oppresses all, but especially those who are not white, male, and heterosexual must be the anguish of the followers of Christ. The grief of a world hurtling toward destruction must be the grief of the church. These are the issues of the world that makes them the issues of the church. If the church is honest with itself, these ought to already be the issues of the church too. The parables of Christ invite us to see these as spiritual concerns.

Later in Gaudium et Spes, the document says, “Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has people had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one person depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes.”[3]

I have read Gaudium et Spes numerous times in my life, but when I read that this past week, I forgot that it was written in the 1960s as it continues to be poignantly true today. The aptness with which that paragraph describes the modern world is an indictment and an invitation. It invites us to repentance and change. It invites us to continue searching for God and Gospel. The perils of war continues to loom, even as it looms in different places. The perils of racism, poverty, disease, and exceptionalism are rampant. It might be tempting to try and withdraw from the world and its many problems. It might be tempting to seek for the kingdom outside of such pain and suffering. But maybe, these are the places where God can be found working. Maybe these are the places where ordinary mustard seeds and yeast are needed the most. Small seeds and yeast have transformative potential.

A mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant in search of fine pearls, and a net. These invite us to see God and the world with faith. These are not the places we might expect to find God but these invite us to search for God in unusual places. The kingdom is not a vacation destination that once discovered means we get to escape from the world and its struggles. The kingdom is here and it calls us to live in light of the call God has placed on our lives. The Kingdom pulls us toward loving justice, seeking mercy, and walking humbly. A call of cooperation. In doing so, let us remember that “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Preaching Life. (Plymouth, UK: Cowley Publications 1993), 16.

[2] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

[3] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
May 24

A Shared Future

By Marsh Chapel

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Genesis 4:3-10

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A reading from Genesis chapter 4, verses 3-10,

3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!

If you look back through the last few decades, you might notice that there has been an ongoing rise of dystopian and post-apocalyptic works. The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, The Handmaid’s Tale, Planet of the Apes, and dozens of other works have capture the attentions of readers and viewers. All of these works say something about the world in which we live. These works tend to re-imagine society in light of suffering or offer a restructuring of life. The power of good dystopian literature is its connection to reality and the way it forces the reader to reconsider aspects of life. I cannot say for certain what the affinity between these works and the current zeitgeist is, but the correlation is significant.

One particular dystopian novel has been especially on my mind lately, The Giver. The Giver is a 1993 novel by Lois Lowry, which was turned into a movie in 2014. The novel takes place in a society designed to function without pain, war, or fear. For all intents and purposes, the society seems to be a utopian one at first; however, throughout the book the reader learns the costs of creating the society. In order to achieve the societal ideals, the community enforces strict uniformity toward utilitarian purposes. Individuals have to conform to societal norms. The ability to choose or make the meaningful decisions in life is taken away from the individual and placed into the hands of a council. People are assigned to families and jobs. The society is without many emotions like love. People cannot see the color of the sky, ground, or anything else. Those who are not useful are euthanized. What appeared to be utopian was dystopian.

One of the ways in which the society was able to enforce uniformity is that considerable amounts of the past have been intentionally forgotten. This provides a powerful formative force. Societies are shaped by what they remember and forget so, the ability to shape a society based on what it remembers and forgets is a profound power. We go through a similar formative process every day, even when we are not aware of it. We are shaped by the stories told, events remembered and we are shaped by the untold stories and events forgotten. While there is no council with the ability to take away our memories, there is an ongoing struggle for whose memories and stories are true and matter.

Turn with me to the story of Cain and Abel where two brothers made an offering to God. The planter Cain, gave an offering from the fruit of the ground and Abel, the herdsman from his flock. Each made gifts to God from their work. For some reason, Abel’s sacrifice pleased God, and Cain’s did not. Theologians have argued for centuries about why Abel’s sacrifice was more pleasing. The author of Hebrews indicated that faith had something to do with it. Hebrews 11:4 says “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” The faith aspect reminds us that inward dispositions impact outward actions. Augustine thought similarity when he argued that the reception of the offerings must have correlated with the intentions of the giver. In other words, Augustine believed that Abel’s heart was in the right place and Cain’s was not. Whatever the initial reason, it is clear that God recognized the consequences of favoring one brother’s offering over the others. So God warned Cain that he must not succumb to the anger in his heart. Cain was given a warning and a chance to overcome unjust anger against his brother. Cain was given the chance to recognize that blessings from God to others are not a cause of jealousy. But Cain lured his brother into a field and attacked him. One person killed another, brother killed brother.

After Cain killed Abel, God questioned him about Abel’s whereabouts. Because Cain was alive, he could tell the story and retorted, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper.” Cain counted on the past being the past and dead bodies being silent. What Cain did not remember is that God has a way of knowing. God said to Cain “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” The passage from Hebrews also said that Abel still speaks by faith even though he is dead. The blood of Abel cried out to God. Abel’s cry was a song of sorrow. The ground was marred by blood and became the location of this song of sorrow. Creation recognized the injustice that sounded out from the marred soil. Clearly, Cain did not want to hear this song of sorrow or take responsibility for the direct role he played in its creation. God did not stand for his actions and ignorance. In fact, God says listen to Cain. Cain is directed to listen to God and the song of sorrow rising from his brother’s body in the ground. God directed him to listen to what God can hear from what remains of Abel.

Listening here is a way of remembering. God does not allow Cain to ignore the travesty he committed against his brother to go unaccounted for through verbal dexterity. A person is dead. Cain’s brother is dead. The world will never be the same. God does not allow the song of sorrow to go unheard.

If we were to venture out to listen for voices in the soil, what would we hear? What are the songs of sorrow crying out to God for justice? Can you hear the blood and sweat of a black runner from Georgia, the tears of abused women, the gasps of soldiers waking up from all too real dreams, and the coughs of the poor who died without adequate health care coming from polluted ground? If you cannot hear these songs, it does not mean that they do not exist, they are there and God says listen. If you cannot hear them, then it is time to ask why. What is separating you from the laments of the suffering?

Perhaps we do not hear the songs because we do not want to. We do not want to admit culpability or witness any more pain and suffering. It is also hard to hear them when listening feels like swimming upstream. It’s hard to hear when the mainstream pulls us away. There are songs and memories that mainstream society is trying so desperately to drown out and it is beyond time to ask why. It is time to listen and remember the truth told from the ground and not those standing over the bodies. Bodies will continue to fall and cry until we listen.

In the dystopian world of The Giver, the society was able to select what memories would shape the community. The council controlled the stories told and events remembered. Rather than remember all the hurt and destruction that humanity inflicted, the society designated one person to be the keeper of memories. The keeper of memories remembered the good and the bad. In this way, the past could be the past as people went through life ignorant of much of what came before. But trying to leave the past in the past brought about serious consequences. The society bent or perhaps even broke truth in the way it understood it’s past and present. The community rested on unstable ground as the songs of sorrow were drowned out. Without the ability to remember, the community could not listen. Memories are not purely passive traces of events, they are poignantly active markers of life. Memories have meaning and when they are taken away, forgotten, or denied life is impacted. The fabric of the world is altered when memories are snuffed out.

The protagonist of The Giver Jonas, as the new keeper of memories, was faced with a difficult choice, does he perpetuate the communal myths by keeping all of the society’s memories to himself, or does he expose the duplicitous ground the community uneasily rests upon? You can read the book to see what Jonas did but remember that part of the power of good dystopian literature is its capacity to capture pertinent aspects of life. In other words, if you read the book, you might just have to ask yourself the same question, can you accept the communal myths and the duplicitous ground that society rests upon when it tries to forget its past?

You can learn a lot about a society by looking at what they choose to remember. Alternatively, you can uncover much by pondering what would rather be forgotten. The Giver illustrates that there are dire repercussions when societies and communities refuse to remember certain things. Selective memory may make those in control of the narrative feel better but the truth cannot be hidden. The truth cannot be dismissed so casually. Memories and lingering effects have a way of surfacing and demand to be heard. The voices of the past cry out.

Beyond hearing the songs of sorrow that stem from injustices, the temptation to forget, ignore, and perpetuate in the present is fueled by radical individualism. This individualism says it was not my hand that struck the brother or sister; therefore, I do not have to listen. I do not live in Georgia. I do not own a gun. I smile at people who do not look like me when I walk by them. I donate money to organizations that make a difference. If I do all of this, God, surely I am not responsible for the bodies in the ground? I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?  Individualism focuses on the self that is standing and refuses to see or hear the body on the ground. Individualism tries to forget that we are part of a communal society, whether we feel like it or not. It teaches us that we are isolated islands moving through a world that exists for us. This excuses the suffering or pain of others as inevitable or caused by moral deficiencies. The “me” mindset focuses on the self while viewing other people as minor characters in our story. This could not be further from the truth though. We exist in an interconnected interdependent world. We live in a shared world where the Holy Spirit fills the space that is between us.

Our lives and identities are forever changed when we come into contact with each other. For good or for ill, we impact those around us. Continental philosopher Paul Ricoeur said it this way: “in our experience the life history of each of us is caught up in the histories of others. Whole sections of my life are part of the life history of others—of my parents, my friends, my companions in work and in leisure.”[1] To answer the ancient question from Genesis, YES you are your brother’s keeper, and you are your sister’s keeper, your friend’s keeper, your annoying person in the office keeper, yes, you are even your enemies’ keeper. There is no one for whom you are not a keeper. That doesn’t mean you must continue to engage with people who have hurt and abused you. It doesn’t mean you cannot walk away from people who do not keep you but you are a keeper. For today, this places the obligation to listen to songs of sorrow and remember. To be a keeper for others recognizes that we share life, the world, and God with one another.

I doubt that the author of The Giver had Genesis in mind when she wrote about the keeper of memories but maybe being a keeper also means holding onto each other’s stories with trust and care. Maybe it means listening deeply to those around us and honoring the ways in which we are connected, even if these connections are not visible. In The Giver, the keeper of memories is tasked with remembering on behalf of the community for the good of all. But we do not live in a world where just one person is the keeper of memories. We all are and because we are all keepers, we are partners in the hard work of remembering. Ricoeur says that we are entangled with one another and this entanglement should result in mutual care and concern for each other. Your life is directly shaped by the people surrounding you. You impact the people around you. This entanglement challenges notions radical individualism because of the way life is inherently connected. On the one hand, this means the present is shaped by mutuality. On the other hand, it means that the past and memory do not belong to any particular individual or even a particular community. This is not to say that we are bound by the past or memories in a fatalistic manner; however, they are always present even when we are not aware. History is shared and there is an ethical responsibility to the past when forgetting and remembering. How we remember and what we remember must be measured because of the way in which they shape the present and the future.

If you travel around any city, you will see statues, plaques, and monuments. These represent events, people, or times that are memorialized. There are times we observe special days in the year. These are formative reminders of what has been. Tomorrow is Memorial Day. On this day, we remember those who gave their lives in military service on behalf of the United States. Tomorrow we remember that war is not free and that the costs of war extend far beyond what the U.S. treasury department can print. Memorial Day is a day of remembering.  But it is also a challenging day. How do we honor the good and remember the injustices? How do we live in the tensions and ambiguities of life that are always more complex than a simple good/bad dichotomy. How do we remember more fully and truthfully?

We live in a shared world. This means that until there is freedom for all, there can never be freedom for some. Freedom cannot be achieved for a few on the backs of the many. While songs of sorrow are the dirge of the land, the land is not a place freedom. Recognizing this means reclaiming and remembering aspects of the past. It necessities being keepers for one another. We are keepers of the voices of the past. We are keepers of voices in the present. Yet, there is another important way that we are keepers. We are keepers of each other’s futures. We not only live in a shared world but we must move toward a shared future. The future is not mine, it is not yours, and it is ours. God invites you to work as a keeper toward a shared future for everyone. This invitation is hard but it is good news for everyone. The shared future is not wishful thinking it is God’s promise.

[1] Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1992, 161.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
February 23

The Transfiguration

By Marsh Chapel

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Exodus 24:12-18

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

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The text of this sermon is currently unavailable.

-Mr. William Edward Cordts