Archive for the ‘Matriculation’ Category

Sunday
August 29

Beginning A Conversation

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 7:18

Click here to hear just the sermon

We in worship today at Marsh Chapel, Matriculation Sunday, August 29, anno domini 2021, have the privilege of worshipping alongside a new class of first year students, the class of 2025.  We bow and we tip our invisible hats to them.  For they are beginning a conversation.  It matters how a conversation begins.  We with the women and men of 2025 also are beginning a conversation, an… autumn …postcovid … thoughnotyetreallypostcovid …séance… tertulia… conversation.

How shall we begin?

*Beginning a Conversation: Includes Questions

Two friends have moved north of the border, to teach and work in Canada.  As they cross back and forth, crossing the border, they will receive and respond to questions, questions at the border (4):  What is your name? Where are you from?  Where are you headed?  Do you have anything to declare?  The border between strangers headed toward friendship in the freshman year involves just those questions, with which a conversation begins: What is your name? Where are you from?  Where are you headed?  Do you have anything to declare?  Let us learn in these years the power of questions, and the prudence of listening to the answers.  As the Letter of James reminds us: let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God

*Beginning a Conversation:  Means to Read

The advantage of an education is the freedom not to dwell only in the 21st century, or only on shores of your own home lake, or only in the dreams with which you arrive, that may need editing, or only in America, Boston or even this hallowed university.  You begin here again a conversation with antiquity and with novelty.  Is education about what is old or what is new?   Well, however you land on that one, the conversation opens with reading.  Here is a matriculation account.  One young man who would later become a significant African American leader went due north to Depauw, a small Methodist school in Indiana, led by various BU graduates.  His dad, mom, and younger siblings drove him up and dropped him off there in Greencastle, “up south”, Martin King might have said, from their home in Louisiana.  Weeping, his father said, “Son, we are not coming back until four years from now.  We just can’t do it.  You are here where your future opens.  At graduation we will be here, sitting in the front row.  This is your time.  I have one word of advice.  Read.  When others are playing, you read.  When others are sleeping, you read.  When others are drinking, you read.  When others are partying, you read.  When others are wasting precious time and encouraging you to do the same, you read.”   He did.  Read, that is.

Speaking of Presidents, Boston University’s third President, Lemuel Merlin, left Boston for Greencastle Indiana, to become the President of Depauw, nearly 100 years ago.  All of our Presidents—Warren, Huntington, Merlin, Marsh, Case, Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian, and Brown—would salute this Augustinian slogan, tole lege, ‘take and read’.

For like our gospel lesson today, they and this University, have been interested in what makes a person human, in what makes a human be human, in what lies not outside, but inside, not in measurement but in meaning, not in the visible but in the soulful, not in making a living, only, but in making a life, fully.  Matters of the heart matter, as the Gospel warns today:  This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Is about Gaining an awareness of Soul

 Your challenge in these fours years is not only to earn a BA.  Your challenge is to do so without losing your soul, to do so while gaining soul.  Your challenge is to do so gaining your soul, tending to the inside, walking in the light, becoming your own best self, finding the place where your heart, ‘the inside’ comes alive, uniting the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, and uniting vocation with avocation, ‘as two eyes make one in sight’.  So, Frost:

Yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My vocation with my avocation

As my two eyes make one in sight

Only where love and need are one

And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and the future’s sakes.

In the New Testament, each Synoptic passage is like a choral piece, including four voices.  There is the soprano voice of Jesus of Nazareth, embedded somewhere in the full harmonic mix.  In Mark 7, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisaic attention to cleanliness.  There is the alto voice of the primitive church, arguably always the most important of the four voices, that which carries the forming of the passage in the needs of the community.  Here the community is reminded about the priority of the ‘inside’.  The tenor line is that of the evangelist, St. Mark here, marking his own appearance in the record.   The baritone is borne by later interpretation, beginning soon with Irenaeus, Against Heresies:  “What doctor, when wishing to cure a sick man, would act in accordance with the desires of the patient, and not in accordance with the requirements of medicine?” (in Richardson, ECF, 377) If our church music carried only one line, we might be tempted to interpret our Scripture with only one voice, and miss the SATB harmonies therein, to our detriment.  Hence not only the beauty but the spiritual, soulful work of choral music heals, hymns and choir and organ and all.  As the Song of Songs sings: the time of singing has come.  And as the psalm directs: come into God’s presence with singing.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Means to Face Mortality

Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  Speaking of reading, pick up sometime My Name is Asher Lev.  As a boy walking with his dad—one thinks of Martin Buber imploring us in living to eschew relations that are ‘I and It’ and to celebrate those that are ‘I and Thou’—Asher at a young age wonders about a fallen bird.

Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“Yes”, I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

“Why did it die?”

“Everything that lives must die”.

“Everything?”
“Yes”.

“You, too, Papa? And Mama?”

“Yes”.

“And me?
“Yes.”, he said.  But then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and happy life, my Asher.”

I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

“Why”, I asked.

“That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom made this world, Asher.”

“Why?”

“So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.

*Beginning a Conversation: Spies Pied Beauty

Not only the true and the good, not only learning and virtue, not only the true and the good, but beauty, beauty, beauty opens a conversation, learning and virtue and piety.  Our cousin of blessed memory’s favorite poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:  
Praise him.

*Beginning a Conversation: Recognizes Virtue, too, as does the BU motto

Speaking of virtue, wrote David Brooks a bit ago: “Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed (p. xi).”

As he would agree, not all things end well.  Sometimes things end well, as Ecclesiastes hoped: Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.  Yet sometimes, sometimes things end badly.  We are thinking about this, this fortnight, about Afghanistan, and praying for as much safety, as much peace, as much protection, as much survival, as much healing as possible.  But also, we recognize an ending, when we see one.  And sometimes things end badly.  That’s why they end.  Sometimes in life, in work, in relationship, in commerce, in academia, in government, in politics, things end badly.  The very fact that they end badly is proof positive that they badly needed to end.  They end badly because they badly needed to end.

*Beginning a Conversation:  Opens Scripture

To conclude—ah, that blessed sound in a sermon or lecture…in conclusion, as I take my seat, and finally…It is Sunday.  We are in Marsh Chapel.  Part of the conversation we begin here, alongside the class of 2025, starts by opening the Holy Scripture, at least every seven days if not more often.  Augustine of Hippo did so in the late fourth century, and his heart changed, his life changed, his spirit changed, he began a truly and fully new conversation, as he remembered in his Confessions:

  1. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tole lege, tole lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So, I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Hear the Matriculation Gospel!  Beginning a new conversation includes questions, means to read, gains soul, faces mortality, spies beauty, recognizes virtue, and opens Scripture.

Class of 2025:  we are here with you because we are here for you (repeat).  We have come from many regions of the world and many ranges of your past experience in order to be present here, to share your presence, and our presence with you.  Here with you, we are here for you.

May you sense daily the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through conversations well begun—well begun is half done–these footprints, these touches of grace.

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old, searching out the new

Our Alma Mater Evermore, Hail BU!

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

Sunday
August 30

Liberal Heart

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 16:21-28

Click here to hear just the sermon

Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Jesus Christ and Him Crucified is at the mysterious heart of All, of Life, and of Change.  Jesus the Son of God, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Presence of God, can bring change.  To you.  Simon Peter found his life immeasurably altered by a word or two, fitly spoken.  He found a liberal heart. You can too.  He found a liberal heart.  We can too.  He found his own heart opened, and forever remade, by the liberality, grace, freedom, generosity and love of God.  We can too.  Peter following this change still struggled to appreciate and bring apperception to the Person of Jesus, the Presence of Jesus, the Power of Jesus.  But the change was permanent.  He was given a liberal heart, a heart of wonder, a heart of vulnerability, a heart of self-abandon.  God is calling you to open your heart today to that kind of change, that scope of change, that force of change. Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Let us pray.

 

Gracious God, Holy and Just
Thou who art loves us into love and frees us into freedom

In the mystery of thy presence we pause at the beginning

 The beginning of a new season, of a new year, of a new adventure

 Thankful for the wise leadership of our University, and for the chance to learn and study together this autumn

 Now at Matriculation 2020 we offer our common prayer

 We pray for safety, health, and wellness for all

We pray to become good stewards of, protectors of, the safety, health and wellness of others, to be our sister’s keeper, our brother’s keeper

 We pray for the disciplines of courage, and of responsibility, and of compassion that together we shall need, and that together we may find

 We remember in prayer those who got us here, who raised us, taught us, loved us and supported us, and who yearn to see us through

 Bless Boston University this year we pray, bless those who study and those who teach, those who lead and those who support, bless each and every one of us we pray

 With a joy in learning, a regard for virtue, and an inclination to piety—a joy in human knowing, a regard for human doing, and an inclination to  human being

 Grant us thy peace, grant us thy peace, grant us thy peace.  AMEN. 

Our Holy Scripture takes flight first this Lord’s Day with Moses’ fear.  The prospect and the present potential for change bring a quaking in the boots, a quaking in the heart, a quaking in the very soul.  You are right to worry and wonder a little bit about a Matriculation Sunday sermon, and whether it might bruise or cut a little bit.  Alma Mater carries the sense of birth, of child birth.  The mysterium tremendum, all about us, the HOLY HOLY HOLY.  And Moses, God love him, first, fears.  For the Divine Presence brings change.  Real change is real hard, but it comes in real time when real people really work at it:   I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.  I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  But there is no theological exam here, nor any doctrinal requirement.  There is just the chance for change.  It is a very broad brush, a big canvass, a wide and wild painting, big enough for cameo appearances by fearful humans, including Moses, and you, and me.

Our Holy Scripture sails and soars second this Lord’s Day with Paul’s wisdom.  These verses you need to memorize. Romans 12: 9ff.  They are neither heavily theological nor pointedly doctrinal.  They are existential.  They include. They involve many, and various, and different and all.   The church survived and grew for 150 years before it had a Bible, from 30ad to 170ad, at least a Bible of the sort we have today.  It had the Law, Prophets and Writings, but no Gospels shared, no Letters agreed upon, no Apocalypses acclaimed.  The Holy Scripture proved itself Holy, over time, in context, with debate, out of friction.  The Godfather of the New Testament was a gnostic heretic named Marcion, in opposition to whose Bible of Luke and some Letters of Paul the Church instead accepted in addition the Hebrew Scripture, in addition the other Gospels, in addition the other Letters, and even an Apocalypse or two.  Scripture came to life in and through life.  So, you would not blithely disparage it.  It comes with blisters and sores and cuts.  Paul finds change in these 13 very simple, transparent advisements, let love be genuine…practice hospitality. 

Our Holy Scripture lands at Peter’s feet, in the call to change, to a change of heart.  What will it profit if one gains the whole world yet loses one’s soul?  Somewhere between world and soul, Peter discovered a liberal heart.  What Jesus said in 30ad is written down at last by Matthew in 85ad. There was a long line of listening, hearing, sharing, speaking, long before the writing. In part we know this because the two saying here are at odds, one offering to hearing and faith the paradox of saving and losing life: you only have, only possess, only truly hold what you have the power, grace, freedom and courage to give away. If you do not have it, you cannot give it. If you give it, truly, you then show you have owned it.   The sayings were written down together in Matthew 16 because they shared a tag word—life. What can you give in exchange for your life? (Here the message is careful: hold on, flee false forfeit, prize life now you have it). Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses is life will find it. (Here the message is caring: splash around with generosity, give with no thought of return, take up the cross, follow). The two teachings are there to balance each other. Which one for which day on which way will you say? It’s up to you. Over time, you will need them both.  Just this week, in the tragedies of Kenosha Wisconsin, Jacob Blake’s mother was doing the same, balancing justice and order, the caring and the careful:  On Tuesday, Mr. Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, had told reporters that she opposed the sort of destruction that had been left by protests spurred by her son’s shooting.  Ms. Jackson told reporters that she had been praying for the country to heal.“I’ve noticed a lot of damage,” she said. “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.” (NYT, 8/26/20).  So, Listen. Tune your ear to God.   Life is short.   This high peak passage, Peter’s Confession, rightly evokes the deep heart of faith, of gospel, of Scripture, of change.  It is the keystone, the lynch pin, the center in some measure of the Gospel we preach, we teach, we depend upon in life, in death and in life beyond death. What will it profit if one gains the whole world yet loses one’s soul?

Life

             In September of 1976, forty-four years ago, like many of our young colleagues on arrival this week for Matriculation, I had found my way to another great city—New York, along another great river—the Hudson, to the center of another great urban university—Columbia.  A sermon that week in James Chapel at Union Seminary was brought uptown from the minister near Greenwich Village at Washington Square.  It has stayed with me, because it was true to life, and true to change in life, and especially true to Moses and Paul and Matthew today.  He commended wonder, vulnerability and self-mockery.   Change of a healthy spiritual sort is not primarily theological or doctrinal, though it might become so.  It is existential.  It is life coming alive.  It is a heart become a liberal heart.  Call it a liberal art heart.

A liberal heart radiates wonder.   Borden Parker Bowne:  Philosophy begins in wonder.  G.K. Chesterton: the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder.  Charles Wesley:  changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place, ‘til we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.  Between Matriculation and Commencement there is chance for a change of heart, a chance for the emergence of a liberal heart, a heart open to wonder, charged with wonder, delighting in wonder.  What we will lead us in part away from anxiety, depression, ennui, acedia, loneliness and despond is in part this sense of wonder.   Some ongoing connection with the natural world, a regular walk along the emerald necklace, say, may aid you here.  Some chance to see the ocean, close at hand, on a regular basis, may help you here.  Some occasional visits to the BU rooftop telescope may help you here.  The joy of reading, the thrill of music, the mystery of friendship, all may bring a new rebirth of wonder.  Even in a fallow, covid time:  we watched one 11 year-old neighbor read 35 books this summer.

A liberal heart owns vulnerability.  Death makes us mortal.  Facing death makes us human.  We are utterly vulnerable creatures, from birth to the beyond.  If nothing else, our current pandemic has indelibly placed such vulnerability before us.  The question is whether we will own it.  Whether we will wash and wash the hands, whether we will attain, maintain and retain social distance, whether we will take up and take on the hourly masking that will protect others vulnerability, and our own.  Our physical vulnerability may also, just may bring a Petrine change to our proclivity to pretend invulnerability.   Somehow Peter came to see life from a different angle, not from the vantage point of power but from the perspective of love.  How?  Who can say?  But in some measure it may well have been a readiness, a willingness to admit his vulnerability, even as he curses his Master’s.  We have a shared vulnerability that should shock us into commitments to communal protections.  We will need shared, common behaviors, educational and health investments, global and national planning and spending to get prepared for the next virus, as have not at all been for this one.  That will take the liberal heart to admit vulnerability.

A liberal heart has a measure of self-abandon, of self-awareness, even of self-mockery.  Take yourself lightly, so that you can fly, like the angels.  Take yourself lightly, so that you can fly, like the angels.  The church has loved Peter for so long because he is so human, so prone to mistake, and yet with such a courage to admit error.  Most students will make a mistake or two in their college years.  No one recommends it. All work against it.  And yet.  We learn, to measure we learn most, from our mistakes.  When they come, if they do, take some time to learn from them.  And then get up, dust yourself off, and be able to live with a little lightness, a little self-mockery.

 Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Jesus Christ and Him Crucified is at the mysterious heart of All, of Life, and of Change.  Jesus the Son of God, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Presence of God, can bring change.  To you.  Simon Peter found his life immeasurably altered by a word or two, fitly spoken.  He found a liberal heart. You can too.  He found a liberal heart.  We can too.  He found his own heart opened, and forever remade, by the liberality, grace, freedom, generosity and love of God.  We can too.  Peter following this change still struggled to appreciate and bring apperception to the Person of Jesus, the Presence of Jesus, the Power of Jesus.  But the change was permanent.  He was given a liberal heart, a heart of wonder, a heart of vulnerability, a heart of self-abandon.  God is calling you to open your heart today to that kind of change, that scope of change, that force of change. Change can happen.  Real change, for the good, in real time, can come.  There is in the human heart, sometimes dormant but always present, the capacity to turn around, to repent, to move again forward, to change.  Change can come.  Let us pray.

 

 Gracious God Holy and Just

Thou from whom we come and unto whom our spirits return

Thou our dwelling place in all generations

Rest upon us in the silence of this moment we pray

Dry the tears of those moved to emotion in an hour of separation

Illumine the skyline of opportunity that lies behind the rain clouds of worry

Carry young hearts open to friendship into seas of friendship

Help us hear for our time the voice of the Prophet

‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly’?

Help us we earnestly pray to prefer justice to judgment

Help us we earnestly pray to love the merciful more than the material

Help us we earnestly pray to walk humbly not haughtily

May the degrees we earn turn by degrees the wheel of life from judgment to justice

May the courses we choose inspire in choices later a keenness of mind matched by a fullness of heart

May the learning we gain afford us the gain of humility, the honest desire to give credit where credit is due, and not to tip the scale

May the friendships we make in their turn make us less inclined to judgment and more enamored of justice

May the regrets we acquire then incline us to mercy, as we have felt mercy, and not to material measurements alone

May the adventures we bravely pursue give us the wisdom to know our condition, mortal, frail, prone to harm others, frail, mortal

May all our acquisition of knowledge chase us toward justice, toward mercy, and toward humility

And the wisdom to welcome, later, perhaps much later, the recognition that

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery  that surrounds it

The larger the body of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it

Amen.

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

Sunday
September 1

A Day of New Beginnings

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Click here to hear the sermon only

Tradition

We believe in God who has created and is creating, who has come in the true person, Jesus, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the spirit…

We remember and respect the ten commandments, Thou shalt have no other God before me…

We recall and are nourished by the Beatitudes, Blessed are the poor in spirit…

We affirm the creed, though perhaps not in every phrase with all fulsome understanding, We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…

And we begin the day, the Lord’s Day, the first day Matriculation day, the lasting and every day of God’s mercy and peace and love with hope.  We are here to offer a word of faith, in a pastoral voice, toward a common hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

 

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

 

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

(E Dickinson)

Matriculation

Last year on Matriculation Sunday, following the Matriculation service at Agganis Arena, three freshmen come up upon me, walking back this way on Commonwealth Avenue, now nicely restored, in the heat of that day, one year ago.  They could see that I continue to try to earn the prize as the slowest walker at BU, and they graciously accommodated my pace.  We walked.  We strolled.  We sauntered.  We were flaneurs, flaneur dans les route.  We lollygagged.  There is time, even in college, for real life.  One from China, one from Maryland born in Puerto Rico, one from Florida.  We talked about the Matriculation service.  They had gracious, kind things to say.  Especially the third, who said:  “Well, I am the first person in my family to go to college.  I am first generation student.  Today at Matriculation I learned that 17% of my class are first generation college students.  That really was meaningful to me.  And then I heard the President, President Brown say, that he himself was first generation college student, the first in his family to go to college.  And he has a PhD.  And he’s the President!”  Another asked her, “Do you want to be a college president some day?”  “If I have time, I might!”  What an exciting, joyful day this is, full of new possibilities.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.

Parable

Walk with me some day, in a slow pace, and tell me your hopes, along Commonwealth Avenue.  Come alongside me and tell me what you hope to have time for down the road.

And listen now and then for a parable or two.  Jesus taught in parables, teaching not one thing without a parable, and today’s two are clear as a bell two millennia later:  one on humility and one on generosity;  be self-critical, self-aware, count others better than yourself, make space at the table; and, be generous, give to those who need, who cannot give you something back, tithe, remember those less fortunate;  one on humility and one on generosity.  Good reminders at Matriculation.

So taught and inspired, we will offer a third parable for the day, for those starting a four year journey.

Be careful.  Four years from now, may your happy memories be many, and your sour regrets be few.  I preached for a week in Ohio in June. After the Sunday service, a college classmate of mine came up and re-introduced himself, Lenny Baker.  My freshman year at Ohio Wesleyan, Lenny had taken me home for Easter break, in Canton, Ohio. He is now retired, married to a Methodist minister—just a great guy with whom I had sadly lost touch.  I had not seen him since graduation in 1976.   Later that week, at luncheon, he rose to tell a college story about us.  I admit I was a little nervous about what he might narrate!  He said:

We lived together our sophomore year together in the TKE house, which was a little wild.  Bob was often, though not always, a voice of reason.  One day some of us went up to the roof with a cat we somehow caught, for which we had made a parachute.  We were going to throw the cat over the roof of the three-story ante-bellum house, when he said, ‘Don’t do that.  You will kill that cat.  Look, instead, experiment. Go down in the kitchen and get a milk bottle, and fill it to the weight of the cat, then use the parachute first with milk bottle.  You will see then if your parachute works.  You know, pilot your idea first.’  Well the brothers of TKE were not inclined to delay and debated that for some time, but in the end voted for the experiment and fetched the milk bottle.  We latched up the parachute, counted to three, and threw the flying milk bottle off the roof of that three story—former stop on the underground railroad in mid-Ohio by the way—fraternity house.  It fell on the driveway and splattered into smithereens.  The brothers silently let the cat go free, with eight lives left to spare.  I said, ‘Lenny, I don’t remember that.  Is that true?’ ‘Bob, I have been telling that story for thirty years and it sure is true.  It is a happy college memory’.   

Of course, there is a Matriculation moral to this feline fable.  Be careful.  Think twice.  May your happy memories be many, and your regrets few.

Hope

May the Gracious God, holy and just, on this day of new beginnings, give us hope and joy and anticipation, as we in faith lift a common hope.

A common hope that our warming globe, caught in climate change, will be cooled by cooler heads and calmer hearts and careful minds.

A common hope that our dangerous world, armed to the teeth with nuclear proliferation, will find peace through deft leadership toward nuclear détente.

A common hope that our culture, awash in part in hooliganism, will find again the language and the song and the spirit of the better angels of our nature.

A common hope that our country, fractured by massive inequality between rich children and poor children, will rise up and make fine education and excellent health care truly available to all children, poor and rich.

A common hope that our schools, colleges and universities, will balance a love of learning with a sense of meaning, a pride in knowledge with a respect for goodness, a drive for discovery with a regard for recovery.

A common hope that our families, in some many ways divided, will sit at a long Thanksgiving table, this autumn, and share the turkey but also talk turkey and pass the potatoes but also pass along a word of kindness in a spirit of honesty.

A common hope that our decisions in life about our callings, how we are to use our time and spend our money, how we make a life not just a living, will be illumined by grace and generosity.

A common hope that our grandfathers and mothers, in their age and infirmity, will receive care and kindness that accords with the warning to honor father and mother that your own days be long upon the earth.

Today we lift in common, a hope not of this world only, but of this world as a field of formation for another, not just health but salvation, not just heart but soul, not just life but eternal life, not just earth but heaven, not just creation but new creation.

We sing with our forebears of old: Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be, let us see thy great salvation, perfectly restored in thee, changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place, ‘til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

Sunday
September 3

Spiritual Life in College

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Exodus 3

Romans 12

Matthew 16:21-28

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Walk

 There is a great rush, a wind of life, energy, and hope with which every school year begins. May we not ever miss the privilege and joy of this Matriculation moment. Here you are, having bid farewell to mother and father, and said hello to Alma Mater. Your own life, your own most life, your second but truly first life now begins, or commences in another way. We should, all, remove our sandals, for this holy ground. ‘I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Spiritual life in college, as in all life, but in a particularly particular way, causes you to walk, to walk pretty, to walk in a certain way. You will walk in a moment down Commonwealth Avenue, whose more Eastern blocks Winston Churchill called ‘the most beautiful street in America’. He was not wrong. Like the heart beating lub-dub, like spirit and flesh engaged together, like ear and eye, mind and heart, sol y sombra, one two, one foot two foot, hay foot straw foot, you are on the trail. I take my hat off to you, and bow before you, as did St Vincent De Paul before his students, with the dim awareness that in your midst is genius, somewhere someone somehow.

Boston is the country’s best walking city, a pedestrian palace of nature and culture. You know from the SAT the French phrase, ‘flaneur dans le rue’, to saunter down the street with no especial task, just the breathing joy of breathing, and so you are a flaneur of the spirit. Walk. Walk at dawn. Walk. Walk in the mid day. Walk. Walk in the evening. Walk in the sunshine and especially the snow. But walk. And for those otherwise abled, guide the walkers with a sense of strength in difference.

Come Sunday, that’s the day, walk to worship, walk to church, walk to the Chapel. It is the one walk most needed, on which all the rest in some balefully unappreciated measure does depend. You are child of God. Walk here and hear so.

Listen

Now the spiritual life takes shape. Here you are. Come and listen. Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century set out his orders for his order, beginning with the first and most important. Listen. It is not what you see but what hear that matters, lasts, counts, gives meaning. Faith comes by hearing not scanning. Hearing comes by the Word of God, not the words of a screen. Tweet, tweet. The eye is the window of the soul. The keyboard is not the window of the soul. What holds, molds, scolds, folds, for youngs and olds, is in the hearing. We have three regular blind parishioners who will remind you, in their faithfulness, of the primacy of the ear. Listen.

Listen for what is not said, for the dog that does not bark. Listen for what engages, and for what enrages, both. Listen to the sounds of silence. Listen for a word of faith offered in a pastoral voice toward the prospect of a common hope. Listen for a word of faith offered in a pastoral voice toward the prospect of a common hope. “Dad, I heard something fantastic the other day. It went like this…’ We have two ears, and one tongue.

What Jesus said in 30ad is written down at last by Matthew in 85ad. There was a long line of listening, hearing, sharing, speaking, long before the writing. In part we know this because the two saying here are at odds, one offering to hearing and faith the paradox of saving and losing life: you only have, only possess, only truly hold what you have the power, grace, freedom and courage to give away. If you do not have it, you cannot give it. If you give it, truly, you then show you have owned it.   The sayings were written down together in Matthew 16 because they shared a tag word—life. What can you give in exchange for your life? (Here the message is conservative: hold on, flee false forfeit, prize life now you have it). Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses is life will find it. (Here the message is liberal: splash around with generosity, give with no thought of return, take up the cross, follow). The two teachings are at daggers drawn. Which one for which day on which way will you say? It’s up to you. Over time, you will need them both. Listen. Tune your ear to God.   Life is short.

Read

As today, so every Lord’s day, much is read, come Sunday. A love of reading conjured in college—for this we pray for one and all.   Not scanning. Reading.   Reading will take you out beyond and behind the twin towers of your birth. You have come of age in the shadow of the toppled towers, class of 2021.   You were born in the shadow of two falling, flaming towers. You came to breath under the ash cloud of nineleven. Its soot and its debris and its loss. In 2011, ten years on, as University Chaplain I telephoned the BU families, some 50, who had suffered loss that day. Some I could not reach. Some hung up. Some listened, offered thanks, and bade farewell. Some paused and spoke, in remembrance. In the shadow of the World Trade Center.

Yet there is, by analogy, another set of towers that came down as you came up.   At your birth two great towers fell. The tower of peace. The tower of voice. Terror toppled the tower of peace. Technology toppled the tower of voice. In that era, 15 or twenty years ago, extremism emerged to quash peace. In that era, 15 or 20 years ago, the internet emerged to quash voice. The latter, the loss of voice to the omnivorous screen, is by far the more pernicious. Tweet, tweet. Though, with a nod to Stockholm, and its syndrome, a whole generation, global, has come to love it. We kiss our captor. We snuggle up to our tormentor. See where we have come. T plus T equals T. Terror plus Technology equals Trump. F plus F equals F. Fear plus Falsehood equals Fascism. Tweet, tweet.

Read. Thereby you escape the confines of the early 21st century. Are there no other escape routes? No. You read. While other party, you read. While others drink, you read. While others play, you read.   You will come to a great land that has been awaiting your arrival. It is the land of memory. See the meadow, bright in the morning! Memory. Hear the chorus of birdsong at dawn! Memory. Now you are ready to move into memory in reading.   Pick a favorite verse. Read it well enough to commit it to memory. Dr. Jones at Trinity College said last week, When you start to memorize you start to notice the things you notice, your own habits of attention, your habits of reading. As the congregation knows by frequent infliction, today’s epistle is one of mine. (Let love genuine…). Reading will take you to a land of memory, the location of a deeper story.

Think

Heather Heyer’s mother spoke clearly about the spiritual life, as she gave grieving lament for her daughter’s death.   You come of age in a dark time in the history of our land, a decade of humiliation under the aegis of leadership devoted to ethnic nationalism. We are one year in, or almost so. It will take nine more, or more, before we are on the brighter path again. You will want and need to think how we got here. Start with Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. You dwell in the tenth floor of a building whose first three stories were constructed with stolen land and enslaved labor, free land and free labor, for the benefit of anyone who had or used money, then or now.

You have the subsidized freedom, for four years or more or less, to think. Think things through. Think from the top down and the bottom up. Go where others are trying to think, and think with them. Challenge them. Question them. Press them. See what lasts. I am not afraid of the Gospel. It is the power of salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith’.

You remember what the bereft mother of a college age daughter killed in Charlottesville by a marauding white racist driver, and a marauding white racist crowd, and marauding white racist leadership said, quietly, said, gently, said truly, said directly to a feckless, heedless national leadership, ostensibly the soggenante leadership of the free world: Think before you speak. Think before you speak.

Spiritual life—walk, listen, read, think—spiritual life true to your own-most self, is the only primary nourishment you will need for the next four years. Or the next forty. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

“WE ARE NOT TO SIMPLY BANDAGE THE WOUNDS OF VICTIMS BENEATH THE WHEELS OF INJUSTICE, WE ARE TO DRIVE A SPOKE INTO THE WHEEL ITSELF.” Bonhoeffer

 

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

 

Sunday
September 4

On Beginning a Conversation

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Luke 14:25-33

Click here to listen to the meditations only

*On Beginning a Conversation:  

A Psalm, 100

*On Beginning a Conversation:

A Prayer

Gracious God, Holy and Just, Whose Mercy is over all thy works

We invoke thy blessing today as we embark on this new journey

Guide us as we sail out for points unknown, ports unseen, and horizons unexplored

Be our North Star, our compass, sextant

Keep a clean wind blowing through our lives to make us happy and humble

Help us to seek shelter when the gusts of loneliness and failure threaten to capsize

Bless and help us to be a blessing to those commissioned to sail this ship, to the set our course, and to the lead the way

And a special intercession today for all sailors and crew on the good ship 2019

For those on the bridge—wisdom

For those learning the ropes—patience

For those working the in the rigging—a light heart

For those who bid farewell at the gangplank, our parents and sponsors—thanksgiving,

thanksgiving for the birthpangs that brought life, the hands that prepared us to sail, the hearts that forgave and conditioned and seasoned us, for the tear filled eyes and proud hearts that wave to us as the ship leaves the harbor, our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and our communities of meaning, belonging and empowerment—thanksgiving, thanksgiving.

O Thou who stills waters and calms seas, grant us fair winds, bright skies and an adventurous voyage

Amen

*On Beginning a Conversation:

Questions at the border (4):  What is your name? Where are you from?  Where are you headed?  Do you have anything to declare?

*On Beginning a Conversation:  Read

Here is a matriculation account. Vernon Jordan went to Depauw, a small Methodist school in Indiana, lead by various BU graduates.  His dad, mom, and younger siblings drove him up and dropped him off their in Greencastle, “up south”, Martin King might have said, from their home in Lousiana.  Weeping, his father said, “Vernon, we are not coming back until four years from now.  You are here where your future opens.  At graduation we will be here, sitting in the front row.  This is your time.  I have one word of advice.  Read.  When others are playing, you read.  When others are sleeping, you read.  When others are drinking, you read.  When others are partying, you read.  When others are wasting precious time and encouraging you to do the same, you read.”   He did.  Read, that is.  Last week, on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Jordan celebrated his 80th birthday, in the company of Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Speaking of Presidents, Boston University’s third President, Lemuel Merlin, left Boston for Greencastle Indiana, to become the President of Depauw, nearly 100 years ago.  All of our Presidents—Warren, Huntington, Merlin, Marsh, Chase, Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian, and Brown—would salute this Augustinian slogan, ‘take and read’.

For like our gospel lesson today, they and this University, have been interested in what makes a person human, in what makes a human be human, in what lies not outside, but inside, not in measurement but in meaning, not in the visible but in the soulful, not in making a living, only, but in making a life, fully.

*On Beginning a Conversation:  Gaining Soul

Your challenge in these fours years is not only to earn a BA.  Your challenge is to do so without losing your soul.  Your challenge is to do so gaining your soul, tending to the inside, walking in the light, becoming your own best self, finding the place where your heart, ‘the inside’ comes alive, uniting the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, and uniting vocation with avocation, ‘as two eyes make one in sight’.  Frost:

Yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My vocation with my avocation

As my two eyes make one in sight

Only where love and need are one

And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and the future’s sakes.

Each Synoptic passage is like a choral piece, including four voices.  There is the Soprano voice of Jesus of Nazareth, embedded somewhere in the full harmonic mix.  In Mark 7, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisaic attention to cleanliness.  There is the alto voice of the primitive church, arguably always the most important of the four voices, that which carries the forming of the passage in the needs of the community.  Here the community is reminded about the priority of the ‘inside’.  The tenor line is that of the evangelist.  Mark here, marking his own appearance in the record.   The baritone is borne by later interpretation, beginning soon with Irenaeus, Against Heresies:  “What doctor, when wishing to cure a sick man, would act in accordance with the desires of the patient, and not in accordance with the requirements of medicine?” (in Richardson, ECF, 377) (If our church music carries only one line, we may be tempted to interpret our Scripture with only one voice, and miss the SATB harmonies therein, to our detriment.)

*On Beginning a Conversation:  Mortality

 

“Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“Yes”, I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

“Why did it die?”

“Everything that lives must die”.

“Everything?”

“Yes”.

“You, too, Papa? And Mama?”

“Yes”.

“And me?
“Yes.”, he said.  But then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and happy life, my Asher.”

I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

“Why”, I asked.

“That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom mad this world, Asher.”

“Why?”

“So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed (p. xi).”

“People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives…avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete…our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet those needs” (p. 155)

*On Beginning a Conversation:  Scripture

  1. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tolle lege, tolle lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

 

*On Beginning A Conversation:  Spirit

Class of 2020:  we are here with you because we are here for you (repeat).  We have come from many regions of the world and many ranges of your past experience in order to be present here, to share your presence, and our presence with you.  Here with you, we are here for you.

And yet, quite soon, we will not be present, at least some  of us.  The airplane will taxy down the runway, the gas tank will be filled, and we will be off, absent, or present in thought and care but not in flesh and bone.   We will need to give you over, and to give over your commitment to, your delight in,  and your wonder at each other, to…Another Presence,  God’s Presence.  God’s presence, spirit, or, as the reading for today names it, God’s Abiding in us.  As will you, day by day, so will we need to trust in…Another Presence.  

You will sense the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence by its fruit (Galatians 5:23).  Another Presence, of which you become aware, in your daily life together, by sensing the fruit of this presence.  God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through these marks, these footprints, these touches of grace.

In Love.  Love is the attentive gift of time, as in the course of a lifetime of marriage.  In Love.

In Joy.  Joy is happy embrace—physical, mental, spiritual, soulful—morning and evening.  In Joy.

In Peace.  Peace is the gift—all these are pure gifts of God—of real listening, listening with a full smile and a glad heart.  In Peace.

In Patience.  A marriage needs persistence, the accelerator, and patience, the break, to make it over the mountains and through the deserts, and across the great plains of life.  Said the Buddha:  patience is self-compassion which gives you equanimity.  In Patience.

In Kindness.  Kindness is the long distance run, the gift of a gracious long distance perspective, known in part in the openness to forgiveness.  In Kindness.

In Goodness.  Real Goodness bursts forth in generosity.  You only have what you give away, and you only truly possess what you have the grace and freedom to offer to someone else.  What you give is what you have.  In Goodness.

In Faith.  Faith is a gift, like all other signs of abiding love.  Faith is the capacity to withstand what and when we cannot understand (repeat).  When you face struggle, challenge, difficulty, may this gift be yours by divine grace.  In Faith.

In Gentleness.  Tea, sunset, backrub, quiet, handholding, prayer, worship.  In Gentleness.

In Self-Control.  Self-Control, a gift of God’s Presence, guides you to work through any and all labors:  in care for family and extended family;  in stewardship of precious material wealth, never plentiful but always sufficient; in sensitivity in intimacy, sexuality, in preparing for an unforeseen future;  in the building of community (you both have great natural gifts and capacities for friendship, as is evident today)—yes religious community, but also neighborhood, town, school, city, and a culture gradually amenable to faith.  In Self-Control.

You will sense the warm breeze, the sunlit horizon, the abiding grace of God’s Presence by its fruit (Galatians 5:23).  Another Presence, of which you become aware, in your daily life together, by sensing the fruit of this presence.  God’s love abides in us and is made whole in us, through these marks, these footprints, these touches of grace.

Into Another Presence, into Another’s Presence, we, your families, loved ones, and friends, now send you, married, from this day forward.  With Ruth may you say: ‘Wither thou goest I will go, wither thou lodgest I will lodge, they people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’

*On Beginning a Conversation:  2 Creeds

Coda

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old, searching out the new

Our Alma Mater Evermore, Hail BU!

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

Sunday
August 30

Take and Read

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to listen to the full service

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Click here to listen to the sermon only

Gracious God, Holy and Just, Whose Mercy is over all thy works

We invoke thy blessing today as we embark on this new journey

Guide us as we sail out for points unknown, ports unseen, and horizons unexplored

Be our North Star, our compass, sextant

Keep a clean wind blowing through our lives to make us happy and humble

Help us to seek shelter when the gusts of loneliness and failure threaten to capsize

Bless and help us to be a blessing to those commissioned to sail this ship, to the set our course, and to the lead the way

And a special intercession today for all sailors and crew on the good ship 2019

For those on the bridge—wisdom

For those learning the ropes—patience

For those working the in the rigging—a light heart

For those who bid farewell at the gangplank, our parents and sponsors—thanksgiving,

thanksgiving for the birthpangs that brought life, the hands that prepared us to sail, the hearts that forgave and conditioned and seasoned us, for the tear filled eyes and proud hearts that wave to us as the ship leaves the harbor, our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and our communities of meaning, belonging and empowerment—thanksgiving, thanksgiving.

O Thou who stills waters and calms seas, grant us fair winds, bright skies and an adventurous voyage

Amen

Here is a matriculation account. Vernon Jordan went to Depauw, a small Methodist school in Indiana, lead by various BU graduates.  His dad, mom, and younger siblings drove him up and dropped him off their in Greencastle, “up south”, Martin King might have said, from their home in Lousiana.  Weeping, his father said, “Vernon, we are not coming back until four years from now.  You are here where your future opens.  At graduation we will be here, sitting in the front row.  This is your time.  I have one word of advice.  Read.  When others are playing, you read.  When others are sleeping, you read.  When others are drinking, you read.  When others are partying, you read.  When others are wasting precious time and encouraging you to do the same, you read.”   He did.  Read, that is.  Last week, on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Jordan celebrated his 80th birthday, in the company of Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Speaking of Presidents, Boston University’s third President, Lemuel Merlin, left Boston for Greencastle Indiana, to become the President of Depauw, nearly 100 years ago.  All of our Presidents—Warren, Huntington, Merlin, Marsh, Chase, Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian, and Brown—would salute this Augustinian slogan, ‘take and read’.

For like our gospel lesson today, they and this University, have been interested in what makes a person human, in what makes a human be human, in what lies not outside, but inside, not in measurement but in meaning, not in the visible but in the soulful, not in making a living, only, but in making a life, fully.   Our gospel lesson today from Mark 7 is about the inside.  Set aside the details.  Set aside the religious conflict about kosher laws as Christianity moved out from Judaism.  Set aside the cups, pots, and kettles.   Set aside the ancient language that depicts what is evil.  Licentiousness is not a word we use a lot, however present the reality to which it points.   The inside.  The passage is about the priority of what is inside, about the priority of the heart, about the priority of the soul, about the commandment of God which ever trumps tradition. Gospel ever trumps tradition.

You hear echoes of other verses.  One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…Cleanse the inside of the cup….What will it profit to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul?…Enter in at the narrow gate…

Your challenge in these fours years is not only to earn a BA.  Your challenge is to do so without losing your soul.  Your challenge is to do so gaining your soul, tending to the inside, walking in the light, becoming your own best self, finding the place where your heart, ‘the inside’ comes alive, uniting the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, and uniting vocation with avocation, ‘as two eyes make one in sight’.  Frost:

Yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My vocation with my avocation

As my two eyes make one in sight

Only where love and need are one

And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and the future’s sakes. 

Take and read.  You read.

Each Synoptic passage is like a choral piece, including four voices.  There is the Soprano voice of Jesus of Nazareth, embedded somewhere in the full harmonic mix.  In Mark 7, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisaic attention to cleanliness.  There is the alto voice of the primitive church, arguably always the most important of the four voices, that which carries the forming of the passage in the needs of the community.  Here the community is reminded about the priority of the ‘inside’.  The tenor line is that of the evangelist.  Mark here, marking his own appearance in the record.   The baritone is borne by later interpretation, beginning soon with Irenaeus, Against Heresies:  “What doctor, when wishing to cure a sick man, would act in accordance with the desires of the patient, and not in accordance with the requirements of medicine?” (in Richardson, ECF, 377) (If our church music carries only one line, we may be tempted to interpret our Scripture with only one voice, and miss the SATB harmonies therein, to our detriment.)

Take and read.

Our focus this year at Marsh Chapel is prayer.  Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication.  An hour a day, a day a week, a week a quarter, a quarter a year.  8am, Friday, school break, summer.  But prayer is mostly resistance.  Resistance to what harms the inside, to what eclipses the soul, to what makes us less than human.  Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to earn your degree, as you will want to do with all life’s future earnings, in a way that leads to life.  In a soulful way.  In a hearty way.  In a healthy way.

Here is what we mean.  For a moment, we will take an imaginary walk, along with my colleagues Ms. Jaimie Dingus and Ms. Kasey Shultz.  We will set out and walk down the Esplanade, enjoying the sights of sailing and sculling.   When we come to the statue of Arthur Fiedler we will stop, and read, perhaps a passage from Chaim Potok.  In ‘My Name is Asher Lev, the young artist recalls a moment with his father.  The artist is six years old.  A bird has died and lies along the curb.

Kasey

“Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

        “Yes”, I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

        “Why did it die?”

        “Everything that lives must die”.

        “Everything?”
        “Yes”.

        “You, too, Papa? And Mama?”

        “Yes”.

        “And me?
        “Yes.”, he said.  But then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and happy life, my Asher.”

        I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

        “Why”, I asked.

        “That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom mad this world, Asher.”

        “Why?”

        “So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

 

        Then we will walk a little farther, stopping for a moment in the Public Garden, as lovely a common space as there is.  We see Commonwealth Avenue, what Winston Churchill called the loveliest street in America.  We notice and name the flowers, enjoy the shade, perhaps take a boat ride.   Then we open a volume of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

 

    We are not far from the Public Library.  We enter, and go up the stairs.  We notice the civil war remembrances.  We look at the frieze that includes the Hebrew prophets.  John Updike came regularly to this great reading room—to read, and then, to write.   We pull up a chair for a moment.  At hand is a copy of David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character.

Kasey

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed (p. xi).”

    The day is bright and cool—beautiful autumn in New England.  We choose the path along the Emerald Necklace, an unusual place to stroll, to saunter—saunter, a saintly walk.  A bench beckons.  We sit.  A Boston surgeon’s book is in our bag, Being Mortal.  We stretch and read his meditation upon medicine and meaning in the twilight of life.  

Jaimie

    “People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives…avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete…our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet those needs” (p. 155)

    Take and read:  an awareness of wonder may greet you on the Esplanade, an awareness of beauty in the Public Garden, an awareness of virtue in the Library, an awareness of mortality by the Emerald Necklace.    So that when you return to campus, you may take a seat for a moment in Marsh Chapel, under the window of St. Augustine, just here, who amid tears, misery and lamentation reclaimed his own soul by reading:

  1. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tolle lege, tolle lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Take and read…

Take and read.

Take and Read!

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old, searching out the new

Our Alma Mater Evermore, Hail BU!

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

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Sunday
September 2

A Pastoral Epistle

By Marsh Chapel

James 1: 17-27

Click here to hear the full service.

Click here to hear the sermon only.

Welcome to a new year.  There are various points at which a new year may be celebrated, according to various religious, national, familial and personal calendars.  Matriculation is the University new year festival.  Welcome back. (Yesterday on Bay State Road there was family with son and daughter, and a car with chairs and stuffed animals hanging out the windows.  On that street there were good people—police, resident advisors, custodians, administrators, chaplains, faculty, staff—around to say hello, as in the song:  ‘you say yes, I say no, you say stop and I say, you say goodbye and I say hello’ (one Dad started to sing the old Beatles tune!).

We will begin with a pastoral epistle, a little spoken letter, spoken from heart to heart, we trust.  Both of our primary readings, but particularly the passage from James, lure us in this direction.  You will think too of advice you gave, or were given, encouragement you gave, or were given, when a new day dawned, and a new horizon opened.  Your mother simply cried and asked you to call once in a while.  Your dad said to remember where you came from.  Your girlfriend said she would see you at homecoming, if you came home.  Your younger brother just smiled and waved.  All of these too were pastoral epistles, probably more significant because more personal.

When faculty enter or return to campus, they come with a sense of the new.  When administrators come or return to see the wave of others now present though months absent, they come with a sense of the new.  When business people and retirees and the many searching for work come to the chapel on labor day, in a season that really does not overly respect labor anymore, they come longing for a sense of new possibilities.  And you?  What brought you here, to sacrament and sermon?  We are so glad you have come.

On arrival, come the new year, it can seem that this is someone else’s place and somebody else’s time.  Especially in the heart of pretty fair sized city, with the noise and traffic of the urban landscape, you can get the feeling that other people know the place better and other people have a better sense of the time here.  There is a kind of comforting, though false, sensation that goes with this sensibility.  Others know better.  I am new, or new again.  This is not really my space.  I don’t even know what they mean by esplanade, by Fenway, by beach, by garden.  They must know better.  And I don’t really have any idea what is transpiring around me here.  I guess I will just sit and watch, or sit in my room, or sit by and wait.

The word from this pulpit and chancel this morning is not meant to dissuade you entirely from a bit of caution.  Caution when you cross the street.  Caution when you choose your friends and locations.  Caution when you are invited, as steadily we all are, to live in a way that is bitterly beneath who are you meant to be.  Caution when you make your plans.  Be slow to speak, slow to anger, slow to forget who you really are.   Two years ago a tiny young fresh woman from a small South Carolina town came in after a car had hit a cyclist out front.   She just sat and trembled.  She was remembering who she was.  No, we do not discountenance the importance of caution.

Yet that is not the gospel this morning, as important as it is.  Be careful.  But be caring too.  Be protective.  But be proactive too.  Be self critical.  But be self confident too.  This is your time.  This is your place.  The God of wholeness (‘the perfect law’) and the God of freedom (‘the law of liberty’) is loving you into love, gracing you into grace, and freeing you into freedom.  If you hear that, and I hope that you do, then go and do it.  Be careful.  But be caring too.  Be protective.  But be proactive too.  Be self critical.  But be self confident too.  It may seem or feel otherwise, but hear the good news:  this time is your time, not somebody else’s time.  These days and months that will fly by are not somehow primary reserved for other people, or somehow better grasped by other people.  That fellow who has been teaching thirty years, and you are just starting, is not somehow more fully drenched by this present moment.  No.  This day, autumn, year, decade—they are your time.  Carpe diem.  Sin is not taking what is offered:  that is the definition of sin, not taking what you are graciously given.  We need to work, and to respect those who offer work.  I know ours is a capitalist not a laborist system, capitalism not laborism.  But this is Labor Day weekend.  Perhaps we could remember for a moment those great voices who protected the wives and children of coal miners, of factory workers, of dock yard laborers.  Lincoln:  Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.  Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration (First Message to Congress, 12/3/61) Here is life!  Live it.  Here is learning! Love it.  Here is friendship! Embrace it.  Here is challenge!  Face it.  Here is failure!  Admit it.  Religious experience is not primarily religious, in the sense that it is not primary found in the hours of church or tutelage or liturgy or devotion.  Of course I am contractually obligated and also personally and profoundly committed to imploring you to get yourself to church on Sunday.  This you will want to do.  But religious experience comes through life, not church only, or mainly.  It comes in seizing the day, and embracing the time.   Life: L I F E.  When you come to church the next several weeks, come thankful for times when time stood still for a moment.  In an honest debate.  Reading Kant.  Pouring yourself into an experiment.  Rowing.   Seeing the sunrise across the ocean.

Nor, by the way, is this massive space, the 350 buildings of Boston University, and the 350 years of Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, somehow somebody else’s.  They are yours for the knowing.  This great city opens its heart every day to anyone with a good pair of shoes.  Your plan is to make this historic city yours.  Buy a standing room only ticket to see the remains of the Red Sox.  I mean the Red Sox season.  On the first day it snows, walk through the public garden.  Take the fast ferry to Cape Cod, once at least.  Whenever you hear music coming from a classroom, an auditorium, a concert hall or a chapel, like this one, stop and listen.  Make one of the Italian restaurants in the North End a personal favorite.  Make that two.  On Columbus weekend, walk or jog the whole of the Emerald Necklace.  Find your way once each term to the seashore.  Do not assume that others, sleeping off steady drinking, or endlessly watching as in a mirror (‘one who observes his natural face in a mirror’) some cyber image, or carelessly involved with someone else’s body, or making plans for future acquisition, or simply hiding out somewhere, do not assume that such others know this place or own this place more than you do. You will be invited to live in ways that are bitterly beneath you.  A pastoral letter:  hope to grow in the capacity for moral discernment—good and bad, right and wrong, better and worse;  avoid a staple, steady diet of addictive substances, drugs or alchohol—stay and be healthy, with some sense of balance;  intend to honor others, in this BU home of personalist philosophy that guided MLK and others, by wanting to honor others, especially in their spirit, soul, body, and person, including those most intimate encounters and involvements—honor the other in the other; step aside from the tide of greed in our era:  there is more to living than becoming the richest woman in the graveyard;  learn from others the habit of empathy—feeling another’s hurts and understanding another’s fears; find some places—nature, worship, friendship, quiet, reading, prayer—where your ownmost self can come up for air.

Life is what you DO in it.  You might keep in mind the widow and orphan, the lonely and the needy.  Life will provide you many examples.  Be no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts.  This is your space,  your place, your current and your personal  location.  Take a second seat to no one.  You can and should sit in the front of the bus.

Time. This is your time.  Space.  This is our space.  It has been my summer prayer, thinking of our faculty returning, and our administrators on the qui vive, and our staff in full throttle, and our students arriving, and our community coming home from the days of sunshine and family, it has been my prayer to send you this pastoral epistle.  Now is your time.  Here is your place.

Listen to Robert Frost’s poem about a star…

What will this year bring?  It is up to you.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, Holy and Just

Thou Silent Mystery, beckoning deep

In whom we live and move and have our being

Grant us peace, we pray

Give us grace, we pray

In the eyeblink of these four years

Give us peace to resist what we would regret

Give us grace to receive what will make us rejoice

Four years hence, diplomas in hand

May we be heavy with joy and free of regret

Help us to avoid the regret that follows abuse of ourselves,

Of our environment, of substances, and of others.

Warn us away from what, lastingly we will regret.

Fill us with a daily sense of adventure to embrace

What lastingly we will enjoy:

Friendship, discovery, reading, effort, achievement, accomplishment,

Self-giving, devotion, and love.

Grant us peace to resist what we would regret and grace to receive what

Causes us to rejoice.

Amen

~The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill,

Dean of Marsh Chapel

Sunday
September 4

Grace

By Marsh Chapel

There will be no sermon text this week, but see below for Dean Hill’s Invocation for Matriculation, 2011.

We bring forward our thanks today,

For the study of medicine, dentistry, physical therapy

Whose fruit is public health

For the study of law

Whose fruit is justice

For the study of management, business and economics

Whose fruit is community

For the study of art—music, dance, drama, all

Whose fruit is beauty

For the study of communication

Whose fruit is truth

For the study of engineering

Whose fruit is expanding safety

For the liberal, metropolitan and general study of art and science

Whose fruit is freedom

For the study of hospitality

Whose fruit is conviviality

For the study of education

Whose fruit is memory and hope

For the study of military and physical education

Whose fruit are security and strength

For the study of social work

Whose fruit is compassion

For the study of theology

Whose fruit is meaning

In this year may the 40,000 member city of Boston University—students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, neighbors all—become, by grace:

healthier, more just, more connected, fairer, truer, sturdier, freer, gentler, deeper, safer, more compassionate, and more aware

O Thou who loves us into love and frees us into freedom.

Amen.

Sunday
August 29

A Simple Peace

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Preface

Over the summer we had a chance to take our granddaughter out for lunch. The little place we chose has a long history of children and summer, of burgers and ice cream. It sits nestled into a long, lovely valley, an actively agricultural valley of corn fields and dairy barns. We were not quite alone in the small dining room, though that designation itself seems overwrought. The room simply provided space for a collection of tables and chairs. An older woman sat, back to door, enjoying her luncheon hot dog and potatoes. After lunch, as a reward for eating all of lunch, our granddaughter had an ice cream cone. I want to try to interrupt all the twittering texting emailing rushing half listening cacophony of our current life with the dripping joy of one three year old and one small vanilla cone. Our older friend peered over her hot dog and potatoes and with eyes bright pronounced a silent blessing. Everything about an ice cream cone in the summer brims with what is good. The cold clean taste. The texture soft and grainy. The drip drip of melted cream falling on lips, then chin, then tiny hand, then shirt, then floor. The dive nose first down in for more. Sheer happy joy, for the moment, attends such a child on such a day with such a treat. A simple peace.

Guest and Host in Luke

In that hour, she, holding the ice cream cone, was the guest, and we, bursting with a simple peace, were the hosts. Jesus meets us today within the pageant of religious teaching about guests and hosts. Our passage is a loner in the gospels, simply and beautifully so. Luke alone possesses this material, and bestows it all upon us by a garden tool means. He simply links up stories that have to do with meals, or feasts. My friend said he preached ‘clothes-line’ sermons: “I put out a line and pin up whatever comes to mind”. On his line, Luke pins up wisdom for hosts and guests: wisdom though that has an eternal reward. The guest is reminded and remanded to practice the humility of a simple peace. Sit low, down the table. The host is reminded and remanded to practice the benevolence of a simple peace. Look low, down to the needy. The guest represents the inner journey, our daily hunt for an inner peace. The host represents the outward journey, our lifelong hunt for the reign of peace. One a state of mind. The other a state of affairs. And allowing Augustine’s rule sway today, we shall form the sermon in the form of the scripture. One clothes line crossing the other.

A state of mind can change a state of affairs. We are hoping that is so for those poor Chilean miners, trapped beneath the ground. A state of mind can improve a state of affairs. We are hoping that will be so for those who begin their studies here, in this secular, northern, urban, cold, large University. A state of mind can transform a state of affairs. We are hoping that will be so for those near and far making space, in public place, for houses of worship for all religions. A state of mind can transform a state of affairs. We are hoping that will be so for you, in your private thoughts, in your family negotiations, in your toughest choices. Hold to a simple peace. That of the guest and the inward journey: humility. That of the host and the outward journey: generosity.

Some of the old, good things about life well before and well beyond college age can bring their refreshment, a powerful refreshment, into communities of twenty year olds. I notice the way our students respond to children when, occasionally, there are little people on campus. You can see the minds moving: this once was me; one day I will have children. Guest, inward journey. Host, outward journey. An education frees you from the confines of the early twenty first century by immersing you in Plato and Shakespeare and Galileo and the Russian Revolution. In the same way, just a glimpse of the child and cone free you from the confines of life at twenty.

Guest and Host: Humility (H) and Generosity (G)

(H). The simple peace of humility in religious discourse. No one religious tradition corners the market of a simple peace. Like the Buddha, we need to come down from heaven, down from our very worthy, but limiting intelligences. Like the Buddha, we need to celebrate any birth, with Siddhartha’s birth. Like the Buddha we need to explore the world outside the palace, to explore other spaces and times. Like the Buddha we need to find our own forms of Siddhartha’s famous renunciation. Like the Buddha we can benefit from the simplicity enjoined in any and every ascetic practice. Like the Buddha, we face the challenge of Mara’s temptations, of life’s temptations. Like the Buddha, who preached his first sermon, we find our true voice by finding our earlier voice. Like the Buddha, we seek peace, a kind of nirvana. Such a simple peace allows us to move, to grow, to change. “What’s won is done, the joy is in the doing”, wrote Shakespeare. That is the spirit of the cadets who graduated to the motto ‘live free, serve free, die free’, even as their teachers honored their tactical intuition and acknowledged their youth (‘we expect Second Lieutenants to make mistakes’). Here is the experience, rendered with peaceful simplicity, of a Palestinian poet:

We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere. As if traveling is the way of the clouds. We have buried our loved ones in the darkness of the clouds, between the roots of the trees. And we said to our wives: go on giving birth to people like us for hundreds of years so we can complete this journey. To the hour of a country, to the meter of the impossible. We travel in the carriages of the psalms, sleep in the tent of the prophets and come out of the speech of the gypsies. We measure space with a hoopoe’s beak or sing to while away the distance and cleanse the light of the moon. Your path is long so dream of seven women to bear this long path on your shoulders. Shake for them palm trees so as to know their names and who’ll be the mother of the boy of Galilee. We have a country of words. Speak speak so I can put my road on the stone of a stone. We have a country of words. Speak speak so we may know the end of this travel. (‘Victims of a Map’).

(G.) The simple peace of generosity in Matriculation. One good way to start the year, in a simple peace, is by giving something to others. I remember volunteering to lead a scout troop during my freshman year. We camped in the rain. I remember others who visited nursing homes. They listened when they could not understand. You will find something healing and revelatory if you sign on as a big brother or sister. Sometimes, like children, in simplicity, we need to re-enter the kingdom of God. Even in the freshman year.

(H). The simple peace of humility in devotion. A simple peace can be a Sunday gift. A church service like this one reminds you of such a simple peace. You are a child of God. Howard Thurman famously concluded his masterpiece, Jesus and the Disinherited, with just this thought. To allow such kingdom sensibility to live, though, requires all the heavy thought and truth telling we can muster. J Mang: ‘it is likely that nothing will match the reassurance of a Sunday morning spent in church. But for an ever growing number of Americans, the conviction that the church is built on shaky philosophical grounds is more powerful than
the longing for unconditional comfort’. The two cannot finally be disjoined. The gospel of truth, to be gospel and truth must be both gospel and truth. Nor can the religious longing ever easily be written out of human life: ‘whatever introduces genuine perspective is religious’ (Dewey). We face mystery. We realize that more than understanding, more than knowledge, is demanded by life. To understand is good. To overcome is great. One journalist remarked on the survivors of a tragedy fifty years ago; “They have been called upon to face up to mystery, actually the most terrible mystery of all, and facing mystery is something that everyone must do for himself. In the face of such a disaster one must fall back on faith or find only bitter meaninglessness in the universe. To my mind this is the greatest challenge faith offers—to believe that the hand of God has not been withdrawn from the world when such things happen’. Said of those who lost children in the 1958 Chicago fire, this could be said of us all. One frame for such a perspective is that of Paul Tillich: ‘God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him’ (ST 1, 205). Strangely, the most truly academic discourse is the one set against a horizon that outstretches academia. The only truly academic dean is the dean of the chapel(!).

(G). The simple peace of generosity in correction. A simple peace can be prophetic. Jeremiah warned his people: you have left aside the springs of water of inner peace; you have built for yourselves broken cisterns which will hold no outward generosity. A woman at Riverside Church saw ahead around the corner: ‘My concern is that (our new pastor) in his writings, has taken an Afrocentrist view that is not necessarily consistent with the universal, embracing tradition of our church’ (C Guice-Mills, NYT 9/08). Yet that same simple peace can be redemptive. The great recession of these two years has reminded us of what children know best. M Atwood: ‘Children begin saying ‘That’s not fair’ long before they start figuring out money…Debt, who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid, is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all our exchanges with our fellow human beings’. (NYT 10/08). Sometimes the simple voice of conscience will rise up and touch us: ‘I felt like I was betraying myself, like this isn’t really what I like to do, this isn’t who I am, this isn’t the experience I want to be having.’

(H). The simple peace of humility in attention. I notice how much detail my granddaughter sees that I miss. The dog in the water. The bird behind the tree branch. The rabbit peeking out from under the berry bush. The sound of the water running into the culvert. Perhaps it is this simplicity of direction observation, dulled over decades that causes us to misstep. So, the inward journey toward a simple peace, self-critical self-awareness, can be lucrative, if honored. In 1988 on GM executive in all simplicity wrote: ‘we have vastly underestimated how deeply ingrained are the organizational and cultural rigidities that hamper our ability to execute’. I could have said, most nearly did say, the same about the UM church in 1988. We too developed structures that repelled top talent. We too evaded a relentless quality focus. A simple peace can be beautiful. Real beauty is simple, as simplicity itself is beautiful. Proust wrote, ‘Beauty. That beauty of which we are sometimes tempted to ask ourselves whether it is, in this world, anything more than the complementary part that is added to a fragmentary and fugitive stranger by our imagination over stimulated by regret’. At the Kennedy museum, you can watch and hear President Kennedy say, ‘we shall not fear beauty’. A good word, in simple peace, for our time too.

(G). The simple peace of generosity in healing. The outward journey toward a simple peace, benevolence in behavior, can be healing. Medical care could benefit from a focus on simplicity, a childlike attention to the simple things. Medicare no longer reimburses hospitals for ten conditions, simply preventable, when developed by patients in their care. In 2007, 193,000 people suffered falls, 30,000 were infected during catheterizations, 15,000 lost blood sugar control, 12,000 suffered urinary tract infection. Pay attention, stay clean: ‘tis a gift to be simple’. The same is true at the intersection—here—of scholarship and religion. We all need to ‘foster public virtue through moral instruction and official ritual without coercing dissenters. The 21st century has begun with seemingly unbridgeable chasms between secularism and believers. One step in averting such a parlous situation is to recover the notion of an Enlightenment spectrum that, by including the religious Enlightenment, complicates our understanding of belief’s critical and abiding role in modern culture’. (D Sorokin)

Coda

Would you not love to master the simple art of care, the ‘quiet habit of efficacious compassion’?

Everyone who humbles himself will be exalted, and everyone who exalts himself will be humble.

The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

We will close with EB White, though it is a story from the season of shiver, not that of thirst, of winter not of summer. (A gentle reminder of life 180 days from now?)

One of my favorite Boston vignettes is set in the public Garden. EB White liked to take his step-son skating on the Frog Pond, when they visited relatives in Beacon Hill. Both step Father and Son loved Boston, and its charming garden. One day they hiked down from their relatives apartment, took off their shoes, stuffed them under a bench, donned their skates and skated until the sun set. This was in the depths of the depression. When they returned to the bench, their shoes were gone. ‘Someone needed them more than we did’ was all White would say. Then the two hiked up Beacon Hill together. Still in their skates. That image of the great writer, enjoying the winter, loving the garden, enthralled with ice, kind to the needy, and hiking up Beacon Hill on the tips of his skates—that image stays with me.

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

Sunday
September 6

Ten Point Start

By Marsh Chapel

Following Jesus’ declaration that all foods are clean, the Gospel of Mark begins to tell us about healings. These are healings done, in the main, for Gentiles. They are points of serious, apocalyptic incursion, when Spirit brings Life. They are openings, beginning points. ‘Ephatha’, says the Lord, ‘be opened’.

As the term opens, in the Spirit of the ancient ritual of Matriculation, we too are opened. We start again. I wish I had kept count this last week of the number of times someone said, ‘Happy New Year’. For our University community, this is a New Year. Be opened. Spirit is bringing Life to the community of Marsh Chapel in the heart of Boston University. Ten old refrains, ministerial proverbs, may open us further. Remember them as you start, as something truly new opens up.

1. Well begun is half done. You never step into the same river twice. Together we spent a full year, 2006-2007, on entry. We greeted and met, we visited and welcomed. The year passed quickly as we developed strategic plan. It was capped by the installation service of March 2007. It is worth the time to take the time to start well. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. (You see, as promised this is a sermon full of old sayings!).

2. Begin with the end in mind. Every New Year’s Day, one Unitarian minister goes to his own grave site, near Seattle, and sits during the better part of the day. You know Robert Fulghum as a humorist and preacher. He exemplifies, though, as serious point, to start. In your beginning is your ending (that is Eliot). We began in 2007 with an envisioned mission, to be ‘a heart for the heart of the city and a service for the service of the city’. We began with three Marsh thrusts: a return to national voice, a regard for the holy matter of vocation, and a re-entry into volume in worship. We are set among the Gentiles, among the Greeks, in Athens, nor Jerusalem. We are along the trolley line that runs from Tyre to Sidon. Just here! Just here, the Markan Jesus teaches us, just here is a new beginning, healing.

3. Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres. Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are. Mark does not need to tell his community much more than that Jesus was bested in argument by a Greek, a woman, a GREEK WOMAN, in order to show God’s love for the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner, the Gentile. You tell me with whom you spend your time, and I will tell you who you are. Better, I will tell you what sort of starting point they give you. “Keep your friendships in good repair” said Dr. Johnson. Better, attend to the gifts of good friendship that befall you. Vision in hand, we applied vision to staff strategy, and then built a new Marsh staff in 2008 out of that new strategy. Almost all our staff people, out of 36, are new in the last two years. This was the work of 2008, to see who would best ride on the bus, as Jim Collins said.

4. They need to know how much you care before they will care how much you know. We send our seminarians out, full of knowledge. (Do you know what the N on the Northeastern football helmet stands for? Knowledge). (☺) Jesus’ healing and the accounts of his healing are woven tightly around his teaching. The freedom of the pulpit is purchased in pastoral listening. If you are not listening 25 times a week, at the second level, that is, at a deep, personal level, in pastoral visitation, you will have nothing to say and no right to say it. The three rules of weekday ministry apply: visit the people, visit the people, visit the people. Last year, 2008-9 we printed our first term book. You have year two in your hand this morning (for radio congregants, there is coming a website version). The practice of faith is a communal project. Jesus’ brings an end to religion. The church is a ‘community of faith working through love’. Knowledge is good. Love is better.

5. Having just the vision is no solution, everything depends on execution. I quote S Sondheim, here, for once. Commitment to excellence means little without attention to detail. ‘If I by the finger of God..’ Jesus once said. Does God have fingers? Is God a Methodist? I cannot answer. But touch, the detail of attention, heals. Say aah… ‘He put his fingers in his ears and spat and touched his tongue’. There is hardly anything more modest in detail than saliva. Yet here is touch, and touch that heals. We want the voice of the Marsh broadcast service—the choir’s anthems, the pulpit’s challenge, the beauty of the liturgy—shared abroad. Touch. We want the vocation, the calling, where one’s deepest passion touches the world’s greatest need, explored. Touch. It is one thing to make living, another to make a life. We want the volume in worship here to soar! Touch.

6. Follow the money. Watergate taught us this. But Proverbs preceded Woodward and Bernstein. Money answers everything. For your sake, as you start, as you start a new autumn, or as you start a new life in faith, start right. Tithing, giving away 10% of what you earn, is the front step, the front porch, the front door of faithfulness. It is not a spiritual practice left only for maturity, left only for clergy, left only for times of ease. Start now, when you are unemployed. Start now, when you are a student. Start now, when your kids are students. For the JOY of it. Our advisory board, now two years old, leads by example. I love the tough, gritty response of the GREEK WOMAN! My colleague Rev. Robin Olson (a BU graduate) once preached a sermon titled, ‘There is Nothing Like an Uppity Woman’, on this text. She challenged Jesus to give. And he did. I challenge you to tithe. Not for my sake. Not for the Chapel’s sake. Not for the church’s sake. Not for the world’s sake. For your sake…You only truly have, you only truly own what you can give away.

7. Love your subject, love your students. Augustine of Hippo so summarized teaching. We are in a setting of teaching and learning. All of us are learning. All of us have something to teach. At a minimum, we need to sit in a circle, smiling, and say to one another: You are not God. I am not God. We are not God. (So, Camus). Our closest partners in this ministry are: The office of All University Events, the Chaplaincies and campus ministries (welcome Joshua Thomas), the College of Fine Arts, the School of Theology, the Dean of Students office, and the Medical Campus. No real learning occurs without a respect for the material and a respect for the student. Start by loving your students and loving your subject.

8. Preach the gospel and love the people. There are ways to summarize. This epigram summarizes the ministry of a community like ours. Preach with joy, serve with happiness! I visited occasionally an Episcopalian in our old neighborhood. She was a retired biology professor, who climbed trees in her 80’s. She served tea and offered joy, to the weary, to the clergy, to me. There once was a Pastor named Fiddle, who refused to accept a degree, for he said, ‘Tis enough to be Fiddle, without being Fiddle D D’! Jesus’ care for the health, the physical health of people, all even Gentile people, shines through the Gospel record. Health is a starting point. Ephphatha. Be opened.

9. Unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety. Now you have had ten sermons this summer, devoted to Darwin and faith, that scorched the angels’ wings, so high they were, so learned, and erudite, and powerful, and true. We turn to start the autumn. Can we join piety to this learning? Will people see vital piety, th
is week, in your forbearance, in your pastoral imagination, in your kindness, in your generosity, in your love? If not, when? Just when did you plan to make a start in faith? It is time for some of us to stop auditing the course of life, and to sign up, and to pay tuition, and to purchase books, and to take the course for a grade. And yes, if you wonder if I am talking about you, I am. Jesus did not spend every hour in the library. The moment he is located there, by the way, in the library, are relatively few. Zero to be exact.

10. Ministry is service. The word diakonia means service. Every Christian is a deacon, every deacon is a deacon, every elder is a deacon, the community of faith is diaconal through and through. Ministry is presence, but moreso, ministry is service. Let love be genuine….

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Dean of Marsh Chapel