Archive for the ‘The Courageous Gospel’ Category

November 25

A New Frontier of Peace

By Marsh Chapel

Lections and John 14:27

Asbury First United Methodist Church

1. 63 Lincoln

In the Henry Ford Museum, near Detroit, you will find a remarkable assortment of Amerabilia. Would you like to see Ford’s first automobile? Its tiny little black wooden self greets you. Do you remember the Edsel? Here is one. Have you spent time over the years in a Howard Johnsons—not recently, I know, but once on a time? Here are signs for the restaurant and the ice cream and the motel. Do you own a map of the country that features Route 66? You will want one after this tour. Did you ever see one of those amphibious cars, both auto and boat, with drive shaft and propellers? The museum has one in baby blue. What is it about that 57 Chevy? One two-tone, green and cream, greets you.

I did not plan to be personally moved in the car museum and was not moved. Until the end. At the end there is a procession of presidential automobiles, sort of Motor Force One, you could say. One that TR used and with him Woodrow Wilson. FDR had a great black one. And Eisenhower, too. I think they were all Lincolns. Most of the detail, though, I forgot as I came to the 1963 version. Now topped, not convertible. Now bulletproof, not open. Now shined, black and immobile, not dusty and scuffed and moving past a grassy knoll. But right there, right blessed there.

A fine, long, black 1963 Lincoln Continental, the very best of American engineering, on the best of American roads, in the best of American cities, carried the best of American leaders…to his death.

Where were you in November, 1963, 44 years ago?

2. November

These gray days, late autumn days, with shifting light and shadow—they carry an uncanny significance. Something in them. Something in the naked tree limbs, grasping empty gray. Something in the crisp air, foretaste of winter to come. Something in the constant twilight. Something of a cosmic sacrality lurks behind the dark maple limbs of November.

The naked limbs also recall the violent death of a young president. Television and modern American violence have grown up together over forty years. Women and men of one generation know where they were on November 22, 1963 at 2:00pm, like those of another generation recall December 7, 1941, and those of yet another will recall September 11, 2001. They remember the hour the message came, the people who delivered the word, the reactions of family members, the atmosphere of the day, the hidden meanings, unspoken words, portents of the future which all were somehow connected to the dark maple limbs of that November. One remembers: the flag covered casket, borne by a simple wagon, drawn by a team of horses; crowds of mourners; women’s black hats; men’s fedoras; children waving; school flags at half mast; bewilderment, anger, fear, grief. An English teacher recites Whitman’s then 100 year old eulogy for Abraham Lincoln:

O Captain, my captain, our fearful trip is done

The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won

Exult O shores and ring O bells

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies

Fallen cold and dead.

3. Violence

Forty years later many can still feel, can taste the trauma of those days, days in which a hard and bitter truth flew home, “came home to roost.” While the memory which Luke preserves, on this Sunday of Christ the King, remains substantially different in many ways from our own similar memories of loss, nonetheless there is shared in them all a recognition of the numbing pain of violence. If nothing else, in this passage and texts similar, we are challenged to become practiced at viewing violence from the ground, not from 30,000 feet. We want to become as human as we can be.

Perhaps the Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel composed most eloquently the hope of that time:

This is an age of suspicion, when most of us seem to live by the rule: Suspect thy neighbor as thyself. Such radical suspicion leads to despair of (our) capacity to be free and to eventual surrender to demonic forces, surrender to idols of power, to the monsters of self-righteous ideologies…

What will save us is a revival of reverence for (the human being), immitigable indignation at acts of violence, burning compassion for all who are deprived, the wisdom of the heart. Before imputing guilt to others, let us examine our own failures. Religion’s task is to cultivate disgust for violence and lies, sensitivity to other people’s suffering and the love of peace. God has a stake in the life of every (person). (God) never exposes humanity to a challenge without giving humanity the power to face the challenge. Different are the languages of prayer, but the tears are the same. We have a vision in common of Him in whose compassion all prayers meet…

God’s voice speaks in many languages, communicating itself in a diversity of intuitions. The word of God never comes to an end. No word is God’s last word. (The human being’s) most precious thought is God, but God’s most precious thought is (the human being).”

Once the horror of violence hits home, a new frontier can open before us. Where sin abounds, grace overabounds. Once aware of the horror of violence which clearly we are since 9/11, and once touched by the sting of violence which clearly we are since 9/11, and once free of the fear of violence, which clearly we are not since 9/11 (truly the thing we have to fear is fear itself and its capacity to take our thanksgiving, our native generosity from us), then we may with renewed vigor look out onto a new frontier. This is the new frontier of peace.

This same moment faces us as a nation, as a people and as a church. We have been stung by violence too. We can respond with further violence. Or we can begin to ‘go home’ day by day, to suffer th
e daily shame and dishonor which all violence finally bequeaths, and, in Christ, as Calvin would say ‘in the school of Christ’, learn to practice the things that make for peace. Living daily with the bruises and damage of yesterday’s rapacity takes the memory of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the cross that alone in our tradition carries the symbolic power for such a laborious, long march of mercy. In the cross we discover a love that casts out fear. And fear is our greatest, most fearsome obstacle to the new frontier of peace. When we come toward any new frontier we naturally have fear.

4. The New Frontier of Peace

The gospel empowers us in the way beyond violence. The New Testament, culminating in the word of the cross as read in Luke 23, and interpreted as a word of peace in John 14, gives us two broad perspectives and five particular directions.

The Scripture reminds us that we all face judgment, an accounting, a reckoning. This is not news. Life itself spells this out for us. Old age, dusk, autumn, November—we know in our bones about accounting time. Harvest, report cards, evaluations, income tax—we know in our experience about judgment. These passages remind us that life includes reckoning. They say little by the way about individual reckoning, only that accorded to nations. They tell us that we will be judged as nations, for our own collective, common lives. These and other passages also remind us to connect judgment with relationship not religion, with human relations not religious experience. In this judgment, heightened religious experience counts not at all. It is actual living, not religious experience, which is judged. Service—not music not retreats not fellowship not ecstasy not preaching not prayer not all the things that feed us. But service, for which the religious nourishment is meant to give sustenance.

Time and again we are given forms of exercise for those preparing for judgment, all of which are measured by their effect on the littlest members of the church and the human family. Here is one frequently repeated collection (cf Matthew 25, inter alia).

  1. Find a way to sit quietly with those who are imprisoned. Including those imprisoned by fear, pride, ideology, personality, accident, circumstance. Go and sit with them and listen.

  1. Find a way to heal sickness. Health is too important to leave to physicians only. You go and heal. Assess what habits have brought you health and share them. Salvation is health.

  1. Find a way to cover the naked. Those who are exposed, open to harm, exposed to scorn and mocking and criticism. Go and put some clothing on them, some encouragement, some humor, some honor.

  1. Find a way to befriend strangers. Strangers need welcome, friendship. Until you have been one, maybe you don’t know. Watch for the stranger and offer hospitality.

  1. Find a way to offer food and drink, not to those who have already plenty of both, but those who have parched throats and empty stomachs. How we would love to take pitchers of faith and loaves of hope and batches of love to all of the people in our county who hunger for them!

These are the things that make for peace. These are the signposts on the long road home from violence. These are the gospel judgment words. A church which practices them, and is practiced in their arts, will have much to offer to the healing of a violated culture.

7. Set Sail!

One summer we visited Hyannis port, and there walked around the Kennedy memorial. It is a moving experience. The harbor is laden with beautiful sailboats. The monument is handsome. Across the round deck of the memorial there is chiseled a sentence quotation: “I believe that American should set sail and not lie still in the harbor”. Here is remembered an appeal to our honor not to our security: “not a set of promises but a set of challenges”. It is our honor and our willingness to sacrifice which will mitigate violence: “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. It is our stamina which will take us to the new frontier of peace: “to bear the long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”.

In retrospect, much of what others planned forty years ago has been achieved. A trip to the Kennedy Center here in Boston, which inspired some of this autumn’ preaching, will offer reminders. Communism is dead. Nuclear weaponry is largely under control. Relations between Protestants and Catholics are good. Basic civil rights have been achieved. Latin America is open to us. A man has landed on the moon.

But violence, ah violence, violence remains.

So let us set sail for a new frontier, and practice the things that make for peace. And let us be willing to “pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe” to face down the fear that violence brings, and to cross into a new frontier.

November 18

A Thanksgiving Recipe

By Marsh Chapel

A Thanksgiving Recipe

Lections (Isaiah 65, Luke 21)

It is hard to think about Thanksgiving and not think of food in general and turkey in particular. So attentive are we to the meal itself that the Thanksgiving prayer we offer becomes an afterthought, unless carefully we pause to think about a prayerful recipe for a real thanksgiving. The meal, the turkey, we leave to you. But here, in sermonic guise, we offer a recipe for the prayer on Thanksgiving, a thanksgiving recipe, a recipe, that is, for a thanksgiving prayer.

First, clean. To start, you might clean the outside of the prayer. Pluck its feathers. Wash its torso. Get rid of the fluff that does not feed anyway. Especially this year perhaps we can dispense with the note of pride, of self-congratulation that so easily enters the heart. ‘Lord I thank thee that I am not like other men—extortionists, liars, or even like this publican here’. Jesus directly proscribed such prayer. Pluck and clean and here is what you find. Most of who we are and even more of what we have is pure gift. Our genetic makeup. Our history. Our natural surroundings. Our upbringing. Our humors and talents. Our religious tradition or lack thereof. For all our vaunted independence, we depend, utterly depend, truly depend, we are deeply dependent for what counts: for life, for forgiveness, for eternal life. For all our vaunted enterprise, we have relied on others, and we have been shaped by others. Is there a better city in North American in which to remember that than Boston? As a city, as a people, as a nation, as a church, we are the creatures of the courage of others, who in one sense or another gave the last full measure of devotion. Who are we kidding anyway? Most of what we are and even more of what we have is pure gift. As my friend says, ‘if you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know he did not get there on his own’.

The Psalmist knew this. ‘For not by their own sword did they win the land; nor did their own arm give them victory; but by thy right hand and thine arm and the light of thy countenance; for thou didst delight in them’.

Paul of Tarsus also knew this. ‘I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through the faith of Christ’.

To give thanks means first to pluck the bird’s prideful feathers, one at a time. Pride, sloth and falsehood abide these three, but the greatest of these is pride.

Second, season. Cleansed, our prayer is ready for a little seasoning. Personal seasoning. Real gratitude is real personal. Prayer is intimate. Prayer is personal. Like a sermon. Utterly personal. Like a photograph. Utterly personal. A prayer of thanks is thanks for what makes a personal difference. For a friend sent along by life’s surging current. For a spouse met. For a child. For a child saved from death in a car accident. For a lawsuit avoided. For an assault survived. For a family fence mended. For a vocation. For a vacation. For an exciting new job. For breath, for breadth, for board.

We went north toward Montreal in 1981 to serve two little churches with two little children and too little money. We went to Montreal in order to study for a PhD so that one day we could come to Boston and teach in the school of theology and preach in Marsh Chapel and offer pastoral care to an academic community of 40,000. Be glad for what you do not have, for it is the doorway into what you will have. That summer of 1981 we were given a car, and old red Ford Mustang convertible, anno domini 1973. A real boat, v8, white top, black interior, and rust to the horizon. Said the donor: ‘it will last you 6 months. Leave it in a field’. It lasted 10 years. It was such a thoughtful and such helpful gift—the right thing at the right time in the right way—that no words could ever convey our gratitude (Hart on gift). No formal note---“Dear Aunt Esther, in life’s many vicissitudes it is so important to be made mindful of those who help…blah, blah, blah…’ No. Thanksgiving is a personal shout, a cry from the heart: Thank You!

Alice Walker appeared on late night television a while ago. She said two stunning things. ‘At middle age’, she said, ‘I am learning to slow down so that whatever life intends for me will have an easier time catching up’. Then, after minutes of complements for Nelson Mandela, and what he did for South Africa, she reflected: ‘of course, he is a great leader, but the point is that each one of us is to be our own great leader’. Personal. Personal. Very personal.

A sermon does not conclude the preaching for the week. A sermon begins the preaching for the week. The point of a sermon is found in your active, personal articulation of faith. In a journal. In public speaking. In a simple devotional at a meeting. In the shower. And, this Thursday, in a thanksgiving prayer. Sit down ahead of time and right it out. Make it personal. Season it so. Season it properly. Find your tongue. Season it personally.

Third, cook. Cook the prayer. Cook it in experiences of adversity. Let the adverse experiences of life make our prayer and our soul tender. One of my forebears in the ministry long ago used this line and it has stuck. It is nothing to remember a line for thirty years, when it is a real sentence. ‘Let the heat of adversity make us tender’. Sometimes nothing else will. This is a difficult point. When I heard my friend utter the line, because I knew his experience, I wept. There is no way finally to understand, let alone justify, the heat of life at its worst. But we can pray that such adverse experience will humanize us, that such heat will make us tender.

Let the bird cook, simmer. Cooking makes the bird tender. Life’s heat makes us tender too.

Think again of Paul. ‘Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character pr
oduces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that is given to us.’

In the radio congregation today, and in the visible congregation today, there are many who know this well. You have graciously preached this sermon in your own lives. You have faced adversity and so become spiritually sensitive. You have felt physical pain but have learned redemptively to manage your suffering. You have suffered loss and survived. You have managed suffering redemptively. You have worn the ancient clothing: ‘afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed; and you do not lose heart, for though the outer nature is wasting away, the inner nature is being renewed every day’. For all the heat, your Thanksgiving prayer this year will be most tender and most sweet.

Here is a recipe for Thanksgiving, a recipe for a prayer at Thanksgiving. Clean it. Season it. Cook it. Cleanse it of pride. Season it in person. And allow the heat of adversity to make you tender.

It was this recipe that my students on Wednesday perceived in Howard Thurman’s exemplary prayer:

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:

My mother’s arms,

The strength of my father

The playmates of my childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives

Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies

And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;

The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the

Eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day

I finger on by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;

The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I

Feared the step before me in darkness;

The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest

And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;

The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open

Page when my decision hung in the balance.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:

The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,

Without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp

And whose words would only find fulfillment

In the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,

The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,

Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;

The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness t
hat only a dream

Could inspire and God could command.

For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment

To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:

The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,

My desires, my gifts;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence

That I have never done my best, I have never dared

To reach for the highest;

The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind

Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the

inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the

children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

November 11

Profiles in Courage

By Marsh Chapel

Lections and John 11:25


“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31).

This autumn we have scaled a great promontory, the highest peak in the Bible, which is the Gospel of John. With every cut-back trail, at every rest point, atop every lookout, with every majestic view, this spiritual gospel will address you with the choice of freedom, with the ongoing need to choose, and in choosing to find the life of belonging and meaning, personal identity and global imagination.

The fourth gospel gives us two profiles in courage. One is the courage of grace amid dislocation. Haggai also speaks of this. The second is the courage of freedom following disappointment. Luke also speaks of this. Grace amid dislocation and freedom following disappointment: two profiles in courage.

Two Level Drama

This autumn we have let John be John, to let this meta-gospel give us clues and cues for interpreting the lessons of the day and the lessons of these days. John brings a divine word in two dimensions, one the imaginative narrations about the person of Jesus, the other the historical reconstruction of the community which produced John.

The first dimension: John features Jesus in mortal combat over many issues. Jesus demarcates the limits of individualism during a wedding in Cana. Jesus pillories pride by night with Nicodemus. Jesus unwraps the touching self-presentations of hypocrisy in conversation at the well. Jesus heals a broken spirit. Jesus feeds the throng with two fish and five barley loaves. Jesus gives sight and insight, bifocal and stereoptic, to a man born blind. Jesus comes upon dead Lazarus and brings resurrection and life. He brings the introvert out of the closet of loneliness. He brings the literalist out of the closet of materialism. He brings the passionate out of the closet of guilt. He brings the dim-witted out of the closet of myopia. He brings the church out of the closet of hunger. He brings the dead to life.

The second dimension: The two basic historical problems of the New Testament are ancient cousins, first cousins to our two fundamental issues of salvation today.

The first historical problem behind our 27 books, and pre eminently embedded in John, is the movement away from Judaism. How did a religious movement, founded by a Jew, born in Judea, embraced by 12 and 500 within Judaism, expanded by a Jewish Christian missionary become, within 100 years, entirely Greek? The books of the New Testament record in excruciating detail the development of this second identity, this coming of age, that came with the separation from mother religion.

The second historical problem underneath the Newer Testament is disappointment, the despair that gradually accompanied the delay, finally the cancellation, of Christ’s return, the delay of the parousia. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Paul expected to be alive to see the advent of Christ. Gradually, though, the church confessed disappointment in its greatest immediate hope, the sudden cataclysm of the end.

Two problems, historical and fascinating, create our New Testament: the separation from Judaism and the delay of the parousia. In the fourth Gospel the two come together with great ferocity. What makes this matter so urgent for us is that these very two existential dilemmas—one of identity and one of imagination—are before every generation, including and especially our own. First: How do I become a real person? How do we weather lasting disappointment? How do I grow up? How do we become mature? What insight do I need, amid the truly harrowing struggles over identity, to become the woman or man I was meant to become? Second: What imagination—what hope molded by courage—do we need to face down the profound despair of nuclear twilight and break free into a loving global future? More than any other document in ancient Christianity, John explored the first. More than any other document in Christianity, John faced the second.

Both take courage. Both bring us to the summits of grace and freedom.

One: Grace

In the Gospel of John we have found grace amid dislocation and freedom following disappointment (repeat). These are the twin gifts of this twilight gospel, grace and freedom, John Wesley’s two favorite words. In dislocation we depend upon grace: going off to college or military service (as with our ROTC students Friday); immersed in a new culture of electronic Gnosticism; on the cusp of the courage to change our mind; in the matters, intimate and crucial, of human sexuality; in the course of finding a new home; in the throes of struggles with our denomination. Yet all these foreground dislocations, and many others, really are meant to prepare us for the one great dislocation, death. What grace does the gospel give in this dislocation of little daily deaths and in the final dislocation itself?

John does not cast aside the primitive Christian hope, even in its most primitive garb. Mary says that she knows her brother will be raised, at the resurrection of the last day. John lets this hope stand, as does our traditional liturgy of committal at the grave. That is, whether we trust that in the hour of death we are translated to God’s presence, or whether in this apocalyptic hope we trust that at the end of time, with all the children of God, still, in both cases, grace is found amid the dislocation of death. This is our
belief, our first belief. And whether the hope is traditional or contemporary in its expression, the courage of this belief is what gives us the capacity to be truly human.

We are given the courage of grace choose and to move. Our religious symbols need augmentation for a new century. It will require grace to shift: From rainbow to firmament. From isolation to community. From nationalism to patriotism. From control to freedom. From life to spirit. From home to health. From spiritual hunger to hungry spirituality. From congenital blindness to spiritual sight. From denominationalism to ecumenism. From fear to love. From death to life.

In less symbolic terms, and more general biblical phrases, we express something of this same, first, belief, in future hope, in grace at the dislocation of death. As we said last spring, during the memorial for one of our great saints:

If we believe that life has meaning and purpose

And we do

If we believe that the Giver of Life loves us

And we do

If we believe that divine love lasts

And we do

If we believe that justice, mercy, and humility endure

And we do

If we believe that God so loved the world to give God’s only Son

And we do

If we believe that Jesus is the transcript in time of God in eternity

And we do

If we believe that all God’s children are precious in God’s sight

And we do

If we believe grace and forgiveness are the heart of the universe

And we do

If we believe that God has loved us personally

And we do

If we believe in God

And we do

Then we shall trust God over the valley of the shadow of death

And we do

Then we shall trust that love is stronger than death

And we do

Then we shall trust the mysterious promise of resurrection

And we do

Then we shall trust the faith of Christ, relying on faith alone

And we do

Then we shall trust the enduring worth of personality

And we do

Then we shall trust that just deeds, merciful words are never vain

And we do

Then we shall trust the Giver of Life to give eternal life

And we do

Then we shall trust the source of love to love eternally

And we do

Then we shall trust that at death we rest protected in God’s embrace

And we do

Then we shall trust in God

And we do.

Two: Freedom

Grace amid the dislocation of death. Freedom following disappointment. We have known disappointment. Following disappointment we find freedom: following the terror of 9/11; after trials with the complexities of life; in the hard discovery that the past is immutable; through the shameful admission that Christianity, and the Fourth Gospel, have harbored anti-Semitism; facing the stunted theological imagination of the last half century. Yet all these foreground disappointments, and many others like them, are merely preparations for our encounter with the one great existential disappointment, which is our enduring condition, what John names as sin, that is: our distance from God, from depth, from meaning, from purpose, from love.

Our time, our culture, our world do not readily prepare us for this. This surprise, of hope hidden in the unexpected, in particular has a frigh
tful time in a post-Christian world. We just do not handle the unexpected very well. This has been true for generations, but clearly it has 9/11 overtones as well. We live in a preventive age, a pre-emptive age, an abortive age, a prophylactic age. We prefer, and this in measures that go out to the edges, what we can control to what we cannot control, what we can measure to what we cannot fathom, what we can account to what we cannot. We prefer the measurable even at the expense of the meaningful. What is planned, what is foreseen, what is prepared, what is arranged—these lie within our zone of comfort. It does make the word of resurrection somewhat difficult to interpret. We rely more on what we can count than what we can count on.

We live in a prophylactic age. The Greek word for guard is fulakh. Hence pro—before, phylactic—guard. This same Greek word, rendered guard, can also mean prison. That which we count on to protect us also imprisons us. That behind which we hide also hides us. We need to be careful about what guards, that is what prisons, we permit. It is like Aesop’s fable of the horse and stag. To defeat the stag, the horse asks the man to ride him. The man agrees, as long as the horse will accept a bit and bridle. He does, and he is protected—and imprisoned. Here is hope: that we may see clearly those things that protect us to the extent that they imprison us.

The next time you fly into Boston, think about the disappointment of sin and the power of freedom. Ours is a beautiful region, and ours is a lovely city. From a distance, especially, it shines. You can even make out the steeples of Marsh Chapel as the plane wings its way home. How disappointing it must be, for the angels, to see what we also see, when we truly see. A city separated by economic distances. Some children raised in opulence, others is squalor. Some children raised in safety, others in peril. Some children raised in educational abundance, others in educational scarcity. Some children raised with all the comforts of home, some raised within homes of little comfort. Some children raised in earshot of resurrection and life, some left to fend for themselves amid the wolves of disappointment and dislocation. There will always be those who have much and those who have little. That is the price of liberty. You are people of resurrection and life, however, and you expect that those who have much will not have too much and those who have little will not have too little. That is the requirement of justice. That is, resurrection and life are here and now, not just there and then. Where you find resurrection, there is Jesus Christ. Where you find life, there is Jesus Christ.

It is resurrection and life on which Beth Stroud and the Germantown UMC leaned, a couple of years ago, when Beth was “put out of the synagogue”, defrocked of her Methodist ordination because of her identity. There has been disappointment. But there is a lasting spirit of freedom to continue the long, twilight march to justice.

It is resurrection and life on which the UCC lean, now, as a group expressed here at Marsh over lunch on Wednesday. Their own “open doors” campaign, similar to but more explicit than ours, has been treated to the injustice of Caesar’s justice, and “put out of the media synagogue”, at least by two networks. But there is also a spirit of freedom to continue the long, twilight, multi-generational march to justice.

It is resurrection and life that steadies us and carries us! Sometimes in mistaken condescension, we Protestants observe the Roman Catholic orders of ministry. “How sad”, we say. “How odd”, we assert. “How strange, how unfair. How wrong to take someone called to ministry and say, ‘Yes, you may be ordained to love God, but you must give up the love of a wife if you do so.’ Oh, we cluck, how shortsighted. How wrong.

Yet another, future generation will look back upon us, out of the next 50 years, and say of us, particularly of us Methodists today, “How sad. How odd. How strange. How unfair. How wrong to take some young woman or man, called to ministry and say, ‘Yes, you may be ordained to love God, but if you are gay you must give up the intimacy and covenant of human love, your love for your partner’.”

I know there will be a better day, because of the examples of saints I have known in the course of ministry.

Most of ministry, these years, has been in snow. In smaller assignments, the snow fell often on afternoons given over to sharing the gospel, one by one. At the kitchen table. Over coffee. In a parking lot. Within a small office. At the hospital. At school. With lunch. In a nursing home. In the barn, at dusk, milking time. In the sugar house. On a tractor.

Snow swirled that day, as the Nursing Home hove into view. Gladys deserved a call, on the line between life and death, and the preacher came prepared, or so he thought.

Would you like me to pray with you? Oh, it is not necessary. Of course I love all the prayers of the great church, particularly, now that I see little, those I carry in memory from our old liturgy. But I am fine.

Perhaps you would like to hear the Psalms? My grandmother appreciated them read as she, uh… You mean as she lay dying?...Yes. Oh, it is not necessary. I mean I do love the Psalms, and was lucky to have them taught rote to me at church camp so that they rest on my memory, like goodness and mercy, all the days of my life. But I am fine.

I know that you sang in our choir. Would you like some of the hymns recited for you? Oh that is not necessary. I do so love music! I can sing the hymns from memory to myself at night! I found my faith singing, you know. It just seemed so real when we would sing, when we were younger, around the piano, around the campfire, around the church. I knew in my heart, I knew Whom I could trust. But I am fine.

I brought communion for you in this old traveling kit. Oh, that is not necessary. We can have communion if you like. It is so meaningful to me. I can feel my husband right at my side, knee to knee. After he died, I could not hear anything that was said in yo
ur fine sermons for so long, my heart hurt so loudly. But I still could get grace in communion. But I am fine.

So the snow was falling, as it does in all ministry in our region. Snow on snow…flake on flake…Just like a preacher, nothing to offer, but to stand and wait and wring the hands…

Gladys, is there anything that I could bring you today? As a matter of fact, there is…Tell me about our church…I have been out of worship for so long… How is the church doing this autumn?...Are the children coming and being taught to give their money to others? And what of the youth? Are they in church and skating and sledding and hayriding and falling in love? Tell me about the UMW and their mission goal. Did they make it? A dollar means so little to us and so much in Honduras and China. And tell me about the building… Are the Trustees preparing for another generation? It is so easy to defer maintenance…What about the choir—are they singing from faith to faith?...Tell me about your preaching, and the DS, and our Bishop…What is going to happen with our little church …Tell me, please, tell me about our church…It is where I find meaning and depth and love…That is what you can bring me today.

Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. She who believes in me, though she die, yet will she live. There are those places where what is beyond us enters among us. Where the line of death is smudged and crossed. Where it is not just so clear what is really death and what is really life. Worship, this hour, is such a moment, too. You can have an experience of God. Even in church.


“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31).

Good news: in dislocation, hold onto grace, the grace to be co-dependent no more; in disappointment, hold onto freedom, the freedom to walk in the light as he is in the light.

“A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom” (Frost). So too a sermon, and a life.

This week you can choose to grow in faith, and so find a fuller part of your second identity. This week you can choose to grow in love, and so open a fuller part of the world’s imagination. This week you can choose to grow in faith, and so find a fuller part of your second identity. This week you can choose to grow in love, and so open a fuller part of the world’s imagination. Two profiles in courage: grace and freedom.

Faith is personal commitment to an unverifiable truth. It involves a leap.

Faith is an objective uncertainty grasped with subjective certainty. It involves a leap.

Faith is the way to salvation, a real identity and a rich imagination. But it does involve a leap.

Now is the time to jump.

October 28

A Confident Exit

By Marsh Chapel

Luke 18 and Lections

John 9:23

In a quiet moment, over the dining room table or along a familiar path, when quiet settles the moment, you may think for a moment about exits. How you leave something can be just about the most important thing you do. For something. Or someone. You could call this a religious issue, except that ‘religious’ is a term now readily dismissed from existential struggles. Think of it then as an existential issue. Jean Paul Sartre wrote a whole play, ‘No Exit’, a hard look at and lament over a closed sphere of existence.

The Gospel of John is largely about Jesus’ exit and lingering absence. His departure for the house of the many rooms, the Father’s house, becomes the occasion of learning to live with confidence. His absence is more valuable to the disciples than his presence.

It would swamp the gunnels of any sermon to illustrate in full the fact that the Bible itself is largely a string of exit scenes. The ending of things gives us the thing in itself, toward which it has moved from the beginning. So the Bible in both its testaments highlights exits. Count them, scouring the Scripture, this afternoon, and pick a favorite.

Every service of worship prepares and presages our personal exits, our existential exit, too. You may think that college students, so imbued with entrance and expansion, have no feeling for leave taking. This is not so. Our students are keenly alive to departure in all its forms, including its ultimate form. You will hear that keen alertness in the cantata sung later. It is one gift and task of religion to prepare a place for confidence in exit.

That in fact is the heart of the two lessons read earlier. One lesson is an imaginary valediction, written by someone taking Paul’s name and something of his legacy, and adoringly describing Paul’s exit. It is an ancient obituary of one who has fought the good fight. The other, the temple scene, compares two forms of confidence before God, confidence before the last horizon, so poetically named here as ‘going down to one’s house’. Of all the scriptural euphemisms for death, I think I like this one best. Down to his house…Which one do you think went down to his house justified? Down to his house…Down to his house…With what shall we go, with what shall you go down to your house? The music today Bach created as a preparation for a final exit. How shall we leave? It is about the most important thing we do.

The temple represents the ultimate threshold, the last horizon, as does Sunday worship for us. Two forms of confidence are contrasted, one of law and one of grace. We know the Pharisee far too well to stoop in our assessment of his virtues. He is a better person than we. He tithes, for example. He has far more reason than we to be confident at eventide, and that is what he is saying he is thankful for. We would do well to take some ethical cues from the Pharisee. But the passage is primarily about exits not ethics. It is about going down to one’s house. The words do have an ominous ring.

Before Luke adds the line about humility and exaltation, we hear in the parable a straight teaching, Jesus’ teaching, about what it takes to exit well. Mercy. What will get us down to the house justified is the gift of mercy. God be merciful to me. The announcement, relentless and thunderous and real and personal, that God is merciful and gracious, exploded into the Reformation, so many years ago. It was a remembrance of the confident exit, which is the confidence of faith in the face of all that closes off life. Daily. God be merciful to me, a sinner. Not merit but mercy merits confidence on the day of mercy.

In a quiet moment, over the dining room table or along a familiar path, when the quiet settles the moment, you may think for a moment about exits. How you leave something can be just about the most important thing you do.

Hear again Borden Parker Bowne’s warning, as he exited his great book on Personalism: “Belief must be lived to acquire any real substance or controlling character. This is the case with all practical and concrete beliefs. If we ignore them practically we may soon accost them skeptically; and they vanish like a fading gleam”. Mercy…

In the depths of life, one meets a longing for grace, mercy, forgiveness, and a deep recognition, too, that like life itself, and like eternal life, pardon lies beyond our power to add or detract, to create or destroy. It is a grace. It is grace. We may offer such a grace, or receive it, or refuse it, or neglect it. But it is not within our power to create it. We meet it in the life, in the obedience of faith.

Leave it to Flannery O’Connor to remind us of healing mercy that empowers a confident exit. It is the action of mercy that makes life real. Her voice, her stories appeal to our time. Almost any of her stories might have had this sentence tucked in amid the apocalyptic plots and grotesque characters:

Mr. Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again, but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood that it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker. (Habits, 270)

Leave it Reinhold Niebuhr to remind us of humbling mercy that may empower a confident exit. As Andrew Bacevich so recently and so eloquently recalled here at Boston University: “Such humility is in short supply (today)…The conviction persists that (we) are called upon to serve, in Niebuhr’s most memor
able phrase, ‘as tutors of mankind in its pilgrimage to perfection’ (Bacevich, 10/07, Niebuhr World Crisis, 76). This too, is a voice that appeals to our time.

We shall need to summon both spirit and strategy to find our way forward. It is this spirit of contrition, coupled with a rigorous generosity of heart and mind, which we shall need to exit our current national entanglement in the debacle of the Middle East. People of faith: you have something to offer, here, to our situation. Our liturgy in Christian worship, for these decades to come, will consistently circle around the Kyrie—the cry of the heart in the Temple of life, the recognition of what we have done, the regret, compunction, and lament that is the first spiritual step toward home. God…be merciful…to us. Our life in Christian service, for these decades, will consistently circle around a lived Kyrie—an embrace of those now victims, those now refugees. With every sung Kyrie, and with every lived Kyrie, we will take a step toward home. Here is a lasting image, a parable, by which to see our way home. Confidence in exit comes with recognition of the need for mercy, grace and forgiveness, coupled with confidence in what that utterance itself portends: a pardoning God. Worship today might forget everything else, except confession and pardon. Service today might forget everything else, except mercy and grace.

Leave it to a short lived Bostonian President, fifty years ago, to kindle in us a hopeful mercy that could empower a confident exit from the cloud of fear besetting us. His is a strangely contemporary voice, appealing to our time.

Seeing the last made first was at one time not very far from the heart of our shared hope. Fifty years ago we agreed that totalitarianism should be opposed, for the sake of the weakest among us. We agreed that nuclear weaponry should be controlled, for the sake of the planet as a whole. We agreed that our southern neighbors in Latin America deserved our lavish support, for the sake of children and the elderly and the poorest of the poor. We agreed that religious relations, say between Protestant and Catholic, should be set aside whenever possible, to avoid causing one’s brother to stumble. We agreed that basic civil rights belonged to all, especially to those whom history had marginalized and fractionalized. We agreed that young people who wanted to offer two years of service to God and country, to build for peace, should be encouraged and enabled to do so, for the sake of the least, the last, the lost. We agreed that we should explore the universe, the moon and stars and planets, for the sake of scientific learning to benefit yet unborn. We had more humility, perhaps, more sense of the merciful expense required, a leader then said, (such a Johannine phrase, this, for all its Pauline roots) ‘to bear the burden of the long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’. So the last might indeed become first, and the first last. Then we would, truly would, set sail, exit the harbor with confidence, as the chiseled memorial says at Hyannisport: ‘I believe that America should set sail, and not lie still in the harbor’.

In a quiet moment, over the dining room table or along a familiar path, when the quiet settles the moment, you may think for amount about exits. How you leave something can be just about the most important thing you do. A confident exit relies on mercy. Mercy, a healing mercy. Mercy a humbling mercy. Mercy, a hopeful mercy. A confident exit relies on mercy.

October 21

A Parental Report Card

By Marsh Chapel

Lectionary Readings

I am told of a young woman, in another era, who watched from a second floor library as her parents drove away from her small Midwestern college. In that fresh water setting, they lacked the late October crack of the bat in Fenway Park, the sculling and calling in rhythm resounding from the banks of the Charles, and the multitude of high soprano notes of choirs along Commonwealth Avenue which surround us this weekend. They had though the same human dilemma of communication across distance which is one of the hallmarks of college life, as it is of all life. What reports, parental reports, shall we receive and give, across distance and time? Her parents drove an old Ford, and as she watched they pulled to the side of the street. Her father, a fastidious dresser, dusted his trousers as he brushed them against the faithful vehicle. He walked to the curb. There she watched as he took carefully from his jacket pocket a single envelope. He opened the post box, deposited the letter, and returned to the inner silence of the silent car. Off they drove. She received her first college letter the next day, an early parental report. “We love you. We miss you. Write soon.”

Some parental reports, parental report cards, go from school to home. You remember your elementary school report cards, sent home for parental review. English: B. Works and plays well with others: needs improvement. Today the reports may be informal. “I have learned six things about how I can be happy in college: 1. Study. 2. Walk. 3. Say ‘No’. 4. Explore 5. Have Fun. 6. Find a Friend”. A change in the relational landscape requires a change in relational development.

On the other hand, we could imagine a parental report card sent from school to parent. Like friendship, parenting is something so vital and yet so difficult. Who taught you how to be a parent? How would you grade yourself? Nourishment: A. Shelter and Raiment: A-. Guidance and Discipline: A+. If you are supporting a child in college, and have visited for parents weekend, and are attending or listening to a chapel service, you have three extra credit points: tuition, travel and tithing! Or is there a more helpful way to think about parenting? We lived in Ithaca, near Cornell, when we found our first pet, a beagle puppy named Rockefeller. Rocky tore up our home. He chewed books, he stole steaks, he ran loose, he ruled the roost. Ithaca being Ithaca, and Cornell Cornell, it happened that our neighbor was a dog psychologist, who agreed to counsel Rocky. Rocky spent a day at his house. After that day, the dog psychologist brought the beagle home, quieted, gentled, disciplined. ‘Rocky is fine’, he said. ‘You can let him out back.’ Then he turned to us: ‘Now let me talk to you two about you two.’ Parenting is example. Parenting is setting boundaries. Parenting is supporting health. Parenting is consistency. Parenting is communication. Parenting is hard work. All these, first, are about the parent, and for the parent.

Come Parents’ weekend, a parental report card might alternatively include a report on the state of the school, and our President has the lead the way in providing just such a timely letter. We could do the same with regard to religious life. We have now 7 University Chaplains and 29 religious groups. At Marsh, we have a Dean, one chaplain for student ministries, four chapel associates and five ministry associates. This setting teems with potential for spiritual growth. You may find the details on the website and in the newsletter. We are not parents, no longer in ‘in loco parentis’, but we are partners with parents, ‘in loco fraternis’.

Personally, we could report upon our preaching of the gospel this fall, and its four fold emphasis on John. On the courage of the Gospel of John. On the courage of John Dempster and those who built our institutions. On the courage of John Kennedy, and a bygone steadiness of purpose. On the courage of John Wesley and his followers to this day who have a confidence to be happy in God.

Any of these or any number of other Parental report cards have their place, and value. Yet there is another, more ancient and yet more present report, to which we turn, in heart and mind, this morning. In the recreation of Jeremiah, in the redemption of Timothy, in the redundancy of Luke, and culmination in a single verse from John, we are graced and freed by another sort of parental report, parental report card. Looming behind and beneath other and various reports there emerges a divine parental report card. It is a parental presence in absence, an absence in presence, a divine presence which these passages announce.

Jeremiah has found his way, by chapter 33, to a new hearing of the divine voice. Recreation is his theme. After the years of exile, and the horrors of suffering, Jeremiah announces recreation. A new covenant he acclaims. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David—all these and their covenants now are transformed, renegotiated, in a covenant of heart, forgiveness, and intimacy. Jeremiah takes what is oldest in Israel, covenant, and makes it new again. From the mists of time past, out of the craggy cloud covered edges of the prophets, comes a divine parental report. The God of Sinai is a God of freedom, grace, recreation, change, and something eternally new. Ecclesiastes will dissent, and that dissent we need, but here the report in Jeremiah is of a divine parent, a divine presence shot through with the morning light of newness. “The image of God which emerges from Jeremiah’s oracles is that of a deity who is radically innovative, never bound by the decisions of the past”. (IBDS, 471). Jeremiah is imaginative and innovative, too, offering a theological flexibility in the face of 587 bce. And look what came from Jeremiah 31:31: a summary of his own thought; the heart of the Hebrews in the NT; the basis of the Eucharistic, ‘new covenant’; the divide between OTNT.

Timothy, or rather the author of 2 Timothy, has found his way by the end of his letter, to a divinely reported pattern for renewal, for redemption. Redemption is his theme. In the case of this author, and this chapter, the confident expression of the divine presence is located directly in relationship to reading, and to the reading of Scripture. Although 2 Timothy was not itself Scripture when it was written, it became so, over time. The author finds value, a kind of parental value, in scripture, for teaching, reproof, correction, and tra
ining. Here is a practical report, a divine presence in the work of redemption. College life, all of life, is about taking good people and making us better people. In some cases, it is about taking not so good people and making us good people. College is not only about learning. It is about life, about what is good in life.

Luke brings his collection of parables of Jesus almost to a close, by remembering the story of an ornery judge and a persistent woman. Repetition is his theme. Redundancy is his theme. The character of the divine reported on the card of Luke 18, embodied in the long suffering, the undefeated persistence of a lone, powerless woman, is redundancy. Hebrews will say, ‘Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever’. But Luke says something slightly different. Here his recollection of Jesus’ parable shows an activity, a festivity in the lasting persistence of one doggedly committed person.

Recreation, Redemption, Repetition. This is good news for us. Our time needs encouragement. Our culture needs a restoration of realistic confidence, fed by deep streams of living water from another, an earlier time. It is the divine report from Jeremiah, Timothy, and Luke, a report of divine presence which our time desperately needs. God is at work in the world to make and keep human life human. Jeremiah saw this in a new covenant. Timothy heard this in a useful text. Luke admired this in the capacity for commitment.

It is the fourth Gospel, finally, that sums up the rest. Jesus asserts that he and the Father are one. His voice is that of divine presence. A presence in absence and an absence in presence to be sure, but a divine presence nonetheless. Presence with the swing of the bat. Presence with the feathering of the oar. Presence with the harmony of the choir. Presence, presence, presence…

A few years ago, our youngest child graduated from college. At his graduation we heard a remarkable story, given by the speaker of the day. You may know the speaker. His name is Byron Pitts, and he is a CBS News correspondent. Pitts spoke with humor and love of this faith and of his mother who raised him alone. He arrived at college functionally illiterate. He got through high school, as he said, ‘living in disguise’. But his college English teacher confronted him, saying: “Mr. Pitts you are wasting my time and the government’s money. You are not (college) material, and you should not be here”. So, the next day Pitts went to the administration building to drop out. He was sitting on the steps. An instructor in the writing lab, who knew him, went over to him and asked him what was wrong. As he said, ‘having nothing to lose, I told her.’ All she said was, “promise me you will not leave today”. He did. The next day, and every day after all year, he went to her office. She counseled and coached him. She gave him the chance to learn to read. She helped him conquer his stuttering. He has gone on to a great life, professional success, and personal happiness.

That is what can happen in the presence…In the presence of a divine parental report card, who is the Christ, one with the Father, in whom there is everlasting recreation, everlasting redemption, everlasting resistance. Christ, through for and in whom none shall be left behind.

A presence in absence and an absence in presence to be sure, but a divine presence nonetheless. Presence with the swing of the bat. Presence with the feathering of the oar. Presence with the harmony of the choir. Presence, presence, presence…

October 14

Heart and Voice

By Marsh Chapel

Luke 17

A couple of years ago Jan and I found ourselves driving to New York City. That April was a rainy month, and that Friday was a rainy morning. Jan had left school, suddenly, and I had left church, suddenly. Jan left preparations for the spring concert. I left a major financial meeting and that morning’s unexpected offer of another job. When it rains it pours. We were racing down the Thruway, from Rochester to Manhattan. We were hurrying toward a hospital on the lower east side of Manhattan. We had just been told that a close friend of ours was about to die.

Our friend had been with her daughter, and other high school students, on a trip to New York. She had volunteered to chaperone that spring’s high school trip. The group had spent a rainy week in museums and restaurants and theaters. Her heart gave out on the last night of the trip.

We know that the heart is an organ, or as we might now put it in the monistic materialist language of our time, ‘just an organ’. It is just an organ, one of the many bodily organs, just a body, one of the many human bodies that crowd this teeming, warming planet. When it gives out, it gives out. But that is not what you think or see when a young mother, a devoted wife, a caring neighbor, a creative friend, a music teacher, a person of faith, someone you care for, lies dying. Then a heart is more than just an organ. It is a heart.

Cell phone equipped, we stayed in hourly contact to the bedside. A dear friend, and heart doctor himself, a heart doctor with a heart, had gone down earlier, and was keeping vigil. We know that anyone born is old enough to die. You qualify, to die, once you are born. There is no other age requirement. We know this. We know it when a college student dies. Yet we do not know it. We know it when a high school student dies. Yet we do not know it. We know it when one of our own children dies. Yet we do not know it. We know it when a friend dies. Yet we do not know it. There is a part of us that is pretty certain that death happens to other people than we, to people older than we, to people unrelated by kinship or friendship. So it comes with a wallop and a shock to hear the summons: “Come now. You may be too late”.

The Thruway is a good road in the rain. Crossing the George Washington Bridge, we had some hopeful news. Somehow she had stabilized. We hurried on. We found some sort of parking, and some sort of meal, and some sort of lodging. Then we sat around the crowded bedside. She awoke. We prayed. We listened. We sang a couple of hymns. One nurse sang with us. Another listened along with us. Our friend asked, quizzed the nurse about her church life. It was a compelling setting for that quizzing, and it made a compelling impact. By evening, it looked like she was going to make it. Somehow. I still do not know how. Maybe no one really does. It came time for lights out. We made ready to go. Our friend gestured, and whispered to us. Wonthrydo. Jan could not make it out. I could not. Her husband could not. The heart doctor could not. Wonthrydo. She was insistent but incoherent. I made a mental note comparing that to some preaching. She was adamant but unintelligible. Again, like some sermons you will have heard. Wonthrydo.

The rain had lifted by the time we walked across town to our hotel. A heart attacked had been healed. But we could not hear her voice, or at least the meaning of her voice. Then right in the middle of one great avenue her husband stopped, oblivious of traffic. In midtown Manhattan, in the middle of the avenue, he raised his arms to the heavens. He smiled. He realized what she was saying. That happens sometimes in marriage. You know what the other is saying. You know what the other is thinking, even when the words are muffled. That happens in friendship, partnership and marriage. Sometimes that is a good thing.

Her husband caught her meaning. Wonthrydo. We had been singing hymns. She is a church organist, pianist. She loves hymns. She has a favorite hymn. Actually, we all were quite aware of it, because she regularly asked for it to be sung. In a hymn sing or informal service or around the piano after dinner, whenever there was a chance to pick a hymn, she picked hers. It was not one of those familiar favorite hymns like Amazing Grace or Abide With Me or When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. But it was hers. 1-3-2. He got it. 1-3-2. Wonthrydo. Back from death, she was asking us to sing her favorite hymn for her. 1-3-2. The next morning we did. And she nodded. It was a moment of heart and voice.

We have just sung 1-3-2, “All my hope is firmly grounded.”

There is more than enough death that comes when you least expect it. When those fewer moments arrive, though, and death does not come though you most expect it, your heart is in your throat, and you have heart and voice.

Whether or not Luke was a doctor, let alone a heart doctor, we know he was a person of heart. Luke brings shepherds to the manger. Luke remembers every parable he has heard and some, let us suggest, that he has not heard. Luke remembers people. I hear little Fred Craddock and his stringy voice when I read Luke. Craddock liked to ask preachers: ‘where are all the people?’ He would lament sermons that were full of words and ideas and sin and atonement and transgression and salvation, but without population. Luke was a Craddock preacher. He remembered the people. Another Samaritan along a deserted road. A crazy, dishonest manager. A woman hunting for a coin. A man hunting for a sheep. A boy running up the road to his dad. A dad running down the road to his boy. A tax collector up a tree. In more ways than one. And ten lepers healed, and one leper well.

Did you catch that? Ten healed. One well. I hear little Fred Craddock and his wily voice when I read Luke. Craddock liked to surprise. Luke was that kind of writer. Seeds somehow flowering at 100 fold. Feet on top of water. Thousands fed, and none hungry. And right here, a little surprise for the hearer. All the ten are healed. Then one returns to offer thanks. Jesus says, which makes no sense
, ‘your faith has made you well’. No, Jesus has healed them, according to the story. The story is made out to allow the one healed to acknowledge healing and to praise God. Yet Jesus says his faith has healed him. I mean made him well. I mean healed him. I mean made him well. Wait a minute. Let me read that passage again.


I understand inspiration, in Scripture and in Life, to be just the right word at just the right moment in just the right way. Often enough, that is the Scripture’s way with us. So it is Scripture, and so it is Holy. It carries that pragmatic function. It works. Like truth, it happens. Dear St. Luke has rifled through his verbal vocabulary for us in 17: 11-19. There are four key verbs. He could have used one size to fit all. Lord heal us…They were healed…He saw he was healed…Your faith has healed you. That is NOT what Luke wrote. He wrote, and meant, something else. So first the lepers say ‘Have mercy’. We hear the same word in our Kyrie—eleison: have mercy. Second, the lepers are cleansed. If your name is Katherine, you are cleansed, clean. That is our word here: made clean. Third, one fellow deeply understands, appreciates his new condition. He is healed. Here the word is a simple word for cure. All these three are verbs in the punctiliar Greek tense called the aorist. But behind door number four there is yet another verb. You will recognize its sound as well. Before I reveal it let me also tell you that it is in the perfect tense, a tense somewhat different in Greek than in English, a bit ‘narrower’ as Dr. Wenham says. The perfect in English slides all over the place. In Greek it means just this: “a present state resulting from a past action”. It is an existential condition running on into the present and future. It is a powerful, strong tense. It is grammatical good news. The verb is not eleson, nor ekatherisan, nor iathe. It is sowdso, and it means ‘saved’, made whole, made holy, made healthy, made well. It is a gigantic verb. Our words—soteriology—salvation—come from it. It is what life is all about, being well, being made well. To receive this wellness is why we come to church, why we listen to sermons, why we sing hymns, why we offer our prayers. It is the meaning of life. Luke the physician has become Luke the metaphysician. And suddenly the passage makes sense.

I see…

Luke is trying to improve further on the same story Mark reported in Mark 1:40 and Luke himself already told once in Luke 5:12. He has bigger fish to fry this time. It is one thing to be healed. It is another to be well. Luke loves surprises. In that way, he is like the great, true gospel, that of John. For John, the miracles (signs) are all calls to faith. Surprise. For John, the miracles are to no avail if they do not inspire faith. Surprise. For John, the miracles are not really what inspire faith. Surprise. Every healing and wonder, for John, and here for Luke, and surely for us, should be heard under the banner of John 20:21, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe”. Whose faith has made them well.

What is faith?

Faith is courage.

Faith is not just life dressed up in a choir robe. Faith is life, lived. Courage. Courage to start courage to change courage to choose courage to be courage to speak…Faith is courage. The gift of God. Faith is the courage to sing with the voice of what has happened in the heart. It is the experience of really being alive.

Today faith is pictured face down in the mud. Nose down in the dirt, our grateful leper, with still gnarled fingers and still soiled tunic and still scarred psyche, has found his voice. He has found a way to say what is what. To speak. That is courage.

You know that courage is a matter of the heart. That is what the word means. ‘Cour’. Courage is heart, and voice. It is the condition of being that gives way to utterance. It is the consequence of healing or of any other deep experience, which then becomes voice. Courage is vocalized healing.

Somehow, our friend, hospitalized on Manhattan, was healed. 1-3-2 made her well. It was the utterance, the speech, the voice of faith which, according to the full Gospel of John, and to this portion of Luke 17, made her well. Heart is made for voice. Heart becomes heart when it is singing. The other nine may have been healed but they were not yet well. I have confidence that one day and in their own time they were. Their faith made them well one day as well.

It is a surprising thing to be surprised on a Sunday by a surprising passage. What heals is not what makes one well. It is when the heart is healed and the voice is lifted that one is made well.

Has a cat got your tongue?

Your life is meant to speak. Parker Palmer’s book is still readable, ‘Let Your Life Speak’. Face down in the mud, someday, healed and humbled, someday, clothing still soiled, someday, the gnarled effects of hard living to show for it, someday, you may find your voice. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks”.

Your life is meant to speak. Sometimes it is after, or only after, the most bitter of moments face down in the mud, that heart gives way to voice. I always cringe a little, preaching on healing passages. I think of so many I have known in thirty pastoral years whose loved ones did not find healing. It is important t
o hear about heart AND voice, about being healed AND being made well. Mr. Coffin said after his son died that he spent the next spring enjoying every single bud, every single flower, every single sunlit morning, every single beautiful thing. Both gain and loss bring heart. Do you see? I mean, do you see without seeing? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet…It is the courage of faith, or the faith of courage, that makes well. Not the healing, or at least not the healing alone. Faith gives meaning, in heart and voice, whether or not there is healing, and moreso when there is not.

Your life is meant to speak. Our leper discovered that face down at Jesus’ feet. Bill Coffin discovered that face down in loss. Al Gore discovered that face down in dangling chads. Doris Lessing discovered that face down in sexism. Andrew Bacevich speaks for a whole country which has discovered that face down in Iraq. Our congregation discovers that face down in the slugfest of every week, and gives it voice every Sunday—introit, hymn, kyrie, anthem, Gloria, hymn, Gloria, response, hymn, benediction. Your faith has made you well.

Your life is meant to speak. I believe that our church is discovering this face down in the ruins of our current condition. I will not refer today to the emptiness of our collapsing churches. Look rather simply at the ranks of the Protestant clergy. Clergy were once the healthiest people in any profession, in the top 5%. Now, as a group, we are in bottom 5%. We gained weight, aged, lost teeth, picked up cholesterol, and forgot to exercise. “Jesus Master have mercy on us”, we rightly cry. It is a cry of the heart. Just there, in the cri de cour, is the dawn, the morning light of healing. There is another day coming. We will need most those young women and men who can see what they cannot see, who can see across the ridge up ahead, and hold out and hold on for a brighter day, and praise God with a loud voice!

Your life is meant to speak. This is what Paul Tillich’s voice meant to another generation: "The faith which makes the courage of despair possible is the acceptance of the power of being, even in the grip of nonbeing. Even in the despair about meaning being affirms itself through us. The act of accepting meaninglessness is in itself a meaningful act. It is an act of faith... The vitality that can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning…Absolute faith, or the state of being grasped by the God beyond God, is not a state which appears beside other states of the mind. It never is something separated and definite, an event which could be isolated and described. It is always a movement in, with, and under other states of mind. It is the situation on the boundary of man's possibilities. It is this boundary. Therefore it is both the courage of despair and the courage in and above every courage. It is not a place where one can live, it is without the safety of words and concepts, it is without a name, a church, a cult, a theology. But it is moving in the depth of all of them. It is the power of being, in which they participate and of which they are fragmentary expressions."

Your life is meant to speak. In that spirit, recognizing that truth, a thousand students showed up yesterday to great the Nobel prize winner of last year, Mohammed Yunus, who saves poor folks, one $15 loan at a time. Little changes, over time, added together, make a difference.

Your life is meant to speak. Few remember Ernest Fremont Tittle today. Yet his interpretations of Luke, in pulpit and commentary, remain some of the finest: “We take for granted a tradition of unselfish devotion and service that stems from the life and love of Christ, and accept as a matter of course things done for us daily by others”. (p 187, Commentary).

Your life is meant to speak. We invited those so moved to pray and discern with us about the needs of Iraqi refugees. Many have done so. One spoke, with healed heart and vibrant voice. Our forum has been the Dean’s blog. Here is the courageous voice of an anonymous person of faith: I would be interested in participating in some way with refugees from Iraq. Perhaps as an individual, perhaps as a representative from my church in Lowell. Thanks for bringing this message and potential action. I know there must be many "practical" issues with moving forward on this, however it has struck a spot inside me. I feel that as a US citizen I am responsible for the plight of these folk and there is the possibility for some healing if I can contribute.

Your life is meant to speak. Can you hear that? It begs to be heard!

Heart and voice. Heart and voice. In the April rain, on the fourth floor of a New York hospital, there once was a curious sound and sight. Our friend had by grace been given back her heart, given her heart again. It is one thing to be healed, another to be made well. The latter evokes a voice. That morning, one agnostic nurse, one overworked doctor, one heart doctor, two frightened daughters, one real friend, one unmusical preacher and one bed ridden patient, all face down at the very edge of death and life, found their voice. Wonthrydo. 1-3-2 is what they sang. For all I know about time and eternity, that sort of time may be kept in a lasting bottle somewhere.

All my hope is firmly grounded

In the great and living Lord

Who whenever I most need him

Never fails to keep his word

God I must wholly trust

God the ever good and just

October 7

Courage to Be

By Marsh Chapel

Luke 17:5-10

John 6:63

A voice of responsible Christian liberalism will, at some time or another, need to honor the lives of pilgrims and pioneers from another generation, who themselves lifted a hymn or two in the key of responsible Christian liberalism.

Many of these women and men would happily have recognized themselves in the spirited courage of the Gospel of John, and in the realism, the realistic humble service, of Luke’s jarring parable this morning. While Holy Communion means more than remembrance, there is a wide berth for remembrance on a day such as this, set aside for World Communion.

You were raised, many of you, alongside these servants. They worked the long day of their lives. They did so with honor. They struggled through the hard challenges of their day. They did so with grace. They summoned and were summoned by the courage to be. They had the courage to live. They were not afraid to seek the truth which alone sets free. They were not lastingly discouraged. They trusted that there is a self-correcting spirit of truth loose in the universe. Out in the fields, and later at home in the house, bent with service, they nonetheless held their heads high. They were proud people.

They had learned in their youth that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. They had been cautioned, rightly, that ‘not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’, is kingdom ready. They did recall the admonition to judge not, that one be not judged. Some put a hand to the plow and tilled the economic earth. Some tended the sheep of school, church, hospital, and prison.

But they knew that their field work was not ever to be a substitute for their domestic duties. They might have preferred the courage to do. But they did not avoid the tremendous challenge of the courage to be. They had a sixth sense too that Religion, particularly much of the Biblicist religion which passes for religion across the country today, is a tremendous challenge—even a mortal danger-- to the courage to be, to communion, to World Communion. Religion is a hiding place, of the wrong sort, when it becomes avoidance of the courage to be.

Your field work will not suffice to supplant matters of the heart. There is only one you. There is only one person ever of your mind, heart, soul and strength. You may labor before plow and alongside sheep all your life long, but it will not suffice if you cannot come in, come home and prepare table service. You were not created to live someone else’s life. You were not given arms to cut against the grain of your own wood. You were not blessed with imagination in order to color in the blank spots in someone else’s canvass. Whether or not there is a God Delusion abroad, there is for sure a Soul Delusion, when the human being, made also for “domestic duties”, made to know the courage to be, is tricked into thinking that field work alone will suffice. Do not trade you birth right for a mess of pottage. Summon, that is, be summoned by, the courage to be.

On the right, in the large land of biblical fundamentalism, the Karl Barth of the Barthians, not the wise Karl Barth of the Humanity of God or the young Karl Barth of the Epistle to the Romans, but the Barth of what my friend might call ‘geographical theology, I mean of longitude and platitude’, the Barth of the Dogmatics, has captured the voices of American pulpits. In part because much of what once was responsible Christian liberalism has become neither responsible nor Christian nor even liberal, many have gone south. In the metaphorical north, the liberal voice has been muffled by liberationism to the farther left of the left and neo-orthodoxy to the farther right of the left.

And what has become of the servant who has come in from his field work? What is left of table, hearth, supper, bread and cup? What has happened to the command, to the duty, to service of the table? What has happened to courage?

It would take the courage of a Jeremiah to buy land in the territory of responsible Christian liberalism today. Who wants to discover the courage to be, when the interest in doing and being done to, along with its religious, Biblicist, clothing, has seized imagination by the throat? Who wants to face the table? To face the heart? To face the soul? Give us degrees to earn, problems to solve, committees to organize, careers to craft—and just before nightfall, adequate health care. That seems to be enough for us. Field work. Field work. Endless field work…


There is a deeper voice…

The DEEP VOICE summons us, summons us still…

Your field work, all your human doing, is no lasting substitute for your home work, your human being…

Table service? Hearth? Heart? Supper? The courage to be? Why, we hardly understand the terms anymore. We have to reach back fifty years to Thurman and Tillich just to get the alphabet, and the basic declensions and conjugations. The full language itself is almost entirely foreign. We have just enough attention to begin to learn the grammar of courage and being.

May it be enough of a spark. To speak, to sing, to live it…

Here is the gospel. Here is the resounding voice, the deep voice… Which one of you, following field work, will not say…SUPPER, SERVE, EAT, DRINK, TABLE? Heart. Soul.

Marsh Chapel, through its radio service, offers a voice of responsible Christian liberalism. It can be cover, for those young preachers finding the voice of the soul. It can be contrast to the bombast across the full right, and from the left of the left and the right of the left. It can be a return to domestic duties. A reminder. Of the courage. To be. It is a loss that over so much of the last generation, in the pulpits, the metaphorical southern preachments have not had a responding and resounding northern national voice, a liberal dancing partner from the metaphorical north. We have all missed the balance that might have been, therein. So we are in Boston for these years to attend to the courage to be, the domestic duties, the service of table, the songs of the heart.

Some listening will recognize that it is Paul Tillich’s phrase, ‘the courage to be’, which guides this sermon. No one cares to romanticize a past era, or wallow in nostalgia for a bygone moment. That was then and this is now. Let the dead bury the dead as once was said. But when you take a wrong turn in a spiritual road, say, fifty years ago, to make any progress, you at least have to revisit the last place you knew a bit of where and who you were. Hear the good news:

The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself.

Oh, prayer will help, and reading of the scripture and a church family and the habits of generosity and service, they also will help, as preparation evangelium, preparation for the gospel. All these will help. You can do these. Please do. But it is largely and lastly Grace that has brought you safe thus far, and largely and lastly it is grace that will see you through.

Please, as the author of Hebrews taught, please attend to the field work: 1.Love; 2. Love Strangers; 3.Love Prisoners; 4.Honor Marriage; 5. Be Good Stewards; 6. Remember Your Leaders; 7. Avoid Strange Teaching; 8.Praise God Ceaselessly; 9.Obey Your Elders; 10.Pray for the Church

Please do.

Just don’t expect the field work to count for the matters of the hearth. I mean heart. I mean hearth. We are all both field hands and house servants.

Which one of you, having a servant, would allow him to stop working at the front porch? Do you not say? Do you not command? Do you not expect to eat and drink? Some paragraphs are so well written that they sing fifty years later. We close with one of Tillich’s best:

"We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. ... It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: 'You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!' If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance."

Life has given us ample space and time for our plowing and shepherding. Now life comes to the front porch. And what shall we say to life? No to supper? No to table? No to food and drink? No to heart and hearth? No to sacrament? No to the courage to be? Are we to say no to depth and truth and grace? God forbid. No, we say, prepare supper, and serve and give us the courage to be. It is only what is commanded, and right and dutiful. It is the spirit that giveth life, the flesh is of no avail. In bread and cup we are summoned by a courage to be.

September 30

Courage to Change

By Marsh Chapel

John 1: 6-18

1. Opening

These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31).

The Gospel of John concludes with this sentence, a sentence which might be pronounced as the summary of all the gospels together. A gospel is not a biography. A gospel is not a treatise. A gospel announces something new and something good, good news. In the fourth gospel we arrive at the summit of the gospels. This year we will scale a great promontory, the highest peak in the Bible, which is the Gospel of John.

Not long ago we received a hand written letter here at Marsh Chapel. The letter came from one of our radio listeners. She was listening from a cabin in the White Mountains. She expressed appreciation for liturgy, homily and music. This caused her to reflect a bit on her past and her future and her relationships. She closed with an expressed yearning to listen again. In the height and beauty of the mountains, she heard something, something new, something good, good news.

In its true hearing and real speaking, the gospel is that kind of beauty and height. Heaven is a little higher in these pages. John is a mountain among others in the range, but more so than others in the range. John is Slide Mountain in the Catskills, Mt Marcy in the Adirondacks, Pikes Peak in the Rockies, Mt Everest in the Himalayas, the Matterhorn in the Alps, Mt Fuji in Japan. John is the bride, the synoptics are the bridesmaids; John the groom, the others the ushers. John is the gospel for which the others were made. Before John, the rest is prelude.

2. Dislocation and Disappointment

John is a craggy, cliff walk story of dislocation and disappointment. Your life is such a story too. In fact, these are the two great struggles of salvation, the two great struggles of the salvation we work out daily in fear and trembling. Dislocation and disappointment. The Gospel of John brings grace for dislocation and freedom in disappointment, and hence is great and good news!

The high peak of the fourth gospel is shrouded, like the Matterhorn it is, in clouds of mystery and unknowing.

What is John’s conceptual background? The synoptics? Paul? Hellenism? Judaism? Hellenistic Judaism? Gnosticism? We still wait for the cloud cover to lift.

What is John’s documentary history? One of pages displaced by wind or error? One of original writing quickly transformed? One of a source rewritten by an evangelist then twisted backward by an editor? One of many stages of community, influence and composition? We wait still for the cloud cover to move.

How did the words we here on Sunday come to life? In a monk’s meditation chamber? In the reflections and memories of an aged apostle? In the non-Christian philosophical schools of late antiquity? As a series of sermons, later, by request, stitched together? The cloud bank hovers still over the ice clad peaks.

For whom was this document written? For a universal or a particular audience? For a Jewish or a gentile audience? For a Christian or a non-Christian audience? For those coming to faith or those continuing in faith?

No wonder Adolf von Harnack could call John, “the most marvelous enigma in early Christianity”.

Answers to these questions are significant for the meaning of the gospel today. Beware interpretation that ignores them. You may judge that the first option in each list is the truest. I do judge that the last option in each list is the truest (gnostic, multi-stage, sermonic, particulargentilecontinuing in faith).

A greater mystery though remains in the craggy cloud covered mists above. What was going on in the life of the first hearers of these words?

Is the gospel telling the story of an actual event in the life of John’s community in such a way that it may be seen to re-enact episodes in the life of Jesus? (So, J L Martyn) Is that why coming to faith in Jesus in this gospel does mean a change in social location? (So, W Meeks) Is its embarrassing vitriol and anti-Semitism the work of a cognitive minority trying to assert identity over against their parent synagogue? (So, J Ashton). Is the gospel written in the midst of social dislocation and spiritual disappointment? (So, Hill)Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.

3. Grace During Dislocation

There is bitter hurt in this sublime chapter, caused by a break with the first identity, a cutting of the umbilical cord, a leaving home, a separation from the family, a dismissal from the synagogue. John was written for and by a group which recently had departed from their mother congregation, their mother religion.

The religion of origin said, “In the beginning, God…” Replies John, “In the beginning was the Word”.

Inherited religion said, “In the beginning God created…” Rejoins John, “All things came into being through Him”

Old time religion said, “God created the heavens and the earth”. Retorts John, “In Him was life”

Inheritance said, “God said “let their be light”. Rebuts John, “In Him was life and that life was the light of all peoples, which shines in the dark.”

Tradition honored prophets from Moses to John the Baptist. Rephrases John, “there was a man named John”.

Old time religion was law and prophecy, culminating in the great Baptist. Says John, “He came as a witness…to testify to the lightthe true light that enlightens everyone. He himself was not the light (in case you missed the point made three times before).

Inheritance said, “there was evening and morning, one day”. Replies John, “the world came into being through Him.”

Old time religion said, “we are his people the sheep of his pasture”. John retorts, “he came to his own people and his own people did not accept him.”

The community that formed this Gospel has been given the heave-ho, shown the door, given the bum’s rush, given the wet mitten by their former community. You are listening to a family feud, 19 centuries old. This Gospel is born in dislocation. The Gospel of John is written in the pain of dislocation. In John we overhear the bitter pain of the church leaving church, the congregation leaving the synagogue.

Dare we summon the courage needed for change? Dislocation is a part of healthy growth.

I returned to my pulpit from summer vacation to find a thriving community, and growth, and dislocation, at Marsh Chapel. A growing service to the hungry—and some dislocation. A new ministry to the students—with a little dislocation. A new enlarged choir—did some of you sense dislocation?

What issues challenge you most? Loss, defeat, death, vocation, sexuality, pride, sloth, falsehood, disorientation, illness, hunger, loneliness? Each of these involves serious dislocation.

“The true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world”.

It is the Gospel of John that most profoundly addresses our ongoing need to develop as persons.

Dislocation visits every age and place.

The past decade of dislocation in this country has yet to find full expression. Corporate dislocation: I thought this job was for life? Medical dislocation: were we not the pride of the country in health care? Economic dislocation: someone threw a recovery party and forgot our upstate invitation. Geographical dislocation: I left two generations to the west or east to come here, now what?

The Gospel of John is not focused on ethics. There is only minimal ethical teaching here. One looks in vain for a sermon on the mount or plain. One searches without result for a parable with a point. One hungers without satisfaction for a wisdom saying, an epigram, a teaching on virtue. In John we have the teleological suspension of the ethical (there a phrase worth the price of admission itself!). Only the command to love remains.

Instead, the Fourth Gospel focuses on your need to become who you are, to grow up. We grow by changing. Real response to life, and its requisite mediation on death, summons a courage to change.

One freshwoman sat between her mom and dad, having a sandwich at a nearby restaurant. They were tightly seated, mom and dad and daughter, although the room was not full. They huddled together, like geese heading for the water. Mom and Dad drank coke and spooned soup, wordless, mute, silent. They never dared to catch each others eyes, so filled were each others eyes. They spooned and listened. And waited, for that last trip to the room, coming you could tell after dinner, and that last hug and that last gift and that last goodbye. There are no atheists in foxholes, and all parents pray when they leave the freshman dorm.

She roamed the world by cell phone, while her parents spooned soup. A friend in Milwaukee, was it? Can you hear me now? High school sweetheart in New York. Can you hear me now? Sister in San Diego. Can you hear me now. I could not hear her, but I can hear her now. She was not about to let her geographical dislocation become a matter of relational disorientation. By glory, she was carving out her own virtual dorm, her own telephonic suite, her own cyber city. What they faced in despair, she addressed in anxiety. As you know, both were doomed. The dislocation would come, soon enough. Dislocation is assured. The open question is about the courage to change when the inevitable arrives.

The great and surprising good news of Jesus Christ, in this Gospel, is that grace may be found, may especially be found, in the upheaval of dislocation. Grace may be found, may abound, in the freshman years of life. Students or parents, hear it well. Future students or grandparents, hear it well. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.

You can do it. You will get through it.

Oh, prayer will help, and reading of the scripture and a church family and the habits of generosity and service. All will help. You can do these. Please do. But it is largely and lastly Grace that will see you through.

Out they walked, the dislocated trio, arm in arm, into a dark and unforeseeable future. Is that not grace, the faith to walk into the dark? Grace during dislocation. Good news!

4. Freedom Following Disappointment

Like dislocation, disappointment provokes a serious existential battle.

Now there are varieties of disappointment, but the same Lord who heals us from them all. In Boston, we have a division pennant. We won! We have survived, though I did hear of someone remark that now he might be disappointed not to be disappointed! But we know that not all life is victory. Joy may tarry for the night, but weeping comes in the morning. We know about disappointment. John has a lastingly strong word for the experience of disappointment.

I believe it is very difficult for us to appreciate the courage in John, the theological courage of this writing.

One of the most precious beliefs of the earliest Christians resided in the confidence that very soon the world would come to an end and the Lord would return for his people. This expectation of the end governs the letters of Paul and the first three Gospels. It was, if you will, the bedrock belief of the primitive church.

Had not Jesus preached, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven”?

Yes he had. And he was wrong.

Had not Peter left nets, family, homeland and life itself on the expectation of the apocalypse? Yes he had. And he was wrong.

Had not Paul predicted, “we the living, the remaining, will be caught up together with him in the clouds”? Yes he had. And he was wrong.

Had not the community described in Acts pooled all their possessions, assuming a short wait to rapture? Yes they had. And they were wrong.

Only John faces this grave disappointment with utter honesty. The others hold onto the old religion, the expected return. John admits delay. John has the guts to say to his people: “What we once believed is clearly not true. Let us look about us and see what this means.” I wonder whether there are some listening today for whom an old verity or two no longer holds. I wonder whether you are realizing that your old idea of God was too small, or your old idea of love was too big, or your old idea of self was not yours.

If so, climb with me a clouded mountain. John finds freedom on the far side of disappointment.

And behold, atop this mountain, what do we find?

In place of parousia, we find paraclete.

In place of cataclysm, we find church.

In place of speculation, we find spirit.

In place of Armageddon we find artistry and imagination!

When finally we stop chasing what is not to be, and wake up to what is, we may be utterly amazed.

Seasoned Religion said that the end was near. John says the beginning is here.

Old Time Religion saw the end of the world. John preached the light of the world.

Inherited spirituality waited for the coming of the Lord. John celebrated the Word among us, full of grace and truth.

Old Time Religion feared death, judgment, heaven and hell. John faced them all in every day.

Traditional Religion clung fiercely to an ancient untruth. John let go, and accepted a modern new truth, and hugged grace and freedom.

Our inheritance, and Matthew and Mark and Luke and Paul and all looked toward the End, soon to come. John looked up at the beginning, already here. They said with Shakespeare, “All’s well that ends well”. John replied, “well begun is half done”.

John alone had the full courage to face spiritual disappointment and move ahead. So we memorize 8:32: You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free! Galileo knew that truth. Darwin knew that truth. All faced the need to change from inherited untruth to new insight and imagination. These and others knew V Havel’s definition of hope, working for something not because it will succeed, but because it is right, true and good. Even in a disappointment, sometimes especially in disappointment, a kind of freedom emerges.

Ours is a resigned, disappointed culture just now. Events since 2001 have conspired to disappoint some of our earlier understandings. We face new truth: the world is smaller and starker than we wanted to believe. We have not yet found our way out of the psychic rubble of our time yet. We are trying, and we are moving, but an almost unspeakable disappointment remains. We shall need to summon and be summoned by the courage to change. For we may have to change our understanding, our philosophy, our theology even, to face a new day. And we have to face the hard fact, that the future is open, freely open, both to terror and to tenderness. And here is John, he who wrote in the ancient rubble of dislocation and disappointment, telling us something wonderful and good: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In disappointment, a new kind of freedom can emerge.

There is a way of living that finds grace in dislocation and freedom in disappointment. There is a way of living with courage to change. As John Kennedy described such courage at his nomination:

(This is) not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook – it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric – and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me regardless of party.

But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age – to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”

For courage – not complacency – is our need today – leadership, not salesmanship.

5. Closing

These things are spoken that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Faith is the courage to change. It involves a leap.

Faith is a personal commitment to an unverifiable truth. It involves a leap.

Faith is an objective uncertainty grasped with subjective certainty. It involves a leap.

Faith is the way to salvation, a real identity and a rich imagination. But it does involve a leap.

Now is the time to jump. Now is a time for courage to change.

September 23

Courage to Choose: Refugee Resettlement

By Marsh Chapel

Courage to Choose
John4:42b and Lections
September 23, 2007
Marsh Chapel
Dean Robert Allan Hill

1. Gospel

The Gospel we preach is a call to decision.

It is in making hard choices for Him, that we know Him.

We may not in fact know Jesus until or unless we have struggled, hard, to find the courage to choose, and to choose and to choose and to choose. Sunday by Sunday, we preach a Gospel that is a summons to choose. Come Sunday, we wonder and pray whether for this week, and this lifetime, we shall have found such courage, by being found by such courage.

The author of 1 Timothy, perhaps a student of the Apostle Paul, calls for the courage to choose to emulate Paul himself. The writer of our Psalm, and the writers of many Psalms, addresses the conditions under which a man or woman is caused to choose. We choose, but we do not choose our choices. The parable of the dishonest steward (should we call it the Lukan parable, Jesus’ parable, the church’s parable?—your name for it will give you away…) if nothing else portrays a colorful set of choices, and the very courage to make those choices. But it is the Gospel of John, throughout its 21 chapters, which more than other New Testament writing focuses like a laser these and other disparate paeans to the courage to choose. In one sense, the whole fourth Gospel is a meditation upon the courage to choose. For John, steadily and bluntly, this means Jesus: choose—for or against? Jesus’ provocation of this potential courage and choice makes him, as 4:42b says, the “Savior of the World”.

This morning, in a meditative moment, I invite you to consider what choices you may courageously make regarding the central historical, moral, and spiritual challenge of our brief patch of time. To invite you to do so, or how to invite you to do so, is itself a challenge. The past week has walked us toward this Word.

2. Voices in the Wilderness

This week we heard Helen Whitney, the famed documentary film maker, describe her work. You will remember her fine films. Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero. Monastery. The Pope. She itemized the singular challenges facing a religious documentary producer, and happily I noticed that without exception they also confront the preacher, and more especially the hearer, of every sermon. Here is her list. See if there are Sunday parallels for you.

1. It can be hard just to get the films made, and on the air. Networks are fearful of controversy. (Freedom of the pulpit?)
2. Access, finding real access to real human hearts and stories, can be very difficult. (The absolute need for pastoral conversation?)
3. Knowing how to use, but not abuse, one’s own biases is very difficult. Her bias: faith is a flickering flame, inextricably connected to doubt. (Should one use personal illustrations?)
4. Aesthetic challenges abound here, where one needs both precision and poetry. (How much content and how much contact?)
5. Who knows finally how best to right-size the ranges of information in the film. Simplicity and clarity, but not over-simplicity, and not a lack of subtlety, balance and contradiction. (Exegesis, explanation or application?)
6. How does one use psychology, and can one? Joseph Smith said, rightly, “No one knows my history”. (How do you illustrate, without letting the side show eat up the circus?)
7. Are truth claims made? Directly? Indirectly? Or bracketed? (Where is the intersection of Truth and Truth that frees?)
8. How do you find a conclusion? All great images shimmer with allegorical meanings. (How do I land this plane?)

Her films included people who replied wisely to wise questions: embracing the odd duck is the measure of true religion...I ache for faith…between thought and expression lies a lifetime (L Reed)…between idea and reason lies the shadow (TS Eliot)…The monastic journey is the human journey writ large…

During the week we were challenged in a late evening informal worship service to remember Micah 6:6: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. M Ghandi was cited: you must become yourself the change you would like to see in the world.

At every turn, that is, life is asking us for a response, for a considered, and compassionate response.

One of our family has said: Life is how you take it.

Although the Gospel of John portrays ‘the world’ as a dark and difficult place, in kinship with the Gnostic perspective the author both dons and debunks, he nonetheless holds to the hope of safety and health for all the world. Jesus is the savior of the whole world. God so loved the whole world.

3. Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously remarked that he loved the silent church, before the service begins, more than any speaking. (“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching” Essay on Self-Reliance). Across the northeast, where the churches are closing, closed and silent, his wish has strangely come true. Those in love with a silent church may richly love the emptiness of church after church in town after town from Bangor to Buffalo.

Some years ago I taught homiletics in Buffalo. We endeavored to prepare our students for the rigors and challenges of their work. Richard was one of our best graduates. We gave him Bible and history. We taught him philosophy and theology. We tutored him in rhetoric and composition. We videotaped his sermons and sent him to clinical pastoral education. Finally, years and months later, he was set forth, like Jonah on the banks of Ninevah, prepared. Or so we thought.

But I thought better of it, or worse of it, when he called that autumn. We had prepared him for a church that once existed. But not for the church he went to. We prepared him for the church we wished existed. But not for the church that exists today. The second Sunday in November, after church and fellowship hour, he locked the building and walked home. He ate lunch. About that time--the church roof fell in. Deferred maintenance does come calling, after a while. No one was hurt. The congregation left the building to the squabbles of insurance agents and ecclesiastical representatives, and made home in the fire hall. Richard preached. We had prepared him to preach. We had not prepared him to preach in the ruined silence of the silent ruins of the church.

Emerson’s prayer has been answered. The church is largely silent, and empty. Oh, you may say, as I have and do, that this need not have occurred, that there are responsibilities to assess, that there is much to learn, that all hope is not lost, that we believe in the resurrection, precisely, of the dead, that you cannot forever eat your seed corn, that parishioners are people too, that the church has exchanged birthright for pottage, that we church folk major in minors, that a generation of fearless builders rather than eccentric introverts are now needed to preach, that denominational leaders have a rendezvous with judgment, that God does not will the demise of congregations, that leadership and money still make a difference—all this we may consider on another Sunday.

In fact, over the next generation, tragically, we may choose to die, to put on our jammies, pull out the ice cream, turn on the television, unplug the phone, and shrink age weaken and die at 2-3% a year, as we have been doing since 1968. Today, let us assume for argument that the trends of the last four decades will take us to zero by 2048. Let us assume the worst. Do we have the courage to see something hopeful and choose something different, in the silent ruins of the church? The church is silent. And empty. In ruins.

4. Deed


GK Chesteron was asked if were stranded on a desert island what one book he want to have along. “Beginners Guide to Ship Building”, he answered.


What assets do we possess? In this new, dark world, what in the northeast do we have to offer an open future? It is easy to name what we lack. We lack leadership, membership, stewardship, fellowship. We lack willingness to change, courage to connect, confidence to risk. We lack the candor to celebrate those few places, here and there, where there is spirit and flesh.

But what do we have to offer? Town by town, church by church, struggling congregation by struggling congregation, choosing between mission and the fuel bill, between child care and the pastor’s salary? What have we to offer the unforeseen? Nothing?

Ah, but in Emerson’s perspective, ironically interpreted, this is not so. We do have something. Something lovely. Something better. And what would that be? Something silent. Something empty. And what would that be?


We may lack preaching, caring, people, leadership, tithing, creativity, children and money. But we have one asset in spades. Empty buildings, open floor space. ‘I love the silent church….’

I bring this comment to bear on the conclusion of last week’s sermon. I ask you in these three months to pray with me about whether the ruins of the historic Protestant church in the Northeast should now be devoted to refugee resettlement, in the wake of the horror in Iraq. Our Thought was rejected. Our Word was refused. We are left with Deed. What shall it be? To be alive in 2007, in the USA, means to have the courage to choose to respond, somehow, to the central historical, moral and spiritual catastrophe of our time. Iraq. How shall we respond? Shall we choose, and with courage?

To repeat. I have no word of the Lord. I invite your discernment. There well may be other, better choices. Let us pray, reason together. But let us do so, not just say so.

4% of the Iraqi population has been killed. Think about that in terms of our own land. 4% of the US population (a much larger population to be sure) would be the equivalent of the populations of 11 states (Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming). 15% of the Iraqi population have become refugees. For us that would be the equivalent of the populations of 15 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah.) (Courtesy L Whitney).

We have something to offer. We have buildings that with a little renovation could become sanctuaries again. Not sanctuaries for worship. We lost that chance. But sanctuaries for Iraqis, the victims of our hubris.

The outcome of our sloth might be put into the service of repairing what our pride has wrought.

If every town took one nearly empty church and made it available for 30 refugees, we could make a serious dent in the problem. Two million Iraqis are wandering the earth, vagabonds. The Judeo Christian tradition, should nothing else ever be said of it, at the very least centrally acclaims the crucial importance of hospitality, particularly to the stranger and the outcast. We have every reason to express our contrition, utter our confession, admit our compunction, lament our regret about what has happened. OK. And? So? In addition, we have the space. Compunction and floor space both call us to choose with courage.

5. Questions

Of course, there are endless problems. There were endless problems for Harriet Tubman, bringing vagabonds up the Susquehanna river bed at night, with dogs barking. There were endless problems for those who housed German Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Gays, and others, fleeing the Reich. There were endless problems for others who gave dry land to boat people. There are problems galore. But what are we to do? Nothing?

I have a friend name John, a slight English man, who is in his nineties. He was an original Boy Scout. He knew Baden Powell. At age 18, he waited at Dunkirk. There on the French coast he waited, hoping there would be enough room in one of the boats to get him to Dover, in May of 1939. Some fisherman came over and got him, and he lived. Behold, I make you fishers of men. Do you have a better idea about what to do regarding Iraq? Do you have a better use for silent empty churches? I am all ears.

I think of all the saintly women and men who tended the parsonages in which both Jan and I were raised. We once were sojourners. You once were immigrants. You once were refugees.

Now let me address your good, unspoken questions.

And why this population, and not so many others? Fair question. Yet this is a tide which we ourselves created, and so we have a more primary responsibility here. And why the church and not the nation? Fair question. The great beams and branches of our country’s generosity will only burn when they are inflamed by the lighter kindling of the weaker faggots among us—the church, the isolated, the marginalized, the poor. You start the fire, and then see it burn. And why would people want to leave their homeland? Fair question. They would not, unless it came with the price of death, or unless the homeland was no longer theirs, home, or land. And what of all the endless details and practical concerns? Fair question. We do though have some experience in the churches, these same empty peace and justice churches, in showing hospitality. And you, preacher, is this all talk from you? Fair question. Jan and I right now are in conversation about what resources of our own we may offer, including time, including money, and including property.

It is time we found one thing to do, to help and to heal. I propose we spend and be spent in refugee resettlement. I ask you to pray about this. We have dear, spent, beloved churches which may be ready to lose their lives that they may save their lives. We individually may have resources, connection, properties, and ingenuities to offer to those in harm’s way. We need not, and dare not, await some other agency to choose for us, when we ourselves are called to summon the courage to choose. The history of Marsh Chapel includes heroism with regard to sanctuary. The initiatives of the New Frontier, born in Boston, include bold attention to the poor, particularly, for them, in this hemisphere. The heritage of Methodism, beginning at BU its Alma Mater, includes practical attention to the most human of needs, especially among the hungry and the destitute.

6. Hospitality

Hear what uncomfortable words about hospitality the Scriptures say to all who truly turn to the Lord.

Entertainment of a guest is a sacred duty in the Bible. Read again through Genesis. Nomads knew about the need for floor space. One day’s guest is another day’s host. The same is truer of the Newer Testament. Jesus himself lived, if we can sketch anything of his life, as an itinerant mendicant, a poor traveling preacher. The Christian movement depended upon the kindness of strangers, every bit as much as did the nighttime travelers through Boston in the 1850’s along the underground railroad. We love to romanticize the underground railroad. But now the chickens have come home to roost. What are WE TO DO? The primitive church shared home, hearth, collection, nourishment, raiment. They contributed to the needs of the saints, and so, practiced hospitality. In fact, hospitality may socially have been the single most distinctive feature of the early church, those strange people who harbored refugees.

7. Courage to Choose

To conclude. The gospel earlier rea
d, the astoundingly odd parable of the dishonest steward, warns us to mark our time. This text surely has a strong claim to authenticity, to have come from Jesus himself. It is an unattractive story, and so would readily have been laundered. It is a perplexing story, and so might easily have been forgotten. It is a strange, odd, different story, and so might easily have been set aside. Luke remembers it, at the start of the second century, as his church struggles.

What does it mean? That cleverness trumps honesty? That shrewdness is an unheralded virtue? That money matters, and that money matters matter? That Jesus encouraged a wild and unethical monetary policy? That management sometimes requires hard choices? That realism outweighs idealism, and that gain outweighs candor?

Every attempt to read Luke 16 with an ethical microscope fails to some degree. It may be that this parable is not about morals at all, but about time, not about ethics at all but about mortality, not about behavior at all, but about the fact that there does come a time after which it is too late. Not about us at all.

But about …God.

Prize your time, the story says. What you need to say, say. What you need to do, do. Get ready. It is later than you think. The master is returning. Even the most material of people can understand this. To everything there is a season and a time. Be prepared. Have the courage to act, to do, to choose.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;Omitted, all the voyage of their lifeIs bound in shallows and in miseries.

September 16

An Enlightened Courage

By Marsh Chapel

John 1:9 and Lections

The true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world…

One precious free Sunday morning in August I went unaccompanied and somewhat unwillingly to worship. Free Sundays are gold, rare and weighty. I did not really know what to expect, but something defiant or disciplined or both prevailed, and off I went. Sometimes you go until you believe, and then you go because you believe…

What a marvel! For a disciplined hour of ordered worship, in the embrace of a small Baptist church in Hamilton NY, we fortunate to have come were embraced in the disciplined 59 minutes of a beautiful service. Dag Hammarskjold (‘forget no experience’) greeted us as we prepared to worship. An introit from 1558 lifted our hearts. Desmond Tutu responded with us to prayer (‘goodness is stronger than evil’). We sang and were sung to. A true sermon, courageous and timely, crowned the service.

For today, especially, I recall: Brother Roger of Taize and of blessed memory captured the moment (‘you place your precious light within each one of us’).

So moved that I could barely utter a word of thanks, and too moved to stop and enjoy the hot, delicate pastries and treats offered on the church steps, I stumbled away. Enlightened. Rev. Joe Glaze and his community of hospitality, I salute you. As the Romans intended, they did all with an enlightened courage, an excellent grace, ‘ad unguem’—down to the fingertips. The community honored God and loved their neighbor. In that hour—and we may hope in this one too—there was no mistaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “the true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world”.

Jesus is our Lord. He is the giver of our ownmost selves. He is ‘our beacon not our boundary’. Jesus illumines us. He embraces us with an enlightened courage. By such an enlightened courage, now and in the days to come, we may live in bold, happy confidence. John tells us so. John?

First, John the Evangelist, of the community of the beloved disciple, tells us so. John 1:9 is the closest we come in the Bible to ancient Gnosticism. The Gnostic inflection of a natural dualism, and a natural salvation—both of which the gospel transposes into a dualism of decision (yes, the Bultmannian phrase still carries)—comes out of the strange, ancient world of Gnosis. Here, the fearless, courageous, enlightened author of John was not afraid to employ the language of the culture around him. He was not afraid to use the language of the ‘world’ he finds so dark, to carry the message of the cross, to convey the announcement of the glory of God.

Our Psalm remembers the poor. Our prophet, Jeremiah, decries a dehumanizing neglect of his peoples’ truest selves. Paul’s student writing in 1 Timothy exemplifies the good in one life, that of Paul himself. The passage from Luke—the first of three utterly familiar and possibly Gnostic parables—highlights a scandalous particularity, a fervent search for every last, lost particle of light. But it is John the meta-gospel, John the gospel squared, John the gospel about the gospel, which gathers up all these motifs, and like a great jazz artist effortlessly plays them all. You light. You true. You all. You one. The hazy illumination of psalm, prophet, Paul, and passage are focused, refracted and beamed forth in John: “the true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world”. John tells us so. John?

Second, John Dempster, who founded Boston University, set his own lamp on a great Boston bushel for all the world to see. “Let your light so shine…” ‘In tuo lumen videmus lumis”. Dempster was converted to faith in a backwoods revival along the Mohawk river, early in the 19th century. He founded the school that became our own in 1839, convinced by an enlightened courage. He traveled west, hoping to initiate such a school on the pacific coast, spurred on by an enlightened courage. He traveled to South America, intending to seed there a seminary, emboldened by an enlightened courage. He planted a Midwestern seed near Chicago that did grow up and become Garrett at Northwestern, inflamed by an enlightened courage. When our daughter was born there in June, she came to life in a hospital located on Dempster Avenue.

Draw out your own map. Plant your own seeds: east, west, south, north. The mind matters, greatly, for the future. Here in Boston, the spiritual descendents of Dempster could create a full school of philosophical theology and thought, the personalist school, for which one would be hard pressed to find a finer text: ‘the true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world’. John tells us so. John?

Third, in Dempster’s own Boston of 100 years later, John Kennedy reflected some of the enlightened courage proclaimed by John the Evangelist and practiced by John Demptser. Where true light enters a dark world—there! There is the Christ! John of the Gospel faithfully affirmed this light in the pagan, Gnostic language of the 2nd century. John Dempster fearlessly affirmed the light of reason, struggling in the wilderness of frontier Methodism. An enlightened courage, an enlightened courage it takes to say so and do so. Is this not what makes a Sunday afternoon visit to Boston’s Kennedy Center such a bright moment? Is this not what enthralls the reader and the hearer who visits and studies there? With stern resolve, Kennedy and his team faced the real oppositions, challenges and enemies of the cold war. With an enlightened courage. Will our stern resolve, facing the terrorist enemies of the global community, include such an enlightened courage? Courage and insight? Resolve and imagination? Strength and wisdom? What will it profit a man or a nation to gain the whole world,
but to lose one’s soul?

In an October 1960 speech to Michigan students, Kennedy challenged them to work in development, all over the globe. Since then 178,000 two year volunteers have served in 138 countries. The right idea, at the right time, in the right way—the initiative inspired a wave of generosity. An idea.

Monet was once asked what he mixed with his paints to create such beautiful impressions. ‘Brains’, he replied. ‘The true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world’. So says John. John?

Fourth, John Wesley reminds us to trust our experience. His best loved text was the Fourth Gospel. His spiritual grandson was John Dempster. His incarnational theology influenced both the religious enthusiasm and the cultural support of the Peace Corps. An enlightened courage moves people out of what is harmful and into what is helpful. Wesley did not cloister himself. He did not fear the spiritual rhythms of field, mine or shipyard. For Wesley, real religion was personal religion, both mind and spirit, both head and heart. He knew about salvation through enlightened courage. We can too. We can. We can find our way back to the honor of God, in thought and word and deed. We can: even though the way is hard, the gate narrow and the path straight.

Over five years, the tattered remains of Wesley’s spiritual descendents in preaching—schooled by John the Evangelist, formed by the institutions of John Dempster, inspired by the common hope of John Kennedy—have offered Thought in a spirit of enlightened courage. Iraq 2003, we thought, was pre-emptive, unilateral, imperial, reckless, immoral, post Judeo-Christian, and wrong. (You can find the details in website sermons,, bu.educhapel, and others). But that Johannine Thought was ignored.

Then over three years, the tattered remains of Wesley’s preacher cousins, his real descendents, resembling the blood on snow weakened defeat of Washington’s ragamuffin army at Valley Forge—schooled by John 1, formed by John 2, inspired by John 3—have offered a Word, in five parts. One: Admit both failure and mistake. Two: Turn again to the gathered nations. Three: Eschew material gain, interest in oil. Four: Give a timeline. Five: Call forth the generosity of this great land to develop peace. (You can find the details on the websites). But that Johannine Word was also ignored.

Thought, Word…and…?

In conclusion today, I ask you to consider, to pray about, a deed to be assessed in enlightened courage. Thought, rejected. Word, refused. People of good will and common hope will need to respond. In Deed. What is the claim of John 1:9, an enlightened courage, upon us, now? What are we to do, with regard to the central moral, historical, and spiritual issue of this small patch of time? Nothing? Are we to let the dead bury the dead?

I offer one idea.

It will require another sermon (next Sunday) to offer a full description of this idea. Its marrow though can be simply stated. Let us pray whether to open our homes, hearts and lives to the victims, the refugees of this debacle, tragedy and horror. Let us pray whether to try to harness the goodness yet alive in and among us and others to provide hospitality to victims and refugees of this holocaust.

How shall we do so? Shall we do so? Should we do so? I do not yet know. ‘I have no word of the Lord on this’. But where Thought is rejected, and where Word is refused, it becomes a matter of Deed. It becomes a matter of doing. (You may have a far better idea than this one about church inflamed refugee resettlement. I am listening. All ears.) We shall need every ounce of good news carried by the enlightened courage of John Evangelist, John Dempster, John Kennedy, and John Wesley, all of whom cry and shout from their graves: “the true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world”.