Archive for the ‘Lenten Series 2023: St. Augustine’ Category

April 9

Let the Glory Out- Easter 2023

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 28:1–10

Click here to hear just the sermon

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out. (E Markham).

Holy Week Poem

After the falsehood of Palm Sunday.  After the shadows of Tenebrae.  After the betrayal of Maundy Thursday.  After the torture of Good Friday.  After the silence, the emptiness, of Easter Vigil.  Now.  Come Sunday.  Come Easter Sunday…The Lord is Risen!  He is risen indeed. 

But let us take care in our comprehension of our intention of our inspiration for our consideration of our inclination toward our apprehension of resurrection.  On this glorious day.  The resurrection follows but does not replace the cross.  As the poet wrote: 

…Defeat may serve as well as victory, to shake the soul and let the glory out… 

My predecessor Dean Robert Cummings Neville, who preached beautifully last evening and is with us this morning, bequeathed me in 2006 the former desk of the former—fourth—President of Boston University, Daniel Marsh, now the desk for the Dean of Marsh Chapel.  Rectangular, 4’by 2’, the desk has only two drawers, one filled with hand written notes of thanks, encouragement, rejoinder, critique and love; the other one filled with a potpourri of desk type things—pen, calculator, tape, scissors, all.  In the back corner are pocket sized books.   I was flying to meet our son for his birthday, an annual mid-winter joy, and wanted a very small gift for him, meaningful but fit for flying without adding to him a burden going home.  Somehow President Marsh’s desk beckoned. In the back corner I found an old pocket collection of prayers and poems, which had been my dad’s during his early days as a military chaplain, given to him in 1958 by the Methodist minister in Denver Colorado.  It seemed perfect for our son’s birthday, and portable, and a further connection to his grandfather.  And a kind of binding of the generations, which becomes more important, as the years progress.

Looking through the book, on route to our birthday celebration, I was startled by a poem by Edward Markham.  Memory does not afford how, originally, I came to know the poem.  Markham was a faithful social activist, poet laureate of Oregon, who died in 1940, and best known for his social gospel poem, The Man with the Hoe.  But this prayer book poem, short and terse, somehow brought clouded memory, somehow past connection:

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out…
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture,
Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

Easter is the victorious faith to live on, to struggle on, in the aftermath of defeat.  It is the music lesson that teaches you to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.  So, our exiled Jewish forebears wept, but remembered, cried aloud, but stayed true, gave gruesome lament, but still, but yet, held on, with the faith and power together to live with and through defeat:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down, and there we wept…
when we remembered Zion.
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Hear Good News!

God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

(Fear not for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here.  He is risen as he said.)

“One Easter I went with my grandfather to a small Presbyterian church in northern Idaho where I heard a sermon on the discrepancies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection…I was a young child… yet I remember that sermon…I can imagine myself that primal Easter, restive at my grandfather’s elbow, pushing my nickels and dimes of collection money into the tips of my gloves…memorably forbidden to remove my hat…It seems to me I felt God as a presence before I had a name for him…I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention all around me…and I thought everyone else must also be aware of it…Only in church did I hear experience like mine acknowledged, in all those strange narratives, read and expounded…”(The Death of Adam, 227-229, Marilynne Robinson)

From mid-March on, the Markham poem haunted.  And as Holy Week approached, more so still.  More so this week.  After…the falsehood of Palm Sunday.  After the shadows of Tenebrae.  After the betrayal of Maundy Thursday.  After the torture of Good Friday.  After the silence, the emptiness, of Holy Saturday.  Now.

I believe in the resurrection, both its history and its mystery.  But to convey its power as well as its meaning, the church has been trying to do for 2,000 years, come Easter, come Sunday.  Resurrection is resurrection…of the dead, from the dead.  Yet, the reality of death in all its masks never, ever leaves us, and should not be left at the door come Easter, for the sake of the preaching of the resurrection itself.  The resurrection follows but…does not replace…the cross.  Defeat may serve as well as victory, to shake the soul, and let the glory out.

Maybe that is particularly stunning and gracious news for a culture that bows the knees at victory, even when the facts show defeat.

Betrayal, disrespect, ingratitude…these things are real and are not washed away, not even at Easter.  Sin, death, meaninglessness…these things are lasting and are not erased not even at Easter.

To repeat: Easter is not mere victory.  Easter is the victorious power to live with defeat.  Easter is not mere victory.  Easter is the victorious faith to live on, to struggle on, in the aftermath of defeat.  Easter is the music lesson that teaches us to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

Your mother said, ‘when life gives lemons, make lemonade’.  She did not mean that lemons are sweet.  They aren’t.

When Martin Neimoller cried out… First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me…his cry was an honest lament of faithlessness, of utter defeat, amid a faithful call to justice.  He did not thereby claim that injustice had ended, or would.  It abides.

Robert F. Kennedy stood in the rain in Indianapolis, 55 years ago, to speak with tragic honesty about the murder of Martin Luther King: My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”  He did not forecast the coming of the kingdom in short order.  And it did not come, and King’s death presaged his own two months later.

John Fetterman of Pennsylvania checked himself into the hospital this winter for depression, and is returning to life.  He does not thereby deny the horrid anxiety and loneliness of despond. It remains.  Anxiety and depression and alienation and disconnection remain, and must be battled in resurrection spirit.

Strangely, after days, the memory of where we may first have heard the poem, or a snippet of it, emerged.  From December 2000. Al Gore indirectly cited Markham’s poem 23 years ago after the drama of dangling chads and the 566-vote loss of the Presidency in 2000, mentioning that his own father had often cited it.  That must have been part of my dim memory of the verse. He did not deny the hurt in defeat.  He had the greater motive:  to sense in defeat a portal to glory, and in his case it came, over time, in his work, early work, even early prophetic work, on climate.  In the winter of 2008, along with Professor Peter Berger, of blessed memory, Marsh Chapel hosted a screening of Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth.  He did not mean that political dishonesty had ended.  It hadn’t.

We have all known defeats, whether in relationship, in illness, in acceptances, in elections, in selections, in trusts, in, well, in life.  Yet they have a far side beyond all the trouble.  After one defeat, with grace and love, a mentor sent a note saying, ‘You were not denied…you were spared.  Not denied but spared’.

And yet, in all these moments, for all their trial, there was…what shall we call it? Call it resurrection.

Easter is the unkillable possibility of the Christian life, the power and empowerment of authentic human life, the un-maskable potential in every space and every place, for love.  Easter is the resurrection of possibility.

In a strange resurrection way, those who have given us our greatest blessings, our lasting victories, have done so knowing in full the lasting sting of defeat, in our own past.

Those who gave us Boston University in 1839.

Those who gave us the Chautauqua movement in the 1870’s.

Those who gave up the names and properties of their own denominations in Canada to forge with others the United Church there in 1925.

Those who gathered the bruised and beaten religious survivors of World War II, and created the World Council of Churches in 1948.

Those who kindled the student movement of the 1950’s.

Those who welcomed the globe into the ‘aggiornamento’ of Vatican II in 1963.

Their faithfulness in and through suffering gave life, to many, and to you and me.  Without those five movements we would not be here today, not in this shape anyway.

One friend brought an Easter memory this week:

“As I conducted the Good Friday Communion Service in (one) stark setting, I always noticed that the scent of the Easter lilies (always delivered Friday morning) drifted across the hallway into the sanctuary. What marvelous symbolism! While looking at the veiled cross and stark communion table, worshippers could not avoid breathing in a sweet reminder of Our Lord’s victory over tragedy and death.

Over the years, I have been privileged to know a good many people who have been able to sense Easter during the Good Friday’s of their lives, and were therefore enabled to move through dark days with dignity and hope. Thank God for the scent of Easter!” (The Rev. Gordon Knapp).

Sursum Corda! Hear the Easter Gospel! ‘Defeat may serve as well as victory

To shake the soul, and let the glory out’!

In the words of the Canadian Creed:

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

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

April 2

Going Public- Palm Sunday 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 21:1–11

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Is it time to go public?

Look around at the parade. A throng has gathered, to worship the Christ. Some are holding palm branches, and waving them. There are musicians, lifting voice and heart in praise. Children have their place as well.

We cannot see everything clearly. Is he riding one beast (Mark\Luke) or two at once (Matthew)? Was the parade his choice, or did we just come of our own volition? What is the point of this public display, this pyrrhic victory when we can foresee Friday? Why was transportation left to the last minute—doesn’t anybody plan anymore? Everything is in a cocked hat, at sixes and sevens, in confusion.

Is this really a time to go public?

Jesus meets us today in the public realm, in the city, in the heart of our actual life, smack in the middle of it all. Picture his entrance into Jerusalem—amid confusion, riding on the humblest beast, acclaimed by those who will later crucify him, a lone figure, in a small city, in a forgotten time. Humble is his public appearance.

“He who believes in Christ must find riches in poverty, honor in dishonor, joy in sorrow, life in death, and hold fast to them in that faith which clings to the Word and expects such things.” (Luther). repeat

And today? In our cities of urban might, air travel, commuter congestion, teeming business, overweening human achievement—utterly humble in comparison is the Christ of Bethpage, carried on a donkey, who appears with nothing to commend himself—except the preaching of his Word. Nothing to support him. Except. Preaching. Nothing but the preaching of the Word.

It is risky to go public.

For several summers as a lifeguard in far off land and a far- away time, along a beautiful long glacially cut Finger Lake, I watched boys and girls at summer camp meet and get acquainted and then become friends. And then sometimes, well, become more than friends. And then, sometimes with a mixture of reluctance, dread, excitement and worry they would declare their attachment and hold hands and go public. We see the same thing on an afternoon walk at Boston University, along Commonwealth Avenue in the springtime. Hand in hand, two by two, making a statement, going public, going public, going public. A risky business.

Going public is a risky business. Going public is risky.

This Lent we have considered faith and life. We have learned from the cautions of Augustine of Hippo:

He taught us, face God by fully facing yourselves.

He taught us, love God with fierce, physical, muscled, sensuous, jealous, eager, personal love.

He taught us, you are what you read.

He taught us, freedom of the will requires the freeing of the will.

He taught us, the city of God is not merely the city of man with the volume turned up. It is history and mystery. If you can depart college with some appreciation for both, the years will not have been in vain.

Going public with the gospel of love and forgiveness is risky business. Going public with concerns about our time is risky business. Going public about one’s identity and sexuality is risky business. Going public about death is risky business. Private struggles can be hard enough. Think what happens when they become public.

Long ago in another setting, twenty-five years ago, we started broadcasting our worship service on a small radio station, and had our first written response, some weeks later, two pages of kind eloquence, penned

longhand. I grant this one did not expand our congregation immediately because he wrote from the County Jail. He was in the slammer, the hoosegow, the calaboose, the pokey, the big house, the gray bar hotel, in stir, up the river, doing time, behind bars, jailed, imprisoned—but… aren’t we all, one way or another. Aren’t we all to some measure, doing time in our own private self-made cell block? It’s risky to go public. You just don’t know who might respond, do you?

An energetic couple wants to expand their business. So, they place their stock for public purchase to raise the capital they need, the IPO goes out on Monday and they are capitalized by Friday—and thereby risk their control of the company, their future solvency, their own wellbeing. Is it time to go public, and take a measure of risk?

Forty years ago, a phone call came to the parsonage at 2am. A young father of four, a local businessman, was closing up his restaurant business for the night and wanted to talk. The two men met at 2:30am in the church itself, right down in the front of the sanctuary. He was as agitated a man as you have seen before or since. He asked to smoke, and, anxious and confused himself, the pastor allowed it. He was known in the church board meetings—he arrived late and spoke loudly. Though he was one of the leaders, he was a private person. But that night he decided to go public with his besetting problem. It was destroying his business and his health. That night he risked going public, and so crossed from death to life. He spoke to somebody. He confessed. He went public. And, by grace, he found a new and good life. He became a new man. Saved. But it took the risk of speaking, of self-disclosure, of, well…going public.

Meanwhile, back at the Mount of Olives, Jesus is riding through his time and ours. He rides, and, as he rides, he evokes, then and now, a spirit of mystery, holiness, awe, wonder and heartfelt hosannas. Why does he risk the public hour? Will he risk death, rather than be untrue to his calling? Why does he appeal to a public that will not hear? Why does he approach religious leaders who will not listen? Even today, the public realm does not need to recognize him, if he is inconvenient. He is still on the donkey today. Nobody has to go to church. It’s not like jury duty, where once every three years you get summoned. No. Nobody is required to go to church. But everybody is invited. Not required, but invited.

Is this any time to go public?

Have we deeply understood the meaning of this morning? God has gone public today, with a lavish and happy love. God has gone public today, coming and coming, standing in the heart of life arms wide and saying: “Here I am. Love me.” God has gone public---behold the risk, behold the risk of rejection, behold the danger, behold the cost, behold the power, behold the glory, behold the Living Christ!—gone public in order to redeem us. This is a personal, public appearance. This is Palm Sunday.

God does not holler advice from a comfortable distance.

God does not wage war by pressing buttons and drinking vodka as death arrives by missile hours away.

God does not even stay sheltered in the comfortable confines of a religious tradition. God does not depend on our religious traditions, as meaningful as they may be. Not on Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, God goes public.

God gives us freedom from fear, freedom from death, freedom from slavery to time, freedom from identity worries, freedom from guilt, freedom from a joyless heavy conscience. And what one of us would not want what God gives—a happy heart, a glad face, a clear conscience? Today, in Jerusalem, God goes public.

And in Boston, so may we, beginning today.

We have been willing to attend the concert but not buy the series. We have been willing to audit the course but not register and be graded. We have been willing to sit in the stands but not put on the uniform. We have been willing to hear the sermon but not to live it, as Justice Holmes did and remember the sermon all week with five additional words: “I applied it to myself.” We have been willing to give but not tithe, greet but not welcome, ATTEND BUT NOT INVITE. Until today.

When I listen to the congregation sing, and Justin play and Scott’s choir offer praise, and the Thurman choir bring joy, and my colleagues read and pray, and this congregation raise hymns…When I look at this magnificent sanctuary and its stained glass and beautiful appointments and majestic transcendent arches…When I feel the spirit of joyful service and earnest learning that attend our meetings on the Lord’s Day…When I think of those we have buried these past three years, and how

they lived and died to represent the heart of the gospel and the heart of this Chapel….I have only one question: Why would a single seat be empty?

Today, we are on the verge of going public. You can feel it. You are ready, or nearly so, and Matthew 21 gives you a nudge.

I think it has to do with the slightest word in the lesson from Matthew: “your”. “Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass.” Your. Your. Your. There comes a time when we suddenly realize something. Faith becomes personal. This confused parade… is for you. This humbled King rides…for you. This week of life and death and life beyond death is…for you. When your heart receives Jesus, then it is made strong, fearless, ready for every day and every night. And then you will go public. Not from compulsion. Not by compulsion. No. But with ease and grace. Faith bears fruit in good works of every kind.

Is it time to go public?

Hope that is seen is not hope. And faith that is merely private is not faith. When it come to faith, as with money, you only have what you give away. Here is the Palm Sunday Gospel: come to church next Sunday, Easter Sunday, going public. Come to Easter worship because the message of Palm Sunday has sunk in. Come to Easter service because you have happily and genuinely invited someone else to come, too, and you promised to be here to greet them. Christ has come to us in public that we may go public for others. Faith is always and forever faith shared.

Is it time to go public? Then—go. Jesus has come to us, we can go public too. How? Not with drama. No drama needed. No drama required. But going public means doing so in a genuine easy way that comes to hand. Through a note, a prayer, a phone call, a curbside conversation, a watercooler suggestion. Like our friends the Laubach family used to say of literacy, each one reach one. In faith, let…Each one reach one. Each one reach one. Each one reach one. You need not worry about the result. God will take care of that. But to ride into Jerusalem, the Lord needs a donkey or two, a colt or two, the humbler the better.

Is it time to go public?

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

March 26

Augustine: City of God

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

John 11:17–45

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Recently, it may have happened, that one friend stopped another on Marsh Plaza, Lent 2023, just in front of the sermon sign board.  To his friend he said, Have you heard Hill’s last sermon on Augustine?  Not pausing for more than split second, the friend replied, I sure hope so!  I really do hope so!  With gladness, let us report you have only 19 minutes before that hope is fulfilled.   

Regarding hope, as it happens, Augustine himself, in his magnum opus, The City of God, had much to say: “As, therefore, we are saved, so we are made happy by hope. And as we do not as yet possess a present, but look for a future salvation, so is it with our happiness, and this “with patience;” for we are encompassed with evils, which we ought patiently to endure, until we come to the ineffable enjoyment of unmixed good; for there shall be no longer anything to endure.” (Bk 19, Ch 4).  As the Visigoths finished the sacking of Rome in 410ce, and then moved on to the rest of the Empire, Augustine wrote (413-422) this magisterial teaching about the future, about history, about good and evil, about the city of God, the heavenly city, in contest with the city of ‘man’, the earthly city.  As Augustine moved on from his earlier interests in Plato (‘the individual teacher does not make the truth, he finds it) in Aristotle, Cicero, in the Manicheans, in the Neoplatonists, on conversion he began to immerse himself in the Holy Scripture, under the preaching of Ambrose, and his thought took on steadily and continuously the shape of a full biblical theology. (In our time, we sorely lack a full throated, liberal biblical theology:  its lack is among other things at the very root of the fracturing, right now, of my beloved United Methodist Church). Our last Lenten sermon in conversation with Augustine is thus in conversation with his last work, lengthy work, work of a lifetime, The City of God: Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” (Bk 14, Ch 28)  

In Augustinian fashion, we come toward him, and with fervent desire we trust to the saving Gospel itself, this morning, through the blessed land of Holy Scripture, and Augustine’s prized favorite, the Gospel of John. 

For the Gospel of John, allowed a meager few weeks interjection into our lectionary this month, by interruption of Matthew, is centrally, even solely, an announcement of presence, divine presence, the presence of God. Really only this theological, interpretative insight will make sense for you and me of John 11.  In 90ad, 60 years after the cross, some in the Johannine community spoke in the voice of Jesus. Especially this is so in the ‘I Am’ sayings. If Jesus on earth did not say these things–who did? Answer: the Johannine prophet (s). The preacher in John 11 announces presence. I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. You are a person of faith? Practice that presence.  You are a Christian? Practice that presence. You are a Christian yearning for a faith amenable to culture and culture amenable to faith? Are you? Yes? Practice that presence. The ancient, troubled, community of the beloved disciple, that of John, has your back. Even—especially—in a virulent epoch, or even, as today, for us, in a post-virulent one, where the virus has not, yet, let go. 

Remember, what carries Jesus to the cross, in the Gospel of John, is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Not the cleansing of the temple, but the resurrection to life of Lazarus, in the Johannine narrative, brings the advent of the cross. Jesus is crucified, here, because he claims divinity, and embodies divinity, in this Gospel. This makes a bit of sense of the placement of this reading just before Holy Week, rather than just after. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ does not capture the gravity and eternity of the moment, but it does give the average hearer a point of orientation to John 11. John Ashton wrote fiercely of this Gospel:  

Conscious as they were of the continuing presence in their midst of the Glorified One, no wonder the community, or rather the evangelist who was its chief spokesman, smoothed out the rough edges of the traditions of the historical Jesus…(His portrait of Jesus) arose from his constant awareness, which he shared with members of his community, that they were living in the presence of the Glorified One. So dazzling was this glory that any memory of a less-than-glorious Christ was altogether eclipsed…(They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not (only) with the Jesus of history but with the risen and glorious Christ, and that this was a Christ free from all human weakness. The claims they made for him were at the heart of the new religion that soon came to be called Christianity (199) The Gospel of John and Christian Origins.  The new religion that soon came to be called Christianity…  

Ashton: The difference between John’s portrait of Christ and that of the Synoptists is best accounted for by the experience of the glorious Christ constantly present to him and his community (204) (The Gospel of John and Christian Origins). For 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 a form of dislocation—our shared condition March 2020—March 2023, dislocation–for John the movement away from his mother, his motherland, 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.  

These two problems, historical and fascinating, create our New Testament: the separation from Judaism and the delay of Christ’s return. 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. March, Lent 2023: how shall we live in faith? 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? What imagination—what hope molded by courage—do we need to face down oour ennui, our sloth in imagination. More than any other document in ancient Christianity, John explored the first. More than any other document in Christianity, John faced the second. Both mean choice. Both bring us to the summit of freedom. Once every three years, interrupting Matthew, we hear the great passages—Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the Blind Man, and, today Lazarus. Hear the Gospel, John 11: We…YOU!...have the freedom, a bit in contest with Augustine, to choose…and to move: 

  • From fear to love. 
  • From spiritual blindness to spiritual sight. 
  • From life to spirit. 
  • From isolation to community. 
  • From home to health. 
  • From rainbow to firmament. 
  • From control to freedom. 
  • From spiritual hunger to hungry spirituality. 
  • From nationalism to patriotism. 
  • From denominationalism to ecumenism. 
  • From death to life. 

What we have experienced, endured since March 2020, now three years ago, may be as rugged and necessary a preparation as possible for Augustine’s last work, The City of God. 

Here Augustine sets out his greatest hope, that what was hidden may become clear, what delighted not may become sweet…this belongs to the grace of God.  He sees and foresees a lasting, perhaps interminable, conflict between two cities, one of love and one of self, one of heaven and one of earth, one of grace and one of sin, and, over time, for him, ne’er the twain shall meet. 

Here Augustine--in the shadow of the goths ascendant it is hard to forget-- conveyed an increasingly dark view of the future, of the potential perils and calamities of human activity, long and very long before the splitting of the atom, long and long before the blood-soaked victims of modern weaponry today in Ukraine, long and long before the sudden advent of potential technological dangers in AI, long and long before the measured advances of climate change, long and long before the myriad consequences of social media, Augustine saw through a glass darkly: All human beings sin, some are afraid to correct the sins of others, God inflicts suffering on all to correct. “They are punished together, not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; while they ought to hold it cheap, that the wicked, being admonished and reformed by their example, might lay hold of life eternal.” (Bk1, Ch 9). 

Here Augustine sets out his fullest theology of history, his greatest expression of hope: “But God foresaw also that by His grace a people would be called to adoption, and that they, being justified by the remission of their sins, would be united by the Holy Ghost to the holy angels in eternal peace, the last enemy, death, being destroyed; and He knew that this people would derive profit from the consideration that God had caused all men to be derived from one, for the sake of showing how highly He prizes unity in a multitude.” (Bk 21, Ch 22) 

Yet, more emphatically, here Augustine severely doubts the capacity for human goodness, for the human being to do good.  As Joseph Buttinger put it:  For Augustine, God alone is the cause of every human movement toward good…Augustine pointed to the inescapable conditioning of all moral activity by the situation of the agent, outside of whose control are in general not only the presentation of the object, but also the kind of feeling that the presentation excites.  Augustine found it increasingly difficult to leave room in his doctrine of grace for a genuinely free response on man’s part to the Spirit’s gift. (Encyclopedia Brittanica, vol. 14, Macropedia, 329—a priceless set, given me long ago, by a complete stranger).  In that this pulpit diverges from him. It makes one wonder whether, as old age advanced, Augustine reverted or returned to his youthful sojourns with the Neoplatonists and Manicheans, his dualistic earlier loves.  For them, as for the late Augustine, the human will is not efficient, but deficient. 

Here Augustine presages what our fifth-generation personalist BU PhD Professor Lloyd Easton at Ohio Wesleyan, long ago reminded us of Karl Marx saying, history moves with iron necessity towards inevitable results.  And George Santayana, at Harvard: those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. And William Faulkner: The past is not dead.  It is not even past.  You may fear or dread ‘The City of God’ because of our fallibility, because of its length and inscrutability, and because of our pervasively human spiritual disability, evident, daily, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  Augustine, remembering the pear tree, would understand.  

Our grandmother had a pear tree in her back yard, and long-stemmed pear picker, which at her death came my way.  It was a beautiful tree, surrounded in memory by glad hours of her presence, her sense of presence.  Augustine remembered a pear tree, not for a sense of presence, but for a sense of absence. For from his youth he carried the simple memory of boys shaking down a neighbors’ pear tree, not from need or hunger, but rather: For of what I stole I already had plenty, and I had no wish to enjoy the things I coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself, and the sin…we took away an enormous quantity of pears, not to eat them ourselves, but simply to throw them to the pigs…our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden…the evil in me was foul, but I loved it. (Book II 4). We too know the shadow that shadowed Augustine all his days.  Like Citizen Kane and ‘Rosebud’, his religious genius also carried an existential shadow, which is, on the one hand, his blessing, and on the other hand, his curse, for us; on one hand his arrow hitting the mark, and on the other his lasting mistake, his ‘noxious legacy to theology’ (Buttinger). One day on a Montreal sidewalk long ago, and just months before his own death, British Bishop and New Testament Scholar JAT Robinson said, to me, what lingers for me is the sense of shadow, the shadows that continue to stalk us.  Shadows stalked Augustine too. 

I take a slightly different message from my own experience of a pear tree. Our grandmother, a rather more modest Methodist one.  It was a beautiful tree, surrounded in memory by glad hours of her presence, her sense of presence.  Presence in daily goodness.  Presence in humble service.  Presence in enjoyment of family.  Presence in a little harvest, a little fun, a little enjoyment of the very simplest of pleasures.  I wish that Saint of Hippo, Augustine, had known her.  Maybe in the great beyond they have met, and talked, and learned together.  At least she did know, and use daily, his prayer, with which we began this Lenten series, and now with which we end it:  Great art Thou O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is thy power, and thy wisdom is infinite. Thee would we praise without ceasing, for our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. 

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

March 19

Augustine: Pelagius

By Marsh Chapel

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John 9:1-41

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*Due to the length of the worship service, the original text of this sermon was condensed. Therefore, the recorded sermon will differ from the text below. 

John 9 is about dislocation.  It is about the expulsion of a small group of Jewish Christians from a traditional synagogue.  One word, 9:22, holds the whole gospel of the day, ‘out of the synagogue’. They were cast out of the synagogue, dislocated, a fearsome hurt now known by many directly, in illness, in separation, in isolation, in loneliness and dislocation.  And known better, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, by those of us who may just acquire a little more sympathy, a little more compassion, a little more care, for those in need, as we swirl through this season of need.

‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’.  Then I went and washed and received my sight.’

John 9 describes the healing of a man born blind, and the communal controversy surrounding that healing.  Like the rest of the Gospel, this passage reports two layers of healing, of blindness, of community, and of controversy.   On one hand, the passage remembers, perhaps by the aid of a source or as part of a source, a moment in the ministry of Jesus (30ce), in which a man is given sight.  On the other hand, the passage announces the spiritual unshackling of a hero in the community (90ce), who bears witness to what Jesus has done for him, no matter the repercussions from others, from parents, from family, from community.

The preacher in the Johannine community of the late first century is telling the story of the Son of Man.  To do so, he celebrates the courageous witness to healing, and the courageous endurance of expulsion, of a man born blind.  Here, he says, is what I mean by faith.  The story he uses comes, through un-trackable oral and written traditions, from 30ce.  The story he tells comes from 90ce.  Every character in the story has two roles.  Jesus is both earthly rabbi and heavenly redeemer.  The blind man is both historic patient and current hero.  The family is from both Palestinian memory and diaspora synagogue.  The opponents are both the contemporaries of Jesus and the nearby inhabitants of the synagogue, the Johannine community’s former home.   When Jesus gives sight, Christ gives freedom.  When the blind one is cured, the congregation sees truth.  When the man is cast out of his synagogue, the community of the beloved disciple recognizes their own most recent expulsion.  When others criticize Jesus, the synagogue is criticizing the church.  When the healing story ends, the life of faith begins.  His voice both addresses you and emanates from you.  Not your voice, his is nonetheless…your voice.

John 9 illumines the central struggle of the community, their bitter spiritual itinerancy from the familiar confines of Christian Judaism, out into the unknown wilderness of Jewish Christianity.  History and the history of religions bear manifold witness to this kind of crisis in communal identity, and the long hard trail of travel from primary to secondary identity.  In retrospect, as a community gathers itself in its new setting (think of the pilgrims in Boston, the Mormons in Utah, the Cherokee in Oklahoma, and every entering class each autumn at Boston University) the story of the tearful trail itself becomes the heart of communal memory and imagination.

What is here unearthed in John 9 can also and readily be applied to the rest of the Gospel of John as well:  to the wedding at Cana, to Nicodemus, to the woman at the well, to the healing on the water, to the feeding of the thousands, to the controversies with the Jews, to the raising of Lazarus, to the farewell discourse, to the trial and passion.  All of these reflect the experience in dramatic interaction between the synagogue and John’s church. This includes, later, the mysterious figure of the Paraclete, the Spirit, who functions as Jesus’ eternal presence in the world, Jesus, God ‘striding on earth’ (Kasemann).  In this way, the Paraclete himself creates the two level drama.  Where the world is mono focal, and can see only the historical level of Jesus in history or only the theological level of Jesus in the witness of the Christian community, the Paraclete binds the two together.  The Word dwelling among us, and our beholding his glory, are not past events only.  They transpire in a two-level drama.  They transpire both on the historical and contemporary levels, OR NOT AT ALL.  Their transpiration on both levels is itself the good news, an overture to the rapturous discoveries of freedom in disappointment, grace in dislocation, and love in departure.  Especially, in John 9, through dislocation. Tell me sometime about your worst lived dislocation.

    Into our existential dislocations today strides this year’s Lenten conversation partner, Augustine of Hippo, in and through his own momentous conflict with Pelagius, a conflict let us say between Pelagius and the freedom of the will, and Augustine and freeing of the will, freedom vs. freeing.  Our teacher Professor David Lotz, UTS 1976, guided us skillfully through Augustine’s conflict with Pelagius.  One readily remembers the thrill of the lectures, the skill of the lecturer, and the chill of a new and challenging claim to truth.  With gratitude I rely today on the abiding memory of his classes, and the scrawled penciled notes of his presentations.  Take heart, BU teachers, lectures, well honed, live for decades, as do Dr. Lotz’s today

    Pelagius’s biography is scarce.  He was apparently a monk of either British or Irish origin, who appeared in Rome near the year 400ce, lecturing as a moral theologian.  Pelagius was shocked by the overly pessimistic views of the human capacity for good, which he found prevalent in Rome at the time.  Rather, he judged that human beings could know and do God’s will.  His refrain was, Give what you command, Lord, and command what you will.

    Pelagius insisted on human responsibility and moral choice.  Such responsibility and such moral choice, inevitably entailed unconditional free will.  Without freedom of the will, there can be no truly human responsibility, nor any serious moral choice.  If sin is inevitable, he reasoned, then the nerve of moral responsibility is severed.  Furthermore, both the Old and New Testaments (the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Moses, Jesus) expect and command…perfection.  So far, he sounds like a pretty good Methodist to me.  And therein lies the problem.

    Pelagius argued with vehemence that commands, and commandments, would not have been given, if they were not able to be followed, if they were not followable.  That would be cruel and unusual.  He further argued, here one could say like Immanuel Kant, that an ‘ought’ entails a ‘can’.  If you ought to do it, then you can do it.  Again, anything other would be cruel and unusual.  The human being has the freedom to obey or to disobey the divine command(s). Posse peccare, posse non peccare, the ability to sin and not to sin (Augustine will later counter that this was true of Adam, but no longer true, not true of you and me).  Even further, Pelagius rejects the idea that the human will has ‘an intrinsic bias toward wrong-doing…after the fall’.  He, Pelagius, is thus a ‘creationist’, believing that the soul is immediately created by God at birth.  He does admit that with the human creature there has come along, has come down over time, a ‘habit of disobedience’.  There is no congenital evil, there is no congenital sin, in the child.  Hence, for Pelagius, and now we come to the crux of the matter, the heart of the argument, the sacrament of baptism was a sanctification, but not a means of grace, not a means of regeneration.

    We might jump in here to say that in the Empire wide argument that followed, Pelagius lost the day.  He lost to…your friend and mine for Lent 2023, Augustine of Hippo.  Why did Pelagius lose and Augustine win?  The answer in part is that Augustine took to heart, took seriously, and made heartfelt and serious sense of…baptism.  And to some further extent of…the virgin birth. Augustine made sense of the church’s practice, the church’s cultus.

    Now Pelagius did not assert human autonomy.  The argument between Pelagius and Augustine, at least to this human sermonic interpreter, with whom, saints preserve us, you are stuck for the moment, for these 22 minutes,  their argument was far more nuanced than sometimes it is made out to be.  For Pelagius, grace is necessary…to achieve perfection. And this is the crux of the disagreement.  For Pelagius, the ability not to sin, posse non peccare, comes straight from nature, from the ‘necessity of nature’, which is…get ready for it…implanted by God the Creator as a GIFT. Whoever disparages nature disparages God, because God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth, of nature itself.   For Pelagius, in addition, grace is also the revelation through reason of God’s law, which is instructive in holiness.  Like a good Renaissance philosopher, like a good modern liberal, like, well, let us admit it, like a good Methodist of any stripe, Pelagius sees God in all creatures great and small, in the words of  James Herriott.  Further, he finds in the human reason, in human rationality, evidence of man as God’s image.  For Pelagius, grace works in a limited way, as forms of external aids (Moses and Jesus), to the human will.  The human being is good and free, free and good, but can always use a little help from friends.  Going further, Pelagius’s understands predestination (what will later become for Augustine even double predestination, and an entirely different matter) as (simply, merely) foreknowledge of merit.

    The bottom line: One can if one will, one can if one will, observe God’s commandments without sinning.  You can if you think you can.  (Here we notice a hint or echo of that powerful positive thinker Methodist and graduate of BUSTH, Norman Vincent Peale: You can if you think you can…of whom, remember, Adlai Stevenson said, ‘I find Paul appealing…and Peale appalling’). Sinlessness can gradually and progressively be attained by…strenuous efforts of the will.  Sinlessness remains a possibility, especially as it is infused by an intense awareness of God’s majesty.  Go and sin no more.  Should you need an example, you have before you Jesus Christ.  Christ sets the norm of holy living.  You will have to admit that on this rendering, Pelagius makes a pretty good case for what many of us, much of the time, mostly believe.  We believe in and celebrate the freedom of the will.

    Pelagius writings were distributed and widely read between 380ce and 410ce.  His supporters included Celestius, and, one of Augustine’s most formidable opponents, Julian the Bishop of Eclanum.

      Enter Augustine of Hippo, 354-430ce.  Augustine’s own thought had been worked out long before the Pelagian controversy.  The fight with Pelagius merely allowed him to fill out the implications.  That is, Augustine thought that Adam, Adam was created perfect, and Adam’s will, Adam’s will was in conjunction with God. Vita ordinate…an orderly life, an ordered life.  The body is ordered by the soul and the soul is ordered by God.  Adam, Adam possessed the ability not to sin.  God had granted Adam a grace of perseverance.  And grace was already and fully operative in paradise.  Otherwise, Adam would soon have sinned, early rather than late.  Adam’s only weakness, his only malady or imperfection or shortcoming was his creatureliness.  This was an ontological weakness.  So how could Adam fall, sin, fall short? Because he is a creature, his nature is that of a creature, he is imbued with creatureliness: Adam is contingent, mutable, ex nihilo, made out of nothing.  So, in that fateful moment of weakness, and on the prompting of his own pride, on the prompting of his own pride chose to turn away from God.  And that curse has now passed to the whole of humanity.  The human being, man is massa damnata, ‘a condemned crowd’. 

      The essence of Adam’s sin, according to Augustine, is that we all participate in sin and guilt, we all participate in sin and guilt.  In that we are all actually one with Adam.  Augustine does not explain actually how sin is passed on, whether by ‘the seed’ (‘traducianism’) or otherwise, expect to say that the soul is handed down ‘by parental conception’. As Romans 5: 12 says, ‘in whom all have sinned’.  (Except that the Greek text reads, ‘because all have sinned’ (here at least Augustine’ argument is based on a mistranslation.)

      For Augustine, though, creation is not evil.  Creation is good.  Creation is not evil but good.  Yet creation is sullied by Adam’s fall.  Adam’s accident, let us say.  Sin is lack, sin is non-being.  Nature has been scarred but nature is not depraved.  Yet as a result of the fall, as a consequence of Adam’s sin, we have lost our freedom.  We have lost the ability not to sin.  We are not able not to sin.  We have lost our liberty (libertum), but not our ‘liberum arbitrium’.  We continue to choose.  We know this from our experience.  But…free will always and inevitably on its own chooses the evil, due to its perverse nature.  Hence…grace is an utter necessity, an absolute necessity, without grace we are absolutely lost. Grace is the divinely given power to avoid and conquer sin.  Not freedom, but grace.  Not creation, but re-creation, then, is what we need, not creation but redemption.  Not the freedom of the will, but the freeing of the will. And this can come about only through God’s grace.  For grace prevents us from doing evil (gratia praevenia), prepares us to do good, and helps us in the actual doing of good (gratia cooperans, gratia sonneans (healing grace). After all, remember Romans 7: ‘the good I want I do not, but evil I do not want, that is what I do’.

      Here Augustine finishes the case.  We experience healing grace throughout the course of our lives…in the church’s sacraments.  It is grace therefore which equips us to do the good.  Perfection is never wholly attained (here Wesley goes out the window).  The disease of being human, of being alive is never completely cured.  Justification is progressive sanctification.  Through Scripture!  Through Apostolic Tradition! Through Faith!  Through Personal Experience!  Here Augustine, a most autobiographical theologian, faces God by facing himself, and sees without a shadow of doubt that as he looked back on his life he could not explain the shape it took…without recourse to grace.  ‘Let me be chaste…but not yet’.  Augustine, in this sense, is the supreme Methodist, an utterly autobiographical theologian.  Not his own freedom, but God’s freeing love, saved him.  With Augustine, though we may not entirely see things his way, at a minimum this Lent, let us cherish God’s freeing love, God who is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom. God who is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.

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

      March 12

      Augustine: Take and Read

      By Marsh Chapel

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      John 4:5-42

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      Take and read, take and read.  To live the gospel, to love the gospel, to hear and receive the good news, the gospel, means to read, to take, to take and read.  May your reading life in faith, your faithful life in reading, be rekindled today, forever fixed today, made happy and whole today.  You are what and how you read. 

      John 4, as we read it today, may be the loveliest, finest narrative in the Fourth Gospel. The woman at the well, the Samaritan woman, meets Jesus and meets us in conversation. She is the quintessential conversationalist.  And she is a woman of power, to be reckoned with, a strong contralto voice daring to challenge, willing to differ with, honest by courage and hard experience, a right true voice not only for Women’s History Month in 2023, but also, and staggeringly more so for her presence and prominence in the Gospel of John, written in 90ce. 

      And what a wonder is there in the faintest conversation, let alone this dominical discussion! Ours today, from John 4, is holy, telling conversation, full of the unexpected, full of surprise, full of the utterly personal, full of revelation, full of boundary breaking courage, full of what is saving, healthy, lasting, meaningful, real, and good. Conversation thrives when you know your content, your work, and your audience. There is a mystery lurking under the disarming surface of the simplest conversation. My friend says her favorite two words are ‘awe’ and ‘conversation’. We could add that the two are not very far removed, or apart from each other. 

      It may have been that the community which gave birth to the Gospel of John included some Samaritans. This would explain the prominence of this long, intricate passage, devoted to the conversation of Jesus with a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were outsiders. Here, one of their own takes center--stage. In our time when those outside—immigrants, refugees, the poor, the different, the other—are steadily subjected to heightened measures of exclusion, we benefit from reminders, like this from John 4, that we are called as people of faith, called as Christian people, to care, succor, attention and protection of the ‘least’ among us. The larger question, and it is very much an open question, is whether the humiliation spreading out right now through civil society and culture–wherein inherited, precious forms of civil society are daily shredded with a gratuitous cruelty–coming now to us over the next decade, will chasten us, will humble us, will in that way strengthen us by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He it is, today, who announces His own presence, and Lordship, in the course of a meandering conversation: I am He, the One who is speaking to you…A spring of water gushing up to eternal life.  

      Close reading is crucial to health. 

      One day, we visited a dear saint in her home. It was a Christmas morning, following the morning service, with a light snow, and 10 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. She had been in hospital that week, and sat recuperating in her parlor. Her family was with her. And she had a story to tell.  It is a story to commend and recommend close reading, reading every word, reading as the zenith and apex of spiritual life, even in our age wherein since 2012, at our beloved school (and many others) majors in the humanities have dropped by 50%. 

      Earlier that week, on that Tuesday, she had prepared to be taken, by ambulance, from one hospital to another, for a particular procedure. She was a fine, older Methodist lady, so she prepared herself for the trip with what dignity one can muster in a hospital bed, robed in a hospital gown, and alone in the corridor of life. A little makeup, a comb and brush, some careful adjustments of remaining raiment, glasses perched, smile shining.  

      She could see the elevator door open, and her stretcher moving out. Then the attendants clearly mentioned her name as they signed the paper work at the desk. The nurse motioned across the hall in the general direction of her room. She poised herself, prepared to be a good, courteous patient. Down the hall the men came, and she waved. They returned the gesture. To her door they rolled—and then, remarkably, rolled on by! They passed to the next room, 129 not 128—such a small difference, a difference for which one needs close reading, a room inhabited alone by a frail, kindly woman who was deaf as a post. Her name was not Smith. “Mrs. Smith?” “YES” she replied, her volume in inverse proportion to her accuracy. Into the stretcher went the wrong woman, and down the hall they moved. My dear parishioner called out, used her buzzer, flailed her arms like a gypsy at the campfire. But in a New York minute they were gone, carrying away the wrong person. On the way home, following the procedure, someone apparently had the presence of mind to look at the stretchered woman’s wrist band, name tag. I wonder how the reader felt not to see the name Smith. A rare moment of revelation. In this case, little lasting harm occurred. Our hospitals, in fact, to my eye, given their hourly commitment to excellence and attention to detail, put other institutions to shame. In this and many ways, the physicians out do the metaphysicians, in the main. 

      Yet metaphysical distinctions matter, really matter, as well. There is a crucial difference between sacrifice and misery. There is a crucial difference between holiness and compassion. There is a crucial difference between law and love. There is crucial difference between representation and redemption. There is a crucial difference between incantation and incarnation. There is a crucial difference between innocence and integrity. There is a crucial difference between independence and interdependence.  

      These are crucial distinctions. How are we ever going to make them, and learn consistently to make them well, to…read closely. 

      You go and read.  Our conversation partner this Lent, Augustine of Hippo, did so, to his saving benefit.  Augustine was saved by reading, neither the first so redeemed, nor the last. Take, and read.  Augustine is best known for a moment in reading, in a garden. 

      You may especially want to read those who have lived through other times of ruin. Reading frees you from the 21st century. Reading cuts you loose from your own time and place. Others too have taught and preached in the ruins of the church.  We imagine we are only generation to live, preach, tithe and die during the withering away of the church.  Not so.  You can, with some reading, read about it. 

      You may acquire a love of reading this Lent. I picture a bright late winter day. You are walking the emerald necklace, with lunch and a bag full of books.  You are taking a walk, Boston such a magnificent pedestrian city. 

      *You start out a Charlesgate, thinking about reading today…. 

      In our time, ‘literacy’ has a new meaning, referring not to those who can read, but to those who do read.  

      *You sit beside the lawn at Emmanuel College, to pray… 

      In prayer, we can trust the unseen God to give confidence, faith, and your lived capacity to withstand what you cannot understand. Sometimes that is all you have, the faith to withstand what you cannot understand. We are on the edge of eternity in every moment of life. You, teacher, you preacher, you pastor, are living testimony to the Eternal Now.  The one number, the one digital reference you need, at all is this one:  three score and ten, or if by reason of strength, four score. 

      *You find a quiet corner along the river and think about the impact of careful reading, and its absence… 

      Read now. You remember a history lecture from another year. Robert Kennedy did not have the freedom to do a research paper on Aeschylus the night Martin Luther King was killed, April 4 1968. He either had read or he hadn’t. He had. His 3 minutes in the Indianapolis rain were his greatest words, as George Eliot would have said, ingenious, pithy and without book, because he had read. There is but little left of the historic Protestant church in the Northeast. What there is clings for life to…words, to the words, to the Word. 

      *In the glade you wonder about the nature of reading itself… 

      And what relationship shall the reader have to the read? Who among us does anywhere near enough to deconstruct our own various contexts? Is the text to have the sole divining voice, or is the reader king? What of the relationship between the unsaid and the uttered? In reading, how do ranges of power dance with colors of truth? Is the truth of Scripture the sole truth—the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth? Or one truth among many? Or primus inter pares? Or an anachronism altogether? How then do you read? 

      Be careful how you read, for how read is how you think, and how you think is how you act, and how you act is who you are. 

      *You may circle the pond at Jamaica Plain, eat lunch, and read especially from those who have read and preached in various conditions of difficulty, of trouble, of troubles. 

      Here is an early spring Saturday in the sun. Take, Read.  

      From another generation, I have loved Frank McCourt, for McCourt in his Angela’s Ashes is really giving you a hymn to language. He sits by the hospital bed of his eleven year old girlfriend.  She teaches him a poem, “The Highwayman”…the highway man came riding… and yes,…she dies. He is so hungry that he finds a soiled newspaper, with the remains of fish and chips, and licks the grease…and the words…off the paper. That is, McCourt’s lovely bildungsroman, Angela’s Ashes, ends with the young boy escaping his past, escaping his family of origin, escaping the biology that threatens always to become full destiny, and feeding himself. He is so hungry that he finds trashed newspapers in which the daily fish and chips have been wrapped, and he licks the papers clean of scraps and bits and crumbs and oil, until the words on the paper fill his mouth. His whole book is about his deliverance, how he learned to live…by reading, how he learned to love…through words.  

      *At last, as the afternoon is fading, you had back to BU, you pause for a minute on the way home, to read this last passage from Augustine’s Confessions… 

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

      So, I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (Outler translation, Book V111) 

      At dinner someone may ask what the most recent Lenten Sunday sermon was about. You would say, well, it mentioned Augustine.  And, I think he was singing a song of love for reading; I think he was raising a hymn of praise for reading; I think he was lining out a psalm of affirmation for reading… 

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

      March 5

      Lenten Communion Meditation

      By Marsh Chapel

      Click here to hear the full service

      John 3:1-17

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      Great art Thou O Lord and greatly to be praised.  Great is thy power and thy wisdom is infinite.  Thee would we praise without ceasing.  For our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. 

      Scripture and tradition depend on reason and experience.  Spirit involves reason and experience.  A question for you, day by day as mortality approaches, is whether you can find the courage to trust your own experience and whether you can find the capacity to rely on your own reason.  Opportunities to subcontract both are amply available.  But in order to live a life that is yours not almost yours, Spirit is needed. 

      The fourth gospel, with stories like of Nicodemus today, bears down on those who are almost people of faith.  Like Nicodemus, who have some but not the depth of the gift of faith, and later the Samaritan woman, and later the man born blind, and later Lazarus, and, in full and truth, later, the disciples themselves, who do not hear the gospel until after the cross.  We, many of us, are like that, are we not, especially in different seasons, when we slip on the ice, the ice of anxiety and depression, of alienation and disconnection.  John holds out for us for the fullness of faith, for a fervent love, like that of St. Augustine, our conversation partner, this Lent. 

      John had the courage to face the awful disappointment behind the New Testament:  Jesus did not return, not on schedule, not as expected, not soon and very soon, not maranatha, not yet.  But John looked at his own experience, and in biblical measure, with traditional tools, reasoned.   In place of apocalypse, he celebrated the artistry of the everyday, and in place of the speculation about the end, he celebrated the Spirit of truth, and in place of parousia, the coming of the Lord, he nominated Paraclete, the presence of the Lord.  He sang: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.   One way to solve problems is to face them, to name them, to admit them.  No parousia.  Paraclete. Spirit! 

      The stark strangeness, the utter difference of John from the rest of the Bible we have yet fully to admit.  My beloved advisor, perhaps the greatest John scholar of our era, Fr. Raymond Brown, got only as far as saying that John is best understood as ‘an embraceable variant’, emphasis on embraceable less emphasis on variant.  But when we get to John 3, we see chiseled there in ice and covered fully with wind and snow, an enigmatic, mysterious riddle:  Spirit, sweet Spirit, Paraclete.  The endless enemy of conformity.  The lasting foe of the nearly lived life.  The champion of the quixotic.  The standard bearer of liberty.  The one true spirit of spirited truth.  Yet we cannot even give the history of the term, nor fully define its meaning, nor aptly place it in context, nor finally determine its translation.  Paraclete eludes us.  Paraclete evades us.  Paraclete outpaces us.  Paraclete escapes us. 

      Notice that in John, starting with Nicodemus, the Spirit is given to all, not just to a few or to the twelve, definitely not.  Notice that it is Spirit not structure on which John relies.  Notice it is Spirit not memory which we shall trust (good news for those whose memory may slip a little).  Notice that Spirit stands over against what John calls ‘world’ –another dark mystery in meaning.  Notice that the community around John’s Jesus is amply conveyed a powerful trust in Spirit. 

      Other parts of the New Testament take another trail.  The Book of Acts offers confidence by way of hagiographical memories of Peter and Paul, and of false but loving assertions of the utter agreement of Peter and Paul.  Trust your memory and when you cannot create a new memory.  The Pastoral Epistles—and to some degree 1 John in opposition to his gospel namesake—rely not on memory or memories and not on Spirit, but on structure:  presbyters, faith once delivered to saints, deacons, codes of conduct, stylized memories of orderly transmission of tradition.   We need memory.  We need structure.  Neither can hold a candle though to Spirit.  That is, for John, what Moses, the Law, the historical Jesus, the Sacraments or anything else cannot ever fully offer, Paraclete SPIRIT provides.  By Spirit we hear the word God.  God reveals by Spirit.  God self-reveals by Spirit.  Here the stakes are very high. 

      Again, Raymond Brown:  This is the ultimate self-revelation of how the word of God gets translated as God.  To a community living in time and space, the Spirit of Jesus is proving the world wrong.  People who live by the spirit is the only way others will be convinced of the victory of Jesus (Hill, Courageous, 82). 

      The world does not lack for wonders but only for a sense of wonder (Chesterton).  Your life does not lack for mystery but only for a sense of mystery.  Your week does not lack for worth but only for an hour of worship.  “I love the silent church, before there is any speaking” (Emerson).  Pause just a moment in prayer. 

      When you come to worship you place yourself in prayerful sight of beauty.  When you come to worship you stand and sit in the company of real courage, heroines and heroes of old.  When you come to worship you at last find a way—language, imagery, symbol, all—to express an ultimate concern for ultimate reality. When you come to worship you see the whole horizon, the whole ocean, from birth through love to death…and beyond.  When you come to worship you place all the rest of your life in the loving embrace of Love, capital L.  When you come to worship you are reminded that you are a child of God, no matter what else or other your boss, co-workers, neighbors, family, friends or roommates have said or intimated.  When you come to worship you enter the space of Grace.  People have such ragged reasons for skipping worship.  Make it your plan, as you walk along, to find a church family to love and church home to enjoy and a church service to attend at least one hour a week.  In prayer, at least now, at least here, at least here and now. 

      Yet sometimes worship goes wrong.  When it does, for you, say so, to whomever.  If it does so regularly or spectacularly, go elsewhere, pronto.  Life is short.  We need make no excuses for prizing our time. 

      This Lent 2023 our Catholic theological conversation partner is St. Augustine.  In 1991, having at long length and at last completed the PhD, I went down the street to a young Jesuit College, Lemoyne 1946, in our neighborhood, and whence some of our student members had come over the years, to see about teaching.   A very loving and very knowledgeable (her adage, ‘as humans we are lovers and knowers’) former religious Dr. Nancy Ring, greeted me.  I explained my visit.  To which she responded…’So…you…you want to teach?’  She seemed, rightly, dubious.  Yet the next semester began a relationship of 25 years, teaching part time the mostly first-generation college students there, and the full discovery of a second spiritual home, in no small part due to Dr. Ring, whose own academic work focused on Paul Tillich.  She would happy to know that some students at Merrimack College nearby, on the encouragement of their professor, STH graduate Dr. Maria Teresa Davila, are joining us by radio for worship this Lent.  The Professor wrote:  As an Augustinian school, I believe that the Religious and Theological Studies department at Merrimack College would greatly benefit from incorporating this into our classes either as extra credit or further formation for our students and faculty…can you forward me any schedule or description you might have? 

      For St. Augustine of Hippo at long last found himself, his soul, and his true vocation, by finding a personal relationship to God. Yes, Augustine entered the ministry. He became priest and bishop in North Africa. In an age, like yours, of intercultural conflict, Augustine made sense of faith’s highest vision…the city of God. In a culture, like yours, that wore the nametag of Christianity without fully understanding its meaning, Augustine celebrated…the grace of God. In a political climate, like ours, that honored highly individualized freedom and the power to choose, Augustine praised God’s freedom to choose, and acclaimed…the freedom of God. In a highly sexualized age, like ours, Augustine colorfully confessed his own wandering, his own mistakes, which, he attested, did test but did not exhaust the …patience of God. In a religious climate, like ours, which buffeted a truly biblical belief, Augustine praised his maker, and so reminded the church of the proper…praise of God. His Confessions—perhaps part of your summer reading—his great autobiography, is a prayer—for the city of God, by the grace of God, in the freedom of God, to the patience of God, as the praise of God. Augustine found a relationship with God and was ordained. And vice versa.  

      A long time ago, Augustine of Hippo started into pastoral work, in North Africa. He had many troubles. He fought fundamentalism, for instance, as we do in our time, shouting, ‘love understanding wholeheartedly’. He also argued and wrestled with the Donatists, an ancient, spirited and disciplined form of Christianity. One side of the spat was the question of the extent of the church.  

       How much real estate is church and how much is not? How much humanity is church, or potentially so, and how much is not? Should the church focus on quality or quantity? Are only those baptized by good Bishops baptized well, or at all? What makes the hotentot so hot? What puts the ape in apricot? Is the church, as the Donatists argued, a select remnant, a pure priesthood, a leaven in the lump, a company of resident aliens, a band of holy Methodists fleeing from the wrath to come? If so, then church is always and ever separated from, alienated from the culture in which it exists. Christ against culture.

      Or is the church, as Augustine argued, and as I do today, itself a mixture of wheat and tares, saints and sinners, holy and not yet holy, yet all and objectively founded upon and protected within spirit, divine grace, a set of networks and invisible relationships in the world to redeem the whole world, to transform culture, and the society from which culture comes, and the language that is the very root of that society? Christ transforming culture.

      Is church us in worship or does it include unemployed men, whether in worship or not? Is the church the circled wagons of resident aliens? Or is the church found in all humanity, ‘nothing human foreign to us’? How you answer, on this Lenten Sunday will determine whether you think Christ and his church have anything in common with men without work. 

       Our friend and colleague at the Howard Thurman Center, Mr. Nick Bates, gave recently a summary of where and when and from whom he learned about love.  He spoke about ‘A Love Ethic’.  His guides and sources included names familiar, central and sacred to us here at Marsh Chapel:  hooks, King, Thurman.  His exemplars, his guides, especially Howard Thurman, gave him a way to reflect on love and to reflect love, both.  Love is commitment.  Love is growth.  Love is suffering.  Love is prayer.  Love is reconciliation.  Commitment, growth, suffering, prayer, reconciliation.  That is the what of love, one could say.  And the how?  A mixture of desire, imagination and---what for it—leisure.  Desire, imagination, leisure. 

       Augustine of Hippo exchanges his very earthy and earthly passions in love…for a love of God.  Here is a phrase we use—love God, love neighbor—but without always a personal, or true, or real sense of the loving in that love.  If you say to your spouse, ‘I love you with all my heart and soul and mind and strength’, you can feel that verse becoming a universe.  You feel it because you see him or her, as you hold your lover in the arms.  Or you feel it because the memory is so piercing, maybe now because the love is in heaven, but the love you feel is still on earth.  In a way it should not surprise us that Augustine (‘Lord please make me chaste…but not just yet’) can turn to now the Love of God and the Love in God and the Love to God, with a fierce and physical, poetry of love.  Do we think when we allow ourselves the thought of the love of God, of our love for God, that such a love and its expression should be every bit as fierce, as our best earthly love, best human love?  As fierce, as physical, as muscled, as sensual, as jealous, as eager, as personal?  You say you love God…you have a pretty tame way of showing it!  I say I love God…I have a pretty tame way of showing it.  Here enters Augustine of Hippo, a passionate lover if there ever was one.  His invitation, the Gospel invitation, the sacramental invitation before you this morning, along the center aisle saw-dust trail, is as personal and as fresh and as real as can be: will you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? 

      Great art Thou O Lord and greatly to be praised.  Great is thy power and thy wisdom is infinite.  Thee would we praise without ceasing.  For our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. 

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

      February 26

      Lift Every Voice

      By Marsh Chapel

      Click here to hear the full service

      Matthew 4:1-11

      Click here to hear just the sermon

      Great art Thou O Lord and greatly to be praised.  Great is thy power and thy wisdom is infinite.  Thee would we praise without ceasing.  For our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.

      Every journey begins with a single step.  Our Lenten journey 2023 begins with such a reminder, and a step forward, in the reading of the Gospel According to St. Matthew.

      We could not begin at a better Scriptural doorway than with the Matthean account of the Temptation. As one has said, ‘The accounts illustrate Jesus’ habitual refusal to allow his sense of mission to be influenced by concern for his safety or for merely practical interests’ (OAE, 1174). Jesus fasts for forty days in the wilderness, according to this legend which Matthew and Luke share. The passages from Hebrew Scripture remind us that the Messiahship of Jesus is set in the history of God’s chosen people, Israel, and the sort of disputation read today was quite common among the rabbis of old. The temptations Jesus faces have been perennial temptations for the community of faith, and for the children of Israel. The devil appears here, in good apocalyptic fashion, and in a way similar to his roles in other texts of the time. Jesus resists the charms of wealth, power and fame. Rather, he says, quoting scripture: One does not live by bread alone. You shall not tempt the Lord your God. Serve God alone. (repeat). Let us read, mark, learn and inwardly digest…We shall pass by the long consideration we might give these dominical sayings as they arise in our time, culture and setting, which are not at all foreign to interests in wealth, power and fame.  We are not unfamiliar with, even connected in some measure to earthly, even worldly wealth, power and fame. We may aspire to learning, virtue and piety, but we also know the influence of wealth, power and fame.  And in truth we need to, have to become bilingual, able to speak both languages, along the road of life…without forgetting which is our mother tongue, and without letting the penultimate eclipse the ultimate.

      That is, come the forty days of preparation, come this season, come Lent, In our tradition, we begin our spiritual discipline with a long hard climb, up a high mountain, straight into the headwind of temptation. There is a cost in discipleship. There is discipline in discipleship.  James Weldon Johnson sang it best, a hymn with so much else and other that is a gift to all out of the history of our African American siblings, but which, in depth, speaks for and to all, bringing a durable unity to our natural diversity.

      Stony the road we trod,
      Bitter the chastening rod,
      Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
      Yet with a steady beat,
      Have not our weary feet
      Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
      We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
      We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
      Out from the gloomy past,
      ‘Til now we stand at last
      Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

      That is, our Lenten Sermon Series, beginning today, will engage in conversation with St. Augustine, a passionate Christian if ever there was one.  Let us recall where we have been, whence we have come, come Lent. In this Marsh Chapel pulpit, from 2007-2016, Lent by Lent, we identified a theological conversation partner for the Lenten sermons, broadly speaking, out of the Calvinist tradition, so important to the first 200 years in New England.  With Calvin we encountered the chief resource for others we engaged over ten years—voices like those of Jonathan Edwards (2015), John Calvin himself, (2014), Marilyn Robinson (2013) (whom with gladness we shall greet in the flesh here at Boston University April 11, please come), Jacques Ellul (2012), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin) (2011), Karl Barth (2010), and Gabriel Vahanian (2007), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008), summarized with the help of Paul of Tarsus (2016).

      For the next decade, we have turned to the Catholic tradition, so important in the last 200 years in New England.  That is, in this decade, beginning with Lent 2017, the Marsh pulpit, a traditionally Methodist one, turned left, not right, toward Rome not Geneva, and we have preached with, and learned from the Roman Catholic tradition, and some of its great divines including Henri Nouwen (2017) Thomas Merton (2018) John of the Cross (2019), Teresa of Avila (2020),  St Patrick (2021), and Dorothy Day (2022). In future years, it may be Ignatius of Loyola, Erasmus, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, or others, one per year.  Perhaps you will suggest a name or two, not from Geneva, but from Rome?  For those who recall, even if dimly, the vigor and excitement of Vatican II, there may well be other names to add to the list.

      Yet something about these past three years and their hurts, something about Covid life in Boston and around the globe, it may be, something about the events and outcomes of this winter, something about immersion in the home of the bean and the cod for several years, something, a connection say with our many Roman Catholic friends, listeners, correspondents, partners in the fellowship of the Gospel, this year brought Augustine of Hippo onward.  His may be a very timely voice for us, in winter, 2023.  For this Lent we mark three years of Covid, costly, costly years.  Our physically present Sunday congregation has slowly and gradually come back near to the levels of 2019, though the very, actual people present are some 70% different people from three years ago.  One has yet to see, to read a piercingly full analysis of just what has happened, by Covid, to patterns of gathering, to habits of assembly, to rhythms of worship, to life.  One undergraduate described her two high school Covid years in a single word, ‘disconnected’.  It is that disconnection, shared disconnection, that we have yet fully to understand.

      Yet life abounds.  Yesterday, on route to Coach Jones’ BU basketball contest with Lehigh on West Campus—Senior Day by the way, and attended by among others the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, with the Associate Dean of the Dental School passing out tooth brushes and tooth paste, for whatever reason—we paused to photograph our Marsh Chapel choir ascending their bus to New York City, outside Nickerson Field, headed to sing this afternoon, 3pm in…yes, Carnegie Hall, for listeners present and live streamed.  We are very proud of them.  But, you ask, how is it that we also and still have a robust, excellent choir here today—I tell you in full measure, I have absolutely no idea, but I am delighted, and well you are too not to have the preacher singing a solo: it is musical magic conjured by Ms. Weckworth, Dr. Jarrett and Mr. Blackwell.  After the game, Coach Jones victorious, The Pharos Quartet offered a full afternoon program in Marsh Chapel, and then the ROTC annual formal party and dance, all present dressed in tuxedos, uniforms and gowns, dressed ‘to the nines’, filled out the evening with prayers, speeches, and nourishment. Yet life abounds.

      As part of that life, right now, we are viscerally engaged in our own struggles.  We are seeking to support, for instance, what is right and best in Ukraine, with measures both of resistance and restraint, resistance to merciless brutality, and restraint before the prospect of expanded conflict. Further, right now, we are seeking to be engaged in healing for the victims of an horrific earthquake. One pastoral word, among others, might be today to keep us focused on our own circles of influence, the places where we can actually make a difference, over against the global and endless circles of concern which we carry. (One such point of influence, of leverage, is the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.).  Amid such struggles, our guide, our interlocutor for Lent 2023, will be Augustine of Hippo, born in 354ce, taught rhetoric reading Cicero 375ce, become Professor of said discipline in 383ce, in Milan, where fatefully he heard the preaching of St. Ambrose, baptized in 387, then ordained priest (and later Bishop), who subsequently wrote 113 books, 500 sermons and 200 letters before his death at age 76 in 430ce.  We have no time, ability or need to offer a comprehensive comprehension of him, in our wrestling with the Gospel.  Rather we pause, along the trail, in earshot of his mind and heart, to listen, to listen, to listen, and to learn.  As a great theologian once said of the purpose of preaching…’to teach, to delight and to persuade’.  Said Augustine.

      That is the sermon teaches us to sing out for what yet may be, what yet can be:

      My Lord, what a morning

      My Lord, what a morning

      Oh, my Lord, what a morning

      When the stars begin to fall

      To begin, quintessentially for Augustine, we begin with Holy Scripture, and within Scripture with the Apostle Paul.  Augustine loved Scripture, taught and preached it, plumbed its very depths, and famously was utterly converted to allegiance to Jesus Christ in the reading of a passage from Romans.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  To begin, for today, let us offer an attempt at an Augustinian rendering of this morning’s epistle.

      Romans 5:12-19

      It befits Augustine that our Lenten Epistle readings start with Paul, and within Paul Romans 5, the ‘great watershed of the New Testament’.  Romans 5 takes some cooking, some preparation prior to consumption.

      It befits Augustine that here Paul explains sin, explains death, explains, sin and death, explains the world, explains the law

      As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned...

      Meaning that existence, our existence, is troubled existence from the very start, from Adam.  Life is troubled life, beginning with Adam.  Troubled by sin, that is distance from, estrangement from God, the good, the good life.  At a gathering earlier this month someone asked, ‘How do you deal every Sunday with something else—Tyrie Nichols, Michigan State, Ukraine, Earthquake, Train wreck’.  We might add and name tragedies closer to home and to our own homes.  How indeed?  Sin may be out of our lexicons but is surely not or our lives.  Sin is the gone wrongness in life, present to us every day.  It is cosmic, far more than personal.  It is our condition.  Sin and death.

      It befits Augustine that here Paul explains Adam and Christ, freedom and trespass, grace and gift:

      But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

      Meaning that our religion, our religious existence, is troubled existence from the very start, from Adam.  Religion is troubled, beginning with Adam and the garden variety search for truth.  We tend to prefer to search in height and breadth, in what we can see and what we can count.  Give us the visible and the measurable, not history and not mystery.  Visibility and countability, not invisibility and accountability.  So, we miss the hidden, we miss the subterranean, we miss the dusky dim, we miss the haunted, we miss the elusive, we miss the darkened, we miss the mysterious, we miss the mysterium tremendum, we miss the aural and vocal, we miss the divine, we miss…God.   How do you measure a full heart?  How do you measure love?

      It befits Augustine that here Paul explains Adam and Christ, trespass and righteousness, grace and gift, condemnation and justification, the one and the many:

      Therefore, just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

      Romans 5 on Adam and Christ is challenging reading, but not that endlessly challenging.  It is readily explained.  It is hard but not that hard to render.  Life is trouble, beginning to end, trouble, cradle to grave, trouble, first tooth in to last tooth out, trouble, much to our dismay and dislike, but evident to our experience and suffering: God enters trouble in love, God enters life in Christ.  Religion is trouble, beginning to end, much to our dismay and dislike, but evident to our experience and suffering:  the grace of God reforms even religion in the power of love, God restores religion in Christ, whose gospel, as Bonhoeffer told us, can even be summarized, sung and loved as ‘religionless Christianity’.  Faith, the love of God, begins with a hard look at our actual condition.  That is why the hymns of faith, like those of James Weldon Johnson, grab us so:

      God of our weary years, God of our silent tears

      Thou who hast brought us thus far along the way

      Thou who has by thy might led us into the light

      Keep us forever in the path we pray

      Lest our feet stray from the places our God where we met thee

      Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee

      Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand

      True to our God, true to our native land

      The Sunday common lectionary readings, if nothing else, are utterly, thoroughly and painfully realistic.  Their trenchant realism is their ticket of entry into your heart, soul, mind and strength.  You and I may not always understand, or agree with, or enjoy them, but there is no doubting their existential and religious honesty and accuracy.  That is their claim to and for your trust.  As Ray Hart once said, apropos of I forget what: you have to give them something to trust.

      In other words, if you want understanding of and explanation of the Holy Scripture, well…look around you.  A part of our lack in depth of understanding of our condition, in life and religion, is a mirror image of our lack in depth of understanding of our condition, in Scripture and tradition.  In that sense, the old spiritual is right, it’s all been written in the book…

      Sometimes, a good, hard, honest look at our actual condition is the first, a first Augustinian step in faith.  From such utter realism, as we shall see in the coming weeks, St. Augustine found his way to God.  We can too.  We can too.  We too, at long last, can find a way to sing, to pray as Augustine did:

      Great art Thou O Lord and greatly to be praised.  Great is thy power and thy wisdom is infinite.  Thee would we praise without ceasing.  For our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.

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