December 3

Communion Meditation- December 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 13:24-37

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Come, thou long expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee

Israel’s strength and consolation

Hope of all the earth thou art

Dear desire of every nation

Joy of every longing heart


Our gospel guides us forward this first Sunday in Advent, regarding ancient persecution, conflicts today, and apocalyptic attentiveness.

 Keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.

The earliest church was born in persecution, was born under the burden of persecution.

After that tribulation…the sun will be darkened…the stars of heaven shall fall

Those hearing, reading and writing and hearing, Mark 13 in its inception, could nod their heads, could feel the force of the words.  They were coming to faith, and coming of age, in and through persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, and at the hands of the Roman Emperor Domitian.  So, hence, the power of these lines was, for the first hearers, a validation of their predicament.  So hence, the power of these lines was, for the first hearers, a deliverance from their predicament.  The darker things got—Peter to the lions, Paul to the lions, others to the lions, the edict to choose between Caesar and God, the edict to say that either Caesar was Lord or Christ was Lord, and to live with the consequences—the darker things got, the direr the need for the fig tree promise that summer is near, hang on.

Largely without exception our life in the community of faith is free of persecution, at least of the final, ultimate sort.  So, the apocalyptic language and imagery of these words aside, the force of the Gospel, come Advent each year, is alien to us, or largely so.  We can come to worship, receive communion, hear the music and words, and return to our routines, without the threat or burden of persecution, of empire wide persecution of those who would not bend the knee to Caesar, for whom Christ not Caesar was worshipped, Christ not Caesar was God.

But our existence, if not our faith community, our physical life, if not our religious life, our bodily life, if not our confessional life, we yet know, is fragile, and ultimately frail, and finally mortal, finally to be extinguished.   Here, it may be, the Advent gospel touches us.  With and when there is a quickened sense of our mortality, our own undatable but unavoidable death, then…He is near.  At the very gates.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  So. Mortal. Watch.  So. Mortal.  Watch.  Those who had staked their faith and their lives on Jesus, at the possible cost of persecution, at the possible cost of the lions’ den, could hear these words.  They are likely not the words of Jesus.  But they are surely words about Jesus that carried power for those who were his people, given as Jesus’ words to save Jesus’ people, in extremity.

It is mightily humbling to recall, to realize, that the faith we share was, at first, in the first century, lived out and so preserved but many who suffered for righteousness’ sake.  So, the saying, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith’.  A great dear treasure, our own basis for meaning and belonging and empowerment, the faith once delivered to the saints, and through them to us, was galvanized in the heart of persecution.  In the dark of December, it brings a ray of light.  Others have known, and in far sharper relief and detail, something of what in our own corners of life we also know, the cost of discipleship.

The earliest church was born in persecution, was born under the burden of persecution.

Keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.

Through this autumn, in the preaching and hearing of the Gospel, we have had in mind, tried to keep in mind,  the tragic conflicts today around the globe, and particularly in the middle east.  We listen with care for the word of truth, some word of truth, in earshot of harm, of warfare, of death, of forms of persecution.  We take a step, one step, then another.  Week by week.

October 15: Elie Wiesel over four decades here at Boston University did so much (for us, saying): “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it is indifference.” 

October 22: For those more on the left, a question today, and be careful how you answer, will be, first, and last, do you believe and affirm that Israel (in the Middle East, as a Jewish democracy) has and must have a right to exist? For those more on the right, the question, and be careful how you answer, will be first, and last, do you believe God is Lord of all life, all human life, not narrowly divine only to one perspective, one tradition, one religion, one sacred book? 

October 31: Those hunting for a sermon on Christian teaching regarding pacifism and just war both, are referred to the sermon from this pulpit February 12, of this year, “With Malice Toward None”.

November 5: Our culture languishes in the doldrums of a pervasive malaise, not unrelated to our fear of freedom, and its demands, and its rigors, and its openness to human flourishing. 

November 19:  Faith does not exclude us from calamity, but faith prepares us to fight it.  Faith does not give us the capacity to understand, but it does give us the courage to withstand.   Faith is not an answer to every question, but it is a living daily question of ultimate concern.  Faith in God is faith in God, not in another creaturely being.  Faith does not protect us from calamity, though it does weave us together into the shared human experience and history of loss. 

November 26:  Any manner of bigotry deserves to be met by condemnation, contempt and resistance.  We have plenty of work to do, and let us not grow weary in doing it.  We will want to sharpen our understanding of the requirement in just war theory of proportionality, of response that is proportionate to the provocation, proportionate to the needed defense, proportionate to the given situation, and those, especially women and children, potentially harmed therein.

Keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.

Apocalyptic theology in the New Testament, like our Holy Gospel from Mark 13 today, is a language of hope lifted in the face of death, a language of hope lifted in the face of death.  Apocalyptic followed the prophetic hope for justice on earth, and preceded the late platonic hope for life in heaven, building on the former and preparing the way for the latter.  We need them all, to some degree.  The prophets hoped for a righteous earth.  The Gnostics hoped for a glorious heaven.  In between, the apocalyptic hope in the face of death is hope ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, a hope for the apocalypse of heaven on earth.  As Paul wrote, ‘Hope that is seen is not hope.  Who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’. (Rom.8)

For the gist of today’s gospel is clear enough.  We cannot see or know the future.  We ought to live on the qui vive.  Health there is, to be sure, and succor in a full acceptance and recognition of such a humble epistemology and such a rigorous ethic.  Let us admit to the bone our cloud of unknowing about the days and hours to come.  Let us live every day and every hour of every day as if it were our last.  Which it is.  Song and Scripture, sermon and prayer, they will guide us along this very path come Sunday morning, come this very morning.  We shall want to be attentive to attentiveness.

One wrote recently: The lament is as old as education itself: The students aren’t paying attention. But today, the problem of flighty or fragmented attention has reached truly catastrophic proportions. High school and college teachers overwhelmingly report that students’ capacity for sustained, or deep attention has sharply decreased, significantly impeding the forms of study — reading, looking at art, round-table discussions — once deemed central to the liberal arts. (D.G. Burnett, et. al., NYTimes Op Ed 11/24/23)

Love, faith and hope all include.  Let us be attentive.

Most of us need more reminder than instruction.  Let us be attentive.

Wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us be attentive.

Do not remember our iniquity forever.  Let us be attentive.

Restore us O Lord God of Hosts.  Let us be attentive.

Be careful, nostalgia, said Dr. Walton, can eclipse curiosity.  Let us be attentive.

The prerogative of care is love.  Let us be attentive.

Our students are becoming not just intelligent people, but also people who will make the world a better place.  Let us be attentive.

Yet our cyber world and devices are driving addictive behavior.  Let us be attentive.

Covid, Dean Galea just wrote this week, taught three lessons:  the marvelous power of vaccines, the pervasive inequality of and in public health, and, now, the broad pervasive and tragic distrust of institutions.  Let us be attentive.

Look north in New England and see gun violence in Lewiston and Burlington.  Let us be attentive.

We shall meet violence with patient justice, one leader once said.  Let us be attentive.

Born thy people to deliver

Born a child and yet a king

Born to reign in us forever

Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone

By thine all sufficient merit

Raise us to thy glorious throne

November 26

Thoughts at Thanksgiving

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 25:31-46

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Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving week.

Let us be mindful of the goodness of God, as sung in the Psalm this morning.  Let us be mindful of the blessings of God.

The measure of faith is the meeting of need.  The measure of faith is the meeting of need.

The goodness of God knows no limit, no single season, no particular admixture of victory and defeat.   Our friends, the seasons themselves, and the prayerful practice of remembrance, tell us this again.

Let us be mindful of friendship.  The friendship of Marsh Chapel is offered each Lord’s Day, and each week day in the Lord, first and foremost to those most in need.   The physical safety of our students, in all times and in all seasons, stands as our highest priority in friendship.  If you are a sophomore, say, and sense you are in some need or peril, our chaplains and staff welcome you in friendship.  Now in a season when, given the events of this past autumn of discontent on campus, some sense possible peril, we stand with you, on a daily basis, on the ground level, in a protective posture.

Let us be mindful of friendship, as was our friend, of blessed memory, Max Coots, longtime Unitarian minister along the St Lawrence river:

"Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are....

For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks."

Let us be mindful of friendship.  And let us be mindful of the seasons.

Last week, most sat before a carved turkey.  For many years, Marsh Chapel provided such a meal right here.  Now the University itself has taken up that meal, and provides it for students who are here over break, along now with open housing.  Your ministry, Marsh Chapel, has been such an incubator over time, for service that then becomes University wide.  A Marsh Chapel Martin Luther King observance, becomes a University wide observance.  A Marsh Chapel community service program, becomes a University wide service.  A gospel group becomes a University-wide Inner Strength Gospel choir, Marsh Chapel hosted.  A Marsh Chapel Howard Thurman room and listening center becomes a University Howard Thurman Center.  A Marsh Chapel commitment to pastoral care over seven decades becomes further embodied in behavioral health, and SARP, and the office of the Ombuds, and others.  Your work in incubation continues. You plant seeds, and they grow, and grow up and on and out.  Season by season.  Who knows what seed planted now will grow into a great oak tree in the seasons to come? So last week, you will have been at your table, somewhere.

It may be that the rhythms of nature in harvest will help us, in this dark time of calamity and warfare, help us to see and serve the hungry, tthirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, as the parable implores us.  It may be that the season itself, redolent and rich with meaning, may support us.  It may be that the hymns of Thanksgiving, hummed or remembered, may help us.  You could also sing them, of course, even if you are not Methodists.  It may be that prayers, like those used year by year here at Marsh, and used today, may help us.

Yes, our lessons from ancient Scripture regularly surround us with a thanksgiving conversation.  Today, Ezekiel in hope, the Psalmist in praise, the Epistle in encouragement, and the Gospel in loving service. Even those of us dwelling mostly in an urban setting can from this autumn—warm, mostly; dry, mostly; pleasant, mostly—receive such a sense of blessing and so a sense of gratitude.  Seed-time gives way to harvest, as tears give way to shouts and joy. The long months of hidden growth, of change and development under the earth, are a firm reminder that the future will look different from the past, and from the present.  Every autumn, every harvest season, we are offered such a reminder.

Let us be mindful of the good earth, of the fruits of harvest, of the fruits of years of labor and love, as one remembered in the figure of her friend.  One lay woman wrote a poem prayer, about a friend, some years ago.  It is set in Wisconsin, on a family farm.

Sitting by my window—looking out at the field

This chair has been such a comfort for so many years


All the children were comforted in this chair

All grown and gone now

Babies—growing year after year

‘Til they could go to the field to help

The fields—so green in the spring

Then the plough broke it up into beautiful brown earth

Worked over and over

Until the seeds had a wonderful bed in which to grow

Week after week growing

And then harvest.

We all went to the field for the harvest.

Sunrise to sunset

Day after day

Finished at last

Ready for winter

Now looking across the field at beautiful virgin snow

Like watching a baby sleep.  So peaceful.

Happy for the quiet.

Anxious for the awakening

Start again

Sitting by my window

Rocking Rocking

Her rocking, the rhythm of her remembrance, along the brown earth, seems a world away from our world today, for we have been this past autumn through a very difficult patch. Nature may aid culture here.  Nature may refresh culture here.

We will want to be somber and sober to remember that God gives the human being a rooted, daily freedom, but does not then suddenly intervene to erase that freedom, does not ‘root it out’however perversely, however violently, however mistakenly that freedom is used.

We will want to remember this when the worry birds are flying, filling the late autumn darkening sky.  And they are in flight, the worry birds. Planet warming.  Ukraine reeling. Israel bleeding.  Gaza flaming. Trump leading. Lakes greening.  Loved ones moving.  BU changing.  Age advancing.  Winter coming.  We will want to remember the divine gift of freedom, when the worry birds are flying, filling the late autumn darkening sky. For freedom Christ has set us free, stand fast therefore and do not be enslaved again.

We will want to stand up, sit up, and take notice that liberty is only of any value within the constraints of security to enjoy it; and that security is only of any value as a basis for the enjoyment of liberty itself.

As people of faith, we cannot in sloth afford to be naïve, refusing the dominical wisdom of serpents to hide underneath a false innocence of doves, when facing hatred, religious terrorism, and nihilistic venom.   Protection for the lamb requires resistance to the wolf, before either determines to lie down with the other.  Any manner of bigotry deserves to be met by condemnation, contempt and resistance.  We have plenty of work to do, and let us not grow weary in doing it.  We will want to sharpen our understanding of the requirement in just war theory of proportionality, of response that is proportionate to the provocation, proportionate to the needed defense, proportionate to the given situation, and those, especially women and children, potentially harmed therein.

We do not want to pray, preach, sing or proffer a kind of cheap grace. The utter realism of the Bible, on the one hand, and our brutal experience across many centuries, on the other hand, forbid it.  Read again Victor Klemperer’s two volume diary, I Will Bear Witness, or the exemplary biography of Bonhoeffer, Strange Glory. Or Jon Clinch’s new memoir of Ulysses S Grant, The General and Julia.  Or any one of the novels of Marilynne Robinson.

In helping one another, and speaking to our children, in Thanksgiving conversation, we can at least remind them that ‘they are safe, and it is OK to feel sad about what has happened to others’, and we can continue to support and protect our neighbors and friends of all manner of different traditions, religious and secular alike.

 So let us be mindful of the seasons this Thanksgiving.  And let us be mindful of remembrance. You know, we honor with regularity four different calendars, here in worship, Sunday by Sunday.  One is our University Calendar, including Matriculation and Baccalaureate and Commencement and all.  One is the Marsh Chapel calendar, including Summer Preaching Series and July picnic and Lessons and Carols coming next week.  One is our Christian liturgical calendar, including Christ the King Sunday this morning, and the beginning of Advent next week.  One is our national calendar, with recognition of the Fourth of July and Martin Luther King Sunday and Labor Day and, this week, Thanksgiving, that quintessentially American holiday.  All of them our former dean Howard Thurman honored with a regular attention to varieties of and in life.

Howard Thurman, who was a hundred years ahead of his time fifty years ago, was so nationally, religiously, locally and collegiately mindful.  Underneath it all he was attentive to all that dehumanizes life—to anxiety, to depression, to loneliness, to disconnection, to all that unbalances the person. He would remind us, come this Sunday, that there is much in life that you didn’t cause, that you cannot control and that you may be able to change.  I didn’t cause it.  I can’t control it, and I cannot change it. See, hear him, and know he is here with and for you.  Thurman’s poem, in part:

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

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

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

My mother’s arms,

The strength of my father

The playmates of my childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives

Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies

And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;

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

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the

Eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day

To conclude, a story, an analogy—full well knowing that all analogies stumble.  The point of the parable is that there is still a future, remarkable, different, and good—we just do not know what the future holds.

You watch and wait.  We left Cornell and Ithaca in 1981 for pastoral visits along the St. Lawrence, in the far north, in the bitter cold, in the barns at milking; for ministry among farmers and truck drivers in the fire department; for an immersion in non-urban poverty, poverty without electricity and without a subway, along a frozen river; and later for counseling with engineers let go by a failing Carrier Corporation; prayer with factory workers dis-employed by Oneida Silver and Smith Corona; tearful farewells to executives leaving Kodak; in short, the disappearance of both farming and manufacturing, as the drums of globalization beat along the Mohawk.  (Why do we wonder that people dis-employed in the non-coastal regions are angry and express that anger politically?) In one sense our real theological education began, in earnest, in 1981.  Martin Luther taught us: “One becomes a theologian by living, by dying, and by being damned, not by understanding, reading, and speculation.” You watch and wait.  You have faith, you have hope, and you have each other.  And you have plenty of work to do, awaiting the day when ‘the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain says the Lord.’

 Many years ago, I asked my mother, of blessed memory, who worked 1951-1953 next door at then CLA now CAS, why the churches were so full in the 1950’s.  Born in 1929, she thought for a moment, for a good while, and then said, well, I guess we were just very grateful:  we had lived through the long very hard years of the depression, and survived that; we had seen the war come, the second world war, and take away many of our own neighbors and friends, and had survived that; we had seen losses and unexpected defeats, but had survived them.  We had made it through, and I guess we were all just very grateful, very grateful, very grateful. So we came to church, to say so, and sing so and pray so, and live so.  Every week was a kind of thanksgiving.

 Maybe our own days, week by week, should be an ongoing Thanksgiving as well.

The measure of faith is the meeting of need.  The measure of faith is the meeting of need.

Maybe our thoughts at Thanksgiving, on friends, and seasons and remembrance, should carry through, and carry us through, the whole year too.


November 19

The Bach Experience- November 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 25:14–30

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

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

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


Dr. Scott A. Jarrett, Director of Music:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music


November 12

There’s Enough for Everyone

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 25:1–13

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The text of this sermon is unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience.


-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry

November 5

For All the Saints

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 5:1–12

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The text of this sermon is unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience.


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

October 29

The Horizon of Love

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 22: 34-46 

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One longs for a more excellent way, as did Shakespeare 

Here you might catch a glimpse of what love can be, neighbor to neighbor, what loving kindness, chivalry, honor, care can be.  We still teach Shakespeare at Boston University: 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 

Admit impediments.  Love is not love 

Which alters when it alteration finds, 

Or bends with the remover to remove: 

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, 

That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 

It is the star to every wandering bark, 

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. 

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 

Within his bending sickle’s compass come; 

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 

But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 

If this be error, and upon me prov’d, 

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d 


One longs for a more excellent way, as did Matthew. 

 St. Matthew’s fiercest passion, is patently and transparently on display this morning.  Matthew holds a very high view of the church, far higher than we expect, far higher than yours and mine, one  could add. For Matthew, the church is empowered: with the means of lasting forgiveness with a mind for sound ethics, and especially with the real presence of Christ. 

 Matthew trusts this risen Christ and this voice of the risen Christ to free him to follow his bliss, to succumb to his passion. And what is Matthew’s passion? What passion pulses through the parchment of this popular gospel? What force of energy is on the “kiviev” on the lookout, on the wing, hanging ten, parachuting in, ready to emerge here today? It is the passion of an evangelist who finds every blessed possible way to connect Jewish Jesus with a Greek world. It’s the passion of an evangelist who enlists an old missionary teaching tract (“Q”) to spread inspiration, truth, and joy. It is the passion of an evangelist who portrays your Savior among pagans, amid harlots, appended to the cross, about the resurrection work of compassion. It is the passion of an evangelist who sums up his Gospel this way: “Go make of all disciples”. Here is this autumn’s Gospel: the point of St Matthew the blessed evangelist is that he is an evangelist. The whole point of the gospel of St Matthew the evangelist is that he is an evangelist. Matthew’s passion? Seeking the lost! Expanding the communion of saints, the circle of divine love! 

One longs for a more excellent way, as does Marilynne Robinson… 

She concludes an essay this week with a rumination on children, on work, on love, on daydreams, and on the liberal and liberating purposes of education.  In the last year, our evening with Robinson in April represents our ministry to the country as a whole, while our three days at McGill as University Lecturer last October represent our ministry with the whole globe as a whole just as our Baccalaureate address here in Marsh Chapel in May represents our ministry with BU near and far, on campus and with alumni, far and near.  Our worship service is for the country, for the globe and for the university, as well as for those, you and you all, those sturdy souls who by decision, discipline and faith come here, present each Sunday in this sacred, beautiful chapel. What love you and all bring to us and others! What love you all express by prayers, presence, gifts and service. What love you all long for and lean toward and hope to know, by shadow in this lifetime and by sunshine in the next life. God love you, as you work toward the horizon of love.  

One longs for a more excellent way, as does the language and body language of every wedding… 

In mid-March of 2020 COVID hit, hard. A time of sheer mendacity, when one leader intoned, ‘it will be over by Easter’. But no. Suddenly, in all directions, all was cancelled.  All manner of gathering was cancelled.  Group, assemblies, meetings, classes, worship, funerals, and weddings and all.  We have not fully recovered from this sudden shut down, not three and half years later. We are not fully ourselves, at least not yet, not conversationally human, not humanly available, not ardently and easily committed to gathering, to assembly, to connection, to ordered public worship.  But healing is coming, and more along the way.  The Covid onset, among other things,  interrupted weddings. 

One was scheduled for early March, 2020.  But the word, the word ‘no’ came down, necessarily so.  So, a beautiful couple, very understanding and gracious, cancelled their wedding:  no service with 300 present, no reception with 300 at table, no 300 photographs in a wedding album, no guest book, no family together.  And there were to be no exceptions, and there were none, all through 2020 and 2021.  The next decanal pronouncement of marriage in the Chapel occurred on May 14, 2022, more than two years later. 

Now, of a sudden, and this is part of the recovery from Covid, our weddings, and funerals, here at Marsh Chapel, are steadily moving back to more regular levels.  We will have had six weddings this fall at Marsh since Labor Day.  For this we are thankful, thankful for the gathering, the assembly, the community, the conversation, the public worship.  Thankful for the human being, involved, the being human therein.  

It happened in 2020 that a few days later the cancelled wedding couple placed a call to the Dean of the Chapel, saying:  This is probably not possible, but could we come, just us two, and stand on the far ends of the communion rail, double masked, and ask you, double masked, standing behind the altar, to marry us?  We recognize that this probably cannot happen, but we would love to have you do so. 

Well.  The Dean of the Chapel had some moral reasoning to do.  Hm. OK.  Bride at one wall, Groom at the other, Dean at the third.  OK.  On March 17, 2020, they appeared alone, this handsome couple, fully attired, full dark tuxedo and lapel flower, full white gown with cape and and all, one under one stained glass window and one under the other.  The service was solemnized in short order and abbreviated order of worship, all three double masked.  The traditional ‘you may kiss the bride’ was not included and would have to wait until they arrived at their isolated honeymoon cabin alone in New Hampshire, the car packed with foodstuffs for the journey up, the days of honeymoon, and the journey home.  I pronounce that they are husband and wife together.  

One longs for a more excellent way, as did Martin Luther… 

In 1520, Luther published three fundamental documents in that cornucopia year, which, to some measure, encompass the broad range of Luther’s theological perspective. Together these three ‘made the breach with Rome irreparable, and established the foundations of what would eventually become a new church’ (with thanks to Dr. Lyndal Roper, now and later, 133).  To the Christian Nobility of the Church. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.  The freedom of the Christian person.  They each and all, along with his opening hymn this morning, sing of love in the fierce presence of tragedy, armed conflict, hatred and death.  (Those hunting for a sermon on Christian, pacifism and just war both, are referred to the sermon from this pulpit February 12, of this year, “With Malice Toward None”, and including historic teachings regarding response and proportionality). 

We should remember that Luther’s reformation coincided with the emergence of the printing press. 4,000 copies of Nobility were sold as soon as they came off the press, August 1520. It was addressed in German to lay people, and argued that since the church itself had been unable to reform itself, it fell to the laity to do so. The reform promoted here is heavily weighted on financial reform. Luther charged the church with avarice, and charged the nobility with the task of addressing that avarice, something the nobles had every interest in doing.  Most striking, to our ears, is the full sympathy Luther has for love, for human love, for priests and religious who have fallen in love and fallen into another’s arms. Putting them together and forbidding sex ‘like putting straw and fire together, and forbidding them to smoke or burn’ (Roper, 150). Only the nobility, only the lay princes, said Luther, had the power to do all this, and he charged them to do it. Sola Gratia!  Sola Scriptura!  Sola Fide! 

For his trouble, Luther was excommunicated in December of 1520. 

One longs for a more excellent way, as did MLK… 

“Agape (LOVE) is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship.  Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men.  It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return….   When one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him.  And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.  I think this is what Jesus meant when he said ‘love your enemies.’  I’m very happy that he didn’t say like your enemies, because it is pretty difficult to like some people.  Like is sentimental, and it is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home; it is pretty difficult to like somebody threatening your children; it is difficult to like congressmen who spend all of their time trying to defeat civil rights.  But Jesus says love them, and love is greater than like.”[i]     

‘We must reconnect to King’s passionate belief that human dignity is indivisible:  it is not possible to enjoy it unless it is equally available to all’ (OToole, NYRB 11/23) 

Jesus is our beacon, not our boundary.  Love is our beacon, not our boundary. 

One longs for a more excellent way—you and II do—especially in the midst of mayhem and troubles in the middle east and in neighboring Maine, where your former chaplain Brittany Longsdorf is hard at work as the chaplain at Bates College in Lewiston… 

Let us keep our eyes on the prize, and look for that one day, in the fullness of time, when love will reign. 

One day when there will open space, luxurious freedom for all manner of difference, all kinds of kinds.  

One day, as the Old Testament says, when the lion will lie down with the lamb. 

One day, as the New Testament says, when there will be no crying anymore, nor grief anymore, nor tears, nor shall hurt any or destroy. 

One day…and why not start here, and why not begin now?…there will be a real community of gracious love. 

The darkness shall turn to the dawning and the dawning to noonday bright and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light. 

At least let it be known that here, at Marsh Chapel, with us, it has got to be love all the way, love all the way, love all the way.  As the Scripture guides, may we walk daily. toward the horizon of love, even to perfection in it.  As Mr. Wesley said, ‘if you are not going on to perfection, just what are you going on to?’ 

‘And I will show you a still more excellent way’.  A more excellent way… 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 

It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 

it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 

For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 

but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 

So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love, the horizon of love 


October 22

The Promise of Hope

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 22:15–22

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What a friend we have in Paul! 

Whose mighty voice has rolled down through the ages bringing us the good news in all its stark simplicity:  Christ the Lord is Risen! 

Raised in Tarsus, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, of the Tribe of Benjamin, as to the law a Pharisee, a defender of the traditions of the elders—and so a persecutor of the church. 

Who rode to Damascus and on the way was blinded and there heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” 

Who in that blinding encounter with the Risen Lord, gave himself up, pronounced a sort of death sentence over himself, and so died with Christ and walked henceforth in newness of life. 

Who believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead and so lived moment by moment thinking, “Who knows what will happen next?” 

Who cared for those first few Christians, and worried about them, and grew angry with them, for they so easily lost this vision:  that since God had raised Jesus from the dead, who knew what would happen next? 

Who challenged the Thessalonians: “This is the will of God, your sanctification”.   He taught them about death. 

Who challenged the Galatians: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.”  He taught them about the law. 

Who challenged the Philippians: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel”.  He taught them about service. 

Who challenged the Romans: “Be ye not conformed but be ye transformed by the renewal of your minds.”  He taught them about the spirit. 

Who challenged the Corinthians: “Be reconciled.  The form of this world is passing away”.  He taught them about culture. 

Who challenged Philemon: “May your goodness not be by compulsion but of your own free will”.  He taught him about power. 

Whose mighty voice speaks to us today, in these verses from 1 Thessalonians 1 (the oldest chapter in the New Testament, from 50ad) ever answering the question of what we should do by saying something, first, about what God has done.  Our faith springs not from ourselves but from God, the Giver of both life and faith. 

Paul reminds us that “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7).  What else can we expect from a God who raises crucified Messiahs?  Who knows what will happen next? The future is as open as we, in faith, will allow it to be. 

We may recognize in Paul a form of thought that differs utterly from our own.  If Paul did retain some of his formative religious worldview, the part he closely retained here was his inherited apocalyptic eschatology.   The resurrection must be, he reasoned, the beginning of the end.  Hence, preaches Paul, the form of this world is passing away. 

Paul’s worldview, his apocalyptic eschatology, is not our worldview.  Paul’s world, though, is very much ours too.  So, this morning, we shall need to imagine, to dream, and to interpret these verses in a new way, for a new time, as did our forebears like Martin Luther, Elie Wiesel, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., as have 6 Marsh Chapel Deans, as did 10 Boston University Presidents plus our current interim President, as did those of us in pulpits, not so long ago, in the winter of 1991, and in the spring of 2003. 

No, we may not share Paul’s worldview, but we share his world.  So, we may benefit from his friendship, and practice his faith.   What a friend we have in Paul!  He befriends us by bequeathing us two kinds of hope.  And hope we do need, in a time like ours, in an autumn like ours, of strife, warfare, and of fear.  Today, that is, today. 

In the Gospel of Matthew 22, Jesus meets us between Caesar and God.  He is ensnared, or nearly so, in a trap set between conservative Herodians and liberal Zealots. Between conservatives and liberals.  Hmm. In good rabbinic fashion, he responds to a question with a question.  Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, this little bitty coin, and render to God what is God’s, your very life. 

We are not alone in history to have suffered strife. As Christian people, trying by day and week to walk by faith not by sight, we know something of the difficulty here, and something more perhaps than we knew a month ago today.  Sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way.  The preacher is not free just to read the Bible and not the newspaper, nor free to preach without reference to civil society, culture, and the social conditions of life which have pervasive, profound impact and influence on the baptized and unbaptized alike. 

Let us hold and finger the coin of Caesar as we are touched by the finger of God.  Let us take stock. 

I saw this again midweek in our student union, as undergraduates undertook to underwrite ‘trick or treat for UNICEF, that creative confluence of culture and care, of politics and religion, given birth decades ago, when some of us first set out, costumed and eager, a bag for candy in hand and a box for coins in another. 

In this time of middle eastern mayhem, not unlike, by this preacher’s memory, the winter of 1991 and following, or the spring of 2003 and following, we may want to pause and take stock.  For the Matthean dilemma, liberal and conservative, and its questions, we may want to pause.  For those more on the left, a question today, and be careful how you answer, will be, first, and last, do you believe and affirm that Israel (in the Middle East, as a Jewish democracy) has and must have a right to exist.  Then follow self-defense, proportionate response, ‘meeting violence with patient justice’. For those more on the right, the question, and be careful how you answer, will be first, and last, do you believe God is Lord of all life, all human life, not narrowly divine only to one perspective, one tradition, one religion, one sacred book?  Then it follows that the killing of innocent children from one tradition will do nothing to avenge the slaughter of innocent children from another. From answers to both questions, there flow manifold consequences.  With President Biden, personally, I answer yes to both.  

Let us remember lessons from the past. In summer 2017, at the Chautauqua Institution, we had the pleasure of learning from, dining with, and speaking to Stella Rimington, the former head of British Intelligence, MI 5 (1992-1996).  She was the first woman to lead that agency.  A television drama was produced about her, starring Judi Dench.  She was bristling and candid regarding then current global perils.  She proffered no immediate or ready recommendation for resolution to then current dangers. She affirmed no optimism about the US President, at the time. Sharply, frankly, and bluntly she admitted the US and British intelligence failures that led to the tragedy of Iraq, the mistaken misinformation about weapons of mass destruction.  She worried extensively in rumination about the internet, about the technology controlling so much about us.  That is, she offered no encouragement, no bright forecast for the near-term global future.  To conclude, she said, as you would expect, ‘that nonetheless the best we can do is to ‘keep calm and carry on’. 

Let us hold and finger the coin of Caesar as we are touched by the finger of God.  Let us take stock. 

No, we may not share Paul’s worldview, but we share his world.   So, we may benefit from his friendship, and practice his faith.   What a friend we have in Paul!  He befriends us by bequeathing us two kinds of hope.  And hope we do need, in a time of terror and tragedy.  Let us survey our current tragedy, but let us also convey our lasting hope.  

Two shades of hope abide.  “Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage” (Augustine).  One realized.  One unrealized.  One for today and one for tomorrow.  One from Bultmann, and one from Niebuhr. 

Here is one shade of hope… 

You can in faith ‘face the world free from the world’, with a righteous and realized indignation, tempered with full humility. Even a kind of anger, if tempered with humility. That daily form of hope is yours by decision, by choice, through a commitment to live by the faith of Christ. 

We may rely not on ourselves alone, but upon God who raises the dead. 

We may face the world, free from the world. 

We may lean into the future, free of the burden of past worry. 

We can live on tip toe. 

We can compose every day with brilliance as if it were our last, which, in a way, each one is. 

The person of faith, who overhears the distress down deep in this world, so deep that others don’t hear it, does not rely on himself to sooth it.  He knows there is one Savior and he isn’t Him. 

What a friend we have in Paul, who preaches Jesus Christ, and Him crucified! 

Why does Paul teach this way? 

Because Paul expects that “the form of this world is passing away”.   God has raised Jesus from the dead.  Who knows what will happen next? 

For Paul, this meant a daily, excited, imminent expectation of the turn of the ages, a new heaven and earth, the end of time and the beginning of a new era.  For our sake, it is a blessing that Paul’s own timeline was a little fuzzy.  Otherwise, we would not be here.  But the spiritual truth which lives in this passage, its existential reality, is the same.  Every day is our last.  Paul so reminds us, and so shakes us out of our stupor.  THIS is the day the Lord has made.  We shall rejoice and be glad in it! 

In all of life, in the fullness of faith there lies this strange, new potential.  Potential.  Potential for something new. 

We face the world, free from the world. 

When things go south, let us live not in the form of this world (in despair and doubt and dread), but in the form of the coming world (hope and freedom and a sense of God’s uncanny potential). 

Bultmann: “Only Christ can give the kerygmatic character to everything which is ‘taught’ as Christian. Therefore, Christ is correctly preached not where something is said about him, but only where he himself becomes the proclaimer.” 

The resurrection is, simply, the preaching of the gospel.  But preaching in a way that is heard. Bultmann helped us see the present hope in Paul, facing the world free from the world. 

Here is a second shade of hope… 

Niebuhr, the great liberal (still a great tradition, affirmed from this pulpit0 who helped us see the future hope in Paul.  Both shades of hope require a translation from apocalyptic expectation into insights for living today, both individual and collective, present and future, Bultmannian and Niebuhrian.  Niebuhr gradually left behind some of his younger optimism. He also gradually left behind the narrow and prideful tones of a strict socialism.  Gradually he found his way, as we will need to do again in this painful decade ahead, toward a faithful Christian realism.  He found a realistic way toward hope.  That is our work today as well.  Recalling his phrases, we too need to beware ‘the sentimental optimism about the essential goodness of men without realizing how evil good men can be’.  Learning, but critically, from Niebuhr we too need ‘a check not only on policies but on pride, to guide men in a mood of dialectical humility’.  We too need to realize that ‘all justice rests on a balance of power’. 

You can in love ‘love one another’ as Christ loves you, toward an unseen horizon, a far-off land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  You can hope against hope. 

Let those who rejoice do so as if they were not rejoicing.  Let them rejoice not in the form of this world but in the form of the world to come. 

We meet each day with courage. We touch and are touched in the presence of Divine Potential, the raw possibility of a new day. We live on tip toe.  We live each day as if it were our last, which it is.  We greet the hour and its struggle, from a certain distance, and over every loud booming statement there is a misty question mark. 

You know, it is not always clear what is bad news, or good.  What can seem cause for the greatest rejoicing also can carry hurt, and vice-versa.  God’s time is not our time.  God’s purpose is not equivalent to any one of ours.  God’s justice is not the same as our own.  God’s freedom far surpasses yours and mine.  A crushing defeat can, in God’s time, and with patience, become the source, the medium of great victory.  I think of Franklin Roosevelt.  Where would our country be today, without his life’s strange mixture of rejoicing and suffering and struggle and perseverance?  Is it not odd that the one President who appeared to be the least vigorous, was in fact the most? ‘To lead you have to love, to save you have to serve’. 

Let those who buy and sell, do so as if they had no goods.  Not in the form of this world, but in the form of the world to come.  Augustine said it so well:  we use what we should love and we love what we should use.  We use people and love things, when we are meant to love people and use things. About your car, your house, your wardrobe, your bank account, your things—ask this:  Do you own it or does it own you?  Do you own it or does it own you? 

Yes, use the things of this world and buy and sell.  Let us do so, though, not in the form of this world, but in the form of the world to come.  Not in grasping selfishness, not in anxious pursuit, not in such strangely intense attention.  Rather:  with aplomb, with a certain disregard, with an inner freedom, the freedom to saunter in spirit, to saunter, flaneur dans les rue. 

What a hopeful friend we have in Paul!   

Paul who wrote to the Thessalonians, of hope for the present and hope for the future, so long ago: 

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 1: 1-10). 

October 15

The Bach Experience, October 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 22:1–10

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The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

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

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


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


The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

October 8


By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 21:33–46

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer… Amen.  

 In today’s Gospel reading, we pick up where we left off last week as Jesus debates the chief priests in the Temple mere days before Jesus’ eventual arrest and crucifixion. After having his authority questioned, Jesus presents three parables to the chief priests. The first one, as presented to us last week by Rev. Chicka, is a parable about obedience and disobedience as Jesus blames the chief priests for not listening to and believing the words of John the Baptist.  

 Today’s parable also takes center stage in a vineyard, and to be honest, it’s quite gruesome. A wealthy man built a vineyard, leased it to some tenants, and then went off to another country. When the harvest season came around, the man sent not just one, but two, waves of servants to collect the harvest, but both sets of servants were brutally murdered by the tenants. Finally, the man sends his son as his personal envoy, but even the son is brutally murdered.  

 For us Christians who are familiar with the narrative of Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection and for Jesus himself, who knows what will befall on him in a few days, the symbolism is apparent – Jesus is the son sent to the tenants, i.e., the chief priests and authorities, who is about to die at their hands. After the parable, Jesus summarizes his rejection and soon-coming exaltation with a quote from Psalm 118 –  

 ‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;[f]
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’ 

The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone… Now I have to admit that when I read this passage, I realized that I didn’t know what a corner stone is. Like, from context and general readings and even how it kind of sounds, I understand that the cornerstone is something important and something foundational. But what is a corner stone really? What significance, what power, does the image of a corner stone have for Jesus, for the chief priests, and by extension for us? 

For those unfamiliar with the term or its history, a corner stone is one of, if not the key, foundational stones in the construction of a building. Until the development of modern construction techniques and materials largely made this process obsolete, the corner stone was the first stone set in the building process and helped guide builders make sure the rest of the stones of the building are level and square, determining the building’s site and overall orientation. Given the corner stone’s structural importance, it’s only natural that people began putting symbolic significance onto the stone as well. Ancient civilizations would offer sacrifices, such as wine, water, or even blood on a cornerstone to ensure divine and lasting strength and fortune for the building. This tradition evolved within Christian communities as relics of saints and martyrs were placed inside the cornerstone of a church to invite a patron saint’s blessing onto the church and its community.  

This tradition of placing important artifacts inside a building’s corner stone continued into the 19th and 20th centuries. By then, the corner stone was no longer a literal foundation that physically holds up the building, but more so a symbolic or even spiritual foundation – of the ideals, hopes, and dreams that go into a building’s construction and use. Some describe the corner stone as a seed, as the bundle of instructional DNA and energy from which a building would germinate and rise.  

All this talk about corner stones is fine, but maybe it’d be more helpful to think and talk about a literal corner stone that is, oh 200 feet from where I stand. Nestled in the southwestern corner of this building’s exterior wall & hidden between various bushes and trees about 3 feet from the ground is the corner stone of Marsh Chapel. I would invite anyone who has never paid attention or seen the corner stone to take a moment on your way out this morning or during your next visit to Marsh Chapel to find the cornerstone.  

It has a fairly simple design. Carved out of the same stone as the rest of the building, the corner stone displays two pieces of information: on the left side is inscribed A.D. 1949, the year in which the corner stone was laid. To the right is the University Seal. On the outer circle of the seal is the name of the University along with the years of the university’s founding as well as the establishment of its current charter, 1839 and 1869 respectively. Meanwhile, the inner circle of the seal displays a portrait of the City of Boston and the State House dome on Beacon Hill. Connecting these two circles is a symbol of the University’s Christian heritage, the Holy Cross.  

So, you might be curious - what is inside Marsh Chapel’s cornerstone? Take a moment to consider what might be inside - what might be Marsh Chapel’s symbolic and spiritual foundation? Well, I’ve brought a sledgehammer with me today and we’re about to ---- NO - Thankfully we don’t need to tear down the walls of Marsh Chapel to find out. According to Daniel Marsh himself, BU’s 4th president and namesake to Marsh Chapel, inside the corner stone is a bronze box with several contents that are meant to represent the foundation, the then soon-to-germinate seed, of Marsh Chapel.   

Some notable contents of the box include several University documents, a book written by Daniel Marsh himself, as well as a Methodist hymnal, an Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, a copy of the Catholic text, An Imitation of Christ, and a Siddur, a Jewish Prayer book. All of these contents locates the Chapel and its mission in the context of a larger university with a larger ecumenical and interfaith spirit.  

However, the most symbolically important resident of the little bronze box according to Daniel Marsh is a copy of the King James Version Bible. Now, I can say confidently that I do not remember the last time I have read the work of someone so passionate about the Bible as Daniel Marsh (if you’re curious to see read it yourself, you can find his words in The Charm of the Chapel found on our website).  

According to Daniel Marsh, and I quote, “Literally the Bible is in the corner stone of the Chapel. Figuratively it is the corner stone of the Chapel and of the University and of any civilization worth saving.” Marsh traces the importance of the Bible for Marsh Chapel along with the Bible’s importance to the United States of America and western society as a whole. Marsh writes that, “Knowledge of the Bible is indispensable to anyone who would understand the genius of America… American democracy itself rests upon the Biblical doctrines of human worth and brotherhood… knowledge of the Bible is indispensable to an adequate comprehension of the great literature of the world…”  

Simply put (also in Daniel Marsh’s words) “the Bible energizes as well as inspires.” For Daniel Marsh, the Bible is the foundation of the morals and spirit of this country, it is the foundation of his own personal morals and spirit, and so, by being placed in the corner stone of this very building, the Bible is meant to be the foundation of the morals and spirit of this Marsh Chapel.  

For me, this all makes sense. I can see and understand from both a Christian and a more secular point of view all the different ways in which the Bible has molded our collective and individual characters & cultural understandings while also calling us to a higher power and to a higher purpose. For a building like Marsh Chapel that lies at the intersection between the secular, the sacred, and the scholarly – the Bible is a perfect symbol to place as its cornerstone.  

HOWEVER, I also think that to focus on the Bible as the corner stone of Marsh Chapel misses the entire point of the message which Jesus & the Gospel writers were trying to convey in today’s reading. While Daniel Marsh is correct in his evaluation of the Bible as a worthy symbolic corner stone for Marsh Chapel, in so doing he also risks reducing the Scriptures into a kind of philosophy textbook. Marsh writes about how placing a Bible in the corner stone would teach someone opening the time capsule 500 or even 1000 years from now all they would need to know about Marsh Chapel. Sure, they might learn something about our values and beliefs, would they really get a sense of who we are? 

The Bible is more than just a textbook. The Christian faith is more than just a set of rules and guidelines – it is not just a philosophy or a system of ideas and arguments or some spiritual vision for life that can be learned by reading. To be a Christian is to have a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and with God. The Bible is not just a book with interesting characters that talks about morals; it is a guide for how to honor God, honor ourselves, honor humanity, and honor the greater community of Creation in personal relationship.  

Today’s parable from Matthew highlights the centrality of a personal relationship with Christ vis a vi personal rejection. At the heart of this parable is the murder, the personal rejection, of the son of the landowner. The tenants did not seize and kill an idea, a principle, or a system of doctrine. They seized and killed the landowner’s son, a person. In the same way, Jesus, the son of God, was about to be seized and killed.  

The symbolism of the vineyard, the landowner, and the evil tenants would not have been lost to the chief priests of Jesus’ time. The image of God as landowner and Israel his vineyard stretches back to the Prophet Isaiah such as in Isaiah chapter 5 where the wicked who misuse God’s vineyard bring judgment onto the land. The chief priests would be more than familiar with the prophet’s writings and could easily make the connections between Isaiah’s words and Jesus’ parable. No wonder that when they realized Jesus was speaking about them that the chief priests wanted to arrest him – Jesus was accusing the chief priests of disobeying God and becoming the object of God’s judgment.  

What the chief priests could not see from the parable, however, was the relationship between Jesus and God. But by rejecting Christ, by wanting to arrest him, the chief priests were acting just like the tenants in the parable and just like the wicked ones referenced in Isaiah chapter 5. And by rejecting Jesus, the chief priests would ensure that the vineyard would be taken away from them and given to a people who would accept Jesus, who would accept the landowner’s son and maintain the relationship between landowner and tenant. As Jesus says in his quotation of Psalm 118 - The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone – the relationship that the chief priests and authorities rejected will become the foundation for a people of God who will produce the fruits of the Kingdom of God. This corner stone, this relationship with Christ, is not just some symbol of our faith but a foundational piece of it. It is the first stone placed in the building process, the one we refer back to in order to make sure the rest of the building blocks are level and secure. And try as they might, this stone cannot be broken by anyone or anything that falls onto it. Although this corner stone will be rejected by some, “it is amazing in our eyes”.  

Our other Scripture readings today work in tandem to highlight the personal relationships that are at the foundation of our faith. Our Exodus reading is of one of the most famous passages from the Bible – the 10 Commandments. On the most surface level, the 10 Commandments are a set of rules and regulations to define right behavior, to clarify the boundary for right versus wrong. Dig a little deeper though and the 10 Commandments are a guide to help the people of Israel honor God and honor one another.  

After bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, God’s main agenda was to re-establish the covenantal relationship with the Jewish people, and the 10 Commandments are the key terms to that agreement. God could not have the Israelites worshipping idols or desecrating the Sabbath day for to do those things would get in the way of them better knowing him. Likewise, God could not condone murder or adultery or coveting for to let those flourish would destroy the very community itself.   

Meanwhile in our Epistle reading, Paul writes about how he had the utmost confidence in himself and his flesh. He was a virtuous member of the household of Israel – God’s chosen people. He was an expert of the law and zealous in his persecution of a group of people whom he believed to be outside of the righteousness of the law.  

Yet whatever gains I had, Paul writes, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For HIS sake I have suffered the loss of all things … for I want to KNOW Christ and the power of his resurrection. As he describes it himself, Paul’s sense of an earned righteousness, of an earned rightness, before the creator of heaven and earth is nothing compared to a living relationship with Jesus Christ himself. The things that used to be Paul’s corner stones – his circumcision, his obedience to & knowledge of the Torah as a Pharisee, his identity as a member of the tribe of Benjamin – all these things rooted in history that were the foundation of his self-identity are worthy of giving up in the face of a complete and intimate relationship with Jesus. And by rooting himself in the corner stone that is his relationship with Jesus, Paul is able to press on towards the heavenly call of God.  

Returning now to the corner stone of Marsh Chapel. What do I believe is the true foundation of Marsh Chapel? Well – the corner stone is all of you listening right now here in this room. It is all of you that are joining us over the phone or on the livestream or later this week in the recording of the service. It is in the members of the choir, our staff, our livestream technicians. It is in the students who are here for worship, the students who work in our office, the students who join us for community dinner or for tai chi or create space. The corner stone of Marsh Chapel is our community & our relationships with one another – it is the people who find a place to belong and to BE here in Marsh Chapel that make this space a special one.  

Without any human-to-human relationships, this building would be an empty & hollow shell. We could have the finest decorations, the finest music, & the finest preaching and reading of scripture, but without any relationships holding it all together, what would the point be for any of that? If we were to ignore all the possibilities for relationship here in Marsh Chapel, would we not run the risk of being our own version of the chief priests from this story who rejected the blind and deaf, who rejected tax collectors and the prostitutes, who rejected John the Baptist, and who rejected Jesus Christ the Messiah himself?  

At the core of these relationships, however, we also need a relationship with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with God. That is our faith after all – to have this intimate relationship with the Three-in-One. How do we cultivate this relationship? This is where the Bible finds its place as our cornerstone as Daniel Marsh intended. The Bible is not a textbook on morals or philosophy, but a guide to knowing God! It is a living, breathing text through which God’s very nature can speak to us. Through the Bible as well as through prayer, worship, and service in community, we learn how to form and nurture a relationship with the ultimate Creator. This relationship with God’s self, then in turn teaches us to cultivate deeper relationships with one another.  

The foundational power of relationships stretches even farther into larger university life here at BU. A particular note for our student community - I recently went to my fifth-year college reunion this past summer. Overall, I had a pretty good time - it was nice to see be back on campus, to see my classrooms, and reminisce about all the experiences I had in college. But the real reason that I went back to that reunion - and this is the same reason that most everyone I spoke to gave me when I asked why they did (or in some cases, why they didn’t) attend our reunion - was this: I was there to see people, to see and spend time with the special friends who I spent four years with in college who would also be returning to campus. I was there because of my relationships. 

What I’ve learned about college in the years since graduating is that college is not simply about your classes or grades or that fancy internship you get the summer between your junior and senior year – this time is about your relationships with your class mates, with your friends, with the faculty and staff. When I think about all the things that I enjoyed about college, my strongest memories are those that highlight the special friendships that I was able to build. Inversely, when I think about my lowest moments of college, and many of my friends have agreed with me, those memories are ones where I felt the loneliest and most isolated.  

As we collectively journey deeper into the fall semester and this fall season, it is important that we remember how foundational relationships are to all that happens here in this Chapel and here on this campus. As the nights get darker, the weather gets colder, and the exams and assignments start to multiply, it can be easy to lose sight of or forget the things that help to support us. What is your corner stone, your foundation, when times become challenging? Is it a philosophy or some vision of life? Or is your corner stone a relationship – one with a friend, a family member, with God – that can hold you no matter how difficult times might be?  

For the students as you all as you face the challenges of school work, begin your exams, and make plans for the spring and summer - For Marsh Chapel as we welcome new hires, begin new forms of ministry, and look to celebrate our 75th anniversary - For Boston University as it welcomes both an interim and permanent president along with all the challenges a change of leadership can bring – For all of us as we face the many joys and sorrows of life, separate or together – Let us return to our foundation, to our cornerstone, and move forward with faith, knowing that we are held and supported by a God who promises life and an abundant harvest.  


-Mr. Jonathan Byung Hoon Lee, Associate Chaplain for Student Outreach 

October 1

What to do?

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 21:23–32

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Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Good morning, Marsh Chapel! It’s a pleasure to preach on this World Communion Sunday. It’s been a very busy start to the school year around here. All of the ministry staff have been working hard to reach out to students, offer our weekly fellowship groups, and establish the kind of care and compassion that religious life offers to the BU campus. Annually, we have two events that take place around this time of year. One is apple picking, which took place yesterday. We shuttle about 40 students to Westward Orchards out in Harvard, MA for a few hours of apple picking, some shopping in the small country store, and of course, fresh apple cider donuts. I heard this year was fantastic – unfortunately I couldn’t make it because I had a little thing called a sermon I needed to finish. 

The second event is something you’ve probably heard mentioned many times if you’ve been attending worship here for a while. The event is Spiritual Paint Night. We hold at least one each semester, welcoming students from across the campus for an evening of unstructured creativity. Started by my predecessor and friend, Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, Spiritual Paint Night isn’t like one of those sip and paints or painting classes that you can do at a restaurant or a bar. There isn’t instruction on what to paint. Instead, students are given a canvas and brushes, a palette and paint. They’re told to paint what they want. They’re told to focus on the process of creation rather than the outcome. No “mine isn’t good enough” no expectation that that it has to replicate anyone else’s work. Just time to meet new people, eat some snacks, get creative, and support each other in admiring one another’s efforts. 

The unofficial patron saint of these evenings is perhaps the most well-known American artist of the 20th century. It’s estimated that he painted well over 10,000 paintings. Even though his popularity started 40 years ago, most people in the United States, including young people who weren’t born yet when he was alive, can identify him and know what he’s most famous for. His iconic permed hair and denim outfits have been parodied over the years, but not without a profound sense of respect. If you guessed that this artist who has reached sainthood in our eyes is Bob Ross, then you’d be correct. We know Bob Ross for his gentle instructions on the PBS show “The Joy of Painting” which aired from 1983-1994. Each time he’d tell his viewers, who may or may not be completing that week’s painting with him, what tools and paints they would need to have their own creation at the end of each 30 minute episode. He’d then go on to instruct, reminding viewers that the canvas was their own little world in which they got to make the decisions, he would just provide suggestions and instruction on how to make elements. Perhaps most memorable were his “happy little trees” and also his statement that “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” His calm demeanor and encouraging words are why, perhaps, he has become an icon of ASMR, autonomous sensory meridian response, a sensory and emotional reaction to certain stimuli. People find pleasure in the calming nature of each episode, sprinkled with his witty “Bob Ross-isms.” He even has his own Twitch channel, an interactive livestreaming service, which plays episodes of The Joy of Painting continuously all day long. 

But, did you know that before Bob Ross became America’s gentle painting instructor, he was in the Air Force for 20 years? Not only that, but that one of his main positions in that time was as a drill sergeant. You know, a drill sergeant as in the super mean authority figures within the military who routinely “break down” new recruits, forcing them to do demeaning tasks and constantly yelling? Yes, Bob Ross was one of those. Reflecting on his time in the military, he was quoted as saying: 

"I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work," Ross later said. "The job requires you to be a mean, tough person, and I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn't going to be that way anymore." 

Bob Ross had a change of mind and heart. It was the military which would introduce him to painting. The backdrop of Alaska, where he was posted, took center stage in many of the paintings he would later create on his TV show. The authority that the position of drill sergeant afforded him, the power he had over others, didn’t mean much to him. In fact, he knew that it wasn’t what he was truly called to being and doing. The military was an occupation, but painting became his life. While the position of drill sergeant offered him authority in a systematic way, he actually gained his authoritative position (as in someone who demonstrates authority) through his painting. That’s why he’s so well known. That’s why people flock to him and his general positive outlook. His change from ordering commands to gentle suggestions, the structured efficiency of military obedience to an opening of creativity for others doesn’t mean that he lost his power or influence, he just modified it to a way that would serve others in a more practical manner. 

Authority is a central message in today’s gospel from Matthew. The context for this reading is important in understanding why Jesus’ statements about authority are so jarring for the religious leaders to hear. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem. The people, having heard of his healings and teachings, including embracing the poor and the marginalized, are excited to welcome him. The religious leaders, however, are wary. Today’s story takes place just after Jesus has overturned the moneychangers tables in the temple, showing his disdain for how the religious leaders have allowed this space to become a center for politics and economics rather than a space for prayer and worship. Jesus continues his time in Jerusalem by teaching in the temple, much to the ire of the religious leaders. 

They question Jesus. Where does his authority to teach in the temple come from? Jesus, being Jesus, doesn’t simply answer their question. He questions them back and then proceeds to tell them the parable of the two sons. A parable about words and action. A parable about doing the will of the father and merely saying you will do the will of the father. While the religious leaders seem to understand doing the will of God is what should be favored over mere lip-service, they do not fully understand the point that Jesus is trying to make in this story. 

What is confusing for the religious leaders is that they consider themselves to be authorities because of their place within society. Their authority derives from human sources, from a title and a position. Because of this, they use their power to affect society. They have influence over the ways things are done. They serve their own self-interests, rather than those who are suffering. While they might be good teachers of religious tenets and laws, they fail to see those teachings through with action. The religious leaders may be in positions of authority within the community, but they lack authoritative action in accordance with the will of God that would confirm that authority. They may say what is right and wrong behavior, but they are not open to any ideas that would challenge their access to maintaining the power they possess. The religious leaders are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another in order to maintain power. 

Jesus is not an authority figure that the religious leaders recognize. They don’t understand why he has so much popularity among the people. They don’t understand the way he goes about teaching and healing, reaching out to the poor, sick, and marginalized. If he truly were “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” as the people claimed when he entered Jerusalem, he wouldn’t have shown up on a donkey and he certainly would not be associating himself with prostitutes and tax collectors. 

The critical piece that Jesus is trying to teach the religious leaders is not that works are more important than faith (Martin Luther would be rolling over in his grave if I said that) but that the will of God makes itself known through a steady process of revelation and transformation. In fact, Matthew uses the term metamelomai, to change one’s mind, twice in this passage, emphasizing its importance in the parable Jesus uses for instruction. Actually, this term might be more accurately translated “to change what one cares about” or “to change one’s heart.” The first son changes what he cares about and goes into the field to work. The tax collectors and prostitutes changed what they cared about and understood John’s righteousness. For God to be at work in the world, people must maintain an openness, to have their minds changed, in order to discern what life in the kingdom of God calls them to be. Jesus points out that the prostitutes and the tax collectors will enter into the kingdom of heaven sooner than the religious leaders because they have left their minds to be opened to John’s righteousness. That openness in changing one’s mind also changes how they act with others.  

Allowing oneself to be open to the will of God requires humility. It requires us to go beyond what we want, what we’re comfortable with, to accept how God can create transformational power in our lives. In our current world, many expressions of belief have become about knowing, not seeking. What I mean by that is that belief has become more about certainty than an openness to new ideas and approaches. The same could be said about the religious authorities and heads of state in Jesus’ time. They were more concerned with maintaining the status quo, in which they held the power, than being challenged into a way of life of mutual support and humility. We see Paul imploring the community in Philippi to be “of a certain mind” together, willing to give up what each of them might be entitled to in the aid of another. They are to find a cruciform way of living, connecting their patterns of thinking with their patterns of living to enable the work of God to be done in the world. 

What today’s gospel and the other readings from today point us toward is that we do not have to be perfect in knowing. Instead, we have to be open to seeking God. We should allow God’s presence in our lives transform us, instead of asserting our own way. Jesus’ authority is not human authority, which focuses on the acquisition and maintenance of raw power. Rather Jesus’ authority derives out of humility, taking those who are abandoned by society and restoring them to wholeness through his healing. Jesus’ authority demonstrates a way of life for us that is open to God’s power and truth. If we fail, if we falter, if we don’t get it right on the first try, God will not abandon us. We can explore faith with the knowledge that God will be there for us even if our attempts in understanding are flawed. As Bob Ross would say, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” 

How wonderful it is, then, that we find ourselves located in a place of inquiry. A university campus is, perhaps, one of the best places for those who seek. Marsh Chapel stands as a place dedicated to the exploration of religious inquiry, not certainty. Here, we encourage you to ask questions, to be unsure, to be willing to explore. That’s honestly what I love most about my job. Working with young adults provides so many opportunities for openness, a willingness to learn and grow. We aim at providing a safe place to land, as well as a safe place to ask the existential questions – who am I? what is meaningful to me? Where and to what is God calling me? Just as Bob Ross encourages his audience to accept mistakes and be open to their own way of approaching painting, we too provide a place where people can change their minds, explore further, and be creative in their relationship with the Divine. Not because we say they must, but because we provide the support to allow such inquiry to occur.  

If we can maintain this openness, a willingness to have our mind’s changed, we may experience the radical transformation that comes in relationship with God. It requires us to get out of our comfort zones and accept that the way we’ve always done things may not always be the only or best way to do them. Authority doesn’t necessarily mean anything if it isn’t connected to action. In fact, authority is best exhibited through action rather than the external imposition of that status. As they say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Let us be active seekers of Divine transformation. 


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students