Thursday, December 10, 2009

Robert Allan Hill Annual Report 2008 (Charge Conference, Asbury First UMC; and, Offices of the President and Provost, Boston University)

Charge Conference (Statistical) Report

Robert Allan Hill

Boston University

Dean of Marsh Chapel, Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology, and Chaplain to the University

January 1, 2008—December 31, 2008

  1. Dean of Marsh Chapel


1. Sunday Sermons and services: 47

Autumn Series (14): A Common Hope (Philippians)

2. Special Services 8

(ML King Observance, BU Baccalaureate, BU Matriculation, BU Alumni Weekend, This I Believe, Marsh Matriculation Service, Lesson & Carols (2x))

3. Guest Speaking 18

(White Fish Bay UMC, Park Ridge Ill UMC, Mass Council Churches, Hampshire House Boston, Hendrix College Arkansas, Conway Forum Arkansas, Londonderry UMC NH, BUSTH Worship, Lansing Michigan State Peoples Church, Boston Ministers’ Club, BU MultiFaith Dinner, Fort Worth Cattleman’s Club BUSTH General Conference, BU Academy School Mtg, Union Chapel Hampton NH, Echo Lake Inn Vermont, BU Islamic Society Rhamadan Dinner, South Asian 16 BU Student Groups Mumbai Memorial)

4. Meetings 482

(Regular 12: Marsh Staff, Marsh Advisory Board, Faculty BUSTH, Faculty Area A BUSTH, Worship BUSTH, Dean’s Council, University Council, University Leadership Group, University Council Student Life Committee, Religious Life Council, BU Chaplains, Bishop’s Boston Urban Initiative)

5. Visits 578

6. New Chapter Members Received 3

(Quigley, Hessler, Buchanan)

7. New Initiatives: a. Autumn program, term book, full packet provided for Advisory Council; b. Sunday Under Graduate Fellowship, Marsh Forum, Student Ministry; c. Completion of Marsh Staff Renewal; d. Ministry\L Whitney Initiatives (see his report); e. Music\S Jarrett Initiatives (see his report); f. R Bouchard\Hospitality Initiatives (esp E Fomby addition); g. Summer Choir (major addition\Palestrina Song of Solomon Motets); h. Motives Magazine (Marsh Annual Theological Journal); i. 9 Hill Receptions and Open Houses at ‘Deanery’ (96 Bay State Road #10)

8. Baptisms 4

(Henry Becker, Ben Owusu-Amo, Cameron Paul Mara, Kendall Bowen)

9. Weddings 18

(Brides: Karas, Skola, Williams, Ho, Rim, Wong, Ng, Simon, Hamel, Clinch, Ugarte, Lee, Phidej, Gruber, Hall, Czaporski, Paz, Lee)

10. Memorials 5

(Alan Stern, Albert Price, Michael Harrison, Nurell Jackson, James Nash)

  1. Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology


  1. Area A Monthly Faculty Meeting
  2. Full Monthly Faculty Meeting
  3. Worship Committee
  4. Annual Faculty Retreat NA
  5. 2008 Publications: 1. Sunday Sermons, BU website (Theme: Hope; New England Interlocutor: Commonwealth Avenue); 2/3. Two Books: Renewal (University Press); Preemption or Redemption? (Mellen); 4. Autumn Sermons Booklet: A Common Hope; 5. Sermon: Two Christmases, Lectionary Homiletics; 6. DeanHill’sBlog (; 7. Motives Article: Last Great Hope?
  6. General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, UMC
  7. GBHEM Study of Ministry Commission
  8. 2007-2009 Worship support & counsel for Karen Westerfield Tucker
  9. Fall BUSTH courses (2): Integration of Theology and Practice and The Gospel of John; Lemoyne (1): The Letters of Paul;
  10. World Council of Churches Commission on The Nature and Mission of the Church (monthly\Holy Cross).
  11. Receptions and Open House for BUSTH faculty at Hill Residence
  12. Elected to serve on search committee for new Academic Dean, BUSTH
  13. SUPE consultant\ Asian Ministry Consultation
  14. Member, ex officio, BUSTH Board of Overseers

  1. University Chaplain


1. Participant, BU Resolutions, BU Today 1

2. BU Today interviews, articles 2

3. BU Matriculation, Alumni Awards, Senior Bkfst, Retiree Luncheon, Commencement, Multifaith Dinner, and Baccalaureate prayers 7

4. Splash, and Religious Life Fair

5. Marsh Board of Advisors (29 persons), May, and October (see folder) 2

6. Pastoral Counseling 54

7. Committees: Deans’ Council, University Leadership Council and Group, Student Life Task Force,

8. Open Houses\Receptions in 96 Bay State Residence 9

(Staff, Parent’s Weekend, Theological School, Christmas Party, Oscars, other)

9. Student Deaths 2007/8 2

(Haley Morrill, Alan Stern)

9. Student Deaths 2008/9 1

(Alvaro Roccaro Giamporcaro)

10. 2\month Chaplains’ meetings; 2\month Religious Life Council (significant additional time investment)

15 General Comments

1. The year has gone smoothly, with many thanks to many people. The residence, 96 BSR 10, works well for us and for entertaining. The three part role seems to be just right (PPP). Entering interests named: national voice, Methodist ethos, excellent hospitality. 2. Current challenges: Re-development of Marsh programmatic ministries, with hopes for graduate, undergraduate and theological fellowship. 3. Completion of fall worship: 2006 Frostiana series, 2007 Kennedy series of sermons (available on web); 2008 Common Hope (Philippians and Commonwealth Avenue); 4. COMPLETION of Reorganization of staff and staff meetings (part 1) completed in 2006. Part 2 completed with one vacancy 2007. 5. Two publications in addition to sermons; numerical assessment of chapel web site (52nd of 400 BU web sites in number of ‘hits’). 6. Increasing pastoral counseling (sexuality issues, deployments to Iraq, vocation, relationship); Strategic Plan Conference, Provost and President. Articulation of Chapel mission: ‘our envisioned mission is to be a loving heart for BU, in the heart of the city, and to provide a vibrant worship service for BU, in the service of the city’. 7. Completion of Staff 8. Hence new fall program: Sunday Breakfast (40), Sunday Lunch (60), Monday dinner (50), Tuesday lunch (40), Dean’s Sunday Study (12), good growth in voice, vocation and volume. New National Summer Series 2007 and 2008, with Darwin Series for 2009. 9. Special Preaching 2008: BOUND FOR BOSTON? Worship at Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 735 Commonwealth Avenue, 617-353-3560. Special preachers for 2008 include: Dr. James Forbes (1/19/08--w\ Mass. Council of Churches); Dr Robert Cummings Neville (3/2/08 and 3/22/08); Rev. Floyd Flake (4/3/08--w\BU MLKing Commemorative Event); Rev. Stephen Cady (4/6/08); Rev. Mike McKee (7/6/08 and 7/13/ 08); Rev. Dr. Randy Day (7/20/08 and 7/27/08): Dr. Mark and Ms. Lynn Baker (8/3/08 and 8/10/08). Regular weekly services are at 11am Sunday, with Dean Robert Allan Hill, preaching, and the Marsh Chapel Choir, under the direction of Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett. 10. 50% of Sundays over 200 in worship: 11. BU Program on Clinch book, FINN. Monthly Boston Ministers’ Club 5/12. New Summer Choir; 13. Significant first level communications improvements (newsletter, web, newspaper, pew rosters, BU calendar, PR menu, Arts Boston, stewardship campaign). 12. 2008 Goals (see 2007 report) DONE: 2 books; 10 guest speaking; fall sermon series; Staff completion (the main accomplishment of 2008); 75 Marsh donors; 2009 Darwin Summer Preaching Series; Staff retreat; Young Adult Clergy Weekend. 13. 2008 Goals PARTLY DONE: John memorization; 2 University events; Marsh Chapter growth; 200 attendance; expansion of radio broadcast; increase to $100,000\yr chapter\chapel donor\other income (at $80,000 now, $46,000 in 2006). 14. 2009 (primary)Goals (fuller list available): a. $100,000 donor level; b. expansion of radio broadcast.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

No Place To Lay His head

No Place to Lay His Head

Matthew 8: 20

Asbury First United Methodist Church

March 2, 2003

Dr Robert A Hill

A Word of the Lord

In the exuberance of youth, a scribe comes to Jesus and throws in his lot with the disciples: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus’ response is startling. No encouragement, no congratulations, no thanksgiving. Jesus rebukes the scribe by telling him how homeless the Christ is, in this world: “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”.

These words, dripping with nature imagery, cast in Aramaic grammar (“birds of the air”), proverbially arranged, and centering as they do on Jesus’ favorite self-reference, “the Son of Man”, surely come from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth. What a marvel, a miracle really, to hear his voice some 2000 years later! Yet, we know that we today need not only to hear what Jesus said, but also to know what this means for our life together. The verse “simply” reminds us that Christ is not at home in this world.

Loyalty Displaces Honesty

Christ is not at home in the lives of institutions, when people must forsake honesty for loyalty. The displacement of honesty by loyalty is inevitable in institutions. It goes with the territory. Of course, we must do our part to support meaningful, healthy institutions. It takes skill to run an institution: a family, a school, a church, a corporation, a government. But Christ is not always at home in institutions. Even—how painful this is—the church, for which Christ gave his life, sometimes places loyalty over honesty. I remember the old saw about and grandfather with his grandson at an ordination. They sat in the back of the large sanctuary; the boy slept for much of the service, but perked up when the Bishop began to lay hands on the candidates. As a hush fell, the boy whispered, “what are they doing with their hands on his head?” Grandpa crustily replied, “they’re taking out his spine”. Christ is not at home where loyalty displaces honesty.

Dreams Domesticated

Christ is not at home in a society that domesticates dreams. The relentless push for order in our society inevitably crushes dreams. When a dream dies, so does Christ. What happens to a dream deferred? Consider the case of Walter Lee Younger, who is building his life and dreaming his dreams on Chicago’s south side. He words as a chauffeur, but dreams of owing his own store. One morning, in the hectic breakfast hour, he tries to share his dream with his wife. She frowns on the plan, and they argue. In exasperation she says, “ Oh Walter, eat your eggs, they’re gonna be cold”. Walter says: “That’s it. A man says to his woman, ‘I’ve got a dream’. His woman says, ‘Eat your eggs’. A man says, ‘I’ve got to take hold of this world’. But his woman says, ‘Eat your eggs and go to work’. A man says, ‘I’ve got to change my life, I’m choking to death’. And his woman says, ‘Your eggs are getting cold’.” Says Walter, “Well damn my eggs…damn all the eggs that ever was!” That as you know is part of A Raisin in the Sun, a story of a dream deferred.

A Culture of Comfort

Nor is Christ at home in a culture focused on comfort. A towering Rochester hero, Christopher Lasch, wrote: “American youth culture is not a medium that initiates young people into adult life, nor even prepares them for it, but is a quasi-autonomous culture organized around the pursuit of fun and thrills.” Christ is not at home in that kind of mellow world. How could one who knew the cross conform to a world of comfort? Rather, we hear in his life the rhythms of Auden’s poem:

He is the Way

Follow him through the land of unlikeness;

You will see rare beasts and have unique adventures

He is the Truth

Seek him in the kingdom of anxiety

You will come to a great city that has expected

Your return for years.

He is the Life

Love him in the world of the flesh

And at your marriage all its occasions shall

Dance for joy.

Christ is not at home in the darkness of this world: to the extent that we are Christians we are homeless too. It is our job to remember this and to remind others. The Christian community’s joy is to point to…God…to confront a secular world with…God. We may not point well. In fact, we may be close to inept. But the pointing is what counts.

Forgotten Children

Christ is not at home in a time that forgets the littlest. Our Bishops wrote a wonderful paper a few years ago, “Children and Poverty”. At Asbury First we say “yes” to children in so many ways: Sunday School, Nursery School, Day Care, Scouting, Caring Center, Youth Group, Student Fellowship, and more. But children in our urban centers, children in the third world, children in pockets of hurt and poverty in many places—these littlest keep the Christ Sleepless, Roving, Wandering, Homeless. As Winston Churchill said, a culture is judged by how well it cares for the oldest and the littlest. How do we measure up?

Diplomacy Denigrated

Christ is not at home in a world that denigrates diplomacy. No wonder we serve such a sleepless Savior, nowhere to lay his head has he, when the great world around makes such little space for the wisdom of the serpent and the innocence of the dove.

In the 1990’s everything was negotiable. Today nothing is negotiable. Both denigrate diplomacy. Diplomacy is the art of balancing the one with the other.

In the 1990’s, as was regularly decried from this pulpit, everything was provisional, up for sale or rent. The long shadow of the White House of Never Ending Negotiation both reflected and shaped our culture. A night in the Lincoln Bedroom—negotiable. Daily routines and deadlines—negotiable. Land in Arkansas—negotiable. Fate of the welfare poor—negotiable. Use of the Oval Office—negotiable. Personal morality—negotiable. The definition of “is”, “good”, “sex” and other timely terms—negotiable.

Today the opposite is true. Nothing is for sale, but nothing is flexible either. The long shadow of the White House of Never Employed Negotiation, itself a creation of our revulsion at its predecessor, both reflects and shapes our culture. The goodness of lowering taxes—non-negotiable. The subservience of the environment—non-negotiable. The invasion of Iraq—non-negotiable. The daily time-table—non-negotiable. The death penalty—non-negotiable.

In Christ, as Paul says, all is Yes. In Adam, as Paul says, all is No. For us, upon this earth, in the ongoing invasion of Adam by Christ, Yes and No are bedfellows. This is what makes life so real and hard. It takes great balance to run a marriage, a family, a business, a church, a government, a world. It takes diplomacy. As John Kennedy said, in the presence of Robert Frost, on the happy day of Kennedy’s inaugural: “Let us never negotiate out of fear; but let us never fear to negotiate.” That is the kind of innocent wisdom and wise innocence that makes for a saving diplomacy.

Collateral Damage

Christ is not at home in a world collateral damage. I never will take for granted the regard of this congregation for the freedom of the pulpit. Most of you disagree, I know, with what I have said about the impending conflict with Iraq. Yet, you have graciously accepted what you cannot recommend, and you have graciously heard what you would not have said, and you have graciously protected what you would not have preferred. In my own ways, I will strive to measure up to your spiritual maturity in the years to come.

Once more: the opposition here voiced, over many months, to preemptory, unilateral, imperialistic, unpredictable military action continues. I have tried to show that such is outside the bounds of inherited Christian just war ethics. I have tried to argue that such is unreasonable when compared to the alternative of ongoing containment and potential retaliation. I have tried to calculate the consequences of first strike, non-multilateral, imperial invasion by one country of another. I have quoted Robert Kennedy, from another setting, that such would be “Pearl Harbor in reverse”.

What then do I say to the day that one of these terrorists further harms our people. They will. “We shall meet violence with patient justice”, and where we can bring justice, in response to attack, justice, in concert with the united nations, justice that is a republic in defense not an empire in expanse, justice that makes for peace, even when this justice, to be temporarily achieved, may tragically involve the utter horror of war, then, let us say, we may have to act. That is 1991 and that is Afghanistan. But this new war is somehthing else. Terror will continue. Our neighbor students died in Lockerbie, and that did not end it. The towers came down on 9/11 and that did not end it. Until a global tide of liberty and justice reaches the poorest moslem hamlet in the most hateful islamic nation, there will still be terror: to be met with patient justice.

Innocent Guilt

Christ is not at home in a world where the innocent are judged guilty, when the powerless innocent are judged by the powerful, to be guilty though they be innocent.

At the very end of my friend T L Butts funeral sermon for our former pastor Dr. Andrew Turnipseed, we are graced with these lines:

“Near the end of Nelle Harper Lee’s wonderful novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a touching and unforgettable scene. Jean Louise (Scout), young daughter of the courageous Atticus Finch, has persuaded her father to let her come to the courtroom to hear the verdict in the controversial case in which he is defending a black man. She chose to sit in the balcony with the black people. The inevitable “guilty” verdict is rendered. It is over. Atticus Finch gathers his papers, places them in his briefcase, and begins a sad and lonely walk down the center aisle to the back door. Scout hears someone call her name, “Miss Jean Louise?” She looks behind her and sees that all of the black people are standing ups as her father walks down the aisle. Then she heard the voice of the black minister, Rev. Sykes: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up, stand up, your father’s passin’.” Can you hear that? It begs to be heard.

Hope is the capacity to work for something not because it will succeed, but because it is good. Said Vaclev Havel 30 years before he had any success.

Good News: The Best of Company

The Sleepless Savior, the Roving Redeemer, the the Homeless Christ of this single sentence in our Holy Scripture—the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head—it is His presence and wandering on which you can rely when you also are sleepless, roving and homeless.

When you are crushed in institution life between honesty and loyalty—just there, not later when things get better, but right there—you have the best of company, the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head.

When you see your dream of a lifetime domesticated in the world’s blessed rage for order—just there, not later when things get easier, but right there—you have the best of company, the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head.

When you watch your teenagers swamped in a sea of material excess and you wonder just how well they will swim—just there, not later when they and you are more settled, but right there in the necessary anxiety of faithful parenting—you have the best of company, the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head.

When you see children, far or near, marginalized and underattended—just there, not when the kingdom comes in full, but right there in the mud—you have the best of company, the Roving Redeemer who also sits up at night with children.

When you worry about a world that turns a deaf ear to the poetry of diplomacy, as we do today—just here, not when all is well later, but right here in our concern we have the best of company, the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head.

When you lift your voice in sober concern about the collateral damage of war, as I do today, just here—not after the armistice, but right here, we have the best of company, Jesus Christ, who has no place to lay his head.

When you weep at the sight of the innocent judged guilty, so often the voiceless innocent judged by the powerful to be guilty—just there, not in the heavenly courtroom but right smack in earthly defeat—you have the best of company, Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, who has no place to lay his head.

Stand up, stand up, He is passing by…


My daughter, who will be married this summer, is one of the greatest joys of my life. When she was little and the weather was nice, we walked in the Cornell wild flower gardens. She was a calm sort, except when she happened to see a bird in flight. Then she would tug my hand, and stamp her feet, and point to the sky and call out…”booties, daddy, booties”. She got the word wrong, but the spirit she got just right. The gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight! (Barth). It is the pointing to God, whether we do it well or poorly, with the right words or not, it is the pointing that counts. Following afar off, we point to a Homeless Christ, faith pointing to God’s future: the reign of Jesus in the heart, the reign of justice in the world. Until that day, the Son of Man has no pl

Sunday, June 07, 2009

An English Spring

An English Spring
John 3: 1-17
May 24, 2009
Marsh Chapel
Dean Robert Allan Hill

Grace can appear, out of the mist, out of a London fog. Grace can overtake you in the mist, in the midst of an English Spring. Faith is that kind of walk in the dark. You only appreciate your faith when you get to a point that you truly need it. I wonder whether you are at a point, ready to set out on the trail of faith? Faith overtakes us in the mist, in the dark, in the fog like that interminable London fog.

We have last week passed through the ritual of Commencement, here at Boston University. Many thousands cheered at Nickerson Field, in the main gatherings. Many hundreds, school and college by school and college, heard words with which to be hooded and to begin again. Two smaller gatherings impressed me this year.

Another kind of fog, spring in England, greeted us at Faneuil Hall.

Jan and I have gone, every year, to Faneuil Hall for the commissioning ceremony for our new ROTC leaders. It is at 3:30pm in the afternoon. Each young woman or man ascends the historic stage of the Hall. They each take an oath to defend the constitution of the country. Then their parents come forward to pin the amulets for their new rank upon each shoulder. There is a little quiet at the pinning, as mom and dad find the right way to attach the rank badges. The hall is fairly full. Veterans are honored. There is a prayer and a speech. There are awards. This year’s winner was remembered for his playful temperament, his team spirit, and the fact that he still used a Chuck-E-Cheese wallet. These are young people. As mom and dad pin on the rank, it becomes shockingly clear just what sacrifice and just what cost arises when peaceful means, diplomatic strategies, fail. Then we turn to young people, some of whom are carrying wallets from childhood, and depend on their courage. There is a thick fog of unforeseeable future and a mist in the eyes as well. Every year there have been soldiers who have been regulars in worship here at the Chapel. Some of you will remember Morgan Jordan from last year. We prayed that day:

All things blessed come from Thee.

In this hour of consecrated commitment, we ask to sense Thy blessing.

Bless our country with a hunger for liberty and justice.

Bless our leaders with courage and patience.

Bless our people with a new rebirth of wonder.

Bless the parents here today with a feeling of your embrace.

Bless those to be commissioned here today with a confidence born of obedience.

Bless, O Lord, these young women and men with the graces of safety and courage.

And bless us who rely on their sacrificial service, with a deeper, truer admiration for them and for that service.

Grant us thy peace.

Another fog still greeted us on Monday.

On Monday, the day after commencement, some of us gathered for a very dignified graduation ceremony to honor the senior class of the BU Academy, our resident Preparatory High School. These students were at least four years younger than the soldiers. They came forward in robes not uniforms. A stately quiet piano rendition of Pomp and Circumstance guided their entry. Their senior orations were in Greek and Latin. The speaker of the day playfully quoted a certain mid-20century English philosopher and sociologist, one ‘J Lennon’ and his colleague, Dr ‘P McCartney’ to the effect that money cannot buy love and love is all you need. The students were admonished, with straightforward frankness, to learn to delay gratification. There were awards. And while the list of schools, fine colleges, to which the graduates have been admitted was printed, it was clear that the future was not clear. One honoree gave thanks for finishing, and remembered studying her Latin vocabulary in the shower. Again, the fog and mist of the unforeseeable future did not escape the prep school ceremony, any more than it had the ROTC commissioning. Young people, young people, such young people.

If we could see everything, we would not need trust. If we knew every little thing ahead of time, we would not need faith. If we were certain, already, about how the future would unfold, we would not need the courage to be or the confidence born of obedience. Faith is fond in the fog. Faith is fond in the London Fog. Whatever version of an English Spring you are living through right now may just the weather system and psychic mist that will evoke your faith. It has happened before.

Nicodemus presents himself to Jesus, appearing out of the misty fog and London like shadows at night, to ask the location of real authority, he who is a figure of much authority, and to seek an authoritative word of faith. Where is faith? Almost any religious text is a neighbor to this question, and here in the fourth Gospel, Nicodemus brings the question home. What is the shape of real faith?

Is it found in law, the ten commandments, the fierce fundamentalism on the rise in our time? Surely these commandments are the basis of good life, but are they the heart of life? Is faith found in order or structure, as in that of a church with laity and deacons and priests and bishops, the depositum fidei? Surely the river of life needs some banks, otherwise all would be flood, but is order at the heart of faith? Are we left, for salvation, to choose between fundamentalism and ecclesiasticism? In this monsoon, this rainy English spring, let us listen again for the Word of God.

The freedom and love in today’s Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authentic faith, finally, is found in freedom and love.

Speaking of London fog…

We once remembered that. It is the experience of freeing love, that ignited the Methodist church.

Every Sunday has four liturgical dimensions, four calendars. One is the lectionary and liturgy of the church—we use this each week, here, so our lesson and Psalm and musical recognition of Ascension. A second is the cultural calendar, Memorial Day this weekend, the traditional beginning of summer and remembrance of service. A third is the calendar of every local community, like ours here, at BU, in our case feeling the effects of the tide going out, faculty, students and staff on summer break. And a fourth is the variety of denominational dates and events, the birthdays of obscure Scottish saints, the feast days of more venerable holy ones, the needs of the larger church for funding of very sorts, and today, 5/24, Aldersgate Sunday, the 271st anniversary of Mr. Wesley’s own English Spring, his discovery of faith in fog (more on this in a moment).

Winston Churchill knew the fog of an English Spring.

At the right moment, one momentous English Spring of 1940, Winston Churchill faced down the more polished, better heeled, more popular and more experienced old Britons of his newly formed war cabinet, and steadily led his country away from their desire to compromise with Adolf Hitler. With Belgium defeated, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With France cut in two, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk and escape virtually impossible, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With the whole German airforce poised to incinerate England’s green and pleasant land, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With Lord Halifax ready to seek terms and Lord Chamberlain ready to let him Churchill clung to a love of freedom. Re-read this summer John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940. He concludes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War. In the end, America and Russian did. But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.” Faith is about love of freedom.

John Wesley knew something about the fog of an English Spring.

At midlife, one enchanting night in the English Spring of 1738, John Wesley heard something said in church that warmed his heart for good. He had been on Aldersgate street that Sunday evening, going to chapel service more from duty than from passion, when he heard a preacher read Romans 8 and also Martin Luther’s commentary on that passage. There is something so fragrant and so full about damp London in the springtime. As he left church, Wesley felt something new, a freeing love in the heart, which is the creation and work of the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it. Faith is about freeing love.

The sermon today is an altar call for you. I propose that you come to prayer, ready to accept Jesus in your life. So come, to experience freeing love. So come, to receive a love of freedom. So come, to give thanks for the freedom to love. For the wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes. So it is with every one who is born of the spirit.

Last week’s Commencement reminded us of freedom and love. After our main event speaker had filled the imaginations of a very responsive class with a challenge to service of others, I leaned over to Father Paul and said, ‘I am calling an audible’. I put aside the written benediction (I reserve the right to use it next year!), and remembered a New England poet and a New England poem. It seemed to fit the moment, as it does as well today:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A Recession Theology

A Recession Theology
John 16: 4-14
Pentecost Sunday
May 31, 2009
Marsh Chapel
Robert Allan Hill


With most of our students now away on summer break, we may hazard a reference to Donna Reed as the sermon begins.

The Marsh pulpit, historic and delightful as a setting for preaching, demands weekly illustrations or combinations of illustrations accessible to four generations, 20, 40, 60 and 80 years of age, or thereabouts. This quadrilateral in illustration is true in other, in many other places, but heavily true here, where our youth group mailing list has 25,000 names on it. On a Sunday during the school year, I would think twice about dear Donna, and whether or not 20 year olds would know her, and whether 40 year olds would connect with her.

‘I has been a long time since any of us boys have seen a woman, so we are writing to you in hopes you’ll help us out off our situation…We would appreciate it very much if you would send us a photo of yourself’ (NYT, 5/25/09). So wrote one solder in 1944 from the Aleutian Islands. From New Guinea, a month later: ‘The boys in our outfit think you are a typical American girl, someone who we would like to come home to’. A year earlier my wife’s uncle had died on the next island over, New Britain, a hockey star and recent graduate of Mount Hermon, age 20. In 1943, someone asked her to dance because ‘I really felt like she was a girl from back home. She was from a smaller community, and we were more or less the same age, so I felt she was the kind of person I could talk to’. ‘We think you’re swell’ wrote six marine sergeants.

Other generations will know her, not by photograph, but by cinema and television. They will remember her as the bright light of George’s ‘Wonderful Life’, the woman whose stairway banister can never permanently hold its top. Or they will remember her as the woman ever standing in televised living room or kitchen, always perfectly dressed, from 7am to 7pm.
Donna Reed, it turns out, kept her WWII letters, 341 letters stored up in an old shoebox. Remembered, by so many, it turns out, she remembered many. The letters sat undiscovered for 65 years, kept in a shoebox kept in a garage. Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, discovered the letters early this recession. They made her feel ‘really proud’. Many of the letters she saved from GI’s overseas came from fellow Iowans, some from friends near her family farm in Denison, Iowa. Her daughter discovered the shoebox and letters earlier this recession. It happens that the Mary Owen was employed, pre-recession, by Bear Stearns, a company, as we know see, neither bearish enough nor stern enough, its name notwithstanding. In 1942, Reed wrote to a friend, ‘my effort to win the war has not amounted to much…I wish I could find more to do’.

In preparing this sermon, I did not fish out this newspaper story from earlier in the week only to continue my ongoing personal support for the beauty and power of the daily newspaper at its finest. Although, now that the subject has come up, the power of the daily paper to open the world, to expand the horizon, to challenge the mind and to warm the heart, it might be noticed, is a great and gracious good. When Karl Barth said, in days of Donna Reed, that the preacher speaks with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, he had little sense that one of his two hands might fall empty, or that the endangered document would be the paper. No, the sermon about the press and freedom is for another day. Nor is the point her to recall the power of a hand written letter to form memory and meaning and to call up the very presence and person of the writer to our minds and hearts. Again, another sermon for another day. I mention the story because Donna Reed’s shoebox opens up today’s gospel, a recession theology well fit for Pentecost, in two ways. The 341 letters, saved by the generous mother, and their discovery, made by the newly unemployed daughter, recall for us a recession theology that honors those in need and out of work, and a recession theology that drives us back to the glory hole of spirit, the shoebox of longing, the recessive, recessive depth of saving faith. A recession theology: we are our brothers’ keeper. A recession theology: return to the forgotten love you had at first.

One: The Spirit Helps Us In Our Weakness

Romans 8, a jewel and a beauty, reminds us on Pentecost that our voice in need is our voice in deed. When we are weak, then we are strong enough to see more clearly. The spirit helps us in our weakness. On my prayer list in these months are nearly two dozen people without work, mostly men. I look forward to their re-employment, and I look forward to a day when as a people we may more effectively mitigate the effects of recession. Then we shall rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Then we shall see what we avoid, that the person on the corner, wearing the sign, ‘jobless, homeless’, another time may be us, or our relative. Then we shall work for the common good with a shining zeal and ferocity like that you see in the photographs of servicemen in 1942. Then in the common good we shall find the moral equivalent of war.

For Romans 8, as the choice verse on hope reminds us, is yet another point in Paul’s apocalyptic desire for heaven, a heaven of earth and and earth of heaven, that which ‘we wait for with patience’. It is not, this hope, what now we see. We have miles to go before we sleep.

Maybe you do to: I keep a little statistical list in my journal. Here are some of the latest entries. They are only numbers: 47, 58, 50, 87, 10, 266, 28, 40.

40% of babies born in the USA in 2008 were born out of wedlock.

58% of male Harvard graduates who entered the work force in 2007 went into finance.

50% of recent Afghani applicants for police positions tested positive for drug use.

87,000 Iraqis have died violently since 2005.

10,000,000 species live on earth right now.

266 uses of waterboarding, a kind of torture were inflicted on 2, just 2, detainees.

28% of all US adults change their religion.

40% change their denomination.

You see? Every now and then arithmetic can be ever so interesting. Today I mention the number 84. 84% of the jobs lost this recession, thus far, have been lost by men. For all the spirit gusts of Pentecost, or perhaps precisely out of that holy wind, today upon the heart we feel the hurt of the unemployed.

Why Dean Hill do you present us this number, amid these numbers, on Pentecost? Is this not the church’s birthday, Dear Dean. Are we not to adore the birth of the early church, in red cloth and sparkling songs? What has the spirited holy catholic and apostolic church to do with a few redundant men?


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

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

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

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

Not all of our unemployed are people of faith. But very few are socially located very far from a baptized brow or a consecrated marriage or a social hall covered dish dinner. Not all of our unemployed are of great moral strength. But very few are living in towns and cities without good people doing good things. Not all of our employed are people who give to anything, any cause or institution, on a regular basis. But very few have received no help, support, forgiveness or grace from someone, somewhere, somehow, sometime. The parables of Jesus are almost all about men and work and troubles. I do not find Augustine invariably helpful. Yet his view of the church, in argument against the purists, and his respect for its well nigh universal, invisible expanse—this I preach, this I affirm, this I love. Nothing human is foreign to us. The issue of work, of honorable work, is as shot through with Pentecost spirit and sacramental wine as every curiosity about prayer, parament, liturgy, music or pardon. The word liturgy, in fact, means ‘work’.

I left an exit ramp in New York on Tuesday, and passed that man wearing that sign, ‘jobless, homeless’. For many men, the job is the spiritual home. His job is his home and his home is his castle. So I pull out my statistics list when I read that 84% of the job losses befell men. We can do better by our brothers in Christ, and one day, we shall have built a society that better smoothes the inevitable collisions between growth and value, and better smoothes the inevitable tensions between liberty and justice. The hurt of this recession will prod, goad, teach and inspire us to do so. One of two announcements in recession theology is this, that we are our brothers’ keeper, meant to watch over one another in love. Donna Reed symbolizes this shared effort, this common good, this love of neighbor.

Two: The Spirit of Truth Will Bear Witness to Me

Yet there is a second flame flickering in the fire of Pentecost and its, our, recession theology. For heaven and full employment are not the same thing. Heaven and guaranteed employment are not the same thing. Heaven and employment are not the same thing. Your job may be your home but it is not your soul. A friend, savingly, asked me recently, ‘have you been long enough in your new job to have a sense of humor about it?’

John 16 is striking for how strikingly strange it is. Sin is not what we do. Sin is not believing. Righteousness is not what we do. Righteousness is Jesus’ absence and the longing absence creates. Judgement is not hellfire. Judgement is the victory of things invisible over the god of this visible world. The Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth—perhaps the least historically understood figure and figure of speech in the New Testament to this day, by the way—guides us, guides us still.

There is more to life than work. Very few people, come dusk, say, ‘I just wish I could have spent another Saturday afternoon in the office’. There is more to work than earning. Very few hearses come equipped with a trailer hitch ball, neither a 2 inch or 1 ¾ inch variety. I know these are trite preacherly truisms. Yet why do we live as if all we needed were work? Yet why do we live as if our hearse will pull a trailer?

A Spanish poet: ‘while others strive vainly for impermanent authority, let me lie down in the shade of a tree, singing’.

Donna Reed’s daughter found meaning, power, memory, love, a depth she did not before know, on an unemployed day, rooting around in the garage. She found glory in the glory hole. She remembered, as she learned about her mother’s own memory lane. Maybe we can remember some things hidden in our spiritual shoeboxes, in our personal garages. Do you remember what you were taught?

See ye first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these will be yours as well.

Store ye not up treasure on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal, but store up treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust consume, nor do thieves break in and steal. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Prize your time, now you have it, for God is a consuming fire.

When she died in 1986 at age 64, Donna Reed wanted to remember that at least 341 servicemen, many from Iowa, had found comfort in her photo, counsel in her response, truth in her letters, spirit in her correspondence. Did we not just read that in John 16? I believe we did.

We treasure what we love, and love what we treasure.

I want to ask you flat out: where is your treasure? What is it that you want to keep dry, preserved for the benefit of another generation, tucked in a shoebox literal or figurative, stored in a garage actual or virtual, kept as a badge of honor in the spirit of truth? What do you hope someone, a daughter, a great--great nephew, might come upon, about your life, which might make them, as Mary Owen said of her mother, ‘feel so proud’?

For a recession theology—I am sure you guessed the turn we would make here—is a recessive one. It seeks out the recesses of mind, heart, and soul. Faith plumbs the deepest recesses of your inner being. In a recession, we have more opportunity, and more need to climb down into the recesses of our lives. In this way, recession is a necessary prelude to salvation. The Spirit is given to us in our weakness, not in our dominance, but in our recession. When we need love, we know love, and know how to love. The second announcement of good news in a recession theology is just this. Grace meets us not just when we succeed, but also and more so when we recede. And in place of prowess, to replace prowess, grace gives love.


“In thee is the fountain of life and in thy light we shall see light. Give me a man in love: he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns. Give me one who is hungry. Give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the eternal country. Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about” (S Augustine, sermons).

"The Day's Own Trouble" Commencement Address, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, 2009

“The Day’s Own Trouble”
Matthew 6: 25--34
Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Dean of Marsh Chapel
Commencement Address
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary
Northwestern University
May 15, 2009


My mind settles on a farm that rests on the Canadian border. Now my mind settles on the voice of a woman, the matriarch of that farm, who also taught elementary school. And my mind settles on her diamond brilliant mind, sharp as a tack 28 years ago. A mind tough like that of Susan B. Anthony, keen like that of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We walk toward the barn, and notice the day’s troubles: veterinarian coming, tractor broken, hired help AWOL, and other derisive difficulties not yet visible, far more difficult to mend. She hands me a cool drink, an ice tea. She has listed the day’s hurts. She brightens and recites: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. Let the day’s own trouble, derision, evil, be sufficient for the day. Mazzie Hesseltine, as smart a person as I can recall having known, and as strong a woman, will forever wear that verse as her clothing in memory, not just because she knew it, or could recite it, but because she lived it. She faced the world, free from the world. You can too. Your lay people will teach you how.

1. The Day’s Own Trouble: The Verse

Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day….

How do you face the day’s own trouble, and keep it tied to the day, rather than letting it spill out and over into every day? Especially for those in the ministry, this is a crucial issue. A friend once told me (his initials are Phil Amerson) that in ministry it is not enough to generalize, nor even enough to specialize. Ministry requires you to improvise. True enough.

With regard to trouble, this verse says: expect it, accept it, address it, and forget it. At the end of the day, put out the mental trash on an imaginary front curb, wrapped in a bundle with the careful marking, ‘the day’s own trouble’.

The main trouble a preacher faces, with regularity, is how to understand, and so interpret, a passage from 2,000 years ago. This will be your daily trouble in a life where every day is Saturday night. It is always Saturday night in the ministry. Every passage like this one is like a hymn, or an anthem. There is soprano line (the lead, the voice of Jesus of Nazareth). There is an alto line (the most important voice, that just below the surface of the text, the voice of the early church, in its preaching of the gospel, its remembering, hearing and speaking. For the early church Jesus meant freedom, and his cross and resurrection meant one thing—the preaching of good news, that we may face the world free from the world). There is the tenor line (what we read from the lectern, the gospel writer, in this case Matthew). And there is the baritone, basso profundo (the way the line reverberates throughout the rest of scripture, and down through nineteen hundred years of experience to us today).

Preparing for you, I had hoped this was pure soprano, but it probably is not. ‘Mt 6:34 adds a bit of worldly wisdom which in itself does not seem to be typical of Jesus’ (TDNT 4, 593—R Bultmann!).

I had hoped this was the gospel preached by the primitive church, but, other than the thoughts about anxiety, it probably is not. Merimna (gk: anxiety) is a word that makes significant appearances at some of the very highest points in the New Testament. Have no anxiety about anything, says Paul in Phil. 4:6. Be anxious about nothing. In fact, we are often anxious about nothing. Does your spouse every say: ‘What’s wrong’. And you say, ‘Nothing’. Exactly. Care, fret, anxious expectation: Matthew addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul in 1 Cor. 7: 32, the second century author of 1 Peter in 1 Pet. 5:7, and again Paul in 2 Cor. 11:28. We associate these passages with climactic sayings. And so they are. Consider the lilies of the field… Let those who have wives live as if they had none, for the form of this world is passing away…. Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour… Five times I have received from the Jews forty lashes less one…And above all these my anxiety for the churches…

So Paul both admonishes all to have no anxiety and readily admits his anxiety (merimna, the same word in all cases) for the churches. I think Ernest Tittle, my pulpit hero, the great presence of this very room understood this best in his generation. Face the world, free from the world. Have no anxiety. But work out your salvation in fear and trembling. To channel my own inner Tittle for a moment, I believe he would want to remind us of the old Kingswood Wesley hymn, ‘to unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety’. To preach aware that the Bible is errant, that the tradition moves toward equality, that the truth of science in evolution is true for us too, and that the truth of faith of is existential (‘all of us are better when we are loved’). So celebrate Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, as long as you meant by that error, equality, evolution and existence. Said Tittle!

Matthew 6:34 is Matthew’s gift to us.

I should have expected the tenor tone. Remember Mazzie? A teacher. Remember Matthew? A teacher. A teacher likes a summary at the end of a long chapter. To reiterate: ‘Mt 6:34 adds a bit of worldly wisdom which in itself does not seem to be typical of Jesus’ (TDNT 4, 593).

So teach us to, Holy Scripture, so teach us Gospel Writer, so teach us Tenor Voice, to get a heart of wisdom. So sing to us that our own basso profundo will respond in grace!

2. The Day’s Own Trouble: The Ministry

How do we deal with the anxiety, ‘fear in search of a cause’, that colors every day and mediates our every experience, our trouble, our derision, our evil?

How do we handle trouble?

The Day’s own trouble….

Not the major traumas of life, not the major crises, but the stubborn fact that EVERY DAY IN MINISTRY YOU WILL ENCOUNTER ONE TROUBLE, ONE UNEXPECTED AND UNPLEASANT ISSUE.

With every, this worn verse suggests, there comes the strong possibility of trouble, a trouble congruent with that day, a trouble fluent with the language of a single day, a trouble rightly embedded in that very day.

When the day greets you with derision, how do you respond?

Here are four suggestions: expect it, accept it, address it, forget it.

Deal with it.

Expect it. Be ready for it. Do not take it personally. Accept it. Be prepared. Address it. Work it through. Do what you can—that day, TODAY. Recall Ephesians: “Be angry. But let not the sun go down on your anger”. Then let it go. Forget it. Do not let it sit on your desk, or on your mind. Say: shoo! Respond, don’t react. But respond soon. Otherwise you will have collisions and calamities. Put it out with the trash, on the curb, under the street lamp, in a bundle. Expect it. Accept it. Address it. Forget it.

I emphasize the last. Forget it. One morning the green line (the local subway that passes by the porch of Marsh Chapel in Boston) was backed up, packed up, jacked up, because of a stuck, down train in the tunnel. The day’s own trouble will become tomorrow’s backed up, packed up, jacked up mayhem if you do not clear the tracks. Other days are coming and they each have their own troubles. Suffice it to deal with this one today.

Every day carries such portent. Every day in ministry carries its own earmarked trouble. Isn’t that a remarkable insight? There is an organic, natural, historic, existential difficulty owned in every day. The day’s OWN…And when life speaks, from the wilderness, in derision, you will say: ‘Well, it’s about high time. Here you are. At last. What took you? I have been expecting your arrival.’

For example…

Phil could have brought you a young Turk. Instead he brought me. It doesn’t take long to go from being a young Turk to becoming an old turkey. But with the change does come some experience…

As I was saying, for example…

One day in the ministry you are misquoted in the paper. (Any more, to be quoted is to be misquoted). Stew for a while. Compose yourself. Compose your response. Respond, in person, on the phone, with civility. Or, decide it does not merit response, offer a prayer, and move As Basil of Caesarea once said, “You cannot bring a refutation to bear upon a palpable absurdity.”

One day you yourself (most uncharacteristically) fly off the handle, justly but gracelessly criticizing a colleague. Moan for a while. Flog yourself. Then straighten up. Go to your colleague and apologize.

One day you take the wrong way on a one way street. Those riding with you are terrified. Turn around. Get settled back into traffic. Adjust your seatbelt and rear view mirror. Say a prayer of thanks. Then, turn to your terrified riders and say—‘wasn’t that great!’ Wow! Remind them of the story of the old women pulled over for speeding on route 96. The officer berated them and then asked why they were speeding. They replied that the speed limit said 96. No, he said, that was the route number not the speed limit. ‘Are you frightened?’ Oh no, they said. This road was fine. It was route 222 that was really scary.

One day you get up in your daughter’s business. You didn’t mean to, but you did. You just couldn’t bite your tongue or bide your time. OK. Call her back. Say: ‘forgive me. I was out of line.’ Then stuff it in the paper bag that has this marking: let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day. Move There are other subway trains coming down the track, tomorrow.

One day a colleague wrongly criticizes you. Steam about it. Go for a jog. Then write out a full, fair and frisky response. Carefully put the letter in an envelope. Open your desk drawer and put the envelope in the desk drawer. Simmer for three days, seasoning with bile. Take it out and read it, on a trouble-lite day. Carefully the letter back in the envelope. Repeat procedure every 72 hours…until the urge to mail it abates.

One day you leave a meeting fit to be tied. Pause. Stop. Take ten deep breaths. Then think. Yes, think. What one irenic word can I speak today, before I go home from work, which will somehow slightly improve the situation? What one thoughtful gesture can I make, before I go home from work, which might somehow slightly improve the situation? Do so. Say so. Then move

One day somebody else lets their fear get the better of them. They lambaste you. Respond, in the moment, with honesty. Then shake the dust from your feet. Brush the lint from your shoulder. Peel the nametag off your lapel. Move on. There are other lambastations coming, tomorrow.

Not every fight is your fight. Not every issue needs to be addressed, at least not by you, at least not right now. Not every troublesome moment is fixable, curable, healable.

One day you encounter e-trouble. My son knows I think the world gets better one conversation at a time, and worse one email at a time. He clerks for a federal judge. One morning my son called me with this story. “I knew you would enjoy it Dad”, he said. “It involves trouble and email”. Well, apparently in the judicial employment system, when one falls ill and runs out of sick days, others can take from their account and give to the need. A worker received days from about twenty others, healed, and went back to work. The colleague who organized the sick day bank support assayed to write a thank you note, which she did. It was a very simple note, graciously thanking the donors, reporting on the healing, and wishing all well. This would have been no problem. Except that in mailing the thank you note, she hit the wrong key, and sent to the wrong list, not a list of twenty donors, but a general list of 200,000 judicial employees. Here is a trouble, a day’s own trouble, organically designed for the tweeter, list serve, email, website 21st century. Oops. Yet even this would also have been no problem. Except that a lawyer in Arizona took umbrage at the e-incursion, and said so in a curtly written note: ‘not my issue, not my problem, you invaded my space, thanks but no thanks, plus I really do not agree with this whole socialist sick day swapping anyway.’ Which would have been alright, too. Except that she hit ‘reply all’, and, in the next hour, said my son, he had 100 emails in his box. Yes, Sick Day Bank! No Arizona! Yes Thank You Note! No To Rude Response! Yes to Liberty, No to Obama (I have no idea how he got in there)…Until one kindly attorney from the St Lawrence River area shouted out: “STOP. This is what makes people suspicious of lawyers in general and federal workers in particular. We have better things to do with our time.” This also would have been no problem. Except. Except that before he signed off he wrote: “PS, while I have your attention, I want you to know that I am an amateur chef, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you all MY FAVORITE RECIPE FOR COOKING SALMON”. Yes, he hit reply all. And on the day went: Salmon Yes! Salmon No! Amateur Chef Yes! Email recipe, NO!…

How will you face the Day’s Own Trouble…

Here is some good news.

You may face the world, free from the world. This is faith. Faith is a gift, not something you build in your own garage on weekends. It is a gift, like all the great things of being. Life is a gift. Forgiveness is a gift. Friendship is a gift. Love is a gift. Eternal life is a gift. And so is faith. All the miracles, teachings, parables, healings, controversies, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean just one thing for the New Testament writers, like Matthew, and a for communities of faith, like you (pl.): Hear the gospel: You may face the world, free from the world.

3. The Day’s Own Trouble: Yesterday Helps Today

We have our troubles. To face them we shall need the courageous honesty of faith. To struggle on for the full humanity of gay people is our day’s trouble. To resist the blandishments of preventive war (warfare that is preemptive, unilateral, imperial, unforeseeable, immoral, post-Judeo Christian—wrong) is our day’s trouble. To meet violent terror with patient justice is our day’s trouble. To face, truly face, the actual historical condition of the church, our church, in ruins, in ruins, is our day’s trouble. For these troubles we shall need to find access to our own best past. We in the bass section can learn from our Tenor teacher.

We can learn to remember our own best past. Real
tragedy is lacking access to your own best past. Your ministry brings healing by bringing people access to their own best past.


These verses have resounded through history. Remember Shakespeare? Remember Kierkegaard? Remember Bonhoeffer?

Pasternak loved Shakespeare’s Sonnett 66. It is said that whenever he read aloud the crowd would not let him leave until he had rehearsed it for them. “Give us the 66th…” Its evocation of daily anxiety bears remembering. The poem is unequaled in its announcement of trouble. When life gives you the 66th remember Shakespeare, but especially his last couplet.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born, And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,And purest faith unhappily forsworn,And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,And strength by limping sway disabledAnd art made tongue-tied by authority,And folly--doctor-like--controlling skill,And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,And captive good attending captain ill:Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

‘Captive good attending captain ill…’ Can you hear that? It begs to be heard. Stand with your people in tragedy, honest and kind in word and deed.

Kierkegaard knew trouble. He called it anxiety. He called anxiety the ‘dizziness of freedom’. Anxiety reveals us to ourselves as incomplete beings. “Anxiety is fear in search of a cause” (P Pearson). Anxiety is not sinfulness, but is the state out of which sinfulness arises. The human being is the place where being is. Is anxiety a longing for one’s own most self, own most possibility? Kierkegaard’s successor Heidegger thought superficial social living helps us avoid an uncomfortable encounter with the nothing. “The original anxiety in existence is usually repressed. Anxiety is there. It is only sleeping. Its breath quivers perpetually through Dasein, only slightly in those who are jittery, imperceptibly in the ‘oh, yes’ and the ‘oh, no’ of men of affairs; but most readily in the reserved, and most assuredly in those who are basically daring” (Heidegger, par. 41).

Stand with your people in anxiety, honest and kind in word and deed.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer certainly faced trouble, derision, evil. In some ways his is the iconic response to evil in our time. Bonhoeffer lived and taught a non-religious Christian worldliness. Here is good news. We face the world free from the world. He knew that fundamentalism feeds on deep anxiety. To face the world in a free way, we need to face down our anxieties and face up to our challenges. Hence, Bonhoeffer faced trouble, derision, evil by facing the world freely, facing down anxieties, and facing up to responsibilities. “Only those who are obedient believe, and only those who believe are obedient” (Discipleship, 63). We recognize Christian truth “solely through the free experiment in living” (DBW 11, 415). He taught that there is no reality that is not Christ. “Christ is the center and power of the Bible, of the church, of theology, but also of humanity, reason, justice, and culture” (Ethics, 341). Luther began with Romans, but Bonhoeffer began with Matthew. Luther began with Paul, but Bonhoeffer began with Jesus. While Luther began with the obedience of faith, Bonhoeffer began with the faith of obedience. While Luther began with the faith of Abraham, Bonhoeffer began with the lilies of the field: ‘do not be anxious about tomorrow, tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.’

Have you read Bonhoeffer recently? My seminary roommate and I discovered midway through our first year that we were living in the room Bonhoeffer inhabited at Union Theological Seminary in 1931. If you travel light, you can meet life, and meet it square. You can face the world, free from the world. Months before the hanging, he was able to write (found in your hymnal, 517):

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered
And confidently waiting come what may
We know that God is with us night and morning
And never fails to greet us each new day

He is not Shakespeare, and I am not Kierkegaard and you are not Bonhoeffer, but we are alive today, to meet the day’s own trouble.

Stand with your people in defeat, honest and kind in word and deed.

Remind them of their own best past.

I hear Howard Thurman!
“The ocean and the night together surrounded my little life with a reassurance that could not be affronted by the behavior of human beings,” wrote Thurman. “The ocean at night gave me a sense of timelessness, of existing beyond the reach of the ebb and flow of circumstances. Death would be a minor thing, I felt, in the sweep of that natural embrace.”
Sursum Corda! Face the world. Free from the world.

And brush away the day’s own trouble…


Our new president seems to take life as it comes. He travels light. Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

Last fall, there was some trouble, a day’s trouble. He was roundly criticized. Most criticism, by the way, has some truth in it. I think it was around the time of the great ‘lipstick on a pig’ incident, but my memory fades and fails.

The next day he stood before the cameras. He spoke and smiled. Sometimes a smile is better than a word. Then he took his right hand, as I am doing now, and he brushed it, knuckles down, across his left shoulder. Try it…when you get home. I mean, we aren’t going to get all slobbery with you, we wouldn’t presume to enter your personal space and suggest you try it right here (though you can if you want). Brush it away, the day’s own trouble. Sweep it away, the day’s own trouble. Flick it away, the day’s own trouble.

Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof…

A Common Prayer

A Common Prayer
Trinity Sunday
Psalm 29, Isaiah 6, Luke 15
June 7, 2009
Marsh Chapel
The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean


The ministry of Marsh Chapel, in this decade, quickens in connection with voice, vocation and volume. The voice of this pulpit, around the globe, is lifted and shared, in the liberality of the gospel, as it has been from the time of our first Dean, Dr. Franklin H. Littell. Our Psalm today celebrates voice. The vocation to service, in ministry and culture, to which we invite young people every day, is our joy and hope, this day, as it was in exuberance over lunch last Sunday. Our lesson today celebrates vocation. The volume, simply put, the increasing worshipping presence of the people of God, grows in ordered worship, as we lift hymns in four part harmony, enjoy choral music both historic and contemporary, and ponder the word, with head and heart, to ‘unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety’, as the lost are found. The gospel today speaks of the lost and the found. We invite you to step alongside the ministry of Marsh Chapel, our shared common prayer, in voice, vocation and volume.

1. Voice

First, voice.

The hallowed predecessors who occupied this pulpit in the cradle of liberty and the cradle of Methodist theology are names, and voices, you mostly know. Robert Cummings Neville. Robert Watts Thornburg. Richard Nesmith. Robert Hammil. Howard Thurman. And Franklin Littell.

Dr. Franklin Littell was the first Dean to occupy this pulpit. President Daniel Marsh brought him here in the early 1950’s. As recently as May of 2006, Littell was able at age 88 to preach here, as he did that spring at commencement (for the School of Theology). A friend, colleague, contemporary and fly fishing partner of our dear friend Dr. Ray Hart, Littell brought a stirring sermon to that moment just three years ago. You may know that Littell died just recently, in late May.

Or maybe both his life and death are unfamiliar territory for you. In fact, I guess that such is the case for many, and so, come October, I am planning to preach a full sermon titled ‘Remembering Littell’ for Alumni Weekend.

We at Marsh Chapel, and we at Boston University may not yet have the largest financial endowment in the country, or along the Charles River. One day, that may change. If you would like to help us to help that to change, please let me know. Be assured that we will do whatever we can for your personal and spiritual welfare, in gratitude. But there is another way in which Marsh Chapel, and Boston University may already have the largest endowment in the country, or along the Charles River. Our riches are vocal. Our largest endowment is not financial but audible, not monetary but epistolary, not in the coin of the realm but in the language of the heart. Boston University, and centrally within the University, Marsh Chapel, is a treasure store of voice. You notice that, probably, every Sunday when you come across the plaza, and pass the sculpture and monument to Martin Luther King, birds in flight. Said Karl Barth, ‘The gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight’. But King’s voice was not only or mainly a solo voice. He sang in a choir, in choro novo. He sang as one bird in the flock. Howard Thurman sang with him, for example. So did Allan Knight Chalmers. Robert Hamill’s voice was known in his regular column in motive magazine. Littell lead the way. Remember today three features of Littell’s voice.

He was the father of holocaust studies. Littell was the first to offer courses, formal study, in the area of the holocaust. Throughout his life, with passion, and as a Methodist preacher, he continuously challenged the Christian community to take emotional responsibility for the horrors of the holocaust. Yesterday, rightly, we honored those who physically, and in some cases ultimately, took responsibility for stopping the Third Reich. Littell, in his time here and later in his long career, never stopped pushing, preaching, even attacking his own Christian church to look hard, deep, and long at Auschwitz. He did so from this pulpit. He did so later as a college President, and he did so in scores of classrooms from Temple, to Emory, to Chicago. Remember his words: “Most gentiles, even church leaders, have not confronted the Holocaust and its lessons for the present day... It is important, especially for Jewish children, to know that in those terrible years not all the gentiles in Christendom were either perpetrators or passive spectators," (NYT obit)
Likewise, Littell gracefully and steadily combined learning and piety. His ministry embraced both head and heart, and actually could not have been conceived or developed without such a real, even radical integration of the mind and the spirit. His passion about the holocaust, for instance, began out of a revulsion he felt as a student in Germany in 1939, attending a Hitler rally. He never forget the feeling of that early experience, and that feeling fueled his work through the years. Feelings are more than emotions, more than sentiment. They are the great steed, the great horse on which we ride. The mind is the bit and bridle, as Wesley somewhere wrote. He pressed the church, our church, to remember the great Kingswood hymn of Charles Wesley: ‘to unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety’. So he was a preacher who also was President of Iowa Wesleyan. He was a pastor, who also taught and wrote. He was a person of faith, who saw the need to combine mind and heart.

In addition, and to my great benefit, Littell was an early supporter and even translator and commentator on the work of Rudolph Bultmann, still an important voice in the study of the New Testament.

Holocaust, head and heart united, the critical study of the New Testament—these are three gifts of Littell to our time. His voice continues to bless us. Voice, the liberality of the gospel, is our central mission.

2. Vocation

Second, vocation.

Our time needs a cultural revolution as much or more than a theological reformation. The peace of God will come to earth as much at the urging and prompting of those committed to cultural transformation as through those engaged in the work of religious or even theological reconstruction. It is striking just how much religious expression is shaped, even determined, by the surrounding culture. Hence, while we hunt every work day for women and men who are called to preach—is that you?—we also here at Marsh Chapel are vigorous in our celebration of those called to service of other saving, healthy forms.

To that end, something powerful happened here last Sunday. And I am not referring to worship, prayer, sermon, or collection, our Sunday service at 11am, though I hope and trust that we in our way offered our best selves to God in that hour of prayer. No, the wind of grace blew through here last Sunday at lunch as well.

Carefully and covertly, our lay leaders hatched a plan for a surprise lunch, to honor three young women of our congregation. One is a becoming a teacher, one a lawyer, and one is working on the hospitality of the church. Our lay leaders emailed and called and cooked up a smorgasbord for lunch. I doubt that any church luncheon was offered that was more savory and more calorific than that provided last Sunday. I think we lived on its effect for two days. Of course a beautiful cake concluded the repast. Our women and men decorated the room with balloons and crepe paper. They set out the table. The arranged for gifts. These gifts were delicately and carefully wrapped. I emphasize the detail of these gifts because the commitment to excellence in the manner of giving was so pronounced. People notice when things are done well. Excellence, enjoyment of people, and entrepreneurial spirit are three things that grow churches. I mean excellence at anything, from mowing the lawn to preaching to wrapping gifts with style.

After the meal, formal speeches and prayers were made. There was much humor. We sang also some happy birthday greetings. Then a charismatic transfer occurred. I am going to use the term ‘ordination’, only because you get the sense from it of what ‘went down’ last Sunday after lunch. The three women, none preachers, but all heading into ministry, were summoned forward. They were given gifts, practical and beautiful, helpful and playful. Then the community listened as they told the truth about their lives, and their vocations. One is going to work as urban teacher in Missouri. One is going to practice law for the greater good in Boston. One is going to continue to fan the flames of life and hospitable growth in a church not far from here, actually, Marsh Chapel itself. In the speaking, and listening, a transfer of charisma, of gifts, accompanied the transfer of physical gifts. No kneeling occurred, no hands were laid upon heads, no stoles or robes were put on. Yet an ordination of a truly profound sort occurred. Three young women named their callings, and the community cheered.

This is how the world gets better, when young people and once young people connect their deepest passions with the world’s greatest needs. It was a moment that preached out the following question: ‘and how about you?’ Lunch became a charismatic moment last week, a moment of transfer of charismata. Vocation, the liberality of the gospel set to work, is our central calling.

3. Volume

Third, volume.

In a moment we shall celebrate together Holy Communion. If you are listening from afar and would like to have someone bring communion to your home, call the chapel, and we will endeavor to do so. One by one, heart by heart, the good news of love divine changes people for the better. The lost are found. It is a moment of true joy, as our gospel today told us.

Many years ago, Jan and I were serving a little church in Ithaca, New York. We had two little children, and one beagle puppy. The salary was $8,000 a year, the home modest, the work challenging, the learning curve steep. It seemed like it was always Saturday night, and the sermon awaiting its writing.

One Saturday Jan came home in the morning from the grocery store in tears. Somehow she had lost her engagement ring. The ring itself was modest enough, a family heirloom, but nonetheless, a symbol at the heart of things. After a little breakfast, she had been shopping while the children were sleeping, and I was trying to figure out what to say the next day. We spent the later morning and all afternoon hunting for the ring. We went back to the grocery. We walked every aisle. We searched behind cereal boxes, and looked under grapefruit. We enlisted the help of kindly overworked store attendants. Dusk came, no ring. What a sad Saturday night! No ring, no sermon, no joy in Ithaca that night. Finally, the kids went down and Jan went off to bed. Sunday morning loomed, and the wind was just not in the sails.

About ten o’clock I went down into the kitchen. As every writer knows, the only cure for writer’s block is…eating. Even when there is no cure, the eating itself is, like virtue, its own reward. So I poured some juice. Then I waffled between cookies and toast, and settled on a piece of toast, comfort food. There was only one piece of bread left in the loaf, and I struggled to pull it out of the bag. As I did, I felt something. That is something that happens with bread and grape juice, sometimes. You feel something. I felt around in the bottom of that forlorn bread bag. Something small and hard, something round, something smooth, something good—I felt it. And there it was. A simple little ring, with a small diamond, the lost, now found. Is there a more joyful moment than this? Truly I tell you, there is joy in heaven, when the lost are found.

We are coming to the table in a moment. When you eat this bread and drink this cup, there is remembrance, there is presence, and there is thanksgiving, all in one. In feasting on the love of God, you are meant to turn up the volume, here at Marsh Chapel, for that love of God. Heart warmed, you are meant to warm other hearts. You are found, and you have found something, now go and find others for whom such divine discovery has yet to happen. Volume, the liberality of the gospel shared with others, is our central calling.


Our common prayer: voice, vocation, volume.

Voice like that of Franklin Littell, father of holocaust studies, combiner of head and heart, student of the Bible.

Vocation like that of three young women, a teacher, a lawyer, a minister.

Volume like that of bread and cup, word and table, in remembrance, real presence, and thanksgiving.