Monday, January 25, 2010

Pastoral Imagination in Preaching Course Outline

Pastoral Imagination in Preaching
Spring 2010
Robert Allan Hill
Monday 2-5pm, STH B 19

Purpose of the Course

The purpose of this course is to inspire students with a desire to preach well over the course of their ministries. In order to begin or to continue the full development of the preacher’s “voice”, attention is given to the theology of preaching, the place of preaching in the context of pastoral ministry and the pastoral imagination (with special attention given to various forms and features of ministry around the globe), the design of the sermon, sermon content, preparation and delivery of sermons, and, in addition, the capacity to evaluate, critically, the effectiveness of the sermon. In this 2010 Introduction to Preaching, the professor will coordinate the presentation of materials in lecture, guest speaking, video, TA presentation and other forms. Preaching is particularly crucial for the future health of our Northeastern churches, over the next two generations.

Course Requirements

1.Class attendance and active participation. 2. Chapel attendance. 3. Quizzes on reading content and one final exam. 4. Two sermons submitted in finished written form and preached in tutorial groups (22 minutes each). One, a three point\part sermon; the second, students’ choice. 5. Selection, presentation and description of a favorite poem (starting randomly on 2/1/10) 6. A willingness to learn how to acknowledge genuinely and nourish personally the preaching of others, in order homiletically to watch over one another in love. 7. Completion of all assigned reading.

Grade components: Final 15%; Sermons 70%; Other (attendance, participation, quizzes, poem, etc) 15%.

Text: Required

1. David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).

Other Suggested Resources:
(Bookstore, Marsh Chapel, Amazon, and Library Reserve)
1. Robert A Hill, Snow Day: Reflections on the Practice of Ministry in the Northeast (Lanham: University Press, 2000).
2. Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, (Boston: Cowley, 1993).
3. Robert A Hill, Renewal: Thought, Word, Deed. (Lanham: University Press, 2009).
4. Robert A Hill, Prophetic Protestant Preaching on America’s War in Iraq: Marsh Chapel (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2010).
5. Robert A Hill, Seeing with the Heart: Meditations from Marsh Chapel, (San Diego: UR\Cognella, 2010).

Class Schedule and Reading Schedule

January 25: Course Introduction and Overview, ‘Voices for a New Day’,
Basic Outline

February 1: Veronice Miles Lecture; Buttrick (B)‘Words and Moves’, 5-82

February 8: The Two Point Sermon, Buttrick Card, ‘Two Kinds of Confidence’; B: ‘Framework’, 83-112

February 22: TA Lectures (2) (Lyman Beecher) B: Images,‘113-172’;

March 1: Peter Weaver Lecture; B: ‘Language’, 173-224;

March 3: Violet Fisher (Chapel, Lecture, Panel)

March 15: John Schol Lecture B: ‘Words in Church, Theology’, 225-238, 449-462

March 22: B: ‘Hermeneutics’, 239-284.

March 29: B: ‘Homiletics’ 285-332.

April 5: B: ‘Structures’, 333-390. Weddings and Funerals (TBA)

April 10*: TBD, optional workshop on Youth Culture and Preaching, S Cady

April 12: B: ‘Structures’, 391-448 TA Lectures (2) (Lyman Beecher)

April 26: FINAL EXAM

Weekly Class Basic Outline: First 90 Minutes
(second 90 minutes for tutorials)

1. Pastoral Imagination: A Setting in Ministry RAH
2. Lecture RAH, TA’s, Guests
3. Questions? (2) Class
4. TA Buttrick Summary TA’s
5. ‘Tools’ RAH
6. Exemplum Docet RAH, Other
7. Coda\Written Exercise Class

Course Information

Outline: The BUSTH basic preaching course, spring 2010, will follow the above outline, in the first 90 minutes, with the second 90 minutes led in groups by TA’s. Each TA will offer one 45 minute lecture, summarizing one of the annual Lyman Beecher Lectures (2/22, 4/12). Each TA will also provide one 5-7 minute Buttrick summary, with one page written hand out: 1. ES, 2. JV, 3. JB, 4. SBJ, 5. ES, 6. JV, 7. JB, 8. SBJ, 9. RAH.

Guest Dates: February 1: Dr. Veronice Miles; February 22: RAH away; March 1: Peter Weaver; March 3: Violet Fisher; March 15: John Schol; April 22* (optional): Steven Cady (Preaching and Youth Culture)
TA Lecture dates: 2/22, 4/12

No Class Dates: 1/17/10 (M. L. King); 2/15/10 (Presidents’ Day); 3/8/10 (Spring Break); April 19 (Patriots’ Day); 2/16/10, 2/22/10 ‘BU Mondays’

Special (Extra) Days: Wednesday, 3/3/10, 11am Chapel, 2pm Lecture; *Saturday, 4/10/10, Cady/Hill Paper on Pastoral Imagination; *Sunday, April 18, 11am, Peter Gomes, Marsh Chapel;

First Day of class: 1/25/10; Last Day of class: 4/26/10.

Fellowship: Patriot’s Day, April 19, Hill’s 96 Bay State Road #10 (6178593750) 10:30am, Marathon to follow.

Special Breakout Tasks and Days: 1/24: Introductions, descriptions of names, dates for preaching; 2/1: basics and practice in public speaking; 2/8: 5 Internet resources for sermons, and review of exegetical procedure; 2/22: Sermons begin.

Breakout Locations: Marsh Room, Thurman Room, Robinson Chapel, other.

Hill Possible Lecture Topics and Example Sermons (

1: Two Point Sermons. “Two Kinds of Confidence”
2: Language and Imagery. “Snow Day”
3: Spiritual Geography. “Once More to the Lake”
4: Story and History. “Empire Spirit”
5: Preaching John. “Twilight Gospel”
6: Concept and Content. “A Village Green”
7: Preaching the Synoptics. “The Day’s Own Trouble”
8: War and Peace. “Preemption or Redemption?”
9: The Fourth of July. “The Color Purple”
10: Monologue and Dialogue. “Invisible Slides\CRH”
11: Approaching the Grave. “In Memoriam: Mason Hartmann”
12: Meaning and Memoir. “Kyrie Eleison”
13: Preaching and Apocalypse. “Resistance”
14: A Personal Word. “Remembering Chalmers”.
15: Dominical Sayings. “No Place To Lay His Head”

A Selected Homiletical Bibliography


Willimon, William H. Remember Who You Are: Baptism, a Model for Christian Life. Upper Room, 1980.

Ministry (General-leadership)

Dudley, Carl S. Basic Steps Toward Christian Ministry: Guidelines and Models in Ministry. Alban Institute, 1991.

Lebacqz, Karen. Professional Ethics: Power and Paradox. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

Mead, Loren B. The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the
Congregation for a New Mission Frontier, Alban Institute, 1991.

Poling, James N. The Abuses of Power: A Theological Problem. Abingdon, 1991.

Raiser, Konrad. To Be The Church: Challenges and Hopes for a New Millennium. World Council of Churches, 1997.

Schreiter, Robert J. Constructing Local Theologies. Orbis Books, 1985.

Steinke, Peter L. How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems. Alaban Institute, 1993.

Weems, Lovett H., Jr. Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, and Integrity. Abingdon, 1993.

Wiest, Walter E. and Elwyn A. Smith. Ethics in Ministry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

Black Church Tradition

Stewart, Carlyle. African-American Leadership. Abingdon, 1994.

Women and Gender

Becker, Carol E. Leading Women: How Church Women Can Avoid Leadership Traps and Negotiate the Gender Maze. Abingdon, 1996.

Gillespie, Joanne Bowen. Women Speak:Of God, Congregations and Change. Trinity Press. 1995.

Nesbitt, Paula D., Feminization of the Clergy in America: Occupational and Organizational Perspectives. Oxford, 1997.

Wessinger, Catherine, ed., Women in Leadership within Religious Communities.

Winter, Miriam T. et al. Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility For Their Own Spiritual Lives. Crossroads, 1995.

Church & Society

Bass, Dorothy, ed. Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People. Jossey-Bass, 1997.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. Harper, 1951.

Sample, Tex. White Soul.

Practice of Ministry books for Spring 1999:

Ballard, Paul, and John Pritchard Practical Theology in Action:
Christian Thinking in the Service of Church and Society (London: SPCK, 1996) ISBN 0-281-05012-0.

Gunderson, Gary. Deeply Woven Roots: Improving the Quality of Life in Your Community (Minn: Fortress Press, 1997) ISBN 0-8006-3095-5.

Neuger, Christie Cozad, ed. The Arts of Ministry: Feminist-Womanist Approaches (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1996) ISBN 0-664-25593-0.

Preaching & Worship

Best, Ernest. From Text to Sermon: Responsible Use of the New Testament in Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox, 1978.

Buttrick, David. Homiletic: Moves and Structures. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

Craddock, Fred B. Overhearing the Gospel: Preaching and Teaching the Faith to Persons Who Have Already Heard. Nashville: Abingdon, 1978.

Craddock, Fred. Preaching. Abingdon, 1985.

Davis, Grady. Design for Preaching. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958.

Faber, H. Vanderschoot, E. The Art of Pastoral Conversation. (New York: Abingdon, 1965).

Fuller, Reginald. The Use of the Bible in Preaching. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981.

Keck, Leander. The Bible in the Pulpit. Nashville: Abingdon, 1978.

Koller, Charles W. Expository Preaching Without Notes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962.

Long, Thomas. The Senses of Preaching. Atlanta: Knox, 1988.
Long, Thomas. “The Use of Scripture in Contemporary Preaching”. Interpretation 44 (4, 90). 341-352.

Malherbe, A. J. “Pastoral Care in the Thessalonian Church”, New Testament Studies, 36 (3, 90), 375-391.

Marty, Martin E. The Word: People Participating in Preaching. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Miller, R. M. How Shall They Hear Without a Preacher? The Life of Ernest Fremont Tittle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Van Seters, Arthur, ed. Preaching as a Social Act. Nashville: Abingdon, 1988.

Willimon, William H. On a Wild and Windy Mountain. Nashville: Abingdon, 1984.

Willimon, William H. Preaching and Leading Worship. Westminster, 1984.

Audiotape Material

Circuit Rider Sermon Series. Nashville: Abingdon.

Reigner Recording Library. Union Theological Seminary, Virginia.

RAHill Personal Collection. AFUMC. Rochester, New York

Monday, January 04, 2010

A New Birth of Freedom

A New Birth of Freedom
John 1: 51
January 18, 2008
Marsh Chapel
Robert Allan Hill

Our gospel today can best be heard from the last sentence, wherein the clearly clairvoyant Johannine Jesus belittles Nathaniel’s marvel at him by acclaiming divine freedom, historic change, and a horizon of hope. Divine freedom: you will see the heavens opened. Change in history: you will see the angels of God ascending and descending. A horizon of hope: you will see the Son of Man.


First, freedom.

God is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.

The nature and dimensions of freedom are very much on our minds this week. Others from other spaces will want to continue to explore more fully the political, social, and economic features of this freedom. We have though, first, another job to do. It is the job of preaching. It is our task to name freedom. In that sense it is a theological job, though preaching is more than theological reflection. It is our confession that Jesus means freedom.

The other morning I took my daughter and grandchildren to the Aquarium. With you I celebrate this cultural gift, and make common cause with their fine work in opening the world to wonder. Surely there are many fine places to spend an hour or two in our fair city. Is there a single one, though, that will pierce your soul and spirit with a sense of the creative power, natural wonder, and physical freedom of the world in which we live? I challenge to stand in front of the Pacific Rim tank, with fish of a hundred colors and shapes, and not be overtaken, in wonder, by the power of freedom set loose in the universe.

It is our conviction that the God who makes allowance for being, who calls us and all into being, is the God of freedom. Freedom on Sinai. Freedom on the Mount of Olives. Freedom on the way to Emmaus. Freedom itself set free. Freedom evolves.

Does your God, your apperception of God, make space for evolution?

Your patent or latent view of God makes every sort of difference.

If as the Scripture says, “God is love”, then human freedom is real...Freedom is the absolutely necessary precondition of love. (W S Coffin, Credo, 27).

Our incoming President made a fine speech last year about race. He did so to clarify his own thinking, and our thinking about his thinking, with regard race. This was widely known and acclaimed. But to do so he had to clarify his own thinking and our thinking about thinking, with regard to a form of religious thinking. To date, to my knowledge, no one has fully appreciated the theological depths and dimensions of his March 18, 2008 address. As we come to the inaugural, perhaps we could pause to appreciate his theological insight, all the more choice since it is offered by a lay person.

Obama that day said ‘No’ to Jeremiah Wright, in terms like these: unlike others, unlike another generation, we do not believe that our fate and our future are irrevocable chained to our tragic past. He offered his view, that change can happen, real change, which is real hard, over time, in real time, can really happen. He explicitly rejected a harsh, providential, divine determinism or damnation for a country that certainly has known its share of sin. He stepped aside from the litany of sin and atonement, and stepped toward the liturgy of confession and pardon. That is a layman’s theological statement about divine and human freedom. Life is not purpose driven, for ill or good. Life is not divinely ordered and directed, in the small or in the large. Life is not found in the rigid orthodoxies neither of fundamentalism nor of radicalism, neither in the Biblicist fundamentalism of a Rick Warren nor in the Liberationist radicalism of a Jeremiah Wright (produced by his teacher and mine, James Cone.)

I have yet to see a single serious writer, preacher or journalist identify the ironic similarity, the congruent similarity, the family resemblance of Warren and Wright. One is from the far right and one is from the far left. Nonetheless, they offer the same religious perspective. (In what I say I do not criticize them. They are good people. They do good work. Though I profoundly disagree with them and adamantly oppose them, I acknowledge their desire to know and do the right and the true and the good. I too fell in love early on with Karl Barth, so I know from inside the powerful pull of their perspective). Yet here is the irony. While they differ completely in politics, Warren and Wright offer the same religious perspective: The Bible is the sole Word of God, either in personal purpose (Warren) or in cultural judgment (Wright); God is known in providence, whether from the Law (Warren) or from the Prophets (Wright); it is God, not we ourselves, who makes all change, whether from the right (Warren) or from the left (Wright); the human being is left to submit (Warren) or rebel (Wright), finally doubly predestined as Augustine finally had to admit before Pelagius; history is tragedy, fore (Warren) and aft (Wright); freedom is an illusion (Warren) or a presumption (Wright). (You will note that this is not a very cheery world view ).

Both Wright and Warren are indebted, theologically, to Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr and the Neo-Orthodoxy against which Howard Thurman and others have unsuccessfully, but rightly, preached for fifty years. Thurman was 100 years ahead of his time 50 years ago. Warren is Barth from the front, and Wright is Barth from the back. But from front or back, it is still Barth. They both have taken seriously the first of Niebuhr’s grave points, about the tragic sense of life, and they both have neglected utterly Niebuhr’s second, his concluding sermon, that there is in the human being a divine freedom, a capacity for a spiritual discipline against resentment, and so an open future, a divine\human heteronomy. Both radically and fundamentally minimize the capacity of the human being to change, and the potential for human society to improve. They both radically and fundamentally mute freedom, whether for a new post-Biblical freedom for gays to find their place in society or for a new post-radical shared leadership of many hues in the cause of racial justice. They both (and quite successfully to this date) define American Christianity over against the liberal tradition. And, so far, they have won the day.

What astounds me, still, is that the theological insight of Obama’s race speech has had no attention. Against a purposey providentialism (Warren), against a denunciatory determinism (Wright), Obama affirmed freedom on March 18, 2008:
But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
Embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation.
The problem with radicalism and the problem with fundamentalism is the same problem: they see the future only from the past. “The sun also rises and the sun also sets. What has been is what will be. What has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun.” They see what they expect to see. And so they chain us, with all due sense of purpose, from right or left, to what has been. And so they chain us, with all due citation, from right or left, of the Bible, to what has been. Here is the key line: The profound mistake is that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.
In thrilling mystery this morning the Gospel denies that we are irrevocably bound to a tragic past! In the same way, this week’s inaugural denies that we are irrevocably bound to a tragic past!


Second, change.

John’s gospel exudes freedom. For John Jesus means freedom. With freedom, scary thought, things can change, either for the better, or for the worse.

At a wedding this weekend, guests from New York chose to spend Saturday at the Kennedy museum. I said a silent thanks that they had chosen that spot this weekend. It is a place that says, ‘I believe America should set sail, and not lie still in the harbor’ (JFK).

You remember, I expect, a time when the utter misery of others at last permeated your spirit, and you seethed with an angry hunger for change. You drove by the South Bronx, safe on the highway, riding in a new car, and looked down on the city and saw PS 131, with 6 year olds coming out, and you thought, “How do we do this? How do we let this happen?” Or you had to stop at the emergency room in a small town hospital—a toothache, a broken limb—and you looked around and for the first time the hidden poor of the land were real. You served in the dining center or suited in the storehouse or read books in the daycare. You heard Marion Wright Edelman, really heard her, when she said that 20% of our American children are raised in poverty. You saw something, of all places, on television, and it made you weep. You read an article about children hurt, wounded, killed, in the fog of war, as they took shelter in a school house. You crossed the border into Tijuana and all those brown little faces and browner little hands reaching for coins sent a chill through you on a sunny, hot day. Your club offered a day of service and you ended up, not on the sunny side, but on the slummy side of the street.

God loves: especially those left out. With the divine gift of freedom there comes the chance for change.

In two fine novels, Gilead and Home, over the past several years, Marilynn Robinson has given you a sympathetic reading of determinism (fundamental or radical), which, ultimately, though cautiously, she rejects. Here is the climax of Home:

Her second book places the apparently damned Jack in earshot of a young woman who has married an old preacher:

“Just stay for a minute”, she said, and Jack sat back in his chair and watched her, as they all did, because she seemed to be mustering herself. Then she looked up at him and said, ‘A person can change. Everything can change’…Jack said, very gently, ‘Why thank you, Mrs. Ames. That’s all I wanted to know’. (p 228)


Third, hope.

Given the darkness, confusion and corruption of our time, it is more than tempting to turn a cynical eye and ear upon the earth.

The thrilling mystery of our gospel today, though, argues otherwise. The community that composed the Gospel of John knew a rare kind of freedom. Theirs was not only a freedom of religion, but also a freedom from religion. So, in this mysterious verse, the writer acclaims openness, even to the heavens; he pronounces motion, even among and between angels and men; he pulls forth what strangely for him is the highest title of Jesus, the Son of Man. An open heaven is a symbol of divine freedom given as human freedom. The Jacob’s ladder of ascent and descent is a symbol of power to move, to change. The heightened title, Jesus a divine figure, is a symbol of hope that will not let go.

On Christmas Day we stood outside Trinity church after a fine morning service. Hope was in the air. What the Aquarium is to freedom, what the Kennedy museum is to change, the churches of our community are to hope. They are living, speaking symbols of hope.

When you are tempted to lose hope that their might be liberty and justice for all, I hope you will think of the family just now about to set up housekeeping at the White House.

When you are tempted to lose hope that our education or medical provisions can be fair or just, I hope you will remember that one teacher who touched you, that one doctor who helped you.

When you are tempted to lose hope that peace might ever come between Arab and Israeli, Muslim and Jew, I hope you will remember that other peace, hard wrought, has come, in other places. I give you Ireland. I give you South Africa.

When you are tempted to lose hope that a durable economy might evolve wherein those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little, I hope you will remember the Hudson River voice of a crippled President, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’.

When you are tempted to lose hope that the voice and place of women, world-wide, might ever be sustained, I hope you will remember Susan B Anthony, ‘failure is impossible’.

When you are tempted to lose hope that the world can work, I hope you will remember Jesus’ thrilling mystery, ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ For just as freedom leads to change and change leads to hope, so also hope brings change and change brings freedom.


We enter a time in which there is the possibility of a new birth of freedom.

It was not a pretty June morning on which Abraham Lincoln spoke the words of this morning’s sermon title. It was not on a beach, in Hawaii or Florida that he spoke. It was not in the peaceful backwaters of a decade of progress and plenty. It was not after a long and easy life. It was not out of quiet reflection is a monk’s peaceful cell.

Lincoln spoke over the graves of thousands. He spoke in the roaring November wind. He spoke on the corn stubble of a Pennsylvania field. He spoke as a leader who might be losing a war. He spoke as a man more acquainted with sorrow and defeat than perhaps any other person of his time, or any time. He was our greatest leader, and a pretty fair lay theologian himself. In a couple of years he would himself be dead.

We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Annual Report 2009

Annual Report
Robert Allan Hill
Boston University
Dean of Marsh Chapel, Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology, and Chaplain to the University
January 1, 2009—December 31, 2009
A. Dean of Marsh Chapel: Preacher
1. Sunday Sermons and Services: 47 (see; see
Summer Series: ‘Darwin and Faith’ (10); Autumn Series (16): ‘Two Marks’
2. Special Services 9
(ML King Observance, BU Baccalaureate, BU Matriculation, BU Alumni Weekend, This I Believe, Marsh Matriculation Service, ‘Fall of the Wall 20 Year Remembrance’, Lessons & Carols (2x))
3. Guest Speaking 23
(1/09 Four Seasons, 2/09 Inter Varsity Fellowship BU, 2/09 BU Christian Unity Evening, 3/09 K Darr Bible and Violence, 3/09 BU Service Recognition, 3/09 New Haven Theological Discussion Group (participant), 4/09 BU Academy, 4/09 Harvard Memorial Church Board of Overseers, 5/09 Commencement Address Northwestern University Garrett Evangelical Theological School, 5/09 Lake Winnipesaki, 6/09 Conference Sermon Baltimore Washington Annual Conference UMC Baltimore, 6/09 Wyoming Annual Conference UMC BU Alumni, 6/09 Western NY Annual Conference UMC Prayer, 7/09 Union Chapel, North Hampton NH, 9/09 BUSTH Worship Celebrant, 10/09 Navigators BU, 10/09 ME Moore Installation BUSTH (2x), 11/09 Howard Thurman Center BU Thurman Birthday Event, 11/09 Fall of the Wall Service, 11/09 BU Senior Student Life Staff Luncheon, 12/09 Kingston NJ First UMC.
4. Meetings 441
(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, New England Annual Conference Foundation Board)
5. Visits 571
6. New Chapter Members Received 16
7. New Initiatives: a. Autumn program expansion (see term book); b. Sunday Under Graduate Fellowship, Marsh Forum (4: Bacevich, Koskinen, Brown, Fomby), Student Ministry expansion; c. Completion of Marsh Staff Renewal; d. Ministry\L Whitney Initiatives (goal 200 students in weekly worship in process); e. Music\S Jarrett Initiatives (10 ensembles goal met: Chapel Choir, Chapel Collegium, Inner Strength, Summer Choir, Westerhaus CFA Choir, Seminary Singers, Schola Cantorum, Mustard Seed, Anne Howard Jones Choir, L’Academie); f. R Bouchard\Hospitality Initiatives (goal 300 worship attendance September to May in process; Valentine’s Day and other development work ongoing) g. Revision of Strategic Plan; h. Motives Magazine Volume Two (Marsh Annual Theological Journal); i. 9 Hill Receptions and Open Houses at ‘Deanery’ (96 Bay State Road #10); j. New England Foundation (new 2009); Religious Life Council Overhaul Begins.
8. Baptisms 7
9. Weddings 12
10. Memorials 11
B. Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology: Professor
1. Areas A and D Monthly Faculty Meetings
2. Full Monthly Faculty Meeting
3. Worship Committee
4. Annual Faculty Retreat NA
5. 2009 Publications (8) : 1. Sunday Sermons, BU website (Theme: Mark; New England Interlocutor: Boston University History); 2/3. Two Books: Renewal (University Press); Prophetic Preaching on Iraq (Mellen); 4. Autumn Sermons Series : ‘Two Marks’ ; 5. Summer Sermon Series: Darwin and Faith 6. DeanHill’sBlog (; 7. Motives Article: Darwin and the Personalists; 8. BU Today (8/24, Marsh as Icon); 8. ‘Remembering Chalmers’ BUSTH Focus Magazine;
6. BUSTH courses (3): Pastoral Leadership; Pastoral and Spiritual Formation; and The Gospel of John; Lemoyne College (1): The Letters of Paul;
7. World Council of Churches Commission on The Nature and Mission of the Church.
8. Receptions and Open House for BUSTH faculty at Hill Residence
9. SUPE consultant\ Asian Ministry Consultation
10. Member, ex officio, BUSTH Board of Overseers
C. University Chaplain: Pastor
1. Daily conversations, noon time walks, informal discussions—not countable
2. BU Today Articles and Interviews 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)
6. Pastoral Counseling 61
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, October BSR 96, Christmas Party, Oscars, Patriot’s Day Brunch, other)
9. Student Deaths 2009: 2
(Victoria Rubino, Alvaro Roccaro Giamporcaro)
10. 2\month Chaplains’ meetings; 2\month Religious Life Council (significant additional time investment)
21 General Comments
1. The year has gone smoothly, with many thanks to many people. The residence, 96 BSR 10, works well for us, for entertaining, and as a setting for fellowship and ministry in the heart of the University. The three part role seems to be just right (PPP). 2. Current challenges: Re-development of Boston University Religious Life Administration. 3. Fall worship: 2006 Frostiana series, 2007 Kennedy series of sermons (available on web); 2008 Common Hope (Philippians and Commonwealth Avenue); 2009: ‘Two Marks’ 4. Reorganization of staff and staff meetings (part 1) begun in 2007. 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 2009: 10. All Fall Sundays except 3 over 200 in worship: 11. BU hosts Monthly Boston Ministers’ Club 12/09; 12. Summer Choir; 13. Significant first level communications improvements (newsletter, web, newspaper, pew rosters, BU calendar, PR menu, Arts Boston, stewardship campaign). 14. From 75 to 99 Marsh donors of record; 15. 2009 Darwin Summer Preaching Series; Staff retreat; Young Adult Clergy Weekend. 16. 25 Christmas Events 2009; 17. Regular presence at BU basketball games; 18. Four Friday Fall Musical Events 2009: Haydn, ISGC, Messiah, Lessons and Carols; 19. Joy: 11/09 NYC ‘Red Hot’ Hockey Game, BU vs. Cornell; 20. Main 2010 Foci: Preacher: a. Expand video/radio voice; b. Meet with remaining (3) US University Preachers (Harvard, Marsh, Duke); Professor: a. Offer Excellent Introduction to Homiletics Course Spring 2010; b. Publish 1 or 2 Books (Songs of the Heart: Meditations from Marsh Chapel is already coming); Pastor: a. Raise Marsh Annual Income to $100,000; b. Establish Robert Allan Hill Foundation; c. Begin Religious Life Administrative Overhaul. 21; Best moment: Preaching 5/15/09 in Ernest Fremont Tittle’s pulpit, First UMC, Evanston, Ill.

Two Marks

A Tale of Two Marks

Mark 12: 38-44

November 8, 2009

Marsh Chapel

Robert Allan Hill

1. Preface

Before you work high you build a scaffold to get yourself up there.

Steeple Jacks do not use a scaffold. They use rope and pulleys, and they rightly earn many hundreds of dollars an hour. As one said to me, quoting Scripture, and speaking of the dangers of height, “Jesus said, ‘Lo(w) I am with you”. Meaning, he continued, ‘up high you are on your own’.

Our first and smaller churches, some five of them, hired Steeple Jacks for the minor tiling, shingling, painting and other repairs required of small church steeples on small steeple churches. One was squat enough (the church I mean not the Jack) that he could go up by ladder. Our sixth church (and the seventh, too) was a ‘tall steeple church’ The trustees tried to get by with a Steeple Jack, every time repairs were needed, but most times, no, they needed to spend more. Once a two hundred pound section of copper plate fell off that steeple onto a University neighborhood street. Exposure, liability, act of God, randomness—these words appeared in sermons later that month. No one was hurt. Scaffolding went up the next week, and stayed up for several expensive days.

The interior space of churches also requires endless attention. As with care of the human body after the age of forty, the motto for sanctuary care must be ‘maintenance, maintenance, maintenance’. Interior scaffolding also comes at a price. Sure you prefer to change light bulbs and paint ceilings with a huge step ladder and a fearless Trustee or hired painter. Sure. But the higher the nave, the, well, I refer you to adage above. “Lo I am with you”. Not high.

Even before any paint is spilled, and even before any long lasting bulbs are replaced, there is work, there is cost, there is meaningful preparation.

So it is, as you know, in preaching. The interpreter either swings in the breeze like a Steeple Jack, if the matters of historical interpretation are low fences (Paul’s letters come to mind), or, if the height is greater, scaffolding is needed (the Hebrew Scripture, all the Gospels, and especially the Gospel of John come to mind). What you see when the work is done, is the steeple repaired, the roof replaced, the paint (both coats) applied, the bulbs changed. But before that there has been scaffolding up, so that the work could be done.

2. Markan Scaffolds

We come this morning to the interpretation of a passage from Mark. Mark requires scaffolding. We cannot begin to paint until we have someplace to stand. No light bulbs will be changed until we can reach the fixtures. Help me with the scaffolding this morning.

We know not who wrote Mark, only his name. He wrote for a particular community, whose location and name are also unknown. He even mentions by name members of his church, Alexander and Rufus (15:21). The book is meant to help a community of Christians. It is written to support and encourage people who already have been embraced by faith. While it purports to report on events long ago, in the ministry of Jesus, its main thrust is toward its own hearers and readers forty years later. So it is not an evangelistic tract and it is not a diary and it is emphatically not a history.

You will want to know what we can say, then, about Mark’s community. If the community gave birth to the gospel, and if the community is the primary focus of the gospel, and if the community is the gospel’s intended audience, you would like to know something about them. For one thing, the community is persecuted, or is dreading persecution, or both. Jesus suffered and so do or so will you. This is what Mark says. This gospel prepares its hearers for persecution. For another thing, the church may have been in or around Rome, or more probably somewhere in Syria. It is likely that Mark was written between 69 and 73 ce. For yet another thing, Mark’s fellow congregants, fellow Christians, are Gentiles, in the main, not Jews. He is writing to this largely Gentile group. He writes for them neither a timeless philosophical tract nor an ethereal piece of poetry. His is rather a ‘message on target’. For one final thing, on the academic side, Mark’s composition, editing, comparisons, saying combinations, style and Christology all point to Mark as the earliest gospel (J Marcus).

I have used the word gospel. You have heard the word many times, and know that it means ‘good news’. It is an old term. You could compare it to ‘ghost’. Gospel is to good news and ghost is to spirit, you might say. Yet Mark calls his writing a ‘gospel’. He creates something new. Mark is a writing unlike any other to precede it. It is not popular today any longer, no longer fashionable, to say this. It is however true. Mark is not a history, not a biography, not a novel, not an apocalypse, not an essay, not a treatise, not an epistle. Examples of all these were to hand for him. Mark might have written one of any one of them. He did not. He wrote something else and so in form, in genre, gave us something new. A gospel. His is the first, but not the last.

Mark is not great literature. It is not Plato, not Cicero, not Homer. Nor is the Greek of the gospel a finely tuned instrument. It is harsh, coarse and common. The gospel was formed, formed in the life of a community, as described earlier. Its passages and messages were announced as memories meant to offer hope. Its account of Jesus, in healing and preaching and teaching, all the way to the cross and beyond, is offered to a very human group of humans who are trying to make their way along His way. The Gospel is a record of the preaching of the gospel. To miss this, or to mistake this, is to miss the main point of the Gospel, and of the gospel. It is in preaching that the gospel arrives, enters, feasts, embraces, loves, and leaves. It is in preaching that you hear something that makes life meaningful, makes life loving, makes life real. It is in preaching that the Gospel of Mark came to be, as a community, over time, heard and reheard, remembered and rehearsed the story of Jesus crucified (his past) and risen (his presence). We should not expect narrative linearity, historical accuracy, or re-collective precision here. And in fact, we find none. Let me put it another way around. Most of the NT documents are, in one way or another, attempts to remember, accurately, the nature and meaning of baptism. Well, Mark fits that description. What does it mean, hear and now, to be a Christian?

3. Mini Anti-Fundamentalist Jeremiad

You may preach, you may interpret the Gospel flat, in a synchronic not a diachronic way. You may simply read it, and make comments on it, as you please. In the same way, you may fix a roof by hurling shingles to the heavens, hoping some, with appropriate missile guided nails, will land on the roof. You may paint the walls of your church by opening the can, stirring the pain, and letting fly. It is a primitive procedure, but you are free to use it. You may aim your arm at various fixtures, and pitch light bulbs upward in the hope that some may land in place and, perhaps with a little breeze, turn themselves in. Across the land we have examples of this kind of preaching without scaffolding. I do not recommend it, neither for hearer nor for speaker. You know anyway when somebody doses you with a bucket of paint. You know what it feels like and how to judge it.

So far, there is with a few exceptions, broad consensus on the needed Markan scaffolding, in its general shape, heft and contours. But we have one more tier to place before we have reached our necessary height. Here the height and the weight of the matter make the scaffold lean and swing a little. Just which planks need to go where, here, is uncertain. In our reading and hearing of the Gospel of Mark we need to step carefully here, just at the very top.

4. Last Plank: A Tale of Two Marks

I put it this way. Ours is a tale of two Marks. Is Mark a moderate critic or is Mark a critical moderate? How you answer will both depend on and indicate where you stand on the scaffold. Moderate critic, critical moderate? That is, across the length of his Gospel, is Mark actively criticizing others or is he carefully moderating, coaching if you will, the approach of others? Is the tone of the gospel polemic or irenic?

Mark is clearly an apocalyptic writing, although clarity about this has only fully emerged in the last generation or so. Mark expects the end of all things in his own time, and so the Markan Jesus so instructs his followers. In fact, Mark expects the culmination of all things, soon and very soon. In this regard, and in regard to his understanding of the cross, Mark has some congruence with the letters of Paul. Given this apocalyptic perspective, is Mark a critic or a coach?


The first option, Mark the moderate critic, was most piercingly presented almost forty years ago. First let me give you the outline of the planking in this part of the scaffold, and then let me tell you about the carpenter.

On this view, Mark combats a view of Jesus that will not accept his suffering, his crucifixion. Long after the events of Calvary and Golgotha, spirited and strong people, singing a happy song, have caused the earliest church to forget their baptism, or its meaning. They expect ease, spirit, joy, and, soon, a conquering victory over all that plagues and persecutes them. Mark says no. To say know Mark remembers in delicate detail the story of Jesus’ passion, relying on a source, a document he has inherited. To say know, Mark pointedly shows the ignorance and cowardice of Peter, at Caesarea Philippi and in Jerusalem. To say know, Mark criticizes, diminishes the miracles of Jesus, letting them wind away to nothing as the Gospel progresses. To say know, Mark describes the disciples as diabolical dunces. They didn’t understand it and neither do you, he says. Mark stays within the fold of the inherited story of Jesus, the gospel of teaching and passion, of Galilee and Jerusalem. But he does so as a moderate critic of those who are unrealistic of the suffering that continues, from which the gospel does not deliver, any more than Jesus had been delivered from the cross. Saved, yes, delivered, no. On this view, at the heart of Mark there is a bitter dispute in earliest Christianity about what constitutes discipleship, baptism, and Mark is out to prove his opponents wrong. As with the alternative, there is plenty of evidence to support this sort of scaffold.

I am pleased, and honored, to tell you that the person who most powerfully presented this view is a dear friend of mine. In fact, he was my immediate predecessor in our Rochester church. My eleven years in that pulpit immediately followed his seventeen. He is a Methodist minister who did his doctoral work at Claremont. It has taken some decades for the force and power of his argument to stand up and stand out in comparison to the work of others. Ted Weeden is his name: ‘Jesus serves as a surrogate for Mark, and the disciples serve as surrogates for Mark’s opponents…The disciples are reprobates’. (op cit, 163).


The second option, Mark the critical moderate, has in a way been present for a longer time, and, one could say, is still the more dominant, the majoritarian position. I read through the summer the culminating presentation of this position in a two volume Anchor Bible Commentary. Imagine my surprise, opening the books, to read that the author was (once) on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology. His name is Joel Marcus, now at Duke. On this view, things in Mark’s community are not so much at daggers drawn. There are differences to be sure, but the disagreements are differences among friends. The Markan coaching does not face strong spirit people, committed to an idea of the ‘divine man’. Mark is not so negative about miracles. The disciples are mistaken but not malevolent. The titles for Jesus are not so telling or convincing. The real trouble is not so much in the community itself (perish the thought), but outside, among the potential deceivers of the church. Hence, on this scaffold, Mark has the job of more gently reminding his hearers of the cross, of suffering, of discipline, of the cruciform character of Christianity, as a moderate, a critical moderate, but a moderate more than a critic.

We have a hard time imaging that our faith tradition was born out of serious conflict. It is like family stories. We really don’t like to imagine that our family tree is littered with broken branches, dead limbs, crooked roots, and Dutch elm disease. We like the picture of the Palm Tree, majestic and free. The second option appeals to our sense of pride in our Christian heritage. It is a more pleasing view. But the former, Weeden’s Mark, is over time the stronger scaffold, and what we need from a scaffold is not presentation but reliability, not beauty but strength.

Here is where my feet come down. Marcus appeals to my heart, what I wish were true or truer. But my mind trusts Weeden. Our passage today, Mark 12: 38-44, is a case in point.

5. Today’s Markan Gospel

Our passage today teems with criticism. There is venom here. There is hurt, too. There is an outsider looking in. There is a widow, righteous, but overshadowed. You too were outsiders, the passage recalls. You follow one who sat outside, who had his on the sparrow, who resented the robes, the prayers, the stoles, the seats, the feasts, the forgetful unsympathy which occludes human vision and corrupts human life. Be careful. In God’s time, the first become last. When it comes to giving, the question is not how much but from how much…

“The fact that it follows Jesus’ summons of the disciples, moreover, could hint that the lesson is particularly important for the members of the Markan community. Are there perhaps rich people there as well as poor ones, and are the ostentatiousness of the former and their callousness toward the latter among the spiritual dangers besetting Mark’s church home” (Marcus, II, 861).? For Mark, the disciples are the church, his church. Just how hard on them is he?

Mark: moderate or critic? This passage begins with an attack upon the scribes of old, and so upon the leaders of Mark’s church. This passage concludes with a wry portrait of a poor widow, a picaresque portrait of unjust distance between rich and poor in the Temple, and so in the community of Mark’s church. Today’s passage, concluding the gospel’s narrative before the passion, shows us Mark the critic, Mark the prophet. He might have Jesus add: ‘I saw many in the temple that day….and it seems like I saw some of you there, too.’

Two tones are possible for this sentence: she has given all she has, her whole life. One moderate, a good stewardship lesson. One critical, a call to change. The latter is the truer, the latter is the gospel.

6. Climbing Down: Applying Today’s Gospel

Three suggestions follow, regarding awareness, regarding assessment, and regarding saving change, when it comes to scaffolds, to the frames from which we see and hear, build and repair.

We see what we expect, or want, to see. We hear what we are accustomed to hear. We have our scaffolds.

Are they the right ones?

Granted that the scaffolds on which you stand to build or repair the steeples of your lives are fundamental, necessary, and crucial, are these, yours the right ones for your life today? Are you aware of your presentiments, your prejudices, your perspectives? Are you? Can you give an account, for example, of your religious perspective? We are more regularly challenged to account for our political perspective, conservative or liberal, or our economic perspective, libertarian or egalitarian, or our cultural perspective, bohemian or bourgois. Today the Markan Jesus sits, sits, outside the temple, and turns a moderate or critical eye upon the horizon, upon the whole, upon what purports to represent the good, true, beautiful, and holy. What is your scaffold made of, when you lean toward the realities of dawn and twilight?

Are you aware of the scaffolds you have ascended?

Then let me ask you, since this Sunday, and now we have awareness, to assess your religious scaffolding. Does it hold? Here are a couple of tests, ways to jump a bit up and down on the board, without yet falling. What about death and taxes?

Does your religious scaffold hold, when you are reaching out to fix up the steeple in the hour of death? Last Sunday, Tom Long, our colleague in Atlanta, preached an op-ed sermon about our cultural, spiritual inability gracefully to approach and accept death. He recommends some better scaffolding: ‘show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people (Gladstone’…People who have learned how to care tenderly for the bodies of the dead are almost surely people who also know how to show mercy to the bodies of the living’. (NYT, 11/1/09)

Does your scaffold hold, when you are facing financial extremity? Has the scaffold the strength to hold you up, while you look out for that next job, while you look down at the prospect of debt, while you look up at your hope for measured frugality, while you look in toward the same potential greed Jesus saw in the temple of old? If the scaffold wobbles here, you have some work to do.

Have you assessed your scaffold?

Then, to conclude, let me ask you something. Is it time to change? Is it time to find a better scaffold, I mean perspective, I mean scaffold, I mean worldview, I mean scaffold, I mean faith? One of our friends sent in this comment on a sermon last month: ‘I'd further suggest it is time to unleash a more aggressive message: that only stupid people think they are so smart that they can figure out everything for themselves and that if they (and everyone else) just maximize their self-interest we will end up with the best of all possible worlds. Rather, really smart people know that they are both limited but responsible and that their best hope is to join in the company of other faithful people in a life of prayer and study and worship to help illumine the path.’

Have you come to a moment of change?

A long time ago, a preacher and Greek scholar summed up his own way of thinking: ‘If thine heart be as mine, give me thine hand’. Can you hear the trust held, affirmed, offered there? ‘If thine heart be as mine, give me thine hand’. Can you hear the openness, there, the maturely na├»ve confidence there, the fresh breeze there? ‘If thine heart be as mine, give me thine hand’. Can you hear the freedom and grace there? It begs to be heard. In its hearing is your health, safety, healing, salvation.