Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Election Sermon: Living with Love

Living With Love Mark 12: 28-34 November 4, 2012 Marsh Chapel Robert Allan Hill You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. In three days one half of these United States of America will be profoundly disappointed and personally despondent. We just don't yet know which half. Half of all advertisement is wasted. We just do not know which half. $1 B of the $2 B spent on this Presidential election was, if not wasted, at least offered in a losing cause. Again, we today do not know which half. A herd of elephants, a pride of donkeys, a country of these United States, more States and less United, these days. You will, faithful listeners to Marsh Chapel, on WBUR, and otherwise, you will vote. I have no doubt about it. Good. And you have endured the preaching of the gospel this fall, from a venerable pulpit, and from a fallible preacher. Those especially who responded to the sermons on Biblical Justice, 9/16/12, and on Generosity, 10/14/12, both in harmony and dissonance, have, like love, 'suffered long and been kind'. Thank you for your forbearance. Given though the division, not to say war, between the states, or better said, within the states, or more precisely put, in the heart of Franklin County, just north of Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio Wesleyan University, a small Methodist college for small Methodists and others, incorporated in 1842, we may wonder, come this Sunday, whether the Gospel--love of God and love of neighbor--speaks to our incipient disappointment. By the way, in case you had not heard, the whole election comes down to the single vote of one persona, of a young mother, a 2001 OWU graduate, with two children, who themselves will soon attend OWU, living in anti bellum home, four bedroom, shared driveway, on North Sandusky street, in Delaware, Ohio, across from the old ATO house, who attends Asbury Methodist Church, and is vice president of the Junior League. I believe her name is Mary. Or Martha. Or both. (☺) Let me suggest that the Gospel speaks, to us, right now, in love. That is one thing about love, divine and human. It never ends. Campaigns will cease. Candidates will emerge or retire. Slogans will be put away, to be unearthed again. War chests will empty. Celebrations will come and go. Discouragement will be reborn into denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, then, it may be, acceptance. Some who are elected may learn that the position for which they graciously offered themselves is not exactly heaven on earth. Some who are defeated may discover that in losing they were not so much denied as spared. Not so much denied something as spared the actuality of it. We can be proud of those who will offer themselves for leadership and service, knowing the odds against them. Especially those who come up short, 49% not 51%. We owe them far more than we usually admit. What would love of God and love of neighbor look like, Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the day after a national slugfest? Well, who knows? But, in part, I believe that the Markan Jesus' summary of the decalogue, evokes something particular in us, this Sunday. Love. Love God. Love. Love your neighbor. Love. Now, there is also a neighboring verse that affirms love of enemies, of contestants and opponents, the consequence of love of God and love of neighbor. Those who have listened to Marsh Chapel sermons these years, my own and those of my esteemed predecessors, know full well that this pulpit does not take lightly the consequences of political learning or lack thereof, social virtue or lack thereof, and spiritual piety or lack thereof. I refer you to the sermons just mentioned and preached some weeks ago. Real, dire, real, dreamlike, real decisive matters are at hand Tuesday. So, go and vote. The freedom of the pulpit encourages you, your own true identity in faith exhorts you, today’s Gospel itself leads you. And what a Gospel reading! As was beautifully rehearsed from this pulpit last Sunday, Mark is a Gospel of Conflicts. In particular, Mark is a gospel wherein Jesus argues, with vehemence, with disciples and with opponents (scribes, Pharisees, and others). Since the river Jordan in Mark 1, Jesus has been at daggers drawn with the scribes, in particular. In 1:22, in 2:6, in 3:22, in 7:1, in 11:18, in 11:27. And we haven’t even gotten to the Pharisees yet. All of sudden, today, SURSUM CORDA, HEAR THE GOSPEL, Jesus meets a peacemaking scribe, an irenic soul, a kind opponent. Matthew and Luke will twenty years later erase, as if using an ‘etch a sketch’, this memory of kindness. Their scribe is a testing, testy type. But not here in Mark. In the heat of the battle, there is a quiet, kind conversation. Like those stories of Union and Confederate soldiers, across the line of battle, pausing to sing Christmas carols together, on Christmas eve. Like a Republican governor and a Democratic President finding something shared, something in common, in the teeth of a great storm. Something deeper, even than conflict, than power, than hatred, than self, is here. In the presence of a scribe! Of whom Jesus says, of this good scribe Jesus says, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’! I don’t know about you, but most days, if I could go home with that report card, I would rest my feet and rest my case. ‘The scribe sees with insight and hears with understanding’ (Marcus, 842). In love—and the scribe sees this—God is grabbing ahold of the world, and of us, again. A little Deuteronomy, and a little Leviticus, and a little love of God and neighbor. ‘Neither tragedy nor triumph, but trust’, we heard last week. And again today. ‘Fall in love with the world again’ we heard last week. And again today. ‘The healing of our faith is still possible’ we heard last week. And again today. Hold onto free speech. Hold on to your own-most identity. Hold on to peace, like a river. And go and vote your conscience. But after the voting, there remains the living, and, by our gospel, the loving in the living. What can this truly mean, come Wednesday? How shall we love God? By loving our neighbor. How shall we love our neighbor? By loving our opponent. Let me propose an exercise. Its details may lack something, one point or another, from your point of view. Fear not. Add and delete your own spices and ingredients later. Remember this: Jesus and the good scribe talk. They talk. They listen, and speak. The summary of the law they affirm, as we know, was also affirmed by Rabbi Hillel, and as a way to condense to the two tablets of ten, five each, is not unique, or even remarkable, though quite portable, and useful. What is striking, here, is the relationship between the good teacher and the good scribe. They relate. The listen, and speak. In that manner, vein, and spirit, come Wednesday, consider an experimental exercise: consider why the other half votes the way they do. So. You are a liberal. Good for you. I commend your liberality. But let me ask you something. Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, disagree with you enough to vote for the other guy? For you liberals let me suggest three 'l's to consider. I mean, if we are to love God, love our neighbor, and love our contestant, then we might want to consider why the other side votes the way it does. Love is for the wise. Life. Those more to the right of you in the choir loft tend to have a strong and particular view of the sanctity of life. Have you, Mrs. Liberal, really heard, I mean really deeply heard, this conviction? Now, we know there are manifold ways to be pro life, as a columnist well wrote the other day. But I wonder if, at some gut level, you have yet to appreciate, to approximate, what those to your right in the pew of life, think and say and believe, here? It will help us, all, down the road, if you can, at least, acknowledge, in detail, that with which you do not agree, in full. Liberty. Those more to the right tend to have a fierce and protective sense of freedom, of liberty. O, I know that liberals love liberty and life too. My relative asked me once, though, why I thought conservatives did not want taxes taking their money. 'Because they believe it is THEIR money', I said. Individual responsibility matters. Personal holiness matters. Have you, Mr. Progressive, truly heard this? What you do, justly or not, deserves just response and reward. He who does not work, let him not eat, 2 Thessalonians. For freedom Christ has set us free, Galatians 5. Give me liberty, said Nathan Hale. Or give me...It will help us all, down the road, if we can, at least, respectfully and sincerely say that liberty is precious. Limit. Those more to the right of you in the balcony are suspicious of large bureaucracies and big government. They see waste, where there should be frugality. They see ineffectiveness, where there should be fruitfulness. They see laziness supported, here, free ice cream given, here, a lack of rigor, discipline, and effort rewarded, here. Who governs least, he governs best, they think. Most of all, they see debt, endless and dangerous. They prefer to support private non profit groups, like the Salvation Army, or churches, or private missions. They have not even usually resorted to quoting John Wesley--get all, save all, give all you can--though they might have done so. Have you, Messr. Dreyfusard, adequately, honestly sized up the need for limits? Love your contestant by knowing her view, and affirming the parts of if that you can. Or. You are conservative. Good for you. I commend your conservation. But let me ask you something. Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, are voting for the other guy? For you conservatives let me suggest three 'c's to consider. If we are to love our contestant we might want at least to practice saying out loud why they vote the way they do. Love is for the wise. Choice. When the chips are down and hard decisions need to be made, where is the liberty to be placed, where is the confidence to be invested? Those to your immediate left in the choir loft privilege liberty, in the sense of personal choice. The same affirmations under liberty, made a moment ago, might simply be inserted here. We recognize varieties of pro-choice positions. We know not everyone buys every party line. But, Mr. Conservative, have you truly, deeply considered what it would mean--I am speaking right now mostly to the men--to have your own health choices, of the most personal and most powerful kinds, made by others? Just how long, Mr. Mr., would you really put up with that? At least, can you see, why, from another perspective, choice is a deal maker or breaker? Community. Those to your left in the pew tend to have a high view of what the common good should be. Maybe, way down left, they are reciting lines from ML King about the beloved community. They believe in building community, in doing things together, in sharing time and space and energy and resources. Or maybe they just have a memory of when their own family needed housing, needed food, needed health care, needed employment, or suffered through a Hurricane, and they think that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. They underscore that one's own health finally requires a healthy population, that one's own love of country requires a love of all the people, that one's own security and freedom finally require a modicum of the same, provided for the whole. These lefties may have had a searing experience, up close and personal, with pain and poverty and peril. Let those who have much not have too much, and those who have little not have too little, they whisper. Liberty, yes. But justice, too. For all, in these United States. Compassion. Those to your left in the balcony emphasize compassion. Their sense of pride, sloth and falsehood is heightened. There but for the grace of God, go I, they think. Their sense of hypocrisy, idolatry, and superstition, is heightened. They carry an acute memory of where and when things have gone badly wrong, in dispassionate ways. Children. Children in poverty. Children without primary health care, who sometimes become obese. Children in distress. Those just to your left, they are willing to forego a bit of frugality for the expansion of compassion. It matters deeply to them, this fall, whether or not another 40 million people, many of them children, will have access to health care, after Tuesday. Yes, they would rather spare the rod and spoil the child, if that means all children are fed, clothed, housed, taught, and healed. Love your contestant by knowing his view, and affirming those parts you can. Now let me close by moving from preaching to meddling. Maybe you think I have already been meddling! Preaching since 1976, and my May 1976 departure from North Sandusky street, Franklin County, Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio, and a year living across the street, in the old ATO house, from the one person, Mary Martha, or Martha Mary, whose single vote will decide this election, my impression is that in practice we liberals are not always all that liberal and we conservatives are not always all that conservative. Here is what I mean. So, as a conservative, you believe in limited government, and think the private sector, including churches, should care for the poor. Fine. So, do you tithe? The average pledge in churches is 1% not 10% If you are so keen on limited government, a worthy goal, and think the civil society can carry the work, then why are you so limited in your giving to the churches and other eleemosynary institutions? (See what I mean about meddling?) So, as a liberal, you believe in community, in communal benefits, in the common good, the good of all. Fine. Do you build community? Do you take the time to participate in all those fallible, time consuming groups? Do you worship? Do you take the time and energy to build up the community, starting with the community of faith? Or do you lie in bed, or play golf, or something else, come Sunday. (See what I mean about meddling?) Here is what I mean. Let each be convinced, in his own mind. But practice what you preach. That is: I’ll expect a tithe from the conservatives and 100% worship attendance from the liberals, or, better yet, both from both! Devotion and service, love of God and love of neighbor, worship and generosity. Friends, these are things, right and left, over time that will last. Do these, and you will hear a divine whisper, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. By the way, my name is Bob Hill, and I approve of this message! (☺)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Wall Street Journal: The Guaranteed Appointment in the United Methodist Church

The Wall Street Journal To The Editor October 24, 2012 To the Editor: Your welcome article today on the United Methodist guaranteed appointment spotlights a crucial issue for our beloved church and its future. However, your emphasis on employment security (surely a part of the issue) eclipses the central, primary matter at hand: the freedom of the pulpit. Methodism through itinerancy and appointment has historically honored and protected a free pulpit, wherefrom the truth of the gospel may be preached without undue intimidation (by bishops, by congregations, or by cultural dispositions—such as racism, sexism and homophobia). Today in our church a minister can preach the truth and face the consequences, but still at a minimum feed his or her family—through the guaranteed appointment. The proposed change would change the balance of responsibility and authority completely, in a completely un-Methodist way. So why have we been tempted to exchange our birthright for a mess of pottage? The proposed change seeks to ease the superintending work of removing incompetent clergy. Yet we already have multiple, effective, disciplinary ways to do so. It’s just that they all take time and energy and work. And they should. The freedom of the pulpit is worth it, the free pulpit from which the grace, freedom, and love of the gospel were so eloquently preached by John Wesley and so beautifully sung by Charles Wesley, not so long ago. Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill Dean, Marsh Chapel Professor, New Testament and Pastoral Theology Chaplain to the University, Office of Religious Life Boston University

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The United Methodist General Conference 2012: Two Sermons about Tampa

Watch Over One Another In Love 1 John 3:16, John 10: 11-18 Bach IV 2012 Marsh Chapel April 29, 2012 Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music Bob The description of the faithful life, the life of the community of faith, professed by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is our theme on this Good Shepherd Sunday, in which we hear again, for the last time this school year, the beauty of Bach, in a cantata of praise: ‘watch over one another in love’. On these Sundays we hope to hear the music speak, preach, announce the Gospel of grace. On these and all Sundays we also hope to hear the words sing, harmonize and beautify. Music that speaks and words that sing: for these in the enchantment of worship we do hunger and thirst. The Gospel of the beloved disciple, and the first letter in that same tradition, are themselves canticles of love. A new commandment we are given: love one another. Love one another says the Risen Christ, even as I have loved you. By this they will know who you are, if you love one another. There is no diminution of authority, as the Shepherd lays down his life. What he lays down, he has the power also to lift up. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough, but not strong enough. His embrace embraces the globe, sheep of multiple folds, other sheep not of this fold. Not all faithful people are Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Boston University Marsh Chapel people. There are many ways of keeping faith. Our feeling for the good Shepherd is good enough but not powerful enough. He knows, he knows his own, even as he is known by God. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough but not full enough. One flock, one shepherd: take away from the noise of your differences. When we love we are one, one flock, one Shepherd, one God who is above all and through all and in all. First John came along to sharpen up what the Gospel left open. The Gospel of Spirit became the Letter of commandment. The Gospel of community, beloved community, became the Letter of authority, ecclesiastical authority. The Gospel of inspiration became the Letter of instruction. The Gospel of freedom became the Letter of love. The Gospel of Incarnation became the Letter of responsibility. There is no mistaking the announcement of grace, a call to obedience, in 1 John. To love is to take responsibility. To love is to be responsive, responsible, to take responsibility. By this we know love…If any one has…and sees…and closes his heart…how does God’s love abide in him?...We should believe and love one another. Would you love? Then you will take responsibility. It is wonderful to have the Gospel. It is good also to have the Letter. Dr Jarrett, speaking of love and responsibility, I wish every student at our University, and every listener in earshot of our voices, could know the intimate, communal, choral, consanguinity of singing in this choir. I wish all could have some measure, some version, of this choral community in grace, freedom, love and responsibility. It is an experience of really being alive, an experience of love, an act of joyful responsive, responsibility that together we take. We hunger for words that sing. We thirst for music that speaks. Help us to listen in love for illuminating moments in today’s music… Scott Bob We shall go forth together. We shall live together the commandment of belief and love. We shall trust the shelter of the Shepherd. We shall bring salt to the meal of life. We shall bring light to the dwellings of life. We shall be sheep in another’s fold, little children who love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. With God’s help, we shall so order our lives that we learn, better and better, day by day to watch over one another in love. Of us, pointing to us, here and now, over time, we shall hope, others will see and say, they do watch over one another in love. Then we think about the commandments, as Marilynne Robinson does in her novel Gilead, as a preparation for worship: There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that there holiness will be perceived. Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of mother and father,; who usually labor and are heavy laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing…you see (them) as God sees (them) and that is an instruction in the nature of God and humankind and Being itself. That is why the Fifth Commandment belongs on the first table(139) You, you Marsh Chapel, you are leading the way. You are taking responsibility. Others will follow. You are leading the way in the affirmation of the full humanity of gay people. Others will follow. Not for you the earlier habits of treating some as 5/5ths and others as 3/5ths human. Not just baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance and unction for all, but marriage and ordination for all, too. You are leading. Others will follow. You are leading the way in heavenly worship. Not for you a contemporary worship which is neither contemporary nor worship. Not for you the substitution of entertainment for enchantment. Not for you the occupation of pulpits by unordained, untrained, uneducated, unconnected ministers. Not for you the elaborated expenditures of denominations and church leaders who lose their grounding in the basic ministry of the church: the Word of God, the Sacraments of Grace, the service of neighbor. You are leading the way. Others will follow. Why, your example and its shadow will be felt as far into the future as a truly open church, as far down into the trembling depths of every phobia that every closed a heart, or a mind, or a door, as far out into the globe as every poor child. Today I add: as far away, in every way, as a United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. You are leading the way. Others will follow. May God give us a mind for words that sing. May God give us a tongue for songs that speak. So fed, may we watch over one another in love. Come Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive Suddenly return and never, nevermore thy temples leave Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above Pray and praise thee without ceasing , glory in thy perfect love Unfinished Grace Communion Meditation May 6, 2012 1 John 4: 7-12, Mark 16: 1-8 Robert Allan Hill ‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’ (Ernest Campbell). John would agree: John Dempster. John Appleseed. John Wesley. 1 John. John would agree. The cataract of Easter, its shattering, thunderous, calamitous, munificent, apocalypse of love, leaves parcels and morsels strewn about the lawn of life. Our Holy Communion in Eastertide is forever an unfinished grace. We stumble about, following the Easter kiss of grace (gnadenkusse), the Easter quickening. We bump into bits and pieces left behind the resurrection tornado. For one thing, the gospel for this Easter, Mark 16, re-read this morning, ends in mid-flight, end in mid-sentence, its last word a preposition, ‘for’. A weak case (from the critical moderate viewpoint0 finds a couple of other sources in antiquity, in ancient Greek literature, which end with this dangling preposition. But the much more muscular view, as usual, is that of the moderate critics, not that of the critical moderates. The end of the scroll (as often happened to beginnings and endings of these documents) probably was torn and lost. The Easter gospel is literally (not a word I usually associate with the Bible) unfinished. Its ending is unending. For….what? If you doubt this, let me remind you that all the subsequent editors of Mark tried to fix up the finish. Beginning with Mark. There are three different endings to Mark. The unfinished original, and two finished unoriginals, the shorter and the longer. They are not improvements, except in a grammatical sense. Next come Matthew and Luke, writing 20 years after Mark. They also both replace the unfinished finish, with a finished finish, not original, but, like a nice addition to an old house, appropriate to the space. The Fourth Gospel enlarged Mark’s sketch (a version may have influenced John), with three other stories (of Mary, of the disciples, and of Thomas). And of course Paul knows nothing of any of this, so had nothing to add. Whether or not you want to think about unfinished grace as the metaphorical unfinished symphony of Being is your choice. The fact stubbornly remains: Mark 16 ends unfinished, in mid-sentence, ‘they were afraid for…’ Life is open. Freedom is real. Easter causes us a little humility about what we think we know. Unfinished grace cautions us at Easter. Life is unfolding in unfinished grace. If, for instance, you have attended a recent lengthy conference or meeting which was by all accounts an unmitigated disaster, and you are tempted to despair, beware. Grace is afoot, alive, active, and unfinished. There is more future than you may think in the future. For another thing, in the aftermath and after glow of Easter, sometimes when we come to our senses we deeply realize unfinished work, unresolved issues, unappreciated love. Every year, studying the Gospel of John, this hits like a trailer falling out of a tornado. I am speaking of Nicodemus. We didn’t hear about him this year, for he is only in John. You remember his awkward appearance at night in John 3. He disappears, but reappears at the very end, John 19:29, and helps Joseph of Arimethea to bury Jesus’ body. ‘Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes’. So poignant, this, so true to life, so accurate about us. We don’t know what we have got until it is gone. At last—too late but not too late—Nicodemus responds in love to the Christ who loved him to death. He shows up at the burial. Some returning faithful souls from Tampa Florida may this month suddenly realize what has been lost in the Methodist church. You don’t what you’ve got until its gone. For 200 years in various forms our church supported a security of appointment, a modest kind of connectional tenure. In this practice was located the basis for the covenant of the clergy in conference. In this practice was located the functional basis for itinerancy, in appointment and apportionment. In this practice was located the final protection of the freedom of the pulpit from harm and muffling by Episcopal leaders for whom such freedom is uncomfortable. I In short, the church said to those entering ministry: ‘you study for four years in college, three years in seminary, work for three years under supervision, and agree to go anywhere you are sent at the appointment of the Bishop, along with your family by the way, and live in a parsonage and earn $40,000 a year. We will at least guarantee you a place to preach, however modest that may be. But now, the demands on the young clergy are the same, but the responsible balance, the fair deal from an earlier day is gone. All the weight is on one end of the teeter totter. Beware of mendacious and predatory Bishops: power corrupts, and absolute power, now in view, corrupts absolutely. It is the equivalent of eliminating tenure on the Charles River campus in one vote, with no full debate. Maybe the judicial council will rule this too out of order. You don’t know what you have got until it is gone. Nicodemus doesn’t know what he has until it is gone. Still, there is a way—100 pounds of treasure way—for Nicodemus to find faith. Part of the joy of Easter is that this spiritual street theater involves audience participation, a play unfinished until you, like Nicodemus, step upon stage, take your cues, memorize and deliver your lines. Unfinished grace includes us—if we will allow it—at Easter. Yet another thing: as bread and wine await. 1,000 of us worshipped here in the triduum—an explosion. Odd, I looked up at Frances Willard, Easter day. She is found standing perpetually alongside Abraham Lincoln, here in our western stained glass. To finish Marsh Chapel, sixty years ago, Daniel Marsh had to decide on one final figure, for the last stained glass window. The choice became a cause célèbre, with letters and advice flying fast and furious. In a day when people felt strongly about Connick stained glass windows. Who should it be? Marsh finally chose Frances Willard, the female force behind prohibition. Interesting. A quintessential Methodist choice, in one sense, and a lingering, awkward physical presence on a secular, urban, large, cold, Northern, anything but temperate let alone abstinent, campus. Here is what President Marsh wrote about Frances Willard: ‘I dare to prophesy that as the years go by and the history of the New World comes to be read…the name of Frances Willard will stand by the side of Lincoln’ (Lady Somerset of England). Dean of Women at Northwestern…Her upbringing, her religious convictions, her natural bent for reform…put her in the temperance movement…President of the WTCU…A statue of her stands in the rotunda of the Capitol…It is a monument to a beautiful life. (Charm of the Chapel, 182) Willard said: ‘temperance is moderation in the things that are good and abstinence from things that are foul’; ‘I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum’; ‘the struggle of the soul is toward expression’ She was born near Rochester (Churchville). She gave 400 speeches a year in the company of her longtime companion, Anna Adams Gordon: ‘there is no village that has not its examples of ‘two hearts in counsel’ both of which are feminine’. For Willard, temperance was primarily a movement at advancing the cause of suffrage (to my mind anyway), ‘ Yet eighty years after the experience and failure of prohibition (with thanks for Ken Burns’ recent portrayal) Francis Willard is still here, and we still have unfinished work, unfinished imaginative labor to do regarding alcohol. I am not in favor of prohibition and not a t-totaller, although I grew up in a dry home. But as a Dad, granddad, pastor, chaplain, Dean and minister, if the choice is between prohibition and sexual exploitation, I take prohibition in a New York minute. Our work on college campuses regarding alcohol is unfinished. I will linger with Willard a brief moment longer. Notice her way of living. She lived all her life with her life long partner. One day, our denomination will honor the emerging Frances Willards in our midst, the 10% of those 8 and 9 year old kids who know that somehow they are just a little different from the majority, who know they have a God given and different orientation. We will bring them to Marsh Chapel and introduce them to one of their forebears, Frances Willard, a feminist, suffragette, international leader, dean, temperance advocate, pioneer, and very probably a gay woman of the 19th century. She didn’t see her main goal, voting rights for women, in her lifetime. That happened twenty years after she died. But it happened. If you are limping home from a General Conference that was an unmitigated disaster, take a little heart from those who labored for causes that came to fruition only long after they had died. Just so, unfinished grace challenges us at Easter. Grace challenges us to remember that real change takes time, but it will come. It is coming. It is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave… ‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’ John would agree: John Dempster. John Appleseed. John Wesley. 1 John. John would agree. Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God and one who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God’s love abides in us and is perfected in us.

Monday, March 12, 2012

On Security of Appointment in United Methodism: A Sermon

Servants of the Word
Matthew 25: 14-30
Romans 10: 14-17
November 13, 2011
Marsh Chapel
The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean
Dedicated to the Memory of the Rev. Margie Mayson (d. 11/8/11)

I lift my voice in celebration of Jesus’ parable of the talents. (I heard WS Coffin in his first sermon at Riverside Church, autumn 1977, preach on it, and conclude by singing ‘This little light of mine”.) Life is a gift which inspires continuous giving, says the Lord. Talents are meant to be shared, says the Lord. What we have and who we are we are meant to invest in the future, says the Lord. This means risk. There is risk, always there is risk, in investment. The risk is real, and should be reasonable, and can be managed. But it is risk still. All walks of life, including yours and mine, involve real, reasonable, manageable risk. Let us apply the lesson, you and I, to our own lives and work. As OW Holmes said of a sermon: ‘I applied it to myself’. This morning, in particular, let us think about the servants of the word, ministers of the gospel, in the Methodist tradition of Marsh Chapel, and of those in that calling to whom the Lord may say: “Well done thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. We will set you over much. Enter into the joy of the master”.
I lift my voice in honor, defense, and happy admiration of a 32 year old Tennessee Methodist preacher, who questioned from his pulpit the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (With a congregation of conservatives, deep in a red blooded red state, he preached the gospel of truth about an action that was preemptive, unilateral, imperial, reckless, unforeseeable, immoral, post-Judeo Christian, and wrong.) “This mistaken action will haunt and shadow our beloved land for a biblical three to four generations”, he wrote in the sermon. With a wife and two pre-schoolers, and a massive seminary debt, he knew his sermon was more than generically risky: at worst, his collection plates might empty along with his pews. The DS might get some nasty email. He might be asked to move. Late one night, after putting the kids to bed, his wife gently asked him whether he really needed to speak up. He thought for a while and said: ‘Well, at least if the worst comes, I can count on another appointment, come June. That’s the way the Methodist church protects the freedom of the pulpit. I may not make much, but I have a kind of tenure. We will be able to feed our kids.’ A servant of the word.

I lift my voice in admiration for an ordained woman elder in Ohio, who had a couple coming for marriage ask if there were any man available, instead of her. The bride said, ‘We put down our deposit a year ago. We don’t want a woman to officiate. You owe us.’ When the minister explained to the administrative board that she would be going to small claims court over this, pointing to the stipulation in the wedding rules that the pastor in charge will officiate, there was a ruckus. ‘Why didn’t you just get our former pastor to tie the knot? He lives right here in town. He is retired and would be glad to do it.’ So, the red faced board chair demanded. At home that night, she promised her teenage daughter: ‘We may have to move next spring, which will be hard for both of us, but at least I will have an appointment, come June. We will not starve, you and I. We are Methodists. That’s the way the Methodist church protects the freedom of the pulpit. I may not make much money, but I will have a job somewhere. We are Methodists. We believe in the connectional, itinerant system, to protect the freedom of the pulpit.’ A servant of the word.

I lift my voice in honor of a New York district superintendent who questioned his bishop. I mean he QUESTIONED his bishop. Later he told his son how he dreaded sitting down across the table from his fellow elder, the resident bishop, and saying what he had to say: ‘Bishop, I know you are having an extra-marital affair. And while it is true that several of your colleagues have done the same, over the years, in this jurisdiction, and not looked back or been defrocked, I am not going to be still about it. You need to resign. Today.’ The son asked, ‘What will happen to us?’ His dad said, ‘I don’t know but I do know I will at least have a job in June. You can still count on going to Ohio Wesleyan next year. I may not make as much money as I could have in another denomination (like the Presbyterian or Episcopal Church), probably only a third as much, but I am proud to be a Methodist, where we protect our preachers from predatory and mendacious bishops. Methodists protect the freedom of the pulpit with the guaranteed appointment. Ernest Fremont Tittle’s great Evanston congregation, in their landmark statement on such freedom, and their defense of him, gave us a shining example. ’ A servant of the word.

I lift my voice in deep love and regard for an older Florida preacher, shepherded to his last assignment at age 64. The Staff Parish committee chair asked, ‘Don’t you have somebody younger, someone with kids in school, with a Dodge caravan, and a dog and an eagerness to please and a dislike of conflict?’. A year later, at age 65, the minister had to get up in the pulpit and point out that the congregation’s laziness, stinginess, shallowness, narrowness, meanness and arrogance were not working excessively well in evangelistic terms. (He dreaded doing it, for many reasons, one being that because he had started late in ministry, and needed as many pension years as he could muster.) He loved the younger people in the town, along the lake nearby, and the handful of good, loving, retired school teachers whose tithes kept the church open. But in his heart he knew he had no choice. And the DS had said, when he was sent there, ‘Speak lovingly, but truthfully. They have been coddled, dodged and lied to for years. I want them to hear about salvation. But I want them to hear about sin too. And if things get bloody, I’ll have a church for you in June. After all, we are Methodists. We stand for the freedom of the pulpit. We watch over one another in love, in connection and in itinerancy. We would not expect you to go anywhere you are sent without guaranteeing you a job somewhere. That would be cruel. That would be cruel to require you to move annually at the direction of a bishop, on a very modest salary, and not to commit to providing you some job, however humble.’ A servant of the word.

I lift my voice in concern for a 29 year old, newly minted United Methodist elder, who gave a strong sermon in West Virginia, in support of the full humanity of gay people. He did not sleep a wink the night before. He could feel the deep disappointment and anger in the eyes of the women and men—few enough already in number—with whom he would worship and for whom he would preach in the morning. He mused: ‘For all the visitation and counseling, all the weddings and funerals, all the long days and late nights, all the genuine friendship and pastoral care, they still will not forgive this. It means they have to re think their dysfunctional relationships to family and to the Bible. But silence, avoidance, and dishonesty are not helping them, as far as I can see. Ours is a gospel of truth. For it to be gospel it has to be true. Gay people are people. Gay people are people, not fractions of people. I know my voice may be muted, but it will not be silenced. I will be gentle, brief, humble and kind. I will visit later to listen in love. But I will preach. I am a traveling elder, an itinerant minister, a Methodist preacher. My college teacher (Howard Zinn) had tenure and could teach the truth as he saw it. I have an annual appointment to preach as fully and faithfully as I can. And I wilI. I can, I will, I promise, So help me God. I agree to go and work where I am sent, and the church promises a pulpit, however modest, and a salary, however meager. I can provide for my family. I am proud of our connection, our history, our birthright, our defense of freedom.’ A servant of the word.

I lift my voice in praise for a quiet, gentle, middle aged northern preacher, who disagreed in love with her resident bishop. ‘What he was quoted as saying in our city paper, after conference this summer, is just not right, just not true. I have to say so. I read a sermon once, ‘The Truth of Our Lives’ (M Mayson, AFUMC Rochester, 3/05) that gave me courage. I will do so personally, with respect, with grace, with humility, and in genuine love. But I have a pastoral responsibility too. In one paragraph quotation he did a decade’s worth of damage to our evangelism here in our struggling conference, by what he said. People will not darken the doors of churches whose leaders say such things. Bishops in our church are general superintendents, servants of the servants of God, servants of the servants of the word. They are consecrated not ordained. They are elders like the rest of us. Some of them hear so often what great people they are that they start to believe it. I know a few who can strut sitting down. He may not like my voice, or my view, but he will have to appoint me, even if it is to a tiny church in the north country. I will still be able buy rice crispies and cat food come June. I love my church and am proud to be a Methodist preacher. Only one thing would eject me from my cradle denomination: the trashing and elimination of the security of appointment.’ A servant of the word.

In the last sermon that I heard my father give, in Sherrill NY in 2008, he quoted the following passage from Timothy Tyson’s memoir, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME. If you ever have any doubt as to the birthright, precious worth of the freedom of the pulpit, protected in our denomination by the security of appointment (now under attack by, of all people, the Bishops whose job it is to serve these very servants of the word), buy and read this book. Tyson, an historian, remembers growing up under the leaky roofs of many North Carolina Methodist parsonages, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His father, an itinerant minister, a traveling elder, a servant of the word, was very effective and beloved from church to church, until he began, once trust was established, to preach about race and race relations—the full humanity of black people. To his white congregations this white man said something like ‘people all people belong to one another’ (H Thurman). Every three years or so, the DS called, and Bishop reappointed the family. On the road again. Once because he invited Dr Samuel Proctor, a fine African American Preacher, and then President of North Carolina A and T into his pulpit. Once because he organized an interracial memorial service following the death of ML King. Once because he preached a particular sermon on racial equality. Once because with his brother, the author’s uncle, he went to court and sat on the ‘wrong side’ of the courtroom. He said to the judge: “If you can tell me where to sit, you can tell me what to think, and what to say, and…I don’t believe you have that authority.’ His parishioners told him he was no longer welcome in any of the six pulpits on his circuit. He reminded them that ‘he’ didn’t stand in those pulpits at their invitation…but by the calling of the Lord and the appointment of the bishop.’ His wife was eight months pregnant. People crossed the street to avoid him. Threatening phone calls came, after which he sent his wife and kids to live with his mother. Then this, the passage my dad cited: “Lying in bed alone at the parsonage a few nights later, he heard a knock at his back door. He thought it might be the Klan coming to make good on their threats, but saw what appeared to be a white woman standing near the back porch. It was too dark to tell who it was, and the figure had moved back away from the house after knocking. He opened the door and reached for the light switch. ‘Please don’t turn on the light’ a female voice stammered. ‘I just wanted you to know how proud I am that you are my preacher. I just wanted you to know that.’ And then she hurried away into the darkness. (Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name, 194) A servant of the word.

I lift my voice this morning to echo the ancient wisdom of the Apostle Paul, in whose words we again receive the call to preach (are you so called?), the risk of ministry (is this adventure yours?), the gospel investment in history and mystery (is this your path?): ‘How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him…Faith come from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.’

Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Dean, Marsh Chapel
Professor, New Testament and Pastoral Theology
Chaplain to the University, Office of Religious Life
Boston University