Princeton University Religious Life

Glad and Generous Hearts

Glad and Generous Hearts

These lovely words that we’ve just heard from the Book of Acts are about a community that is on fire – they are passionate, they are glowing, they are unstoppable. They are, together, like a person in the throes of a great new love: they are, in every moment, their best selves. Their sense of personal ethics they now proudly proclaim and go to new lengths to live out. They are starry-eyed; they are devoted to noticing the welfare of others, to selflessness and a giving spirit. Their beloved is not simply another person, but in their burst of faith it is their fellow worshipers, their neighbors, their city, and the world. They are captivated by a passion that is so much deeper than mind or heart. It is an all-consuming passion of spirit; they understand themselves to be changed to their core. Together they are part of a blazingly new thing, a universe-altering thing, and they believe themselves to be blessed beyond all human understanding just to be part of this project – just to have been in God’s field of vision and then chosen.

With Us Forever

With Us Forever

The news sources that I click on or listen to are saying that the American public today is entirely split in its social and political opinion, that we have never been more divided, and that the differences are so profound that we may forever be two Americas. I think, hope, and pray that this isn’t accurate, and that it is more the kind of dramatic journalism that seeks consumer loyalty with dire assessments and predictions. There would seem truly to be a tremendous difference of many opinions and beliefs across the country, a wide continuum of perspectives, rather than two neatly definable and opposing camps. I think it has always been this way, and that it’s not a bad thing. I’m intrigued by a statement I heard this week from a Republican senator about his worry that our country no longer has a shared central narrative about who we are as a nation. That makes me wonder what kind of conservations we all can be part of on the most local levels. Perhaps we might extricate ourselves from the trees, as it were, and take a forest level view – a horizon line view, a big ideas view. Perhaps if we talked about our founding ideals, like the meaning of equality, liberty, justice, citizenship, we might find a platform from which to explore our very different daily interpretations and experiences of our shared commitments. Just a thought – but I think it has influenced the lens through which I’m viewing our biblical texts for today. Both Paul in Athens and Christ with his disciples were trying to help those around them to hear what they were saying, to understand them. Paul was trying to convince people with different philosophical and religious opinions about the truth of God as the only god and Christ as the one who effected God’s salvation. Jesus was trying to help his disciples understand how they were to carry on their saving work after he was gone, and to believe that it was possible. Paul and Jesus spoke most intentionally in their exhortations, adopting the techniques and language necessary so that the other persons could hear them.

The Promise Is For You

The Promise Is For You

Easter happened – it was two weeks ago. We know Easter happened because we were there, or here – we woke up that Sunday morning and came to Chapel and the whole world was here and there were kites flying and special music and even, in 2017, a few Easter hats. We might need to remind ourselves that Easter happened, though. Fourteen days later and life is pretty much the same – the people we know who are sick remain a continuing source of worry for us. The stresses of the semester are only piling up. Difficult relationships and hard choices are still just there. Internationally, we’re hearing increasing amounts of concern about North Korea’s nuclear capability. We have heard the amazing news about Christ’s rising from the dead, but life is very much the same. The Good News is very distant from what we are dealing with.

And We've Got To Get Ourselves Back To the Garden

And We've Got To Get Ourselves Back To the Garden

A very happy Easter to all of you! It is a glorious day in every way – warm sunshine, the earth coming alive with millions of colorful buds, and yes – the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which summons us all together in this magnificent chapel. The long winter of our disobedience, our evil towards one another and to God, it is over; Christ rises from the dead and he takes us with him. While we are yet sinners, Christ opens wide the doors of heaven today, and our lives and our universe are not the same. Four hundred years ago George Herbert wrote the words, “Can there be any day but this, though many suns to shine endeavor?” No – no Easter is its own day, singular in its accomplishment of our salvation.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

The text that we’ve just heard from Matthew’s gospel is best known to most people because of the several verses that, in a literal reading, advocate for the ripping out of one’s own eye or the chopping off of one’s own hand. This is hyperbole on the part of Jesus Christ, I assure you! He offers an outrageous example, beyond the pale of human experience or of divine expectation, in order to make his point about how seriously we must reckon with every temptation to sin. This morning, let’s leave our eyes in their sockets and our hands attached to our wrists and consider Christ’s deeper point in these verses – his call to us not simply to meet our religious or civic obligations, but to turn everything that happens to us into an opportunity to testify to the righteousness, love, mercy, and justice of the Gospel.

Blindness

Blindness

My thanks to Zoe for that elegant reading of such a long passage – 41 verses! – the entirety of the story in John’s gospel of the man who was born blind. Those who were here last week were treated to the entire story, of equal length, of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well. Next week we will hear the equally lengthy story of the raising of Lazarus. These are the assigned texts for these weeks – what is known as “the lectionary.” We on the Chapel staff have not simply chosen to add to the extremes of whatever is your Lenten discipline by making you sit through very long Bible readings. This series of very detailed stories in the Gospel According to John were included by the author, John, with a very important goal in mind: each of the readings reveals a “sign” of something that is central to the person of Jesus Christ. In general, John uses the word “sign” where the other evangelists use the word “miracle.” The sign revealed in the story of the woman at the well is that Jesus is the living water. The sign revealed in the story of the raising of Lazarus is that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The sign revealed in our long text for today is that Jesus is the light of the world.

Called Together

Called Together

At this time in January each year the churches are encouraged to preach and to reflect upon Christ’s calling of his first disciples. After all, we have just celebrated the Advent of the Messiah’s arrival, then his birth, his family’s forced migration to Egypt to escape the pogrom of Herod against all Jewish baby boys. We’ve celebrated the young man Jesus’ baptism by John, and now it is time for him, as it were, to have the “launch” of his ministry. This is as close as the Bible gets to an initial public offering - and Jesus is inviting some very ordinary people to join his organization and to invest in his project at its outset. This team of founders is comprised of guys who catch fish for a living, and presumably not much of a living at that. What I particularly like about Matthew’s telling of the call of the very first disciples is that they are called together, in pairs. I’d like to reflect with you in these minutes about what Jesus’ ongoing call to us can mean - both his call to us as individuals and especially the ways in which we, too, are called together.

Our Own Magnificat

Our Own Magnificat

On this third Sunday in Advent, churches everywhere are reflecting on this wonderful song of Mary’s. For so many of us it is one of our favorite parts of scripture. We associate it with Christmas, for starters - with the birth of the Messiah. We hear Mary’s proclamation as the utterance of someone innocent, loving, lovely. We see Mary as the ultimate person of obedience and of faith. God gives her a really challenging role to play and she just yells, “Yes!” There’s no prevaricating here. Many of us, and perhaps more so those of us who are women, were raised with Mary as our model: we should always be available for service; no matter the task, if the appropriate authority asks we should say yes. I’d like to reflect with you this morning on how Mary is actually a very good girl and a very powerful revolutionary, and how Mary’s world-altering song can be a model for each of us to compose our own Magnificat, our own song of praise and thanksgiving, of resistance and action, in response to all that we know God is doing.

Are We Awake Yet?

Are We Awake Yet?

Here we are, amazingly to me, on the first Sunday in Advent. It’s a day when our appointed biblical texts call us to wake up – to rouse ourselves from sleep as we prepare for the coming of Christ. We cannot be ready for the Messiah’s birth among us if we are snoozing – literally, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. I imagine that most of us consider portions of our lives as having been lived at some time or another on cruise control, auto pilot – whatever we want to call it – times when we haven’t been paying close attention, times when our head was in the sand, times when we focused solely on getting something done, times when we thought we were awake and aware but later we learned that we’d missed something very significant that was right under our nose. This is not how we are to be living, as we read all over the Bible, and in these days of Advent it is really not how we are to be preparing for the coming of Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “Keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” We are cheeky and we respond, “Actually, I know from experience that it will be December 25th.” That is the Feast of the Nativity, but still we are called to live every day of our lives on highest spiritual alert, aware of everything and everyone, wide awake, and ready for the coming of our Lord.

From the Garden to the Wilderness

From the Garden to the Wilderness

This past Wednesday we began the journey together through the holy season of Lent.  These next forty days are not a dreary obligation but a wonderful opportunity to live as we want to live.  I don’t mean that we are to indulge our every desire – I’m not talking about the “wants” in our life that conform to the world – our real yearnings for status, “success” (whatever that means), things, money.  We are human and so we want these things.  I’m talking about living as we want to live – not our worl