Being Found

Homily for Sunday, January 6, 2019
The Epiphany
Matthew 2:1–12
Preached at St John’s, Newtonville

Rainer_Maria_Rilke2C_1900As a young man in his early twenties, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke traveled with his girlfriend and her husband to Russia.  Whether it was the Russian land or people, or Rilke’s encounter with the Orthodox Church, or perhaps his travel arrangements that led to an extraordinary burst of creativity, we don’t know.  What we do know is that upon his return, over the course of 25 days, Rilke wrote his Book of Hours, 67 poems that grew out of his prayer at that time.  They are wonderful!  Here are the openings lines of #45:

You come and go. The doors swing closed
ever more gently, almost without a sound.
Of all who move through quiet houses,
you are the quietest.  (I, 45)

newton north tigerBut I don’t want to begin with Rilke.  Nor do I want to begin with the story of the three wise men we’ve just heard.  Rather—perhaps it’s because we’re here at 297 Lowell Ave., right across from Newton North High School— I want to begin with tigers [the mascot of  NNHS].

In “Man-Eaters,” an online article from The Ringer (September 25, 2018), Brian Phillips writes of going on safari in India to see tigers:

Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree…

Phillips might have seen more tigers except that:

In the presence of a tiger what most astonishes is not its size or its power or even its beauty but its capacity to disappear.  I’m sure you’ve heard about the stealth of tigers on nature shows.  It’s no preparation for the reality.  You will not see a tiger that does not choose to be seen…  The way a tiger arrives is, there is nothing there.  Then a tiger is there.

The best way to see a tiger, says Phillips, is to pay attention to the “shiver” in the jungle.

tiger drawingThe arrival of a tiger, it’s true, is often preceded by moments of rising tension, because a tiger’s presence changes the jungle around it… Birdcalls darken.  Small deer call softly to each other.  Herds do not run but drift into shapes that suggest some emerging group consciousness of an escape route.  A kind of shiver seems to run through everything…  The best way to find a tiger is to switch off your engine and listen.  You might then hear, from a distance, the subtle changes in pitch and cadence that indicate the boundary of [the tiger’s arrival] zone.

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herod and the wise menKing Herod was a tiger living in a jungle.  In his world of palace intrigue, Herod could surely commiserate with Shakespeare’s Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  Like Henry’s, Herod’s senses were keenly attuned.  So “When the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem asking, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’”  Herod “switched off his engine and listened:”

He inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born…  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea…”

But since “you will not see a tiger that does not choose to be seen,” the wise men did not see Herod, who slyly and cunningly

sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Herod had felt the shiver.

William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_Finding_of_the_Saviour_in_the_Temple

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, William Holman Hunt

But just as Herod is wild, so also is there something wild about Jesus—Jesus is not so easily caught.  And though Herod might be wild in a tiger kind of way, ready to pounce, claw and devour, Jesus is wild—and perhaps it’s because we’re here, at 297 Lowell Ave., just upstairs from the Bowen Preschool, that I’m going to say that— [Jesus is wild] and not so easily caught in a child kind of way.  Let me explain:

“When I was a little girl, I hid in church,” writes Trish Harrison Warren (now a priest in the Church of England).

My best friend Amanda was the preacher’s youngest daughter.  We hated to leave each other after the worship service.  So we hatched a plan to hide under a table in the corner of the fellowship hall… I’m not sure what we’d imagined our parents doing as we grabbed hands after the dismissal and beelined to our hiding spot.  (Did we think they’d give up on finding us and leave?)  My parents said they found me within twenty minutes… but in my memory we were there for hours.  I remember Amanda’s auburn hair falling in ribbons on the white tile as we huddled on our knees, hidden under the table, the happy murmur of the crowd swelling under the organ postlude; later, the grown-up shins with pleated slacks and shiny black shoes walking toward the table alerted us that our gig was up.  We were found.  [From “True Story,” in the Spring, 2018, issue of “The Point.”]

Hiding_tigerIf it is true about a tiger that what most astonishes is not its power or its beauty but its capacity to disappear, so is it true about Jesus that what often most astonishes is not his power or even his beauty, but his capacity to disappear.  Jesus loves to disappear, he loves to go and hide.  Jesus loves to go and hide not for any reasons of cunning or fear; Jesus loves to hide because he wants to take our hand and beeline to a place where he might more fully show us his glory.  Jesus loves to hide because Jesus loves to be seen.  There is so much more that Jesus wants to show us, that Jesus wants to tell us.  So Jesus moves quietly, so very quietly, not only to encourage us to look more closely, but also so that we might learn to look past how we usually see, past our assumptions of what we think we should see, when we “see” Jesus.  For, as Rilke puts it later in the same poem: “We become so accustomed to you, we no longer look up when your shadow falls.”  And so Jesus comes and goes ever more gently, “of all who move through quiet houses the quietest,” hoping that we will “switch off our engine and listen.”  Hoping that we will look carefully, hoping that we will hear his invitation and take his hand and go off and hide—with him!  “Come away to a deserted place,” he says in Mark.  Or, “arise… and come away… my love, my fair one,” he says in the Song of Songs.

When we are ready, if we allow ourselves, we can—to borrow from that lovely poem by Frances Chesterton (and that the choir will sing momentarily)—come to the “Little door,” where “we need not wander more,” but can

…enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold…
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head…
Gifts for His children, terrible and sweet;
Touched by such tiny hands,
and Oh such tiny feet.

shooting-starOn this Feast of the Epiphany this demure and quiet Jesus, invites us to switch off our engines and listen.  It is the “tigers” of this world whose stealth causes birdcalls to darken, small deer to call softly to each other, and a shiver to run through the jungle.  But Jesus moves even more quietly—“of all who move… the quietest”—who, when he shows himself, shows not teeth and claws but “tiny hands and Oh such tiny feet.”  Who leads us to a place, perhaps hidden, where we can enter, and kneel down, and draw close, and offer gifts, and worship, and where twenty minutes feels like forever in a good way…  And where we can be “found.”  It’s what our hearts really want, isn’t it, to be found with this Jesus, and to kneel down and worship?  Why not this Epiphany allow ourselves to go there?  Why not allow ourselves to take his hand and to go with him under the table—or to a deserted place, or through the “little door”— and to feel not a shiver but profound satisfaction, not a rising tension but increasing joy.  Which always precedes and follows Jesus wherever he goes, and wherever we let him in.

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Looking on the Infant Jesus

Homily for December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1–20

Nativity stained glass-St. Mary Star of the Sea Duluth MN

The Nativity, stained glass, St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, Minn.

In “Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music,” a New York Times piece from this past September, the Times asked eighteen different people—critics, composers, performers, conductors—which five minutes of classical music would they play to help somebody fall in love with classical music.  On the list were pieces such as the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird suite, the final Trio from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and “Liebestod,” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, among others.

 

In addition to these “warhorses” that I might have expected were others that caught me by surprise.  From Ravel’s Shéhérazade was the ridiculously beautiful aria “L’indifférent.”  It’s absolutely gorgeous, with a text perhaps too racy to share from the pulpit on Christmas Eve…  Anna Clyne’s Lavender Rain, a piece for violin written after the death of her mother, is 4 ½ minutes of music so simple—an ascending and then descending scale, basically, with a few chords for color—that it shouldn’t move one to tears, but it does.  And Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses, in an arrangement for winds, is a playful series of dissonance and resolution that, again, is so simple that it shouldn’t be so beautiful, but it is.

And then there a piece that completely caught me by surprise; I’d never heard of it: Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus, “Twenty ‘glances’ [or ‘looks’ or ‘contemplations’] on the infant Jesus,” a piano work by the idiosyncratic 20th-century French composer, Olivier Messiaen.  A quick Google search filled me in on the twenty “looks”:

Theme_de_dieu

Thème de Dieu, from Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus

There is the “Regard du Père,” the “Look of the Father;” the “Regard de la Vierge,” the “Look of the Virgin;” and the “Regard des Anges,” the “Look of the Angels.”  There are also “looks” of “the Star,” “the Cross,” and “of Silence…” all looking—just looking—on the infant Jesus.

 

Olivier_Messiaen_1930

Olivier Messiaen, 1930

Then there is “Le Baiser de l’Enfant Jésus,” “The Kiss of the Infant Jesus.”  The movement is so “French” and so “Messiaen.”  It’s quirky, unlike anything anybody else was writing—think “1950’s Citroën” except music (and not a car)—and it is so unusual that it shouldn’t be but it is exquisitely beautiful.  “Le Baiser” is more or less a theme and variations, with a repeating, four-measure ground of dissonant yet lush chords.  It starts softly like a lullaby in the lower middle of the piano’s register and gradually builds, both in volume and expanse of register, as though watching Jesus sleep then maybe shift, then begin to wake; then begin to be hungry or to have gas, and then to be truly awake with a full-throated, piercing newborn wail.  (Those who are parents, you’ve been there.)  And then Our Lady must have made playful attempts to soothe him, maybe picking him up and rocking him and making cooing sounds, for the music turns briefly whimsical, with trills and playful melodies running free in the upper register.  But Mary is a new mother, you see, and doesn’t quite have it, so Jesus slowly but surely works up a full head of steam before cutting loose with a massive, glorious tantrum: crashing, dissonant chords and jagged rhythms, all over the piano.  At which point Our Lady must have figured it out—maybe nursing him, or holding him just so—for the music gradually calms and returns to the ease of its opening lullaby-like swing.  And somewhere along the way—I can’t tell from the music—our Lady (or Joseph, or both) must have given him “un baiser,” a kiss.

 

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If there is a word that most befits the Incarnation, the Nativity of Our Lord, that we celebrate this evening, it is the word “let.”  At every step of the way leading up to the birth of Jesus, human beings did what we usually find it so difficult to do: we “let.”  Mary let the angel approach.  She let herself “ponder” the angel’s greeting.  She let herself imagine what it might be like for “the Holy Spirit to come upon [her], and the power of the Most High [to] overshadow [her].”  Mary said to the angel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word.”  And Joseph, too, “let.”  Joseph allowed himself to dream; he let himself hear the angel’s word; he let himself take Mary as his wife despite her pregnancy. And the innkeeper, shepherds and wise men likewise let.  The innkeeper let the holy family stay in the manger; the shepherds let themselves be drawn and “make haste” to find “Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger;” the wise men let themselves be led by the star, and they let themselves kneel down and “pay him homage.”  At every step of the way leading up to Jesus’ birth, human beings let; we let God be God, and ourselves to be human.

Crypte_de_l'église_de_Gargilesse-Les_Rois_Mages-20120429

L’adoration des Rois Mages, Crypte de l’église de Gargilesse

Whether we know it or not, those of us here this evening follow in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, and of the innkeeper, shepherds and wise men.  It is not by mistake that we are here this evening; each of us has let ourselves come.  Like Mary, we let God approach and invite us. Like Mary, we let our hearts ponder God’s invitation.  Like Mary, we let ourselves imagine what it might be like to be here, and we came.  Like Joseph, we allowed ourselves to hear God’s words and did not dismiss them.  Like the innkeeper, we let ourselves make room (in our schedule).  Like the shepherds, we let ourselves be drawn to be here.  Like the wise men, we let ourselves come to worship.  We have done so much to be here tonight; we have let God draw us here; we have let ourselves accept God’s invitation.

Having done so much and come so far, I wonder if we might allow ourselves to take one further step.  I wonder if we might let ourselves do as did “le Père,” “la Vierge,” and “les Anges” (the Father, the Virgin and the angels); as did the Star, the Cross and the Silence.  I wonder if we might let ourselves look on the infant Jesus.  Just look.

We’ve all seen infants.  And if we are parents, we have first-hand experience of infants.  What do you notice, as you let yourself look on the infant Jesus?  What do you feel?  What is it like for you, to let yourself just look on this little one?

It will take some time and space to look on the infant Jesus.  Maybe, as you are visiting and need some time to yourself—or as you have visitors and need some time to yourself—take a few minutes in a quiet place and allow yourself to look—just look—on the infant Jesus.

black-eared-wheatear-at-Ipsilou-Monastery

Black-eared wheatear.  In addition to music, the composer Olivier Messiaen was an ornithologist; he traveled extensively to listen to and notate birdsong.

When I allow myself to look on the infant, a curious thing happens: as I look on the infant as he is in the manger or in Mary’s or Joseph’s arms—or as he gets hungry or has gas or squirms or cries—I find that he comes to be born in me, too; he enters into me.  Which is just what God wants to do, if I let God; and which is just what my heart wants, too, if I admit it.  Perhaps this is because, as Ignatius of Loyola tells us, whenever we let ourselves come to look upon Jesus, Jesus is so attractive, so compelling, that we come to love him.  To know Jesus is to love him.

 

I wonder, what is the “look” that you have on the infant Jesus?

We have already allowed ourselves to come so far, allowing God to draw us and allowing our hearts to respond.  Why not let yourself to take a step further, to let yourself look on the infant Jesus—just look.  And allow yourself to notice what you notice, to feel what you feel, and to do or say what seems right to do or say.  For there is nothing more satisfying, nothing that gives our hearts more joy, more peace, than to let ourselves be drawn to, and come to love, this little one.

Lord of our lives

Homily for Sunday, November 25, 2018
Revelation 1:4b–8
Last Sunday After Pentecost—Christ the King Sunday

Soldiers_in_trenchThis past Veterans’ Day WBUR aired a special called “Exploring the Poetry of War.”  Host Deborah Becker and guests Robert Pinsky, a poet on faculty at BU, and Brian Turner, who wrote poetry about his Army service in Iraq, discussed things like: what should be considered essential literature about war, like the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, or You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Army wife Siobhan Fallon.  They shared with each other their favorite war poems, like Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est,” or “Facing It,” by Yusef Komunyakaa.  They talked about the senselessness of war.  And they talked, too, about how it is that beautiful words could possibly go together with horrific violence.  At one point Becker asked Turner: “Why did you use poetry to describe what happens on the battlefield?”  Turner replied: Continue reading

For All the Saints

Homily for Sunday, November 4, 2018
All Saints’

OrdoCalendarIt is easy to forget, when we are here on Sundays, that the Church’s calendar is quite busy during the week.  And when I say that the Church’s calendar is busy during the week, I don’t mean our mid-week meetings or Wednesday evening services, or all the activity with the Food Pantry and Birthday Wishes.  When I say that the Church’s calendar is quite busy during the week, I mean that the Church’s liturgical “Kalendar” is filled with the commemorations of saints.  For example, this week Tuesday is the feast day of William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the war.  Wednesday is the feast day of Willibrord, an 8th century missionary and the first Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands.  Saturday is the feast day of Leo the Great, a fifth century Pope best known for his concise statement of Christ being two Natures in one Person.  And—if you really get into it—you can go online and google “Episcopal saints calendar” and explore those saints whose commemorations have been proposed but who yet await official approval.  On that list are all of the above commemorations plus… Lili_uokalaniThursday is the commemoration of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun and mystic from the turn of the last century, and Friday is of Louise DeKoven Brown, an early 20th century American philanthropist, social reformer and suffragist.  Save for tomorrow, every day this week is the feast day of a saint; indeed, of the 30 days in November, 25 are saints’ days.  (November has some great saints: Lili’uokalani, the Last Monarch of Hawaii; St. Herman of Alaska, a Russian Orthodox monk and missionary to Alaska; the writer C.S. Lewis, and also Sojourner Truth.)  These and other saints give witness to the many ways in which the Spirit manifests the life of Christ in the Church’s members. Continue reading

Consecration Sunday

Sermon given by the Rev. Skip Windsor
Pentecost XXIII
Mark 10:46–52
October 28, 2018

Come Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse. Come as the fire and burn. Convert and consecrate our lives to our great good and your great glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Skip WindsorIt is a pleasure to be with you this morning and I would like to thank your rector, Todd, for the invitation to be your preacher today on this your Consecration Sunday.

This Sunday comes in the midst of stewardship season recalling for me the words of a clergy colleague who started his stewardship sermon to the congregation with some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that they had all the money they needed to operate the church.  The bad news was it was in their pockets! Continue reading

Pay attention!

Homily for Sunday, April 1, 2018
Easter Day
John 20:1–18

empty_tomb-Saint_James_the_Greater_Catholic_Church_(Concord,_North_Carolina)Long before John crafted his resurrection story—an 18 verse masterpiece that includes an empty tomb, a missing body, a foot race, angelic messengers, a woman weeping, a case of mistaken identity and a joyful reunion—the Holy Trinity was wondering how to best script and cast the resurrection story. Continue reading

Crushing Disappointment

Homily for March 29, 2018
Maundy Thursday

Next to the blackboard in the Latin classroom at Newton South is a poster with the quote that some say is the most beautiful in all of Latin: “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit”, which means: “Perhaps one day the memory of even these things will bring pleasure.”  The quote, from Vergil’s Aeneid, is delivered aboard ship by Aeneas to his companions after a series of crushing disappointments: the long and tragic war with the Greeks, the death of Aeneas’ wife as she and Aeneas fled Troy, leaving their homeland, arduous sea journeys, the failed founding of not one but two cities, plagues, the jealousies and intrigues of the gods, and finally—the circumstance that led to Aeneas delivering his famous line—as they drew near to Italy so that Aeneas might found Rome in accordance with a prophecy, jealous Juno sent a devastating storm that sank some of the fleet and drove the survivors away from the coast:  “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit,” said Aeneas then to his companions.  “Perhaps one day the memory of even these things will bring pleasure.”

Mount Feake CemeteryAs I consider Jesus at the institution of the Eucharist, which we remember this evening, I can’t help but think of all that had happened to Jesus to this point in his life.  Though at first Jesus had high hopes for his ministry and for making converts and for establishing the Kingdom of God, by this time on that Thursday evening long ago, it would have been difficult not to see his mission as a failure.  Gone were the crowds that had followed.  He had established no kingdom.  The religious authorities were closing in to arrest him.  One of his inner circle would soon betray him.  Another would deny knowing him, not once but three times.  The rest would desert him in his moment of need, and…  Jesus intuits, he knows, that he would soon die the painful and humiliating death of a criminal on a cross.  Imagine the crushing disappointment Jesus must have felt this evening… Continue reading