Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Poets and Dreamers”
Vespers on the 2nd Sunday of Advent (December 4, 2016)
Isaiah 11: 1-10
There is something about poetry that is at once exasperating and exhilarating.
Could poetry’s exasperation and exhilaration be that it invites us to think in unimaginable ways?
Take Isaiah’s poetic vision for example: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Can you even begin to fathom the wolf living with the lamb, any wolf, any lamb? And yet, what wonder.
One of the most enchanting times in my life was the late 1960s and early 70s. Some of you remember those times when some of us dared believe that the lion and the calf could live in peace. Perhaps you sported bib overalls and made the peace sign way too often, wore your hair long and danced in flowing skirts to the music of the Grateful Dead, and pronounced quaint clichés like “make love not war.” And yet, those days were crammed with poetry.
As so often happens when we dare to dream, quite a few of us were clubbed in the kneecaps. Remember being told, “That’s naïve, that’s not how the world works. Get real!” Your poetic fantasies faded and you ended up living in a prose flattened world; you traded in your tie-dyed shirts for Brooks Brothers suits, you sacrificed your idealistic dreams for realistic drivel. Things quickly became humdrum and mind-numbing. Is it any wonder schools slash budgets for the arts and music—away with wonder, away with poetry, let’s get real!
The church is now in the second week of Advent (see the second candle ablaze on the Advent wreath). This is a season of poetry, imagining lives changed for the better and the world blanketed in peace; most peculiarly, we believe this enchanting vision will be accomplished by a helpless babe of dubious birth from a Podunk town in Israel.
You know what happened to the child, the same thing that happens to poets who get in the way of brutally heartless regimes: our Savior was clubbed in the kneecaps and hung on a cross.
In last week’s “New Yorker” magazine, Mary Karr writes: “If you ever doubted the power of poetry, ask yourself why, in any revolution, poets are often the first to be hauled out and shot…We poets may be crybabies and sissies, but our pens can become nuclear weapons.” Poets do not use words to bully, poets use words to create, as in, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
Poets, visionaries, musicians….
I must confess a dirty little secret: I love name-dropping, love it! One name I have started dropping since arriving here at Holy Trinity is that of someone who attended Bach Vespers as you are doing now.
Once upon a time, on a crowded Sunday night, when all was dark except a few flickering candles, a long-haired, bespectacled gent sat here at the altar rail, craning his neck and looking straight back, way up into the organ loft where the orchestra and choir performed the Bach cantata. Guess who it was? Let me give you a clue:
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.
This dreamer was our neighbor, living seven blocks from here at the Dakota. Again, as has happened to so many poets who have dared to dream, John Lennon was gunned down thirty-six years ago, this very week, on December 8, 1980.
Thank God for dreamers who invite us to a higher vision. The musical poet Johann Sebastian Bach was another such dreamer. His music rouses us to conceive the world more fancifully and gorgeously. Listen to a few words from tonight’s cantata:
Kill us through your kindness;
awaken us through your grace…
Kill us through your kindness. Oh my…. Let the poetry ring…
As you leave here, the sirens of a prose flattened world will struggle to deaden your heart: “Same old quarrels in the car on the way home. Same old tensions at dinner. Same tired beginning on Monday” (Walter Brueggemann). In the face of such deadening darkness, may God’s hopeful poetry shrink the gloom a bit. And when morning comes, may the angels still be at your side as you sing the music of the lamb and the lion frolicking together, the melody of a little child leading the way into a world of peace forever and ever.