A Sermon for Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN
by the Rev’d Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, August 9, 2020 – Proper 14, Year A
In the name of Jesus Christ in whom we take heart, trust, and live. Amen.
For those of you who read St. John’s blog, Epistles and Epiphanies you may remember one of my posts in March that featured the video I’m about to share with you this morning. It reveals the moment world-famous pianist Maria João Pires, in front of her audience, orchestra, and conductor, realizes that she has prepared the wrong piano concerto for a noontime concert. We witness her terror and her prayerful courage in the midst of her crisis as she decides to proceed with the performance; relying entirely on her hard-won artistic genius and memory, and trusting completely in the Creative Spirit. It’s breathtaking to watch:
Mozart’s stormy sea of tempestuous sounds into which Maria João Pires faithfully walks reminds me of the violent waves that batter against the disciples’ boat in today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) – that terrifying sea into which Saint Peter faithfully steps. In spite of his fears of the terrifying storm Peter trusts entirely in the Presence of the Incarnate God in Christ, steps out of the boat, and starts walking on water towards Jesus. We see the entire cycle of grief in Maria João Pires – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – and in that moment of surrender when she places her face in the palm of her hand just phrases before she has to play, we see in her the face of Saint Peter surrendering completely and trusting Jesus to immediately reach out his hand and save them.
Peter’s terror and fear in the face of death, the horror of drowning, and his desperate cry for salvation, are all too real for us today in this hostile, violent, and overwhelmingly troubled world. This age of “alternative facts” breeds doubts that threaten our trust in one another’s integrity and in what we know to be true. Our loss of control over a volatile political situation and a rampant pandemic has frayed the tender web of mutual trust and care, of mutual surrender and belonging upon which all of us depend. In moments when the storm of human hatreds threatens to drown us all, we must turn to the Wisdom of Holy Dreamers like Joseph, Jacob’s most beloved son, in today’s Old Testament Lesson (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28).
As they see Joseph approaching them from a distance, his brothers who have conspired to kill him say, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits… and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Holy Dreamers like Joseph – or Howard Thurman, or Toni Morrison, or James Baldwin, or Maya Angelou, or Bayard Rustin – these Holy Dreamers teach us in their daily practice, in their daily discipline, in their daily life-purpose of dreaming wildly impossible dreams, that we too can co-create realities far too beautiful for hateful, sociopathic, malignant narcissists to have the last, ugly, life-threatening word. We must turn to the Holy Dreamers who dreamed so fervently on purpose, day in and day out, and trusted so wholeheartedly in all that is good, and true, and beautiful that beyond the pit that this world tried to bury them in and beyond the stormy sea this world tried to drown them in, their faith and their technicolored dreams live on eternally.
Faith takes practice. Letting go of everything beyond our control and having faith in the God of new life, in the face of death, takes discipline. Trusting in the Creative Spirit of God Incarnate in Christ takes daily work. Holy Dreamers have honed this sacred wisdom in their daily creative toil of weaving together our single, human, mutual, inter-related “garment of destiny” that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamt of so prophetically.
Some Holy Dreamers require technicolored dream coats. And Billy Porter’s technicolored personality is steeped in the art and discipline of dreaming massively impossible dreams and practicing, practicing, practicing a trust in the Creative Spirit to not only survive but to dream and to thrive in moments of crisis. In the following video we see the fruit of practicing spontaneous creativity in Billy Porter’s phenomenal, spur-of-the-moment performance which resulted in a standing ovation that took place at a commercial break during the Tony Awards. Watch, as this Holy Dreamer trusts the Creative Spirit to reach out and catch him as he surrenders with a courageous faith in the lifetime of work he has done in dreaming on purpose.
Even though you and I are not playing unexpected piano concertos from memory or belting out show-stoppers at the drop of hat, in this dystopian crisis, we do find ourselves surrendering to realities beyond our control, improvising in the moment, and making decisions that change everything we had been so well-prepared for yesterday. To borrow from Maya Angelou’s wisdom, we’re doing the best we can with what we know in this moment; and when we know better, we do better. We see ourselves in Saint Peter and Maria João Pires trusting God with every faithful step and every faithful phrase as the massively violent waves of Life and Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor threaten to drown us. And we also see ourselves in their deep and abiding trust in surrendering to the Spirit of Creativity that always saves us in moments of crisis. Joseph and Billy Porter, both Holy Dreamers who have survived the hatred of those who kill dreams and kill dreamers, inspire us to face circumstances beyond our control by doubling down on the daily practice of dreaming wildly and the discipline of creatively partnering with God in co-creating realities that are far too eternally beautiful for hateful tyrants to snuff out.
By making a life-commitment to dreaming technicolored dreams on purpose every day, when life presents situations that are completely out of our control and unforeseen circumstances threaten to bury us like Joseph or drown us like Peter, we choose to trust, we choose to have faith, we choose to surrender to the Incarnate God who is always with us in Christ. It is then that we unexpectedly live into a future that far exceeds everyone’s expectations, including our own wildest dreams. Hear again what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says to each of us today: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Amen.