Monday, October 01, 2018

Jesus and the Pipe Organ

Jesus and the Pipe Organ

“Are any among you suffering? Then you should pray”. ~James 5:13

This morning I invite you to join me in organizing our thoughts around this scripture. The context of the Gospel’s Birth comes out of the reality of life. The Good News is often born in the cradle of much Bad News. 

Just one example. Just one journey. My grandfather died when my mom was little. Apparently my mom saw what happened. It was not a pleasant sight and left an indelible scar. My grandmother went to work in the Sardine factory in Rockland, Maine and then it closed. She had children to take care of. So she migrated to Portland, ME in search of work. This was during the Depression, and there was nothing, so she continued her journey to Somerville, where her brothers and sisters had fled. They lived in a section of the city called “Brickbottom”. They found work in places like Hoods and Schrafft’s and Lever Brothers. It was a hard life, the way they told the story. My grandmother, my mom and uncle, my brother and me lived in a home which my mom managed to buy in Davis Square by scraping together what she could. Apparently my dad was a gambler and my mom was left holding the bag. There were other men in her life; the less said about them the better. Then my dad died at Christmas in 1953. I found myself in a cycle of sadness and my grandmother, God bless her soul, decided to send me to church to see if that would cheer me up. 

I went alone. I can still remember the moment I entered St. James’s, Porter Square, Cambridge. It was a short walk from our home. For a child, the space was enormous. I remember it was a sunny day and the stained glass windows in the church refracted the light of a brilliant morning onto the oaken pews. It was early when I entered the place. We were severely taught to be early. I wandered all the way up to the third pew on what I later learned was the “Gospel Side”. It was there that I could look up into the clerestory of the church and stare into heaven. The vault of the place was appointed with lettering I did not understand. But it was beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Over the Altar there were three words I could understand; In gold, sacred script they said; “Holy, Holy, Holy” That I understood. I was now in a Holy Place. 

And then something totally unexpected happened. A sound I had never heard before filled the space in which I sat. How was I supposed what it was? Later I learned it was a pipe organ. I was utterly transfixed and transported to another realm. I liked to go to church early so I could hear the pipe organ. It spoke to me in a language without words, but it was an articulate and precise vehicle for communication. I found myself filled mysteriously with tears; a blend of sorrow and joy, but what I was experiencing exactly went beyond my ability to express and certainly well beyond my ability to understand.

In a few minutes more, there was a wonderful parade led by what I thought was a golden cross held high by a teenager. Then came women then men dressed in red and white attire. At the end of the parade there was a man dressed in beautiful robes. I later learned he was the Rector, our priest. He came to our home soon my visit to ask how we were doing. He even asked me how I was doing, and he called me to himself and gave me a hug. He prayed for us and blessed our home. 

Today the scripture says: “Are any among you suffering? Then you should pray.” 

At that time I didn’t know I was suffering. I didn’t know what the word meant. But my priest understood, and he cared about us enough to come to our home and pray with us and to bless us.

I went to church early every week so I could hear the pipe organ, not so much the sermon... I discovered that there was a man partially hidden from sight sitting at the console. He looked very stern and serious as his hands and feet traversed the breadth of the instrument, and when he finished, he sat back, the sound still reverberating though the sacred space and he smiled ever so slightly. For me, this was pure joy. 

At the end of the service it happened all over again. The congregation fled the space after they greeted the Rector, but some few stayed behind, like me to listen. Some approached the organist to watch. Once someone motioned for me to come forward.  It was amazing to see the blur with which his hands pressed the keyboard and pushed buttons. His legs danced across the foot pedals with exact precision. Then I spied the music spread out before his eyes and it only added to my sense of awe; how in heaven’s name did he know what he was doing? He had to translate the notes on that page into the music we listen to in our pews. And somehow, the entire experience brought me to a healing place where God could touch my soul.

“Are any among you suffering? Then you should pray.” 

One day someone else stood behind a magnificent brass Eagle which held high The Word of God. I heard the story of the time Moses came across the burning bush. Moses was also transported by the experience. He stepped aside to see this wonder. And a Voice came from the Burning Bush and said; “Moses, take the shoes from off your feet, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground” Then God said; “Go down Moses, and tell Old Pharaoh, to let my people go”.

True enough, when I entered the church, the usher would kindly remind me to take my Red Sox cap off my head out of respect for God. Later when I went with Louis Rosenthal to his Synagogue, I learned to cover my head with a yarmulke out of respect for God. Much later, when I entered the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, I took the shoes from off my feet for the very ground on which I stood was holy ground. 

And so I learned the Godly lesson; “Are any among you suffering? Then you should pray.” James goes on to say; “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” 

This week we welcome my friend Jackson Borges as a special guest. He is our organist this morning and later today he will play a concert for us. He is even going to play something special for me, a favorite piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. 

We celebrate the gift of this pipe organ. We thank God for those who built it, for those who tuned it and those who play it. We rejoice with David and Janet King and the choir in the music they sing and play and for all God gives us. We thank God for the generosity of the Harold and Beatrice Rogers Memorial Organ Recital Fund that makes this weekend possible.

“He who sings prays twice” as St. Augustine is reputed to have said. If you suffer, pray, if you suffer, sing, and pray twice, make music; love God. Love one another. 

My family came a long, long way out of poverty. Every one of us has a story to tell of how we have come from suffering and into the healing presence of God. Many of us still suffer; family and friend alike. This is why we are to pray. “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

It is interesting that today’s first lesson reminds us about human suffering. Esther told the king about her people. “We have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” Yes taken to extremes this is what happens to foreign folk all through history. We only have to remember Nazi Germany to know that the potential is always there for human holocaust if we remain silent. 

Never forget where you have come from, because there are others now coming to our shores for the same reason we did in our time. We were looking for hope when we came from Maine to Somerville. We just wanted to work. And to provide for their families. 

I’ve told you this before. My grandmother complained about foreigners; especially Irish and Italian foreigers. There were too many of them. They were dirty and accounted for most of the crime in the city. Somehow foreign folk always get treated shabbily. 

The harshness with which we sometimes view one another is a matter of urgent concern to Jesus. In today’s Gospel, he warns us: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” 

Is Jesus overstating the case or is Jesus King of all peoples?  Remember when God looks at the world, God sees with a precision far more exact than any telescope can see the universe and with far more intimacy than any microscope can delve into the human heart. 

When God makes music it is with a length and breadth that the finest pipe organ can only intimate. Mind you, the pipe organ does a pretty good job at the intimation if you were to ask me.

If you suffer, remember to go to the Holy Place and pray. Listen to the music. Listen to the music of your life and God will make you whole. God will make us all whole.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.

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