In nomine Jesu!
I've always admired the Seraphim. I mean, who doesn't? They've got only one vocation; they have only one job to do; and God has perfectly equipped them to do it. Worship is their singular vocation β awe-filled, awe-inspiring, humble worship β and God has given them perfect anatomical correctness β six wings β two wings which convey their awe; two which express their humility and two which enable them to soar and sing with more than enough fervor to shake the rafters β so that they can do this. It's all they do! All they have to do! All they want to do! The divine librettist has given them such simple, straightforward lyrics which they repeat over and over, forever and ever. Amen: Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. Adonai tseva'ot, melo' khol ha-aretz kevodo. They don't even need to provide a printed translation! They repeat their cadence over and over β no rehearsal necessary! And they do it all "in accordance with the Scriptures" in the holiest and most inspiring setting of all β the one we love best! β a soaring space filled with fragrant smoke! Their vision is filled with the glory of God and the glory of God illumines all that they see. They soar and sing and love what they do, and soaring and singing and loving they see the whole of God's creation, all of God's
people, and all of God's creatures through the lens of thanksgiving. Who doesn't want to share their vision? Who wouldn't want to join their song? Who wouldn't want to see the world and all people with their seraphic vision and from their beatific point of view? To see the world and all its people not mere obstacles, issues and problems but as "wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored?" Luther has a pithy way of naming that aspiration and claiming that vocation. He invites us to look at the world, look at all people, looks at their actions, their needs and their problems and "put the best construction on everything."
Alas, we often lack that vision and easily turn away from that seraphic point of view. Oh, we say, that's okay while we are at worship for an hour, or here at Saint Peter's, an hour and a half each week, when we want to escape from the world and its troubles, "ponder nothing earthly minded," and share the seraphs' point of view. Yet once we're out in the "real" world, among "real" people, our eyes grow dim and our vision narrows; we become more suspicious, insecure and defensive and then our praise becomes hollow; our thanksgivings, feeble; and our worship is reduced to empty entertainment and personal enrichment; in other words, "all about
me." Less like seraphs, we are more like Nicodemus who, furtively and fearfully, comes to find Jesus under cover of night.
Seeking more certainty and a better way of living, Nicodemus comes to Jesus to ask what he should do. "Be born from above," is Jesus' seemingly impossible answer; but with that answer Jesus sets about changing Nicodemus' vision and point of view.
"How can these things be?"
"Very truly, I tell you," Jesus answers, "we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?" And then Jesus gives him the Gospel and changes his vision so that he can see his world through the lens of thanksgiving and join his song with the seraphim's praise: No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Like Nicodemus, we also want to know what we must do to be more certain; we also want to develop a better point of view. But Jesus won't tell us what we have to do; Jesus simply tells us to see what God is doing; how God comes down to us and goes up for us and continues to come down from the heights of the heavenly places, restores to our eyes the seraphic point of view; to put the best construction on everything, to see the world and all its people through the lens of thanksgiving and with a seraphic point of view. To see God's world and all God's people through the lens of thanksgiving and seeing it thusly to form this world and serve its people β to put the best construction on everything β so that all can match that seraphic point of view. That's the goal of believing. That's the lively use of faith.
Six years ago, after an accident in this very building, I lost my sight and my point of view. I had surgery. There were bandages. If I was ever going to see again, I was compelled to keep my eyes cast downward without much of a view. Every day, twice a day, for days that rolled on and seemed unending, Tom Schmidt walked to my apartment to put drops in my eyes, make sure I took nourishment and assure me that soon I would be thankful and see life from a
restored point of view, and once again be able, with him, to lead the praise of God.
For twenty-five years as Cantor in this parish, that's exactly what Tom has done for us with that glorious instrument, through that wonderful choir and with a whole musical ensemble that would make of Nebuchadnezzar jealous, Tom has joined our songs with the song of the seraphs, raised up our eyes to see the glory of God, and Sunday after Sunday, feast after feast, has been a means by which God has been changing our point of view. When we've need an example of someone who puts the best construction on everything, who sees this world with seraphic vision, through the lens of thanksgiving and with the eyes of faith, all we've had to do is look over at that organ bench and that is what we've heard and that is what we've seen.
I've always admired Cantor Thomas Schmidt. I mean, who doesn't? He's really has one vocation and only one job to do β to lead our praises, to magnify our thanksgivings, to be a channel by which God has joined our songs with those of God's servants of every time and every place and united them with great thanksgiving of Jesus Christ our Lord. God has perfectly equipped him to do that. God has marvelously equipped us
through him to do the same. Thanks for the vision! Thanks for the worship! Thanks for enabling us to share the seraphim's point of view. Through you we have glimpsed God's glory of God. Through you God has illumined all that we say and sing and see.
So, Tom, for all you have been, thanks! For all you β I mean we β will be β YES!
To that I invite all God's people to say "Alleluia!"
You see? It continues to be Easter.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York
Isaiah 6:1β8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12β17; Saint John 3:1β17
THE HOLY TRINITY
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
May 31, 2015