Sermon preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 2, 2012
“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’” May the God who always stands just on the other side of our walls and gazes in through our windows, bless us. Amen.
I have a memory of when I was a child, lying in bed late one night after being awakened from my sleep. There was a storm blowing outside, and as I lay there in the dark, I could hear a tapping against my window. Tap, tap, tap. Now the thing was, there was no tree outside my window, so as I lay there in a groggy state, I began to imagine what it was that could be making that noise on the glass, coming up with ever greater possibilities. With a certainty that only comes to you in the darkest depths of night, I realized that the only possible answer was that a murderer was on the other side of the window trying to get in.
I lay there, absolutely petrified with fear, not daring to move an inch, lest my eyes would confirm what I already knew to be true. It seemed like hours passed, but the wind began to die down, exhaustion overcame fear, and I eventually fell back to sleep. It wasn’t until later, with the fearless reason that only comes at the height of daylight, that I determined that any would-be murderer tapping on my window would have had to master levitation in order to overcome my bedroom’s second-floor location.
The unknown is terrifying, and there is no greater unknown, no greater mystery, than God. When God comes to tap on our windows, it is scary; it can make us quake with fear. We ask, “What do you want with me, God? I’m happy with where I am and what I am doing; what if what you ask is risky; what if I am not up to the task; what if I fail?” Indeed, God only seems to ask us to do that which is risky, even if that risk is only that we give up our control. If God calls us to something for which there seems to be no risk, we probably weren’t listening very well. God perpetually stands on the other side of the wall, the wall that defines what is known, comfortable, and safe for us.
God stands on the other side of the wall, in the midst of things unknown and uncertain, tapping on the window, saying, “Trust me.” Sometimes we do, other times we lay there, frozen with fear, our eyes closed tightly, lest they confirm what our ears hear, “Arise and come away with me.”
When I was a senior in college, my second major was in religious studies. In order to graduate, I had to write a thesis on a subject of my choosing. I spent the better part of a year researching, writing, and revising my paper, which I titled, A Theology of Sin. I spent many countless hours alone in my small dorm room, typing away at my computer. I found that my most productive time for writing was in the evenings, especially on Thursday and Friday nights, forgoing opportunities to sin in order to write about it. I would sit there alone, as it grew ever darker outside, writing. I often wouldn’t emerge from this “zone” until late at night, after the rest of the dorm had grown quite and people’s doors had closed for the evening.
One Friday night, I was in the midst of my normal routine when I heard a gentle tapping on my window. Being as it was dark outside, I couldn’t see who it was and went to the window to get a better look. Standing outside was a friend of mine, waving at me. I went down the hall to let her in, upon which I discovered that she was not alone, but was surrounded with several of my other friends, wearing bandanas. They surrounded me, picked me up, put me over one of their shoulders, and carried me away.
Sometimes God, who stands on the other side of our walls, taps on our windows to remind us that there is something more. In the course of our daily lives, it is easy to get caught up in our routines. There are jobs to go to, chores to be done, bills to be paid, social obligations to fulfill, and even papers to be written. It can be busy and occasionally stressful, but our routines are comforting; we always know what to expect and what to do. Our routines form walls that define what is known, comfortable, and safe.
But God is anything but routine, and God stands outside of our walls, tapping on our window, to remind us that there is yet more to creation, that there is yet more that God has in mind for us. God taps on our window to wake us from our drowsiness, to say, “come and see what I have to show you.” We look back over our shoulders into our safe and comfortable rooms, and reply, “but I have a job to do, bills to pay, and expectations to meet.” But God is persistent and continues to tap gently, “Arise and come away with me.”
It is such a mainstay of romance stories that it is almost a cliché—the image of the lover standing outside a window in the dark, calling to the beloved within. In movies, the helplessly romantic lover taps against the window with small stones and tries to woo the beloved with misbegotten love songs. In Romeo and Juliet, the namesakes communicate their forbidden love from a window under the cover of darkness. Though it is considerably older than television or Shakespeare, it is no surprise that today’s reading from the Song of Solomon uses the same imagery; it is after all the only book of the Bible devoted to erotically romantic literature.
There is something immensely appealing about this fenestrated display of love. It hints at unspoken possibilities and whispers of intimate knowledge. Most of all, it reminds us that we are wanted, not just for our responsibilities or our work, not just for our gifts or our companionship. It tells us that we are wanted for who we are, that we are desired. The besotted lover outside the window doesn’t want just anyone, the lover desires only the beloved.
Perhaps it is such an appealing image because so often we feel isolated, even in the midst of this hyper-connected age, and we question whether we are noticed, appreciated, or wanted for who we really are. But God knows us more deeply than anyone else, more intimately than we even know ourselves. In that knowledge, God loves us, longs for us, desires us. When I say this, I don’t mean generically, I mean you individually and personally. God stands on the other side of the walls that isolate you, and taps on the window for you, calling gently, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away with me.”
Where are the walls in your own life, and where are the windows on which God is tapping? It is not a question of if God is tapping, but where God is tapping, for God is always calling each of us outside, personally, individually. How does it make you feel? Is it startling and out of the ordinary, is it scary and unnerving, or is it enticing and passioned? How will you respond? Will you close your eyes tightly until you fall back asleep, will you go back to your comfortable routine, will you deny that anyone could really desire you, or will you throw open the window and go after the one who waits on the other side of your walls?
As is often the case, what is true for the individual is also true for the community. God stands outside the walls of this community, tapping on the window, calling us out. Sometimes the walls of the community are financial, and the prospect of taking the risk of stepping outside of the comforting and safe walls scares us. Sometimes the walls are stone and the windows are stained glass and we forget to go out, forget to go beyond these walls until God’s tapping wakes us from our stupor and calls us out to find the one who loves and desires us. And I don’t mean some generic community, I mean this community, the community of St. Paul’s.
God is active here in this place; God is tapping on our window. I am sure of that; it is one of the things that attracted me to St. Paul’s. God calls to you saying, “the winter is past, the rain is over, and there is yet more waiting for you, my beloved people, like fruit heavy for the harvest.”
Though this is my last Sunday with you, I know that God has so much yet in store for you and that you will meet God there. I am grateful to have been welcomed so warmly into this community and into your lives and I am honored to have become a part of the story of this place for a time and to have you all be a part of my story. Wherever my path takes me in the future, I will never forget St. Paul’s and its wonderful, fabulous people. Amen.