I’m off to Tennessee again this weekend. I mean, after church on Sunday. Well, after church and after the Church Council meeting. Then I’m off to Tennessee this weekend. Just for a couple of days. Things have changed down there again. Now dad is in care, rehab at the moment, but we have to go and figure out what is next. Prayers would be appreciated. There are decisions about dad and decisions about mom and then decisions about all the concomitant issues that rise from those. And, frankly, I’m not up to it. None of us are. We’d rather not have to. We just want things to be like they were. Or like we’d hoped they’d be. It’s not always easy to look forward to what is coming.
Concomitant? Associated. Knock on. You know, you decide one thing and then have to do six other things in order the make that decision become action. Something has to be done with the house, for example. And all the stuff. All. The. Stuff. And the light a match solution was tried by others in the past and it didn’t turn out well. So, that door is closed. Some of the stuff we’ll keep, some of it we’ll give away, some of it will stay for now just in case, some of it we’ll try to sell maybe, some of it we’ll leave on the side of road and see what happens. For example, there is this great honking shiny black piano sitting in the master bedroom, because that was the only space for it. Actually it belongs to my younger brother, Jason. The one who lives and works in New York City. In an apartment that Maddie and I crashed in one Spring Break a couple of years ago and we had to take turns stretching, just sayin’. What’s he gonna do with a big old piano? Well, he says it is going to the workshop, and will become a prop for Elmo perhaps. (I did mention he is head of the workshop out of which Sesame Street comes, didn’t I?) But it isn’t going to roll there, and it would stick out of my trunk. Maybe Hank, my older brother, could take it there on his Harley. That would be a sight.
He needs a piano, though. His piano. The one mom and dad bought for him years ago when they had money. Because he could play. Oh, my, could he play. I was given the gift of appreciation of musical ability. Yeah, that means I can’t play anything. But I can listen. And he could play, my little brother. I know he would say he hasn’t kept up with it and isn’t as good as he was, and I wouldn’t argue with him. I know it takes practice to be good. But I never saw him practice before. I just saw him play. I mean, it never seemed like it was hard, like he was straining or struggling or working at it - though I know he was. But it never looked like it, and rarely sounded like it. He just played. He practiced playing and I practiced listening.
Listening doesn’t get you many admirers, not like playing does, and yet it is essential for the life or the Spirit. This third week of the series we get to hear the story of a professional listener. A man who dedicated his life to listening. And then when the time came he played. He sang the song he’d been listening for. He sat down to play the tune he learned by ear.
Luke 2:21-40 NRS After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Long story, sorry. But we needed to listen for a while. We needed to catch the tune, we needed to follow the rhythms. Simeon learned how to listen. His name means “heard”, believe it or not. It was what he was born to do. So he did. He listened, day and night he listened. He was listening for the future. He was listening for hope, the consolation of Israel, Luke tells us. He was listening for that which would bring peace, that which would bring light. He listened. Day after day he went to the temple, to listen. He heard the cries of the people. He heard the songs of the prayers, the loud happy celebratory ones that seemed so loud and brash but good hearted anyway. He heard the ritual ones, spoken sometimes as though they had lost their meaning, and sometimes as though the meaning was so deep it resonated through the souls of those who prayed. He heard the wordless prayers that were wept from swollen and reddened eyes, wrung out of twisted scraps of cloth between hands gnarled with pain and fear. He heard the proud and grateful prayers of people who knew how blessed they were. He heard them and wept and laughed with them. He heard them all.
But he heard more, because he listened deeper. He heard the responses. He heard the sighs of the Spirit as it flowed like wisps of comfort into the hearts of the hopeless and broken. He heard the soothing song of blessing as it played on hearts less in tune than his, but aware nonetheless somehow. He heard the invitation of the God he loved, to follow, to obey, to keep close and stay awake, to watch and listen, he heard the commandment not as a hammer on a cymbal, but as a finger plucking a string. He heard, somehow he heard. Then, that day. he heard the music shift into a higher key, a note of anticipation fulfilled, a baton pointed, a new singer taking the stage. And he followed the Director’s gaze. And welcomed the One who comes.
Then Simeon, who lived a life of listening, became a teacher of the song he knew. He sang into the hearts of those who came carrying more than they knew. His song was a gift to the church. Called the “Nunc Dimittis” from the first words of the song in Latin, “Now let” your servant depart in peace. We’ve always thought that he was saying it was time to die. Because Luke told us that he was promised that he wouldn’t die until he heard what he was listening for. But maybe he is simply saying, I’m done listening. I’ve heard all I need to hear. I’ve heard the voice of the one who sings a song of salvation, who chants the chorus of redemption. My ears are full.
He may be done listening, but he isn’t done singing. He has to teach the song to those who will sing it. And his colleague Anna teaches it to any and all who are around them, running from one to another to make sure they sing. You can’t stand silent in this worship service, you can’t have closed lips for this hymn. Doesn’t matter whether you think you can sing or not. We need to learn the tune. The falling and the rising, the major and the minor key, that which makes us smile and that which evokes a tear. We need to sing. Might as well, our inner thoughts are revealed anyway, Simeon says so. And he ought to know. He’s been listening to those inner thoughts his whole life. And now he sings the song he learned by ear.
It takes time to learn to listen, but it is worth the effort. The Spirit rested on Simeon, Luke says, rested. Not stirred up, not agitated or poked or prodded, but rested. Maybe if we listen more, to the Spirit, the voice of God, then we might know rest like Jesus promised. But we can also learn to sing, to play by ear.