Delivered on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul by the Rev. Charles Wynder Jr.


Good morning! Happy New Year!

I greet you this morning with joy and excitement in my heart for each of you and for our collective return to campus as we re-enter the Winter Term. I stand before you with a humble spirit, for it is with humility that I contemplated, prayed and thought about what message to share with you this morning. As priests, ministers and chaplains, we take seriously the charge of delivering meaningful messages that will speak to you individually, and to us collectively (corporately, if you will) as the living body that is the St. Paul’s School community. So, on this last day of Christmas and at the start of the New Year, allow me to share a message of invitation to you and to us.

We are a global community; our friends, students and colleagues live and have family or friends around the nation and the world. We are returning to the campus of St. Paul’s School from locations around the globe. As a priest and chaplain, I am charged with being responsive to our contexts — your individual contexts, and our collective context — and placing them in dialogue with the mission of our School and the dynamic realities of the world. I want to begin this morning by acknowledging that we are living in a time of rapid change and development. When I think about this, I think about the “both/and” quality of the world we inhabit: the world we seek to impact and the world that impacts us. It is a both/and world. We do not live in an either/or world. The world has multiple truths and world views. It’s a world that resembles the Chinese word for crisis, wei ji, the first character meaning “danger” and the second character meaning “crucial point when something begins to change.” (“Not quite opportunity, but that space when something is about to emerge.”) It is my understanding that Chinese philosophers put forward the proposition that opportunities often arise from crisis. Some have reported that this world view is the source of the proverb, “A crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind.” It’s a shift in how we look at the world and all that happens in it. A shift in how we look at and talk about something can change how we interpret and understand it.

My talk today is not about crisis. Nor is it about opportunity. It is, however, like my understanding of the Chinese word for crisis, an invitation to frame and reframe our view of the events in the world. A shift that can transform our ability to see one another more fully, hear one another more accurately, and imagine the rich possibilities that are out in the world. We must be able to study, teach, learn, play, relax (yes, relax!) and grow in our studies, activities and relationships while also being part of the world in which we live: its dangers, chaos, challenges and opportunities. We cannot close our eyes and fall asleep to what is going on around us and build a life. We cannot live lives of substance and meaning. We can’t afford to act like the three monkeys. Perhaps you have seen pictures or wood carvings of them. You know, the one with hands over its eyes (can’t see or won’t see); the one with hands over its ears (can’t or won’t hear); the one with hands over its mouth (can’t speak or won’t speak). There is much to learn from Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we will celebrate and memorialize later this month, and his sermon “How to Remain Awake During a Revolution.” The sermon includes the story of Rip Van Winkle falling asleep for 20 years during a period of great change. The point, King says, is not that he fell asleep for 20 years; it is more that much changed during the time Rip Van Winkle was asleep. The same is true for your time here. It may seem like a long time, and we can’t close our eyes and hibernate. (We are not bears.) Our lives cannot be framed by fear: fear of change or fear of one another. Perhaps that is why over and over in the texts of the Abrahamic tradition — the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran — we read about the angels or messenger of God telling the people they encounter, “Do not be afraid.”

Today’s opening is excerpted from the Christmas sermon delivered by the Rt. Reverend Alan Gates, bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. He placed his thoughts in dialogue with words from Queen Rania of Jordan. Her call, as you can see in your bulletin, is for us to “embark on the difficult process of re-humanization — recognizing the humanity of others and acting on that universal kinship.” Bishop Gates invites us to embrace the love of the Divine, the same Love Divine we just sang about in our hymn of the day. God wants to heal the world. I believe God wants us to work alongside the Divine to heal the world. We might not feel that we have to time to understand an opposing worldview or extend compassion to a person we fear or don’t understand. The reality is that it is always the right time to exercise love and humanize one another.

Humanizing and rehumanizing other people — people we know and those we don’t know, people we agree with and disagree with, people with whom we struggle to have any affection for — is part of what it means to be a person of good character. It is part of what it is to be a person seeking to serve the common good and greater good. It is the first step to serving something bigger than oneself. It is also how we receive, harbor and inhabit God’s love — the Love Divine. This is a core spiritual concept and practice: to embrace other people and recognize the kinship we share as human beings.

As we begin this Winter Term and continue to learn our lessons here on campus and learn about the world (its politics, economics, chaos, conflict, challenges and opportunities), let us choose to rehumanize people and practice a belief in a universal kinship. All of this is foundational to the humanities, where we study and read literature and history, embrace the arts, engage in dialogue, read philosophy, develop an understanding of politics and economics and expand our religious literacy. All of this helps us to understand not only our own humanity, but the humanness of others and our shared kinship that exists across the span of borders and boundaries.

Fundamental to the Christmas message is an invitation to close the gap between “what is” and “what ought to be.” On this last day of the Christmas season, I invite us to open ourselves to interrogating what it means to close the gap between “what the world is,” “what it can be” and “what the world ought to be.” Queen Rania asserts an essential element requires us to rehumanize people and recognize our universal kinship. Bishop Gates invites us to close the gaps by being prepared and open to harboring the Love Divine. EJ Dionne asks us to “ponder a different sort of world and a different way of dealing with each other.” And, to understand that “democracy’s health depends on our ability ‘to see through one another’s eyes, to think with one another’s minds, and to treat each other with charity.’”

Tomorrow is Epiphany, the day when scripture tells us that Magi or wisemen (tradition says three wise men from around the world) followed the large star over the manger where Jesus lay with Mary and Joseph. They gave Jesus gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. This morning let us look to see the Star of Bethlehem (above the high altar) associated with Christmas and Epiphany. Let us commit to beginning the year with open eyes: refusing to close our eyes to the world; refusing to close our minds to crises that can have elements of danger and opportunities. Let us embrace the chance to learn from the textbooks, the laboratory, athletic field, the dance floor, the orchestra, the theater, the studio, community service and the world. And, in doing so, let us learn to humanize and re-humanize each other and all people. May we ponder the world as it can be, as it ought to be… Merry Christmas.