Pentecost 2 May 30, 2021 Colossians 3:1-5a, 12-17 “Our Lives Go On in Endless Song”
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, [selfish] passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Yesterday Bethany, our marvelous musician, and Drew Youmans gave a piano and violin concert. Their playing together was so amazing, such a delight, that by the end of the concert, I had cramps in my cheeks from smiling so big. Throughout the concert, it felt as though every cell in my body was vibrating, every nerve was firing on all cylinders, and it took all of my might to not leap up out of the pew to dance and shout in the aisle.
And yesterday, as I was taking in all the musical splendor, I was thinking about the trees that gave themselves to make the instruments, the horses that gave their tail hairs to make the violin bow, the sheep intestines that were used to make at least some of the violin strings and the complicated metal strings inside the piano. And I was thinking about the people who first thought to make these kinds of instruments, and the people who taught Bethany and Drew how to play them, and the enormous number of hours each has spent over years practicing, and the people who composed the music they play, and the paper they wrote it on, and the pen and ink they used to write with….so that a bunch of us could gather in this magnificent sanctuary on a cold rainy day in May and experience these two people playing so beautifully together that some of us could barely hold our seats and afterward we embraced and talked with complete strangers.
Earlier this week, in a collection of spiritual memoirs titled How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere, I read about Jane Goodall who spent sixty years immersed in the social and family life of wild chimpanzees. She tells “the story of watching a group of young male chimpanzees walk up a small river they had never visited before. As they came around a sharp corner, they suddenly saw a huge waterfall, crashing majestically into a small pond. At first they froze, amazed, taking in what they had just discovered. Then…the young chimps raised their arms above their heads and began to dance with joy….[in] awe and wonder.
I was thinking about these chimps during yesterday’s concert as I resisted the urge to dance in the aisle with my arms up. And I was thinking about Psalm 150 with it’s repeated exhortation to praise God—with trumpets, pipes, cymbals, drums, tambourines and dance. If those adolescent chimpanzees had had some drums or tambourines, I just know they would have been making joyful noises to go along with their dancing, praising their Maker for their lives and this wonderful waterfall. These dancing chimps are our kin. The chirping birds, croaking frogs, singing cicadas, baa-hing sheep, clapping trees—all are our kin. We creatures are made for wonder, for awe, for delight; we are made to pour out our praise and thanks to our Creator.
Our bodies are the first instruments. Our hearts beat—little drums in our chests. Our voices go up and down—ready-made for singing scales, complex melodies, and harmonies when other voices join the song. Instinctively, our hands clap, our feet stamp, our bodies dance without any training. Created in the image of God we share in God’s creativity. We create all kinds of instruments, and write all kinds of music, and people are gifted and practice diligently to play these instruments to lift our hearts, free our spirits, and evoke our praise and thanks-giving. This morning we celebrate that after many, many months, we are rising from the grip of Covid, and gathered to hear and feel in our bodies and spirits the sounds of the organ, carillon, and piano.
Just under 500 years ago, John Calvin, a Roman Catholic priest who fought to reform the Catholic Church, became a founding father of the Reformed tradition. Calvin thought it best not to use instruments in worship. His experience of Catholic worship in which grand organs, and loud, showy organ playing dominated everything convinced him that instrumental performances distracted people from the core purposes of worship—to hear God speaking love, to taste and see that love in the Lord’s supper, and to be formed to live in that love, as one body.
Calvin wanted only the simple preaching of the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, and the simple celebration of the Lord’s Supper in languages that every person—rich or poor, formally educated or not—could understand. He wanted only the simple singing of human beings with their many voices joined as one body, making a joyful noise. No bells and whistles and smoke. No fancy organs or highfalutin organ playing. Calvin wanted everyone to understand that God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are free (you don’t have to buy indulgences to get it) and fully given without conditions (you don’t have to live in constant anxiety that if you don’t get it right, God is not going to throw you away).
Following Calvin’s lead, there were churches in Europe that banned organ playing in worship, and some removed the organs. But in Dutch Reformed churches, thank God, this didn’t happen. In the first place, it didn’t happen because it was the people’s taxes that paid for church buildings and ministers and organs. Whether you ever darkened the door of the church or not, your taxes paid the bills. And the Dutch are frugal. It would have been a waste of money to let organs sit idle, or to dismantle them completely. But beyond frugality, Dutch folk embraced organs as instruments that evoke our awe and wonder, unleash our delight, and prompt our praise and thanksgiving.
At the same time, our Dutch Reformed ancestors also embraced Calvin’s impulse to give the Word, the good news of God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ, central place. The apostle Paul announces the good news in a nutshell when he writes: you have died, and you have been raised with Christ. From the little bang of Jesus’ resurrection, there comes a new creation in the midst of the old creation, it is cosmic, and you are included. I am included. We have already died and already been raised to new life with Christ. Through the Spirit, our lives are joined with Jesus’ life and we are already taken up and hidden in the life of God. And, our dying and our rising are also in process of being worked out in our daily lives. Both things are true at the same time.
It is wonder and a mystery. And the Spirit empowers us to choose to live from the new life we already have in Jesus. To choose compassion, kindness, humility, and patience in our relationships. To be quick to forgive. We are empowered to speak and act from the peace and love of God that bind everything together in perfect harmony.
All of this good news is enough to have us dancing in the aisles with our hands raised in praise. God is a profligate giver who forms our bodies as instruments, and forms us to create music and all kinds of instruments that multiply and amplify our praise and thanks-giving for the love that raises us to new life, evokes new songs for us to sing with our many voices made one, and sends us forth, alive to creation’s unending, exuberant praise, and to be and do the divine love that never, ever ends!