When I was in first grade, way back in the last century, we were seated alphabetically in rows. With the last name “Weiss” I was of course in the last row. The blackboard was something I heard being written on but couldn’t see. Not knowing I needed glasses, I thought the world was naturally a blurry place. When it was time to assign groups for singing, we sang a simple song. Based on singing ability, we were assigned to one of four groups; nightingales, larks, robins and, my group, crows. The good news was I didn’t have to change my seat when it was time for singing; all the crows moved to the back. So come music period, Carson Clark joined Barbara Whittaker and me in the last row.
Knowing I was a crow, singing was not part of my youth, so I took up the clarinet. I’ve since learned the significance of music in worship. And the importance of being personally in tune, studying the score and playing our part well.
Jews believe one Creator created the Universe and established operating principles by which the Universe works. I think of the role more as a Composer who also conducts – as did Beethoven. A Creator would be through with the job. A Composer who conducts is engaged in both creating and in bringing his work to life. We human beings in all our variety are the Conductor’s orchestra. We are the performers. Presbyterians especially, believe the score has been written in advance for each of us, each instrument, and it’s our job to be in tune and play our part well. Some are first trumpet; others second fiddle. We have all been assigned our chair and talent. Each is necessary.
The Composer’s operating principles govern the physical world, although as Conductor, he is free to intervene and rearrange the score. (We call those interventions, miracles.) Modern physics views the universe as constructed of fields of tiny, invisible vibrating strings. Think of angel harps or cherub violins. When we play or live out of tune – you know it. When we are in tune, you feel it.
If we really tune in and listen to Jesus teaching, these principles are plain to see. God wants us to know and act in tune with these Laws, or Commandments for our own good. When we are out of tune, we can be either flat or sharp. Depression is certainly flat. When we’re depressed with slack strings, the note is flat, below where it should be. When we’re anxious and too tightly wound, the sound is sharp, above where it should be.
Let’s reflect on today’s teachings about being in tune, in harmony:
(2 Kings 3) The Lord appeared to King Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern Israel and to distinguish between right and wrong. “Since you have asked for this, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands, I will give you a long life.”
The Lord doesn’t fool around. Solomon knew his part and that he needed a great instrument to play his assigned chair. He asked for bow and resin and direction, not for victory and wealth. He humbled himself, and God raised him up. Solomon was in tune.
Paul (Ephesians 5:15-20) counsels the new church at Ephesus in Turkey; Don’t be stupid, understand what the Lord’s will is. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus. Learn your part, make music with joy and all your might.
And our Gospel lesson; the institution of The Lord’s Supper. (John 6:51-58) The sacrament of the Eucharist is one of those perfect opportunities which direct us to hollow ourselves, empty our self of thoughts of self. Our prayer is focused on Jesus, not our pressing needs. Whether we are Episcopal or Catholic or Orthodox believing the priestly rite transubstantiates the elements into the physical body and blood of Christ; or whether we are Protestants believing this sacrament is taken together with the community of believers in living memory of Christ, we move outside of ourselves and into communion with the Apostles, the disciples and Christ himself.
Most of our prayers may give a quick blessing to God, then we dive into what we personally want or need – either for ourselves or someone we care about. Help me pass the test, cure my disease, get my child a job, keep my grandchildren safe from drugs and bad influences. But the Communion Sacrament is a prayer time without personal petitions, without solo cadenzas on me, me, me. The prayers of Communion cross all lines of denomination, and bind together the whole Church of Christ. The Communion ritual helps us get out of our everyday selves and become well-tuned instruments. It’s a time for us to join the full orchestra, the full Church, in all its denominations, playing a song of thanksgiving to God celebrating Christ’s saving sacrifice. We become transformed in the Eucharistic Sacrament.
In each tradition, we hollow ourselves out and take in Christ. If the first violin were made of solid mahogany, the sound would be thin, inauthentic. But, the wood has been hollowed out, it is a shell supporting an outer structure. The f-shaped holes allow air, wind, the Spirit in. When a spirit-filled instrument is played, the vibrating strings create and project glorious music, pleasing to us and to the Lord.
It’s not just us. The whole creation vibrates in tune with the celestial score. Psalm 65 pictures The Sound of Music.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
Yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music.
Human sin creates discord, dissonance. When the Bible was composed, we humans were barely out of the trees. So the operating principles are described in terms we could understand at the time. Centuries later, when the time was right, God himself took on human flesh and made the operating principles even clearer. These are teachings.
We could easily call the Ten Commandments, The Ten Cautions against Dissonance. A sin against god has more than one consequence. One consequence of the discord of sin is that you personally, as well as those in your family or community will be hit with the impact. We create terrible dissonance. For example, if you covet your neighbor’s property, some bad things will happen. Here are seven;
1. You will suffer constant remorse that you don’t get what you want.
2. You will be inclined to take self-serving, but irrational actions designed to acquire your neighbor’s property.
3. You may acquire your neighbor’s property against your neighbor’s will, and have an angry neighbor.
4. Your efforts may be thwarted, but make your neighbor resentful and angry that you tried to take what was hers.
5. You may be successful, but find that the neighbor’s property comes with unexpected and unpleasant strings attached.
6. You will be focused on property and the burdens of acquisition and maintenance of property instead of what will really bring you and others happiness and relief from suffering.
7. The Creator will be unhappy at your lack of progress, and the sound will be terrible in your section of the orchestra.
It’s not necessarily the actual appropriation of your neighbors ox, house or spouse - that causes the mess. Coveting itself causes dissonance.
Your car has a User Manual. We feel good when we have the car lubed and oil changed every so often. We have no trouble knowing we have to keep the tires inflated above 24 psi. We are happier when the brakes work. These aren’t burdensome rules or laws, they are cautions, cautions with consequences if they aren’t paid attention to. And, when everything is working, we say the car is “humming.” The Bible is the User Manual for the Human Person.
As you can see, the Ten Cautions warn us against thoughts and actions that create dissonance. As we reflect, you can see they are about personal transformation, putting ourselves in harmony with God. We in our Christian Churches can become overly enamored of our advocacy for social justice – the transformation of OTHERS. We can get so focused on transforming society and the world that we can overlook personal transformation, get out of harmony and create dissonance. Jesus cautions us to first take the plank out of our own eye, and then we will see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.
The Hebrew for divine commandment is mitzvah. A mitzvah is a blessing, an expression of gratitude and joy to the Creator. Not a theocratic regulation. The Composer and Conductor wants us to experience this joy and gratitude constantly. The Bible teaches us this in simple stories, parables and instruction we can all understand at the surface level. But, the same teaching goes both higher and deeper the more we pay attention to what it’s teaching us.
We humans easily fall out of tune. We have daily pressures and responsibilities. We worry about our families, our friends and ourselves. Accidents, job insecurities, injuries, terrorists, unemployment, bills, disease, threats. Too often we struggle alone, and suffer the flatness of depression or the sharpness of anxiety. We speak of the “discord” of the world around us. We even put ourselves out of tune by violating the operating principles. We call this “sin.” How do we get back in tune?
We’re taught, “Do not be afraid.” The Conductor knows how our instrument should sound at every moment. The Conductor is not interested in punishing you for being out of tune. Fear not. The Conductor loves you and the sound of your particular instrument. Our Conductor wants you back in tune, and is ready with instructions on how to get retuned and play life well. But, we have to look up and listen. The Conductor is signaling to you and me.
We will inevitably fail at some point. We will fall short. We will sin. Thanks be to God, when we fail, when we violate a caution and sin, we can be forgiven and set right, brought back in tune. Repentance is easy; the yoke is easy and the burden is light. We will find rest for our souls. The sacrifice of Jesus, the colossal, cosmic balancing of the scales of equity has paid in advance for the sins we commit. All we have to do is repent in sincerity. You will feel yourself retuned, ready to join in the song again.
So, while I sing like a crow, I am learning what my talent is, and study scripture daily to get better at understanding my instrument and how to play my particular part. Let’s each ask the Lord’s blessing that we may constantly live and play in tune with his will, and, joining with the whole Church and the whole Creation, make a joyful sound, unto Him.
May God add his blessing to these words.