May 21 Sermon Put it in Drive
May 21, 2017
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Why are you here? Why are you here today?
Could you talk about a starting point, a place where you put the gear from Park or Neutral and into Drive, as you began the journey of faith?
Or have you just been carried somehow, like on the shoulders of so many before you into a Beautiful Land?
And what is it that keeps you, either after a lull, or into the habit of faith, or jumpstarts your place before God?
What we have just heard in the readings are just words, phrases and texts strung together from a variety of contexts, from languages and cultures foreign and ancient, that each had a particular audience and history.
As we read them out loud, a curious practice in this 21st century, we act as if these texts, and stories, and rhetoric still land truth into our ears, and communicate holy activity.
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God!
Can you imagine something you wrote to someone, or something you said to someone was preserved for eons, and was viewed as no longer merely correspondence but something deeper and wider, something that communicated a posture of faith, prompted a change in direction, or brought a new awareness that you did not see coming?
That’s what the scriptures can do.
That’s what rituals can do.
That’s what community can do.
I thought I knew worship. I was a pastor’s kid after all. I had plenty of worship leadership already under my belt by age 18, singing in the choir, leading youth retreats around New Jersey for other high schoolers. I was as active and avid, or at least more active in church and avid about church then most of the teenagers I knew.
Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I was formed by The Lutheran Hymnal. That’s what it was called, The Lutheran Hymnal, published in 1941. Using The Lutheran Hymnal meant that you would start either on page 5 or 15. Those were your choices. There were two settings, unless you incorporated Morning Prayer into Eucharist, which my dad sometimes did.
During my first year of college, I stepped into worship in the Chapel of the Resurrection, massive, brightly lit, one of the largest collegiate chapels in North America. They had a brand spanking new hymnal, green-colored with the title Lutheran Book of Worship on the binder. Lutheran Book of Worship, or LBW, had 3 settings, and they weren’t p 5 or 15. And in that space, and in the LBW liturgy, in their fearless embrace of ritual, and in the music, especially in the music, I found my jaw dropping regularly, and my heart beating wildly, and the corners of my mouth turning upward as the organ belted out an introduction and people my age and people who were my teachers and people from the town were all together and they sang:
This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!
I couldn’t believe it. It was astounding. The wedding of that thumping tune and that image-laden text from Revelation grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and transported me into something I had until that point not experienced in worship: as far as I could tell, it was called JOY. At this place and time, people who were supposedly Lutheran and not only Lutheran but educated Lutheran were blessing JOY and propagating it in liturgical dance, clarity in reading, deeply moving preaching, and especially, especially, in singing.
Martin Luther loved music. He loved it. He was a reputable lute player. Some of his best friends were musicians. He was so intent on teaching the faith that he set a ton of texts, many of them scriptural, to melodies he himself composed. He considered music a primary gift of creation. But also he thought is advanced the Gospel, it amplified proclamation, it was a necessary and beneficial vehicle for the rhetoric of faith.
Luther crowed about music in so many places, like here when he said that no one can be silent about being gripped by God’s grace:
God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others may come and hear it. And whoever does not want to sing and speak of it shows that he does not believe and that he does not belong under the new and joyful testament. P 39 Luther on Music
–quoted in Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise, by Carl F. Schalk (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), © 1988, p 39.
Word of Luther, word of life.
Jesus was persistent in moving forward. In John’s Gospel today, Jesus was in drive, even as his imminent betrayal, arrest, and execution was at hand. And while he was going, he was speaking about staying. The words he said, spoken to his inner circle, are preserved for us to overhear, as if they are also speaking to us. The words speak of the giving of the Spirit, which includes this Greek word called paraclete, or as it was translated today came out Advocate. This is someone who stays alongside of us, who offers us presence even when we are experiencing absence. This is not the fiery flames that come upon the apostles at Pentecost, this is a more winsome and subtle power by a divine love that stays when all seems lost.
There is a story told by Thomas Long about a church group which was puzzling about times in their lives when God was close and real.
One of the speakers was a professional dancer who was hesitant to speak. She reminded the group that she was raised in that particular church—baptized at that font, and reminded by her father as she grew up about how glorious her baptism was by saying as he told the story
“Oh, sweetheart, the Holy Spirit was in the church that day!”
She then said that as a child, when she was at worship with her parents she would wonder “Where is the Holy Spirit in this church?” And she would look at the organ pipe, the rafters in the ceiling, and the stained-glass windows, and wonder, “Is that where the Holy Spirit is in this church?”
And then she paused, and the group leaned in to hear as she said:
“As many of you know, I lost both of my parents to cancer in the same week, a terrible week, last winter. During that awful week, on a dark Wednesday afternoon, I was driving home from visiting my parents in the hospital and I was passing by the church. I felt an intense need to pray, and so I came into the church and sat in one of the back pews and began to pray. The church was dark, and in the shadows, I prayed and poured out my grief to God, and cried from the bottom of my heart. A member of the church,” and here she named her, “was in the kitchen preparing a meal for a church meeting, and she saw my praying and knew what was happening in my life. She took off her apron, came and sat beside me in the pew, held my hand, and prayed with me. It was then,” the young woman said, “that I knew when the Holy Spirit was in this church.”
–from Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, by Thomas G. Long (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, © 2004), pp 127-128
Words that sing.
Rituals that speak.
A presence that warms, comforts, and cheers.
When is it that something or someone has come alongside of you that bore the very heart of God?
How might you be nudged to sing and speak about the hope that is in you, to audiences you find yourselves in front of, in ways that are true and helpful?
How does Jesus’ love in life and in death, carry us to the ways of promise?
Dear church: my thanks for your standing alongside one another and with me, weekly in this Sunday meeting, accompanied by song, refreshed with the Word and Sacraments, and as we are present one for another throughout our days.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Tags: Chapel of the Resurrection, Jesus' Farewell Discourse, Lutheran Book of Worship, Martin Luther, Martin Luther and music, music, ritual, song, the Holy Spirit, The Lutheran Hymnal, Thomas Long, Valparaiso University, Worship