For three years now, I have preached a summer series using a children’s book as a second reading in our worship service. We read the book in whole and talk about it specifically in the children’s sermon, and then it is referenced to varying degrees in the main sermon which closely follows the theme of the book.
This week’s story is Playing from the Heart, by Peter Reynolds.
Part of God’s Symphony
Today’s sermon may end up being more of a homily or illustration than what you may think of as a full-fledged sermon. It’s been a busy week with Vacation Bible School, high school camp, and other goings-on. It’s also been a busy (albeit pretty awesome) service so far today. But if–perchance–someone thinks this morning that they don’t get their money’s worth (so to speak), I’d be happy to provide additional sermonization over some coffee or other beverage later in the week. Just give me a call, and we’ll make it happen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being the Body of Christ, about conforming and being transformed. And maybe it’s because of the children’s book this morning, but I’ve been thinking about those things through the image of music.
As you all have seen this morning, I play guitar–perhaps not well, but I do enjoy playing it. I grew up in a family that played and sang a lot of bluegrass and gospel music together. And my best friend these days is a pretty amazing blues guitarist (at least in my assessment). So those are all things I piddle around with when I’ve got my guitar–which I should probably grab right now.
But the guitar is quite a different instrument than the trumpet, saxophone, flute, or even violin. Every instrument needs to be tuned–that means to adjust the pitch of the notes so every instrument has a common anchor. But for all those other instruments I named, there is a single “right” way to tune them. There is only one right way to tune a clarinet, or a bassoon, or a trombone. The guitar (however) is different: there are several variations based on the type of music and other factors.
Dropping the pitch of the low string from E to D brings your guitar into the aptly named “Dropped D” tuning, which gets used in classical guitar and heavy metal music (what a combo!)
In blues or folk music, many musicians use the various open tunings (of which they are many).
Furthermore, there are variations common to regional folk music–like Celtic music (DADGAD) or Scottish music (DADDAD).
And there seem to be a nearly infinite number of tunings created by musicians for specific songs. I tried to count how many guitar tunings were described on the appropriate Wikipedia page, but I stopped counting at 50, having only worked a fraction of the way through the page.
(Are you bored yet? I know not all of you geek out on music stuff the way I can, but try to stick with me.)
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about. If I’m going to play guitar, I need to tune my guitar to the appropriate tuning in order for the song to sound correctly. I need my guitar to be conformed to the tune (and perhaps the other musicians) or no amount of technical ability will salvage things.
When we are in tune with God, the music flows.
[play “Talk on the Corner”]
But what happens if we become conformed to the world? What happens if we follow a different tuning than the one our Maker and Conductor sets for us? Let’s find out! I’ll “conform” my guitar to open G tuning, and play the same thing.
[tune guitar to D-G-d-g-b-D (strum all strings open for G chord)]
Here we go.
[play “talk on the corner” in disjointed open G]
(That’s not as easy as it looks.)
What do you think? It didn’t sound right, did it? I played all the same strings at all the same times, but my guitar was in the wrong tuning. It was conformed to the wrong pitches.
This is what it’s like when we become conformed to the world. We can “play all the right strings at the right times”–we can do all the right things in life, but if we’re not tuned to God it JUST. WON’T. WORK. We must be tuned to God or else all of our efforts, all of our ideas, all of our everything will fail to turn into the beautiful music we are trying to live out.
[put away guitar]
“I Belong to the Band”
Now all this is troublesome enough as solo artists. But the Bible is emphatic that Christians are not solo artists. We are part of the Body of Christ—each one of us with different functions–different gifts–that the body might be whole, complete, and healthy. To continue my music metaphor this morning, we are part of a band–or maybe we should imagine an enormous symphony.
We all need to be in tune with God–our Conductor–who gives us the correct pitch that we might all be one. It is important to realize that when we are in tune with God, we will also be in tune with each other. But even once we are in tune, we need to continually watch and follow our Conductor–each one playing a unique part in the cosmic symphony that God is leading.
It will not be God’s symphony if the trumpets are playing a John Phillips Sousa march while the violins are playing a Rachmaninoff concerto.
It will not be God’s symphony if the tuba is trying to play the part of the flute.
Each one must play their own part–unique and different from the others as it is.
Each one must value the parts played by others–even if they seem inconsequential in our view.
Each one must be playing the music God directs us to play–or we are not part of what God is doing. And that is that.
A “Christian” Problem
I don’t have to tell you: The Christian church has some real challenges in communicating the message of Jesus these days. But a big part of that challenge is self-inflicted. For decades, we have systematically undermined ourselves by insisting on playing according to the world’s tunings instead of being in tune with God. Like many of the Jews of Jesus’ day, we want to make God’s kingdom come–so we work to take over governments and try to advance the world toward some sort of Armageddon to force Christ to return. We manipulate and deceive, wielding fear and inflaming hate toward those different than us.
I have heard many Christians over the years express anger about the way Christians are portrayed by the media. But I don’t believe we have a media-bias problem. At least, not nearly so much as I think we have a Christian problem.
When Christians are willing to abandon convictions to get someone elected, it tells the world we don’t really believe in that stuff.
When Christians ignore the hundreds (if not thousands!) of passages that instruct us to care for the less fortunate in order to advance a political agenda, it tells the world we don’t really believe the Bible we keep quoting at them.
When Christians emphasize policies over people, it tells the world we are only out for ourselves.
Christians–or at least those calling themselves Christians–have been undermining the cause of Christ for decades. We have “sold the needy for a pair of sandals,” to quote Amos 2:6. We might think we are coming out ahead, but at what cost? When we “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (Amos 2:7) in order to advance our political agenda, we have revealed our true lord–and it is not Jesus the Christ.
We have been playing out of tune for years.
We have been playing the wrong music altogether.
Sisters and brothers, we’ve got to get back in tune with God. We can’t know God’s desires unless we are plugged into them. We cannot advance what God is trying to do if we are conforming to the world by using the world’s ways and the world’s tools. We cannot advance the cause of light by using the weapons of darkness.
We have to listen. We have to be in tune with our Conductor, following only God’s direction. We have to practice and honor the diversity in the Body of Christ, if we will be able to hear the whole movement of God’s work.
Otherwise, we end up being a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal” (1Cor 13:1). We just create a lot of noise that makes what God is doing sound a lot less beautiful and lovely. And the more noise we make, the less anyone is going to want to listen to the symphony of love that God is trying to conduct.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”