Friday, April 27, 2007

Sermon for Jazz Sunday

I don’t know how many of you men have succumbed to Gillette’s latest shaving innovation, the outlandish six-bladed Fusion razor. Where will it all end? How many blades are enough? 8? 15? 20? To counter the Fusion frenzy, Cory Greenberg, new technology editor on the Today Show, ironically did a segment on what’s called wet-shaving. Wet-shaving uses an old school single blade safety razor, a badger hair brush and high-end English cream and lots of hot water. He says that wetshaving delivers not only the greatest shave you can possibly imagine, but it brings back the pleasant, gentlemanly Cary Grant ritual that you can only get at old-time barber shops. Millions of people all over the world watched the Today Show segment, and as ridiculous as it sounds, the ensuing rush on razors, brushes, and creams created a worldwide shortage of shaving goods—vendors who’d been beseeching the masses to throw down their Fusions, their Quattros, their Mach-3s, and pressurized cans of goo reported doing a year’s worth of business in a few days. Overnight, funky vintage razors that used to go for a few bucks on eBay suddenly began climbing to well over $100.

Fusions and Mach-3s and Quattros are safe, but ultimately they make life very boring. But isn’t that how we do it today? We don’t really want adventure. We don’t want risk. Oh, we dream about it. But our tidy lives show that we are more interested in safety and propriety.

Do you ever wonder what it might sound like if Marvin Hamlisch or John Williams or Philip Glass composed a soundtrack for your life? What would your love theme sound like? How about your victory anthem? What music plays in the background when you roll out of bead, or play with the kids, or drive to work in traffic, or cook supper? What if you were at Karaoke night, and had to pick the song that best fits your life? What would you sing?
For a lot of us, our life would be lived on the downbeat. The downbeat is the impulse that occurs on the first beat of a measure of music. So, if your song has four beats, the downbeat emphasizes beats one and three. " Lórd, Dismíss us wíth Thy Bléssing ," or "O sáy ,can you sée by the dáwn's early líght ." One, two, three, four; left, right; left, right; this systolic-diastolic beat is as familiar to us as life itself

Downbeats are nice. They’re steady and predictable. Downbeats help us march through life with some regularity. No surprises. Just a steady beat.

Sometimes we live faith on the downbeats. We are such planners. We decide how God must come into human affairs. We treat it all with a public relations twist. We pick the time and place. We insure that the right people are there to meet God. We get the news release so everyone knows what to expect. We have some scripted ways that we want to hear from God. God becomes steady and predictable. We like it that way.

But what if God’s not safe? What if God is less like a Neil Diamond song and more like Duke Ellington. What if God doesn’t always work on the downbeats of life? What if God sings on the backbeat? The backbeat emphasis the second and fourth beat. The offbeat. It makes music exciting. Jazz musicians play on the backbeat, and wild things begin to happen.

My favorite Jazz singer -- St. Francis. Read his biographies, you can just hear his soundtrack. “Who can describe the fervent charity which burned within Francis? Like a glowing coal, he seemed totally absorbed in the flame of divine love. Whenever he heard of the love of God, he was at once excited, moved and inflamed as if an inner chord of his heart had been plucked by the plectrum of the eternal voice.” So writes one of Francis’s biographers in the year 1260.

So often I have a tendency to view the saints as people who were super heroes; men and woman of respectability and decorum. In other words -- totally unlike me. My problem seems to be not so much that I can’t do the right thing, but that more often than not, I'm not certain what the right thing is! Saint Francis wasn’t like that. He lived on the offbeat. Throughout the course of his life he steadfastly refused to join the ranks of the wise an. learned--of those, who were certain of the right thing. He remained a fool for God, and as such, was always open to rethinking the Holy Spirit’s inspiration

In Italy there is a little town where they still tell the story of the time long ago when the village was being continually terrorized by a ferocious wolf. So terrible had been the toll on the local chicken coops, and so huge, so clever, and so vicious had this wolf become in local legend that the villagers had decided to track down and kill the fearsome beast lest it slaughter them all some night in their sleep. A jittery militia armed with clubs and pitchforks had been assembled, and was just ready to depart on its mission of destruction when who should appear in the village square but St. Francis. Francis was able to persuade the villagers to temporarily set their weapons aside. Then he went out into the forest and had a long talk with the wolf. The wolf, was willing to leave his chicken dinners behind him in order to save his life, and all lived in peace. Francis had seen killing. He knew what it was like to suffer in prison, and to see people massacred around him. But, he also knew the peace of Christ, and showed us how to be instrument of peace to all creation.

Over the past several months I have been listening to the intensifying drumbeat of violence from around the world.. The wolf his howling around us–scaring us and looking to devour. Terrorists haunt air terminals, and blow themselves up on crowded street corners. Hostages are taken, assassins lurk in the shadows, and angry nations commit themselves to years of ruinous war. Wars rage in other places as well. Churches fight with one another. Families come to ruins out of anger. Lifelong friends now hate each other. It is always easier to get people to take up the sword than it is to get them to put the sword down, easier to inflame passions than to cool them off.

Who sings on the offbeat? Whose voices do you hear singing a song of peace and love and justice? I gotta tell you, I don’t usually hear the church. But shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t Christians be the first one’s to stand up and confront the evils and pains of the world with an alternative – with a song of hope that expresses God’s passionate and unpredictable love?

It might help a lot if we would allow ourselves to envision the world as Francis did. It’s the same way Jesus saw the world, by the way. They did not march through the world in conventional steps. They lived on the two and four.

Every day is ripe with potential for generosity, courage, mercy, transformation and freedom. There is something in us that responds profoundly to gentleness, to sacrifice, to tears and laughter – something that longs to reach out to others in generosity, openness, and trust. If anyone ever expressed that need, it was St. Francis in his offbeat prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Divine Master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For in giving we receive, in pardoning we are pardoned, and in dying, we are born to eternal life.

Go out there and take a risk. Be a fool. Hear the call to be an offbeat Christian. Live on the two and four.

Living on the two and four means that we don’t just focus on the 16th century event that brought this church into existence
and rather follow the call to bring freedom and salvation to people through the insight God gave us through that event.

Living on the two and four means that we will identify the forces today that enslave people to this world's guilt and indulgence peddling
and bring them the gospel of grace in their context, religious or not.

The world doesn't need us singing the same old songs to ourselves
in the same old places.
It is time to sing the world a new song.
It is time to sing the world a love song:
To sing a lament where there is pain;
To sing a protest song where there is injustice;
To sing a lullaby to the lonely.
These are the offbeat songs that the Spirit sings.
May we have ears to hear and eyes to see. And voices to sing.

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