Acts 1:1-11, Matthew 11:28-30
In a world where there seems to be so much that puts us out of step, today we are going to be revisiting ‘the unforced rhythm of God’s grace…’[i]
Some years ago in South Africa, two very fine volunteer musicians in the congregation that I was serving – an organist and a pianist – asked if they could do something special as part of our Sunday worship, an arrangement for organ and piano of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, and it was very special. I’m no music buff but what absolutely caught me was not only how well they did it, but the transition that the music makes from the first massive, at times almost discordant overture with blasting organ and thundering piano competing with one another, to this sweetly familiar tune thread which was always insinuated but emerges most clearly in the second movement. We know this music as a hymn from Voices United (652).
I remember thinking then of how that sweet and familiar melody emerging out from under all that loud opening reminds me of how God’s grace is always there – undergirding – and at times emerging from where it always is within our living. Under what so often may seem to be loud and discordant, there is still always the promise of our knowing a sense of God’s beautiful order and harmony – despite our circumstances. Just because we can’t always know it with our listening, watching, feeling, doesn’t mean that it’s not there!
I’m thinking about what our crazy agendas, our busy lives tend to do to us, our exposure to loud and annoying, demanding people & circumstances. I think of health scares, either of our own or of our loved ones… There is always so much to distract us.
Well, however loud these things may become, however much they may rush in to grab at our attention, invade our senses, snatch at our hearing, fill up our seeing, our feeling, they must always remain just that – distraction – perhaps necessary for a time, but NEVER essential!
Our lives are never to be defined just by noisy overtures however lovely they may seem, but by the melody of what is always there and that comes to emerge.
I’m speaking about our awareness of Christ’s beautiful presence and purpose which never goes away, however much it may at times seem to be at risk of being smothered. Jean Sibelius totally caught that as he wrote this beautiful piece of music and I think that may be something of what Jesus had in mind in today’s second reading.
We know that he was speaking to Pharisees, good religious people, but people whom he could see in their overly pedantic obedience to the demands of their 613 ancient laws, had allowed the noise of their own religiosity so to fill their lives that they were now at risk of losing some essential appreciation of God: of who and what God is and so also who and what they were, why they were here.
Remember Gn.12 and how God tells Abraham of how he and his descendants are blessed to be a blessing? How quickly they forgot!
That happens so very easily. We are not here, none of us, none of this, just to satisfy our own wants, needs and desires. We are here for a far holier purpose. Deeply loved by God. We here to know that belovedness, and to bear witness to it: the belovedness of Christ which is for all of God’s beloved creation. That is the essential thread that God’s Spirit would draw out from the noisiness of our living. We may start out thinking that we are focussing on what matters most and letting go of the small stuff but, before we know it, we allow our priorities to become muddled and before we know it, what’s actually quite unimportant begins to take over and what really does matter most is lost.
I am still haunted by that visit all those years ago in the living room of the old businessman. Diabetic. He was sitting miserably in his wheelchair after a double amputation, his frightened and kind of beaten down wife sitting away from him in the corner and his three long-estranged daughters long gone – just out of his life!
But surrounded by any number of business trophies and awards earned through his career as he neglected to be with his family…
I hate that we allow our awareness of God’s perfectly measured life-rhythm to be lost under the loud and cacophonous clattering of our so many bad and so very noisy choices.
Thank God that despite the worst of our efforts, the unforced rhythms of God’s grace that Jesus spoke of to those exhausted Pharisees never stops, never goes away. God’s best will remains as a constant under all the distracting noises of our living, the holy rhythm of God’s love, and plans, purposes, in Christ pulses yet!
Perhaps that’s just something of why we find groups of people all drumming together so attractive[i]. It’s like rhythmic percussion connects us, our lives beating together as one with one another and with God. I wonder if that is why drumming on timbrel and tambourine was always part of so many Biblical worship liturgies.
John 17 is seen as the ultimate purpose statement of the New Testament: Jesus praying for an awareness of our absolute unity with God, and one another, and even creation. May these drums remind us of how the best of our lives in Christ are beginning to pulse together, and so, are somehow aligning us with the unforced rhythms of God’s grace which pulses in and through us all.
I’m not particularly musical, and I certainly cannot ever think of myself ever trying to compose musical, let alone a drumming piece. But, if I could, I think I would like it to involve something like that transition from Sibelius’ Finlandia: calling us to back recognising the pulsing rhythm of Christ – the rhythm of Christ’s: Life/ Death/ Waiting/ Resurrection…
We may misstep in the dance of our lives, but may that never be the end of it. Instead, may the rhythmic dancing of our lives together be pleasing to the Christ who leads us and in whose steps we follow.
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[i] We are glad to welcome the Unity Drummers as participants in the leading of our worship today.
[i] From Message, Matthew 11