This morning we celebrate Music Sunday! We celebrate Brian Bullard our director of music, and his two decades of service to you all here at St. Andrew’s.
And our lessons this morning, hopefully, can show us just what a powerful thing music is, especially for us as people of faith. Music is our voice. Music is how we, together, as one people: praise God, pray to God, thank God, cry out to God.
Music is our collective voice.
And even more, it contains our identity, it contains deep memory. As Church folks we know and love certain hymns, they speak of our childhood. And New hymns, new songs, gesture to our culture now, to all the amazing musical gifts and offerings of American culture.
Music is always bittersweet for us too. The Psalms, which were the song book of the ancient Hebrew people, help to bring out this bittersweet quality of music. Let me share with you the appointed Psalm, Psalm 130, that we didn’t read this morning.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
It is out of those depths that we cry as well. From the depths of separation from God, the hole of sin, we cry out to God for forgiveness, for reconnection. And if our lessons from Genesis and 2nd Corinithians and the Gospel of Mark have a theme—it is sin.
In Genesis we have that deceptively simple story of Adam and Eve. The story of the primordial human parents, the first born of God. God tells them to do as they please, except not to eat of a certain fruit. God gave a tension to their existence, to our existence, God gave a first command. And what happened not many can agree on. It depends on interpretation, on who you ask, of course. Some say it was because of freedom and curiosity given to the human, Some say it was because of the evil mischief of the serpent.
But one way or another the command was broken. And here we see the results in our lesson. You always have to remember that this is a story of truth, not history of facts. Because God, who we confess is the ageless author of the universe, who knows and sees all things, doesn’t need to ask, “”Where are you?” But here God does, our storytellers write, in order to emphasize before this act of eating, before this “fall,” our tradition calls it, God and humanity were in close connection. Now, we are lost—“Where are you?”
A rift has opened up. The Biblical authors with great simplicity show that there is something about being human that involves suffering, separation, a feeling of shame and unknowing. But also child-like innocence and yearning. Adam says, “”I heard the sound of you, God, in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And the conversation ensues, and God coaxes a confession from them. The separation between the first humans, too, opens as they accuse one another and lay blame.
They leave the garden, and, in the wisdom of the Bible, we are told that it is their longing and sorrow that we inherit. All of this: this disconnection from God, this sniping at each other, this suffering, is what we call Sin. It is not adultery, or stealing, or even murder. These are only the tragic fruits of a poison tree.
But, of course, we believe that we have been saved—lifted and raised—from this situation. As Paul writes in his letter this morning, “the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.” And Jesus himself in his parables in Mark is talking all about the removal of the separation between humanity and God.
In Mark Jesus shows that he, that God, has power over all the powers of Sin. He was casting out unclean spirits, making people well, in other words: putting them in their right mind, reconnecting them with each other and God. And the “strong man” whose house has been plundered is the house of Sin. It’s the domain of the serpent if you go by that interpretation of Genesis. It’s the house of all the forces that defy God, the forces of division and death. Jesus says, in so many words, I have tied them up, I have taken away all the things it has stolen, and I am giving them back to you.
But of course, the people around Jesus think he’s insane. The people who, everyday, just like us, had to deal with pain and suffering and death and all the fruits of sin, couldn’t believe that Jesus could fix this ancient separation. And they call him a trickster, a huckster, that he is possessed with Beelzebul.
And I know there are days, there are griefs or fears or disappointments in your lives, in my life too, that make it seem impossible that Jesus could have changed anything. We do continue to live in what feels like an in-between place. Martin Luther sums up this in-between place so perfectly when he writes that as human beings, as the baptized, we are always, simultaneously, trapped in the depths of Sin, and liberated by Jesus. We are both/and. Saint and sinner.
Which is what makes the first line of Psalm 130 so poignant. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice!” In prayer, and especially in song, we cry out to God. We cry out to God because we are separated from God by a gap we call Sin. But we cry out to God and feel and believe in our hearts that God hears us. And knowing that God hears our cries we also sing out in joy.
Because of the Holy Spirit, because of what Jesus has revealed to us in his becoming flesh, because of the mercy of God, on the wings of music we can confess our sin and proclaim the truth of God’s forgiveness. With music we can mourn together and share pain and loss, and with music we give voice to our joys and loves too. So it’s no wonder that Martin Luther also tells us that: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in this world.”
By the gift of the Holy Spirit, in our hymns and songs, we share a memory of our time in the garden together with God, and we also get a mysterious foretaste of the togetherness, the feast, that is to come.