THE MUSIC LINGERS
A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Text: Psalm 27; Revelation 7:9-17
These are times both tough and tender. We are faced with challenge and change. The familiar disappears and our comfort with it. We are confronted by ugliness and evil. We wrestle with disasters born of nature and of human hearts and hands. We hear of wars and rumors of war. Some of our neighbors – far and near – struggle to survive. Some of us have so much and some so little. The needs seem overwhelming. We are not sure which way to turn.
For many of us this is also a time for grieving as we say farewell to friends and loved ones. Emotions are raw; tears tremble very close to the surface and spill over when least expected. And death is not the only sort of loss we know. There can be loss of employment, memory, ability, friends and relationships, hope. We can even lose our way. We are not at all certain that the center will hold nor do we know what the future will bring. Perhaps there has been no time in our lives when faith was more needed.
So, on this All Saints/All Souls Sunday, it seems right, even necessary, that we turn to texts of comfort and hope. The Psalmist sings, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The Psalmist does not utter these words from a place of isolated spiritual refuge. These words arise from the rough and tumble of daily life in ancient Jerusalem. The Temple itself did not exist on a lofty mountain far from the maddening crowd. It stood right in the teeming heart of the old city with all the exigencies of life being played out around. It is in the midst of the challenges and frustrations of daily life that the Psalmist sings out. The music lingers in his heart and soul, shaping his life, as he makes his way through everything that confronts and challenges him.
When we were planning Marilyn Hunwick’s memorial service, these words from Psalm 27 were the first that Lynn leaned on. In a deeper connection to the interlocking lives of saints, he remembered the heavenly voice of his and Marilyn’s dear friend, Adele Norman Silke, singing “The Lord Is My Light.” Over the years of long life with all its relationships, the music lingers, bringing solace and the promise of what is yet to be.
Nan Merrill often chooses to make Love the proper name for God, or the Lord, in her paraphrasing the Psalms: “Love is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Love is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, p. 46). Perhaps you will find the music lingers longer when you identify all that is holy with love. “Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in God’s tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Holy One, to Love,” sings the Psalmist. The music lingers in consciousness as we discover all the ways in which we were truly made in order to bring praise to God and to live in the joy of Love’s enveloping presence. What would it be like if we centered our lives daily in this truth – praising God and living in love?
Isn’t that what we find in the vision that the writer of Revelation opens before us? “…I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” Saints alive! Gathered to praise God and live love.
My mother used to tell a story that when I was about three years old, they had put me down for my nap on Sunday afternoon. It was the Christmas season, so she and my father were listening to a performance of Messiah on the radio. As the performance concluded with “Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto him who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen!” they found me on the stairs, waving my arms in time to the music. After it was all over, I reportedly told my parents that when I grew up, I was going to teach people to sing “glory” and “amen” like that.
I wonder if I was still young enough then to hold the vaguest memory of what it was like in the place from which we all come, that there was the slightest inkling of all those saints gathered round God’s throne, singing glory and saying amen to the embracing love that emanated from the Holy One. Maybe, just maybe, the music lingered long enough to touch the tiny soul of a toddler, deposited in the care of a loving family in Newton, Kansas, in 1947. And maybe, just maybe, some of my life’s work has been and continues to be teaching people to sing “glory” and “amen” to God whose name is Love. You will have to be the judge of that.
But, lest we become too sentimental, who is it that is there, gathered around the throne of glory? Is it reserved just for our families, our loved ones, our friends, our people, our kind? No, John sees a much greater vision, “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” Eric Mathis suggests that “There is no limit to the scope of this multitude, be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic, economic, and on and on the list goes.” He says, “This multitude is a blow-your-mind kind of multitude that no one can fully grasp” (Eric Mathis, “Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17, November 2, 2014,” workingpreacher.org).
And Nora Tubbs Tisdale says, “If truth be told, we all have our blind spots, our prejudices. And, consequently, I have a feeling that we’re all going to be surprised by who is sitting at the Lamb’s eternal banquet table with us in heaven. Surely, we will see people there we considered unforgivable, unredeemable. People against whom we have long held grudges or prejudices. People from nations we branded with the label ‘enemy’ or people we failed to even see in this life because of their poverty, disease, or station in life. They will all be there. For no matter how inclusive we think we are in our embrace of others, heaven – according to John’s vision – will be far more so (Nora Tubbs Tisdale, “Glimpsing Heaven in Thin Places,” November 2, 2008, day1.org).
It reminds me of the old Spiritual that proclaims,
Plenty good room, plenty good room,
plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom,
Plenty good room, plenty good room,
just choose your seat and sit down.
Plenty good room in Love’s realm, in God’s Beloved Community. We don’t make the guest list. We just say, “Yes, thank you,” and take our place in the choir. A friend posted a telling comment on Facebook the other day. He said, “When joining a chorus, a very important lesson to learn is who NOT to sit next to.” Singing in a chorus like the one Dan and I sing in, that is not an option. I responded to my friend, “In our chorus, we don’t have a choice.” In fact, we get moved around all the time as our conductor looks for just the right tone and blend among the various singers. When the Conductor takes the reins, creating a seating chart that helps to shape the sound just so, the music lingers in the room and in one’s memory.
In today’s Words of Preparation, Maggie Ross writes, “There is a reality of the communion of saints that becomes transparently apparent through psalmody, a reality that has force and power, a there-ness that seems more fully manifest in this way than any other. The music of the long-vanished psalm-singers lingers in the silence.” She concludes, “You can feel it in churches, you can feel it in ruins; you can feel it wandering through mountains where holy ones have lived” (Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life: A Solitude Shared, p. 75).
It is not news to you to hear that I believe we are surrounded in this space by a “cloud witnesses,” a kind of holy chorus. You have heard me say before that there is something truly sacred about this space. Lovely as they are, that sacrality is not in its architecture or its décor. This is sacred space because of who has been here and what has been done here. Because God has been worshiped here, Love has been served here, faith has been lived here, we are standing on holy ground. If you don’t believe me, come, sit in the sanctuary some afternoon as the sun filters through the windows and see if you don’t have a sense that “The music of the long-vanished psalm-singers lingers in the silence” – along with the sounds of those not so long-vanished and those who still make music here, who praise God and seek to live in the joy of Love’s enveloping presence.
So, let us sing with the Psalmist, “One thing I have asked of Love, that I shall ever seek: that I might dwell in the Heart of Love all the days of my life, to behold the Beauty of my Beloved, and to know Love’s Plan.” And may our music linger on. Amen.