Many Kinds of Music
Text: 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14
13 It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever,”
the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
Today is getting to know your pastor day because I’m going to let you in on a few secrets. The first secret is that when I was in seminary part of the core curriculum was two classes; Hebrew Bible I and Hebrew Bible II. These classes had a little bit of a reputation of being difficult. They required a lot of reading and it was rumored the tests were outrageous. For those of you who don’t speak seminary, the Hebrew Bible is simply the Old Testament, so the classes could have been called Old Testament I & II, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as intimidating, so they chose to name them Hebrew Bible I & II.
Any way I finally gathered the intestinal fortitude to tackle Hebrew Bible I & II sometime during what I think was my third year in Seminary. The rumors were well founded and the tests were outrageous and I would have to admit the overall experience was not that great. I passed the classes; I don’t really recall what kind of grade I received, but it couldn’t have been too bad because by the time I did graduate my GPA was such that I graduated with honors.
You may have noticed that our text this morning came from the Hebrew Bible, and that doesn’t happen very often around here; I will admit that I spend more time in the New Testament than I do the Old Testament, and those two classes may be one of the reasons why. When I was in seminary, my New Testament classes were fun and exciting; Hebrew Bible I & II were not.
I mention all of this because if you were anticipating some kind of great explanation of the cultural and historical background of this text I’m not going there. What I want you to pay attention to is the idea that several thousand years ago different kinds of music were introduced as ways of praising and worshiping God. There were trumpets and singers and cymbals and other kinds of instruments all mentioned in the text and when it all came together the emotions ran so high and people were so moved that they could barely stand. What I want you to take from this text is simply the idea that music and different kinds of music created with many different kinds of instruments were all used to praise God. That’s all.
I mentioned there are several secrets I was going to share today and my Seminary experience is just one. Another well-guarded secret of mine is that I happen to enjoy the music of the Carpenters. Does anybody remember the Carpenters-ok, so there are a few hands. Most of us don’t want to admit that because things like that tend to date us and we realize that the Capenters were popular at least 40 years ago, maybe 45 and it just couldn’t have been that long ago.
More secrets. The Carpenters sang a lot of love songs. When you are young and impressionable and maybe falling in love for the very first time, the stories in the love songs become your stories. When you are in high school dating your future soul mate, as I was, and songs like “Close To You” or “We’ve Only Just Begun” are popular and you hear them on the radio and on the dance floor…well, it makes an impression. Let me put it another way; the love of my life, which I had the good fortune of discovering early in life, that love has now endured to where this June we will have been married for 42 years. In high school when that love was first beginning to blossom, it was watered and nurtured by the music of the Carpenters. I still listen to the Carpenters and I still enjoy the music because of how it makes me feel.
So here comes another secret. There was one song of the Carpenters that drove me nuts; actually most of the song was OK, but it had a guitar solo in the middle of it that just didn’t belong there. I thought it was awful. You might remember it, the name of the song was “Good-bye to Love”. I’m going to play just a bit of it to help your memory…(play 30 seconds of song)
Ok, some of you remember the song. In the middle of the song comes this guitar solo; I’m not talking about a nice acoustic or steel string guitar, this is an electric screeching and screaming Van Halen kind of guitar solo. Let’s have a listen for as long as you can stand it. (play part of guitar solo)
For decades when I was listening to the Carpenters and the album or the cassette tape or a little later, the CD that I was listening to would get to that part of that song, I would either turn the volume down or fast forward through the solo so I didn’t have to listen to it. I was pretty closed minded about that particular portion of the Carpenters music. Not only was I closed minded, but I was also certain that it was awful and didn’t have any value whatsoever and the song would have been much better without it. Maybe you could even say I was judgmental. You might say I was narrow minded on the subject.
Your pastor, judgmental? Yep. Narrow minded? Yep. More secrets.
Fast forward now another couple of decades. I still listen to the Carpenters and enjoy the music with that one exception. But I thought it was maybe time to try something new. I had a good friend that I could spend time with who is an excellent guitar player and teacher. I thought maybe it would be fun to learn to play the guitar and he offered to teach me. Keep in mind this is not just any guitarist, this particular person holds a master’s degree in classical guitar performance, so he’s pretty good.
Time for more secrets; I’m the kind of person who likes to do well. I set goals for myself and enjoy reaching those goals. I did well in school and my job performance reviews have always been pretty good. Normally when I set out to do something, it gets done. That’s just the way I am. I’ve been called stubborn for that reason, but also called tenacious and motivated and energetic so take your pick. But here’s the point of the story; when I decided to learn to play the guitar, I failed miserably. I had trouble reading the music, I had trouble finding the beat or rhythm, I had trouble with what I thought were fingers that were too fat to fit on the strings, my hands were too small, I couldn’t change chords fast enough to keep up the tempo, it was a catastrophe! I struggled with the guitar for a couple of years. Then I hung onto it for another couple of years thinking I would get back to it. Then I finally sold it and faced the truth that I would never really play the guitar. I can do a lot of things, but I cannot play the guitar. Actually, I don’t understand how anyone can play the guitar-it’s impossible.
At some point in the midst of this personal revelation that I was not a guitar player, the Carpenters song that I mentioned earlier came up on my play list on my Ipod that contained the guitar solo. For the very first time in probably 40 years I did not turn down the volume and I did not fast forward through the guitar solo. I actually listened to it. I tried to imagine the fingers on the fret board moving with such speed and precision, I listened how the artist played with accuracy plucking just the right string at the right time and managing to press the right string or strings without interfering with the others. In short, it was amazing. I don’t turn the volume down any longer and I don’t fast forward through the guitar solo when it plays. I try to appreciate it and I do because it is something that I now know I could never do. I think I am richer for that experience. My perspective has been broadened. I’m not as narrow as I once was.
Let me try to pull all of this together. We began by pointing out that even thousands of years ago, many different kinds of instruments were brought together in praise and worship and it was very effective. Then I shared how personal experience and perspective can allow us to appreciate things that we never thought we could learn to appreciate.
So consider this. From God’s perspective all the faith traditions of the world are simply different instruments and different kinds of music. Many Christians fear and dislike other faith traditions for all the same reasons I didn’t like that guitar solo. Maybe if we bothered to talk to them and learn about their different experiences with the Divine and broadened our perspective and experience just a little, we wouldn’t be so fearful. We wouldn’t be so narrow. We wouldn’t be so judgmental.
There are many kinds of music and God hears them all. And that is food for thought. Go in peace and go with music in your heart. Amen.