I hope that you are all good eavesdroppers. You see, this morning’s sermon is not really for you. It is an epistle of sorts, a pastoral letter to our organist Kenny. Don’t worry about confidentiality. The contents may already embarrass him- after all, who wants to be the subject of pastor’s Sunday sermon. My own family needs to give permission to be even mentioned in worship. But let me assure you, the words are heartfelt and sincere.
Dear Kenny, and all the saints at Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is not often that we celebrate the work of church musicians in our worship, but what better way to do this than on the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels. For many worshipers, a day dedicated to church musicians may seem a bit confusing. This is especially true, for those who been nurtured on the one joke they know about organists. Certainly, you’ve heard it, Kenny. What is the difference between an organist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist. No doubt, there are those with the same sort of bewildering experience with angels. Angels are simply the gossamer clad performers of the Christmas pageant and nothing more. For others, angels are the chubby childlike characters that sing and float around the throne of God singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” And for others still, angels are merely the divine postal carriers who wing about the earth bearing personal messages to unsuspecting receivers. For some parishioners, it’s hard to get too excited about angels, much less church musicians.
According to scriptures, however, angels do not simply spend their time flying between clouds, playing their harps and running off to choir practice. The rosy-cheeked cherubs we use on Valentine’s cards bear little resemblance to the angels of the Bible. We would be truer to the scripture if at our next Christmas pageant, we enlisted the fathers of the congregation to serve as the angels. Excellent choices would be those candidates in excess of two hundred pounds. Or perhaps the defensive line of the Vikings football team- on a good day. And you needn’t worry about musical abilities either, for nowhere is scripture does it state that the angels sing in chorus. We read that the angels proclaim in loud voices. Their shouts are deafening like the roar of a football stadium with a touchdown score. St. Michael, himself is the divine military commander who casts Satan down from the heavenly court. Your music Kenny has captured for us that elusive, powerful, beautiful and mysterious presence of the angels, as well their accompanying ministry of encouragement. And that is what we will remember about your music here.
When I first arrived here six years ago, your predecessor at the organ bench, Jean, was invited to join me for lunch, with all the members of staff, and discuss the work of the church. We were seated in the Christy Room politely eating sandwiches and potato chips, and she turned to me directly and asked, “What is your philosophy on the use of music in worship?” I was expecting something more genteel such as do you prefer Bach to Marty Haugen, John Rutter to F. Melius Christiansen? It is a conversation that pastors often have with church musicians. I answered her directly, “I think that music has the wonderful ability to strengthen, enhance and give life to God’s word and to comfort those in times of loss.” I waited for her response. She threw up her your hands. The interrogation was over. “OK, that’s good enough for me.” But Kenny, you have reminded us of another challenge of the church musician. Like the angels, you are that force encouraging us to raise our voice in praise to God. The task of the church musician, as you know, is always trying to find the right melody, the chord and rhythm to enhance that praise.
Now you the parishioners may be wondering, but why is this ministry of encouragement through music so important? Simply said, words alone often fail us. In the face of anger, suffering and fear, it is difficult to hear God’s word of encouragement, love and hope, but when it is wrapped and clothed in music, it touches our heart and soul in a way we cannot explain. .
The American theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote in his book Wishful Thinking A Theological ABC, “ngels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well. Since we don’t expect them, we don’t see them. An angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.” Words alone fail us, and God understands that we need something more to keep us going. And so by the presence of the angels clothed in the gift of music, God comes to us anew.
Faith is easy when life is good. When you are strong, you place your security on the world, and on your own strength. You can completely dismiss the need for angels and for music. You dare to tread upon scorpions and snakes by your own power, but when the winds of adversity blow so hard that the walls and towers begin to tumble and fall, what do you do? C. S. Lewis, the British author and Christian apologist suffered greatly during the tragic loss of his young wife. But he found these words. “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but he will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” Kenny, Sunday after Sunday you have made this sanctuary God’s pleasant inn where the holy angels play music and improvise new songs on old tunes, encouraging us, setting us back on our journey.
The Call to Ministry, whether as a musician or preacher, is never easy. There is the exhaustion of the long hours and distance from family. Emily has spent many hours as the single parent ever watching over James and Ellie. As the church musician, you always arrive first and leave last turning the lights on and off as you come and go, watching your family from a distance in between. And when you leave each Sunday, you wonder whether your music touched the hearts of those in worship. Oh, yes, there are those serendipitous moments of joy and laughter, and hopefully, as you leave any congregation, you will carry with you with a myriad of stories. Perhaps, it was the Sunday School teacher who asked the children just before she dismissed them to go to worship, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” To which little Annie replied, “Because all the people are sleeping.” She was probably the same child who thought the men and women standing at the doors were called “hushers.” Or perhaps it was that Children’s Sermon when the Pastor asked why Joseph and Mary took Jesus with them to Jerusalem, and the small child replied: “They couldn’t get a baby sitter.”
Kenny, week after week, like the ministry of the angels, who touch and strengthen us in our darkest hours, your music has helped us glimpse the Heavenly Father of love and light who comforts us in our sorrows; you have drawn us to his only begotten Son Jesus who knows us and loves us more than we love ourselves and calls us to follow him, and you brought the Holy Spirit to us through your music to peacefully guide us and inspires us. On behalf of this congregation, I thank God for bringing you to us, and I thank God that even now, he is preparing a new musician to entire our midst. Amen.
And to you all, May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.