Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"The Theme of My Song," part 1

I had the privilege of sharing the message at my church's annual Christmas Ladies' Brunch this last Saturday. I was blown away when many people -- some of whom I barely know -- told me that they had been praying for my message. That they would think to pray for me, that they care so much about our church and this outreach, and that they were faithful to actually follow through and pray ... I was humbled and convicted to follow more in their example.

Here is the first part of my talk; I'll share part 2 tomorrow.


As I was preparing to share with you all today, I was reminded of how last year, at this time, at the ladies brunch, I was a week overdue with my little Titus. That was Saturday; on Wednesday, I had a healthy baby boy in my hands, a boy who just this week started walking. It’s amazing how much can change in a year … in a week … in a day. Joys and hardships – so much can change so quickly, and I know that many of you also know that from experience. A year from now, or even next Wednesday, there’s no telling what any of our lives may look like. But on Wednesday, next year, ten years from now, we know one thing will be true, and that is God’s love for us. It’s the only thing we can bank on, and so my prayer for us this morning is that – whether this is your first time through the doors of this church or whether you were here when the doors of this church opened, we will all come to understand even a little bit more how great is God’s love for us. And not just to understand, but to embrace our Father and his love.

[Prayer – Oh Lord, thank you so much for your love that is so high and wide and deep that we can never comprehend it, and we’ll never exhaust it. Please, give us grace now to understand, to grasp, to embrace even a tiny bit more of your love for us today. For me, Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Oh Lord my rock and my redeemer.]

I’d like to start off now with a little game of “name that tune.” Now, the big caveat here is that I am not a musical person at all, and I realize that in this crowd are many musical giants. So I do this with a degree of fear and trepidation, but I think it can work. We’ll give it a try, anyway, so shout it out if you can name that tune (and please don’t leave me hanging!): (Beethoven’s 5th – first 4 notes). Now try this one: (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star/Alphabet song). And, this one’s for the 30-something set: (Vanilla Ice – Ice, Ice Baby).

What is it that makes those songs so recognizable? I think one of the main reasons is that in all three of those songs, the same few notes are repeated over and over – in slightly different ways, in different combinations ranging from the simple to the complex, mellow or dramatic, but they are woven throughout the piece in such a way that an experienced ear can pick them out immediately.

Wikipedia (I know, not the BEST source of information, but bear with me) says about Beethoven’s 5th and the use of these four notes (da-da-da-DA), which I learned is called a motif: “The main ideas are introduced in the first few pages [and] undergo elaborate development through many keys, with a dramatic return to the opening section—the recapitulation—about three-quarters of the way through. It starts out with two dramatic fortissimo phrases, the famous motif, commanding the listener's attention. Following the first four bars, Beethoven uses imitations and sequences to expand the theme, these pithy imitations tumbling over each other with such rhythmic regularity that they appear to form a single, flowing melody...” And the article goes on.

If you’re like me, a fair amount of that might have gone over your head with all the technical terms, but the point is that Beethoven uses those four notes – and other motifs — masterfully, in all sorts of different ways, throughout his symphony.

Now, the Bible is a lot like a symphony in written form. We start with creation (da-da-da-DA) and from then on, different themes and motifs are introduced and reworked and sometimes one theme rises more to the surface, and sometimes it’s really complex so you have to listen carefully to hear those familiar notes, but they’re there, and God is weaving them together into this beautiful piece of music that we can listen to over and over without tiring of it.

I have a cousin whose boys go to a specialized Montessori school in Arizona. The other day, the seven year old heard a classical song on the radio and asked his mom, “What’s this guy’s name again? Oh yeah, Vivaldi. He did a great job on this song.” If I may be so bold, God did a great job on his song, too.

I said a few seconds ago that in both the symphony and Scripture, sometimes it takes a more experienced ear to pick out the themes when the surrounding notes are louder and more complex. Several years ago, I began to notice as I listened to people speak, or as I had a helpful conversation with someone, that some people seemed to have a consistent theme woven throughout what they said. Like a musical theme, it fit beautifully with whatever was happening in the world around them, but that one theme resonated so deeply in their hearts, this was the theme that arose frequently in their conversations about life and about God.

One example is that when I was in seminary, I took several classes from Ed Welch, and I noticed that the theme of the wilderness kept popping up. The Israelites in the Old Testament spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Welch seemed to connect deeply with the experience of the Israelites during this “in between” time – they had been rescued from slavery but were not even close to experiencing this Promised Land that was going to be flowing with milk and honey … they were suffering, waiting, feeling empty, thirsty. And so, no matter if Welch was talking about the experience of addiction, or depression, or fear, he would hear in the music, so to speak, the same notes of how it felt, and of how God works, and he would weave together the Israelites’ experience with his own.

When I moved back to Billings, I spent a lot of time in conversation with Amy P and noticed that she had a consistent “theme to her song,” and I saw it elsewhere as well. So I’ve asked Amy, along with Pastor Alfred and Jan B to share with you about the “theme of their song.”

But more on that in a moment, first, let me share with you the "theme of my song" … (To be continued)

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