Monday, October 14, 2013

Two Rehearsals

One year after my last day on staff at College Church, I had the privilege of sitting in on the Chancel Choir rehearsal this past Thursday. I had been invited to come, sing, and give the evening devotional. It was such a lovely privilege, and such a pleasure to sit with friends and sing. Over the years, I would occasionally stop rehearsal and say, "You know, I'd really like to sing with this choir!"

Then, two days later, I also had the privilege of standing in front of another church choir in the area. My friend Mary had invited me to begin her monthly Saturday rehearsal with a devotional, and then lead warm-ups. I also sat in on that rehearsal, and enjoyed a different mix of repertoire - from yesterday's anthem (Mendelssohn), to the Reformation Sunday anthem, to some items for Lessons and Carols.

How delightful that here in October, though I am not in or in front of a church choir, I still got to sing Christmas music!

Anyway, here is the devotional message I brought to these faithful choristers this week . . .

Choir Devotions
October 2013
Romans 15:5-6

If sometimes St. Paul seems a little foreboding, a bit too technical, I like to remember that he often seems to get carried away in Doxology. You’ll know what I mean – those moments when at the end – or even in the middle – of a dense theological argument, he can’t help himself: he breaks out in praise. Or, as in the book of Romans, when he comes several times to pronounce a benediction . . .  but then there’s more.  Let’s look at one of those benedictions.

Romans 15:5-6
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I just want to look at how this benediction sits in chapter 15. It draws together a number of ideas from the opening verses, and packages them in a memorable benediction. And isn’t that what benedictions – “good words” – do?

The God of endurance and encouragment – how do we know God this way? Verse 4, just before the benediction says: whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. The record is there: God has spoken, and the Word is both encouraging and the source of our endurance.

The God of endurance and encouragement bestows, as a gift, life in harmony with one another. May God . . . grant you to live in such harmony with one another . . . When we head off to college, or send our children off, most of us require some financial aid. We expect to be offered student loans, but we look for grants! The grant is a gift – in our case, here in verse 5, the gift that God bestows is the grace of living in harmony.
[lovely word, harmony; and an unavoidable, certainly intentional, musical metaphor. The ancient view of music was that it was a reflection of divine order. The unheard “music of the spheres” was thought to be seen also in harmonious – consonant – human life, personal but especially social]
This life together is the theme of the opening verses of chapter 15: bear with others’ weaknesses, do not please ourselves, look for the good of our neighbors, build up others. These are all overwhelming injunctions, unless we recoginze that it is just this that God has granted – to live in harmony.

This grace – the granting – is through and in Jesus; as such it is in accord with Christ Jesus, who (verse 3 has already said) did not please himself but as it is written, “the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” [Ps 69:9] As Jesus lived (and died) for others, to please the Father, so the life the Father has granted all his children is lived for others, to please the Father.

It is true of all the gifts of grace: the impact of grace is on the whole family – body – church, so that together you may glorify . . .  Verse 2 shows us what that together looks like, pleasing our neighbors, for their good, building them up.

so that together you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are not solo efforts, but our work together; together with Christ (in accord with him) and together as God’s people. “We” (verses 1 and 4), “each of us” (verse 2), “our” (v. 4), “one another” (v. 5), the plural “you” is all over this passage.
            We do not endure alone
            We cannot encourage ourselves
            In this instance, at least, it requires all of us, together, to glorify God

We love one another . . .  in this chapter, in verse 7, love is expressed in the word “welcome” . . .  Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. We love one another as Christ has loved each of us, for the glory of God. This is the heart of our work, whatever we do. It is no less the heart of our choral work. And laboring together, enduring together, encouraging one another, loving one another, we glorify God first in rehearsal. And then again along with those who gather in this place for worship, we have the privilege of Enduring, Encouraging, and Glorifying the God who in Christ Jesus has loved us.

So, as you live this out today and in the weeks to come, laboring with and for one another, hear these words of the next Benecition (but not the final one!) in Romans, chapter 15:13:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.