Glynn Cardy 16th October 2022
Today we have dedicated our newly refurbished and enhanced organ to “the Glory of God”.
It’s an old phrase, somewhat pious, and well misused. For many of the atrocities in Christian history – invading lands, subjugating people, destroying existing religions and places of worship – were said to be for “the Glory of God”. As were the supposed divine endorsements the Church endowed upon monarchs and other forms of unaccountable governance, and upon armies and warships and the like. Still today the phrase can be wheeled out by those church leaders in bed with power, like Patriarch Kirill with Vladmir Putin, to justify all sorts of crimes, misdemeanours, and acts of self-aggrandizement.
So, it’s a phrase, if to be used at all, to be used carefully and judiciously, and seldom.
It’s also though a phrase that points to a greater intent and purpose than merely naming a building, or a project, or an organ after a significant person or donor/s, or merely celebrating the success of a community or the combined will of a denomination. That is not to say that people aren’t significant. That those who offer leadership and wisdom aren’t significant. Or that those who donate and give of their time, money, and energy aren’t significant. And it is not to say that completing projects, celebrating successes, and the combined will of denominations are not important.
But “to the Glory of God” points beyond ourselves. It points beyond our needs and wants. It points towards some of those big words that we use to try to give substance to God – words like compassion, grace, justice, and mutuality. The purpose of any building, project, or organ is to give voice to what I call “the music of God”, namely the divine love lyrics expressed in compassion, grace, justice, and mutuality.
And the “music of God”, and how this metaphor works, is that we are invited – in all our wonderful variety, abilities, and failings – to participate in the “music of God”. Kind of like a big concert. And the purpose of this concert, of we in concert, is to bring more beauty, more joy, and more hope to the world.
We know something of the power of music. How it can bring happiness and serenity. How it can bring people together and be recharged by that togetherness. How it can reach down deep inside us, nestling beside our heart and nourishing our soul.
But we also know, shockingly so, that the same music that can bring us so much joy, has in times past, and probably still in times present, been enjoyed and savored by tyrants and murderers, destroyers of life, and all who don’t fit within their ideal.
So, let’s not think that music is enough. Or that all music brings wisdom and love in its wake. Or that music and what I’m calling “the music of God” equate.
And remember too the words of the Hebrew prophets. Like Hosea: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6). Or 2nd Isaiah: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free?” (Is 58:6). They are criticising worship (sacrifices, fasting) which does not translate into actions. Their echo is criticising our worship – singing hymns, prayers, sermons, organ voluntaries – which does not translate into actions. Actions of mercy, justice, and as our Gospel reading today says, “Good news to the poor”.
To make music in concert with the “music of God” is let worship inspire us to action, and action to worship, and worship to the resolve to change. And those actions are to be just, to be kind, to be creative, and to dream and work for a world where this is the language and bread and reality for all.
So, to dedicate something to “the Glory of God” can be asking for a holy critic to perch like a parrot on our collective shoulder and continually ask, “For whose glory is this?”. Are you doing what you’re doing so others will think well of you? Or so that you’ll increase the membership or the finances? Or that people will come in here and listen and think “Wow!”
Maybe like Robert Louis Stevenson’s parrot Captain Flint, the critic will squawk: “Stand by to go about!”; stand by to change our direction and head into that “music of God” – of compassion, grace, justice, and mutuality – that invites us to participate and act.
While the relationship, as I’ve mentioned, between the power of music and the power of goodness is not causal, there is often a correlation. Just as there is often a correlation between those who create and make beauty and the power of goodness. Just as there can be a correlation between those who bend their knees to play with small children or animals and the power of goodness. For music, creativity, and play are – amongst other things – spiritual practices that can open our hearts and lead us deeper into God, if we let them.
We have also ordained and commissioned today new members, elders, to our Parish Council, and prayed that they might have grace, vision, and wisdom. All of which are needed.
So too is courage. If the course ahead is a repetition of the past then courage might not be called upon so much. But I suspect it won’t be and will be. For around the bend comes the expected and unexpected. Some of which may be frightening, even hurtful. Some of which will be wonderful, even if its really different. ‘Courage’ is closely aligned with my understanding of ‘faith’ – about following the prompting of your heart, and in concert with others, engage in what is sometimes counter-intuitive behaviour.
There is a parable told by Pete Rollins about a disciple who had given his life to follow the teaching and example of his Master. The disciple never deviated from those received disciplines and practices. Yet towards the end of his life the Master lamented that the disciple had betrayed the teachings he had received. For the disciple had not perceived that to follow rigorously the teaching and example of the past was to fail to respond and initiate creatively, faithfully, in the present.
Wisdom is not something that is unchanging but is something that is discovered afresh in each time and circumstance. What worked well in the past might not work well in the present. What wise teaching guided us in the past might not guide is in the present. That is why to participate in the “music of God” is find afresh in each time and circumstance how compassion, grace, justice, and mutuality might be lived and expressed in actions. To use an American Football analogy, there is no playbook to determine our moves. And certainly not the Bible.
For the disciple to have been learnt well and been faithful to his Master he would have developed an intuitive spiritual sense of smell. Sometimes you catch a whiff of a scent. Something that you can’t see, can’t even visualize, but smells interesting and alluring. And you follow your nose. Even if this leads you round bends and into places you, or your teachers, or your friends, have never been. Even if this brings you to a place where you find yourself at odds with the teachings and examples of your faith to date. Even if this spiritual sense of smell leads you to what looks like an abyss.
And that’s why we need courage.
Blessed is a world where the ‘music of God’ is expressed in justice, justice is guided by love, and love gifted unconditionally. Blessed is a world where with courage, kindness, and grace we join together, and create this concert of hope.