Melody and Harmony

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 10, 2017, kicking off the new program year and annual theme.

Text: Genesis 1

 

 

Music is one of the most powerful unifying forces around. Melodies from across the years continue to resonate and, often, allow disparate voices to sing together. As we enter into this fall with new opportunities for study, service, and engagement, the language of music will provide creative inspiration. These days, musical classics—from pop songs to sonatas—get “remastered” so that they sound better than ever. Over the course of the next year our guiding theme is “Faith Remastered” and we’re going to highlight some “classics” of our faith tradition. Key stories, rituals, and theology of Christianity will be lifted up—so that we experience them in new and life-giving ways.

 

Today we kick off the “school year” with a new sermon series: “Composition 101.”  To compose is to create. And any creation is made up of essential elements. A written composition uses elements like words, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on. A musical composition is created with different elements: notes, rhythm, and our focus for today, melody and harmony. The melody of a song is a memorable series of pitches…commonly called the tune. It is a primary building block of a musical composition.  Harmony is comprised of notes that support the melody.

Today our children helped us experience the story of the first composition ever. In Genesis chapter one, we experience God’s voice singing a brand new song. Out of the chaos of “a formless void,” God created harmony.  Each day, another stanza gets added, day and night, sky, water and dry land, sun, moon, and stars, vegetation, animals, and human beings…like an ancient chant, God calls things into being; there was evening and there was morning, again and again, and it was good. God observed that it was very good. The composition was a new creation. Every day a new creation. The new creation was interwoven. The new creation was mutually dependent. The new creation was made to live in harmony. The new creation was a love song, God’s love song, a melody that saturates everything that is, seen and unseen.

 

At the beginning of time, the melody of divine, creative love was sung and became the first foundation of the world and of our faith. The song of creative love is what we are created to sing—in harmony with God, with each other, with animals, plants, water, air, and all creation. The power of overflowing love to create something new is at the heart of our understanding of God and of creation and of what it means to share life together as children of God.

 

It is not lost on me that as we gather here, talking about creation and a loving God, the people of Houston are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma has made landfall in Florida after doing extraordinary damage to the islands further south. Let me be clear. It is because of our faith in the power of God’s love at work in us and in the whole world that we reject any notion that devastating storms are divine punishment. I’ve read a long list of possible causes folks think worthy of divine punishment—everything from America’s choice of current president, to the sexual orientation of Houston’s former mayor.  That’s just bad theology.  In moments of disaster and destruction, we are called not to look for scapegoats, but rather for opportunities to care and to love and to participate in restoration and renewal.

 

That is not to say that we cannot name where wrongdoing has led to harm. Scientists have helped us understand that the earth has shifted and changed dramatically over thousands of years. We know that the planet is both beautiful and powerful. Natural disasters are nothing new—they are part of the way the creation has evolved over time—ice and volcano, tectonic shifts, floods, and drought—all of this has been part of natural history. Human beings, like all living things, are vulnerable to injury and death in the wake of powerful, elemental forces of the planet. That has always been so—simply part of the deal for those gifted with life on this amazing earth. Just days ago, Anthony and I found ourselves on a back country hiking trail in the Wasatch Mountain Range in northern Utah. As we hit a particularly rugged point several miles in, with no other humans in sight, the mountains dwarfing us, strange sounds echoing from the forests alongside, and a dark storm cloud rolling in, Anthony said, “We are guests here.” There are places in nature when our vulnerability—and smallness!—is startlingly clear. 

 

And yet even as small as we are, scientists have also taught us that human actions are doing damage to the planet. While natural disasters are not new, current data reveals that the rising temperatures in air and water—caused primarily by human activities like burning fossil fuels, clearing land for industrial use, agriculture, and more[i]—are making what would have been bad storms even worse.[ii]  We were created to live in loving partnership with the earth, to tend and to care for the creation of which we are a part. We and the water and trees and mountains and air and earth and animals were meant to sing together in harmony. But our shortsightedness as a human family has and is doing harm.

 

And it’s not only the planet we’ve wrecked.  Human pride, greed, fear, and hate continue to do harm to the bodies and spirits of other people.  The capacity for human cruelty is breathtaking.  Our failure to see beyond our own pain or perspective or need or desire cuts us off—as though separated by a vast canyon—from those with whom we might share life, or laughs, or even love. Our faith calls us to name the harm that we see, to take responsibility for our own culpability, and to actively participate in acts of recreating love.

 

What we call “the creation story” in Genesis 1 is only the beginning of the story of creation. Across the ages, things are renewed, recreated, and resurrected by the power of love. Just as God created something new day after day in Genesis 1, God is still at work creating new things every day. Every time we gather here in worship, God is creating us anew as community, as church, as the body of Christ. I love the image of a Godmother for me in the church, who would say that in worship God scoops us up and pats us back into shape so that we can go back into the world to embody more closely the life we’re made for. New every morning, God’s love is active and working to restore, to recall, to recreate, to renew.  It is that ongoing, ever-loving, creative power that gives us hope in the midst of the storms, hope not that there will be no destruction, but hope that whatever happens, God will be at work to restore and renew the face of the earth and to mend broken lives and hearts.  It is God’s love—the source and power of all creation!—that gives us hope even in the most difficult and confusing moments of life. 

 

What we see and experience right now is not all there is. If you are in turmoil in your personal life, God’s love is with you and has the power to bring you through this present suffering into new life. The blatant racism, prejudice, saber rattling, and more that we see being supported by so many in our nation and world simply uncovers what has been there all along in more furtive form—and therefore may have the capacity to wake more people up to the call to respond with love and justice. That’s not to say that we are marching forward on some idealistic, even trajectory toward a “kum bah yah” utopian vision.  New creation is often borne out of a crucible moment. Bringing new life into the world is painful and messy. Amazing strides forward for the cause of justice are often met with devastating backlash and retreat to old ways of violence and control. The recent cases in point in our nation and others are too numerous to name.  The promise of new creation is not Pollyanna. It is gospel.

 

The first story—the creation story—in the Bible reveals an essential element of our faith. It is the story of God’s desire and God’s power to create life out of nothing, to bring new life out of death.  It is the story of Easter and the story of so many of our lives.  When we couldn’t see a way through, when we didn’t know how we’d do what we had to do, when we were so deep in the shadows we figured we’d stay lost forever, when we were so hurt or sad or angry that we couldn’t imagine ever recovering ease or joy…something happened… a faint or forgotten melody emerged…the melody of love and hope in new life.  Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Hope means to keep living amid desperation and to keep humming in the darkness.”[iii]  Perhaps, in your life, the melody you began to hum in the darkness emerged in the sound of a bird or crickets on a summer night, perhaps in the image of light through trees or light in another’s eyes, perhaps in the witness of courage or solidarity in unlikely places, perhaps the melody emerged in the stubborn love of a parent, partner, or friend, in a piece of art, in the smile or kindness of a stranger, the sloppy kiss of a dog, the memory of what matters most of all. 

 

Life, death, new life. Cross, tomb, and resurrection. Chaos, creation, and harmony. God’s creative power is always at work, singing, singing, singing, the melody of love. The animals and rivers and trees and plants sing along better than we do most of the time.  But the good news is that we are created to harmonize, to hope, to hum along. And God will carry the tune—and us!—until we’re able.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

[ii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-06/hurricane-irma-was-made-worse-by-climate-change-scientists-say

[iii] Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands, Ave Maria Press, 1995.