A sermon based on 1 Chronicles 29:10-14 and Colossians 3:12-17 preached at the Barboursville Community Thanksgiving Service on 11/24/13 at Steele Memorial United Methodist Church.
Picture it. A plaza full of people. Tourists, locals, pigeons scrounging for scraps as people eat their lunches on park benches. The hustle and bustle of shoppers, mostly people on vacation seeing the stoic buildings of Italy for the first time in their lives.
There are street performers. Many of them. They add to the noise of the crowds—the swarms of people—enjoying a crisp Fall day in this ancient city. Shop doors are open. They invite in customers eager to find something to take home to remind them of their journey.
A man seems stuck in place, a lone street performer holding a bow made of horsehair to an upright bass. His black top hat sitting in front him, the bottom of the hat opened to the sky, inviting tips from passersby.
A little girl, perhaps 7, walks up to the man who is wearing a tuxedo. She stands in front of him and stares into his frozen face. Hesitantly, she drops a small coin into his top hat.
The man with the upright bass, like some old arcade game from the 1930’s that’s been fed a penny, suddenly comes to life. This little girl’s donation of a small coin unfreezes him and he begins playing. Horsehair across steel and nylon. The man looks into the girl’s eyes for the first time as he plays for her, slowly sliding his bow across the strings of his upright bass.
A woman with a cello walks up and sits in a folding chair next to the man and begins to play with him. Some song no one can recognize suddenly slides note by note into Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
The girl who dropped the small coin into the top hat is entranced by the two of them playing. This woman with the cello—where did she come from? How did she know to be here with her instrument? To play this song with this man in the tuxedo?
These two stringed instruments slowly playing the first beautiful bars of Ode to Joy, the masterpiece from his 9th Symphony. The hustle and noise of the busy plaza drowns out their song for most spending the day there. This little girl is getting her own private concert.
One man a few feet away begins to take notice of these musicians, and he smiles. A bassoonist walks out onto the plaza from somewhere in between two buildings.
Two violinists gather around the man with the upright bass and the woman sitting playing her cello. The bassoonist and the two violinists smile as they arrive.
They shake hands. And at the end of the measure, all three jump in and begin playing along. Something’s happening here. People look up to take notice of this sudden gathering of musicians, each adding their own instruments to this beautiful song.
Joyful joyful we adore thee.
An elderly woman comes closer. A woman in her late 20’s takes her iPhone out of her purse and begins shooting video. A couple holding hands stops their strolling and begins to watch.
8 violists and violinists walk out from another cove on the edges of the plaza and walk toward their fellow musicians.
Another little girl, maybe 9, begins climbing a nearby lamppost to get a better view of what’s happening. 14 musicians all with bows in their hands playing, louder and louder.
A crowd of hundreds of passersby now standing in front of them. Watching for what happens next as this song unfolds across more and more instruments.
8 more violinists. A man in a striped shirt emerges from the crowd. The conductor. A table full of diners at a nearby café stand up from their chairs and turn around to see what they’re hearing.
A middle age woman listens intently. A huge smile appears across her face. More musicians emerge. A man with a French horn, a man with timpani drumsticks in his hands, 3 trumpet players. A flautist, 2 trombonists, all walking down the sidewalk—each one joining this growing chorus of instruments.
Cameras are out. Pictures are being snapped everywhere. This is big. And these people—they’re here to see it all grow right in front of them.
Another upright bassist joins the man in the tuxedo. And at the end of the next stanza, it happens. There are vocalists everywhere, a choir standing in the crowd that has gathered. A chorus of voices bursting into song.
Joyful joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love…
Who knows if the people singing are professionals or not. Maybe it’s a mixture of pros and pedestrians singing together, but people who were just a few minutes ago enjoying a quiet day on the plaza with their loved ones are now singing with hundreds of strangers one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above…
Children mimic the conductor, waving their hands back and forth. The little girl who climbed the lamppost is waving her finger in the same motion. A man with his child on his shoulders sings along in Italian.
Then the song that has built on the plaza grows quiet. A couple strings plucked. The low hum of a French horn. Then silence. And all the sudden, this massive chorus of voices, this makeshift symphony, bursts loudly into the 3rd verse.
Mortals, join the happy chorus which the morning stars began. Love divine is reigning over us, joining all in heaven’s plan.
Yes, this does seem like heaven’s plan and yes, divine love is reigning over this hodgepodge gathering of perfect strangers somewhere in Italy.
These tourists, these locals, everyone gathered together into this makeshift symphony, through the power of song, have suddenly become enfolded into this beautiful community of praise to God.
Chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in Thee.
This plaza, just minutes ago, was filled with anonymous people who were just simply buzzing around each other, each person or family to their own. Then the music began and transformed them all.
No longer individuals, no longer people on there own, doing their own thing, living their own lives, now they were all coming together to celebrate this song with one another, joining their singular voices into a chorus of praise in the middle of this plaza in Italy. And just for that moment—a regrettably fleeting moment—their voices and those instruments gathered these strangers together and they became one.
In his letter to the Colossians, the author urges God’s people there to practice life together more intentionally. To lend their voices and their lives to one another. To practice compassion and kindness. To dress themselves in humility and gentleness. And to put on patience and tolerance.
These are the qualities that we are asked to put on as people who follow Jesus Christ. This is a list of relational virtues that a community of believers should practice together so that God can be honored through our oneness as we offer each other forgiveness and as we put on love, which this author tells us is the perfect bond of unity. And once we dress ourselves in love, compassion and kindness, we are urged to give thanks and to sing aloud songs of faith with one another.
I am happy to be a part of a community of believers who can come together to join our voices in praise and thanksgiving to God. We wind our way around this town and sometimes we run into each other. Maybe at Kroger or the post office.
We each gather into our churches at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning to worship with our own communities, and I pray that each of you is fed well by the church community you call home.
The writer of this letter to the Colossians would not have to share these words with the community of faith there if everyone had the same opinions about matters of faith and how to live it out day by day. The writer here speaks of tolerance and there is no need to bring up that word if everyone was seeing things eye to eye. Christ’s church is big and wide and deep and we all have a unique way of understanding how God is speaking to God’s people.
Differences in how to worship and understand how to live out the life of faith in Christ have existed from the earliest of Christian churches. But I’m glad and grateful that we can gather to celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ with one another during occasions like this.
We are a makeshift symphony of believers. Each with our own instruments to bring and our own voices to lend to a great chorus of praise and thanksgiving and song. That makes us a blessed people and a blessed community of Christ’s disciples.
Together we can be a chorus of unending gratitude to God, the One in whom we seek, to God’s son Jesus in whom we put our trust, through whom we have salvation, and because of whom we lift our voices together in praise and thanksgiving.
This Thursday we will gather around tables. Some of us will be scattered to other parts of the country, some of us will stay right here in Barboursville.
Thanksgiving Day is a day to gather around our blessings. To recall to mind all the ways in which we are grateful. But we all know that’s what everyday is like for us who celebrate the risen Christ.
We are a people who cannot help but lend our voices to the chorus of unending praise for all that our God has richly poured upon us. All that we are and all that we have comes from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is nothing that we have that is ours alone. It is only by God’s grace shown to us in the face of Jesus Christ that we have anything at all. And it is only through the gift of the Holy Spirit that our lives are touched with song and celebration.
The reason why we sing is because God has given us voices to do so and we cannot help but praise the God who has abundantly showered gifts upon us.
As the symphony finished their performance of Ode to Joy, applause from all who were gathered around rang loud and long. Nobody was quick to leave that moment. It was like the song hung in the air around them long after it was done. Like the voices of the choir echoed and vibrated among the crowd who had gathered there. Maybe each of them were absorbing all that they could of this holy moment when just for a time, the strangers among them had suddenly become fellow worshippers. Maybe the crowd applauded for a long time, not only to thank the performers on that plaza but also to give thanks to God for speaking to them through the song of this makeshift symphony. Maybe in that moment, everyone there had a chance to say their own “thank you”.
We are encouraged, just as the Colossians were, to be thankful people who are so full of gratitude in our hearts that it spills over the edges and becomes praise.
This is why we sing, because when we stand in God’s presence and see all the ways we are showered with God’s love we cannot help but lend ourselves—all that we have and all that we are—in praise to our God.
So my prayer for us this Thanksgiving is that our very lives sing aloud God’s praises. That all we do and say would sound like songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. Not just this week or through the next month, but every day of our lives.
O God, Center of our unbroken praise, may all glory and honor be yours! You are why we sing.