Tolpuddle and Puddletown
Sunday 4th February 2018
Proverbs 8.1, 22-31; John 1.1-14
Imagine a scene: an empty room with a piano. A small child walks in and full of joy makes their way to the instrument. They clamber up onto the stool in front of it and beginning to play. What emerges is a clash of sound, a discordant noise, which arises from the child’s desire to bash the keys and try to make some music. The child is having fun, but the listeners probably are not.
The child leaves and goes off to some other activity. Next comes an older child, one who has had some piano lessons. They bring their music with them and try to make it sound good.
But they’re not well practised, and though a tune is heard, there is also an abundance of wrong notes and mistimings. Those listening might realise what the music is but will know it is not being played as it is written.
Sadly the wrong notes and the poor beat mean that they overpower the music behind them and it’s not a pleasant experience for the listeners. The piece is played once and then the child gets bored and disappears, off to play a game on his mum’s iPad.
Then a more attentive pupil arrives. This time the book is placed on the stand and the musician prepares to play. What we hear are the notes in the right order with the right timing, a result of conscientious practice. It is no longer painful for the audience to remain with the player. In fact they quite enjoy what they hear.
But there’s something missing, the notes are right, the speed is right, but it’s all a bit mechanical. He tries to get it right, and carries on practising for some time. Eventually he is called away for lunch, so he picks up his music, takes it with him and goes off.
And then in wanders a rather scruffy looking individual, no music in hand. They sit down at the piano and it comes to life. The piece is the same as the previous player, but this time what emerges goes way beyond the right notes and the right timings.
The piano is now singing with musicality, with passion, with the player utterly immersed in the piece. It flows from her hands and lights up the room. It doesn’t just meet the ears of the audience but penetrates their hearts and souls too. This is music lived, this is music at its best.
There’s a lot of noise now outside the window, but the musician doesn’t notice it so immersed is she in what she is doing. And the audience too manages to cut out the outside noise, because they are utterly attuned to the music.
If we were to compare our lives to those four pianists, I wonder where we would see ourselves. The piano is the same in each case, but how it is treated produces very different results.
Does our life feel utterly out of control and discordant like the toddler’s attempts at music? Is it as if we’re not really living because everything seems out of kilter and wrong? As if whatever we do, however we play, we just can’t make good music out of what we seem to have been given.
Or perhaps we’re part way there. Bits of life work, but other bits don’t. Some areas have come together in our lives, but others feel a total mess. Perhaps our relationships are falling apart or we’re constantly arguing. Maybe our finances are in disarray. Perhaps our health spoils everything else for us. Or maybe there is something that we feel we are constantly fighting against, that never allows us to stop and rest and be content.
Or perhaps we are in a better place than that. Outwardly everything seems to work. Our life is on track, nothing’s coming out of left field to knock us off course.
We have a home we’re happy with, a partner or a single life which works, money’s enough to live on if we’re careful, life’s ticking along fine. It may feel a but humdrum, but all is as it should be, and anyone looking in would think all is well.
Or perhaps we’re truly alive. Joyful and content whatever life throws at us, with a life truly lived, a life in all its fullness, a life where we are constantly amazed and thankful for all that we have, great or small.
A life that is about living in the depths of one’s heart and soul not just on the surface. A life that delights and cherishes, even when things are beyond our control, a life where quality is better than quantity and which cannot be shaken by anything that outwardly threatens. A life which soars off the page as a bird on the wing.
Over the years there has been a lot of theological discussion about the personification of wisdom and thousands if not millions of words written about the true meaning of the Word.
Most are now agreed that the Word – logos – refers to Jesus, so that today’s Gospel reading could also have been phrased: In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God and Jesus was God.
Wisdom is less certain. Some would argue that she refers to the Old Testament Law, some that she is Jesus, some that she is the Holy Spirit and others that she is not a being but an attribute of God. In the context of today’s sermon, I’m not sure that that matters much.
Wisdom describes herself as being daily God’s delight. God created us too to be his delight.
Do you feel like God’s delight? I must say much of the time I don’t, but that says more about the fickleness of my feelings and the fallen world than about God’s creation. When God created each one of us, God created a delight.
I think God want us to live like the final pianist. To see life as abundant and passionate and something to be lived with our whole being and not just our minds.
Jesus didn’t come to bring a load of rules and regulations; even the Torah wasn’t at heart about rules and regulations but about how to live the life that God has created us for. Unfortunately humanity distorted God’s intention, and the Law became an excluding thing rather than an inclusive one.
Wisdom rejoices in God, in the world God has made and delights in the human race. Do we?
Sometimes it’s hard to delight in the human race, when we see what people do to one another. We see war and rape and violence. We see racism and persecution. We see poverty, oppression, slavery and a chasing after wealth. We see ambition trampling over others, systems that regard people only as economic units. We see anger and lies and one-upmanship and a individualistic-shaped culture.
But none of that takes away the fact that God delights in what God has made. The voice of wisdom calls us back to rejoice in God and creation, to delight in each other. The voice of wisdom calls us to be ourselves, those in whom God delights.
How can we do that? “In him was life, and the life was the light of the world, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Jesus holds all our hopes and fears. Jesus helps us to live life fully.
Jesus is the life stronger than death, the goodness mightier than evil, the joy greater than sadness, the hope bigger than despair.
When we look to Jesus, it doesn’t take away the situations in which we find ourselves, but it can help us to live the life abundantly within them.
Because when we look to Jesus as our source of life, we realise that all things are passing. We know that what God has done will stand for ever, and that those things which are not of God will surely pass away. We are reminded that what God has made is good, and that there is so much to be thankful for.
This reminds us that faith and trust in God is not a static thing. As we grow in years, we are called to grow too in spiritual maturity, in the depth of our trust in God through Jesus, in what we hold dear. Our life here will always be one of incompleteness, but we are called by God to grow into what we have been created to be.
God calls us to live life fully, with abandon. We have been given all that we need to grow and develop as those we are called to be. But we can only do that when we allow God to shape us and continually mould us, as a potter moulds clay. We are a lifetime’s work, a creation that is never fully completed this side of heaven.
The pictures of the pianist I began with can relate to our faith as much as the whole of our life. The pianist image is however limited, because most of us, however hard we practise, will never be great pianists, who can make the piano sing in such a way.
Whereas all of us have the potential to live life with abundance, to be fully the people we have been made to be.
The glory of God is a human being fully alive – words of St Irenaeus.
Lent is approaching, perhaps this year rather than just being about fasting and self-discipline, we can use this season to help us to experience God’s springtime in our lives, a time where we allow ourselves through relationship with Jesus Christ to bud and blossom and flourish, so that, like Wisdom, we may be “daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
(with thanks to Eugene Peterson for inspiring the image of the piano, taken from As Kingfishers Catch Fire Hodder & Stoughton 2017, p.198-199)