Grave: TRINITY by Bishop Paul Marshall (1 of 4)
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Andante: Starving Artists ... by Bishop Paul Marshall (2 of 4)

Andante: Starving Artists
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the second.  "Andante" is a musical term meaning "to play with a moderate tempo, in a light, flowing manner.]

Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpu
Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpuf
Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpuf

The first lesson this morning from Numbers 11 is an unfortunate example of the humorlessness of lectionary makers, who have trimmed a story from the wild side into something perhaps too neat and tidy. In its context Numbers chapter 11 is another of those stories that is many layers deep and thoroughly soaked with irony. It starts with the people being tired of miraculous manna – there is the first movement of a cantata right there. In any event, they are sick of the miracle food and remember the Chateau Briand, Hagen Dazs®, and single-malt back in the ghetto in Egypt. Sure, they may have been slaves, but they had all the basic food groups.

Moses is caught completely off guard by this concern popping up when they are finally getting on track with their mission, and we see him here overwhelmed, losing his vision. So he complains to God for most of the chapter, ending up with a stunning combination of blaming, sacrcasm, and whining:

{12} Did I conceive all this people? Did I bring them forth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the sucking child, to the land which you swore to give their fathers?' {13} Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' {14} I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If you are going to deal with me this way, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."

YOU gave me this rabble, this motley crew – all of a sudden he forgets he is part of “them.” I’ve been there; you’ve been there, everybody in this room who cares about the church has been there in one way or another. And for some who serve the church, if the truth were told, there are brief moments when death seems likes like a pretty good way out, and the number of church professionals who maintain unhealthy habits is by no means small. Moses speaks for many.

God and Moses, I suppose, could have debated theology and catering strategy for hours, and then they could have moved on to discussion of Moses’ inner child. But God doesn’t argue back, and simply goes to work on Moses’ near-burnout condition, dealing only with Moses’ inner adult.

And the great surprise is, God’s answer to the kind of burnout that only the very gifted and driven experience is… colleagues, community, lots of company on the journey. Moses’ prayer for a quick death is not only ignored, he is plunged headlong into a re-creative and redemptive experience of community. All of a sudden he has 70 co-workers, burden-sharing, perspective-maintaining colleagues who no doubt had active listening skills as well. And those people had been there all the time.

But the interesting thing is that this isn’t exactly a music committee, a choir picnic, or a vestry. They “prophesied,” we’re told. Now that’s an interesting word, because only much later in Israel’s history did “prophet” come to mean unattractive or irritating speech-maker. In the period of our story it means being full of the spirit, being in ecstasy, shouting, dancing, singing words from the Lord in a totally unrestrained state. In short, although the 70 shared in Moses’ spirit and helped bear his burdens, they were more than his briefcase-carriers: they were outside his control. A few verses later somebody immersed in control issues comes up to Moses all upset that although Eldad and Medad (the Old Testament Blues Brothers) – although Eldad and Medad hadn’t been up on the Mountain to be regularly and validly commissioned (sort of like the people who don’t come to rehearsals and expect to sing on Sunday), they were prophesying anyway, right there in public, shouting, singing, dancing, and generally scaring the orderly types.

And through Eldad and Medad’s disorderly conduct Moses gets the point at last. He replies that it would be of great practical value if all of God’s people prophesied. I happen to believe that stories like this one were saved precisely because of the comic, ironic and slightly embarrassing light they shed on great and small figures in the life of God’s people. If we can chuckle at them, it’s probably safe to take a closer look at ourselves in our desperate moments.

First of all, when it all seems too much, it’s good to remember the manna, the miracles around us that have brought us this far. It’s a long pilgrimage, and it pays to remember not only the goal, but how far we have come in our lives, and how God has sustained us. I will explore this a bit more tomorrow.  But let’s encourage each other not to get bored with the miracles of word and sacrament, faith and community, with which God nourishes us regularly. Sacraments and liturgies seldom bring entertainment, but they surely bring sustenance.

And with Moses, I have to confess that it is Eldad and Medad who surprise me, constantly, in my own life. I treasure the encounters with friends but am often stunned back to sanity by perhaps chance acquaintances who often sustain and guide me. Who are Eldad and Medad for you? On the other hand, which of your colleagues is a little too isolated, and might need a phone call? I have a musical example, one that people in this room this morning have taught me to love.

Many of us play it and some of you have recorded Elgar’s “Nimrod,” so perhaps you can hum along as I talk about it as it helps us remember Moses. The longest of the original Enigma variations, the Nimrod movement is not coded with someone’s initials, but marked with that strange Biblical moniker. Genesis merely says that “Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord,” but various ancient traditions assign him everything from keeping Adam’s original loincloth (!) to ruling Babylon and/or Ninevah. This variety invites much wonderful speculation, all of which could be profitable in other contexts, but in Elgar, Nimrod slyly and simply stands for a conversation he had with one August Jaeger, a man from Duesseldorf whose name just happens to mean Hunter, and I mean to invoke Jaeger’s presence as a reminder of how God touches us Mose-types in the unspectacular.

More than his music editor, Jaeger was, for Elgar, both a comfort and source of courage. Recall how in Nimrod he begins sadly, with echoes of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Elgar, of course, was plagued both by depression and his actual exclusion from many an inner circle because of his religion. Like Moses, he was often burnt-out. Once he was so low that Jaeger had take him out for a walk to remind him of Beethoven’s personal struggles and doubts, all of which were overcome by Beethoven’s strength of character and devotion to vocation. This was far more than a command to suck it up; it was an affirming reinforcement of character and identity, an invitation to borrow some of Beethoven’s strength.

What happens to the music after the sad encounter is thrilling, in a measured way, and reminds us yet again that mere words seldom have the last word. Without erasing the sadness, the music steadily builds in hope, confidence, and fullness (even with tympani in the orchestral version)…but it never reaches the anticipated Edwardian boisterousness, triumphalism, nor does it offer any oblivion to the pain that is expressed early in the piece. In fact, just when the peaking crescendo could explode into another Elgar hit like Land of Hope and Glory, the music fades very rapidly to a centered and calmer version of its somewhat sad beginning. We rush to tromp down the expression while reducing the registration. Then the music stops, without a note of further explanation.

As must sermons. But we here can hear the whisper through the closed swell shades, never lose heart for our work and always encourage each other to thrive. Just as you are doing by being here this week.

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