Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Power of Belief

Mark 6: 1-6 I have a hero in the faith, whose name is John Bell. He is a Scottish musician and member of the Wild Goose Worship Group, the worship leadership and experimentation team attached to the Iona Community. Iona is a Scottish island that you take two ferries to get to, and is only three miles long. There is a restored ruined abbey on the island, restored in the 20th century by seminarians and craftsmen from Glasgow working together. One story I remember being told about John was about a Christmas when the BBC had come to Iona to televise Christmas Eve services from the abbey. John made this experiment. He divided the congregation into four parts; then he went to one, and taught a very simple musical phrase with what seemed like nonsense syllables. Then he went to the second and taught a different melody, but with the same syllables. He did the same with the third and the fourth. Then he made a short speech to the congregation about how God designed the human throat to give praise to God, and to not use it is a sin. Just because you may not sound like Placido Domingo or Beverly Sills (or Adele!) doesn’t mean you can’t sing, and if anyone has told you that, they’ve sinned against God and against you. So sing out! Then he put them together, building one part on the other, until they were ready to sing in their four groups at the same time. What they discovered was that they could now sing four part harmony, and what sounded like those nonsense syllables was revealed to be Latin. The BBC television audience heard a very natural sounding, competent choir that also just happened to be the congregation. Any single melody played on an instrument can be pretty. Any one voice can exhibit great power and emotion. But when there are many instruments playing together, the power and nuance and subtlety is increased. Think of the difference between one flute and an orchestra. One guitar versus a whole band. The same is true for choirs, versus one voice. The same is true in Christian discipleship. Today’s scripture tells us that Jesus was unable to work miracles in his hometown, because of the disbelief of the townspeople. These were people who had known Jesus since he was brought by Mary and Joseph to Nazareth. They had seen him running around with other boys at festivals, they’d perhaps seen him get into fights, perhaps some mothers had had secret dreams of him marrying their daughters before he went all crazy and religious. In other towns and in other situations, Jesus was able to be a channel for God’s power. In one story we told just a few weeks ago, a woman was even able to be healed without even Jesus’ control, just by touching his garment. But here, he can’t do anything “other than heal a few people.” It takes belief to do the work of God. There’s a strong lesson here, that not even Jesus can do the work of God alone. There needs to be belief that things can be done with the presence of God. Just as it was true of then, so it is true now. We can do all we want as individuals to work in soup kitchens, donate old clothes to the Salvation Army, donate food to the food pantry. But what can we do as Christians together at this church? What is it that we can do, through Christ together? My mission to you is to think and pray about that. I’m serious. What is it that we can do together in this community in God’s name? Amen.

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