Love and Music!

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Mark 1: 14-20

This morning we see Jesus walking the shore of his beloved Galilee. He who is Love set to Music sets out at dawn, as the fishermen begin, casting and mending. This stylized memory from the mind of Mark kindles our own memory and hope, too.

Daybreak carries a power unlike any other hour’s hue. The excitement of beginning. The promise of another start. The crisp, cold opening of the year in January. Like the skier, mits and poles at the ready, we adjust our goggles, and we lean, and…

Here is Jesus, midway from Christmas to Easter, from manger to cross, from nativity to passion. Along the shoreline he strides, one foot in sea and one on shore.

He meets two brothers, and they meet him.. Notice how Simon, called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, are sketched. There is little to nothing of history here, but what there is says so much! There is no parental shadow lying on their fishing nets. One hears no maternal imperative, no paternal dictate. These boys are on their own. They have left home already, maybe leaving the city to the south to find a meager middle-class existence with their own means of production. They are small business men, boat owners, fishermen. Neither the amhaaretz nor the gentry, they. Not poor, not rich. Working stiffs. Young, young men. Simon already has a nick-name. A sign of joviality, of conviviality, of gregarious playful fun. Peter, the Rock. Is this for his steady faithfulness or his failure to float? On this rock…Sinks like a Rock…You sense that these brothers play in the surf a little, kick up the sand a little, ogle the Palestinianas a little, take time to take life as it comes. Brown are their forearms, and burnished their brows. They love the lake and life, and have made already their entrance into adult life. For they have left home. One envies their youth and freedom. They have taken to the little inland sea, and with joy they meet each day.

You can feel the sand under their feet as they take a moment to play and laugh. You can feel the chill of the water as they swim, while breakfast cooks over the fire. You can feel their feeling of vitality and joy as they greet one another, open to love, to the music of love.

I wonder whether we allow ourselves to drift a little too far from that first level of feeling, the feeling that love brings, that music brings. Those nearly pure moments of almost rapturous illumination, love set to music.

There must have been some moment, sometime, when you felt an intimacy with the universe, a closeness, a sense of really being alive. That too is a kind of musical moment, love breaking in.

A simple trust, like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea…

I am told of a boy who goes to a winter vacation with his parents in Florida. They set him loose on the swimming pool. Before diving, he goes around the cement shoreline, a latter day Jesus on a latter day lake.

Are you a Christian?
Oh, no, I don’t go to church…

Are you a Christian…
Well, I do go on Christmas and at Easter. I was there last month. But you know I don’t read the Bible, or anything like that…

Are you a Christian?
You know, I used to be, but I kind of got away from it. So many other things…

Are you a Christian?
(An older man at last brings the reply he is looking for):

Why yes, I was baptized in my youth, and later made a moment of confirmation. I go to church every Sunday. I can’t stand to miss it. Yes, I tithe, I give away 10% of what I have each year, not all to the church, but mostly to the church, because that is the seed bed for future wonder, morality and generosity. I keep faith with my family and friends. I am a Christian. But why are you asking?

Well sir I want to go swimming, and have two quarters here in my shorts, and I wanted someone I could trust to hold them while I swim.
A simple trust, like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea…

Our malaise, our ennui, should we have such, our “acedia”—spiritual sloth or indifference, literally, our “not-caring”—so often is due to our turning away from that elemental experience of love that sets to music everything else, that energizes everything else.

Peter and Andrew, of course, are casting, casting nets. They have no furrowed brows, no endless worries, no pessimism, no angst. They probably have left unattended some holes in their nets, these two happy brothers. They are willing to accept that their casting will be imperfect. But that imperfection will not keep them from enjoying the labor of casting.

Meanwhile, back on the beach, Jesus heads south, cove by cove, with Andrew and Peter frolicking in tow. They had already left home. They are ready to take a flier on some new trek, not fully sure how it will work out. It is a miracle that they are remembered, perhaps with a little hagiography, as having responded “immediately”. Still, every little scrap of memory of these two brothers tends in the same direction—full of vim, vigor, vitality and pepperino. Yes, they will follow!

Down the shoreline a little, there rests another boat. A different story, a different set of brothers altogether. James and John. Known as the sons of Zebedee. Simon has already earned his own name and nick-name. But these two are known by their father’s name. They haven’t left home. They have not yet acquired that second identity. Here they are, as usual at dawn, stuck in the back of the boat. All these years they have watched the Peter and Andrew show. All these years they have envied the fun and frolic down the beach. The late night parties. The bonfires. The singing. The swimming. And here they sit strapped to the old boat of old Zebedee. They are covered with the ancient equivalents of chap stick and coppertone. And they are trapped under the glaring gaze of Zebedee, whose thunderous voice has so filled their home that their own voices have never emerged. Every day, in the back of the boat. And what are they doing? Why you could have guessed it, even if the text had not made it plain. Are they casting? No. Are they fishing yet? No. Are they sailing? No. They are mending. Mending. Knit one, pearl two… Their dad has got them into that conservation, protection, preservation mode. Mending. Of course nets need mending, but the nets and the mending are meant in a greater service! The fun is in the fishing! The joy is in the casting. And there they sit, sober determinists, mending.

Here we are mid-way between Christmas and Easter. This passage has a little forecast of passion (the Baptist) and a little memory of nativity (Jesus came to Galilee). The two stories of Jesus, of his birth and of his death, are meant to complement and interpret each other.

The early church told two stories about Jesus. The first about his death. The second about his life. The first, about the cross, is the oldest and most fundamental. The second, about the life, is the key to the meaning of the first, the eyeglasses which open full sight, the code to decipher the first. Jesus died on a cross for our sin according to the Scripture. That is the first story. But who was Jesus? What life did his death complete? How does his word heal our hurt? And how does all this accord with Scripture? One leads to the other.

This second, second level story begins at Christmas, and is told among us all winter long to interpret the first. The life story is meant to make sure that the divine love is not left only to the cross, or only to heaven. The life story is
meant to open out a whole range of Jesus, as brother, teacher, healer, young man, all. It is meant to provide the mid-course correction that might be needed if all we had was Holy Week. And the life images are the worker bees in this theological hive. The days after Easter may announce the power of peace, but the days after Christmas name the place of peace. Jesus died the way he did because he lived the way he did. Jesus lived the way he did so that he could die the way he did. That is, it is not only the Passion of Christ, but the Peace of Christ, too, which Christians like you affirm. What lovely news for us! Such a passionate year we have had. Now come love and music again to announce that there is more to Jesus than the passion. There is the matter of peace as well.

The real miracles of this account lie in the second invitation to the second set of brothers. It is a miracle that Jesus stopped and invited them, so somber are they. I wonder if he took in the timbre of Zebedee’s voice, and saw them quaking in the back of the boat. Perhaps his heart went out to James and John. So he stops, and he asks.

That is the great thing about an invitation. All you can do is ask. Do ask. Ye have not because ye ask not. And for the first time in their lives, James and John are invited to live. So many people live half asleep. They don’t live life, life lives them. Like these two knitting in the back of the boat. Half asleep. Then dawn comes, and day breaks, and that first light shines! And a voice like no other, so equanimous and so serene, casts its spell upon them. Watch. It is a moment of love and music. First one, then the other, stands and moves. Under the shadow of that paternal presence, under the sound of that maternal imperative of home, still they find the courage to rise. And they move. They are about to grow up. Wonderful! And what do they leave behind. You would have known even if the Scripture had not laid it right out. They leave behind the boat…and their father. We best honor the adults in our lives when we become adults ourselves (repeat).

Feel the love. Hear the music.

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people’. And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

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