Love is waterproof, weatherproof, and stays warm even when wet. If we are willing to offer food and shelter and warm dry clothes to those who need it the most, why are we so unwilling at times to offer a smile or strong shoulder? As we are blessed with a surplus of love, let us offer up more of what we have to those who are without.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I am a child of the 60’s, a decade when even AM radio was a pleasure to listen to. Like many people my age, the place where everything came together – politics, faith, community, anger and frustration and yes, love with its many faces – was through the music. There were songs that allowed us to dissent, speak to our anger and the reason for that anger; songs that gave us a way to rise above the mundane and allowed all of those voices to rise up and cut through the noise.
Our scripture reading this morning seems particularly well suited to our church, congregation and community. We have a music ministry that consistently rises up and inspires us in a way that is truly Godly. As Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, co-pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware asks, “When we come before God in worship, why do we sing rather than merely think or talk with one another? We sing because music is a gift from God. It is a language that God has given us to express our deepest longings, our greatest joys, and our most profound trust in the One who created us and loves us unconditionally. Like all gifts from God, it is one that God calls us to use with gratitude.”
As a child I sang in the church choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal church. It was my theological normative: a place where I felt my faith and life collide in a way that was often messy, life-giving, transformative and healing in a way that the prayers and sermons never seemed to be. When a family issue drove me away from the church, I was bereft. The discipline of singing songs of praise and commitment to our lord and savior had been an important part of my life and one that was irreplaceable. I was 11, it was 1965 and all I could do to get through my days was turn on my radio and go searching for songs that spoke to me the way that the music of the church had. And to my great amazement, there was…
What stirred my soul even at that early stage of life was the multi-culturalism that seemed to be everywhere. Whether it was any of the San Francisco who wedded folk and blues together along with amazing harmonies or the music that was constantly renewing itself, the music of the ’60s celebrated song in a way that spoke to me that nothing had since my Episcopalian youth. While I was listening, singing, dancing, I was a part of a bigger thing and that was startling.
There was one group however that demanded more of my time than many others and that was Sly and the Family Stone. The songs were amazing and spoke to themes that I struggled to feel: the band promoted a unified vision of love and equality for all, featured men and women as equals and even had a white drummer. The music was aggressively positive, called on us all to support all our brothers and sisters and that message was transcendent enough to raise me up. In the emotion of the times, frisson of the moment, I was as the people say now, “awoke”.
My awakening was very much a political thing and I found myself going door to door in support of Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy, someone I still believe would have been a great president was not the nominee and as the summer would show, was a harbinger of a much darker time in our country. Shortly after, we lost both Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King and then Robert Kennedy who by then was the presumptive nominee. That summer ended badly: the democratic national convention in Chicago where I watched in horror as the nation guard pushed people through plate glass windows, there was a shroud of tear gas everywhere and the world heard thousands of people chanting, “the whole world’s watching, the whole world’s watching”. My heart was in pieces and I had no words.
Back to Sly and the Family Stone…
As the narrative went from positive, joyous, free to something else, Sly himself had fallen victim to the perils of heroin. Creatively he was still moving forward but this time through a decidedly different lens. The next album, “There’s a Riot Going On” would prove to be a powerful but dark look at that world that had once danced to the music. Or stood together as everyday people. The message was about dysfunction, family dynamics, and the futility of living in a broken world as a broken people.
Back to today’s scripture reading…
Please indulge me as I read the passage one more time. Listen to the words and what they are asking of you.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
As Joseph Barber Lightfoot, English theologian, noted for his many commentaries notes, “Without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.” So, wrote Bishop Lightfoot some years ago in one of the finest commentaries on New Testament literature. Colosse had been “a great city of Phrygia,” but it was in the afternoon of its influence and importance when Paul wrote the house-church there. And yet the message to Colosse, so bright with the light of the apostle’s highest Christology, has become amazingly relevant in the middle of the twentieth century. With the sudden and startling intrusion of the space age and its astrophysics, nuclear power, missiles and rockets, the church of Jesus Christ has been forced to relate its Lord and Master to the ultimate frontiers. Colossians, which presents Him as the architect and sustainer of the universe, as well as the reconciler of all things, both earthly and heavenly, provides the church with the material it may and must use. Suddenly the epistle to the little flock in the declining city has become perhaps the most contemporary book in the New Testament library.
I find myself drawn to a city that historically seemed spiritual but not religious, multi-cultural with disparate belief systems, a city that seems familiar to me still. I still find myself a child of the 60’s or perhaps, a child in his 60’s, struggling to make sense of the world we live in and gaining understanding by returning to a place that was before my time, finding a place to hold my space.
If the words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians doesn’t bring you back to the 60’s and that message of peace and love, try singing them. I don’t have a tune in mind so I can’t sing it with you but I’m sure there are songs from your past that might do.