Message from the Pastor

Rev. Sundar SamuelS

Dear Members and Friends,

When our grandchild was playing a musical instrument that was “rented” from the school, instead of “owned” by his parents, there was a big decision to make at the end of the school year. Do you pay rental fees for the summer break? Or do you turn the instrument in? Paying rental fees for the summer means that the instrument will be practiced on hot Georgia summer days and during beautiful sunsets. Turning the instrument in means that summer is for swimming, sleep-away camps, family vacations, flexible schedules and peace and quiet.

Your decision is based both on the passion of your budding musician for their instrument and on your personal preferences. For parents, on the one hand, there is the knowledge that structure and practice and commitment are all good things for a young musician. On the other hand, there is the prospect of a few weeks without squeaks and squawks, without hearing the same fractured tune repeated over and over again in your head, an earworm that can be as ragging and nagging as “It’s a Small World After All.”

Professional musicians, as well as the garage band guys, the Christmas party piano player, the community band enthusiasts-all seem to make their music effortlessly. But it took a lot of squeaky-squawky, off-key, eardrum bruising moments to get to the degree of proficiency where, suddenly, they were making music that channels creativity and sparks the imagination, music that brings a party to life.

Okay, okay: the hope of that mystic connection to music is why you DO pay for that instrument over the summer vacation. We know when it sounds good, it looks easy. But it took a lot of practice to get to that point of sounding good. So, why is it we will put up with the imperfections and disruptions of “practice” when it comes to learning to play a musical instrument…but we find it so much harder to put up with the discord and dissonance that comes when we are all engaged in “practicing” the greatest instrument we have each been given?

That instrument is the living Spirit of Christ within each of us.

The Church of Jesus Christ is best defined as a “community of practice.” A place where we who have chosen to live the life of Christ can hit flats and sharps, miss entrances, go off-beat, and even get completely lost for a while-yet still be a part of the church community’s “practice session” that is Christ’s church. Isn’t growing a soul, like learning any musical instrument, a life-long project? Yes, it brings great joy. Yes, it brings focus and direction. Yes, it brings a love of artistic perfection. But it does take continual, gradual, life-long practice.

In the book of Romans Paul the Apostle writes towards the end of his ministry that he is still “practicing.” For Paul, there is one and only one tuning fork to the eternal. Jesus the Christ is God’s perfect Pitch. We all know people who are tuning their instruments to all the wrong tuning forks: wealth, fame, celebrity, merriment. Paul reminds in his letters to various churches during his visits that all the fake tuning forks in the entire world can’t “soothe the soul.”

But then there are those who never give a side glance to their spiritual life-to “tuning” the instrument that God has implanted within them. There are those who “live for the moment,” “don’t think about tomorrow,” “if it feels good do it” devotees. Those are the ones who cannot even hear the dissonance between “what they want” and doing “the very thing they hate”. But strangely, it seems that they can’t seem to escape from how God made them: a musical instrument designed to vibrate according to the resonance of the eternal.

The church is an orchestra of instruments that need constant tuning. Daily, sometimes hourly, tuning, just like any musical instrument. And it is the Church that Jesus picked from the beginning to be a community where people could practice their instruments and conduct their tune-ups.

If there were ever a cast of castoffs, it was Jesus’ chosen twelve. There is no greater blessing to every new generation of disciples than the example of Jesus’ first twelve disciples-the ones who walked with him, witnessed his miracles, were imbued with healing powers…but were slow learners and needed constant tune-ups. Even as close to Jesus as they were their instruments were squeaky and squawky, out-of-tune, and without many glimmers of harmonic grace. Throughout their special one-on-one tutorial time with Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, they still needed to practice.

Do you get it? The disciples are us. Every person in the pew makes up the church, the body of Christ. But we are crippled and compromised by our very nature. We want to do well. But…yadda, yadda, yadda…we don’t do well. In fact, we do badly. But the “bad” is not what we really “wanted” to do. The disciples loved Jesus. They followed him into the wilderness. They gave up their livelihoods. They choose a life of “if” and “when,” over a stable life of “here” and “now.” Yet it was still so hard to give in and give all. They failed. Until Pentecost gave them the spiritual infusion they needed.

Should our twenty-first century church be any less patient, any less prepared for a life of practice, than that first century community of first followers? Everyone who walks in the doors of the church is a person who is learning to “play” their life, their faith, their love. Playing is the right metaphor. You don’t “work” a violin. You “play” a violin. You “play” the piano. You “play basketball.” The greatest beauty and artistry come not from “work” but from “play.”

But “play” requires “practice”. Playing, without apparent effort, without apparent work is the goal. But that kind of “playing” takes a lot of practice. The church is not the concert hall for those who have got it all right. The Church is the practice room for those who are working on their scales, exercising eternal etudes, making mistakes, getting the rhythm wrong. The church is the place where even Paul could admit that he couldn’t get it all right…yet…but he was working on it. If Paul could admit he hit wrong notes, can’t we grant our current disciples the same “practice time” graces?

Can we be a community of grace and practice because of we love them as God has loved us?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Sundar