may 2, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
May 2, 2010
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6

I want to share a story with you. It takes place in the Washington DC Metro, and though I wasn’t there, I have encountered a similar set of events in the San Francisco Metro BART station…

On a cold, January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, about 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes later, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes later, a 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes later, the musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 people gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour, he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this, but…The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest living musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate, difficult, and mesmerizing pieces ever written, with a violin worth about $3.5 million. Only two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the tickets averaged $100.

People go to great lengths to seek him out. People talk about him, write about him, admire him, stand in awe of him. And, when he showed up in the middle of their daily lives, they were too busy to notice…They walked past the beauty, they passed through the grace.

This is a true story. It was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, and people’s priorities. The questions raised:

In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

Do we stop to appreciate it?

Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

The story concludes with these lines, “One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?
How many other things are we missing? I think this is the question this morning’s scripture from Revelation asks us to ask ourselves, over and over…

How many other things are we missing? And, how might we stop, look, listen, and praise God for the good gifts all around?
This reading from the book of Revelation is one of my very favorite passages in all of scripture. It is a text I often use in funerals, when we celebrate someone’s mortal life, and their transition into life eternal. It is a promise—one that seems too good to be true. All things, made new. A new heaven, and a new earth. The people of the new creation as eager for God as a newlywed is for her beloved. God, making God’s home, here. It may seem too good to be true, but the promise is that it is true!

When I lived in Berkeley and commuted every morning into San Francisco to work as a hospital chaplain at UCSF Medical Center, I treasured my time on the train. I love people watching, San Francisco makes for great people watching. I also loved hearing the street musicians who would pick a spot in the underground tunnels, and play. It was a simple, daily pleasure that reminded me to praise God for the beauty around me, for the other mortals around me, making their home with God in their unique and varied ways. Some people played beautifully, startlingly so, incredible musicians trying out new pieces on a half-listening crowd, playing for a few extra dollars, sharing their gifts with a city that appreciates and encourages music.

And, some played not so beautifully. I remember one old man, probably homeless, and obviously struggling with mental illness, likely schizophrenia, and if he was taking his medicine, he sat quietly on an old overturned crate, making a racket on an old battered violin, sounding awful, but with a look of pure, quiet, calm on his face. And, if he wasn’t taking his medication, he walked quickly back and forth, waving the violin frantically plucking at the strings, calling out, “Music! Music! Hear the Music!” I do not know what music he was hearing. I do know I remember him, that he made a mark on me, and taught me something about human beauty and human vulnerability.

But anyway. Music in the San Francisco subways as I made my morning commute. After about 6 months of long hours, overnight shifts, and working daily with death and trauma and crisis—I remember, very distinctly a day I realized my spiritual life needed attending to, that I hadn’t been being faithful to my spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, scripture, and music. One morning, I found myself walking through the subway without noticing the music. I was rushing, my mind was on the patient cases I knew were waiting for me. It wasn’t until the man ran up behind me, recognizing me somehow from our many chance morning meetings, and tapped me lightly on the shoulder with his bow, and screamed, with a huge smile, “Music! Music! Hear the music!”

If only the reminder was always that clear. If only, when we get too distracted to notice God’s new heaven and new earth coming into being around us, we could get a light tap on the shoulder, and a smiling scream, “Listen! Look! God is here!”
God, making God’s home, here. God, dwelling with us, God’s people. God is with us! God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more and mourning and crying and pain will be no more…

This is, after all, when this passage from Revelations is all about, and what the Psalmist is crying out for us to do! Remember the words of Psalm 148—Praise! Praise! Every animal, every place, every person, every creature, in every season, every circumstance, called to praise God, to notice God, to celebrate God, and for God’s sake, not to miss it all! “Let your praises sing out, all who love God, you, intimate friends of God!”

This scripture, and the promise it holds, makes me think of one of my favorite new hymns. You can find it in the little black Faith We Sing. It is called “Gather Us In.” Here in this place, new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away. See in this space our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day. Gather us in the lost and forsaken. Call to us now and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name. Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away, but here in this place, a new light is streaming, now is the kingdom, now is the day!”

And then…then it feel like the scripture was written just for me, which, if we actually think about what we believe, don’t we believe that scripture was written, inspired, shared, brought to life, for each and every one of us, that we might have life? Many of you know that if I want to remember something, I write it down. If I don’t write it down, it is likely to get lost in the clutter of my mind. So the scripture speaks to me, especially: “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true…” Or, according to Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, “Write is all down—and remember to return to it—each work of this promise is dependable, honest, and real!”

Now is the Kingdom, now is the day!............Are we missing it?

To close, I want to share another story with you. Or rather, a little bit of wisdom, compiled by Erma Bombeck. When Erma found out she was dying from cancer, she wrote a list of the things she would change, if she had her life to live over. Those things she wouldn’t want to miss…the small, sweet pleasures, like happening upon a world renowned musician on your daily commute…

Erma wrote:

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandparents ramble about their youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair might get messed up.

I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television [or, I would add, online, or on Facebook] and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you's' More 'I'm sorry's.'

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute. look at it and really see it . . live it and give thanks for it…

Write this, remember this, for these words are trustworthy, and true. “Look! Look! God is now our neighbor. God is here, among us. God’s home is no longer far away. We are God’s people. God’s beauty, all around us, within us. Will we stop to appreciate it? To tend to it? To share it?

Help us, God, not to miss it…

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

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