Sermon for U2 Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 2010
for St John United Lutheran Church, Seattle
For the last couple of weeks we have been holding adult forums in which we have been looking at the music and words and images in the work of the popular music group U2. In particular we have been looking at the spirituality, and the Scripture, and the theology that is present in their art. We’ve had some really good conversations during these adult forums, so much so that we’ve had several requests for more opportunities to take part in these discussions. So, I thought about that, and I thought that maybe we could it during worship.
In just a moment I’m going to ask you to turn to the person sitting in front of you or behind you. I’d like you to share about music that has been meaningful to you in your life. It might be a favorite hymn or a favorite composer, it might be a particular style of music or even a pop song, just share about music that has been meaningful to you in your life. I’ll give you just a few minutes. Ready, go!
Ok, so let’s hear about some of the music that’s been meaningful to the people of St John United. If you’re willing to share, go ahead and shout it out. What kind of music did you talk about?
Ok, so I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we like a lot of different kinds of music. Different music speaks to different people, and I suppose that should come as no surprise. What’s a little more surprising, maybe, is that some of the music that has been meaningful to us is music we have experienced in church, while other music that has been meaningful to us is music we have experienced outside of church.
And the reason, I think, that we find many kinds of music meaningful is because God is actually present in many different places – not only in church, in the sanctuary and in the pews, but also out there, in the world, too.
Now, I know that I’m preaching to the choir here. The people of St John United know that God is present outside these walls. All you have to do is look out the window of the Emmaus Lounge or the Fellowship Hall on a clear day and you know that God is present in the mountains and in the trees, and in the waters, and in the skies… you all know this.
But what if God was not only in the rivers and mountains and trees but what if, what if God was present on the radio, too? What God were present at the concert hall, or on the television, or at the movies? Wouldn’t that be good news? What if we could say, “You want to know God, turn on the radio. No, I don’t mean the preacher on the old-time gospel hour, I mean the FM Station, the one playing Kanye West and Arcade Fire!” What if God were on KEXP?
Well, I might as confess it: I do believe that God is on KEXP, and on every radio station and in every concert hall and in every art gallery and in every piece of literature in which people find meaning. Now, I don’t always know myself how God is present in every kind of music, but if the music is moving you in some way, I’ve got to believe that the Spirit is there. It might take some work to discern her, but she’s there, moving mysteriously through our lives like a song coming out the window of a car driving down the street.
In the case of the artist whose work we celebrate today, U2, the experience of God is expressed not only the sound but in the words, too. In our first song, we sang about Love, we might say love with a capital L. This capital-L Love leaves a mark on us, just like on Ash Wednesday when we take the mark of the cross on our foreheads, a mark of our baptism, a mark of divine love that heals our scars, a mark of divine love that reconciles us, a mark of divine love that justifies us with God and with one another, so that we cannot help but cry a joyful noise. These are the marks of an ancient faith, a Christian faith, even a Lutheran faith – even if they are expressed in a rhythm that is a little different from the one we’re used to.
Martin Luther would have loved the words of a song like “Magnificent,” I think, even if the rhythms might have struck him as odd. Luther loved music, and knew that music could be a vessel for the love of God. Luther once wrote that “the riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” Martin Luther said that.
But, dear friends in Christ, Martin Luther lived in a different time. We have access to more kinds of music than Luther did. We have the ability to hear, and therefore to find meaning in, a greater range of musical styles than we have ever had before. And then, on top of that, we have invented these little devices, so that we can assemble our very own playlists, our very own collections of the music that is meaningful to us. You have yours, and I have mine. We no longer need to come into contact with another human being in order to find meaning in music or in lots of other places, for that matter. We can just put in our headphones and find Jesus.
In this new world we are creating for ourselves, will there be any need for a church?
Today we have a gospel story that speaks quite directly to this situation. Jesus and his disciples are sailing on, sailing on through the Lake of Galilee, sailing on through time and space, as Jesus and his followers always do, when Jesus meets a man with a familiar problem.
The man is afflicted by demons, as so many of us are. We don’t usually personify our demons in the 21st century anymore, but we still wrestle with fears and doubts, addictions and destructive habits. This particular man didn’t have just a few of these demons, he had many of them. And they tormented him constantly. As a result, he was tied up with chains and shackles.
But the chains and shackles he could break on his own. He could get free, in a way, to an extent. Somehow that didn’t make him whole. It wasn’t enough, and at the end of the day he would find himself alone with his demons.
Along comes Jesus. When Jesus meets the man, he performs two miracles. First he heals the man, he helps the man escape his demons. He gives him a way out. He saves him. And so the man falls at Jesus’ feet, and worships him.
But this is only the first miracle. The second miracle is when Jesus sends the man back to his people, back to community. Jesus reconciles the man with the people around him, and restores him to community.
At first, the man Jesus saved doesn’t want to go. They won’t accept me, he tells Jesus.
But Jesus knows that the man will never be whole without a community. And Jesus knows that the community will never be whole without him.
Jesus knows that community is not the easy thing. But it is at the very heart of what God is doing in the world. God’s love is gathering us together, with all of our differences, and making us into one new thing, one new body, through which one blood flows. As another U2 song puts it, we have One life, with each other, sisters and brothers. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, insider and outsider, for in Christ Jesus all of you are one.
One, but not the same. One, but not the same. You see, Jesus doesn’t just send the man back to community so he can sit down and shut up. He sends him there to tell his community about how God had been active in his life. And so, Luke tells us, “the man went back and preached all over town everything that God did in him.”
Several years ago, a group of church people got together, and, in talking with one another, they realized that God had done something in them through the music of U2. And so they said, why don’t we tell people about what God did in us through this music? And why don’t we tell them not just with words, but by actually bringing the songs and the images and the themes of global justice and divine love that U2 speaks of into our worship? And so they did. And they held the first ever U2 Sunday.
So how about you? Where has God been active in your life lately? And how can you bring that activity of God into worship?
Today we shared about music that has been meaningful to us, but that is only one of many places where God is active in our lives, moving in mysterious ways through our work and our play, through our daily commute and our nightly meals, through the people we meet in our neighborhood and beyond. Don’t leave those experiences at the door. All you have to do is look around to see the ways that people have brought their gifts and their stories into worship.
The music we have today is but one example of this. Our musicians and singers today came from different places, with different backgrounds, and different musical training. Coming together to do a new thing wasn’t easy. And yet together we were able to do something we could never have done alone.
God’s love is like that.
It is a love that gathers us together that we might sing a new song together, whether it is a song from our hymnal, or a song from the radio.
It is a love that gathers us together to write letters and to make offerings, to pray and to advocate locally and globally as we live out God’s justice-making, peace-making love around the world and around the block.
It is a love that gathers us together at a table, and gives us a window through which we might catch a glimpse of the world made whole.
So come to the table, to this window under the skies. Share the bread and the wine. Look around, and see what God’s love has done. Look around, and see what God’s love is doing.