Peter Bates, Minister of Music & Resident Organist, preaching
December 30, 2018
Happy Sixth Day of Christmas! And happy eve, of the eve of the new calendar year. Our Christian new year began on Advent I, December 2. Since we are within the 12 days of Christmas, which crosses into the new calendar year, I wanted to talk with you today about Christmas; not the cheesy song about the partridge in a pear tree, but the Christian Christmas that we celebrate in this place, the Christmas where God gave himself to the world as a gift for us to celebrate each day.
At the 11 pm service on Christmas Eve, Pastor Rob talked about the Christ Child as God’s Love being sent down to a world in need. That theme hasn’t changed for over 2000 years. How can we, as Christ’s people, carry his light that so brightly shines at Christmas into the coming year? How can we turn back time and make our little corner of the world into a more loving place?
Respect for others, their opinions, their needs, seems to be getting further away from the norm. However, during the weeks of December, building up to Christmas, I noticed people being just a bit kinder. Through the shops around town, I observed many people wishing each other a “Merry Christmas”, or “Happy Holidays”, holding doors open for others; and being just a bit more thoughtful toward one another. In today’s scripture lesson, Paul is telling the Colossians, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” This isn’t just a message for us to hear on the sixth day of Christmas, but a message for living life!
For some time now, my friends and colleagues have been talking about the extreme lack of civility growing across our country. There seem to be more and more people who basically are saying that if you don’t think like me, you don’t vote like me, you don’t act like me, you’re wrong, I’m right and your opinion is irrelevant to me so I’m not going to listen to you. This plays out in our elected officials, our news commentators, our social clubs and media, neighborhoods and even our churches. Yes, sadly, even our churches! Cher sings, “If I could turn back time!”
Shouldn’t we be able to share our opinions, at least with our friends, without fear of retribution? Pastor Rob and I agree on a great many things, but there are some subjects where, in his words, we “agree to disagree”. But I can share opposing views with him without fear, even though he is my staff supervisor here. I wish this for all my friends as well. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to have a conversation with someone on matters of importance and feel that they are truly listening with mind and ears open, and weighing your position against their own.
How can we do this? Paul told the Colossians: patience! Now I believe that I am a very patient person. Cory doesn’t agree with me on this point and I think that the choir might side with him from time to time. Sometimes we would say that the people around us make it difficult to be patient. So we pray: “Lord, give me patience”, but before we can put a period on that and say, “Amen”, we have to add, “And I want it right now!” But God rarely works on our timetable, nor does he always respond in the way we expect or might desire. God could be responding to a prayer for patience in a way to teach us how to be patient in difficult situations.
There are times when the Covenant Choir is working on a section of music, and we’ve spent more time than I’ve allotted in the rehearsal for that piece, and I become frustrated because I think, “This is simple”. But for some reason, it’s just not coming across to the choir. Now I have to say right here and now that I love our choir. They work very hard to create music that helps lead us to better worship God, even when they question my sanity. But sometimes I feel that we’re not communicating well with each other, and I will admit that occasionally the pressure has caused me to lose my temper when I’m not hearing the response I expect.
I know this is never a good thing. Patience is a virtue and when I stop to consider that perhaps the reason they’re not “getting it” is my fault, then I am finally able to give the problem over to God and ask for his guidance in order to find the right way to lead them. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When we feel stress, when we are about to lose patience, turn it over to the Lord and seek his help and guidance.
Nearly 22 years ago, I came here to substitute for an ailing substitute organist, never even considering that I might be spending the greater portion of my professional life working here. But God was pulling me into this place. By listening to his leading with humility, my ministry has made a mark on this church, just as this church has made its mark on me.
Securing the post here was a gift, one that I must earn the right to keep every day. Darrell Orwig, my predecessor, held this post for 29 years. After my arrival, he was named Organist Emeritus. Though he shared his thoughts and deepest emotions with his close friends, he was not one for very public displays of emotion. During the concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of our magnificent Sanctuary organ, which was to be his last public recital, he stood next to the organ console, shed a few tears and said, “Each day that I came to work here was sheer joy and I thank God that I was able to serve in this place.” What kept him here for 29 years, and me for 22, cannot be attributed solely to the organs. It’s a response to God’s call and the people of this congregation living out Paul’s message to the Colossians: “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
For example: 14 years ago, when I injured my knee and required surgery, members of this church brought food to Cory and me, they picked me up at home when Cory was working and took me to my physical therapy and doctor appointments. When I was able to return to work, church members brought me here and took me home, built a platform so that I, with my walker, could get up to the organ bench and made sure that I had whatever I needed. This is Christ’s love in action, Christians’ being compassionate, kind and patient. When I tell my colleagues this story, they are in awe that a church would do all this for their organist, making it seem as though I was something special. But that’s not the case. People did these things for me because that’s what Christians do. I’ve seen similar scenarios play out with many other members of this church as well. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all churches shared the love of Christ in this way? Wouldn’t that begin to create a change in attitude in the civility of people?
A short time back, a clergy friend of mine, who has been without a pulpit to call of her own for some time, posted a message on Facebook stating that she “hated” a particular politician. Now generally I try to steer clear of public political discussion, but here I saw a Lutheran pastor speaking in a way that I found disturbing. Clergy are people too and entitled to their opinions, but I felt she was heading down a slippery slope and needed someone to grab her arm before she fell.
I posted a message on her “wall” suggesting that “hate” is such a strong word, perhaps it would be better to say, “I disagree with that person”, rather than “hate”. Her response to me was that perhaps I was a better person than she because I could have the capacity NOT to hate someone with whom I disagreed. Well, at least I tried. But then something very interesting happened, and this is one of the fascinating things about social media. Her other friends began agreeing with me, and she was inundated with posts suggesting that there were better ways for her to handle her anger.
If we’re ever to turn the tide away from hate and toward compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, we must walk against the tide. We need to listen to those with whom we are in disagreement, and find ways to share our thoughts with them in a non-threatening way. Hate does not open the door to discussion.
In a cultural climate where political correctness has been taken to mean that disagreement with someone is trampling on free speech; or when I can be labeled as a racist or sexist simply by disagreeing with someone who is not the same nationality, race, or sex as me, perhaps we’ve gone off the deep end. If anyone was more politically incorrect, it had to be the Apostle Paul. His letter to the Colossians was, after all, written from prison. Yet, here is a man who in today’s lesson was encouraging the Christian people of Colossae to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. How does one go about gaining the capacity to be all these things?
I don’t have all the answers; and, as near as I can tell, Paul didn’t tell the Colossians this would be easy. I’m just trying to live my life as best I can so that someone might one day say, “His parents did a good job raising him.” But perhaps the answer is in Christmas. We can try to spread the love and the joy we felt on Christmas Day, every day. Then we might consider eradicating the word “Hate” from our vocabulary, whether it be toward a thing or a person. I don’t believe it’s appropriate to “hate” something just because it’s not in agreement with us. We are all guilty of feeling this emotion and we tend to become desensitized to certain words until they are directed at us. By then it’s too late. There is some good, and bad, in every thing and person. Perhaps we should spend more time finding a good thing and turn our hates into likes.
Everyone knows that most new year’s resolutions die before the end of January. But I’m going to try to live this Christmas message for all of 2019 and beyond. Paul said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Be thankful.” Let us be thankful, not just for the sixth day of Christmas, but for life! Won’t you join me in this venture?
Let us pray.