Southminster Presbyterian Church

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The Holy Spirit and Music

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: Acts 2:1-13; I Corinthians 12:4-11

             This morning I have asked Edie to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  I called her this week to ask if she knew how to play it, and she reminded me that she was an organ major.  She learned it in her freshman year.  So I asked her to play it this morning, but only the first 30 seconds.  I want you to listen carefully to the first 30 seconds of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, because it tells us a lot about how the Holy Spirit works.

 [Play first 30 seconds of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor]

             Some time I hope Edie will play the whole thing.  But for this morning let me point out three things about this brief musical introduction.  First, it starts out playing a single melody on different octaves.  It sounds impressive because an organ has such powerful resonance in each octave, but if you listen carefully it is all a single melody line played on different octaves.

  But then it changes.  It goes into this run of different notes up the scale which creates a jarring dissonance, a sort of a jumble of sound.  But just when the jumble of sound is starting to drive you crazy, it resolves into this magnificent harmonic chord.  Listen as Edie plays it again.

 [Play again]

 There is a single melody, then this cacophony of notes, finally resolving into a magnificent chord.  That’s like the work of the Holy Spirit.

  Think about the first followers of Jesus.  All of the first disciples, as our scripture points out, were Galileans, Jews from the area of Galilee.  They had different occupations and different personalities, but they all shared the same ethnicity and spoke the same language.  Like the beginning of Bach’s toccata, they sang in different registers but they all sang the same notes.

             Then came Pentecost.  Sometimes Pentecost is thought of as the creation of unity out of diversity.  All these people from different countries hear the same message about Jesus.  But Pentecost was not only the creation of unity out of diversity; it was the creation of diversity out of unity.  Suddenly the gospel of Jesus was spoken not in a single language but in different languages to people of different ethnicities and nationalities and cultures.

             This created dissonance in the early church, like the dissonance in Bach’s toccata.  We see signs of this in Acts, chapter 6.  Acts 6 starts out, “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists [the Greek speaking disciples] complained against the Hebrews [the Hebrew speaking disciples] because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.”  Early on the church created its first food bank to help widows who had no access to farm land and no means of growing their own food.  But at the food bank the Greek speaking disciples felt discriminated against by the Hebrew speaking disciples.  I find it striking that the first division in the church was between language groups.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit brought a diversity of languages into the church, and now there is disharmony among the followers of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit brings diversity to the church which leads to discord.

            But the discord is the necessary prelude to that magnificent harmonic chord.  We don’t get harmony from everyone playing the same note.  Nor do we get harmony from everyone playing their own note without regard to the notes of others.  That’s not harmony; that is cacophony.  We get harmony when each person plays his or her note but does so with respect for and attention to how their note fits into the notes played by everyone else to make a richer more beautiful sound. That’s how our choir and bell choir works, and that is how the Holy Spirit works.

            In I Corinthians 12 Paul says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The Holy Spirit intentionally draws people into the church who are different from each other.  If you have ever had issues with other people in the church, blame the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit drew all these people from different places—Pontus, Asia, Egypt, Libya, Crete—people who didn’t speak the same language, people who didn’t look at things the same way, who had different ways of worship and undoubtedly different politics, different attitudes toward the Roman Empire.  The Holy Spirit drew all these people into the first church and is still doing it today.  So we have to work at it, all of us, to create harmony out of the dissonance.

             The key to this is love, which is why I Corinthians 12 if followed by I Corinthians 13.  In I Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  You usually hear that scripture at weddings, but it was originally written for relationships in the church.  When you hear that scripture, you should not think of a husband and wife, you should think of church members getting along with each other.  Being a church requires appreciating our differences rather than disdaining them, working through the disharmonies to produce a harmonic chord, a magnificent witness to Jesus that none of us could produce on our own.

             We got a taste of that last week at all church work party.  As most of you know, we share our church with City of Glory, a Swahili-speaking congregation led by Pastor Lauden Kangele, a minister member of our Presbytery.  Not surprisingly, there are challenges with two congregations sharing a building, particularly when the two groups speak different languages and come from different cultures.  But last week we saw what could happen because we work together.  Eight people from City of Glory joined a couple dozen people from Southminster to work on cleaning up and fixing up the church inside and out. I was part of a crew of both Southminster and City of Glory folks who removed all the pew cushions in the church, vacuumed them on both sides, wiped down the wood work on the pews and other places with Murphy’s Oil Soap, dried it, and then put the pew cushions back on.  We did the whole thing in about three hours because we had people from both churches working on it together.

            We got another taste of that last Christmas Eve when our two churches worshiped together.  It was a glimpse of Pentecost, where people of different languages, filled with the Holy Spirit were reading the scriptures, praying, and even singing Christmas carols in English and Swahili at the same time.

            We will get another chance to do this on Saturday, August 24.  On Saturday, August 24, at noon I will be officiating here in this sanctuary at the wedding of Pastor Lauden’s son Benson, who was at our church work day last week.  Benson and his fiancée Belle will be married in our sanctuary, at a service that will be in both Swahili and English, and all of you are invited.  The families have made a specific point of this.  The whole Southminster church family is invited to this wedding, and if I were you, I would not miss it.  It may be the most colorful wedding you have ever attended.  And it will be like Pentecost, or like a Bach toccata, a rich tapestry of sound and color resolving into the kind of harmonious chord only God could produce.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7