Let me build a bridge from last Sunday to this Sunday. Last week we spoke of essential practices (prayer, regular giving, Bible study, outreach, etc.) as Christians, and how they are at the heart of our faith. Figuring out what we believe and reveling in inspirational moments get a lot of attention. But simple practices in following Christ shape us deeply.
This Sunday is Music Sunday. Playing for God the music that makes us our worship is a core spiritual practice, especially as Max plays and our Senior Choir sings. I’ve sung six hymns (nearly) every Sunday now for 35 years. I know it has deeply shaped me. Not only with the poetic teaching of the hymn texts, but also with how the hymn tunes drive home the sublime message. Doing so regularly is a transformative practice. Performing sacred repertoire of hymns and anthems for God shapes us more deeply than we know.
That reminds me of the old joke about the New York tourist trying to locate its principal concert hall. “Excuse me, sir,” the visitor asks a local,” how do you to get to Carnegie Hall?” The New Yorker shakes his head, says “practice, practice, practice,” and walks off. If we would grow a faith as great as what Carnegie Hall represents to music, there is no other way except “practice, practice, practice”. How much practice of our faith is enough? you ask me. How great do you aspire to become before God? I would answer.
One of the great musicians of the last century was saxophonist John Coltrane. I would liken his music to those dreams I still sometimes have where I am able to fly. Put on headphones, close your eyes, put on John Coltrane. You’ll rise, then float. You will soar, glide, roll, dip, and dive. You will shoot straight up, plunge down, and hurtle forward. All of this without fear, but with trust and acceptance. For you are in the hands of a master.
How does one become so great? Practice, practice, practice. Neighbors of Coltrane’s boyhood home heard him practice at three am. A local pastor gave him a church key so he could practice anytime without disturbing anyone. As an adult professional musician, Coltrane played over eight hours a day. Upon returning to his apartment after hours, he would practice fingering his horn—no blowing—so as to not disturb neighbors. At gigs, Coltrane would wander off the bandstand between solos to practice in the men’s room until his next set. Even after playing for eight hours, Coltrane still hid and practiced during intermissions. His astounding stamina routinely allowed for 20 to 30 minute solos and three hour sets. Just in1965 alone, John Coltrane recorded no less than 11 albums.
When our faith in God becomes a passion for God, we cannot get enough practice. Music Sunday is engagingly winsome all the while this music forms us in God’s image.