Sermon: Wangaratta Jazz Festival Jass Mass, Feast of All Saints’, Holy Trinity Cathedral

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Maybe everyone here this morning has been asked this question: So how do you like Jazz?

The question was asked of me by the son of some friends of my parents in 1961, when I was just 15 years old, living near Fairfield, California, an hour northeast of San Francisco and not far from the Santa Rosa you’d see in George Lucas’s  “American Graffiti”

And did I like jazz?

Well, I knew my mother liked Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Turk Murphy, Paul Whiteman: I knew my Dad liked Benny Goodman, the Dorsey’s, Red Nichols, George Shearing and Lionel Hampton,

But did I like jazz? I liked Spike Jones and his City Slickers and still do, liked Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Movie musicals, and sometimes Vince Guaraldi: Hell, as a tall scared teenager, I pretty much liked anything that liked me back. I liked the Kingston Trio! And I didn’t know if I liked jazz.

But this California kid who was a year older and therefore knew more about everything in the world put an LP on the turntable and handed over the red and black cover to a record called Round Midnight by Miles Davis and we listened to the cover track, and I liked it a lot and it touches me still 50 years later.

Listening to the soft sexy sullen sound of Davis’ trumpet, muted yet moving you on, weaving with an elegant, economic sound; recasting Monk’s original melody, by minimally curving the sound in a way that remembers the music that isn’t played, teasing out the intentions, the intervals, the pauses, pointing to the silence,

Then Coltrane comes in with his saxophone and warms it up, ebullient, effervescent, bubbling up with real enthusiasm, and pointing, in all his breathing joy, to what truly holds it together, those connecting links we can’t quite hear. And in the end the wit of Miles Davis and the warmth of John Coltrane dance around all the notes of the song and leave you with something that feels like loss and gain and joy and jazz and love. And I liked it a lot!

For maybe that’s one of the first moments, the places where I became a little bit of a theologian, a bit of a believer and a priest and a fan of jazz all at the same time; because I heard something of the joy in the middle and the silence under it all, of what hangs it together, holds it tight enough that you can play loose with it: the foundational sound, the salutary note, that song and that silence that has to do with wholeness, with holiness  with each of us and all of us, and not only here and now, but  always.

So when T.S. Eliot writes: “you are the music while the music lasts,” I think he’s on to something.

Because putting voice and instrument to music and melody is what we’re about, because the way we sing our song is our basic task, liturgy, vocation; It’s both where and why we meet the world, and how our ministry works it out.. Because what I got that afternoon with Davis and Coltrane, with Monk in the background, was an entrance into a deep sharing, discovery, discernment, delight in all the great and lively sounds of life: and I remember it still and it still leads me on to practice, to stretch out, to play with more expectation, more risk, more joy, more life!

For you are the music while the music lasts.

Because everybody makes ministry and music, as they make love and life. As they make sense and sound, sharing their take on the business of being alive: all the tones and turns and tunes, times and places, all the criticism, caring and crying and crowding, prayer and power and praise that happen in all the living and dying moments that come along and are over too soon.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

So we listen and replay and sing out! From nursery rhymes to funeral dirges, from bar room ballads to football club songs: From Hollywood to Tamworth, from Stephen Sondheim to Slim Dusty, from cacophonies to carols, as the world goes wrong and ‘round, as facts and finances and friends rise and fail, even as life runs short in the in the face of death, we still sing.

For God makes this gift of music and we take up our vision and voice and instrument, rhythm and rhyme and melody and make sound and song and  joyful noises in the world, because it keeps us breathing deep and together and sounding good and because nobody shuts their mouth when they’re making love!

Because you are the music while the music lasts.

That’s what this building, this tradition, this place we’re in today, really stands for: a two thousand year old melody played out in stone and brick, stained glass and wood and tapestry and flesh and blood and word and voice: a sustained tune on what the world might mean and how we can sing along, play along, improvise in our own way to all those old songs that tell us where we come from and where we’re going and why all the traveling.

This Cathedral is named for the Holy Trinity, which points to this trio of trusting in the happening and heart and hope of God, meaning love; that God, meaning love, makes, meets and mends the universe in every moment of time and every place and space; that God, meaning love, is the beginning, end and centre of our shared reality, that God, meaning love, is the light and the life and the lead that we follow when it comes time to take our turn and breathe our breath and sing our song.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

And that just might be what Jesus is about, right there in the middle; someone who teaches and walks and lives and breathes and dies and breaks through all false notes and all wrong rhythms with the promise that love wins in the end, will outlive the deadening demands and expectations of any little world that deifies money or violence or lust or power over one another. Jesus takes another route through that world and says a self-giving, neighbor-loving life, connecting with the whole of life in love is the right way home, back where we started from, and he lives out what he says in every way

You’ve heard the Beatitudes this morning and they’re pretty words, but Jesus walks that talk; his life sings that song: poor, meek and mourning; hungry, thirsty, merciful, a peacemaker who is persecuted, reviled, left out, pinned down to die on that inevitable intersection between what we say we want and how we are prepared to live and give in a world double-crossed with shadows and shortcuts.

And He dies on a cross in Jerusalem and Rome, London, and Wall Street, Melbourne and Merimbula. And in the end it doesn’t matter if he’s Jew or Greek, Male, Female, young old, straight, gay, winner, loser or also ran. He is the forgotten and remembered face of the love and the beloved and the lover, the meter and the music and meaning of it all.

And if we listen to his dying life meeting our living death we can still hear the song that says love lives and is reaching out and singing out and making out new ways to make it true and new and through together in every moment, and we’re here to learn to take up that song with whatever talents we carry with our voices and our vision and our hands and our hearts; and with whatever gifts we live out and give away on purpose and in love.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

In a little while we’ll break bread and share wine, his body and blood, his life and death and life, his magnificent defeat and victorious uprising as we take on the possibility of living that out ourselves, as our daily tune, in our living ministry, how we stand up and sing out and let that love live in our lives. That’s why we’re here in this soft spring morning:. To listen to the music, to sing the songs, to take on death and life and love and to let that melody and meaning and music be heard and handled, make sense and song in our own voices, our own way, our own world, even and especially now, in all the days of our lives from here on.

For you are the music while the music lasts.

Amen.

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