Thursday, July 30, 2020

Unfinished Symphony

Readings: Psalm 17:1-7, 15, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21, Genesis 28:10-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August,2 2020

One of actor Johnny Depp's earliest movies was an adult fairytale called 'Edward Scissorhands'. The story is about 'Edward' a 'boy' created by a benevolent scientist (actor Vincent Price's final movie appearance) who suffers a heart-attack during the creation process, leaving Edward as an unfinished human who instead of having hands, has scissors where his hands should be.

Edward is discovered in the ruins of the scientists Gothic mansion by the local Avon lady, who takes him home to live with her family. He turns out to have an uncommonly gentle nature and uses his seeming disability, his scissor-hands, to create things of great beauty. However, to cut a long story short, in the end Edward is rejected. He just doesn't fit in. He's too strange. If only he had real hands things may have been different. The Creators work was unfinished.

The movie functions on many different levels. One of the perspectives the movie offers is that we are all, like Edward Scissorhands, unfinished works of our Creator. We all have our peculiarities as well as our gifts. We all struggle to maintain our innocence in a corrupt world. We all experience both love and rejection. The challenge is to discern how, as broken, unfinished people, we can live in a way that reflects our God-given beauty and the many blessings God has freely given to us.

As we come to the table today I'd like to focus on some words God spoke to Jacob when he was commissioned for his life work at Bethel, words from Genesis 28:15 “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

When we place our lives in God's hands then God promises to be with us. Wherever we are are, whatever we are doing, God promises not to leave us but stay with us till the end and beyond.

Jacob was by no means a finished work of God. At Bethel he had an amazing revelation; a vision of glory... angels reaching down to earth, a vision of people and places and possibilities... that would profoundly effect the rest of the life he lived on earth.

It was like that for the first disciples of Jesus. In Matthew 28, after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus meets with the eleven in Galilee. He commissions them with what seems like an impossible task; to make all people, all over the world, His disciples. Then He leaves them with this tremendous promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NIV)

It wasn't easy for the disciples. It wasn't easy for Jacob. They knew they were flawed. They knew they were unfinished works. They couldn't see exactly where things would lead them or how it was all going to work out. Their faith did not lie in what their flawed lives could achieve, but in the promises of God that God would be with them and that because they walked with God then beautiful things could be created though their brokenness.

In our lives, we sit in church on a Sunday, hear about and give assent to believing in our God. Then out we go into our daily worlds, and somehow the practice is never as easy as the theory. Nobody ever said it was meant to be easy. But God has said, that when we place our lives into His hands, He will be with us, in all things, through all things, to the end of all things.

Every time we meet around this table of Holy Communion, it is a time and a place to place our lives in God's care. Around this table is our Bethel, our meeting place, our place of promise.

Here is our opportunity to catch glimpses of angels, to muse over possibilities, to embrace the notion that out of brokenness can come beauty, that out of crucifixion can come resurrection, that when and where we are willing to be poured out then God's Spirit comes pouring in. Here at this table we can acknowledge that though our lives are unfinished symphonies the God of all Creation is conducting our journey.

God will complete the work Christ has begun within us. Like Jacob we are on a journey. We have reached this point because something of the grace and love and hope of glory has called us to this place. Like the disciples, Jesus is drawing us to Himself.

I know we all struggle with our brokenness. I know sometimes life brings dark and difficult days. Such experiences are common to us all. We are full of questions. We fight against our doubts. We battle against our habits. We seek release from our worries. Sometimes we feel as though we can't do right for doing wrong, that we are so close, but so very far away.

We have tough decisions to work through, hard choices to make. We know that our actions can be misinterpreted, our perspectives can be flawed, our aspirations can be misguided. We also know that God is calling us to something more, but struggle to visualize what that can possibly look like or what it may mean for our lives and our communities.

Take courage. God knows our situations. Stay close to God and God will see us through. That was God's promise to Jacob. Stay with me and we'll see things through to a glorious conclusion. Jacob had a glimpse of glory at Bethel. It moved him. It inspired him. Yet it was the days after Bethel that eventually defined his life. It was his continued faithfulness and struggle that led him home.

So it is with us. It seems we have never quite arrived, but we can find places of nurture along the way. This can be one of them. And at times we may never even get to see the results of what we have endeavored to achieve bear fruit. Sometimes we have to leave that to those who will come after us.

In 1823 the Graz music society made their annual award for excellence to a composer of the day. That year it turned out to be Franz Schubert. Schubert felt obliged to dedicate a symphony to them in return, and sent his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a leading member of the Society, an orchestral score he had written the previous year. It consisted of two completed movements and the first two pages of the start of a third movement.. Symphonies, by the custom of the times, normally consisted of four movements.

Just a few years later, in 1828 Schubert unexpectedly passed away. As far as most music historians can discern he never completed a fourth movement and the third movement remained incomplete. Although it's official title was 'Symphony No. 8 in B minor' it became known after his death as the 'Unfinished Symphony'. Various composers have tried to recreate what the fourth movement may have sounded like, but the truth is that we can never know.

What we do know, is that despite it being unfinished it is still a very beautiful, and ground breaking, piece of music. It is sometimes called the first 'Romantic' symphony. It broke from the normal form of the day in terms of it's structure. It had an expressive melody, vivid harmonies and used combinations of orchestral tones that hadn't been tried before. Later composers would develop these ideas in symphonies that came after.

For many biblical characters there is a sense of their journey being unfinished. Moses never gets to see the promised land he strives to reach throughout his life. David never sees the temple of his dreams constructed. We know little about many of the earliest disciples of Jesus, other than through legends that have passed on throughout the ages. But none of that detracts from the power or the message of their lives.

Like Edward Scissorhands, we can be broken but beautiful. There are tasks for us to do and we may never know exactly how things are going to turn out. We are all unfinished symphonies, and can never truly know the impact of our stumbling attempts to live the kinds of lives we feel God is calling us to live.

But we can know this. God calls us to walk with Christ and offers to us the same promises as were offered to Jacob and to the first disciples. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28:15) “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 8:20).

Let us come to the table seeking for the presence of God to be our help and inspiration, for the love of Jesus to be our motive and guide and for the strength of the Holy Spirit to be our sustaining and empowering.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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