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"The time of singing has come" (Wedding sermon, Julie Huang and Scott Tucker)

November 23, 2013
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia

Family and friends, wedding guests, welcome: whether you are a very first time visitor to this place or a lifelong member of this church, on behalf of all the people of The Falls Church Episcopal and on behalf of Scott and Julie, welcome and thank your presence here making this celebration a joyful one.

Photography: Ann Keiser
The passages we’ve just heard read, from the Song of Solomon and the gospel passage – are passages that Scott and Julie picked out themselves, as passages they wanted read on this their wedding day.

They are classics that have stood the test of time, and are familiar to many of you. And while those beautiful words from the Song of Solomon are often heard at weddings,

My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
   and come away;
for now the winter is past,
   the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;

I have to say, Scott and Julie, after this wedding, I don’t think I’ll ever think of the next line in quite the same way -- you’ve given it whole new meaning:

“the time of singing has come”

Boy, the time of singing has come!

And that’s not just a reference to today, this ceremony:

Scott and Julie picked these passages to be read because these passages spoke to them…they revealed a larger truth of their relationship in general: the language of having come through a winter season when they’d met each other is powerful, meaningful language.

And I know Scott and Julie well enough that I can say thanks be to God, that each really is to the other a spring growth...a blossoming.

And in fact Scott told me that another reason he and Julie picked this lesson from the Song of Solomon is the dynamic it identifies of blossoming…

Scott said it struck them that “this dynamic of giving out, putting forth, of being open and vulnerable, is a key to making good music, and a key to making a good relationship.”

“… this dynamic of giving out, putting forth, of being open and vulnerable –is a key to making good music and a key to making a good relationship…

When someone says something like that to you really don’t need to come up with your own sermon: you just need to repeat it from up here, and unpack it a bit!

And as I thought about it, I thought about how true that is…as most of you in this room know, when it comes to music, someone can have good technique and perfect pitch and be very good...but it seems the best singers and musicians are the ones who open themselves up and sing from who they are, not from what they’ve learned.

I asked a friend of mine, a violinist, about this, and she said this:

“When I was in music school (and a much more proficient musician than I'll even again be), I was playing one of the Bach unaccompanied Sonatas for my teacher.  It's a profoundly beautiful piece -- and as I played, [full of passion and poignancy] my teacher stopped me.  She said, ‘What in the world has happened to you in your life that you play like this?’

“She heard my 19 year old heart.

“I have never felt so vulnerable as a musician.”  

And to use another example (from a very different genre of music!), there is a great scene in the movie Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash.

Remember the scene from when Johnny Cash is first auditioning, when he and two of his buddies are singing a gospel song to the famous producer Sam Phillips?

Sam has interrupted them and told them he can’t sell gospel, not the way they were singing it, because when he was singing it, he didn’t believe him.

Johnny Cash is offended and says, “are you saying I don’t believe in God?” 

Sam Phillips: You know exactly what I'm telling you. We've already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just... like... how... you... sing it.

Johnny Cash: Well you didn't let us bring it home.

Phillips: says Bring... bring it home? All right, let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you're dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up.
You tellin' me that's the song you'd sing?
That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it's real, and how you're gonna shout it?
Or... would you sing somethin' different. Somethin' real. Somethin' *you* felt.
Cause I'm telling you right now, that's the kind of song people want to hear. That's the kind of song that truly saves people.

That’s when Johnny Cash tells him he does have a couple other songs that he hadn’t thought about sharing. And he rips into Folsom Prison Blues.

And launches a career.

Unfortunately our world, our culture doesn’t always encourage us to sing our one song, to sing from our truest selves, to be open or vulnerable. Unfortunately our culture, our society, separates intellect and passion, mind and heart.

Fortunately, though, we have music and art, poetry and prayer as “integrators” -- areas where intellect and passion, mind and heart are not artificially separated.1 So in that sense, music and art, poetry and prayer, far from being so-called “escapes from real life” are some of the only places where real life can be experiened. And because real life is…well…real: raw, emotional, vulnerable, painful, full of highs and lows, it’s no wonder people run away from the real life of music, art, poetry and prayer and escape into superficiality and predictability.

That’s why days like this, passages like this are so important…as Scott and Julie promise to not only honor and love each other but to CHERISH each other,

They give us a gift, a reminder to cherish one another. And life, real life.

To cherish is irrational (in a good sense) to cherish is a matter of the heart, it’s the “flashes of fire, raging flame” the unquenchable blossoming fragrant passion the Song of Solomon speaks of.

Which brings me to the gospel passage: 

In the passage Scott and Julie chose for their wedding, Jesus is telling his followers that they are the salt of the earth,

 so basically Jesus is saying -- this is a paraphrase --  “be salty!” 

Synonyms for salty are  poignant, pungent, savory, spicy, earthy, colorful, even racy and risqué, but certainly zesty, zingy…

And then he goes on to tell them – tell us – that you are the light of the world.

A light is not meant to -- serves little to no purpose when -- it is hidden.

A light is not meant to – serves little to no purpose when – it is covered up…

Rather, a light is meant to – a light serves its purpose best when it is put on a stand, lifted up high. That’s when it can give light to all in the house.

 “In the same way,” he says, “let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Think about the pronoun: YOU.

YOU are the light of the world. You, yes you. You are the light of the world.

You’re the light someone needs.
You’re helping someone overcome their darkness.
Let YOUR light shine, not someone else’s light, but yours, live your life, sing your song.

(Now Scott and Julie are sitting there and I’ll bet at least part of them, the conductor part of them, is thinking “oh my gosh does he really need to be standing up there giving license to all the prima donnas to be even more out of control?” )

And so it’s important to keep reading, to read the whole context of this passage.

A light, our light, is put on a lampstand, lifted up, not just to be seen or admired, but for a purpose: to give light to all in the house.

Light, talent…personality…is lifted up not so people can see IT – but so that the whole house is illuminated.

The lights in this room are doing their job when they illuminate this room for the people in this room. When the lights are doing their jobs, people don’t walk around here sayng, “wow those are really good lights; what are they, tungsten-halogen incandescents, or dimmable compact fluorescents, or do you supposed they were recessed T8’s?”

Jesus says “let your light shine before others SO THAT they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

SO THAT is purpose. SO THAT is the REASON  “So that” is the aim or  intention or goal of light shining.

If the sentence stopped with “let your light shine before others that they may see your good works” this would be a sentence about PR, publicity, getting your 15 minutes of fame.

But Jesus says “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

And give glory to who?

God, the source of light and giver of the gift. 

The God who has brought you two together, through you, all of us together this day. The God who is match maker, and encourager.

The time of singing has come: “Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the king of creation.
 “Praise to the Lord, let all that is in us adore him.
 “All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him."

In your marriage, Scott and Julie, in this faith community, in the music we make, in our saltiness, in our cherishing, let our light shine…

In all those things, in all those ways, “let the amen sound from his people again, and gladly, forever adore him!”

1 This idea is an expansion of an idea I first ran across in Madeleine L'Engle's "Sometimes I forget to tell you I love you" essay in The Irrational Season, where she writes "We are meant to be whole creatures, we human beings, but mostly we are no more than fragments of of what we ought to be. One of the great evils of twentieth-century civilization is the rift which has come between our conscious and our intuitive minds..." (p. 20) and then later, "Art is for me the great integrator, and I understand Christianty as I understand art. I understand Christmas as I understand Bach's Sleepers Awake or Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring; as I understand Braque's clowns, Blake's poetry. And I understand it when I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, as Theophan the Recluse advised. ...When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas." (p. 21)


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