I have a confession to make. I am not a big fan of jazz. I don’t understand jazz. I hear the music but the music doesn’t, as a rule, ignite my soul. No, I do not love jazz.
But, like many of you, I DO love Sanelma. And I greatly appreciate all that Sanelma has meant to and done for this community in the past 22 years. You don’t have to have known Sanelma for 22 years, though, to know that SANELMA loves jazz.
So here we are today, you and I, jazz lovers and <P> others, <P> here to worship God and to have a meal with Jesus in Sanelma’s honor.
Just for good measure, we are going to baptize a baby boy today—Gabriel— a boy with an archangel’s name that means “man of God,” Gabriel, God’s messenger. And this baptism will remind us all, I hope, that what we are up to today is not about us, and not about jazz, and not even about Sanelma, but about God and our response to God.
So I looked at our lessons this week, knowing with great certainty that there must be a place among them where jazz, and love, and gratitude, and angels all converge. I looked real hard. And sure enough, all those things are there in today’s Psalm.
The first verse of Psalm 66 should be very familiar to you: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” this verse says. And isn’t this what we are all about today, making a joyful music unto the Lord our God? We hear this more familiar verse echoed in verse seven, where our Psalm for today actually begins. Verse seven says, “Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard…” So we are not to make just any old music, but music in praise of God.
From here our Psalm take a couple of turns: First, we are reminded of what God has done for us, from saving us from slavery in Egypt, and by miraculously bringing us through the waters of the Sea, from a place of death to a place of salvation, to the Promised Land. Hmmm. Isn’t this what baptism does for us? Doesn’t the water of baptism save us from sure and lasting death?
Second, we are reminded of how God has gotten impatient with our fickleness, sending us into exile like a great “time out” to think things over, then restoring us because God has loved us all along. Our psalm insists that the only acceptable response is gratitude and worship.
That’s the gist of Psalm 66. However, I want to translate this Psalm for you into language that is easier for us to understand, into our language today. You may recognize that the “translation” of this Psalm, Psalm 66, that you are about to hear is my own “translation.” Listen to this Psalm again:
Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of our praise of God be heard so loud that the people next door in Goodwin House can hear OUR praise, even with their windows closed.
God has done GREAT things for us:
God has called us out of our lethargy and out of our depression, God has called us away from being spiritual “couch potatoes.”
God has given us a NEW vision,
a glimpse of how we can make God’s Kingdom come right here on earth… right here in Alexandria… as in HEAVEN.
God is greatly to be praised.
God has allowed us to be brought low
so that we would pay attention,
so that we could think anew just what we need to worship God.
Pews? An organ? This cross? Very nice to have,
but are the ESSENTIAL or is the essence of our worship
the song in our hearts, bursting from our lips in thanks to God for our very being?
We went through a great ordeal,
but GOD brought us to THIS place of refreshment.
God is greatly to be praised!
So what must we do to show our gratitude to God?
We will offer God sacrifices—which we know today as offerings:
We will offer to God from the abundance of our gifts.
We must offer money, which is all God’s, anyway, just on loan to us for a time. We must offer our talents, all our gifts but especially our musical gifts, which have been given in great measure to this congregation loaned to us for a time. We must offer our hands and our feet (tired though they might be).
And we will rise to tell in new and even strange ways, all that God has done for us.
Come, listen, all you who fear God,
all you who stand in awe of God’s great creation,
the planets, moons, and stars, this fragile earth (our island home).
And each and every one of us (young and old; those with money and those whose pockets are empty; all of immigrants!)
all God’s creation.
We will call out to God with our mouths and with our instruments of joy and our praise of God is on our tongues and in our music and in our heads and in our hearts—igniting our souls on fire for God.
And in great thanksgiving, we ALL will praise God today.
We will give a piece, a part, of what we have been given back to God. We will give Sanelma back to you, God, to use where and how you will. Bless her and bless those to whom she will tell what you have done for her. We will give jazz back to you, God, asking that you open our hearts to this joyful way of praising you and asking that you ignite our souls and set them on fire for you, so that we will tell others what you have done for us.
We will even give baby Gabriel back to you, God,
this precious gift that Michael and Meera and their families have been given. He has an archangel’s name, a name that means “man of God,” and that is what we will consecrate him as today. We will invite you—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to abide in him in a new way. We will pray that you will give Gabriel your Spirit and draw him so closely into you that he will know and love you from his earliest days—with a jazz riff in his heart and soul, perhaps never knowing why jazz especially reminds him of you.
We know that you hear our prayers, O God,
because we have a relationship with you.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected our prayer,
and has not withheld his love from us.