Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking About Harmony and Discord on Martin Luther King Day

Moody Bible Institute Symphonic Band at West Hill Baptist
Yesterday, the eve of Martin Luther King Day, our church, West Hill Baptist Church, hosted the Moody Bible Institute Symphonic Band under the direction of David Gauger II.  We were treated to 45 minutes of classical music from a variety of composers including Bach, Strauss, Haydn, and Wagner.  Early in the performance, the conductor introduced the audience to the unique musical quality of each instrument by having one student musician for each instrument play a few familiar bars.  Although it was a treat to listen as each artist highlighted their particular instrument, the beautiful symphonies we heard later in the evening were only possible because each artist and instrument within the various categories--strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion—contributed in harmony toward the whole.  Sister Joan Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, explains this relationship between the uniqueness of each individual artist and the beauty of the symphony that is produced when each artist is faithfully committed to the whole score.

Each instrument of the orchestra has its own voice but plays in harmony with the whole. Despite the size or power of an instrumental section, no one group lords it over the others. Each needs the other because no one group incarnates the full meaning of the composition.

As we listened to Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048, by Johann Sebastian Bach, the contribution of each instrument in seemingly perfect harmony touched the depths of my soul as if spiraling down from heaven itself.  I imagined how it might be if the Perfection and Glory of heaven were to descend to Earth and sweep away all of the present disharmony, disunity, and strife. Then, I was reminded that as an expression of Bach’s profession of faith, his aim was to give “Glory to God Alone” as signified by his practice of writing Soli Deo Gloria on his finished manuscripts.  My faith was renewed in God Who has gifted men like Bach and Handel to make it their purpose to bring glory to Him by their beautiful and moving musical compositions.

Steven Spielberg & Liam Neeson on set of "Schindler's List"
After completing the classical music portion of their concert, the Moody Symphonic Band provided another 45 minutes or so of sacred hymns and “contemporary hymns” including “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend.  However, the performance that spoke to me the most out of this second part of the concert was “Three Pieces from ‘Schindler’s List.”  As I listened, the sad beauty of the music reminded me of having watched the movie, Schindler’s List, the true story of Oskar Schindler who rescued over 1,000 Jews from Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers at Auschwitz.  As I thought of this horrible tragedy, born out of the sinful and deceitful heart of humankind, I wondered how men could take such divergent paths—some like Bach and Hayden who used their time, energy, and talent to bless our ears and hearts with heavens harmonies; whereas, others like Hitler and Stalin used their power to compose the dreadful discordant sound of feet marching to mass executions.

As I listened to the conclusion of “Three Pieces from ‘Schindler’s List,” I remembered the many parallels between the Nazi holocaust and the current “American holocaust” which has taken the lives of over 57 million unborn human beings since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1973.  Truly, the abortion of these innocent lives is one of the greatest tragedies of human history.  However, I was encouraged by an experience I had had earlier on this Lord’s Day. 

A few hours earlier I had honored an earlier invitation of the Wayne-Holmes Right to Life (WHRTL) Chapter to attend an afternoon worship service in celebration of God’s gift of life as part of their annual Sanctity of Human Life Sunday program.  I was encouraged to hear Ohio Right to Life Trustee, Scott Wiggham relate the progress of the Pro-Life Movement in Ohio, and then to join with these folks in praying.   We prayed (in part) as follows:

Lord, have mercy!  We ask You, God, to hold these little ones in your arms.  Bless and protect them.  May they know love and contentment in Your presence.  Bless mothers who are with child; may they never resort to abortion.  Forgive those who have had, performed, or encouraged abortions.  Turn their hearts away from sin and help them to see the sanctity of ALL life that is created in your image.

Alone this morning, I reflected once again on the heavenly harmonies that were provided by the Moody Symphonic Band yesterday evening, and the harmony of Christian brothers and sisters who gathered yesterday afternoon to praise our Creator for the gift of life.  As has been my habit, I read the Psalm appointed for today, January 19, which was Psalm 139.  In it, David reflects on God’s omniscience, even to the point of knowing all about David while he was as yet unborn:

My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.  – Psalm  139: 15-16

My frame was not hidden from You, God
What an amazing revelation from Scripture: God sees us and knows us as a person even before we are fully formed by the expression of genes we obtained from our parents at conception.  Biology reveals to us what David didn’t know, but God knew because He designed the whole process; namely, soon after conception and as the tiny embryo of a new generation is implanted in the uterine lining, he or she produces and sends into the mother’s bloodstream a message in the form of a hormone (Chorionic Gonadotropin, or CG). 

The hormone, CG, is the tiny embryo’s way of making his or her first “cry” to mom, saying, “Mother, I am here.  I hope you won’t have your monthly period.  Instead, I want you to protect and nourish me while God’s wonderful plan works in harmony between us like a symphony to unfold in proper order each of my bodily systems.  Soon, my nervous system, and before a month is passed, then my heart will be beating.  Before you know it, you will feel me moving inside of you and I will begin to hear your voice and become acquainted with your movements.”

Do you see the Earth-shattering contrast between the harmony of God’s creation and the discord introduced by the fall of man in the Garden and the subsequent rebellion, pride, and violent acts?  The harmony, or Shalom, of God’s creation includes the development of a human life beginning at conception and leading through a seamless path forward toward birth like a symphony performed without flaw by an orchestra.  Yet, the sinful discord of abortion continues to interrupt this harmony in all too many instances like a meteor blast into an auditorium during symphony orchestra performance.

Marchers in Support of Sanctity of Human Life
Many of us deeply regret the Nazi holocaust while others find it hard to believe it could have even come about in a civilized world.  Likewise, many of us regret the American holocaust, and many are active in bringing it to an end.  But I wonder how many human tragedies like this it will take before we are humbled before God to realize that there is no hope for us without confession of our sins and surrendering to God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, Jesus Christ.  We have absolutely no reason to trust human reason apart from the searching light of God’s Word.  As Psalm 139, quoted above ends, David realizes his need for God to search his heart, try his thoughts, and lead him in the everlasting way.

M.L. King Jr. & niece, Alveda King, civil & Pro-Life leader
After meditating on Psalm 139 this morning, we were blessed to awaken our granddaughters Kiara Maetta and Della Rose who had spent the night in our home because their schools were closed to observe Martin Luther King Day.  After breakfast, Kiara and I watched a YouTube video recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”  Once again, I was reminded of the contrast between the symphonic harmony and the discordant outcomes from sinful mankind.  Through His grace and mercy, God had provided a man with a vision to see past the discord of hate and racial discrimination to a day when God’s love and harmony would characterize life in America:

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  – Martin Luther King, Jr.  (1963)

Prayer:   Father in Heaven, thank you for Your encouragement through the heavenly harmonies of a symphonic band and the blessed fellowship of fellow Christians praying on Sanctity of Life Sunday; and then today, to reflect on the efforts of Dr. King and the peaceful protests He led on behalf of human rights which contributed much to the progress in reconciliation among racial groups in America.  Remind me continually of my own double-mindedness.  You’ve made me walk with You in peace and to enjoy harmony all around me; but, my heart is deceitful and tends to promote discord.   Remind me of my constant need of repentance from sin and refilling with your Holy Spirit.  And would you also bring revival to America, a nation so capable of great accomplishments for good; but, like me, so prone to deception and discord.  Renew within me a commitment to do my part in sharing the Gospel of repentance, reconciliation and revival in an America—for her only hope lies in whether individuals and families will respond to Your call through your people full of the love of Christ and His Holy Spirit—the very Source of truth, justice, mercy—and harmony.   Amen.

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