One Body, Many Parts

I Corinthians 12           

Written for Jazz Sunday at Trinity UCC by Rev. Susan Stull-Carr                                                                                    Sunday, March 3, 2019


What a marvelous visual we have this morning of Paul’s description of the church, or any relationships that surround us – community, family, spouse, co-workers.  One body with many parts.  One song with many instruments.  One song, but with infinite possibility of harmony, rhythm, tempo, notes, and sounds.  Two instruments ring out and then one takes a lead.  All instruments add their unique interpretation to create music.  And we, filled with this energy, tap our toes, sing along, or dance, or simply listen, each of us playing our parts.

Paul uses this image of a body to describe our interconnectedness and dependence on each other.  As much as our culture loves to tell us we are individuals and independent, the truth is, we are nestled and sometimes bound in a web of relationships that affect us in many ways.  

Paul says, we need to understand how much we need each other to pull off the work God intends for Christ’s church.  We can’t say to one another, “I have no need of you.”  Or, “my work is more important than yours.” Or, “we must do it my way.”

As we listen to the jazz this Sunday and the incredible gifts of our musicians, I’m remembering a time I was a part of a group of great musicians.   A student at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, I was part of an internationally known choral group.  Yet, even though music was in each of our ‘bones’ as it were, a part of our individual DNA, there were many things that we had to learn about making music together.

Mike and I spoke about a number of those gifts that come from making music – tools of our trade – that is, learning to sing in harmony with one another.  Not in cacophony, but in harmony.  

The first step of course, is to learn your part – to know your instrument, frontways and backway and all around.  It is to be practiced at your own part and aware of how your part is important to the whole.  Learn your part.

Be trustworthy.  If others, who are around you, know that you know both your gift and your limits and that you are willing to work to learn the ‘song’ the way it is written, then together, the individual parts will begin to be able to improvise, the heart of jazz, giving it your own unique spin.   Be trustworthy.  Do your homework.

As you begin to work together, one of the most critical pieces of building harmony, blending ‘hearts’ and music, is the gift of listening.  Now let me tell you right off, that most of us are terrible listeners.  This may be one of the most important tools we discover for our future.   Generally, while people are speaking, we are already formulating our response, or thinking about how we can get them to agree with us.  In music, listening is crucial in order to get the blend right.   Voices and instruments need to be attuned to each other to find the right blend – not too loud to overpower, not too soft to be overtaken. And as I learned to listen, I had to connect my voice with the one next to me and behind me and in front of me and even 3 or 4 voices down the row when I got to be very good at listening and blending.  So learn to listen and take time to blend.  Learn to be a complement to those around you, not one who takes over. 

Jazz also teaches us about spontaneity, ‘go-with-the flow’, improvisation.  Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.  Rigidity and demanding spirits have no place in a body that is working towards harmony.  It’s an organic process, without any right answers, but rather a willingness to work together to find ‘an answer’ for that particular moment.   The song may sound different a few days later, and that’s okay.  Learn to let go and trust the Spirit.  It’s harder than it sounds, but its worth the effort.  Flow, let go and trust in God’s movement to bring things together in new ways!

The body does have a leader.  Paul says, the head of the church is Christ.   But Christ is that kind of leader that moves into the background so far that you almost don’t see him unless you’re looking for him.  The conductor, he or she, is not out to pull people’s attention to them, but rather to point them to Christ, the one who gives each of us our own unique song to sing, our own unique part to play.  But keep learning and watching the leader we follow.

Learn your part. Be trustworthy. Study your part. Listen.  Learn to complement each other. Go with the flow.  Let go of trying to work it out the way you think it should go. Trust the Spirit.  Watch the leader.  And though we’ll have some sour notes now and then, some off-tune noises, we will know we are on our way to making some harmonies, beautiful, strong, gentle, whimsical, yearning, winsome and true!