January 5th, 2017
Last month something beautiful happened. Beautifully unexpected. Beautifully uncommon. Even if the one who occasioned the moment might just as soon have not been party to it.
Last September, folk-singer, poet, troubadour Patti Smith was invited to sing at the 2016 awards ceremony for those receiving the Nobel Prize. She’d been tapped to serenade the audience as an homage to the then undisclosed winner for literature.
Only when Bob Dylan’s name was reported as the winner of that year’s award did Smith elect to sing, not one of her own songs, but one of the recipient’s–to her a friend and hero. The song of Dylan’s she chose: “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”
There in the great hall in Stockholm where the finest minds and hearts had been celebrated for over a century, Smith took to the stage with full orchestra primed and ready to support her quest to revere the self-effacing Dylan (who could not attend the ceremony).
And then, something happened.
Smith begins Dylan’s lengthy ballad with the same raw, unadorned clarity he himself would’ve have performed his piece.
But the magnitude of the moment soon takes Smith’s breath away–literally. The words are there; she hasn’t forgotten them. But the strength to let them sing through that thick adulatory moment soon fails her.
She pauses–arrested–while the band plays on. Dignitaries and devotees all arrayed in the finest splendor look on respectfully, quietly.
Until, with a sheepish grin, Smith asks the conductor to stop and begin again.
And so they do. This time, Smith finds the musical footing to sing on, and as you’ll see from the video, the more she sings, the more the song takes her to where both the words of the song and the majesty of the moment intended. You can see bliss on her face, overshadowing any dread at having become weak before such a hallowed company. In her own words she conceded, “I felt the humiliating sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.”
The next morning, as she was greeted and thanked by all those who’d won Nobel’s accolades, she humbly reciprocated the kindnesses. She also apologized for, at least to her, having made a spectacle of herself.
Her account of their reply to her apology,
“No, no. . . none of us wish that. For us, your performance seemed a metaphor for our own struggles.”
Here were people, as they say, at the top of their game. The cream of the crop. The embodiment of excellence and dedication. And they saw in Smith’s homage imperfectly rendered a perfect picture of their own sense of weakness. Sure, they had been noted for grand achievement in various forms of human endeavor and expression. But the medallion now hanging around their hallowed necks in some sense obscured the often wandering, diffident, and lackluster journey that had brought them to this heralded occasion. The fame and finery of that stately hall was to them more artifice than authentic witness to their real selves. And Patti Smith had in her weak moment punched through the pretense, connecting with and exemplifying their own unsteady existence.
Last Sunday, Kevin reminded us through Paul’s humble words that there is in Christ a grace more than sufficient for our every given weakness. We are all members of the company of the frail, too often losing heart before what the moment calls for. But in view of what Christ has done–entering into weakness, and in His weakest hour exerting a strength over our strongest enemies–we have both a song we’re privileged to sing and a heavenly chorus of support behind us.
There is no knowing Jesus, no comprehending Jesus, without also comprehending our need of Jesus. And our need reaches down into our deepest depths. As Smith did in her awkward moment, we must feel the stunning failure of our own attempts to establish our own esteem, our own greatness. Once we concede just how deep is our need do we at last enter into, and begin to truly live into, the lines of the Gospel of grace.
The next time you take in those eight minutes Patti Smith might have preferred to skip, watch the guitarist behind her. There is no change in him when she sings, when she stops, or when she takes up the song again. He plays for the sake of the song. He also plays for the good of the one who struggles to sing it. But he is constant in his presence.
That, my friends, is in a small way what we have in Jesus. He is enthused by the song of our lives in homage to the Triune God. And he will gladly and steadfastly be there to root us on in our weakness so that by Him we have our strength renewed.
We’ve been mentioning it for weeks now. This Sunday we’ll at last get to hear from two people who have a story to tell. It’s a story that we’d like to see CtK become a part of.
Cameron and Kaitlyn Mullens will tell us of how they became involved in the lives of refugees streaming into our area over the last several years. (Houston and Dallas represent the two largest recipients of resettled refugees in all of America.) Large communities of Somali, Ethiopian, and Congolese have made their new homes in East and North Dallas. But now that resettlement has begun to spread to South Dallas–and not two miles from where we worship at Canterbury.
So during 2nd hour we plan to hear from the Mullens, briefly mention some ways in which CtK might become involved in their work, and invite your questions. Given how this represents an entirely new and significant dimension of our church’s faithful presence to our world(s), we hope you will plan to participate. For now feel free to visit their website and review this introductory video to learn more about For the Nations.
And as we promised back on our Christmas Day service, if you want to begin to grasp the plight of those now taking refuge in America, have a look at this account of a Sudanese family taken under the wing of our friends at The Village Church. We alluded to this family’s story on Christmas Day both to keep in our collective minds what we’ll consider in earnest this Sunday, and also to use a little imagination in what it will be like to feel the weight–the glory–of being reunited with the One whose love has been known by faith but which in time will at last be known by sight.
Finally, what’s ahead for 2017? As for sermons, we begin this new year by probing the foundations of our faith. The Apostles’ Creed was the earliest distillation of the church’s essential belief. We mean to plumb the Scriptural depths of its tenets, beginning with just its first two words this Sunday: I believe.
What is faith? What does it mean to believe? What forms it and holds it up? These are some of the questions we’ll listen to Hebrews and Romans for answers.
Then later this month, we’ll hold something like a “State of the Church” address during 2nd hour. It will be a time to review what happened in 2016, a time to outline some key goals for the year ahead, as well as give a financial picture of how we ended 2016 and are positioned for 2017.
So while busy-ness is not a virtue we’re advocating, there will be things to busy about in January. Stay close.