Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sermon at Grace Cathedral

50th Anniversary of Guaraldi Mass
August 15, 2015

It is good to be in the house where 
jazz was officially welcomed into worship.
This is the place . . .
but if truth be told, 
jazz was in the church long before that.

Jazz had crept in through the side door. 
When forced laborers arrived from Africa, 
they brought the five note scales they knew so well.
As those notes bumped into the tempered notes 
of their European importers and overseers,
the clashing notes turned blue.  
God was in the blues. 
That is how jazz feels. 

Jazz sneaked into the pulpit long before.
Any time a preacher reads three or four verses of scripture
and then talks for eighteen more minutes, 
you hear all of the new material that bubbled up
from the jambalaya of study, prayer, reflection, 
perspiration and holy inspiration, 
all the while simmering in the pot of human need.
The dots on the page created a conversation in the air. 
That is how jazz sounds.

Jazz has stood in the narthex, 
as ushers had to improvise
where they would seat the unexpected strangers.
Jazz has robed itself in the sacristy, 
when the servers ask,
"Do we have enough bread to feed all these people?"
Jazz has been abiding in the church from the beginning,
because wherever the Holy Spirit is, Jazz is.

And this is the house where Jazz was first welcomed.
By all accounts, it was a bumpy welcome.
Critics had dismissed jazz as saloon music, 
forgetting that the whole earth is the Lord's, 
and any ground can become holy ground,
God willing.

Buffoons dismissed jazz out of their racist dispositions, 
believing it unworthy of a God who creates everybody.

And the Pharisees are still out there, 
declaring Jazz is not worthy of their spiritual superiority;
If it touches them, they could get infected.
They might even tap their feet to God's drummer.

But wherever the Holy Spirit is, Jazz is.

That is why people can get offended. 
They don't want God to get too close.
They are anxious about defrosting 
and leaving puddles on the floor.
They worry the Spirit of God may blow wild and free,
and something might happen that is not written down 
on the worship bulletin.

When Jazz was welcomed here,
the moment was marked by hymns sung
to the wild, unpredictable, life-giving Spirit of God. 
Imagine that. 
"Come Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,
  and lighten with celestial fire."

On that day, angular syncopations and clashes of dissonance
became the moment for the Spirit to dance
as the soul of Christ breathed fresh life. 
That is the best reason to welcome Jazz into this or any church:
to keep the church from suffocating
on piety that has run out of breath.  

We live in fearful times, you know. Almost as fearful as 1965.
The fundamentalist still fears the Holy Spirit, 
frightened that God might do something
that hasn't yet been written down. 
Rather than embrace the hard work
of living the life of Christ here and now, 
the fearful Pharisee still cherry-picks a few favorite verses
to wield as blunt objects,
living an unconverted, unloving life.

It is hard work for anyone to follow the Christ
who still touches the leper, 
heals the hemorrhage,
and repeatedly crosses the boundary into Gentile land.
It is hard work for the Christian to follow the Christ
off the page and into the real world.
But as we hear the Mass of Guaraldi 
with the ancient chants ignited by
the rhythms of Brazil and harmonies of California,
let us affirm that a life of health and holiness
must be lived out here and now.

Where Jazz is, the Holy Spirit is. 

This is the Spirit of God who loves the world, the whole world,
the world that yearns to be whole.
God goes into the world through Jesus to replace fear with awe,
violence with reconciliation, love-for-self-alone with love for all.
God's love is just that expansive and life-giving.

And should that love be crucified, it will begin again.
This is eternal love,
resisted by many,
yet persistently inviting us to become a new creation 
in the power of the Spirit.
The world cannot turn out the Light that God sends to it,
neither can the church quench the Spirit's fire
by splashing holy water on it,
for it is God's intent to bring us completely alive.

When the Spirit comes,
the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone,
the ten little toe bones start tapping,
and all God's children shall dance.
Isn't that what we want, more than anything else?

Thank God for this house where Jazz was officially welcomed,
for the saints who made it happen, 
for the Spirit who fills us with joy of Jesus.

© William G. Carter. All rights reserved

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