Sermon Preached at the Haydenville Congregational Church, Jan. 28th by The Rev. Dr. Peter B. Ives.
A number of years ago the Boston Symphony Orchestra said goodbye to their conductor, Seija Osawa, and were awaiting their new conductor, James Levine. In the interim, they invited the great Leonard Bernstein to conduct their final concert at Tanglewood in the Berkshires. Unfortunately, Leonard Bernstein was not well and very frail. He was struggling with lung cancer and it was reeking havoc on his throat. In fact, members of his family were deeply worried about this final concert. They didn’t think he had the stamina to do it. They urged him to say no. But Bernstein insisted that he would conduct Beethoven’s 7th Symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra that evening. So out he came in the Shed to a standing room only crowd gathered in the large concert hall and an outdoors on the lawn. There were chairs and blankets on every blade of grass on that lawn. And with the flip of his baton, the orchestra began to play. And all went well during the first two movements of Bethoven’s 7th
But as the orchestra entered the third movement, Bernstein began to cough, and he couldn’t stop coughing. It was a wretched cough that he could not bring under control because he had lung cancer. He tried to stop the coughing, but he just couldn’t. So he took out his handkerchief, and put it over his mouth and that was all he could do; nothing more than to hold his handkerchief over his mouth with both hands. No longer could he move his arms. No longer could he conduct with his baton. No longer could he direct the orchestra. All he could do was just to stand their motionless, and watch the orchestra with his eyes.
And everyone in the orchestra could see what was happening to him, but do you know what? Those playing the violin just played on. Those playing the cello just played on. All those playing the flute, the clarinet, the oboe, the trumpet, the French horn, the drums and percussion instruments played on. They could see what was happening but they just pressed on with their own instruments, skills and their own gifts. And everyone in the entire audience, just held their breath. And when the orchestra came to the conclusion of Beethoven’s 7th and the last note was played, the entire audience inside and outside erupted with cheers and spontaneously rose to their feet giving them a thunderous ovation. Of course, it was a standing ovation for Leonard Bernstein. Of course!!! But it was also a standing ovation for every member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for each played their part as best as they could play and for having pressed on to the very end, even when Leonard was unable to use his hands and his arms to conduct them and could do nothing more.
And that is what we all must do now here at the Haydenville Congregational Church. One year ago we lost The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian as our conductor. And two weeks ago, we lost The Rev.Chris Merechuk as our conductor. And we are like the Tanglewood Symphony Orchestra now. All we can do is to play on and do our part, without a conductor.
That night the Boston Symphony Orchestra became very vulnerable without their director, Leonard Bernstein. And with the loss of our Directors, Andrea Ayvazian, last year at this time, and Chris Merechuk, several weeks ago, our congregation has become very vulnerable also. And so, we are going to need worship that helps to heal our congregation now, and worship that helps to upbuild our congregation now for we are vulnerable too.
Many of you feel hurt by what has happened. Many of you feel deserted by what has happened. Many of you feel angry by what has happened. Many of you feel deeply divided as a congregation by what has happened. And there are many pews that are empty now of people we once knew. Many pews that are empty now of members we once dearly loved. Let’s face it now, let’s address it now and in the coming days ahead, so that we give ourselves the opportunity for God’s healing to begin right here in these pews, in this sanctuary and at coffee hour. But to do that, we need YOU. We need all of you to play your part just as the Boston Symphony Orchestra had to do at Tanglewood that night.
Long ago, Jesus began his ministry at a small synagogue in Nazareth. And he said to those gathered there. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, set at liberty the oppressed, and proclaim the Jubilee Year of the Lord, that day that is coming when there will be liberty and justice for all.
Then he went to the synagogue in Capernaum to begin his healing ministry to all those there needing to be healed.
And he called out to those around him to become disciples and immediately they followed. It started with 12 disciples but very quickly the size was extended to include the 70 others, many of whom were women like Mary Magdalene. And he called them all to take “the leap of faith” and follow him. And dropping their fishing nets these men and the women took that leap of faith and let go of the trapeze bar they were holding and reached out for a new trapeze bar coming their way. Suspended high in mid air, with only their faith in God and their faith in Jesus, they grabbed hold of that new bar that was coming their way that would make all the difference to their lives and all the difference to our lives today.
And that is what I am asking all of you to do today. Will you take a leap of faith with me and play your part to support the ministry of this Church today in every why that you can. We are all beginning something very old and something very new together at this time. It is the life changing and world changing ministry that began with Jesus when he called them at the synagogue in Nazareth to preach good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, release to the captives, and liberty to the oppressed; that day when there will be freedom and justice for all, that day when there will be an end to racism and white nationalism, and sexual violence against women like what happened to the young girls on the American Olympic gymnastic team, and domestic violence against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans, like Crista Steele-Knudslien had to experienced, whose funeral service yesterday was officiated over by our own Haydenville Congregational Church Minister, Yohah Ralph, and that day when nations like Haiti and, Puerto Rico will be given the dignity, respect and the financial support they deserve from the President of the United States, and that day when ICE RAIDS by the Board of Homeland Security cease against wonderful, decent immigrants like Niberd Abdalla, just released from jail yesterday stop, and that day when Dreamers can dream dreams about becoming American citizens and even today when Senator Ed Markey visits Lucio Perez, in Amherst, that he too can be reunited with his wife Dora and his four children, and that every day we can work to save our planet Earth, for the future of our children and our grandchildren.
You are the disciples that Jesus needs now. You are the congregation that Jesus now needs. And you are the Church that the Pioneer Valley needs now, and America needs now, and the world needs now. We need you all to be our violins, cellos, bass violins, clarinets, oboes, the saxaphones, the trumpets, the French Horns, the cymbals, and the drums to play your part building the future of our church right here, so that we all might bloom, grow, thrive, build, serve and play our part every day right here in this precious but fragile, vulnerable but just wonderful congregation of the Haydenville Congregatonal Church. Amen