Being an Orchestra in a Time of War [Sermon]

Political tensions are continually on the rise. As a church, we must not get so lost, as I am sometimes tempted to do, in the turmoil of world affairs that we can no longer recognize ourselves as Christians, as Christ’s church. I preached at The 509 Community several years ago about Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus off. The way I see it, and I think I can still say this even on the other side of seminary, this story reveals two kingdoms at war. In the sermon, I admit that I am disenchanted with the concept of Jesus as “King” because I have only ever seen broken, corrupt, vicious political systems. I get it that Jesus will be King, is King. I just do not have a framework for understanding how he is King. So, in this sermon, I try to think of him as a conductor. This leads to a natural reflection on what kind of kingdom the church is to be. I hope that the words will encourage you, in our always trying times, to see Jesus as a King who will rule in peace, a king who lays his life down, for the world; not one who attacks his own people with chemical gas or threatens world powers to shore up his ego. Though this sermon was preached the Sunday after Christmas, it is an Easter sermon. 

God, open our hearts to your grace and your joy. Capture us and graft into the movements of your heavenly worship; where we might dance with the angels and sing with hosts. Let us taste the wine of your Kingdom, and the fruit of your mercy. Amen.

Matthew 2:13-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.

And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

We are faced with a few things in this passage: First, we have an interaction between the angel and Joseph. The angel gives Joseph a heads up that he should get out of dodge, because Herod wants to kill baby Jesus. This fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy

Second, we see Herod’s fury. It manifests itself in the slaughter of babies. Infants. Defenseless children. This, unfortunately, also fulfills a prophecy.

Third, Joseph tries to take his family back to Israel, but because Herod’s son ascended to the throne he was, once again, warned to go elsewhere. So he settled in Galilee, in a town called Nazareth. As expected, this too fulfills a prophecy.

This might seem like just a story. But, what we have going on here is actually much more. This story is a commentary of two kingdoms, on the brink of war.

On the one hand, there is Herod. He characterizes the Kingdom of Darkness. He longs for control, for power, for security. His posture is fear, and his solution is through violence. In the story, he is always a step behind. He is foolish and desperate.

On the other hand, there is Jesus. The characterization, and true King, of the Kingdom of Heaven. He is a baby. He dwells in innocence and fulfills prophecies long foretold. In the story – the wise men, the angels and God himself – are on Jesus’ side.

These two kingdoms have long been at war with one another — certainly since the time of Moses. But, this story captures the moment in time where it became clear that the Kingdom of Darkness was being ushered out.

What is this Kingdom that Jesus represents? The Old Testament spoke of the Kingdom in a way that directly related to God’s sovereignty. It is often depicted as a Holy Mountain, where God rules and there is only peace. Isaiah describes it like this: In the last days, the mountain of the Lord will be established…and nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2). In the New Testament, Jesus talks about how folks humbled like children will inherit the kingdom.

How different is Jesus’ kingdom from the kingdoms of earth? Just stop, for just a moment, and imagine the world with Jesus as its leader. Let God paint a picture for you of his Kingdom, one led by a man who is willing to lay his life down for his people.

As I thought about this this week, I realized that it is sometimes hard for me to relate to Jesus as being a king, a prince or some other nation-state leadership term because all I have seen are broken political systems.

I know that Jesus will be king – I am okay with that. I just want to understand what it means for him to be king, because it seems like it will be so unlike many of the leaders I have seen and read about. So, I started wondering what might be a more tangible description for me, and one that might be easier for us to grasp as a creative community. And then it struck me:

An image of sheet music.

Jesus is like the conductor of an orchestra. Let me explain. A good conductor will do a few things. A good conductor sets the tempo for their band. They count off to start the song, and they stay involved in gauging the tempo and rhythm of the group. A good conductor is able to express what is desired when vocal communication is not readily available. They can get staccato punches with rigid, tense movements; or. they can draw out an emotional espressivo piece merely through their facial expressions. A good conductor pushes a orchestra to do more than it imagined that it ever could have. They evoke a sense of unity and creativity that takes the breath of a crowd away.

So, let me fill in the blanks for you: Jesus set the tempo for the church by coming and living among us, teaching us what life is to look like. He set the tempo through his mission, through his fasting, through his praying. How could we have any tempo for life if Jesus had not come and counted it out for us.

Jesus communicates what he wants from us through the giving of the Spirit, and also through our prayer and through our studying of Scripture. Sometimes He tells us exactly what we are supposed to do and when we are to do it. Other times, he gives us freedom to improvise, to make choices based on what he has already taught us.

And, Jesus daily pushes us to be more than we believe we can be. In John 14, He said we would do even greater things than he; what is more of a challenge than that?

While all of these things are good, there is one role a conductor plays that is more important than any of these other three; and, it is one of the most important roles Jesus fulfilled as a leader while on earth and a role he now fulfills as our advocate in Heaven.

Conductors unite the orchestra in perfect rhythm and time. More than setting just the tempo, they lead the band in finding the perfect feel of the song, bringing everyone together to make the song as strong as possible; Jesus, as he sits at the right hand of God the Father, is working to keep his Church united and in step with one another and the will of the Father, as we usher in the Kingdom of God, like a song.

In fact, Hebrews, chapter five, refers to Jesus as the liturgos, or the ‘worship leader,’ of the Church. While this doesn’t mean that Jesus can play guitar like Kyle Jackson, it does mean that Jesus takes part in leading His church in the rhythm of worship. We don’t call Jesus down into our worship; he calls us into the Kingdom’s worship and then leads us in it.

So, for the past few moments we have been imagining Jesus as a conductor of the church, and the Kingdom of God at large. I want us to do a bit of a 180 and reflect on what it means for the Church to be Jesus’ orchestra. Joshua Bell, a grammy award winning violinist and conductor, said this: “The great secret is that an orchestra can actually play without a conductor at all.”

This is true, right? An orchestra could put on an excellent show without a conductor. They could play their parts, they could stay fairly on time, and it would still be entertaining. But, what happens? Eventually, the musicians start to lead themselves. The percussionists play louder, because we all know that’s what they want anyway; the string ensemble wants to play faster; the brass section stops showing up. All of the sudden, the orchestra is in factions, they don’t know how to move forward and they start fall apart. Think about the last time you stopped relying on Jesus for guidance, how did that work out for you? How has that worked out for our church in the past?

Joshua Bell goes on to say, “Of course, a great conductor will have a concept and help [the orchestra] play together and unify them.” That sounds about right. So, what concept did Jesus set up for us? How did he intend to unify us and help us “play together”? The Kingdom of Heaven, thats the concept. The Gospel’s contain about 80% of the references to the Kingdom of heaven in the entire New Testament. Jesus wanted to securely plant the roots of the Kingdom of Heaven into the desperate soil of the heart of humanity. He did this through healing, miracles, intense discipleship and ultimately through his death, resurrection and ascension.

At one point Jesus sends out 72 disciples, telling them to ‘teach people about the kingdom of God, and heal the sick.’ When they came back and shared their stories, he says with great joy “I saw Satan falling like lighting from the high places.” People were becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God; with each new citizen, Satan lost a little bit of power. Now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the God the Father as the head of His church, the worship leader and as forerunner of the Kingdom of Heaven at large. We look to him for help, direction and provision. We seek to live our lives like his so that the Kingdom will continue grow here on earth, now. We need him to lead us.

This is life in the Kingdom, the life of a Kingdom citizen. It is a life of dependence on and constant transformation through Jesus’ leadership. A life dramatically seeking to live in harmony with God’s will. Joel Marcus, a theologian at Duke, puts it this way: “[To enter in to the Kingdom of God] is to participate in the already inaugurated explosion of God’s power into the world.”

We are the crescendo of salvation; the staccato of justice; the resolve of redemption. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, as if he were a conductor to an orchestra called the Church, so that we might live in harmony with one another and with the will of the Triune God. Through this we could create a song so beautiful, so powerful that it softens the hearts of a world that dances in endless lines to the despair of a funeral dirge.

Through this they will see the light of life that is Christ himself and become citizens of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Darkness. They will dine with joy, and gladness; no longer pained by the fear and trembling that corrupt kings, presidents, and dictators have caused for centuries. And let us play that song until Jesus, our worship leader, returns to teach us the songs of Heaven on Earth, where we will sing forever and ever.

This week, I urge you to spend time praying for revelation regarding what it looks like to seek Jesus in a way that evokes your creativity, your energy, your passion – and carry those things, by the Grace of God, to those who need it in our city. Amen.

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