March 25, 2007

TEXT: Philippians3:4b-14

The name of Noah Markham may not mean much to any of you, but he has become a symbol of the grace of God and living testimony that light can emerge from darkness, that nothing is over until its over, and then it may be not be over after all.

Noah had been a frozen embryo were rescued from a flooded fertility clinic weeks after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans. The embryos of Noah’s mother, Rebekkah, were among 1400 stored in canisters of liquid nitrogen retrieved by police in boats in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina struck, doctors feared the embryos would be lost as the clinic was left without power and temperatures soared to more than 100F. But the doctors persuaded the governor to allow the rescue from the flooded hospital.

We don’t know what will become of Noah Markham; what kind of life he will lead; how he will affect the course of history; who his descendants will be, and what influence they will have on the flow of civilization. There really are no accidents in life. What may seem to be random and without reason, will ultimately have a purpose in the grand scheme of the universe. Is it odd, or is it God.

The apostle Paul was born a Jew, as he says “a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” And yet this man who had hunted down Christians in order to bring them before the Jewish tribunals for trial went on to become the founder of the Christian movement which altered the course of human history.

We never know what God has in store for us. Paul says that we must trust God and press on, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” until we reach the goal which God has set before each of us.

All of us have endured shadow times in our lives, times of uncertainty and despair, those dark nights of soul when we wondered if the sun really would come up tomorrow. They may have been personal tragedies, or national ones, times of uncertainty and doubt, crises of faith and spiritual confusion.

Long before Kris Kristofferson wrote his song of despair and loneliness, “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” a shepherd boy named David sang out of the depths of his soul. “In Psalm 22, he cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” But there were many songs of joy and deliverance, where the blues of the night turn to rejoicing at the dawn: “Weeping may linger for the night,” David says, “but joy comes with the morning.”

Singing was so much a part of the life of Israel; it was an expression of the soul of the people. When the Jews were exiles in the land of Babylon, one writer composed this song: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?”

But they did sing, and the songs have come to be the expression of the soul’s longing as well as the joy of the human spirit. The music of the soul was the music of hope. As the seed of life that became Noah Markham emerged from the waters of chaos, so music often became the seed that prompted hope in the lives of so many men and women.

So much of our great art and music have emerged from the crucible of pain. When African and European music first began to merge to create what eventually became the blues, the slaves sang songs filled with words telling of their extreme suffering and privation. One of the many responses to their oppressive environment resulted in the field holler. The field holler gave rise to the spiritual, and the blues, notable among all human works of art for their profound despair . . . They gave voice to the mood of alienation that prevailed in the construction camps of the South, for it was in the Mississippi Delta that blacks were often forcibly conscripted to work on the levee and land-clearing crews, where they were often abused and then tossed aside or worked to death.

When you consider some of the great blues singers and jazz musicians, so many of them died young. When I was in Kansas City a few years ago, a visited the Phoenix, the club where Charlie Parker played. Parker experienced many personal difficulties throughout his life. Often in debt and addicted to alcohol and drugs, he endured broken marriages, suicide attempts, and imprisonment. His death at the age of 34 was the result of a number of ailments, including stomach ulcers, pneumonia, cirrhosis of the liver, and a heart attack. Bird Parker is buried in Kansas City. He once said that if you don’t feel the music in your soul, it’s not going to come out of your horn.

Billie Holiday, whose mother was only 13 when she was born, grew up in a brothel. It was there she first heard the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith on an old Victrola. Billie died at the age of 44 in New York almost unrecognizable—thin, drawn, haunted. She had sold off her clothing to feed her habit and her little dog. Even on her deathbed, someone managed to smuggle heroin into her room. Joe Glaser, who paid for her funeral as he had done for Charlie Parker’s, said that her death was a concoction of everything she’d done for the last twenty years.

John Coltrane, whose addictions led to his early death, recovered in time to compose A Love Supreme, a synthesis of music and religion to the glory of God. Coltrane said, “My music is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being . . . When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hangups . . . I want to speak to their souls.”

While songs and music may express the soul’s longing and aspiration, it also expresses the power and majesty of God’s presence. Jazz may not be the language that speaks to you. You may find your mystical experience in the written word, or in art, or in the natural world, or in the silence of quiet reflection, or perhaps in human love and relationships. But however God chooses to speak to you, and however you choose to listen to God, the important thing is that you do listen. Especially in those times of doubt and despair. That is when the song will be heard most clearly and you will find your way through the dark night.

Paul says that regardless of what is happening in your life, you must press on, not looking behind to what is past, but rather to the future, knowing full well that there are no accidents life, but God’s intention. We need to trust in the love of God. As the songs says: “Trust love, trust God. Love will have the final word.”

When the last chord is played;.
When the final note is sung;
When the last prayer is uttered;
When the final word is spoken,
it will be love.

Trust love, trust God, and move on with a song in your heart and music in your soul.

-Harry L. Serio