Skittley be bop de boop de bop
I have heard from people through the years that jazz is an acquired taste, and you either acquire it or you don’t; It’s kind of like rutabaga or persimmons in that way. As a musical form, it can be lively, unpredictable, and rarely played the same way twice, even by the same author. It can also be mellow, smooth, kind of like sitting next to a quiet stream on a late summer afternoon. It’s as much something you feel as something you play or listen to. In fact, it’s hard to define in that way. The Great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong once said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”
I think the trick to jazz is in the rhythm, it’s just a bit off tempo even when it’s on. Other forms of music can be fluid in tempo – folk, rock, gospel, bluegrass – but not like jazz. When you play jazz, you have to find the rhythm of the players you play with and the rhythm of the song and the rhythm of the place you play in. A song in four-four time might actually be closer to three and a quarter-four and a half. I think it’s this odd rhythm, especially when you start listening to fusion jazz or experimental stuff that throws people off. It almost feels like they thrive on trying to create a rhythm that’s arrhythmic.
I think we are a people of rhythms. Most of us get up around the same time every day, go the same route to work, eat the same kinds of foods. We have certain patterns to the way we approach life, sort a musical score that we are playing through the things we do. And for most of us, you can tell when the rhythm is off. We feel it, like a guitarist realizing the drummer is speeding up or slowing down. It causes us to feel off balance and out of kilter. We are only comfortable again when things fall back into the rhythms we are used to.
In the Gospel of Luke, our passage today brings the earthly ministry of Jesus to a close. And it does so by talking about the day in, day out ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem, teaching during the day in the Temple and around its grounds and retreating to the Mount of Olives to rest at night. This was not only Jesus’s rhythm, but also the rhythm of his disciples and those that came to hear him teach. Notice how the people around Jesus got into rhythm with him in the daily patterns and habits; they heard him every day before going about their business or perhaps heard him at midday or in the afternoon as they sat under the porches to hear him while getting out of the sun. But the rhythm was one of being still to hear Jesus teach, listening to the words of Jesus as he asked and answered questions, simply being in the presence of Jesus daily. There is a similar passage in John which says,
Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. (John 7:53-8:2)
This was a regular practice for Jesus and for those that followed him: get up, get dressed, eat, go sit in the Temple courtyards and listen to/engage with Jesus as he taught. Imagine that. Your morning before you go to work spent sitting with Jesus talking about the prophets, poets, and law of the Hebrew Scriptures; discussing how to understand things that people had misunderstanding for years. Your afternoon spent under the shade of the Temple porticos listening to Jesus interpret the law as it was meant to be not as it been abused and manipulated for other ends.
The truth is, we don’t have to imagine it. We don’t have to wonder about it. We can do it. We can have a rhythm in sync with the rhythms of God in our lives and ministries here. We can be in the presence of God and seek the same counsel and understanding that they did in the Temple with Jesus. We simply need to live into the promise that Jesus offers in the high priestly prayer of John’s Gospel.
…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26)
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-14)
The Holy Spirit is the drummer of our lives. The Spirit sets the rhythm for us to walk to so that we can fulfill the work that God has for us as disciples. Living in the Spirit of God is being in the presence of God where we can sit and be taught, ask questions, gain knowledge and understanding just as if Jesus was here because the Spirit teaches us and guides us as Jesus would teach and guide us. When we stop listening, when we ignore the rhythm, we get out of step, off the beat, and life devolves into something less than what God would have for us.
So, how do we do this? I think the first step is learn a rhythm that is basic. Any drummer knows you don’t become Buddy Rich or Lars Ulrich in a day. It takes time to develop, time to learn to listen. We need some musical training wheels to help us learn to listen. In her book, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, Elaine Heath uses the story of Sam to talk about the idea becoming a Christian through an unconventional journey with an unconventional church. In the end, Sam realizes, “Being a Christian isn’t about rules and never having made wrong choices…It’s receiving mercy, giving yourself away to others, finding peace and healing in the process.” I like this definition of what it is to be a Christian because I think it sums up a way to live into the Love God/Love Neighbor commandment that Jesus has given us as the baseline for Christianity. I think this is a good rhythm to get started with; learning to listen to the Spirit as God offers mercy to us, hearing the Spirit guide us into offer ourselves as servants to others, and being healed and at peace as we do. The key, the most basic thing to begin the process though, is actually being a disciple, being someone who chooses to follow in the way of Jesus and will hear and follow the beat of the Spirit’s drum.
So, what are you hearing? As you listen now in your heart is there a small voice affirming you and speaking to you? Is there a mad collection of noise and chaos? IS there silence? What do you hear?
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Heath, Elaine. The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.
 (Heath 2017, p.170)