Tag Archives: Godspell

I thank God for Psalm 137

I’m thankful for Psalm 137.

I thank God for its ugliness. I thank God for the anger, the pain, and the anguish.

I thank God for the barely contained rage that drips from every word.

The Bible has its fair share of troubling passages. Perhaps none are more troubling than these nine verses that end with a cry for infanticide. It begins with these words:

Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down,

crying because we remembered Zion.

We hung our lyres up in the tree there

because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;

Our tormentors requested songs of joy:

“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.

But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

Ravaged by the exile, the writer of Psalm 137 feels pain that goes beyond mere homesickness. His home has been destroyed. He and his people have been uprooted and taken to a foreign soil. A once proud people have seen their monarchy collapse. The glory days of David and Solomon are a distant memory. The grand Temple, the house of God on earth and center of all commercial and cultural activity, is rubble. God, who delivered the people from slavery, who gave them the Law to be the sign of their special relationship, who gave them the Land in which to dwell and worship, who made a people out of no people, cannot be heard. Everything the people knew was gone. In the midst of this devastation they are asked to sing. This is where their tormentors asked them to sing a song of joy. Psalm 137 is the response.

It continues with a plea for Jerusalem. The song longs for the memory of the city, and promises to keep it fresh. The promise of remembering is an important one. Time and again God tells the people to remember. Remembering keeps the people alive. It keeps them God’s people, and at this point, memory is all they have. Memory not only of the city, but of God’s presence in their lives. And then the Psalm goes to a more recent, bitter memory:

Remember what the Edomites did on Jerusalem’s dark day:

“Rip it down, rip it down!

All the way to its foundayions!” they yelled.

The memory of the taunt is a dark one, and it leads finally to this:

Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,

a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us!

A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.”

I thank God for Psalm 137.

It is a devastating plea made in the midst of a devastating time. It is easy to read these words and be horrified. How could anyone wish something such as this? How could this be in our Holy Book? How could this be in the same book that holds Jesus’ plea for love of enemy? It is easy to read these words and just slowly walk away. Instead, I invite you to sit with them. Sit with the devastation that must have come to the people. Sit with the vision of what they experienced. Sit with the defeat at the hands of the conquerors, and remember that the Psalmist asks for nothing more than what was done to them.

I thank God for Psalm 137 because it gives me a place for anger. It gives me a place for devastation. It gives me a place to cry out. It gives me permission to give God my worst. I love the gentle words of Jesus. I love to read about the Lord as my shepherd, leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. I love to hear the promise of the prophets looking forward to the time when swords will be bent into plows. Psalm 137 though, gives me a place for other emotions. It gives me a place for all my anger.

It gives me a chance to react to beheadings of healthcare workers. It gives me a way to react to school girls being kidnapped. It gives me space to want to exact my tooth from the one who abuses their spouse or child. It gives me permission to scream, because sometimes a light, well-thought-out, gentle prayer just doesn’t satisfy me. Psalm 137 gives me room to rage when grace still feels a long way off. A closer look though, reveals that grace is contained even within this poem.

This poem is about the desire for revenge. It is about the very human yearning to exact punishment for wrong doing. It is about a people looking to take an eye for an eye, or in this case, a child for a child. The people were destroyed. Their children were presumably murdered in front of them, and this poem contains within it the collective rage of a people not only destroyed, but tormented afterwards. “Sing us a song,” their captors say.

Remember though, that this is a poem about the yearning for revenge. It is not a story of revenge fulfilled. It is a plea for God to take out God’s wrath, but the pleas are left unanswered. The cries are left unheeded. God’s voice is not heard. There is no response, at least not here. Eventually Cyrus the Great of Persia overthrew Babylon, and allowed the people to return. Eventually the people were restored. Eventually the people were allowed to return home. The Temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city were remade.

Eventually a savior came.

In the face of injustice, oppression, and violence, I don’t often react like a gentle lamb. Revenge is a powerful impulse. Just ask Liam Neeson. We love the action hero going on a quest for vengeance. We love that delicious moment when the evil doers get what’s coming to them. This doesn’t happen here.

And this is another reason I love Psalm 137. God’s response to this call for vengeance goes unheeded. The people are restored, but not through vengeance. They are restored through the suffering servant. They are restored through the lamb. When I am ready to boil over, this is an important reminder.

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He drew in the sand. Godspell Lent, part 3 #tryLENT

This is part three of the Godspell journey in Lent. The theme for the week is Conflict, and the song is “By My Side.”

Part 1: Prepare Ye the Way.

Part 2: Jesus Plays The Clock Game.

heart in the sandHe drew in the sand.

The woman was in front of him. As were the Pharisees and legal experts who brought her to him and the regular crowds there in the Temple.

She was faced with public humiliation and scorn in the very least. Capital punishment, though unlikely, still placed on the table before her. A pawn in a game played by powerful men, the woman has no name. We know nothing of her history. Nothing of her circumstances. We know only that she is a slut, an adulteress, unworthy of being treated as a human, and we know that only because the powerful men say so.

“Caught in the act of adultery,” is what they say. How exactly they caught her is unclear. Was she set up? Was she raped? Where is the man? They claim to be holding to the Law, but the fact is, the men care little about the Law. They use it for their own good. They use it for their own benefit, setting themselves up over and above all others. They aren’t interested in justice. If they cared about the law, then where is the man? Leviticus 20:10 requires that both the man and the woman caught in adultery are to be executed. The alternative is that the woman wasn’t yet married. Adultery laws were based entirely on property rights, so if the woman wasn’t yet completely the property of another, than the man did nothing wrong. Instead, if she was simply betrothed to another man, she alone would suffer the consequences.

And while this sort of inter-gospel speculation is something I usually avoid, I cannot help but see this as a possible part of the story. While the accusers saw simply a woman who could be used in their game, perhaps Jesus saw something else. When Jesus looked at this woman, a woman pregnant and betrothed to another, perhaps he saw part of his own story. This, clearly, is pretty wild speculation, but it is speculation that fits. This whole story is wrought with speculation. There are dependable reasons to think that John 8:1-11 is not authentically John. There is good reason to think it was added later, maybe much later, than the already late writing of the Gospel of John. In most modern Bibles, the fact that this story isn’t found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of John is noted. Yet it remains a part of the story. It remains so because it feels like it fits.

In the musical Godspell this story is a turning point. It is a place where the community starts to question. This is where the community starts to wonder. The telling of this story is not done in the third person. It is not acted with frivolity and joy. It is the source of genuine discord, and a lot hangs in the balance of Jesus’ reaction. His response is a part of the cultural understanding of Jesus. Even those that know little of the man know the words that are attributed to him, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In the musical, there is a moment of tension before the community comes back together. The response to this crisis is the song “By My Side,” a beautifully haunting song that describes the groups resolve to move forward. The song however, ends with Judas deciding once and for all he had enough. At the end of the song, the community was tested by the conflict, and most of them decide to stick with Jesus even if doing so can be difficult. Judas decides to betray Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, the passage plays an important role in seeing what is at stake. The story isn’t about the law or justice. It’s not even really about grace. The story is about the leaders operating under the system that creates winners and losers, and about how Jesus refused to play along. The leaders care nothing about the woman nor her supposed sins. All they care about is beating Jesus. They want to trap him. They put him in a situation which cannot be won. Either he picks to condemn her, which upholds the Law, but jeopardizes him in the eyes of the Roman government, who are the only ones able to inflict capital punishment; or he chooses to let her go, thus making a mockery of the Law. They think they have him cornered. Either way he breaks the law. And how does Jesus respond?

He plays in the sand.

He refuses to get caught in their trap. Instead of seeing a pawn placed in front of him as a challenge, he sees a woman. His answer befuddles those that sought to trap him, and they leave one by one.

In our story of Godspell, this is when Judas had enough. This is the moment it was just too much to take. He wanted there to be a winner and loser, and he wanted to be on the winning side. Jesus, on the other hand, is not on anyone’s side. He is not interested in winning and losing. He was not willing to get caught up in the conflict – at least not in this conflict. He was not going to choose between the Law and grace because this is a false choice. I’m not saying that Jesus avoided conflict. He simply chose to meet conflict on his ground, in his way. He faced the conflict with nonviolence, with the power of grace and forgiveness, and with a will that was in perfect union with God the Father.

He faced the ultimate conflict when he faced the cross. Those that crucified him saw that as the ultimate trap. Finally, they forced his hand. They asked him if he was king. They demanded that he either declare himself King and attempt to rule, or  face death and be defeated. When he hung from the cross they thought they finally had him, but once again, Jesus refused to play along.

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Jesus hosts The Clock Game: “Higher, Higher, Higher”

Part two of our #TryLENT journey with the Godspell, the musical. Read Part one: Prepare Ye the Way.

Remember the Clock Game? It is a The Price is Right classic, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. The premise is so simple: just name the exact price of the prize, and you win it. You have as many guesses as you can muster in the 30 seconds on the clock. The contestant says a price, and the host says simply “higher,” or “lower,” until the right price is found. Above is a video of a woman who won $1 million playing the game. It helps that she nailed the first price on the first guess. It also helped that the second price was a nice round number. Still, it was an impressive feat.

This is the second part of our Godspell journey, and there is a great part of the musical that tells the story of Matthew 18:21-35. It is the story of a servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. I think the amount, taking exchange rates and translations into account, is one bajillion dollars. Actually, it is an amount that equals 60 million days of labor, so it may as well be a bajillion. When the master wants to collect the debt, the servant begs for mercy and promises to pay the master back. Clearly this is absurd promise. It would take him over 150,000 years to pay the master back. The master though, takes compassion on the servant, and forgives the entire debt. It feels like a happy ending, but then the servant goes and sees a fellow servant who owes him money. The second servant, facing a debt of about two month’s pay, seeks the same mercy. It is refused. When the master gets wind of the refusal, he’s mad. “I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).

This is a great parable about forgiveness, and it is important to hear the echo of the Lord’s Prayer in the background, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” On its own, it is a great fable about compassion and how we should behave as a people who have been granted mercy. Our of our gratitude for the mercy we have been shown, we should show others the same mercy. Given Jesus’ intro to the story however, where he plays a little bit of the Clock Game, it takes an even greater weight.

Yes, Jesus plays the Clock Game with the disciples as a part of a long teaching about the nature of the community Jesus is forming. Back at the beginning of the chapter Jesus is asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” (Matthew 18:1). His answer includes several parables and tweetable quotes, like:

      “I assure you that if you don’t turn your life around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom.” (18:3)

 

    “Those who humble themselves like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcome me.” (18:4)”If your hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away.” (18:8)”If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine to search for the one that wandered off?” (18:13)”If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together… But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others.” (18:15-16)

The disciples are taught that humility matters. They are taught to avoid sin as much as they can, but Jesus acknowledges that sin is going to happen. So he tells them how to work to bring people back into community. He tells individuals to do all that they can (I’m assuming that the cutting off the hand thing is hyperbole) to avoid sin. He is also telling the community to work hard at keeping in community – even in the face of those that sin against you. So Peter, who seems to be getting it, starts to play The Clock Game.

The prize: Community. It is the ability to stay together as the Body. It is nothing less than entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, which is inseparable from connection to the Community. So Peter guesses at the price of community. His first guess is seven times. Jesus’ response? “Higher.”

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive them as many as seven times?’

“Jesus said, ‘Not just seven times, but seventy and seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

So does Jesus mean 77 times?

Higher.

Does he mean 70 times 7 times?

Higher.

Does he mean a bajillion times?

Now we’re getting closer.

This feels like an impossible task, but the task of staying in community is never easy. Being in community is full of difficulty. It is full of pain, pitfalls, and disappointment. Being a community means that faulted, hurtful, selfish people are going to come together for long enough to see the faults, the hurt, and the selfishness.Yet it is only in community that we may know Christ.

The only way to God is through community. Are there moments of individual revelation? Of course. Are there moments when solitude is a holy experience? Yes. But any full pathway to God includes others. It includes doing the hard work of justice, mercy, kindness, grace, and love. And if we are going to be in community, we need to forgive. Day by day, every day. We are need of forgiveness, and called to extend forgiveness to others. It is not an easy task. It takes a lasting, growing, long-term relationship with Christ and others to be able to remain in community.

Day by day, the Godspell song says. Day by day I pray for three things, to “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.” Those things don’t come easily. They don’t come magically after saying a prayer, or after having water poured on your head at baptism. Seeing God more clearly is a process of practicing intentional grace. The only way to see God more clearly is to see God in the face of others. See God in the face of strangers, in the face of homeless man on the street, in the face of immigrants struggling to make a life, in the face of the women on your screen with nothing else on, in the face of those that want to do us harm. It is no easy task to see God clearly. I’d much prefer a caricature of God, one that looks like me, acts like me, worships like me, works hard like me, and thinks like me. So Day by day I pray. I pray for the compassion it takes to forgive. I pray that God will have the same kind of compassion on me. And I play The Clock Game.

How many times will I be forgiven? How many times am I called to forgive my brother and sister? How many times will I be invited into community? How many times can I see the face of God in another? How many days will I have to live in the Kingdom, if I but answer the call? How many times will Christ call me back?

Seven. Higher

Seventy Seven. Higher…

Seventy times Seven. Higher…

Higher…

Higher…

 

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clock game

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Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. It begins in the middle of the story, and ends before it’s over.

Mark begins John baptizing people in the Jordan River. There’s no wise men, no manger or shepherds. There’s no virgin Mary or stunned Joseph. There’s no Christmas at all. There’s just John, the wild and wooly prophet telling people to change their lives and minds, and look forward to the coming one. Jesus shows up pretty quickly, and is baptized. As he comes out of the water, Jesus hears a voice from the heavens, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Thus marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Thus marks the beginning of the musical Godspell. Thus marks our beginning of Lent, and our photo journal. For the next few weeks I will be writing and reflecting on different themes, songs, and stories that are found in Godspell. After a prologue, Godspell begins with John the Baptist blowing the shofar and calling the people to baptism. In our production, the children are the first ones up. Then they bring the adults with them to the stage. We sing joyfully, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” until Jesus comes to be baptized as well. It is the start of the musical. More importantly, it is the start of our journey. We are invited this week to take pictures of things that makes us think of “Prepare the Way,” and words like begin, embark, baptize, water, and Spirit. Some began the journey by sharing pictures, all of which you can see on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter using the hashtag #tryLENT. These are some that were shared on various social media:

Announce

Announce

Begin

Begin

Start

Start

Water

Water

The Jordan River

The Jordan River

 

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It begins with these words: “From dust were you formed, and to dust you will return. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These were the words I used as I applied ashes to the foreheads and hands of those that came forward on Ash Wednesday. As the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a chance to take the sign of the cross in ash, and begin the journey toward Easter. We begin the season of Lent with reminder of our own mortality, a call to repentance, and a call to faith.

Why then, on the first Sunday of Lent do we share the story of Jesus being baptized? Why the sudden shift from Death, mortality, and repentance to baptism? Because it really isn’t that much of a shift. The words of the imposition of ashes are a poignant reminder, and an apt starting point for the journey of Lent.

“From dust you were formed and to dust you will return.” This has not only a theological truth rooted in the second creation story as found in Genesis 2. It has a scientific truth in our understanding of the cosmos. Carl Sagan is famously quoted as saying, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” All of this is to say that we are mortal. The human body was made as a fragile vessel.

When we take on the ash of the cross we are reminded of the simple fact that we will die. The truth of death is one of the only universals of life. It is something we all share. Yet it it is a truth we seldom want to acknowledge. It is good, every now and then, to be reminded of our own mortality. Not to dwell in morbidity or to scare people into believing. Instead, I like to remind myself and others of our mortality so as to savor every breath. Yes, we were formed from dust and to dust we will return. But in between, we are fill with breath. We are filled with life. We are filled with spirit.

On Ash Wednesday my daughter came forward to receive ashes. I placed my finger on her forehead, rubbed some dirt on her and said, “From dust you were formed, and to dust you will return.” I looked into her deep brown eyes and I could scarcely get the words out. It was too much. It was the truth, but in that moment it felt like too much truth. Somehow I got the words out. I was thankful that this was not the end of the imposition. I had more words to speak. Through my tears, I put my hand on her shoulder and continued, “Repent, and believe in the good news.”

And thus we get back to the beginning. “Repent and believe in the good news,” was the heart of John’s message while he was baptizing. It was Jesus’ first message after coming back from the wilderness. In Mark 1:16, Jesus says, “Now is the time! Here comes the God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust the good news” (Common English Bible). This translation gives us the meaning for repent. For too many teachers and preachers repentance has to do with shame and guilt. Repentance though, is not about shame. It is about orienting. It is not about looking back, it is about looking ahead. It acknowledges that we have fallen short, but repentance does not allow us dwell on sin. When we repent, we turn. At the beginning of Lent, and at the beginning of this journey, we are invited to repent.

Turn away from those things that distract us from God. Turn away from the things that pull us away from life. Turn away from the things that get in the way of loving God and loving others. Turn toward forgiveness and reconciliation. Turn toward justice, healing, and peace. Turn toward grace. Repent, and believe the good news. And what is that good news? It goes back to Jesus being baptized. When he got out of the water, there was a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11, Common English Bible).

The ashes are a reminder of our mortality. They are reminder that we must turn away from the things that keep us from life and toward the things of God. And they are reminder of this good news that we may all share. “You are God’s son. You are God’s daughter, whom God dearly loves. In you God finds happiness.” To believe this statement is as true of me as it is of Jesus is not to believe I am the messiah. It is to understand that God’s love is so full, so abundant, so steadfast, that even I am God’s son. I was formed from dust, given the breath of life, and offered the water of baptism. I am God’s son, adopted into God’s family not because I earned my way to such a distinction, but only by the grace of God.

This is good news. This is truly remarkable news. This is amazing news. It is the kind of news I want to share. It is the kind of news that makes me want to sing. “Prepare the way of the Lord. Repent, and believe in the good news. Prepare the way for a journey with Christ.”


 From February 25-March 3 we’re invited to reflect on “Day by Day.” This song in the musical comes in a time when the community coming together. The song includes the beautiful prayer “See thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.” So the words we should look for are things like follow, grow, see, community, friendship. Please share pictures using #tryLENT


 

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Pastor Robb is going to sing?

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

(With a tip of the hat to this great article from The Onion – vulgarity warning)

The cast of Riverside and the Center For Living Arts expressed their shock when Director Dino Hayz announced the solo list for their April 18 production of Godspell.

“Pastor Robb is singing?” one cast member, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned.  “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, and knows his Bible.  But singing?”

Reports indicate that while he has a fairly loud preaching voice, and feels comfortable being in front of people, he’s not exactly a song-and-dance kind of guy.  With no shortage of talented veterans to choose from, Dino Hayz inexplicably asked McCoy to sing one of the biggest songs of the show, “We Beseech Thee.”

“It’s the last fun number of the show,” said anonymous.  “Everyone will want to crucify him, not Jesus.”

McCoy showed some potential in the other three shows he’s been in.  The first was a 50’s Follies show he did in eighth grade at his own church.  Most believe that he only joined that cast because he “might get to hold hands with Christina.”  One witness says that they did, in fact, hold hands, but broke up only a few months after the show.  The causes are still unknown, as the note that ended the relationship has been lost.

His two shows as an adult were last year’s presentation of Godspell, where his vocal limitations were apparent in his two-line solo.  His last production was a play called A Bright Room Called Day. 

“He didn’t even memorize his lines,” said one reviewer of the drama about the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany.  Ironically, in both Godspell and Bright Room¸ the ordained United Methodist pastor played Satan.

“He’s a damn good Satan, but I’ve never seen a show where Satan has to sing and dance.  We’ll just have to sing back-up extra loud for this one.”

The show is Friday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church.  There will be a bake sale before the show and at intermission.  There will also be someone taking bets as to whether or not McCoy will “ever show his face in the church again after this debacle.”

2013 Godspell reflection, part 1

2013 Godspell reflection, part 2

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Sermon: You are the light of the world.

I wonder in this world, how many people have never been told that they are the light of the world.  How many people, how many children?  How many adults have lived their whole lives and no one has ever said to them, “You are the light of the world.  You are the light of my world”? How tragic that is.  There is somebody out there, maybe sitting right here. Maybe its a neighbor or a co-worker.  Maybe it is someone that comes to our community dinner, or someone that we serve at The Wardrobe.  Maybe there is someone you sit next to on an airplane or someone you see at the grocery store, or the waitress you will have at lunch after church.  There is somebody that has never been told, “You are the light of the World.”  There are people out there in the world living that have never been told that they are the light of the world.  But I’m here to tell you, every single one of you, that you are the light of the world.  But its not just my words, no one cares if I think you are.  Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High thinks you are the light of the world.  You.

For the full sermon, click here.

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You are the light of the world.

Part Two of my story of Godspell. Read part one here.

Click here to go to the full sermon, where I talk about our experience with Godspell, called “You are the Light of the World.”  From 11:30-20:00, I talk more extensively about the salt and the light as found in Matthew 5:13-14.

Our Riverside UMC "Godspell" cast

Our Riverside UMC “Godspell” cast

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang. Dino Hayz, director of the Center for Living Arts and our Jesus, went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. We left the sanctuary rocking. We were half way home, and we all sensed that things were going well. None of our rehearsals suggested that the show would go as smoothly as it had been. At the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels, but finally a city of man,” I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something, and I wanted to help her. I saw her and said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ she was one of the people that you guys sang to when Dino got her to stand up.'”
She kind of laughed when I said that,” Tom told me. “And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.'”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, and I thanked Tom for telling me about their exchange. Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, and my efforts at standing became feeble. I literally fell to my knees in tears as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

There were so many moments that made Godspell a memorable experience. If it were not for Tom’s story, I would have counted it as a great memory. I would have remembered the impromptu rehearsals in the kitchen with my wife and daughter as we sang and danced together. I would have remembered Molly gently nudging me into the right place so I was ready to be one of the priests in the Good Samaritan parable. I would have remembered the prayer we shared before the show. I would have remembered hugging Dino during the farewell song, and whispering to him. “Thank you, brother.” With or without that conversation with Tom I would have relished in the glow of accomplishing something as a team.

After hearing the story of the woman that had never been told that she was the light of the world though, I had something more.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.
“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. They are words from what we call The Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-6. It is a small part of Jesus’ dissertation about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world.” It is a claim on those that had gathered. It is an assurance of what Jesus’ followers are, and what they shall be.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus declares today. You.

So let your light so shine. There is a light that is within you that is good. There is a light within you that is of God. There is a light within you that needs to be seen. I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in abusive relationships, allowing their light to be crushed, and I want to scream. I think for a moment of youth that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it kills me to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. That is in you. Hear Jesus crying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.'”

That little musical gave me a lot of things. It gave me memories. It gave me friendships. It gave me knowledge about myself. And it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. It gave me a way to think about my mission as a follower of Christ.
I will strive to never allow another man, woman, or child pass me by without letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are the light of the world.

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I love it when a plan comes together

PART ONE of my story about GODSPELL
My wife and I during rehearsal.  In the show, this became one of the little bits of magic onto which I will forever hold.  Every time we rehearsed this, 'Jesus' cuts in and stops us from dancing.  And I was supposed to say, "Yeah, but she's so, so..."  Every time in rehearsal, I said something different to end that line.  Nothing I tried ever felt right.  Then during the show, I looked at her and our eyes met, and my heart melted again, and I finished my line perfectly "she's an angel."

My wife and I during rehearsal. In the show, this became one of the little bits of magic which I will forever cherish. Every time we rehearsed this, ‘Jesus’ cuts in and stops us from dancing. And I was supposed to say, “Yeah, but she’s so, so…” Every time in rehearsal, I said something different to end that line. Nothing I tried ever felt right. Then during the show, I looked at her and our eyes met, and my heart melted again, and I finished my line perfectly “she’s an angel.”

I messed up my line every time in rehearsal.  I only had two lines, and mine was the first line of the song.  There was no warm-up.  No lead-in.  No chance to find my way in the song.  No chance to start slow and pick up momentum.  It was just cue music, grab mic, and sing.  Sing.

I’ve held a mic on “stage” before hundreds of times.  I’ve given sermons, speeches, toasts, and prayers in front of large crowds and small gatherings.  I’ve even sung in front of people before, but always as a member of a choir.  I had not been nervous in a church in years.  Yet I knew my line was coming.  From the moment the previous song started I was already thinking about it. My turn to clutch that mic and sing was coming.

Every time in rehearsal I had messed it up.  I came in late.  Or I was way off key.  Or I botched the wording.  Up until the show I was ‘ofer.’  I should have been terrified.  It thought I was going to be terrified, but here’s the crazy thing, when it came time for my two-line solo, I wasn’t nervous.  I sang it.  “You are the light of the world,” I said as I pointed to one of the people in the audience.  And then the ensemble came in behind me  “You are the light of the world.”  I felt good, so I kept going.  I don’t know if I was off-key or not.  I knew at this point the only mistake I could make was to hold back.  “But if that light’s under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial,” I sang. And for a moment, if only in my mind, I was Donnie Osmond as Joseph or Michael Crawford as the Phantom.  I was hooked.

A few months ago I sat in a coffee shop and met with the Director of the Center for Living Arts, Dino Hayz.  The Center is one of those little gems you find in old cities.  It is not a big theater, but it has a lot of heart.  Focusing mostly on youth theater, the Center specializes in doing quality shows quickly.  Before there was a Center though, there was Dino and his wife and friends that put together a company to do Godspell in churches.  They have been doing Godspell in churches for over ten years.  They consider it their life’s ministry to spread the message of love and community that is a part of Godspell to as many people as possible.  “It’s not so much a musical,” he explained to me, as it is an experience.  “I want people to experience Christ’s love through what is happening all around them.”

We sat together and talked about an idea.  It was an idea hatched by our children’s minister months (years?) before.  What if we did Godspell together at our church?  What could we create if we took a few of the experienced members of Dino’s company, and did Godspell with the talented and willing people from our church?  What if, instead of them doing Godspell at our church, we did it together with our church?

I left that lunch knowing that we were embarking on something good.  I had no idea just how magnificent it would become.

On the day of our placement auditions, I wondered who would come.  On the first night it was clear that we had created something special.  20 people came.  There were two kindergartners, a handful of junior high and senior high youth.  There were a couple of adults who had never been in a show before.  There were a few remarkably talented singers.  There was a senior member of our church choir, and regular singer from our praise band.  We ranged in age from 5-65(ish).  We were men and women, boys and girls.  Some brought members of their family in the journey with them, others came with friends.  Some came eagerly.  Some came only because they were dragged, almost literally, from other tasks.  We were scared, excited, and willing.

We supported each other.  As each person took turns singing a few lines a capella from a song of their choice  we cheered.  At least one youth simply had someone standing next to her for support, so she wouldn’t have to stand alone.  The truth was, none of us were alone.  On the very first night we were creating the community that Godspell is about.  From moment one, we were living the musical.  On that night, each one of us put a pebble in our shoe and called it “dare.”

They say live theater gets in your blood.  People talk about it in the same way they talk about addiction.  Intellectually, I accepted that it must be true, but until the word “crucial” left my lips, I had never experienced anything like it.  

Being a part of this production Godspell changed me.  I’m not even sure how exactly yet.  I know I want to be a in another musical.  I know that I want to have that 10-minutes-to-showtime excitement again.  I know that I want to have that it’s-almost-my-line sense of calm confidence again.   I want to look out into an audience and see their smiles, read their expressions, bask in their gripped silence.  I want to look into the eyes of a cast member in the midst of another show and whisper, “we’re really doing it,” with the same mix of fun and terror that I had last Saturday.  I want to put my arms around a group of friends after a show well done.  I want to crash into bed, emotionally spent, and dream about the songs I just sang.

When I think about the journey that started with a lunch in a coffee shop in October, and ended on a spring afternoon… Well, I have to stop myself.

This journey is going to keep going.  There are going to be more shows.   There are going to be more rehearsals.  There are going to be more chances to sing about love.  Nothing ended that night.  It turns out that something was sparked.  Relationships have been forged.  Dreams have been shared.  A vision has been caught.  There’s more to come.  The show will go on.

And if you’re looking for a ensemble to “do” Godspell in your church, I know just the group.

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