02/02/20 Psalm 150:1-6 – 1Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. Part of my education has been in music. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Music, and a Master of Music, both in Vocal Arts. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was fourteen years old, and in order to get my music education teaching license I had to obtain a minimum level of piano proficiency, as well as rudimentary knowledge in the string, percussion, brass, and woodwind families. In other words, I have a background in music. Most of my knowledge of music history, however, has diminished to the point of uselessness, although I still use the knowledge of composition and the vocal training I received. Which brings me to my lesson today. As I look at my skills and those of other musicians who I know, respect, and enjoy, I have to conclude something about what we refer to as talent. We often define ‘talent’ as a natural aptitude toward something; it is something we express with little or no effort or training, especially when it applies to sports, music, and the other arts. It is my belief that few of the people making a living in sports and the arts are actually all that talented. I don’t say this to demean them or deny their abilities in the least. I am saying this because in order to obtain excellence in any area, whether it is the arts, sports, business, or relationships, it requires more effort, determination, desire, and focus than talent. Talent is not a determinant as to how successful someone is going to be. Talent is a pointer to what is possible, but not a definitive indicator of achievement. We have seen this: someone with talent but lacks the motivation or discipline to attain levels of success. We’ve seen the opposite: someone with little talent but has the desire to succeed. They overcome all odds to reach their goals. Itzhak Perlman is a world class musician. Born in Tel Aviv, he contracted polio at the age of four. He was fortunate and made a good recovery to be able to walk with crutches. He heard a classical music performance on the radio and became interested in the violin, and today he may be the greatest violinist that has ever lived. Was it talent that got him there? Here is his daily schedule: He arises at 5:15 every morning, showers, eats something light, then practices for 4 ½ hours. Then he has lunch, reads a little, then practices for another 4 ½ hours. After dinner he spends time with his family and relaxes. This has been his schedule since he has been out of school and started his professional career. On the days of his performances, he still gets up at 5:15, showers, eats something light and then practices for 4 ½ hours. After lunch he reads, exercises, takes a ninety-minute nap, then dresses and goes to the venue for a soundcheck and brief rehearsal. Forty-five minutes before the performance he goes into his dressing room, locks the door with two guards posted. He then prays for one minute, asking that God helps him play well that night. The remainder of the time is spent in prayer for the people who will be attending his concert. He does not doubt that God will help him play well, because for nine hours a day, every day, he plays alone in a room for his God. This is not talent, but dedication that has driven him and still drives him. And through him, God blesses the people who hear him play – hearts are opened, tears can be shed, lives are touched. Itzhak not only plays his instrument for God, but he is an instrument for God. Someone once heard Rachmaninoff in concert and approached him afterwards. The man said to the maestro, “I would give anything to play like you,” to which Rachmaninoff replied, “No, you wouldn’t.” He is right; talent, or no talent, most of us, me included, are unwilling to give what is required to attain the highest levels of excellence in most instances. And again, I offer this not as a criticism, but as reality. Some people are tapped on the shoulder by God to specialize in a particular skill, others are going to serve humanity and God differently, by being a utilitarian person and not a specialist. Some of us have other interests and demands that God presents to us that will broaden our focus. The result is that we are unable to devote the time to achieve the highest standards in a single area. This is not to justify mediocrity, but we must find the balance in our lives and for our responsibilities, and for what we can do and give, with the results of those efforts for our unique calling. It is not fair for us to judge ourselves against anyone else. I can feel badly because I do not play the guitar or sing as well as others, but then I do not put in 4-6 hours a day of practice as professionals do. If I practiced more, my performing skills would improve. The entire point is this: are we dedicating what we do in our lives to God, so that Spirit can more easily and voluminously flow through us, or are we allowing the World to influence all that we do? There is a poem that can be traced back to 1912 that has inaccurately been credited to Saint Francis. It begins: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love.... Each of us can become an instrument of peace for God, if we dedicate ourselves to Spirit, if we are open to Christ’s flow through us. We can become an instrument of Service, an instrument of Strength, and an instrument of Love. In our opening Bible verse, we are encouraged to praise God with various instruments: the trumpet, which in those days were long tubular instruments without valves like the modern trumpet. They were good for pronouncements; they made a loud sound that caught people’s attention. Some of us are God’s trumpets – we are out there making a lot of sound and capturing attention, and God’s blessings are flowing through us as we play. We are encouraged to praise God through the harp and lyre. These are more delicate stringed instruments. The harp, at that time, had perhaps six or so strings that each played a separate sound. The Lyre was also stringed and was more box-like, some had a fingerboard, which enabled multiple notes from one string, not unlike a guitar. Both instruments were made so that people could walk with them. People could be mobile as they played. God uses us in this manner, as well. Some of us are not meant to be stationary, but to get out there amongst the people and share a more delicate nature with them, more one on one. The verse suggests that we can praise God with the timbrel, which was like today’s tambourine. It helped keep time, helped keep people together through shaking and tapping. It was loud enough for people to hear yet still maintain their activities. Christ will use some of us this way. Spirit will utilize our lives and gifts to keep people synchronized to the movement of Spirit. Cymbals added even more emphasis to a steady beat at specific times, loud clashing cymbals that also captured attention and added excitement. We can see God using people as they make a splash and help inspire and direct us. The verse inspires us to praise God with the strings and pipe. Again, more gentle instruments, and adding melody and harmony to God’s orchestra. God will use each of us, our lives, our experiences, as an example to influence other hearts and minds. Then we can praise God with dance. Unlike a musical offering, we use the music around us and within us to praise God with our movement, with our physical grace. And God will utilize our unique gifts and individual personalities to affect people. We are each part of God’s orchestra, some brass, some strings, some woodwind, some percussion, and others dancing, but all playing our part, united, forming one glorious symphony of praise. But it takes willingness, dedication, and attention. Sometimes our instrument is out of tune and needs attention. At other times we simply forget our part, the notes just don’t come to us, the dance movements are forgotten. It takes practice to be part of God’s orchestra and part of the human family. Yet God is always there to guide us, repair us, and love us through our challenges. And it is worth the investment. To be part of the process of praising God and being an instrument of God with Christ as the conductor of our lives is the highest attainment we can achieve as a Child of God. God blesses each of us uniquely, and what does God ask of us? Micah 6:8 answers this question: "...to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." To do what is right means to behave justly, which includes treating people fairly, without favoritism, prejudice or self-interest. To appreciate people, accept them, and approve of them. We all want to be treated justly, and God asks that we treat others justly as well. To love mercy is to love being kind, compassionate, and forgiving. This is more than being kind, compassionate, and forgiving; it means to love being merciful, not just be merciful. Romans 12:8 tells us - “He who shows mercy” is to do so “with cheerfulness”. The third requirement in Micah is to walk humbly with our God. Our walk with God is how we are playing our instrument in our life and how we allow God to play through us. It means to be in daily communion with Christ, to learn which way we are to go; to learn what notes we are to play. To walk with God is to willingly allow God to play His melody through us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t embellish and improvise on that tune, because we are expected to. We are expected to take what God gives us and add our own uniqueness, to co-create. To walk humbly with God is to allow God to lead as we dance. It means to stop stepping on His toes and trying to do a Waltz when God wants us to do a Samba. To walk humbly is to give up the ego, to release and allow. It is my prayer that we allow Christ to make us an instrument of Peace and Love and Joy. I pray that we surrender ourselves to Spirit, praise God for all that has been given to us, and enjoy our part in the divine Orchestra of Life.