Saturday, 25 June 2011

1st Sunday after Trinity: Resonance and Chaos

Romans 6:12-23
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 10:40-42
Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

“No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”

I bought my first drum kit when I was sixteen. It had been on loan to a friend of mine who’d let me play it and decided he didn’t want it and was at least third hand. It cost me the princely price of £45. I still don’t know if that was a good deal, but I was happy, even if my headache prone father was perhaps a little less so. Now £45 back in 1982 was a reasonable amount of money, but not huge, and I soon began to realise some of the problems with my purchase.

You see this really was a very cheap drum kit, and the place where it most showed was on the snare drum which was barely controllable. By that I mean that it buzzed a great deal. If I hit any other drum in the kit, the snare drum buzzed, or rather the snare, which is a grid of metal wires on the bottom skin of the drum, would rattle.

And of course, if I played the drums with other musicians, which is after all the whole point, then it seemed that whatever tone was played by whatever instrument, the snare would buzz. Why? Well let me give you a short lesson in physics. The snare buzz was down to something called resonance.

If you have two strings from a guitar, and they’re both, say E strings, if you pluck one of them then the vibrations it sets up in the air will make the other E string vibrate in sympathetic resonance. So long as the string is tuned to the same note, plucking one will make the other vibrate. But if you have a D string next to and E string, and you pluck the D string, the E string will more or less ignore it. It’s the wrong frequency.

But my snare drum wasn’t like that. Whatever frequency instrument you played, that rotten old snare would vibrate sympathetically along with it producing this really annoying buzz that got in the way of the music we were trying to produce. Everything we played was tarnished by that background ‘Bzz Bzz’ rattle. The question is, why?

The answer is quite simple actually. As I said a moment ago, the snare I had was really a very cheap one. It was made of wood and if you took the top skin off you could see that the plies of wood that make up the shell were beginning to separate. In other words, rather than being a fine musical instrument that was tuned to one note, my snare vibrated across most of the musical frequencies.

The result of that was that it resonated with absolutely everything. Play it an E and it could find an E somewhere in its chaotic construction and would vibrate along in sympathy. Play it a D and it would have one of those too, or an F, or a G. It was a cheap instrument and because it vibrated with everything it buzzed the whole time and ruined the music.

Now you may be wondering why I’m telling you this. It’s all to do with the nature of sin. St. Paul tells us not to offer our selves to wickedness and here, in my old drum, is an example of what happens if we do. Sin is very easy. It’s like being an old untuned drum. Whatever temptation comes along we vibrate in sympathy to it. A bit of gossip? Bzzzzt! A pretty girl walks past? Bzzzt! Not making time to pray because you’re in a rush and didn’t get up early enough? Bzzzt!

It’s so easy to do what we want. We just get on with being undisciplined and we’ll resonate in sympathy with any temptation that takes our fancy. So what then is the cure? Well actually it’s two-fold. If I think back to my old drum, it wasn’t just that it was badly made; half the problem was that I didn’t know how to tune it. Around the drum are little tuning screws, and by carefully tensioning them you can bring the drum skin into tune with itself.

Mine was out of tune so different parts of the skin were tuned to different notes, so would resonate with them. Once I’d learned to pull it into tune with itself by making sure the same tension was applied all around the skin, the drum became much more controlled. It resonated much less with other notes because it was only tuned to one note. That equates with spiritual self-discipline. But it’s only a part of the story.

You see it didn’t get around the fact that the drum shell was old, cracked and not fit for purpose. It didn’t matter how often or how carefully I tuned the skin, the drum shell was so bad that it would resonate with loads of different notes. Eventually I got the message and bought a new snare drum, and the one I now have has a much better shell. It is beautifully made and resonates only where I tune it to.

And that is what needs to happen to us. We can work really hard at self-discipline which is the equivalent of spending a lot of time tuning ourselves so that we don’t succumb to every temptation that comes past us, and that is really important to do. But it doesn’t get us past the sense that within us there is an old drum, and old self, that needs to be renewed.

But if we present ourselves to God, so by his indwelling Holy Spirit, so he gradually begins to renew us from within. As with so many things, God works with us in collaboration, so as we offer ourselves to him, so he begins to change us from within so that instead of vibrating in resonance with our own desires, we resonate in resonance to God’s desires.

The result of that is exactly what we see in the Gospel reading. If we welcome Jesus, we resonate with the one who sent him, the Father, and so we begin to resonate with the others that the Father sends. We will recognise prophets because our hearts will be in tune with their hearts. And we will recognise the righteous because our hearts will be in tune with their hearts.

We will resonate with them when they are in our midst, and we will become like them. So ultimately this message is very simple: We need to study and pray to learn more about and become more like Christ himself. And we need to ask to have our old self renewed. Then when his notes are played we will resonate with them because we will have presented ourselves to him as finally tuned instruments. We will be in tune with the song he is playing.

And that has to be worth doing, because the alternative is a cacophony of sound, resonating out of tune with every passing fancy; blown this way and that my our every whim. We have a choice. We can become more Christlike, or more chaotic. In the end there are only two directions in which to move. Amen

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