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Devotion: A New Song Together

On Saturday, September 13, 2014, new and returning members of the National Lutheran Choir gathered for their first rehearsal of the 2014-15 season. Tenor section member, and Pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, Joseph Crippen, led the devotion at the day-long retreat.

It is so good to be back together.

I think I remember a routine Bill Cosby used to have about when he was a kid, going out into the neighborhood at night, and humming a tune.  Because, if I remember right, he said “you need to have your music with you when the monsters are out.”

That’s what you all do for me.  I can sing just fine, but I can’t do by myself what we do together, not even close.  It’s not just that one person singing the tenor part doesn’t sound anything like this choir when we’re all together.  It’s deeper than that.  You sing with me, and I sing with you so we have our music when the monsters are out.  Because together the music we make is so much more powerful and life-changing.

There is something about this group that is bigger than just a choir that sings; we become companions on our walk of life and faith together.  We share our joys and sorrows along with our singing so we can walk with each other through the darkness and the light, in the good places and in the places where the monsters are.  Rob asks for joys and sorrows for the weekly newsletter The Tuning Fork precisely so that we can sing each other through both, and what is wonderfully true is that we care what people share there.  This is a place where you matter.

So it’s good to be back together because during our year together, we are with each other each Tuesday night, and we have that weekly e-mail, and that becomes strength and hope in our walk.  Some of you have had really hard summers, with monsters of all kinds, and some have had very good summers.  We haven’t had each other to walk with during any of that, or at least not as a whole group.  Now we do again, and it’s good.

Now, as a pastor of a faith community, those people are the primary community that walks with me, my greatest community of strength; I have dear, close friends who are critical to me and who aren’t in this choir.  That’s true for each of you; you have other communities of support and friendship,  other people who walk alongside, close friends beyond your friends here, and that’s very good.  But every summer I realize that I miss you all because of how important this particular group of folks are to me, walking and singing alongside me.  There is something that happens when we open ourselves up to sing with each other that is unlike anything in my life, something very vulnerable and open.  What comes from that openness is so beautiful; this group becomes community to and with each other.  I’m so glad to have you all with me on this journey again.

But what is absolutely new is this particular group in this particular place.

Some of you I have sung with now for all my time in this choir, some of you I do not yet know.  Katherine (our president, for you new folks) reminded us last spring that each choir each year is a new choir, unique to itself.  Last spring, those were sad words, knowing we wouldn’t be together again as that particular group.  This fall, they are words of hope.  So those of you who think you’re “new,” don’t be afraid.  None of us know what this choir will sound like, who this choir is yet, either, not until we open our mouths and sing our new song.  Then we’ll all learn together who we are and what we are.

Now, this is an astonishing collection of talent here.  For you new people here, even if you sang in a great college choir, you have no idea what you’re in for.  I don’t say that to boast, it’s just true.  This is an amazing experience we’re privileged to share together.

But that can also be daunting.  There are times when most of us who’ve sung here have thought, “these guys are really good – I hope I don’t let them down.”  Who have wondered, when David was going down the line to hear each of us, “what if it becomes clear to everyone in this room that I certainly do not belong here?”  That feeling never quite goes away, at least not for me.  And perhaps not for most of us.

But this is also the truth: we need every voice here or we can’t make our new song, can’t become the National Lutheran Choir.  It’s all of us or none of us, and if each of us couldn’t contribute to this new song, we wouldn’t be here today.  If David didn’t think you could cut it, you wouldn’t be here today.  So take heart in that, even if you’re new, or if you’ve been here awhile: whatever we’ve been in the past, however much we might miss others who are not here any more, something that happens every year, we cannot be who we need to be without you, right now, everyone in this room.

So thank you.

You are one way I can sing song of God on my path, and I cannot sing it nearly well enough by myself.  But when I’m standing in the back of you magnificent people, and when David leads us ever deeper into the life of God’s song, then I know that I am not alone on this path and there are all of you to sing with as we walk through this life, even when the monsters come out.

And for that I can only say, thanks be to God.