Sermons That Work

Charles Lloyd, the World-Renowned…, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2004

May 30, 2004

Charles Lloyd, the world renowned tenor sax, flute, and virtually anything-like-a- woodwind virtuoso, who gave us Forest Flower at Monterey Pop, and Billy Higgins, the quintessential West Coast jazz drummer and sideman for literally hundreds of recordings of the past 50 years or so, worked on an extended suite in the months leading up to Higgins’ death in 2001. It is a varied and extraordinary musical meditation titled Which Way Is East (EMC recording, 1878/79). Both musicians play an array of instruments and sing.

The music is written and played from the perspective that Billy Higgins is leaving this world. In the booklet that accompanies the two-CD set, there is a conversation between Lloyd and Higgins as Higgins lies in bed. The end of this conversation about their musical collaboration goes like this:

Higgins: With my instrument (the drums) it’s like I have to support so many people, so the creator keep me around here longer, just because he know I got a lot of stuff to do. And with the drums being the whole bottom, I got to do what I got to do, so I don’t even question it….

Lloyd: We come through here, we sing our song, nobody knows us, and we’re gone.

Higgins: Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me… Hey, man! I’m tellin’ you, that’s a whole suite right there! That’s two guys, just two guys sittin’ on top of the mountain. You talkin’ about the journey’s end – the journey’s just beginning.

Lloyd: Can I say something to you in all sincerity? This is one of the greatest joys of my life – because what we have been able to do, to share it with you – and for you to peep that it’s real and that it’s blessed … I mean, it just encourages us.

Higgins: Let me tell you something, please…let’s please…this might be the last time we do this. It made me understand a lot of what I’m trying to do…but for us to be able to do it at the right time, in the right space…What we doin’ is getting our fire power to be able to do this on any level. We got to keep workin’ on this music….

Lloyd: Do you mean to tell me you’re going to get up off the bed and come back to work on this with me?

Higgins: I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you.

This sums up the major themes of Pentecost. Pentecost, like jazz for musicians, represents collaboration between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit—and the rest of us. And as Billy Higgins says, “Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me.”

This is the essence of the Christian life. This is life lived in the Spirit. We submit to God’s spirit to the point that it is not coming from us, it is going through us.

And here they are, Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins, like Jesus and the disciples, coming to the end of years of collaborating in the life of the Spirit and the life of Truth, whether expressed in ministry or in music, reflecting on what the end of the journey is like. And Higgins, like Jesus, says this end of the journey is in truth just the beginning of the journey. This may be the end of this form of the journey, but “what we doin’ is getting our fire power to be able to do this on any level… we got to keep workin’…”

Fire power! And that certainly sounds a lot like Pentecost, Acts 2! We keep on working on this thing we call faith and discipleship, kingdom living and life in the Spirit, so we can get our Fire Power together to be able to do this on any level.

So it is with Jesus and all of us, his disciples, his Pentecostal companions. Jesus says that he and the Father are sending us the Holy Spirit to continue the work that he does. So on Pentecost we would do well to remember just what it is Jesus does: teaching people, feeding people, healing people, raising people from the dead, blessing people, gathering people together (especially sinners, outcasts, the lame, the sick, the blind, prostitutes, tax collectors, children, women, fishermen, shepherds, all kinds of people), challenging people, encouraging people, and generally finding new ways to reach out to new kinds of people.

Notice the common denominator: People. All his work involves people.

So to continue the work that he does, we need to reach out and involve ourselves with people, all kinds of people. As we say in our Baptismal Covenant, we need to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Even as we have first been loved by God in Christ.

This love will be hard work and requires all the Fire Power we can muster. For it also means striving for Justice and Peace for all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Not some people, not a lot of people, not most people, but every human being.

Jesus says we can do this. And then Jesus says something even more remarkable. He says this Holy Spirit we receive in our Baptism, this Fire Power, will enable us, empower us, lead us to do even greater works than he does, “greater works than these.”

People will know we know the Risen Lord Jesus if we do the work he does and greater works than these. What an amazing promise! What an awesome responsibility!

Now Jesus is saying all of this because the disciples are hoping he won’t be leaving them. Or, like the tradition that grew up around all that Jesus said and did, they were hoping at the least he would come back and show them how to keep doing this on any level.

So he replies, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of what I have said to you. Peace, shalom, I leave with you; my Peace, my shalom, I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The hearts of the disciples must have leapt at these words. Our hearts leap even now.

Does this mean he will get back down here with us, and keep on doing these things with us? “I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you.” Always, until the end of time. Which because God is eternal, is all of eternity for those who live their lives with God.

We are here today to get our Fire Power together so we can continue to do the things that he does and greater things than these on any level. At any time. At any place. It is an endless, timeless, eternal collaboration. To be able to do this at all, let alone at the right time and in the right space, is our greatest joy! On Pentecost the journey’s end is the journey’s beginning.

“Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me.” It’s going through us. Jesus’ Fire Power is going through us: In His Name; With His Spirit. Today we begin getting our Fire Power so we can do this on any level!

We can do this, and more, because in Pentecost, in Baptism and in the Holy Eucharist Jesus says to us, “I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you…You may think we’re talking about the journey’s end – the journey’s just beginning!”

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Christopher Sikkema


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