Today's sermon is about speaking the truth to the silence of the desert--the barren, unpeopled desert. It also develops a link between the idea of "crying in the desert" with the idea of being "called". Like Jesus says, it is easy to love your friends, but harder to love your enemies; likewise, it is easy to speak the truth in a comfortable, supportive milieu in the city, but it is harder to seriously address a cactus with words of wisdom. Therefore, since the desert is, in principle, a crappy place to be, a place that no one in his right mind would CHOOSE to be, it's a safe bet that, any voices crying in any wilderness, were most likely sent there--sent there for a reason.
I have included a fair sized bundle of auto-biographical stuff, because I am using myself as an example of how each and every one of us is sent to preach the gospel SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW, even if it looks like nowhere.
To begin with the pertinent scriptures, here is:
"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
" 1In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
"3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
He said, I [am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
My whole life, the expression, "a voice crying in the wilderness" has held an attraction for me, and I'll tell you why: it's because I always thought of myself as such a voice.
There were two things about the expression that I identified with:
first, there was the idea that I had been given a message from God that no-one but I could deliver to the thirsting ears of mankind--(music can be a living message from God, and I must be pretty cool to have been entrusted with such a message, eh what?--it's all about ME);
I liked the desert idea, since I perceived my self-exile (to reaches on the earth ever further and further away from any possibility of professional success) to be somehow noble, or humanitarian-- (how heroically sacrificial of me to persevere, to surge ahead with my prophetic activities, singing my song to the heavens, even though here, on Earth, the bleachers were empty!). Anyway if you're a failure in the desert, who can fault you?
There is a third clause in this scripture that I have not heeded enough, but which I will pay greater attention to in the future: it is the idea of making straight the way of the lord. I'll be honest, I never really thought about what that meant--it always seemed like a poetic construction without much practical life application. In preparing this sermon I have discovered more of the meaning of the phrase "make straight the way of the lord." It refers to the announcing of the coming of the Messiah, and is not unlike any herald of royalty shouts out when the master is due to appear on a crowded city street. "Way for his majesty, make way!" Trumpet call here. These words are supposed get everybody to clear a path for the king--a straight path.
What I take "straight path" to refer to, in this context, is the potency and directness of the cry--emphasize "directness". In other words, if the devotee is sent by God into the desert, to announce the coming of the Christ, that announcement had better be clear as a bell, and completely pristine in its truth content--the straighter the better. This brings us to the music part:
What is this message that every person is sent to preach to the cactus? Everyone has a different message, every one has a different angle of God to express. For me it was a truth encoded into the specialized language of music; there has never been any doubt in my mind that I was burdened with some message, some insight, some unique brand of expression that it was my duty to set forth somewhere, but, although I demanded precision from my self, I was not that clear about WHOSE precision I was expressing. Over the past ten years or so I have become more and more humble on the subject of talents--that is to say I have taken less and less personal credit for my accomplishments, because I have become more and more aware of the guiding hand of Jesus in all my creative endeavors.
It is a common, shallow misconception that art is SELF-expression. If the art is good, it is because it is alive, it infects us with its energy, it moves us with its truth. If art tells the truth, is is speaking the Word. Thus, the best art cannot at all be properly attributed to the artist from whom it came, but must forever be associated with its true source, the Word made flesh.
Every piece has a specific spiritual component--that is, every piece brings down, into the physical, a different articulation of heavenly truth--living truth. Even if nobody hears it, the empty desert will receive it with gladness, because the truth of the tree falling silently in the forest is not the truth of the Word: the Word makes a sound no matter who is there to hear. Thus, my voice in the wilderness was music, resounding through eternity, because it comes from God, and goes back to God. Heaven comes down, and makes a heaven of everything it touches;thus is the desert made heaven by the announcement of the coming.
One of the forces that consigned me to the desert was the fact that I have always been something of a loner. I have never fit in much of anywhere, so, at an early age, it was natural for me to don the disguise of an heroic Steppenwolf, a misunderstood genius, a victim of cruel fate and the insensitivity of the World. I thought about becoming a saint back then, because I thought that sounded romantic. The image of the undiscovered genius fed my feelings of self-pity and my disdain for my fellow man. Thus, I wrote music that was written not for real people, but for some elite class of musical initiates, some happy few who understood the secret code while most did not. Nobody bothered to tell that this elite class does not exist--don't get me started.
Thank God, at a certain point in my life, I began to shed some of my college-trained egotism, and began to see--even though all my grandiose unrealized fantasies of recognition and reward were false, empty, and corrupt--that I actually am a voice crying in the wilderness; I just have always been crying in the wrong wilderness. Or perhaps its was the wrong song?
Anyway, the point is that I was objectifying my audience--I was stuffing them into boxes, making them into types, categories, generalizations--and I was missing the real people. At a certain historical moment I realized this. Well, duh! So, I instantly stopped writing for some falsely imagined audience of perfect vessels for the acceptance of my sacred utterances, and started trying to reach real people out there in my actual world. Heaven came down. Well duh!
Still, while seeking to simplify--to make straight--, I continued to feel the need for high level thinking in my music; this need came from the insistence that things were not so simple as they were to my mother and her band of small-minded Nazarenes. The complexity of the music is, in many cases an ides of the NATURALNESS of the music. It is well understood that a photograph gains in quality with the number of pixels in its image. Thus, the finer the resolution of musical content, the more natural, therefore the more truthful. The problem is to tell the truth while still making it accessible to people; the problem is the problem of parable, the problem of myth. And what better context for myth than the desert? And what better medium of transformation than the "voice"?
The following is from Advent 3 Sermon: John the Monomaniac by Pastor Samuel Schuldheisz
John has nothing to say about himself. He is a voice. Yahweh’s mouth-piece. It’s not about John; it’s about Jesus. So the prophet Isaiah speaks for him: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Christ is the Word. John is the voice. The advent man, preparing you for the Coming One. Repent. Make Straight. Jesus is coming. John fits the definition of what most psychiatrists call a monomaniac – someone with an excessive interest and an irrational obsession with one subject: yes that’s John, a monomaniac about Christ. He’s content simply to announce the coming of the Lamb of God.
This is a long story, and I have had enough long stories for awhile, but the bottom line is this: my life's deepest energies have been spent finding ways to transcend the problem of the abstract in art, to reveal high-level abstract concepts in the process of enlivening flesh and blood vessels, such that every note of musico/mathematical sense is also dignified by the transforming energy of the divine, raising it from a noisy, vainglorious cry of egotistical territoriality, into an incarnation of the Christ Consciousness; thus, music transduces spirit, through the flesh, into human form. It is the humanity of music that is truly spiritual, because it is the human that is illuminated with heavenly light. To be a great artist, it was necessary for me to learn that: it is my own humanity that dignifies my music, not the dignity of art that makes it human. Every piece is an anomaly, every person who hears it is an unique undying soul.
Additionally, it must be noted that it has been more the direct, personal connection between me and other musicians that has enriched my creative output, than it has been the cloistered contemplation of the infinite in my ivory closet. My development as a voice crying in the wilderness (a voice that might be worth walking across the street to hear), has had to include a huge dose of humanizing flesh and blood to bring its origin in spirit through the Earth to Paradise. In other words, the people out here in the wilderness with me, had ears to hear, and hearts to touch, and I didn't need to sing to the bleachers in heaven after all--the folk were right there all the time.
Feelings of envy once crowded my heart, and I felt alone and betrayed by fate. I felt I deserved a bigger audience--I felt my message justified it. I didn't think about how indirectly the big shots in the city touch their devotees. I now know that a man with a message is only effective to the extent that his words fall on fertile--uh--ears. The message of spiritual truth can only be delivered up close and personal. Up close and personal is contrary to the rampant depersonalized character of this information age, and therefore MUST be a good thing. So, although some musicians make occasional contact with an occasional elite audience, I, out here ion the backwoods, make one on one contact with undying souls every day, and my message is always the same.
The following is from a sermon by Martin Luther from his Church Postil, 1520's taken from volume I:114-133 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). ]
The Witness and Confession of John the Baptist; and the Spiritual Meaning of His Witness
I. THE WITNESS AND CONFESSION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
1. With many words the Evangelist describes and magnifies the testimony of John. Although it would have been sufficient if he had written of him, "He confessed," he repeats it and says, "He confessed and denied not." This was surely done in order to extol the beautiful constancy of John in a sore trial, when he was tempted to a flagrant denial of the truth. And now consider the particular circumstances. 2. First, there are sent to him not servants or ordinary citizens, but priests and Levites from the highest and noblest class, who were Pharisees, that is to say, the leaders of the people. Surely a distinguished embassy for a common man, who might justly have felt proud of such an honor, for the favor of lords and princes is highly esteemed in this world. 3. Secondly, they sent to him not common people, but citizens of Jerusalem, to wit, the capital, the sanhedrin, and the leaders of the Jewish nation. So it was as if the entire people came and did honor to him. What a wind that was! and how he might have been inflated, had he possessed a vain and worldly heart! 4. Thirdly, they do not offer him a present, nor ordinary glory, but the highest glory of all, the kingdom and all authority, being ready to accept him as the Christ. Surely a mighty and sweet temptation! For, had he not perceived that they wished to regard him as the Christ, he would not have said, "I am not the Christ." And Luke, 3,15-16, also writes that, when everybody thought he was the Christ, John spoke, "I am not he who you think I am, but I am being sent before him." 5. Fourthly, when he would not accept this honor they tried him with another, and were ready to take him for Elijah. For they had a prophecy in the last chapter of the prophet Malachi, where God says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." 6. Fifthly, seeing that he would not be Elijah, they go on tempting him and offer him the homage due to an ordinary prophet, for since Malachi they had not had a prophet. John, however, remains firm and unshaken, although tried by the offer of so much honor. 7. Sixthly and lastly, not knowing of any more honors, they left him to choose, as to who or what he wished to be regarded, for they greatly desired to do him homage. But John will have none of this honor, and gives only this for an answer, that he is a voice calling to them and to everybody. This they do not heed. . . .
20. Some think the Jews here asked concerning that prophet of whom Moses writes in Deut. 18, 15: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, etc." But this passage St. Peter in Acts 3, 22 and St. Stephen in Acts 7, 37 apply to Christ himself, which is the correct interpretation. The Jews also certainly held this prophet in equal esteem with Moses, above Elijah, and therefore understood him to be Christ. They asked John whether he was an ordinary prophet, like the others, since he was neither Christ nor Elijah. For they had had no prophet since the days of Malachi, who was the last and concluded the Old Testament with the above mentioned prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah. John therefore is the nearest to and first after Malachi, who in finishing his book points to him. - The Jews then asked whether he was one of the prophets. Christ likewise says of him, Math. 11, 9: "Wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet." And Matthew says in 21, 26, "All hold John as a prophet."
21. Now the question arises, Did John really confess the truth when he denied that he was Elijah or a prophet, whereas Christ himself called him Elijah and more than a prophet? He himself knew that he had come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and that the Scriptures called him Elijah. To say, therefore, that he did not consider himself a prophet because he was more than a prophet, is disgraceful and makes him an empty boaster. The truth of the matter is, that he simply and in a straightforward manner confessed the truth, namely, that he was not that Elijah about whom they asked, nor a prophet. For the prophets commonly led and taught the people, who sought advice and help from them. Such a one John was not and would not be, for the Lord was present, whom they were to follow and adhere to. He did not desire to draw the people to himself, but to lead them to Christ, which was needful before Christ himself came.
A prophet foretells the coming of Christ. John, however, shows him present, which is not a prophet's task. Just so a priest in the bishop's presence would direct the people away from himself to the bishop, saying, "I am not priest; yonder is your priest"; but in the bishop's absence he would rule the people in the place of the bishop.
22. John likewise directs the people away from himself to Christ. And although this is a higher and greater office than that of a prophet, yet it is not so on account of his merit, but on account of the presence of his Master. And in praising John for being more than a prophet, not his worthiness but that of his Master, who is present, is extolled. For it is customary for a servant to receive greater honor and reverence in the absence of his master than in his presence.
23. Even so the rank of a prophet is higher than that of John, although his office is greater and more immediate. For a prophet rules and leads the people, and they adhere to him; but John does no more than direct them away from himself to Christ, the present Master. Therefore, in the simplest and most straightforward manner, he denied being a prophet, although abounding in all the qualities of a prophet. This he did for the sake of the people, in order that they might not accept his testimony as the foretelling of a prophet and expect Christ in other, future times, but that they might recognize him as a forerunner and guide, and follow his guidance to the Lord, who was present. Witness the following words of the text:
"They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we, may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself ? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet."
24. This is the second part of his confession, in which he declares what he is, after having denied that he was Christ, or Elijah, or a prophet. As though he were to say, Your salvation is much too near for a prophet to be required. Do not strain your eyes so far out into the future, for the Lord of all the prophets is himself here, so that no prophet is needed.
The Lord is coming this way, whose forerunner I am; he is treading on my heels. I am not prophesying of him as a seer, but crying as a courier, to make room for him as he walks along. I do not say, as the prophets, "Behold, he is to come"; but I say, "Behold, he is coming, he is here. I am not bringing word about him, but pointing to him with my finger. Did not Isaiah long ago foretell that such a crying to make room for the Lord should go before him? Such I am, and not a prophet. Therefore, step aside and make room, permit the Lord himself to walk among you bodily, and do not look for any more prophecies about him."
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, June 14, 2011 by Chris Banescu
Each of us has a calling, a vocation, in life. Some discover their passion in their childhood or teen years and know from early on what they were meant to do. Some find their calling after reaching adulthood and encountering the real world. Some stumble unto their life’s work when faced with life-changing events, personal struggles, or tragedies. Some uncover their life’s passion in their old age, usually after retirement, when a growing awareness of their own mortality imbues them with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose. Tragically, many never find their life’s calling, either due to hardships, fear, or plain laziness; despite knowing what they should do, neither bothering to dedicate the time or energy required to follow their dreams, nor making the sacrifices necessary to fulfill their vocations.
By God’s immeasurable grace I am one of those blessed souls that has discovered his calling in life. I believe my vocation is to be a Voice Crying in the Wilderness, a messenger who strives to open men’s hearts and minds to timeless truths and principles, to help them discover what’s truly important in this life and in eternity. A messenger of the One who created everything in this universe, the laws that govern all matter and morality, the individual atoms and cells that make up my body and the soul that gives it life, and the very reason that allows me to think and write these words.
So it appears, once again that I am making a case for imitating the actions of people in the Bible by way of identifying with them and following their way. Why do I think that doing what people in the bible did is a good thing? Clearly there are some obnoxious fools haunting many a page of the Bible, and, to be sure, haunting many a pages of religious history. Still, if we can tell a hawk from a handsaw, we ought be able to tell a saint from a fool, and we ought to be able to tell which we should emulate. I feel that every accomplishment of men in the Bible is replicable by me--I claim my divine right to aspire to heavenly heights. Furthermore, I feel that the task of crying in the wilderness, of speaking the truth to no one, has more to it than meets the eye--there is a prayer uttered in silence that carries more weight than loud speeches in the vulgar and vulgarizing marketplace. I have come to see this calling as a privilege and a distinction equal or superior to the shallow trumpet calls of Earthly fame. It would be easy to conclude that this attitude is making lemonade out of sour grapes, but I really don't think so. I think that the people who are pissed off about being consigned to the desert, to preach to the dink-sized audiences there, have forgotten that the ears of God are everywhere, and that those ears hear our voices anywhere.
The following is a poem of mine on the subject of grasping.
Why supplicate with fingers curved above
Our heads, reaching, if not already giv'n in love?
What boon is worth the cost of asking
That is not within the scope of grasping
Why weep you, stolid mourners on the highway,
For that which is waiting down below, the mainstay
Of all your trust and hope? A promise made in part
To bolster doubting faith and answer wishes of the heart
Made at the end of shattered dreams and busy plans
To fill our groping, empty hands?
The point here is that, a voice crying in the wilderness may sometimes feel alone, abandoned, betrayed, but, at the end of the day, the support of the Christ will always be there.
The following is a poem, on something of the same subject, by Rabindranath Tagore [trans. from Bengali], found in his
Fruit Gathering, XXVIII).
Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands;
some I made into playthings and broke them when tired;
till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense,
hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.
Take, oh take–has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl:
put out this lamp of the importunate watcher:
hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts
into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.
Let us pray: Jesus, as we contemplate the silent desert, we realize that that silence is filled with the ears of God. Let us enter your presence in silence, and come out singing. Amen.