MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“Would you believe that anyone would be so unobservant — or just stupid — to drive from Port Allegany, Pennsylvania, to Massachusetts and not even know there was a tuba in the back of the car?” asked the Rev. Nelson “Bud” Horne. “It did happen — to me.”
Horne preached at the 9 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Bass Horn in the Back.” The Scripture readings were Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 and Mark 4:1-9. A preacher, he said, wipes the egg off their face and thinks, “There must be a sermon in this. Perhaps the big bass horn sounds a religious note, a consciousness of God that provides a solid foundation.”
Perhaps the horn represents the ever-present God, always near, but often overlooked as “we drive life’s station wagon,” Horne told the congregation.
We tend to ignore God because of our familiarity with God. “It is as if the preacher and God are golfing buddies who chat all week, develop a professional patter and do some heavenly name-dropping,” Horne continued.
The preacher gives a report on Sunday that is buddy-buddy banter. “It reminds me of the song, ‘Drop Kick Me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life),’ ” he said.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist writes that God has searched him and known him and that God even knew him in the womb. “The creator God — this great and gracious God — doesn’t deserve to ride around in the back of our station wagons, because God is so familiar,” Horne said. “This is the God who knows us at our deepest levels, no some household idol gathering dust.”
He continued, “This God is not just an idea to speculate about or an object to be manipulated. This is the mysterium tremens, an awful god. Not as in ‘ain’t it awful’ or the shopworn ‘awesome,’ but God worthy of awe and reverence, our greatest and final friend.”
If familiarity is the first reason we ignore God, Horne told the congregation, a second reason is the many conflicting claims for God’s exclusive favor.
“On the village green on Sunday morning, you have the Methodists singing, ‘Will There be Any Stars in My Crown?’ The Baptists are singing, ‘No, Not One,’ while the Presbyterians are singing, ‘That Will be Glory for Me,’ ” Horne said.
Horne’s solution to looking for exclusive favor is religious pluralism. “With so many different voices: Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, the answer is a more encompassing search for common truths.” He continued, “If so many people in so many times and places have searched so long and hard, the wideness of God’s presence must be an incentive, not an obstacle.”
In Psalm 139 the writer tried to imagine where God was not, but found God everywhere. Horne quoted John Greenleaf Whittier, “I know not where his islands lift/Their fronded palms in air. I know that I cannot drift/Beyond his love and care.”
Horne told the story of a LIFE Magazine reporter named Sigmund Rhee. He was wanted in his office, so the editor sent an office boy to find Rhee. The boy found him at a McDonald’s and rushed up to him and cried, “A sweet Mr. Rhee of LIFE, at last I found you.”
The third reason we ignore God, Horne said, is that the mystery of life finds us; we do not find it. He told the congregation, “We have a seeking God who reaches out to us as in the hymn, ‘O Love that Will not Let Me Go.’ Or lines from Francis Thompson’s words, ‘I fled him down the nights and down the days. I fled him down the arches of the years … This Hound of Heaven with un-hurrying chance and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed … follows after.’ ”
Horne said maybe to find God, we simply need to open our eyes. “It is not a grand search, but receiving simple gifts — like the smile of a friend or a bird caroling in the morning.”
He quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit ‘round it and pluck blackberries.”
Jesus called people to be more observant, Horne said, to find the glory of God in the commonplace. “We need to be aware, expectant and open to God,” Francis Thompson said. “The angels keep their ancient places; turn but a stone and start a wing! ‘Tis you, ‘tis your estranged faces that miss the many-splendored thing.”
Horne closed with a story about a boy who could only play one tune on his bass horn, called “Asleep in the Deep.” His mother could not stand the noise and sent him out to a field to play. The farmer said the cows were giving sour milk and sent the boy away. The boy got into a rowboat in the middle of a foggy harbor and played his horn. A ship, about to run aground, heard the notes, sent out a small boat and was guided to shore by the big bass horn. The major gave him a medal and sent him off to a music school in a faraway town.
“That is one way to handle bass horns — recognize them officially and send them away,” Horne said. “A polite nod to God but no further action.”
He continued, “Another way might be to form a group right here in Chautauqua and play along with God, to take the music that helps in a time of danger and play it every day. Anyone want to join the band?”
The Rev. George Wirth presided. The Rev. Cynthia Strickland read the Scripture. The organ prelude was an improvisation on “East Acklam.” Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, directed members of the Motet Choir in “Ubi Caritas,” by Zachary Wadsworth, commissioned in memory of those who died at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016. Stafford played “Toccata” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles Marie Widor for the postlude. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services and chaplains.