“For all you math majors, if you play a chord with one, three and five, what comes next in the series?” asked the Rev. Randall K. Bush at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, July 5, morning ecumenical worship service in the Amphitheater. “It would be a 7th, which could be a major or minor chord.”
His sermon title was “Resolutions Today,” and the Scripture text was Mark 10:35-45.
Bush said that every music major scrambles to learn a song for every interval.
“Today we are looking at the minor 7th interval, and what could be more perfect than Leonard Bernstein’s ‘There’s a Place for Us’?” Bush said.
He played part of the song and then said, “The minor 7th is longing to go somewhere. Resolution is a key component in an interval and in our faith. When we play a note, we hear a vibration of a particular frequency. When two notes interact, some sound like they are meant to be played together, and when others are combined, they create a tension, they must go somewhere. A minor 7th has to go somewhere — down to a major chord or resolved into a minor chord.”
There are moments in life where tension has to be resolved.
“At the end of a date, there is a move toward a kiss. We can’t hold that pose forever. We either kiss or turn our face away. When offered a new job, we can say yes to that path or no and find another path,” he said.
Jesus saw two brothers, James and John, cleaning their nets, and he gave them an invitation to follow him. The invitation required a response. James and John agreed to follow Jesus.
“The resolution was positive,” Bush said. “They picked up and followed Jesus for the rest of his life.”
Then James and John decided to turn the tables. They asked to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus when he was glorified, when he came into his kingdom. They wanted to be second in command. The question left an unresolved minor 7th hanging in the air.
“Jesus told them they did not understand what was coming,” Bush said. “Jesus’ kingdom did not have golden thrones or gold cups to drink out of. His was the cup of suffering, and his baptism was not gentle, but immersion to the point of drowning Jesus was not angry with them; he knew their hearts. He told the brothers that it was no small thing that they asked. To be first, Jesus told them, they had to be servants of all.”
“Where are we in the story?” Bush asked the congregation. “Have you ever signed up for more than you imagined for a project at work or a committee, even a church committee? When you marry or adopt a child, you don’t know what all is expected. You think ‘What have I gotten into?’ ”
Most people are up for the challenge and figure out a way to resolve the situation to go forward. Bush used a football metaphor to describe the way forward.
Columnist George Will once said that “Football combines two of the worst things in American life; it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
Bush said that during a football game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears, one of the announcers said that Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton had just rushed for a career high of nine miles. The other commentator said, “And that is with someone knocking him down every 4.6 yards.”
James and John might have sounded like they were making a power grab for prominence in a future world.
“Jesus knew they were loyal and committed. They might have wanted to be of service and Jesus answered in a way to encourage them and comfort us,” Bush said
Jesus asked them if they could drink from the same cup. Jesus’ cups were wooden or clay. He was mocked, rejected and shared his final cup of suffering.
“James was the first martyr to drink from the same cup,” Bush said.
The disciples had seen John the Baptist at the Jordan, dunking people beneath the water in a symbolic drowning, then reemerging into the light.
“This is the resolution of an existential minor 7th; it is dramatic and hopeful,” Bush said. “Today we present baptism as an easy ritual of respectability, but following Christ will always lead to trouble. We are advocates of the servant model — not power over but power with those on the margin, those overlooked by society for a variety of reasons.”
Theologian Walter Brueggemann has said, “The church tells the truth in a society that lives in illusion; it grieves in a society that practices denial; and it expresses hope in a society that lives in despair.”
Bush also cited theologian Karen Armstrong who, in her memoir The Spiral Staircase, reflected on the different approaches to the Golden Rule by Jews and Christians.
Christians say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Armstrong wrote that Rabbi Hillel the Elder said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”
“It takes discipline to refrain from doing harm; it is easier to be a do-gooder,” Bush said. “I am troubled by the reality we live in of violence, wars, protecting the Second Amendment and climate change. When will we step up to be the change we desire?”
The answers are always limited, as an answer that is right for one person is not right for all concerned.
“What can we stop doing so others can step forward, so we can walk together?” Bush asked. “James and John were out front. Jesus showed them a common cup and a vulnerable baptism, not just piety. The minor 7th resolved into a beautiful gospel chord: ‘Who ever wishes to be first among you must be a servant of all.’ ”
The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot presided. The Rev. Carolyn Close Grohman, a retired Presbyterian minister and retired member of the Motet Choir, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organ, played an improvisation with minor 7th intervals for the prelude. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir, was “Servants of Peace,” music by K. Lee Scott and words by James Quinn, from a prayer by St. Francis. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, accompanied the choir and Stafford directed. Stafford played “Intrada,” by Grayston Ives, for the postlude. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy.