Pastoral Message: August 2017
Think for a moment about metronomes. If you’re not a musician or are unsure what this is, a metronome is the little machine that goes “tick, tick, tick” to tell instrumentalists how fast they are supposed to play a piece. Metronomes date back to around 1816, based on an idea first conceived by a man named Dietrik Winkel that was subsequently “borrowed” and patented by another inventor named Johann Maelzel. Metronomes are devices containing a pendulum rod with a small moveable weight mounted on it that allows musicians to hear what slow, medium and fast tempos sound like. Often we picture beginning pianists doing keyboard exercises while trying to play in time with a metronome ticking away nearby. In truth, metronomes were never meant to “tick away” and control the tempo for an entire piece of music; they were only meant to give the musician a starting speed and were to be shut off after that tempo is established.
As a musician and a pastor, I see similarities between metronomes and scripture. Scripture is important and foundational as we think about God and seek to follow the example of Jesus Christ. As you already know, there are many types of writing found in the books of the bible—from poetry to prophetic teachings to historical summaries to personal letters. Almost every passage can be studied and used as a guide for how to live our lives today, just as a metronome can be set to “tick away” at a certain speed to guide us in playing a particular piece of music. But if we keep the metronome ticking away while we play, the music we create will sound stiff and artificial and lifeless. True music has to bend, stretch and breathe; that is what makes a melody come to life. In the same way, scripture sets us in motion, but it is up to us to apply the wisdom of scripture in our daily lives—creatively putting it to use in the particularities of our daily routines so that the “melody of faith” God has given us can truly come to life.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s a great starting point for a “melody of faith.” It combines aspirational language with an outward-looking focus on the world around us. But we’ll make no progress in heeding this commandment if every moment we are worried that something less than our entire heart or mind or soul is involved in the task at hand. Something more than a strict metronome is needed to evoke a “melody of faith.”
The same is true with the “thou shalt not” commandments—how we are not to lie or steal or harm others. That is our starting point, our foundational “tempo marking.” Yet we all stumble in our piety; we have bad moments and bad days, at times really hurting others. If the metronome of faith is unyielding within you, the risk is that you’ll come to believe that your sins and shortcomings disqualify you from receiving God’s loving care. Yet once again, the rules of God’s scripture are mostly guides and starting points to which we reorient ourselves (when we stray) and recommit ourselves (aware of God’s forgiving mercy) so that each new day a “melody of faith” can sing forth from our own words and deeds.
Metronomes are important. They start us off at the right tempo. But metronomes cannot make music. We are the music-makers. That is God’s desire for each of us. Scripture gets us started, but the melody—well, that comes by God’s grace and our spirit creating music together.