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Moses' successor, Joshua, is worried.
Jesus' disciple, John, is worried.
Worried that there are people
speaking and acting
outside their authority
in the name of the Lord.

Speaking and acting
outside the norm.

Speaking and acting
in ways that aren't in
uniformity or conformity
with what they and others
have come to expect.

We know this worry.
When, at work or in another team environment,
we've suggested some new idea
and are met by seven ever-so common words:
"That's not how it's done around here."

We know this worry
in Churches quick to respond
to even the most insignificant of changes:
"We've not done it like that before."

Musicians, artists, dancers,
known this worry as they create new work
on the cutting edge.
If critics or the mass public don't like it,
or if someone feels threatened by the work,
the response is similar:
"Your vision isn't welcome here."

Fifty years ago Jazz was not welcome in the church.
You could sing Gospel.
You could play some contemporary music.
But Jazz.
Jazz was not welcome in the church.

It is a story most of us known well.
It is a story many of you lived.
The reasons for the prohibition are as many
as they are repulsive.

Here at Saint Peter's
Pastor John Garcia Gensel
loved Jazz
and more importantly
loved the people who made Jazz.

He was motivated by a certain conviction.
Moses' conviction.
Jesus' conviction.
A theological conviction.
That God speaks in an ever-increasing variety of ways
wherever the Spirit wills.
And, back in 1965, the Spirit
was beginning to speak with Jazz.

While 50 years later, this idea of the Spirit
speaking through Jazz might not sound so impressive.
It is important to remember that
not only was it impressive back then,
Jazz in the church
shattered barriers and
broke new ground.

And here's the good news:
Fifty years later
jazz is still doing some impressive things.

Better yet,
if Moses and Jesus
could hear the music made at Jazz Vespers
every Sunday since 1965,
and in so many other places around the world ever since,
they'd be tapping their feet just like the rest of us.

And they'd be encouraging
the exploration of Jazz more and more.
Mostly because of the constructive power of Jazz
in this distorted world of ours.

This world where the impulse is to cut ourselves off from God
and to cut ourselves off from one another,

We live in a society increasingly obsessed with the self.
A society committed to preserving things
"the way they've always been."
A society that is largely content with the status quo.

You know, like the Israelites
longing for the cucumbers and the leaks of Egypt:
the way things were.

I've pondered where that impulse comes from.
In part, keeping the status quo
is a way for people in power to stay in power.
But it also comes because
sometimes it just seems easier.
Easier, as the Israelites say,
to stay back in Egypt,
even if that meant slavery.
We may have abolished slavery in this country,
but we are still willing slaves to the markets.
Captive to corporate profits.
Scathed by division within the human family.
And largely unwilling to address it.

Moses becomes indignant
when those he is leading
suggest keeping the status quo.
And Jesus, no less indignant,
offers some action to address it.

Though, admittedly, Jesus' advice
about cutting off parts of the body and the fires of hell,
is all-too-often mis-understood.

Here's the short of the long explanation:
What Jesus means by his teaching,
-- never intended to be heard literally,
but will no less import or power --
is that whatever impulse,
whatever perspective,
whatever thing in your life
might want you to keep the status quo,
cut that off.

Cut off anything
that causes you not to love your neighbor.

Cut off anything that leads you to believe its better to go it alone,
than in the joy of the community.

Cut off those ways and those things
because their path only leads to death, to isolation.
Leads only to furthering the distorted ways of our distorted world.

Though none of us really needs to
physically maim ourselves
to come to terms with what
keeps us from community,
keeps us form loving one another
as we would have them love us,
coming to terms with some of those truths
may be as hard and as painful as cutting off a limb.

But it need not be.
For on the cross,
God in Christ Jesus speaks a final and definitive "no"
to these ways.
"No" to death.
"No" to the status quo.
And "yes" to the ways of life.
"Yes" to the ways of community.
"Yes" to healing and wholeness.

Which means it takes a whole lot less energy
to go along with God's "yes," than to resist it.

Fifty years ago,
when the long-time members of this congregation
wondered if Jazz could be played in the Sanctuary,
some thoughtful people discerned
that it was a lot easier
to go along with the winds of the Spirit,
than to resist it.

And not simply this,
but embracing these new winds of the Spirit,
would renew the church.
Further its mission.
And, the community would
have some fun along the way.
In short, embracing God's ways
help us be a lot more human,
help us be as God first made us.

And that's what Church is all about.
Church is about bringing people together
-- God's work to bring people together --
across any and all divide,
to be reconciled to God,
and to be reconciled to one another.

To squash the status quo.
And to bring about a new creation.
A city where love rules all in all.
And all are seen as God sees them:
beloved and valued.

Church, at its best,
says to the Eldad and Medad's of our own time:
"You belong here."

Church, at its best,
sees that we are all salt.
Discerning the palate of our own time,
and adding just enough to give flavor to the whole dish.

Church, at its best,
is like Jazz.

Where you add a sensitive drummer like Don,
and the music takes on a new and living character.
Where you add a flavor from some other culture,
and the result is richer than anyone could imagine.

Because Jazz, you see,
is rooted, and it is always growing.

Two weeks from now we will celebrate
this very powerful notion of Jazz at
All Nite Soul 2015: roots + growth.

It is a conviction we celebrate every week
as we gather around this light at jazz vespers.

A conviction that there's no need to worry.
No need to worry about how to keep people out.
Or how to avoid community.

But instead, to embrace community.
To light light shine on it.
And delight in it.

Delight in the Spirit,
which draws out of us
a more profound humanity
than we could ever think of drawing out of ourselves.
For, in taking delight in the Spirit,
we are drawn into community,
and there,
find ourselves closer to God and to one another.
Find ourselves at peace.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Jazz Vespers
Psalm 19:7-14
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Saint Mark 9:38-50