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"A Place in the Choir"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 5, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Colossians 1:15-20

So, I'm at this gathering, and the children's choir was scheduled to sing. About 20 children assembled up in front of the people, the taller, older ones in the back, the younger, shorter ones in the front. Now, as you're picturing this choir in your mind, you're not seeing the Vienna Boys Choir or some other traveling, singing troupe like that. These children are not all uniform. They are not wearing uniforms or robes. Clearly, no one went to the trouble of coordinating their outfits. It was a motley crew. And as I think about it, it wasn't just their clothing that clashed. No two of them are exactly alike. They've all come with their unique experiences, their one-of-a-kind DNA. It's a miracle of social engineering that they fit together at all, but they do. For the moment, all of their eyes are on the director who signals them to begin in time with the music.

Studies indicate that singing together in unison, synchronizes the singers' heartbeats. Singing together helps create a sense of group solidarity like marching together or clapping together or cheering together. So this deep magic of a shared harmony takes hold of these children in that choir. "E Pluribus Unum," as the motto goes. "Out of many, one." But by the third measure, it all starts to fall apart. One voice clashes from all the rest, like a cymbal player in a string quartet. There is a small boy in the front row who is shouting the words to the song. And I can't tell if he's trying for attention, or if he's just oblivious to the fact that his voice is 50 decibels higher than all the rest. And I'm sure that his mother has to be mortified. But we all shake our heads and smile because there's always one.

Now, from where I'm sitting to the choir's right, I can see the choir director. She's smiling, trying to keep the positive vibe going, but I can tell, she knows she's got a situation on her hands with this little boy who's shouting. And I see the director look directly at the boy and ever so slightly, she turns her chin a quarter turn to the right and a quarter turn to the left and mouths the word, "No." It only takes a half a second. And besides me and some of the kids in the choir, I'm pretty sure no one else even noticed the gentle redirection, but it worked. The boy stopped shouting and the choir went on singing. But it did make me wonder, which is more important, the choir or the child? The many or the one?

Did the director crush this boy's spirit for the sake of her choir? Or did she save the choir from the tyranny of this little Napoleon? Or did she save him for the choir and the choir for him and them for us? It's an old problem. The many, and the one. Which is more important: to stand out or to blend in, to sing your part or steal a solo? Do the needs and desires of the many ever or always outweigh the needs and desires of the one? Or could it be one for all and all for one?

Many philosophies in societies, try to hold them together. People in North America and Western Europe, for example, might emphasize the rights of the individual. People in Asia and Latin America might insist on obligations to the group. But the two perspectives should go together, shouldn't they? A single bee can't make honey on his own. There is no I in team. The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. But a person is a person, no matter how small. How do we hold them in harmony—the many and the one—without crushing the one to maintain the many, without disbanding the many for the sake of the one? The question is neither easily ignored nor easily answered. Even if you're the most ardent defender of individual rights, you also are searching for a calling that you can only find in a larger group.

Even if you're the cynic in the back row, who'd just as soon disappear in the crowd, you know that you have something unique that the choir needs, that only you can offer. But where do you find a director who can get us all to sing together?

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, which means I've been given a place in His choir. I'm baptized into Jesus. I am a small but important part of a community of Jesus followers spread all around the world. We Christians sometimes say we go to church, but we also are the church, the gathered body of Jesus, whom we call Christ the Messiah, our Director.

We are a global, multicultural motley crew. We're not uniform. No two of us are exactly alike, but we have a long history of singing together. We sometimes clash like cymbals in a string quartet, but our director keeps bringing us back together. And sometimes he tells us no. Okay, a lot of times tells us no, but not to crush us, to save the choir from us, from our tantrums and our tyrannies, and to save us for the choir and the choir for the world. And it has to be for the world, for the many in the world, no one left out because Jesus isn't just our Director. He's the Creator, the Creator of all things, your Creator. As the Bible says, "All things were created by Him and through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead. So that in everything, Jesus would be preeminent. Because in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And through Him to reconcile to Himself, all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1)

One reason why we Christians look to Jesus as our Director is because we've lost faith in every merely human director. Others try to direct us. At their best, they only end up doing half the job. They might temporarily save the many from the one or the one from the many, but not both. And when they try, the trying often turns them into a tyrant, another Napoleon. It's not by accident that the tyrant in George Orwell's book Animal Farm is a pig named Napoleon. Napoleon and the other pigs lead a revolution. They save the many, the animals on the farm, from the one, the inept and intoxicated old farmer, Mr. Jones.

After the revolution, justice is done by the needs of the many, codified into law with the greatest commandment being "All animals are equal." Later, Napoleon and the pigs decide that the special burden of leading the masses warrants special privileges, which includes all the cow's milk and all the farm's apples. Napoleon directs his spokes-pig to explain this to the other animals. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness or privilege. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples? This has been proved by science, comrades, milk and apples contain substances absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of a pig. We pigs are brain workers. Day and night, we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink milk and eat those apples."

Needless to say, Napoleon made sure the greatest commandment got an amendment: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Orwell's classic parable about human nature and human society reminds us how quickly the oppressed becomes the oppressor, and the line between human and pig is sometimes blurred. Like an Old Testament prophet, Orwell warned us. But some of us still sound like Old Boxer. You remember Old Boxer, the horse from Animal Farm? What was it that he kept saying? "I will work harder. I will get up earlier." But the pig sold him to the slaughterhouse. And seeing that can make you a cynic.

A friend of mine once told me a story about an experience he had in a high school band. He was the lone trombone player. During the rehearsal, the director kept telling him to back off on the trombone, "not so much, a little softer," he kept telling him. And in that moment, my friend became a cynic. He told me, "I decided not to play at all. The next time I just moved the slide back and forth without playing a single note." And you know what the director told him? "That was perfect. Play it just like that."

So you've lost faith in merely human directors. You've given up. You're just going through the motions. Take another look at Jesus. Read and listen to His biographies in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus is no Napoleon. He says, "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Take My direction upon you and learn from Me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls because My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11: 28, 30).

Jesus came, not to tyrannize, not to make slaves. And He didn't come to make cynics either. He came to give His life as a ransom. The One for the many. He was crushed for our tantrums and tyrannies. He was bruised for our cynicisms. The chastisement that brought us harmony was upon Him. And by His wounds we are made whole. He came, One for all and all for one, because that's who He is. He is God's Son. God isn't just One alone. God is Three in One, forever. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And God wants to relate to you through Jesus and His Spirit, not just as your Director, but as your Father, as a loving parent.

It wasn't until later that I learned that she wasn't just the director, she was his mother. It was a church service, the gathering that I told you about at the beginning. I was the guest preacher from out of town. Afterward, I complimented the choir director. Later, I learned that her name is Allison. I compliment Allison on the choir and especially on how she gently redirected that little Napoleon who was shouting over the others during the song. And she gently redirected me. "He's my son," she said. "His name is Grayson and he's four."

After I remove my foot from my mouth, Allison shares some of the backstory. "I'm not sure he was trying to be naughty," she said. "I had encouraged them to sing to the people in the back row of the church, so the entire congregation could hear their message. Perhaps this was Grayson just taking my guidance to heart." And then Allison brought me into the heart of the burden, the burden that belonged to her that day, the burden that belongs to God forever. "As a parent," she said, "when you're directing the whole choir and the child needing redirection is yours, it creates a fun dynamic of keeping all the positive momentum of the others going while still being the parent to the four-year-old who can't help but sing his heart out."

God knows I need redirection. God knows you need redirection, too. He also knows that you are His—His son, His daughter. And there's a place for you in His choir. So why don't you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, save Your church from me, from my tantrums and tyrannies, and save me for Your church, and Your church for the world. Because You are the Head of the body, first born of a new creation, and You live and You reign with the Father and the Spirit—One God for all and all for one. Amen.

Reflections for June 5, 2022

Title: A Place in the Choir

Mark Eischer: Just ahead, Dr. Peter Nafzger explores the theme of the upcoming LCMS youth gathering. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Now back to our Speaker Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Today, I'm visiting with Dr. Peter Nafzger, a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Thanks for joining us, Peter.

Peter Nafzger: It's great to be here.

Mike Zeigler: Peter, you also serve on a team that plans the teaching theme for the youth gathering of our church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. And this summer, the gathering is in July, next month, in Houston, Texas. It's going to be warm there, I'm sure, and we're expecting, what, about 20,000 youth and young adults and chaperones and church workers. Is that right?

Peter Nafzger: Yeah. About 20,000 young people, mostly young people, high school kids, but also they're adult chaperones, church workers, people from the city. It's a pretty big gathering.

Mike Zeigler: And they're coming together to be a community of God's people, to be encouraged in their walk with Jesus, to learn about the Christian faith. So Peter, as you've served on the planning team over the last decade or more, tell us about that experience of planning the teaching and the themes of these gatherings.

Peter Nafzger: The LCMS Youth Gathering is one of these events where you get to see all sorts of people doing all sorts of important work for the sake of the mission of God. Somewhere around 200-250 people begin planning these gatherings two and a half years in advance, and they select a theme. A group of about 30 people gather together, and they look at the culture in which we live and the things that we can affirm, the things that we have to reject, the challenges young people face. And then over a weekend, this group settles on a theme that will guide the entire gathering. It's a five-day event, and all the teaching, all the Bible studies, all the sermons, all the activities are guided by this theme.

The theme that arose out of that initial meeting, we settled on was, "In All Things," and it was based on Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Scholars have said that the book of Colossians is one of the most important letters that we have to help us understand who Jesus is. Here's what Paul writes, "Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation. For by Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the Head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And through Him, to reconcile to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His cross."

I remember in that meeting, when we were trying to decide what do we call this gathering, we want to address kind of the big picture. We think kids are confused today. We think there's a lot of stories out there, that a lot of accounts of the world that are just not right. We thought how should we name this gathering? And I remember reading through these verses and noticing how often Paul speaks of "all things," and we decided, "In All Things." Jesus, in all things, over all things, Lord of all things, and that's kind of how we got to the theme.

So when we think about all things, we could look at that from two different perspectives. We could talk about all people. Now, Christians believe that Jesus is Lord of all people, and that Jesus came to save all people. We live in a culture in which people have privatized faith, and so it's common to say, "Well, this is what I believe, but I'm not going to impose my belief on anyone else." And this is what maybe my family believes or my church teaches, but I can't tell you that you should believe that.

But Christians do have this evangelistic impulse, this mission command, to help people see that Jesus is Lord of all people. Nobody's left out.

Mike Zeigler: You speak of the challenges that our culture presents for that theme, that truth. I think the highest authority in our culture is personal experience. And so we can say, "This is what Jesus has done for me. This is how Jesus has helped me," but to make that next step of, "It's also true for you," that's where our culture would push back.

Peter Nafzger: We don't want to put ourselves in a position of putting people down, and so it is a challenge. But if you look at it like, the love of God is for all.

Mike Zeigler: Right.

Peter Nafzger: And the mercy of God is for all. When the news you have to share is good, then that becomes less of an imposition and more of an invitation, or more of a gift.

The other piece of the gathering ... so, it's for all people, and that's important, that gets to the mission of the church. It's also, Jesus is Lord of all things in my life. And this is where young people, but frankly, all people today, sometimes have a hard time keeping straight that Jesus is Lord of all things. He's not just Lord on Sunday mornings. He's not just Lord before dinner, at mealtime. He is Lord over all things, and He is involved in all things in my life. And so, I approach everything I do as a Christian, whether it be thinking of young people, especially now, my athletics, my after-school curricular activities, my relationships with my parents, my relationships with a boyfriend or a girlfriend—everything I do, there's no part of my life that Jesus doesn't shape and guide and support.

Mike Zeigler: What opportunities does the theme present and offer to those who hear about it?

Peter Nafzger: Well, it gets to be really exciting when you start to think about the impact of Jesus on every aspect of my life. So, we start to think about my relationships with others. In terms of my relationship with my family, with my friends, with my church, with my city, with people around the world, Jesus has an impact on all of that. And so, we start to help young people kind of open their eyes to the opportunities God is giving them to serve, to speak words of life to those who are hurting, to reach out in tangible, constructive ways to love others.

Mike Zeigler: I like how you say how that opens our eyes, and it's exciting to think that I can serve and see and find Jesus in whatever I'm doing.

Peter Nafzger: Right. The fancy word for that, that we use sometimes at the seminary, is "vocation," that God calls us in every corner of our life, every area in which we live, He calls us to live as His people, under His promises. And then we get to live that out, and so whether you're, like you mentioned, art or sports or musicals, and then as we try to help kids think about, what are you going to do with the gifts God has given you? Are you going to use them in some way in the church as you get older? Are you going to use them in some field to serve society? Are you going to use your gifts to help others to strengthen their lives, to support their lives, to help them see Jesus in their lives? It's in all things. Jesus, in all things.

Mike Zeigler: Peter, how do you hope that this teaching, this theme, forms the next generation of Christian communities?

Peter Nafzger: That's a really important question because just about all Christians recognize, we're kind of entering a new relationship with the world, in the Western world, especially. In Europe and North America, we're entering a time when the church no longer has a place of privilege. We're no longer in a time where the church is assumed and a Christian worldview is assumed.

And so, we're sending our young people out today into a world where there's all sorts of ideas, all sorts of philosophies. We want to help our young people become resilient followers of Jesus, and that is to say, followers who know what they believe. We teach them. We help them understand the Scriptures—who Jesus is, what it means to live in Him. But to be a resilient disciple is also to be able to stand firm when the going gets tough, and when there are questions. And we don't want to run away from the world and hide from the world. That's not the mission we've been given. But we want to equip our young people to be faithful in the world in what is a challenging time, and potentially increasingly challenging, to ground our young people in the story of Jesus and His love for them and for all people. That's our goal, to build them up as faithful, resilient disciples.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us. Thank you for the work that you do on behalf of Jesus and for His church and His world.

Peter Nafzger: Thanks.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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