06/02/2019: Being Present to the Presence

BEING PRESENT TO THE PRESENCE

Isaiah 6: 1-8
A Communion Meditation by Thomas R. McKibbens
June 2, 2019

Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. Not long ago he participated in an experiment sponsored by the Washington Post. Joshua Bell stood in jeans, t-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap in L’Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington, DC, and he played six of the most intricate and beautiful classical compositions ever written for the violin.

While he played for about 45 minutes, 1,097 people passed by. Only six people stopped to listen for a while. About 20 people threw some money into the till. When he finished, silence took over; no applause; no recognition. Three days earlier, Joshua Bell had played to a sold-out audience at Symphony Hall in Boston for an average ticket price of $100.

I

We can’t be too critical of the people who passed by unaware. We all know what it is like to be on a tight time schedule! But that is all the more reason for making time for worship. More than one of the Psalms calls on the people to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. That is an intriguing phrase, the beauty of holiness. It implies a time of slowing down from our frantic schedules and noticing the beauty that is already there, like stopping to listen to Bach played by a master during rush hour.

Today we slow down to recognize the beauty of holiness. We do it in confirming the faith of three young people. We do it in remembering the sacrifice of Jesus as we receive the Lord’s Supper. We do it in just being present to the presence of God in this place.

II

This is where we come to the powerful story of Isaiah entering the temple after the death of King Uzziah. This familiar story is quite contemporary because King Uzziah had decided to use religion for political gain, to manipulate religion as a voting block, to exploit religion for personal gain. The story of how King Uzziah arrogantly went into the temple, fired the priests, and took over on his own terms is found in the book of II Chronicles.

While the king had entered the temple to use and manipulate religion for his own gain, Isaiah entered the temple to be open to the presence of God. The king wanted to USE God; Isaiah wanted to be open to God. What a difference!

When we are open to God; when we are present to the Presence, important things happen—such as youth confirming their faith. Those who try to turn the worship of God into an entertainment model have missed the whole point of worship. We are not here to be entertained; we are here to be present to the presence of God, to listen for that still, small voice, to be cleansed, renewed, and called to service. Therefore, a worshipping congregation is never a gathering of spectators; it is a gathering of participants who, like Isaiah, must respond to a calling. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

III

But we must slow down to be present to the Presence. There is more to the story of Joshua Bell playing the violin in the Washington metro station. Only one person recognized Joshua Bell. Stacy Furukawa, a demographer at the Commerce Department, had been in the audience three weeks earlier when Joshua Bell had presented a concert at the Library of Congress. She listened until he finished, and then she introduced herself to him and tossed in a $20. Not counting that twenty, his final haul for his playing was $32.17. Later that day, Joshua Bell headed off for a concert tour of European capitals.

Being present to the Presence is stopping to listen once again. It is being present to the music, the poetry, the divine voice singing the music of call, listening for our response. Let it be said that on the first Sunday in June in 2019, as you took the bread and wine and remembered the sacrifice of Christ, you slowed down, and you were present to the Presence, and you responded, Here am I, send me.