The Music of the Call
Words for 10th Sunday after Trinity – 15 August 2020 – Parish of Felixstowe – A Cyber Sermon from the Vicarage
for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:29-32)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
One of my favourite movies, and not simply because the soundtrack is shot through with the music of Elgar’s heart achingly beautiful Cello Concerto, is the story of Jacqueline and Hilary Du Pré named, appropriately, Hilary and Jackie.
It caused a flutter amongst the musical world when it was first released as it told Jackie’s tragic story from Hilary’s viewpoint which was more earthy than expected by those who had put the world famous cellist on a moral pedestal as well as the one on which she sat on the concert stage. It is well worth a watch but do be prepared for a shocking revelation during it.
There are several parts of the movie that grabbed my heart. For me one of them occurs soon after Jacqueline’s first solo concert that receives immediate acclaim and catapults her into a too short dazzling time of being sent around the world from concert hall to concert hall.
Before this begins she is given a gift of a cello. The Major Domo after her concert hands it to her with these words;
Thank you. Jackie’s debut went very well. I’m sure you would agree. And to mark the occasion, a very generous friend who wishes to remain anonymous… has offered her this.
It’s one of the finest cellos ever made. It’s called the Davidov. The magic is in the varnish.
So you must keep it away from the extremes of temperature.Another problem is the insurance. So don’t let it get out of your sight.
It will give you the world, Jackie. You must give it yourself.
All too soon she finds that her gift is also something of a curse. She come to see the instrument as something which forces her to live a life not as normal as the one given to her sister. So, despite the warnings, she leaves the Davidov out on her hotel balcony to be snowed upon and lays it on the floor in direct sunlight in the hope that it may crack, and twist, and buckle and so provide her with a reason to give up on it[i]
But in the end, longing to play the music that bubbles up from her soul, she hugs and caresses her cello, and uses it for some of her most famous recordings.
Jacqueline learnt that to give yourself to a passion will cost you your whole life. The words of the Major Domo ring true.
‘It will give you the world, Jackie. You must give it yourself.’
Sometimes, as I discuss the journey of following the call of God with those trying to discern what they should be doing to fulfil their Christian journey it feels very similar.
There are days when they, and me, want to cry out against the call that God is laying on their lives. A vocation to serve the people of God (something which all Christians possess – God does not only call people to be Deacons and Priests, Bishops and Readers) is at the same time an intense fulfilling joy and an overpowering burden.
But, as our text reminds us, ‘the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.’ Occasionally – and for most of us the dark times are few and far between – I feel just a little bit hag-ridden by the call of God on my life and, like Jackie, I am tempted to place God’s call outside on the balcony of my life in the hope that it would be snowed upon so that it may crack, and twist, and buckle and then I can, like the One Talent Slave, give it back to God proclaiming how I was a busted flush from the beginning and it was a waste of time to invest time in me.
A dear friend of mine summed this two-edged sword of the Call on Twitter recently with the heartfelt cry of ‘Please God, make it stop!’
But God doesn’t make it stop, for even God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and God knows our need of the Call that we may make some music out of the cacophony of our lives.
But this Christianity business is an ‘all or nothing’ kind of affair. As TS Eliot reminds us in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, following the call of Christ will cost us ‘not less than everything’. After all it cost Christ His life so how can we expect to come away from any act of real sacrifice unharmed, whole, and unwounded?
But, once we have heard the music of our Beloved’s song there is no other beat to which we may march. We may rail against it. We may proclaim our unworthiness and incompetence. We may even, Jonah like, board a ship to far off Tarshish in an effort to escape the call of God only to find ourselves spat out by a whale on a beach outside Nineveh with the same urgent call beating within our hearts.
Each of us has a call from God.
How do I know that?
Because we are reading these words together.
Because we worship, when we can, together.
Because we stand together listening and waiting for that awe-filled moment of liberation when we will realise that the whole point of faith is to share it with another and the only reason we are given life is that we may give it away.
It will give you the world, Jackie. You must give it yourself.
Yep! There is no escape, ‘the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.’ All faith is about sacrifice and giving ourselves away to the call of God. Anything else is idolatry.
At the end of the movie Hilary has a flashback to a time when she and her sister are playing on a beach and Jackie runs off to talk to a strange lady (her future self) standing apart from them. When she returns Hilary asks;
What is it?
What did she say?
And Jackie replies
It’s all right.
Everything’s going to be all right.
It may be, it will be, frightening to say ‘yes’ to God but when we do the music of God’s love will consume our lives and our brokenness will be made whole and everything will, perhaps for the first time, be all right.
[This blog ‘The Music of the Call’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
[i] The Davidov is currently owned by Cellist Yo-Yo Ma who has a somewhat more ‘delicate’ playing style than Du Pré.