Sermon: Making Music With What Remains

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There was a touching story making the rounds at the beginning of last week about a woman who was injured during the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013.

Rebekah DiMartino is her name, and she was not even 10 feet from one of the two bombs that detonated at the finish line, along with her seven year old son and her boyfriend, now her husband.

All three sustained injuries, but Rebecca’s were the worst. Since that day, she has had seventeen surgeries to repair damage to her left leg, which was hit in several places.

Her life has been about so much more than those surgeries, of course, and she has been quick to say that her life has been full of much joy along with the ongoing challenges of treatments and recoveries.

Nevertheless, not long ago, with other treatments and likely surgeries looming ahead of her, Rebecca DiMartino made a courageous decision that was, in the end, only hers to make: she decided to have her left leg amputated.

She did so very much with her eyes open – she knows that learning to walk again, and to live with a prosthesis – is not anyone’s idea of taking the easy way.

But she realized that this radical act was, in the end, an important part of putting the bombing behind her. And so she resolved to do it.

That ought to be enough story right there.

But there is more. Because she decided to write her left leg a note of farewell, which she posted on her facebook page.

Here is some of what she wrote:

“Hey it’s me.

I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to you when I say that we’ve grown apart. The love that we once had has dwindled, and this relationship has become a real burden on my life. We have been through a lot together. We have seen a lot of places, done a lot of things, and you have helped me through some of the toughest steps thus far. I promise to always treasure that. And I’m not saying this isn’t hard for me. It is. But as tough as it may be, I feel like our time together has come to an end.”

And then a bit later, she continues, “I love you. I really do. But I think I need to start on the next leg of my journey. So with that said, I have enclosed a gift certificate that I hope you will use. Go get yourself one last pedicure on me and enjoy it because tomorrow…I will be cutting you out of my life for good.”

Last Monday, that is exactly what she did.

Now, it is not everyone’s impulse to make such a moment public – I get that.

But, you know, I find it remarkable whenever someone takes what life throws at them and finds a way to move forward with grace, and even humor, and so I am grateful to know about it.

It’s an amazing story.

It reminds me, also, that adversity doesn’t always bring that out in people.

Adversity can have a way of making our lives shrink – sometimes to the point that who we are withers into little more than symptoms, or procedures, or the pains of today.

Nobody wants it to be that way, of course. And yet, it takes a particular kind of will to make sure that it does not.

It takes the ability to remember that our story is part of something much, much larger than our pain, or our prognosis, or even ourselves.

That can be hard to remember. But it’s so important that we do.

There’s a story of the violinist Yitzhak Perlman, who once broke a string in the middle of a concert, and yet pressed on, anyway, performing his part by playing entirely on the remaining three strings—a remarkable achievement.

At the end of the concert, he was asked why he had chosen to do that, rather than just stop the concert and replace the broken string.

Perlman shrugged.

“Our job is to make music with what remains,” he said.

How remarkable it is to encounter someone like Perlman, or like Rebekah DiMartino: a person who has found a way to make music with what remains.

Adversity does not have to become the whole story.

Maybe that’s what faith is, too.

Not a set of beliefs – or anyway, not all that many – so much as a kind of deep trust in the power of a story that’s much bigger than we are at any given moment.

Faith is a story that says that what’s happening today—now—is not the final word on anything—that the only thing that’s really an unshakeable given in this world is not death, or even taxes, but the creating, liberating, and sustaining love of God.

That’s a lot to take in.

But faith says that the real story is just that: the creating, liberating, and sustaining love of God.

And the point is that if you can see that…even just a bit, or even only now and then…but if you can see that, then maybe it is not so impossible to understand that our job is to make music with what remains.

And joyful music at that.

That’s what it is to be faithful.

To me, this is some of what Jesus is driving at in this morning’s parable.

He tells his disciples this story we’ve just heard about three servants, given different amounts of silver to manage for their master, who has gone on an extended journey.

Now, understand that a “talent” was a lot of money – even one talent was much more than many people would have accrued in a lifetime of hard work.

It isn’t entirely clear just how much we are talking here: some say that one talent might have been as much as twenty years’ worth of day labor.

But even if it wasn’t that much, it was still a lot of money.

And so when the first servant is given five talents to manage, that’s a lot of trust; and when his stewardship yields five more, that’s a big accomplishment. And when the next servant is given two and manages to earn another two, that’s still very impressive.

But it comes to the third servant, and when it does, it becomes clear that the whole parable is really about him.

Given one talent to take care of, the third servant responds by going and burying it in the ground, figuring, perhaps, that the cost of losing it through bad investment is much greater than the potential benefit of adding to it.

No emerging markets for this guy. He’s a liquidity man. Prudent to a fault.

And that’s just it. Because it turns out that he is at fault.

The master returns, and instead of rewarding the third servant, he rejects him angrily for failing to do something with his talent—for failing to invest his talent in some way, even cautiously, and for neglecting its growth.

The third servant has allowed his life to remain small, and cautious, and in every sense of the word, he has decided it is o.k. if he does nothing with his talent.

And the point of the parable is that it’s not o.k.

It’s not o.k., specifically, because it’s not faithful.

He’s forgotten, or maybe he’s never known what it is to be faithful.

Faith is remembering that we are part of a larger story.

It’s about remembering that the worries and risks, and even the failures that we experience are not the final word about us.

To be faithful is to remember that, despite appearances to the contrary, and despite the expectations of the world at large, we are free to keep looking for a way forward.

To be faithful is to keep looking for a way to put our talent to good use because we understand the story we are actually in, which is God’s story.

For example, if Rebekah DiMartino had never been the same after the Boston bombing—if she had never been herself again—who would have blamed her? Who would have seen her as more than just a tragic figure, a woman whose life story was ruined by people and events that were not her fault?

But even as her life was changed forever by what happened on that day in Boston, she has found a way forward, a way to make music with what remains, a way to see that her story was much larger and much richer and much grander than the story of her challenges would ever admit.

She had to break up with her old story in order to live fully into a new and greater one.

She had to offer her talent in the service of a future that she can’t quite see.

I don’t know if she is a person of faith, but there is nothing more faithful than that.

She did what that third servant could not or would not do, which is trust in that larger story.

That’s what faith is.

It’s good to remember that.

Maybe especially so on a Sunday when we talk about stewardship, and you and I are asked to think about what this church means in our lives and about the impact it will be poised to make in the coming year.

In it’s own way, maybe that’s also putting our talent in the service of a future that we can’t quite see.

But more to the point, it’s important to remember that what happens here is that people are reminded that there is more to them and more to life than just what their challenges and heartbreaks will admit.

What happens here is that you and I work together to tell a different kind of story…a story about the creating, liberating, and sustaining love of God, and of the coming Kingdom that emerges as the story of that love unfolds throughout Creation.

What happens here is that lives are changed, and hope is made a little more real, and the future becomes a little more inviting, and our shortcomings, and the world’s injustices are a little less acceptable to us than they used to be.

This morning’s story reminds us that the way things are is no place to stand pat, and that to bury our talent is against God’s will—and not in some sort of judgmental sense, but against God’s will in the sense that to stand pat is against God’s deepest hopes for us, God’s dream for us, God’s purpose for us.

Because our talent is our way into the grand story. It’s our way of being part of the adventure God is writing in the world, and that it is all far too wonderful to miss, and we should not.

The only reason for this place to exist is that it makes a difference in people’s lives.

And it makes that difference because of the powerful story we stand for.

If you have ever needed that story, not thought it was nice, or interesting, or a great excuse for a beautiful building and some beautiful music that helps people relax—no, none of that—if you have ever needed that story, then you know how important it is that we are here to tell it.

Because people do need this story.

Our friends and neighbors need it.

The people we love the most and don’t quite know how to help need it. You and I need it.

Won’t you help us tell it? Won’t you offer some of your talent to its telling? Because that’s what stewardship is.

The violinist Yitzhak Perlman said, “Our job is to make music with what remains.”

But Jesus says that when your talents and mine are offered in the service of God’s story, we help to build a world in which, one day, all that remains will be something like music.

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