This post was written by Bishop Bruce Burnside and originally appeared in the January 2012 Newsletter of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
A few weeks ago I was in a quite nice restaurant – the kind of restaurant where people are expected to follow certain codes of behavior, the sort of place where one observes proper etiquette. You know the kind of atmosphere I am talking about… there are unspoken expectations in places like that. This is not a location for “making a scene.”
I was invited that evening by John Nunes, CEO of Lutheran World Relief, to be his guest. His wife, Monique, was with us. It was a very pleasant meal, interrupted only for a short while by panic over a lost credit card. (But that is another story!) We talked about our own families and daily routines, the places we live, but mostly we talked about the work of the Church and in particular, the work of the Church in desperate places throughout the world. Lutheran World Relief is just one of the many ways the Church responds to hunger, disease, disaster and poverty in your world.
At the end of dinner, with only a few sips of coffee left to drink, Pastor Nunes said to me: “People who know my wife often know her because of her beautiful voice. She sings.” I imagined that meant people in the congregation liked to sit near her at worship or that she was a member of the choir … something like that. And maybe that is true, but here is what happened next in that “don’t make a scene atmosphere:” he asked if she would like to sing to me – right there in the restaurant. I expected her to blush, to say no, not here, not now dear. But instead she asked what I would like to hear. Fully unprepared for what was about to take place I simply said: “You are the singer – you choose.” So she began to sing, I mean really sing, belting it out Mehalia Jackson style:
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning in thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
As thou has been, thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath proved;
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
I sat in my chair at the table. She was standing, the song was soaring for anyone, anywhere to hear. John was right — her voice was magnificent. I was holding my breath as she sang.
Several things have remained in my memory from that not so ordinary experience in a restaurant where diners were, I suppose, expecting nothing like this between courses. Here are two of the memories among many: the bold confession of faith in the words of that hymn that sing out God’s never-failing provision for this creation (that’s a good and needed reminder for hard times and new years) and the unabashed willingness of a woman to voice it — gorgeously — with all the air in her lungs even in a “behave yourself” restaurant! (that’s a good and needed reminder for the Church when we are timid and or overly cautious with God’s expansive grace.)
I think we either believe or we don’t believe that God is faithful. When we do really trust that God is abundantly faithful to us we express it in all kinds of ways — often times even as surprisingly as singing in a restaurant.
The Epiphany word is nothing other than this — get the word out, belt it out, sing it out, tell it, show it, live it… out… out… out where it is not expected, known, or part of the behavioral code.
Image: USS Cleveland Soldiers sing during Easter Service, by Official U.S. Navy Imagery, on Flickr.com