A few months ago, with the leadership of a lay member of our congregation, we organized a brass quintet: two trumpets, a trombone, a french horn and a tuba. We’ve played for worship a couple of times and even played a few pieces for another congregation’s worship. We’ve signed up to provide special music for our congregation at the end of this month as well. We have to adjust our practice schedule at times, because of the complex schedules of the members of our group, but we truly enjoy practicing and playing together.

We have quite a repertoire of hymns, a few classical brass pieces and a few fun pieces that lean a bit towards jazz. Only a couple of our members are experts. The rest of us struggle a bit to keep up - and mostly we are a bit rusty. However we are learning to blend our sounds and play together as an ensemble.

The thing about ensemble playing is that it forces you to practice and improve your technique. Each person has a unique part, so you are exposed and need to keep up your part of the music. The group needs to stay together. No ensemble can be better than its weeks member, but the better members encourage and help the weaker ones to come up to speed.

I’ve been thinking recently about the ensemble as a metaphor for the church. Those of us who are pastors often hear people making excuses for not attending worship. Because of the range of friends that i have, I hear from my friends about how they hold beliefs, but have rejected some of the structures of the institutionalized church. On my more frustrated days, or when I’ve heard a few too many of those folks in the same week, I feel like responding to them with comments like, “What made you think that those of us who worship together regularly can’t see God in nature? Do you believe that we don’t recognize God’s glory in every sunrise? Do you think that your insights about how worshipful a mountain or seashore makes you feel are somehow unique to you?”

I’m tempted to say, “Sure, you can worship God in a trout stream or the roar of the surf or in mountaintop spender, but after 42 years as a pastor, I’ve never seen a trout stream call on a sick person in the hospital. I’ve never seen a pine tree prepare a funeral lunch for a grieving family. I’ve never know of a seashore to teach children about living in community.” The couples whose weddings I’ve celebrated in beautiful outdoor meetings all need the support of real live people when they encounter troubles in their lives.

Or, as a colleague says frequently, “You can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself.”

A church, at its best, is an ensemble. Every member is valued for their own unique and distinct talents. Each new member transforms the entire group. The group misses each member when they are separated from the group. And together we can make beautiful music that none of us would be able to make alone.

i suppose that you could use the metaphor of a symphonic orchestra when speaking about the church as well. But all metaphors can do is to point towards truth that lies beyond the metaphor. Every metaphor falls short at some point. There is no such thing as a perfect metaphor. That’s why throughout the gospels, we hear Jesus speak of the many things that the kingdom of God is like.

The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The kingdom of God is like a master of a house. The kingdom of God is like the yeast hidden in the flour. The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed. The kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed. The kingdom of God is like a net that a fisherman threw into the sea. There are lots of things that the kingdom of God is like. None of them offer a complete description. None is a perfect metaphor.

So when I say, The kingdom of God is like a brass choir, I’m not saying that the kingdom of God is exactly the same as a brass choir. I’m pointing to something that is beyond the metaphor itself.

We all remember that Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He never answers the question of the man who asks, but rather asks the man to answer the question for himself.

We each find our own metaphors for life and faith and God and the nature of community. But somehow all of those metaphors point beyond our individual interpretations to a realty that is greater than the particular stories that we tell. And, from time to time, we share common metaphors. The metaphors of Jesus that are in our bible have been shared not only be a lot of people, but a lot of generations. These stories of our people gain value and meaning through the retelling and living of their teachings. We treasure them in part because they have been the foundation of generations of Christian community.

So for five of us, who enjoy playing together, a brass ensemble is one metaphor for God and we are coming to a common understanding of its meaning and its value for us as we seek to combine our love of music with our love of worship. We pray that the music we make will carry meaning for others. We know that not everyone wants trumpets and tuba in worship. We can be rather loud. But we also know that there is some music that expresses our faith in ways that our words cannot convey. We don’t achieve that height of musical excellence each time we are together. We still need a lot of practice. Discipleship involves discipline.

When we play together, however, we can imagine making glorious music together. And sometimes, we sound pretty good.

Not bad at all.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!