“The Music Man”
Homily delivered by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson
On the Occasion of the the Intercession Homecoming Honoring Music Director and Organist William E. Randolph, Jr.
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Church of the Intercession, NYC
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Music is a mystery.
I don’t mean that music is a mystery to me because I’m not very good at it. I mean that music is a “sacred mystery” – a “sacred mystery” is “a holy act through which the Holy Spirit mysteriously and invisibly confers Grace (the saving power of God) upon humankind.” So what does that mean, exactly? One composer says that music is “Spirit taking form so that we can experience it in our world. If that sounds like it confers upon music too much power and elevates it too high, consider how music is portrayed in the Bible
The first mention of worshipping the God of Israel in song is at the Red Sea, when Israel sings songs by Moses and Miriam: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” With their newfound appreciation of music’s power to connect them to the power of God, Israel even tries singing to a rock to get it to give them water! This is evidence that the parting of the Red Sea provoked Israel to associate music with miracles. So Israel sings to a rock in the wilderness – and lo and behold! – the rock becomes a gushing spring, because the power of God in song has been unleashed upon it. It is because of this – music’s undeniable power – that I often say that supporting music in a church is as important as paying the Con Ed bill: both are sources of power. The church can’t survive without either electricity or music.
Now let’s go forward in time from the Exodus to the time of David, who first enters the palace of Saul, not as the warrior who defeats Goliath, but as a musician. David playing on his lyre has the power to relieve King Saul’s “evil moods.” Music – the right kind of music – can banish darkness. Much as light dispels physical darkness, sacred music repels evil spirits. Throughout his long life, David remains a musician. The collection of songs attributed mostly to David, the Psalter, became the first hymnal of both the temple and the church.
When David’s son Solomon builds the first temple in Jerusalem, he had a large group of musicians and singers on his payroll to work on the site, just as he had hired masons and carpenters. The right type of sound was so important to the construction of the temple that no hammering at all was permitted on the site – all the rocks had to be cut at the quarry – because that kind of noise was believed to promote strife and anger, it could never be allowed at the House of God. (Think about how construction noise makes you feel, and you know that they were right). Notice that different kinds of sound were thought to carry different kinds of spirits. Years later, Solomon himself, following in his father’s footsteps, composed the most passionate love song to God in the entire Bible – what we call the “Song of Solomon” but was Jews call “the Song of Songs.”
So it is not surprising that when Jesus is born and the heavens are opened, glorious music pours down upon the fields of Bethlehem, accompanying the vision of all the angels and the host of heaven in light – when the gospel says that they “praised God” it means they sang. So even today when we sing in church, our “Glorias!” and “Hosannas!” and “Alleluias!” convey our infinite gratitude to heaven for what we first received in the heavenly Song of the Incarnation (remember that Jesus was also the Holy Spirit taking form so that we could experience him in our world).
It takes a very special person to continually make and maintain that sacred connection between heaven and earth, keeping that bridge open and strong. Such a person is our organist and music director, Bill Randolph. Bill isn’t just gifted – and he is astonishingly gifted – he is anointed. He is anointed by God to the sacred vocation of music, carrying God’s message of love down to us, and our response of worship through music back to God. This is a vocation that Bill has lived out with joy, faith, determination, and grit for about four decades now.
Being chosen by God isn’t easy, it never is. Bill has had a challenging life, both personally and professionally. But he always pushed through to fulfill and honor his call above all else, no matter was else was happening. His dedication is unmatched. Speaking personally for a moment, I can tell you that Bill is one of the main reasons I came here to Intercession – having known him and having experienced his talent at the Cathedral, the lure to be in joint ministry with him here was something I couldn’t resist. And he has repaid me every single Sunday. Thank you, Bill.
My sisters and brothers, when God formed creation in Genesis, God created music too, because the cosmos was made to sing. The ancients spoke of something called ” the music of the spheres,” which holds that everything that God creates has its own frequency, it’s own place in the cosmic symphony. We, too, are created to take part in that symphony, and it is Bill who makes that possible for us. So today we give all thanks to God, to Jesus, to Bill, and to our choirs and other musicians who make it possible for us to live up our voices and sing to God day by day.
Thank you Bill – you rock! And we pray that you may continue to rock, for many years to come.