Sermon for February 3rd, 2019
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. 8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Song of Solomon 3:1-3
1 Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. 2 “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not. 3 The sentinels found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Faith & Film VII: Bohemian Rhapsody
Three Minute Film Summary
Bohemian Rhapsody is based on the true-life story of legendary rock band, Queen, and their lead singer, Freddie Mercury. The film traces Mercury's rise from humble origins as the child of immigrant refugees, to one of most iconic and well-loved front-men in the history of rock and roll. Along the way, we follow his triumphs and his tragedies, as he comes to term with his identity, his fame, his sexuality, and his complicated relationships. For a time, under the influence of some sketchy associates, Freddie Mercury becomes estranged from his true friends--his family, his band mates, and the "love of his life" Mary Austin. He is also diagnosed with AIDS, which, at the time was a death sentence. Mercury is finally able to reconcile with those who love him, and pulls his life together in time for Live Aid -- a historic concert that raised money to fight famine in Africa. In real life, Queen's performance at Live Aid is consistently ranked by critics as one of the greatest in the history of Rock and Roll music. The film ends with a moving, triumphant and painstakingly re-created version of that performance that is well worth watching for fans of any kind of music.
The Queen and the King
Freddie Mercury is certainly not a Christ-type. But he does remind me of another beloved character from the Bible, someone who also rose from humble origins to incredible fame, someone who was spectacular in his public success and in his personal failures, someone who knew the adoration of crowds as well as the betrayal of friends, who struggled with relationships and sexuality, and who also happens to be the most famous musician and song-writer in the entire Bible: King David.
David came from Bethlehem, a backwoods town that was not highly regarded in Ancient Israel. Freddie Mercury's family immigrated to London from Persia--he is often mistakenly called a "paki" or Pakistani" by others in the film. Young David shepherded sheep, while young Freddy Mercury is depicted in the film as shepherding luggage, in his job as a baggage handler at Heathrow International Airport.
The true love of David's life was Jonathan. We read in 1 Samuel 18 that "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." But later in life David's attraction to and relationships with a succession of women got him into trouble, leading him further and further astray. In Bohemian Rhapsody, the love of Freddy Mercury's life is Mary Austin, but later in life, his relationships with a succession of men get him into trouble, leading him further and further astray.
Both David and Freddie Mercury collect strays and outcasts. In 1 Samuel 22, while David is at the cave of Adullam, we read that "Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Freddie Mercury gathers to himself...well, here's a clip. Note his kingly attire.
Somebody to Love
The film opens with the Queen song, "Somebody to Love." Listen to the lyrics to the first verse--they read almost just like one of King David's Psalms of Lament, written in passionate angst and addressed directly to God:
"Each morning I get up I die a little / Can barely stand on my feet / Take a look in the mirror and cry / Lord, what you're doing to me / I have spent all my years in believing you / But I just can't get no relief, Lord! Can anybody find me somebody to love?"
It also echoes the yearning from our scripture passage in Song of Solomon: "Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not."
In the film, Freddie Mercury displays an incredible capacity to love others, but an almost insatiable need to be loved. In the following clip, we see that whether it's the love of a stadium full of people, or the woman he is engaged to, it's never enough.
Ultimately, one of Mercury's lovers, leaving him, tells Mercury to "Come find me when you've learned how to love yourself." It is in taking this advice, in coming to terms with his identity, that Freddy is finally able to find some measure of contentment in his relationships with his parents, his band mates, his fans, and Mary Austin.
There's a famous scripture passage that is often quoted (I think I quoted it last week, actually). Jesus tells his disciples to "love your neighbor as yourself." Sometimes we forget that this goes both ways--in order to truly love others, we also have to be able to love ourselves, and see ourselves as worthy of being loved.
The Work of the People
Two the things that set Queen apart from most other bands, which are depicted throughout the film: Their boldness in being "experimental" in their music, not getting "stuck in a box," and their constant insistence that their audience is part of the band, part of the show, and should be able to participate with them in the making of music.
When the band tries to explain to a producer one of their more bizarre records (A Night at the Opera, which features the song Bohemian Rhapsody), Mercury puts it this way:
"It's a rock and roll record with the scale of opera, the pathos of Greek tragedy, the wit of Shakespeare, the unbridled joy of musical theatre. It's a musical experience, rather than just another record. Something for everyone, something that will make people feel belongs just to them. We'll mix genres, we'll cross boundaries, we'll speak in bloody tongues if we want to."
Here's a clip showing the origins of one of their most famous anthems--and also highlighting the participatory nature of their music:
If there's ever been a movie that perfectly expresses the philosophy of worship here at First Presbyterian Church, it's this one. Our worship is liturgical--it revolves around a liturgy. What is a liturgy? I'm glad you asked. It's simply a fancy Greek word made up of two roots: leitos (people or public) and ergos (work or working). So our worship, our liturgy, is literally the work of the people. Not the work of the pastor. Not the work of the choir or praise band. The work of the people. That means we all have something to contribute.
And while our worship stands in an ancient tradition, it is also constantly evolving and changing--we're always trying new things, finding new ways to "Make a joyful noise to the Lord." Psalm 98 reflects this: "Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn . . . Let the sea roar . . . Let the floods clap their hands . . . let the hills sing together for joy..."
In other words, be experimental! Use whatever you have, whatever instruments, whatever skill and talent, whatever resources, but everybody does something!
Of course this extends beyond just music, beyond just stomping your feet and clapping your hands. One of the most important ways we participate in creating our worship every week is when we come together around the Lord's table to celebrate communion. It's also the place where we, in our own special way, gather all the outcasts, the misfits, the people desperately looking for love.
When we gather at this table, we remember the one who loved us enough to give his life for us. When we gather at this table, we remember who we are and who we belong to. At this table, we look into each others eyes, and we know that here, in this place, we are truly and deeply loved.
As Freddy Mercury says at the end of the film, "This is for all the beautiful people out there. And that's all of you."