Seventy-Six Trombones and Why We Celebrate All Saints Day

It was hot, as hot as it gets in Florida in the month of August. During the morning I conducted worship services and taught Sunday School. At noon there was a quick lunch with the family. During my time and tenure as a local church pastor, Sunday afternoons were always reserved for naps and crawling into the fetal position and sucking my thumb. I always felt spent on Sunday afternoons. There was rarely anything left, like Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, not even a bone left for the dog, and I was the dog.

On this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., a graveside service had been scheduled for a church member who had been the financial secretary for 28 years. She didn’t want a big service, just something short and sweet, and now I was driving in the funeral procession and following the hearse. I thought of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, going to his corner after the 14th round, telling his manager to "cut me" so he could see out of eyes nearly swollen shut. Rocky had to get off the stool when the bell rang and go after Apollo Creed in the final round. I needed to do something to summon the energy necessary to come off of the stool and give this dear soul the send off she deserved.

I was driving the family Dodge Caravan. The only redeeming value this behemoth had was a 10 speaker custom Bose sound system. I fiddled with the dial until I found what my children would have called elevator music. What I stumbled on was not the theme song to "Rocky" but rather the original version of “The Music Man” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.” As the trombones were added into the score I turned the music up and up and up. By the time we pulled into the cemetery it was going full blast. We pulled to a stop. I stayed in the van to hear the last of the song. I looked to see if the mourners were gawking awkwardly at me. I quickly discerned they couldn’t hear the music that was bellowing from the speakers and pulsating through my veins. The song ended. I was renewed, rejuvenated, and my energy had returned. I was ready for the 15th round. When I got out of the van and stepped into the sweltering heat I immediately felt stunned as if I had been hit in the face with a stinging jab. How could I put on my “funeral face,” appear somber, and put on a mask to hide this renewed energy that had awakened my soul?

It was one of those rare moments when I was able to pull off what was going on with me in “real time.” I read the opening scripture sentences, went through a few prayers, and then began to explain what was going on with me. I spoke about being spent, about finding the radio station, and about being revitalized listening to Seventy-Six Trombones. This funeral, and every one I have conducted since that moment, all of the sudden made perfect sense to me. We march into graveyards with trombones blaring, all Seventy-Six, and all graveyards, because we follow the one who marched out of one.

And so on this day for all the Saints, who from their labors rest, who surround us "like a great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) we offer you, not twenty-one guns, but rather this Seventy-Six trombone salute. We march triumphantly into cemeteries and graveyards because you first marched out of one

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"Man Up" A Celebration of Marriage for Sean McNeil and Kari Cobham November 24, 2012

Scripture Reading I Corinthians 13

            1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I really don’t know how to add to this. It says it all. Yesterday I was preparing what I would say to my son and my newest daughter as they begin their life together today as husband and wife. I wondered if I should comment about Gary Chapman and the 5 Love Languages or Steven Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Anything I have to say will be inadequate. It’s like trying to add a post script to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech or a few additional comments after the Hallelujah Chorus has been sung.

When words have been spoken that stir the soul or a song has been sung that sends chill bumps down the spine we know we have been moved because we can feel it. What is Paul saying? How do we get to the meat of this mystery? I think what Paul is saying is clear. I think he is saying to “Man up.”

So I bypassed Gary Chapman and Steven Covey and I decided to turn to the Urban Dictionary for help. And it was then I knew I was in trouble. There were all of these crude references to male genitalia which would be more appropriate to a tail gating party than to a wedding party. “I realized I was going to be late to the bachelor party because I had forgotten about my appointment for my manicure.” “Geez, Man up!” "I can't.. believe.. she dumped me.. again! This is awful. I've been crying so much." "Jeeeez. Man up!" And whether it is Jimbo Fisher or Will Muschamp you can bet whoever is behind at halftime the coach is going to be telling his players to man up.

As offensive to women and politically incorrect as this may seem Paul is speaking to an audience of both men and women. “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child but when I became a man I gave up childish ways.” He is not speaking about gender. He is speaking about maturity. Manning up is not about swagger it is about stepping up and stepping into maturity.  

Paul talks about this maturity by describing what it is and what it isn’t. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at what is wrong but rejoices at what is right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

It is not only about the love that has brought you together. It is the love you need in order to face the world. And when you are grounded in this love you can face the world together.

These words are attributed to Mother Teresa. Make love your aim!

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

 If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.”

Today is the launching pad for all of your tomorrows. As you make these sacred vows today you do so with a community of family and friends who stand with you. You cannot do this alone. We need each other. At times it may feel like you are on a high wire act 40 stories high as you precariously make each step. We are the safety net that is here and ready to catch you. As you face uncertainties, vocational challenges, financial insecurities, and bringing a child into the world, please remember this: When you choose to love nobody will ever have power over you because love is stronger than resentment, hate, anger, and fear. When you choose to love no one will be able to set the agenda for how you feel about yourself, or for that matter how you feel about them. When you choose to Love you step into a mystery and an alternative consciousness that is counter-intuitive to human nature. When you choose to love, love will always find a way. 

The challenge is to you, Sean, and to you Kari, but also to myself, the parents, the grandparents, the siblings, and friends, and everyone else who stands with you today. Man up.