Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
Jan. 29, 2023
A couple years ago I was having a planning meeting with a couple, just a few weeks prior to their wedding day. I asked them if they’d selected their scripture passages. The bride said, “Yes, it’s this one. May I read it?” And then she read this passage from Romans 12. When she finished she said, “What a wonderful way to live your life.” Let’s take a look.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I’d like to speak to you on the subject, “Bending & Blending.” It seems to me that this is one of the more important relationship skills that a person can have.
Friendships require Bending & Blending.
Marriages certainly require Bending & Blending. You know the old joke, “Marriage is when two people become one. The only question is: which one?” That’s not exactly a recipe for marital bliss or partnership. Nor is it Bending & Blending.
Work teams need this skill.
Churches need this skill.
All organizations need it to be healthy and to thrive.
Do you know what you get when an organization refuses to Bend & Blend? – the United States Congress. And very little gets done.
Now, by giving a sermon on this topic I am not suggesting that I have perfected this skill. Far from it. However, if I only preached on subjects I’ve perfected, I’m not sure what I could speak on. But I do speak on things I know to be true.
Illustration. When I was in my mid-20’s and 30’s I used to sing and perform a lot with another UCC pastor named Gary Piatt. We were huge for a while when it came to Mother-Daughter banquets and Spaghetti dinner fundraisers! Gary is an excellent musician – very good on piano and outstanding at singing harmony.
One day we were trying to learn a new song, entitled, “The Best,” by Bob Bennett. I had two recordings of the song, by two very different artists. I gave Gary one copy to listen to and I kept the other. Well, when we got together to practice it, it was a terrible experience. Gary was playing it so slowly that he was killing the song. I was falling asleep as we played it, and I was the one singing it. When I demonstrated to Gary the tempo that I thought it should go, he said, “That’s not good at all. You lose the whole message of the song at that tempo.”
It was the worst rehearsal we’d ever had, a constant tug of war. I’m sure we each thought, “Why did I ever start singing with this guy?” Till finally it dawned on me that the two recordings of the song were very, very different. The one I had given Gary was very slow. -only version he heard. And the one I had been listening to was pretty fast. So we each heard the song in our heads completely differently. And so what did we have to do? Bend & Blend. And we did. We found a tempo in the middle, and it became the best song we ever sang. But it took some hard work to get there. Bending and Blending is often hard work. That’s one of the reasons it doesn’t occur as much as it should.
The Apostle Paul wanted the Romans to sing a beautiful song for God. So he knew that needed to learn how to Bend & Blend.
Love one another with mutual affection (that’s blending!); outdo one another in showing honor (“Let’s do it your way!” “No, let’s do it your way!”) Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are . . . . If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Paul wanted the Roman Church to be something special for God. And so he asked them to seek one of the most beautiful things in all of music – harmony – different voices blended together to make something far richer than those individual voices singing alone. “Live in harmony with one another.”
Harmony was Paul’s wish for all the churches he founded. Listen to his words to the Colossian Church:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)
The Apostle Peter liked the same word, “harmony.” He ended his first letter this way: Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as sisters and brothers, be compassionate and humble (I Peter 3:8). Notice the things he lists that lead to harmony – sympathy, compassion, humility and love.
Musical harmony requires Bending & Blending. The Blending is obvious – listening to each other’s voices, matching the intensity, the volume, the texture.
The Bending is this – sometimes one part has to sing softer so that the other parts can be heard, to bring out the melody. Other times you have to sing your part louder to get the proper sound. “More bass. Now less bass. More soprano. Less tenor.” Bending & Blending.
Let me close with 3 stories about Bending & Blending.
1.“Driving and Not Blending.” Many years ago I was in the back seat of a car being driven to a concert. The couple in the front seat had been married for at least 25 years. And regularly throughout the car ride they fought about his driving.
“Slow down!!” “I’m not speeding!!!”
“Watch out for that truck!!!” “I see it!!!”
“Keep your eyes on the road!!!”
“Honey, there’s a guard rail there. Don’t be so nervous.”
On and on it went. I started praying for them. I know all couples have their growing edges and their repetitive issues. I tell you this story not to judge but to teach. Because I compare that couple with another couple, married just as long, and they have the same issue. She doesn’t like his driving. So you know what they do? She drives! That’s Bending & Blending. Does he feel a little less manly always being driven around? Probably, a little. But that Bending is worth doing for the sake of Blending, for the sake of marital harmony!
Here’s one of the best examples I’ve ever heard of when it comes to Bending & Blending. It comes from one of my favorite books, Decide Better for a Better Life by Michael McGrath.
- “All for One and One for All on Monhegan Island.”
Monhegan Island is a gorgeous island off the coast of central Maine.
The 60 year-round residents who live there know a thing or two about Bending & Blending. Many of the residents are lobstermen, but they don’t start lobster fishing until Dec. 1, even though is much easier to catch lobsters in the summer. They do so so the residents can use the summer months to work at the inns and stores supported by the tourists, as well as to build new homes. Both the construction jobs and the tourist-related jobs are sparse in the winter. So come Dec. 1, they switch to lobstering.
The start date for lobstering is called “Trap Day.” Sometimes the start date is delayed due to inclement weather. The lobstermen are anxious to get to it because the lobsters are plentiful at that time around the island, since they haven’t been harvested for many months. But there’s a 100 year old tradition on Monhegan Island of waiting until all the lobstermen are ready to fish. If someone’s boat isn’t ready, they wait for it to get fixed. If the weather only permits large boats to go out, they all wait until everyone can go. You’ve probably heard that lobstering in Maine is highly competitive, so this practice is pretty amazing. But they do this to preserve a very real sense of community. Community has to be tended to and protected. It doesn’t just happen. Harmony takes work. Bending & Blending is often hard work, but it’s worth it for the sake of harmony, friendships, and community.
Before I finish up let me offer two brief footnotes to this message on “Bending and Blending.”
A. One is, “Bending & Blending” doesn’t mean compromising your ethical standards.
If you’re at work and your boss asks you to do something that is unethical, I’m not saying you should Bend & Blend. There’s healthy compromises & unhealthy compromises. If you’re at a gathering and someone makes a racist comment or tells a racist joke, that’s not a time to bend and blend. It’s a time to speak up – “I’m not comfortable with that.”
B. Secondly, don’t Bend & Blend the way that I used to, which is, “Well, if that’s the way you want to do it, I think it’s a dumb idea, but I’ll go along with it.”
- “The Oak Tree and the Reed.”
One of Aesop’s Fables speaks to our topic this morning – “The Oak Tree and the Reed.”
“Well, little one,” said an Oak Tree to a Reed that was growing at its foot, “why do you not plant your feet deeply in the ground, and raise your head boldly in the air as I do?”
“I am contented with my lot,” said the Reed. “I may not be so grand, but I think I am safer.”
“Safe!” sneered the Oak Tree. “Who shall pluck me up by the roots or bow my head to the ground?”
But it soon had to repent of its boasting, for a hurricane arose which tore it up from its roots, and cast it a useless log on the ground, while the little Reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over.
There are great benefits to be gained from “Bending & Blending.”
Think about it.