ROCK AND ROLL CHRISTIANS #1
Years ago, a teacher who had been raised in the North, took her first teaching job at a high school in Georgia. Being Northern, she had a problem understanding her students’ accents. Jokingly, she said to one girl, “I do wish you Southerners would speak English!”
The girl said, “We do!”
“Well, it’s not the King’s English,” the teacher protested.
“Sure it is,” said the girl, “Remember, Elvis was a Southerner.” (1)
Did you know that there is a Finnish academic, Dr. Jukka Ammondt, whose hobby is translating and recording Elvis Presley songs in Latin? He is planning a new recording, this time he will be translating and singing “Blue Suede Shoes” in the ancient Sumerian language. Sumerian was the language of Babylonia, which died out around 2000 BC. Dr. Ammondt has been quoted as saying, “Elvis would have liked the idea, because the ancient Sumerians had big parties and drums and rattles.”
Music has been with us since the beginning of time. Scholars and those in the know trace the origin of Rock and Roll music and its evolution in the United States back the late 1940s and early 1950s. They see it primarily as a combination of blues, jump blues, country, jazz, and gospel music. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in country records of the 1930s, and in blues records from the 1920s, rock and roll did not acquire its name until the 50s when DJ Alan Freed coined the term.
However, there have been Rock and Roll Christians since the very first Easter morning. Easter was the first Rock and Roll event in history. That was the day God Rolled that Rock from in front of the tomb and in so doing God Rocked the world.
The Resurrected Jesus breathed new life into the Disciples. He taught them how to Roll as His servants in the world. We are people of the empty tomb, people of the rolled stone, people of the Rock that Rolled. We are Rock and Roll Christians. As a result, we’re called to be like Billy Haley and the Comets and “Rock Around the Clock.”
Let’s look at the main passage for this morning. Acts 1:8-14 (NRSV)
 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Before His ascension, Jesus promised them the power of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s interesting to note that Luke says they will receive the Holy Spirit at a later time but in the Gospel of John it says that during that first Resurrection encounter in the Upper Room: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. John 20:21-22 (NRSV)
To me, John was reminding them and us of creation and how God breathed life into Adam. Here Jesus, the new Adam, breathes life into the Disciples whose lives and spirits had died with the crucifixion. They needed that resuscitation and resurrection in order to carry out their mission to Rock the world with the Good News of the Rolled stone.
If we’re going to have any impact on the world today, we need to be like the Disciples, we need to be like Billy Haley and the Comets and “Rock Around the Clock.” We need to remember that the Christian movement was a Lifestyle not a belief system. Christianity is always about How You live and not about what you believe.
I. LIFESTYLE OF LOVE:
A. The first thing we should notice is that is a LIFESTYLE OF LOVE.
During the Passover Meal we call the Last Supper, Jesus told the Disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
The greatest mark of Christianity, the greatest sign of our obedience and faithfulness is how we love one another and how we love the world. That should be what sets us apart.
B. Last Thursday turned out to be a really great Birthday celebration. Mary and I had been invited to a special Pastor Screening of the movie “42” the story of Jackie Robinson. It was especially meaningful for me because a member of my home church, Elwin Charles Roe, better known as Preacher Roe, knew Jackie Robinson personally and loved to tell the story of his team mates Pee Wee Reese and Jackie and the friendship they had. One particular incident on the field shows just how much an act of Christ like love can make a difference.
In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. In response to those racial slurs, Pee Wee Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, then put his arm around Robinson silencing the taunts of the crowd. Robinson asked, “What are doing, Pee Wee?”
Pee Wee said, “Thank you, Jackie.”
Jackie, with a puzzled look on his face replied, “What are you thanking me for?”
Reese answered, “I got family up there from Louisville. I need them to know. I need them to know who I am.” This simple gesture not only quieted the crowd and challenged prejudice it created a powerful and enduring friendship that lasted long past their careers.
According to the movie, after the Umpire asked if they were ready to play ball, Pee Wee turned to Jackie and said, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t tell us apart.” They both laughed and finished the game. That is Christ like love. That is sacrificial love. That is unconditional love lived out in everyday life. That maybe one of the best examples of the Lifestyle of love I’ve seen in a long time. That is Rock and Roll love; love inspired by the Rock the Rolled.
C. Young girl came home one day bursting with good news. “Mom,” she said, “I know why we have to learn grammar in school! It’s so we can understand God.”
Mom gave her puzzled look, and said, “What do you mean?”
The girl explained. “God is love, and love can be a noun, an adjective, an adverb, or a verb.”(2)
If you really stop and think about it, that’s very powerful concept! Love isn’t just some vague feeling. It’s an action, an attitude, a spirit, a character trait and a lifestyle. Branch Rickey, who was a former Methodist Lay Preacher, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson all lived their faith openly and they lived it in such a way that people were able to see the Risen Christ in their actions; actions of love and a lifestyle of love. Their actions lead to Robinson’s number 42 being retired from all of baseball. And April 15th, the day of Jackie Robinson’s first Major League game, being set aside as Jackie Robinson day in Baseball when ALL players wear the number 42 to honor his legacy.
That’s the same Lifestyle of Love which we’re called to live in the world today as we Rock Around the Clock and live a life of Resurrection.
A. We’re called to live this Lifestyle of Love every day. I think I’ve told the story about the preacher who was greeting everyone after the service and as one of the men came by the preacher asked, “And what have you been doing in the service of the Lord?” The guy looked around, leaned in and said, “To be honest, Preacher, I’m in the secret service.”
There’s no such thing as “secret service” Christians. If we keep it to ourselves, then it’s just a set of beliefs and not a lifestyle. Jesus calls us to live our faith on a daily basis. That’s why the Disciples gathered back at the Upper Room and devoted themselves to prayer and study. The disciples wanted to live their faith the best they could, every single day, because they had been given a mission.
B. Back in January I had the opportunity to attend a continuing Education Event called a Creativity Conference. Some of its leadership came from Disney. One of the days during the Conference was spent at one of the Disney World parks. I chose to go to Disney Hollywood Studios. While we were able to ride some of the rides, the purpose was to attend as if it were on retreat. Through a guidebook prepared especially for the day, we were asked to simply sit and observe at times. To pray and contemplate, look and listen to where we heard and saw the presence of God and who we might use what we’d learned in our own local churches.
We were also given the opportunity to go back stage at Disney’s American Idol Experience in order to see all the workings and meet some of the people. They actually produce 6 American Idol shows a day. There are 5 shows in which each of three contestants perform and are critiqued. The winner of each show is included in the final show of the day. That winner actually receives a golden ticket for the next set of national tryouts. They actually jump to the head of the line and get to try out for the television show.
Everyone we met was a professional. They had all been in the business for a number of years or they were being trained in the business. One of the women we met was a singer, songwriter, actress. Her job was to help the winners of the daily tryouts do their best by helping them pick songs and music that best suited their voices and abilities. Each of the contestants received a name badge. The only way you could receive one of these badges was if you were an actual contestant.
It just so happened that this woman was a United Methodist and when she found out we were all Methodist clergy or music people in this sort of pilot group at the Creativity Conference, she decided that we all needed Name Badge. Some of us decided to wear them.
After our experience a couple of us went to the commissary across from the Studio and got something to drink and were sort of debriefing about what we’d learned, what we’d observed and how we might be able to use what we’ve learned in our churches. We were sitting there talking and one of the restaurant employees came over and asked me, “So, how did it go today?”
I wasn’t really sure what she was talking about. Then her co-worker came over and said something strange, “So, I guess you come back to help with the tryouts? I saw you the first time you were here. Have you made it on the show yet?”
That’s when it dawned on me that they were reacting to the Name Badge I was wearing. And because of the ethos of the whole American Idol deal being that only those who had tried out got a badge, they assumed I had tried out and was coming back to sing in the finale. Nothing I said could convince them that I wasn’t a singer or hadn’t tried out.
Now, it would have been easy to continue to wear the badge and simply play the part and play it up well. I probably could have gotten away with it. But somewhere along the line, someone might have asked me to sing. One of the roving groups of musicians might have asked me to join them and then my secret would have been out. Because you really can’t pretend to be something you’re not.
You can’t attend church and pretend to be a Christian if you’re not living the lifestyle any more than you can go to an automobile repair shop and pretend to be a mechanic if you’ve never had any training. Instead we’re called to Rock Around the Clock by living the faith and living the Lifestyle of Love Every Single Day and in every single act and action of the day. We can’t just give lip service to God.
Because of his deep Christian faith and commitment and the many things he accomplished because of his faith, they often called Branch Rickey “the Mahatma,” which means great soul. It’s the equivalent of calling someone a saint. While Branch Rickey did do some incredible things, he would argue that it wasn’t him but God working through him. The source of his strength and faith was that outpouring of love he felt came from God. Today as we come to share in the Lord’s supper, we too, can feel that same outpouring of love, a love that is unconditional, forgiving and grace filled; a love which sees only what God’s son has done for us.
So come this morning, the Rock has been Rolled aside. The tomb is empty. And a resurrection celebration feast has been set on the table for us. Come and share in this all you can eat buffet of God’s grace so you can Rock Around the Clock with the Lifestyle of love every day.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. “Tales Out of School,” Reader’s Digest, January 1995, p. 21.
2. PA OCT 2000