I Sam. 3:1-10; John 1:43-51
If you were to see only the end of the movie, you would think that Mr. Holland was a man who accomplished what he was meant to do. You would believe that he was a man who dared to dream a dream and then lived it out. You might even think that Mr. Holland had a plan for his life and knew where he was going.
And if you were to view the final scenes of his story with spiritual eyes, maybe you’d even think that Mr. Holland had a call from God, and that he had lived it out in a remarkable way. That he was one of those unusual people who heard the voice of God, and that he knew what it meant to be called.
But did he? Did Mr. Holland think of himself as called to a life’s ministry of teaching high schoolers? Did Mr. Holland have a clear vision that he was doing what God meant him to do? And was Mr. Holland some unusual person, some rare and gifted individual whom God used, to touch the lives of a bunch of struggling young people?
Was it like that? Or, was Mr. Holland like you and me? Struggling to know what it means to hear God’s voice and to follow God’s call?
Was Mr. Holland like Samuel in our Old Testament lesson, who didn’t recognize the voice of God when he heard it? Samuel, who thought it was his mentor and friend Eli, the man who has become like both father and mother to him or the years he has lived in the house of God. The Scriptures tell us that God called to Samuel three times before Samuel recognized that it was God.
Perhaps God’s call is like that. Maybe God’s call is not so clear that we recognize it immediately. Perhaps it is not so simple as it seems in our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus calls Philip and the others to follow him.
Perhaps God’s call comes to us as it did for Mr. Holland. When he was given an audio tape of a symphony, he listened to it and he hated it. But because his friend insisted that he would like the music, Mr. Holland listened again and again. Then, he could not stop listening. And he realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life making music. Simple, Mr. Holland thought.
We think it should be simple, too. There ought to be a score for this thing called life. We’d like to see the directions lined out on a piece of paper. Then, once we’ve heard that voice of God calling, it’s a matter of going and doing it. Just follow the notes and the melodies that are written for us.
But just watch Mr. Holland, called to make music. Watch as he rolls out of bed on the first morning on the new job: teaching, because he needs a regular income. Teaching, because it will allow time for writing his symphony. Watch him coming home, night after night, discouraged and weary. Watch him boring the students to death. When he finally connects with the students, see him in trouble with the parents for teaching rock music. Listen in on the conversation with the principal when she tells him that teaching is about being a compass for the students and that he is failing to do that more miserably than anyone she has ever known. Feel his despair when his son is born deaf. Try to understand his reluctance to send Cole to a private school. Mourn his failure to learn to communicate with his son, and the way he short-cuts his family’s needs. Look at him, tender and loving and patient in one moment and raging and angry in the next scene. Thirty years of this, and he looks old already at age 60. Gray and tired and old, and without a job. Fired, because the entire music program is eliminated to save money.
At this point, it looks as if Mr. Holland has messed up, but good. That he has spent his life blundering around, teaching high schoolers when what he really wanted to do was to write a symphony. He walks into the school auditorium, a weary man, who considers a large part of his life misspent.
Then it is time for “life review” when Mr. Holland looks around him and sees that the auditorium is packed with his former students. Life review begins with Miss Lang, who comes to honor him. Miss Lang, who couldn’t play the clarinet for love or money. Miss Lang, whose life was transformed when Mr. Holland taught her that music is more than notes on the page. Miss Lang, who finally got it that music is in your heart and in your head because Mr. Holland invited her to play the sunset. Miss Lang, who grew up to become the state governor. Behind the curtains, an orchestra awaits. An orchestra made up of former students who didn’t know one end of the trumpet from the other when they first met Mr. Holland. Students who couldn’t keep time, who couldn’t read music and who were there because they had to be. Miss Lang hands Mr. Holland a baton, and the movie ends with him doing what he’s always dreamed of doing: conducting an orchestra which plays the symphony he has written.
But the symphony is more than notes on the page, more than the melody the orchestra plays. Miss Lang says to Mr. Holland: “Look around you. We are your symphony. We are the notes and the melody of your opus. We are the music of your life.”
God’s call is like that, my friends. It took Mr. Holland all his life to understand what the dream to make music was all about.
God’s call is like that for each one of us. God speaks our names. Your name, and mine. In the middle of the night, or in the daytime, as we walk along the shores of the sea, or as we do our life’s work. God’s call sounds like the voice of a friend, or is heard in a dream. Sometimes we hear the call of God only in the secret desires of our hearts, in the things we hope for. If we listen, each one of us will hear the voice of God calling our name. Some of us already know that God has called us, and remember some special time when it happened. Some of us wonder and wait and hope that God will speak up, or shout it out and tell us what is on the mind and heart of God for us. We spend our lives unsure of what we’re doing.
We sometimes wish that God would make it more simple. Tell us what to do and how to do it. Just hand us the score. A musical score with all the notes lined out, with sharps and flats and beautiful melodies, a symphony which requires no rehearsal.
Instead, God hands us a piece of paper. No notes, no melody, no instructions. Just lines on which we may write the symphonies of our lives. And a pencil with which to write. We blunder around and get it all wrong. The score is smudged with erasures
where we put the wrong notes. Many times along the way we loose the beat and mess up the rhythm.
God’s call is like that. God allows us to discover how to write the music of our lives.In God’s eyes there is no one who is not musical. You don’t have to be able to sing or play a musical instrument. You don’t even have to like listening to a special kind of music. All you need to do is to get yourself in tune with God. To listen to God’s rhythm and to let your life reflect that rhythm. To take time to listen to God, to take time to listen to the melodies which God has written in your heart.
Then, some future day, there will be a day, a time of life-review. A time when each one of us will hear our very own symphony played by the hosts of heaven. We will know the melody well, because it was in our heads and our hearts all along. Written there on the page, with the pencil given to us by our God. And to our great surprise, we will hear the music of our lives played out in the hearts and the lives of the people with whom we’ve spent our days. We will listen to the melody, and we will praise God, because it will be very beautiful. Amen.
Janice W. Hearn Watsonville, CA