The Trinity Is Like Good (& Bad) Jazz
+Holy Trinity, One God, we thank you for showing us your unity amidst diversity, your co-eternal glory as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the Universe. Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The title of this sermon is: the Trinity is like Jazz. Take a listen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTQEVXLAfc4 (0.00 - .48 seconds)
Did you hear that Jazz? Or did you hear a cacophony of sound? Did you hear the groove in your bones and the geniuses at their craft? Or did you hear some banging noises?
I hear a competent drummer, Jonathan Peretz, a beefy saxophonist, Scott Keitzer, and a nimble bassist, David Finck. They set the mood in an upbeat tempo, driving our ears to expect some attention-grabbing melody on piano…certainly, that’s what you’re served. Something bizarre happens with the piano. When I first heard the piano, I cringed, but then I thought, “Might this just be jazz? Maybe he’s a genius?”
The pianist, H. Jon Benjamin, a comedian and actor famous for his work on Bob’s Burgers, Archer, and Big Mouth, compiled and hired the band to record in studio before meeting them, and showed up to do an experimental jazz album.
The experiment was that H. Jon Benjamin doesn’t know how to play piano.
The full album was titled, “Well, I Should Have…Learned to Play Piano”.
So, whether you think the album is a load of baloney or pure genius, you’re right. Whether or not you heard glorious jazzy melodies or raucous noise, you’re right.
It’s both. Because Benjamin never touched the piano before recording this song. [Lol]
Benjamin calls it, “real untapped, un-talent” in his 2016 interview with Robert Siegel, “They were very accomplished jazz musicians that I played with. And me...They were very nice to do it, and I’m not sure they realized what they were doing until we got there. And then they were mad. But not mad enough to stop altogether. So they went through with it, and they were great.”
I’ll say that I’ve started listening to this album for the sheer joy that comes from hearing how a good band can make up for a bad pianist. And how the bad pianist, the un-pianist, is taking risks as a musical daredevil.
That’s the beauty of the Trinity for you. The Trinity is like a three-piece jazz band, creating, sustaining and redeeming the universe’s music. All three create the music, yet each one has a different timbre, each one a different flare. They are in perfect harmony, perfect synchronicity, they are like the professional musicians making all things work. As John chapter 1 describes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [Jesus] was in the beginning with God…[with] ‘the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’” (John 1:1-2, 32)
And we, we humans -- from Adam to us -- are like Benjamin, banging on the piano. AS John says, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11).
One might look at our stumbles, our grievances, our foibles and errors as pure “untapped untalent”, as real baloney in the grand scheme of things. We are the only creature to rebel from Creation’s music, after all. It was our rebellious ways, our imperfect nature that caused God to love the world through giving “his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish” in their sinful ways (John 3:16).
So, the Trinity Band, three-in-one, one-in-three, as good as they are, they see us in our weakness. They might, like Benjamin’s pro musicians, get mad “but not mad enough to stop altogether.” Instead, the Trinity makes up for our lack.
They set the rhythm, the key and the groove of the music. And try as we might, we end up missing some notes, end up doing our own thing, and end up making a mess of things.
But instead of stopping the music, the Trinity persists. They don’t scrap everything and start over. This is the law of grace that Jesus taught, being full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14). He lived and died as one of us, yet without sin, so that we might be elevated, elevated to the Godhead in the same way Benjamin’s terrible piano playing is elevated in this album.
Now, one more thing. Christians wrestled with the concept of the Trinity for thousands of years. Why is God considered three-in-one and one-in-three? Why not 4-n-1 or 1-n-100? Augustine wrote some brilliant things on the subject. He says it’s difficult to find an analogy because creation has suffered so much from the fall, we have a hard time understanding perfect unity in diversity.
But one analogy is helpful. For him, the Trinity is like the Lover, the Beloved (or “that which is loved”) and the shared Love between them. Or, like a Flame, the Heat, and the Light from the flame -- one in three, three in one. They co-exist: you can’t have one without the others, and they work in perfect harmony.
Back to the music analogy -- the thing that Christians love so much is that when Jesus became human, humanity was elevated from its sin. Jesus accomplished a perfect life that we cannot. And when he died, he tied our deaths into his death, in victory. And we he was Resurrected and Ascended to heaven, he elevated humanity into the Trinitarian Jazz Band.
Even though we may bang on the piano of life, even though we might mess up the synchronicity of creation, we have a God whose law is unmerited favor. We have a God of Grace, that makes room for us at the table, even when we fail. And we will fail.
The beauty of the Trinitarian God is that God is the original Lover of your soul, the heartbeat in your chest that receives that Love, and the Love that you sense: the Lover, the Beloved and the Love Between; Subject, Object and Verb.
So, whether you’re an aspiring pianist or a fool with daredevil tendencies, take up the offer from our Loving God who created you, sustains you and redeems you. Amen.