To my daughter, on the day of her baptism,
On this day eight years ago you were eight days old. At that time there were many things I didn’t yet know about you, things that I know now. One of the best things about being a parent is getting to know your child, and sometimes you realize there are things you didn’t see when they were very young, but looking back, it’s clear they were there all along. For example when you were a baby if I hummed or sang a note to you, you could hum or coo that pitch back to me, and I could tell it made you happy to do it. Now that you’re eight, we know how good you are at remembering and repeating melodies, and at matching musical tones and phrases. When your teacher plays with a certain tone on the violin you’re good at replicating that sound, and if you’re singing, you’re good at matching pitch just like when you were little.
Other things I now know about you are that you have a great sense of humor, you love and are curious about living creatures, and you ask interesting questions like “What do babies think about?” or “Would you be happy if you were a tree?” I also know that love to learn.
Something you’re learning to do right now is to read music. Note reading is hard for you because it’s faster to learn a song by listening than by reading, but you’re getting it. You know that reading notes is part of what musicians do.
Today you’ll be baptized and confirmed a member of the church. Your baptism is a promise to be a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple means following Jesus and keeping his commandments; in a way it’s following his instructions. And just like musicians take their instructions from a notes on a score, disciples take their instructions from somewhere too. Their instructions come from the scriptures.
There’s a story in the New Testament about when people asked John the Baptist how to be a disciple and what they needed to do to be ready for baptism. It’s from Luke chapter 3 and it goes like this:
The people asked John the Baptist, saying, What shall we do?
He answered and said to them, If you have two coats, give to someone that doesn’t have one; and if you have food, do the same.
Then came also publicans, who were tax collectors, to be baptized, and they said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
And he said to them, Take no more than that which is appointed you. (In other words, don’t steal extra money from people when they pay their taxes).
And then the soldiers likewise asked their question, saying, And what shall we do? And he said to them, Do violence to no one, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
In other words, John the Baptist told the people to share with others, especially with the poor, to be fair and honest, and to be kind and grateful. Those are instructions for being a disciple of Jesus. They are instructions you already know and are already following, but they’re also things that can be hard to do. It’s a lifelong challenge to live up to them. I know you are up to that challenge and I’m proud of you for wanting to try.
I think the instructions in the scriptures are a lot like the musical scores you’re learning to read in some important ways.
First, they are a guide to creating something wonderful. The apostle Paul said that we should seek after things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy, and a life modeled after Jesus is all of those things. A special musical composition can also be all of those things, too.
Second, while the notes in the score or the words in the scriptures give instructions for what to do, the way those things are done, the execution and interpretation, those are up to you. The results of following both kinds of instructions will be individual. For example, think of how recordings from famous musicians playing the same piece all sound different. Do you remember how we’ve listened to different recordings of the Bach suites for solo cello? We’ve heard Yoyo Ma, Jacqueline du Pre, and Pieter Wispelway play them, and they each sound different. That is because they’re individual people with their own special ways of doing things. The same is true for how people live as disciples of Jesus, and that’s part of what makes life interesting and beautiful. You get to read the instructions for sharing, being honest, being kind, and being grateful but they way you do those things will be up to you.
What I’m trying to tell you is that a musical score isn’t music any more than the words in the scriptures are the gospel. They both have to be practiced to come alive. Of course you know that notes have to be practiced to become music. It’s also true that the instruction to share is just words on the page until we actually invite a friend to join our game at recess or save a birthday party treat to share with our brother. Jesus’s teachings have to be lived to mean anything at all.
How do you become a musician? You practice. How do you become a disciple? You practice. You practice, and you make mistakes, lots of them, because mistakes are how we learn. Jesus is there to help turn our mistakes into growth so that we can be better and stronger disciples as we go along.
Finally, the last way a musical score is like the instructions in the scriptures is that there is no such thing as a perfect performance of them. Do you remember the video we watched of the cellist Zuill Bailey? He says he’s never had a perfect performance. He is a wonderful musician and a professional, and even he says he’s never had a perfect performance, which is okay because if he ever does it will mean he’s done learning, and he never wants to be done learning. But he is always practicing.
My dear daughter, I love seeing you grow, I love seeing your individual character develop, and I’m proud to see you practice at being a disciple of Jesus. Your dad and I, your brother, your grandparents, and teachers and friends are all here to help you with that, because we are all practicing at being disciples too.