Finishing The Unfinished Symphony
Giacomo Puccini is widely regarded as one of the great music masters of all time. He wrote “Madame Butterfly”, “La Boheme”, and “Tosca”—all incredible operas with fluent melodies and dramatic harmonies. In 1922, Puccini was stricken with a terminal illness. He said: “I know my time is short, but I want to write one more opera.” So he sat down to write “Turandot”. His students said to him: “But suppose you die before it is completed?” Puccini replied: “Never mind about that. My disciples will finish it.”
In 1924, he died, and his disciples did indeed finish his music. Its premier was held two years later in Milan, Italy at La Scala Opera House, under the baton of Puccini’s best student, Arturo Toscanini. The gala performance proceeded and came to the point in the music where the great composer had laid down his pen to die. Tears were streaming down Toscanini’s face as he stopped the music. He put down his baton and turned to the audience and said: “Thus far the master wrote.. and then the master died.” And then Toscanini brushed away his tears, picked up his baton, smiled radiantly and cried out to the audience: “But his disciples finished the music!” Then with a glorious spirit of triumph, the conductor, the orchestra and the singers completed the performance.
That true story out of music history is a parable for us on this Pentecost Sunday. The question for us is “Will we finish the work begun by our Master, Jesus Christ?” I have always been fascinated by the fact that the Book of Acts in our Bible, which tells the story of how the early followers of Jesus Christ took up His cause and began to build and to spread His church. The Book of Acts ends suddenly, surprisingly, in mid-thought, if not in mid-sentence. I regard the Book of Acts as an unfinished work- and I think that is intentional. The implication is that you and I are to finish this unfinished work. We are to write our own chapters in the Book of Acts. In other words, Jesus Christ has left to us, His disciples, the gift of uncompleted work so that we might become the Word of God made flesh in our world, in our time, and in this place.
However, there is one major difference here: Our Master does not die! He lives on. He stays with us through His Holy Spirit- and it is that Spirit who empowers us to do His work, to sing His song, to finish His music. Again and again we see it: God in Jesus Christ using ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things by the power of His Holy Spirit.
Power. Speaking of power reminds me of a story, told by Rod Wilmoth, about a man who had been suffering with a headache for several days. Finally, he decided to go see the doctor. When he arrived at the doctor’s office, the office nurse, who looked and acted like a Marine drill sergeant, greeted him gruffly. As he started to tell her what was wrong, she interrupted and barked in a loud, stern voice: “Go into that examination room, take off your clothes and put on this hospital gown.” The man protested: “But ma’am, I really don’t need to go through all of that. I just have this…” He never got to finish. The nurse, even more forcefully than before, said: “Didn’t you hear what I said? You go into that examination room and put on that hospital gown right now!” So the man did. When he got into the room, he discovered another man already sitting there wearing a hospital gown. The man with the headache said to the other man: “This is ridiculous. I don’t know what in the world I am doing in here. I just have a headache.” The other man said: “You think you’ve got problems, I just came in here to read the meter!”
That nurse had power, didn’t she? But that’s not the kind of power I’m talking about today. I’m not talking about the power of brute force or blatant manipulation. I am not talking about the power of political clout or wealth or weapons. Rather, I am talking about the power of knowing God’s presence in our lives and what that presence produces: integrity, honesty, commitment to a great cause, a sense of being God’s co-worker and the assurance of being surrounded by God’s love. There is nothing stronger than that. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. It energizes us and it enables us to do great things for the Lord in this world. You see, being totally convinced that Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is in us and with us and for us, that He will win in the end, and that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him- well, there is incredible power in that.
In the novel Barabbas, a devoted follower of Christ named Sahak is brought to stand before the Roman governor because he refuses to renounce his faith in Christ. At that point a remarkable dialogue takes place:
Roman Governor: “If you renounce your God, no harm will come to you.
Sahak: “I cannot do that.”
Roman Governor: “Why not ?”
Sahak: “I cannot deny my God.”
Roman Governor: “Surely you must be aware of the punishment you force me to sentence you to. Are you really so brave that you can die for your God? Is not life dear to you?”
Sahak: “Yes, it is.”
Roman Governor: “But if you do not forswear this God of yours, if you do not renounce your God, nothing can save you. You will lose your life.”
Sahak: “Yes, but I cannot lose my God!”
That kind of poise, peace, courage and confidence to meet whatever life sets before us with steady eyes and a steady heart comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit of God can take a weak voice and make it a trumpet. The Spirit of God can take a defeat and turn it into a victory. The Spirit of God can move an ordinary life to do extraordinary things for Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God can empower you and me to finish the Master’s unfinished work in this world. So, Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… now!