Scripture can be found here...
Sometime last year I heard a song by the band Dawes, called “All Your Favorite Bands.” The refrain is basically a list of ways the singer hopes a friend he loves will be happy. He sings,
I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it'd be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you've always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together
I laughed out loud when I heard that lyric. I know there are literally millions of things worse than your favorite band breaking up. This would be known in some circles as a “first world problem,” a “problem” only for people who don’t live in war zones, or poverty, or with horrible discrimination because of who they are. Nevertheless, the Dawes song really conveys the importance music can have in our lives—how music can speak powerfully to us, or for us; how it describes our experience or our inner lives; how it expands our world in ways that delight us. The sentiment “May all your favorite bands stay together” recognizes a particular truth. Life is better when your favorite bands stay together.
News that the Beatles had broken up hit the US—and my family—in April of 1970, a couple of weeks before I turned 9 years old. And I was indignant. How dare they? I had fallen hard for their last album, Abbey Road, released about seven months earlier. How could a band break up when they still had music in them like “Come Together,” and “Something,” and that long medley on side 2? Songs flowing through modes and moods, from rock to harpsichord to gorgeous vocal harmonies. A medley ending with the words, “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” To a kid who didn’t so much understand the more grown-up implications of that statement, it seemed profound, right up there with “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “love one another as I have loved you.”
But they had broken up, and millions of fans (including one almost-nine-year-old) had to get used to that idea. And one thing that helped was a single that had come out a month earlier, the Paul McCartney song, “Let It Be.”
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom: Let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
As a young Catholic girl, I of course assumed that “Mother Mary” was Mary the Mother of Jesus, but within a few years I heard the rumors that this was just another one of the Beatles’ drug references. Turns out, that was not true. In the midst of a contentious, conflict-filled time for the band, McCartney had had a dream about his mother, whose name was Mary.
McCartney explained that his mother – who died of cancer when he was fourteen – was the inspiration for the "Mother Mary" lyric. He later said: "It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing 'Let It Be'." He also said in a later interview about the dream that his mother had told him, "It will be all right, just let it be."[i]
And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
How do you do that? How do you just trust that, “It will be all right,” and “Let it be”? When, it’s not that your favorite band broke up, it’s that your life broke up. When it’s not that some great music disappeared, but that your hope flew away, and all you can see around you is brokenness, everywhere. How can you just let it be?
In the great diversity of our human nature, we have many different kinds of reactions to these painful moments in our lives. Some of us get angry. Some of us get scared. Some of us get defensive, feeling we have to prove ourselves. But some of us… including some of the wisest people I know… become very still. They quiet themselves. They don’t react out of fear or anger or self-righteousness. They wait. And some of them seek to return to what they know is true.
There’s another Paul, of course—an apostle, not a Beatle. And this Paul wrote a lot of letters to churches. And you should know this: neither Paul nor his co-workers ever wrote a letter to a church that was doing just fine. In fact, most of the letters Paul and his disciples wrote were to faith communities that were really struggling, where things were falling apart. Where there was infighting. Where some people were claiming their gifts were superior to other people’s gifts. Where the more wealthy members of the church were ignoring the needs of the working class, even to the point of shutting them out of the Lord’s Supper. While none of these specifics is present in the letter to the church at Ephesus, the first half of the letter is dedicated to one, overarching idea: Reconciliation. Unity. The love of God bringing everything and everyone together—not just the church, but the whole creation. And at the end of the first half of the letter—kind of, the first half’s closing track—we find this prayer.
I pray that, according to the riches of [God’s] glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ~Ephesians 3:17-19
We don’t know exactly what is at the root of the troubles of the church at Ephesus. We don’t know whether they are being unkind to one another, or are dividing into factions under competing leadership, or getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. (It happened.) All we know is that, after building a case for unity in the most beautiful and exalted terms, the writer offers this exquisite prayer, which another contemporary writer has paraphrased this way:
I ask [God] to strengthen you [through the] Spirit—
not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—
[I ask] that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly in love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.
Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length!
Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!
Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. ~ Ephesians 3:17-19[ii]
The author of this letter wants the good people of Ephesus to know what love looks like. What it feels like. How deep is God’s love, and how high. Starting in the next chapter, the author will start to outline what this looks like in daily living—the practical side of it, how to “love their neighbor as they love themselves,” how to “love one another” as God has loved them. But for now, the author of this letter asks the readers to become still. To quiet themselves. To not react to what is going on around them, not yet, anyway. Instead, the writer asks the readers to return to what they already know to be true.
The truest thing they know… we know… is the limitless nature of the love of God. A love that can accomplish in us infinitely more than we can ask, or even imagine. And to root ourselves, and ground ourselves in that love first, before we make even one mental move… to let it be, within us… that is the beginning of wisdom.
When Paul McCartney first played “Let It Be” for the band, John Lennon ripped it apart. The band had been fighting pretty viciously for a couple of years, and Lennon scoffed at what the thought was the “self-righteous piety” of McCartney’s lyrics. Still, according to Rolling Stone, “the Beatles put special labor into the song,” with George Harrison adding a guitar solo, and R & B artist Billy Preston adding the gorgeous gospel-flavored organ accompaniment.[iii] In the end, even Lennon was won over. After a particularly good track was recorded, he is heard to say on the tapes, “I think that was rather grand. I'd take one home with me.”[iv]
And this song, that was conceived in the midst of conflict and division, was finally given birth by a band unified around just one thing: making good music, now, today, together. For one moment in time, the song managed to unite the band, even as the centrifugal forces of their distinct personalities were flinging its personnel apart.
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
As I’ve worked to bring this sermon series on “The Gospel According to the Beatles” to a close, I’ve been pondering the big picture. There will never be a Beatles reunion, we’ve known that since an assassin took John Lennon’s life on a December night in 1980. George Harrison was the only Beatle I’ve had the privilege of seeing live in concert—so far—but he too was taken from us, by throat cancer, in 2001. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, apparently, live in pretty good health and are now in their middle and late 70’s. The Beatles are no more. All things must pass.
Not the music, though. Music, as long as it continues to be played, and heard, and shared, lasts. Music, with its ability to speak the language of the soul more perfectly than language itself, lasts. Music, which can lift us from the depths even as it meets us there, lasts.
All things must pass... But not love. Especially the kind of love that, as a wise and wonderful theologian once said, lets it be. Lets be. That is the kind of love, he mused, that allows for a person to become who God created them to be. It may be the greatest human love there is, a love that lets be. That kind of love, lasts.
All things must pass... But not the love of God. The love whose extravagant dimensions can be searched and known, without our ever even approaching their end. The love in which, if we are rooted and grounded, we can both face the darkest nights and revel in the most joyous days. The love which God longs for us to know, because it is so real… perhaps the most real thing there is. The love of God lasts.
I don’t want to, but I must let this sermon series come to an end. With your permission, and with gratitude for your participation, it is time to whisper words of wisdom, and to let it be, with thanks to God, the creator of music and musicians, and all our favorite bands. Amen.
[i] Barry Miles, Many Years From Now (New York: Vintage-Random House, 1997), 20.
[ii] Eugene Peterson, The Message.
[iii] The Beatles, ‘Let It Be,’ Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-151127/the-beatles-let-it-be-58606/
[iv] John C. Winn, That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy, Volume Two, 1966-1970 (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), 262–263.