June 9, 2019
(Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23)
One of the unintended consequences of the electronics revolution -- the smartphones we carry around with us (and even before that, our CD and record players) -- is that communal singing is on the wane.
There was a time when the heart of many social gatherings was a sing-along around a piano. There was a corpus of common tunes most everybody knew -- folk songs, show tunes and even the occasional hymn. Singing ability didn't much matter. Your voice melded with everyone else's. In common singing, there was unity.
Nowadays, songfests are few and far between. Everybody has their own music now, their own personal mix. Not to mention, that no one can afford pianos anymore - well, real ones anyway.
Still, there remain a few common tunes in America's repertoire. The national anthem is one. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" might be another: the anthem of the seventh-inning stretch. Even more familiar is a little ditty we've all known since we were kids: "Happy Birthday to You," or, as it is more commonly called, "Happy Birthday."
Four simple lines, three of them exactly the same. It just may be the most universally recognized song in the world. Although it began here in the United States, it's spread to many other countries, and has been translated into a host of languages.
One thing you may not know about "Happy Birthday to You" is that we actually know who composed it. Mildred Hill and her sister Patty, a Kentucky kindergarten teacher, published the tune in 1893.
Originally, it was attached to different lyrics, titled "Good Morning to All." The sisters intended it as a cheery way to start the school day.
Early in the 20th century, someone thought up the "Happy Birthday" version. It became an instant classic.
Until 2015, the song was under copyright. The copyright holder was Warner/Chappell Music. It bought the rights from the original publisher.
Warner/Chappell knew it had a cash cow, but the company also knew that cow wouldn't keep giving milk forever. When the "Good Morning to All" copyright finally expired, Warner/Chappell renewed it, based on the date "Happy Birthday to You" had first appeared in print.
It was a slick legal move, resetting the copyright-expiration clock for a few more years. It enabled Warner/Chappell to keep on raking in the royalties from anyone who used the song in a commercial setting: film studios, radio and TV stations, other music companies -- and restaurants.
Yes, restaurants. Did you ever wonder why the staff in certain chain restaurants never sing "Happy Birthday", at least, that is until the past few years? Instead, they serenade party groups with some no-name happy-clappy ditty, a poor imitation of the original. This is because Warner/Chappell was never far away, figuratively speaking. Their bill collectors were standing off to the side, palms outstretched, eager to accept a hefty annual licensing fee from the big restaurant chains, one for each of their locations. To avoid such tolls, the restaurant franchises bailed out of the "Happy Birthday" copyright game altogether, and wrote up their own birthday songs instead.
The music company's sweetheart deal abruptly ended on September 22, 2015 when Judge George H. King of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles invalidated its copyright filing. The two songs were different, the judge explained: Warner/Chappell should never have been permitted to transfer its expiring "Good Morning to All" copyright to the newer birthday version.
Since then, "Happy Birthday" belongs to the ages. It's in the public domain.
Pentecost is the day the church of Jesus Christ entered the public domain, and it's today that we can also say to the church, "Happy birthday to you!"
Until Jesus' little band of disciples experienced the descending dove, the tongues of fire and the babble of ecstatic voices, they weren't ready for prime time. Their faith was proprietary and private. After those remarkable events, though, their old song suddenly became new.
Pentecost is a big celebration of the Christian year, but it runs far behind Christmas and Easter in popularity. In the case of the other two holidays, secular culture has embraced the religious feast, manufacturing its own cheap knock-offs. There's secular Christmas, with its blatant consumerism and vague ethic of doing something nice for someone you already love. As for secular Easter, it's nothing more than a rite of spring.
No one has trouble finding decorations and greeting cards for secular Christmas or secular Easter. Many of them feature the familiar mascots of the holidays, Santa and the Easter Bunny. Those symbolic figures have high name-recognition, even among people who've never darkened a church door.
Certain things you never, ever see in relation to Pentecost. Have you ever seen a rack of Pentecost cards in a drugstore? Have you ever savored a special candy that commemorates the holiday? Have you ever baked Pentecost cookies? Will the church ever issue a call to "Keep the Holy Spirit in Pentecost"?
Not likely. It's not a problem. Nobody's trying to hijack the rights to this holiday. Pentecost is ours alone.
The Pentecost miracle could easily not have happened at all! After Jesus' crucifixion, the disciples scattered like roaches scurrying to the four corners of a room when the lights go on. They didn't go far, though, and the good news of Easter gathered them once again, to enjoy a few brief weeks of wonder in the presence of their risen Lord.
After the ascension, what next? That experience made a mighty satisfying bookend for their years of wandering the countryside. Who would have blamed them if they'd simply turned around and returned home after all that? Were it not for the miracle of Pentecost, the church might never have come to be.
The disciples would have returned home, as Bilbo Baggins returns to Bag End at the conclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, to smoke their pipes, to savor commodious second breakfasts in good hobbit fashion and to spin their remarkable adventure yarn until their neighbors grew tired of hearing it. Had that occurred, the gospel message would have remained under copyright: a quirky tale that meant a great deal to them, but would have had little impact on anyone else.
Without Pentecost, more than a few of them would have come, eventually, to regard the ascension as something like a high-school graduation. You know how it goes at such a rite of passage: You sign each other's yearbooks, vow undying friendship and embrace one another. You say, yes, we've got to get together over the summer, let's do it -- and then, don't do it at all.
With Pentecost, the church celebrates it year after year. The church says we need to get together, and each year, some of us do. As more and more people leave the church, it is that time of year that we ask the Holy Spirit to breathe over us again, so that we help others to find their way back.
Let us pray.
On this Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, we humbly beseech our Father that we, too, be blessed with the wisdom of the Spirit, so that we may grow in love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
That we may reach out to all who are burdened by illness, poverty, disasters or violence and show the face of God to them through our compassion and attention. We pray to the Lord.
That we may place our time, energy, and gifts at the service of others, helping them to carry their burdens and discover God’s love for them. We pray to the Lord.
That the Spirit of Christ will enable us to forgive all who have injured us and guide us in reconciling our broken relationships. We pray to the Lord.
That all who are overwhelmed by the troubles of life may find in us advocates who stand by their side. We pray to the Lord.
That in this month known among the LGBTQ community as “Pride Month” that we stand together in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for equality in our country and the world. May we help them within the church where some are exposed to bible abuse with passages that have been erroneously interpreted against them. We pray to the Lord.
That the peace the Holy Spirit brings may comfort all those in need of healing—physical, mental, or emotional—helping them to overcome the hardships they suffer. We pray to the Lord.
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Holy God, the promise of Pentecost is the promise of power — the power to be peacemakers in a world torn by violence; the power to forgive our own guilt and the guilt of others; the power to be courageous in the face of danger; the power to offer hope and joy in the midst of pain and suffering. Embolden us, we pray, to testify to your presence in the world, to exemplify your love for all humanity and to open our hearts to being radically changed by your Spirit. Loving God, fill us with your spirit as you fill us with your life. Give us breath to praise you to the ends of the earth. Give us courage to love as radically as your Son Jesus did - so radically, that we do so especially this month that as our LGBTQ brothers and sisters celebrate their lives, we will celebrate it with them with open hearts and open minds. We ask all these things, through Christ our lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA