by: Denise Robinson
The Bible Meets Broadway: The Music Man
Romans 7:14-25a; 1 Tim. 1:15
The Music Man premiered on Broadway in 1957 and introduced us to a charming con man as its main character by the name of Harold Hill. It ran for 1,375 performances and won five Tony awards. The play became famous in 1962 when the movie was released starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and a young Ron Howard. Interestingly, at least to me, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant were all considered for the role of Hill, but turned it down. As the musical opens, Harold Hill arrives in the fictional town of River City, Iowa on July 4, 1912. Hill poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, and convinces the townspeople a band is needed to give the boys something constructive to do (something that will set them on the path to righteousness) – rather than hanging around the new pool table that has just hit town. After all, the pool table is trouble - with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for “pool.” Hill is successful in selling the naïve townsfolk on the need for band instruments and uniforms; but instruments and uniforms aren’t the problem. They will be coming as promised by means of the Wells Fargo wagon. The con comes in when Hill, who is no musician, charges an additional fee to train the members of the new band to play their new instruments. Hill’s plan is to skip town without giving any music lessons; instead, he has developed a “Think System” for playing music. If you think about Beethoven’s “Minuet in G,” you can play it. Right, DJ?
Marian, the librarian and piano teacher, self-confident, educated, and knowledgeable about the world (because she has read a lot of books), sees through Hill, but when Harold helps her younger brother, Marian begins to fall in love. In the mix, we also find among the townspeople a gossiping group of women, a bickering group of men, and a teenage delinquent of sorts who has a liking for the mayor’s daughter. In the end, Harold, who is himself falling in love with Marian, can’t bring himself to leave and gets arrested. All ends well, however, when the new band struggles through nothing resembling the “Minuet in G.” Harold and Marian are together, Tommy the delinquent is the band leader, the men are singing as a barbershop quartet rather than bickering, and the gossiping women are somehow forming themselves into a Grecian urn. Looking at The Music Man through a biblical lens, the story is one of redemption, not just for the con man Harold Hill, but for the librarian who thought she had it all under control, for the bickering and gossiping townspeople, and even for the children who were afraid to trust or angry at the world.
Redemption is defined as the clearing of a debt or the buying back of some possession in exchange for payment. If you’ve ever shopped at Kohl’s, they are famous for their Kohl’s cash. Their studies show that many people who receive Kohl’s cash fail to “redeem” it for merchandise. For those who do, however, they are purchasing merchandise by redeeming something of no value other than at Kohl’s. Biblically, however, redemption is defined as the act of being saved from sin or evil. The Bible, from beginning to end, is a story of redemption. In Exodus, the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt and God redeemed them; rescued them from slavery, led them through the Red Sea, and delivered them to freedom. Every year since then, for thousands of years, at Passover, Jews around the world remember that act of God’s redemption of the Hebrew people. On a personal level, though, I think one of the greatest redemption stories in the Bible involves David, the greatest king in Israel’s history. Many of you know the story. It’s told in the book of 2nd Samuel, Chap. 11. David, Israel’s mighty warrior king usually went to war with his army; but on this occasion, David stays at home in Jerusalem. One spring day in the late afternoon, David is walking on the roof of his palace and he notices, on another rooftop, a woman bathing, a woman he finds not just beautiful, but very beautiful. Well, David sends someone to find out who this beauty is and finds out two things: her name is Bathsheba and she’s married to a guy named Uriah. I’ll give you the short version — if you’re interested in full drama, read 2 Samuel 11. Bottom line is that David invites Bathsheba to the palace, gets to know her, and then gets to know her even better, and then gets words that she’s pregnant. All of this time, Uriah, her husband, has been serving as a soldier in David’s army. Soon the pregnancy will be known and Bathsheba’s visits to the palace revealed. Not only is it a scandal, but under Jewish law it’s a crime punishable by death. So, David hatches a plan: he will bring Uriah back from the front lines of the battle on furlough and send him home to sleep with his wife so that Uriah and everyone else will think the child is his. But there’s a problem. While Uriah returns as ordered, he refuses to sleep with his wife as long as his band of brothers is away from their homes fighting. In the end, David sends Uriah back to the war with a note to his Army commander to move Uriah to the front of the fighting where he will he killed. David has Uriah, a man who has done no wrong, killed to protect his secret. But, as we know, there are no secrets kept from God. The prophet Nathan confronts the king and David recognizes how easily one thing led to another and to another, all the way to murder. How could he do this? How could things go so wrong? Assuming things can be made right, how will that happen?
Another personal story of redemption that is compelling in the Bible takes place in the New Testament in Acts 9 and it involves a man by the name of Saul. Saul, a Pharisee, a well-educated and well-respected Jew, is angered by Jews who are claiming that Jesus is the Messiah and are now calling themselves Christian. Acts 7 and 8 tell us that Saul was directly involving in the stoning of Stephen, an early convert to Christianity and in the persecution of the church in Jerusalem that followed. Acts 8:3 tells us that Saul “ravaged” the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women to prison. The persecution is so severe that Christians flee from Jerusalem. Many head to a city some 135 miles north called Damascus. Well, Saul finds out that’s where many Christians are going and he makes arrangements to go after them, accompanied by some Jewish guards, to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1 describes Saul’s state of mind: he was breathing threats and murder against the Christians. Many of you know this story as well. As Saul was on the road to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him and the voice of Jesus called out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In that moment, Saul realized how wrong he had been. He had imprisoned and even killed followers of Christ. How could he do this? How could things go so wrong? Assuming things can be made right, how will that happen?
One man, David, had to know at each step along the way he was doing wrong, sinning against God. It started with what seemed like one little thing and then led to an attempted coverup and then to murder. The other man, Saul, thought he was doing what God wanted, thought he was acting to protect Jewish faith and tradition from false teachings. On the Damascus road, however, he found himself a sinner just like David. Two men; both in need of redemption.
Well, that same Saul, better known by his Greek name, Paul, became an apostle and wrote, directly or indirectly, about 2/3 of the New Testament. He wrote our Scripture reading for today which comes from the book of Romans, Chap. 7, vv. 14-25. (READ). In these verses, Paul perfectly explains our human condition – the same in David’s time, in Paul’s time, and for us today. We know that we are to live spirit-filled, lives, but we’re human. Paul writes: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. The law is good, but sin dwells within me. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” Can you hear the frustration in Paul’s words? Have you ever felt the same way, said to yourself, “I don’t understand why I do what I do! I know what is right, but I just can’t seem to do it.”
The wonderful thing is, if you have said or thought those words, you are not alone. We have all had those thoughts, all experienced times when we know we’ve messed up. Sin isn’t a word we use very often anymore, but the fact of the matter is, sin is inescapable. David and Saul acted out of a broken and sinful nature. When it comes down to it, I don’t have any stones to throw. And neither do you. But here’s the beauty of it: where there is sin, there is redemption. Paul writes in Romans 7:24-25: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In 1 Tim. 1:15 Paul says: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”
So, how do we get to redemption? How do we move past sin to forgiveness to restoration? Just as Paul wrote the words we read in Romans, David wrote the words of Ps. 51 following his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah and it lays out for us a template for redemption. First, redemption begins with confession. David begins Ps. 51 by acknowledging his sin and his need to be cleansed from it. He admits his wrongdoing: “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Second, redemption requires our recognition that we need God’s mercy and forgiveness. David doesn’t just confess his sin; he confesses his need for forgiveness from God. He prays: “Have mercy on me, O God. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Finally, redemption brings hope and restoration. After crying out for God to create in him a clean heart, David claims the promise of redemption: the joy of his salvation will be restored. In spite of all he had done, God had not turned away from him.
Are there areas of your life that you want God to redeem? Times in your life where you have done, and perhaps continue to do, the very things that you didn’t want to do? The great story of the Bible is that Jesus came to redeem us from sin and death and to make us alive with him. On the cross he erased any and all debt that we ever owed or will owe; it has been taken away and nailed to the cross. As we come to our time of Communion, now is a good time for a new beginning, a time to for each of us to name our issues, be honest, confess to God what our sins are (spoiler alert: by the way, God knows them already), and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. Imagine that you are writing them down on a piece of paper and then tearing them up. Right there where you’re sitting, have your own little redemption party … and let this day be a turning point in your life.
Benediction (hear these words recorded by the prophet Isaiah):
But now thus says the Lord, do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, your Savior.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.