by: Denise Robinson
The Bible Meets Broadway: The Sound of Music
Gen. 13:1-13; Prov. 3:5-6
“The Sound of Music” opened on Broadway in November of 1959. It ran for 1,443 performances, winning eight Tony awards. In 1965, it was made into a movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The movie won five Academy awards, including best picture. Most people who have seen the movie have seen it multiple times. There is something about the story and the music that captivates us, and sends us out humming the tunes and singing the songs.
The movie, if you don’t know the story, is about a young woman named Maria, preparing to become a nun, in the Abbey at Salzburg, Austria. Maria tries to follow the rules of the Abbey, but with less than perfect success. The mother abbess, in charge of the Abbey, suspects that Maria is not ready to take her final vows; so, she decides to send her out into the world to find herself and to consider what course her life should take. Maria becomes the governess for a family of seven children, ranging in age from 3 to 16. They are the children of Captain Georg von Trapp, a wealthy, retired captain in the Austrian navy who, we learn, had lost his wife to illness some time before. Because of his grief and his military orientation, he was trying to run his household according to naval discipline. The children wore uniforms and they were to come when summoned by a ship’s whistle. They were not supposed to play, but were to get their exercise by marching. It is not surprising that the children acted out their displeasure by making life miserable for a succession of governesses. Into this family comes Maria. And what the family will find out is that Maria marches to the beat of a different drummer herself. In fact, many of the sisters at the abbey saw Maria not as a gift, but as a problem with no obvious solution. They even sang, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” and never came up with an answer. Well, Maria, over time, wins the children’s trust and affection. She makes them new clothes, encourages them to play, and she teaches them to sing. And they sing; they sing everywhere. Before long, the Captain is singing. Everyone is singing, it seems. Except the Nazis. It seems that while the Captain and Maria were on their honeymoon, the Nazis came into Austria; and they have plans for Captain von Trapp. To bring our story to an end, the von Trapp family make plans to flee Austria. Before they make their escape, they are confronted by Rolf, a young Austrian Nazi supporter and former family friend, who attempts to stop the escape by pointing a gun at the Captain and threatening to shoot him. When the Captain is successful in taking the gun away, he says to Rolf: “You’ll never be one of them,” implying that he sees some good in Rolf. In response, though, Rolf becomes angry and calls out to other soldiers alerting them to the von Trapp’s presence. In the end, the family are able to make good on their escape; they ascend into the hills and ultimately end up in Vermont. End of story.
Although not stated explicitly, Christian faith is a constant theme in “The Sound of Music.” The movie opens with stunning shots of the Austrian countryside, inspiring awe of God’s creation. The view is breathtaking, for anyone who could see it. The nuns in the abbey couldn’t see it. But Maria would look out from the cloistered walls of the abbey, see the beauty, and hear nature calling to her. She answered that call, running up into the hills where she jumped, danced, and sang. “The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years; the hills fill my heart with the sound of music, my heart wants to sing every song it hears.” Maria is so caught up in the beauty and wonder of the world that she forgets the time and stays longer than she should. Afterwards, Maria is apologetic; she is genuinely repentant. For then. But both she and the mother abbess know it will happen again, perhaps even the very next day. “The hills call to me,” Maria says. For the nuns, the problem is Maria. There must be a solution, but it’s elusive. The nuns sing that the solution to Maria is like trying to catch a cloud, trying to keep a wave upon the sand, or trying to catch a moonbeam. Ever feel like God must feel that way about you? I know I do. I have this feeling that God is up in heaven some days singing, “How do you solve a problem like Denise?” You can insert your own name in there, by the way.
The mother superior gets to the heart of the matter when she asks, “Maria, what is the most important thing you have learned here at the abbey?” Immediately Maria says, “To find out what is the will of God and to do it wholeheartedly.” That answer is right, of course; our problems are diminished greatly and we cease becoming a problem when we live according to God’s will rather than our own. But determining the will of God and then doing it are difficult things for all of us. Living our lives by the will of God begins, of course, with faith. Faith is not just believing in God and faith is not just having a relationship with God – although both of these are essential. Faith also encompasses taking time to hear the voice of God when God is speaking and to see the hand of God at work in our lives. The Bible tells us about people who had no faith, people who had some faith, and people with that kind of faith that makes all the difference.
Our Scripture for today comes from Genesis 13. But to set the stage, we are looking at two men with two kinds of faith. First, there was Abraham. We first meet Abraham, then called Abram, in Genesis 12. It seems Abram is living in a place called Ur, which today would be in Iraq. All of a sudden God says to Abram, “Go from your country to the land that I will show you.” In response to God’s call, Abram leaves Ur, taking with him his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot. They get to a place called Haran, settle there for a time (until Abram is 75 years old), and then leave Haran for Canaan. They get to Canaan, but soon there is a famine. Abram decides to leave Canaan and go to Egypt, where things are better and he takes Sarah and Lot with him. When they are about to enter Egypt, Abram gets nervous about Sarah being with him – actually, if the truth is told, Abram is more concerned for himself than he is for her. He’s afraid that the Egyptians will find out that Sarah is his wife and they will kill him to get to her. And so, he tells her to lie and say that she is his sister. I am sure that Lot sees and hears all of this. Well, the ruler of Egypt, the Pharaoh, sees Sarah’s beauty; he takes her into his tent (meaning that he wants to take her into his family) and Abram prospers because of his relationship with Sarah. And Lot is there, watching and prospering as well. Then disaster strikes Pharaoh. God is intervening because Sarah cannot marry Pharaoh – as Abram is destined to become the father of all nations, she is destined to become the mother. Pharaoh finds out that Sarah is really Abram’s wife and he sends Abram, Sarah, and Lot away from Egypt but allows them to keep all the wealth that they had accumulated while in Egypt. So now Abram and Lot are back in Canaan and between the two they have possessions so great that they cannot live together on the land. Abram tells Lot they should separate; he tells Lot to decide first what land he wants for himself. Abram will then head in the opposite direction. Lot immediately looks toward the plain of Jordan with its fertile ground and fresh water and opts for what seems on the surface to be best for himself. Lot knows God has called them to Canaan, but Lot opts for Jordan. Lot knows God intends to bless Abram, but he decides to go his own way. And while Lot sees the best of the plain of Jordan, he ignores what is also there – Lot chooses to ignore the fact that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are there, cities known for their wickedness. And Lot, wanting the best of what is in front of him, moves his tents and settles in the cities; and there he settles his fate. Lot’s entire future is determined by the choices he made that day, choices which did not involve the will of God.
What lessons can we learn from “The Sound of Music” and from Abraham and Lot? I want to talk about three. First, ask God for wisdom. That means you need to pray, talk to God. Ask that God reveal God’s will for your life. At the end of her first day as governess to the von Trapp’s, Maria prays: “Dear Father, now I know why You sent me here. To help these children prepare for a new mother.” She “knows” why God has placed her there but, as we know, she is both right and wrong. She had no idea at the time of that prayer that she would be preparing the children for their new mother, but that she would become their mother. Abram, in Gen. 13, after Lot leaves, has a conversation with God. Gen. 13:5 tells us that when returning to Canaan, to the very place where he had once built an altar, Abram “called on the name of the Lord.” Lot is there, but silent; no such prayer comes from him. When you face a life-altering or an important decision, when you are seeking direction for your life, even when you think you have the answer, ask God for direction.
Second, after asking, listen for the voice of God. God rarely speaks loudly; usually it comes in a whisper or a thought that won’t go away. Sometimes it comes through the voices of other people telling you what seems obvious to them and oblivious to you. Listen and keep listening. Maria was convinced that she could only show her deep devotion to God through her commitment to a nun’s life, even though everyone around her saw how unfulfilling that life was for her. She believed she needed to just keep at it, no matter how miserable she felt. It took the mother abbess to see potential gifts in Maria’s failings and insist that she make a trial run to the outside world. It took the mother abbess to tell Maria, “You have to live the life you were born to live.” Abraham’s start at listening for the voice of God was a little rocky. He started out okay, but when he ran into difficult times, such as a famine, he didn’t stop to ask God what he should do but took matters into his own hands and headed for Egypt and the life of a lie; and in the end he had to flee Egypt. His years in Egypt also meant there were years spent away from the promised land and from God’s blessing on his life. But, then, in response to Abram’s prayer in Gen. 13:6, God says: “Raise your eyes now and look from the place where you are … for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.” Over his lifetime, Abraham learned to listen and, as a result, his life was blessed. Lot, despite leaving Ur with his uncle in response to God’s call, never learned or took the time to listen for God’s voice on his own; instead, he kept living life on his own terms. He didn’t ask, he didn’t listen, he didn’t hear.
Third, when you hear God’s voice or see a path laid out for you, follow. Maria, when walking away from the Abbey, with suitcase and guitar in hand, says: “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” She has learned that her faith will best be lived in the world rather than in the Abbey, where she will bring music back into the lives of a man and his children who had lost the will to sing. It took courage to leave the Abbey – the same courage we need in our own lives if we are to live into God’s calling. It took courage for Abram to leave the place where he was born, raised, married, and had friends to go to an unknown and foreign land. It took courage for him to settle in a desert land on a promise from God. Lot, unfortunately, failed his test of courage. Like Rolf in the musical, he does not stand up for what he knows to be right, but he becomes “one of them” instead, becoming a part of wickedness around him. As a result, his life ended in disastrous consequences for himself, his wife, and his children.
For me, the lesson for today is found summarized by Prov. 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” If you come into my office here at the church you will see those words. They are on my cell phone screen. God knows there are days that I still forget them and think I can live life on my own terms. But then I am reminded that my life is better when God is in control. Trust in God, not in yourself. Trust in God not a little bit, but with your whole heart. In all your ways acknowledge God. All your ways – all the time – no exceptions. And God will take the crooked, zigzag, paths you make for yourself and make them straight. Ask, listen, follow. How are you doing on your own? Are you ready to trust God?