The Gospel According to Willie Nelson

There are several ways to use art as the foundation for talking, learning and sharing about God. One way is to look for hidden meanings, analogies and metaphors in the movies, songs or art being studied. This places the artist in the position of the prophet or preacher using their song, screenplay or art as the medium for the message. While I think Willie has a prophetic voice in my life, I don’t think I understand him well enough to expound on his message and would welcome the opportunity to hear what he has to say should he want to share. I in no way want to put anything on Willie Nelson or to imply I can speak for him.

Another way is to look at the art pieces as expressions of the human condition. What are the issues, the situations and the concerns that allow people to relate to these artistic expressions? Presbyterian seminary professor Robert M. Shelton shared in a 1994 article, “clergy and others involved in theological discussions should listen and converse with what he calls ‘keen observers of life,’ such as Willie Nelson”. There is a reason art, music, books and shows become popular. It is because in some meaningful and relevant way, people can relate to them. Beginning January 14th, I hope to use both of these methods to explore the biblical texts assigned for the next four Sundays, using four different songs written by Willie Nelson to look for both a prophetic message and a glimpse into the human condition.

January 14th, the focus will come from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51 with a closer look at 1 Samuel 3:17 when Eli asks Samuel for God’s prophetic word even if Samuel thinks Eli will be angry and John 1:46 where Nathanael has difficulty believing the message Phillip brings about Jesus. We will look at Willie Nelson’s and Buddy Emmons’ song, “Are You Sure,” to bring context and meaning as it asks, “Are you sure this is where you want to be?”

Jonah 3:10 about coming back to God and Mark 1:18 and 20 about the disciples immediately dropping everything to follow Jesus will form the framework for looking at Willie’s “Undo the Right”, Some of the line includes, “If you can’t say you love me, say you hate me” and “If you can’t be mine forever please forsake me.” Prophetic message, life observation or both? Let’s talk about it January 21st.

“My Own Peculiar Way” will be the song for January 28th when we look at Mark 1:22 and 1:27 as part of the overall assigned reading of Mark 1:21-28. The people are asking by what authority Jesus is doing and saying the things he is. Willie may have had many questions regarding authority and it use and abuse. I chose this song because God’s love can seem very peculiar and even challenge how the world teaches we should treat and love each other.

The final week in the series, February 4th, will be a communion celebration when the church is remembered or brought together. The saints of the past, present and future gather for worship. Mark 1:29-39 tells how Jesus came and took the hand of Simon’s mother-in-law and brought her back into the community. Isaiah 40:21-31 tells how God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. In Willie’s song, “Healing Hands of Time,” healing takes place even in our sorrow as we are led “safely through the night.”

I hope you will come and explore these passages with me as we reflect on the condition of our world, our families and our life and look for God’s message of hope and healing.

See you Sunday,