One of my passions as a younger man was playing the trumpet. It started when I was in third grade and I enjoyed playing for my own pleasure as well as in bands at school. When I was in Jr. High, I started to experiment with a bugle. One of my Christmas presents around that time was a shiny new bugle.
For those of you who don’t know, a bugle is very much like a trumpet except while the trumpet has 3 valves that are pressed and released to assist in producing the different pitched notes, the bugle has none. The individual notes are produced on the bugle by modifying the air pressure coming from the lips. Basically, the tighter one’s lips, meaning the higher the pressure of air going into the instrument, the higher the tones being produced.
When I was in Boy Scouts I learned many different bugle calls. While many of these had been passed down over the years from a military context, the Boy Scouts used many of these calls to announce a time to start or finish something. There was a call for when meals would be served, for when people were to awaken, when it was time to go to bed and many more. Perhaps one of the most famous bugle calls is Taps. It is played on many occasions, primarily at the end of the day. But it is commonly used in military funerals or other solemn occasions. The tune is short, haunting, and distinctive.
A careful reading of the Bible will find several references to something like a bugle. The idea is the same even though the particular instrument might be different. In the Old Testament, the shofar was an instrument often blown to get the attention of the people. In other places of God’s story we hear of trumpets or trumps being referred to at the end of the age. This thought is firmly seen in the hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”. It starts, “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more…”.
Another less talked about passage in the Bible that uses the idea of a bugler or trumpeter is in Ezekiel 33. The chapter begins by describing someone tasked with standing on the wall of the city and watching for the threat of approaching enemies. If the watchmen sees danger and warns the people and they fail to heed the warning, the consequences are their own fault. But if the watchman sees the danger and doesn’t sound the trumpet in a way that communicates the danger and the people perish, the blood is on the head of the watchman.
God later goes on in Ezekiel 33:6 to say that Ezekiel has been tasked to be God’s watchman. He hasn’t been given an instrument to blow as the means of warning the people. He is being spoken to by God and God is emphasizing the importance of clear and faithful transmission to the people of God’s Word. If they hear the warning and heed it then all is well. If they hear the warning and ignore it, the blame rests on themselves. If the warning isn’t accurately given and the people suffer, the blame rests of the watchman.
Today as a preacher, I feel the weight of this passage. I have the good fortune to stand in front of a congregation and speak the Word of God week by week. There are many sections of God’s Word that what we would say are words of warning. Often times, some or perhaps even many in a congregation either don’t want to hear the warning or have developed the habit of routinely ignoring it. “Watchmen” of the New Testament warn other watchmen about the condition of humanity, even in the Church, which would rather hear a “tune” to their own liking instead of being faithful to announce the true godly message.
One of the things that I am constantly working to get better at with my bugling, I mean, serving as a Watchman, is clarity. I have heard from my own mouth and from others who are speaking a message that sometimes lacks the crispness and clarity that God’s Word possesses. One example of what I mean could be seen in a dear brother’s sermon on Faith. After listening to him passionately speak about it and even trying to illustrate what he meant with heart-tugging stories, I really didn’t get what he was talking about. He was clearly “pro-Faith”! He was emphatically speaking of its importance. But what was missing was how to experience it, how to grow in it, and other questions someone wanting the heed the warning might desire answers to.
Part of what drives my efforts to do better is knowing what is at stake if I don’t present God’s Word clearly: others won’t have heard, others will be confused, others will perhaps perish because of my carelessness and yes, others might draw closer to God as well.
Oftentimes when someone hears that I used to play the trumpet/bugle is ask if I still do. Sadly, I haven’t played in years. I have from time to time picked up an instrument and blown through it. I can still make it sound vaguely like it’s supposed to! Hearing me play today would in no way be described as crisp or distinct! Instead, I have chosen to trumpet the Word of God. To practice and work to sharpen my sound in order to make sure all whom God allows me to speak, will have heard His voice clearly and I will have been faithful. I am looking forward to “sounding the alarm” again this Sunday!