When my mother and stepfather married, we moved off the ranch and lived in Largo, Florida, where I went to high school. Largo was home to the Band of Gold, perhaps the finest high school band ever to exist in this country. We won five National Championships, a World Championship and so many state championships we literally ran out of wall space to display the trophies. For the 12 years Bob Cotter was the director, the Band of Gold was a musical force.
From the first time I heard the band, I wanted to be in it. I learned to play trumpet, then French horn. When I finally put on the shimmering gold shirt, I knew I belonged to something bigger than myself. One man playing a French horn could make a sound; 150 people could make a tidal wave of sound.
We didn't just play at high school football games; we played at Miami Dolphin games and did half-time at the very first Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game. My senior year, we played a University of Florida Gators game at Tampa Stadium. One of our songs was the theme from "Jaws." The Gators' cheerleaders asked us to play it over and over. That's right: the Band of Gold originated the famous Gator "chomp."
I don't mean to throw other high school bands under the bus, but we were drilled in the fundamentals of marching and music. It showed. We marched in step. Ever notice how the TV cameras will always focus on the one kid out of step in the band? They never found "that guy" in the Band of Gold. We played in tune. For the non-musical among you, that meant we sounded like one instrument though we were 150 different instruments. There were lots of different sounds making one song.
Playing in the band meant you didn't really hear the music; you heard the echo off the stadium. You never saw the show; you saw the impact. I don't remember ever performing and not receiving a standing ovation. At the World Music Contest in Holland, I remember the standing ovation went on for 15 minutes. Nothing else in my life has ever been quite like it.
I realize now, the Band of Gold and Mr. Cotter, the director, taught me a lot about church. When you are doing church - I mean really doing it - you don't see what it looks like. You can see people's reaction to church, you can hear the cheers and boos, you can hear the echoes, but you don't get the true picture when you are part of the movement of Jesus.
There is, however, something powerful, something beyond ourselves, when we join with others to have impact. We can meet the needs of our community with a tidal wave of grace. People will stand up and notice when we are in step and in tune. When church sticks to the fundamentals - loving Jesus, loving each other and loving God's word - there is a power that overwhelms doubt and difference.
I went back recently for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Band of Gold and the 40th anniversary of the World Championship. We gathered to remember and celebrate old times that are not forgotten. They showed old videos of field shows, and I saw the impact we made.
Maybe that is part of Heaven: there, we will actually see the impact of our churches. Which makes me wonder: Will we see the impact of the unified body of Christ, bringing grace to a hurting world? Or will we see the feeble attempts of a group of people doing their own thing, playing their own tune, putting Jesus' name on it and calling it a church?
Is it time for you to get in step and in tune?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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