I promised a short sermon for this Music Sunday, and I intend to deliver on that promise!
There are two things that I have tried to do over the years as a pastor that I was imminently unqualified for. One was coaching a church softball team when I didn’t actually know how to play the game. The other was directing a church choir when I didn’t know how to read music. Both were a disaster, and I have come to deeply appreciate anyone who makes beautiful music to enhance our worship.
Martin Luther, the sixteenth century reformer of the church, wrote this: “A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs." In fairness to animal lovers, some people may really enjoy those sounds, but aren’t you glad that God has also given us altos, basses, sopranos and tenors?
I love the words of Psalm 96: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” That is an indication that God really likes music. Why else would a writer of Scripture instruct us to sing a song to God? Fortunately, we’re not required to do it very well. While some have particular vocal talents, the standard for singing to God is actually pretty low. Just four Psalms later we read, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” If you are capable of being noisy, you clear the bar and God is happy! But really, God must especially enjoy the praise that comes from those gifted with voice and instrument.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the early churches about spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12 there is a lengthy list of such gifts. Healing, prophesy, teaching, discernment, faith, and so on. Notably absent is musical ability. Some people believe that Paul was blind. I think he must have been tone deaf to have omitted such a source of spiritual blessing as music. Maybe he should read his own words: “There are a varieties of gifts and services and activities, but it’s the same God who activates them in everyone. In each person there is the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The Spirit allots these to individuals as the Spirit chooses.” I wish the Spirit had chosen me to be a great singer, but the thing with spiritual gifts is that we don’t seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. I guess the idea is that God knows best how to assign such gifts.
There is a hymn inserted in your worship bulletin today that we will sing to a tune composed by our own choir member Dr. Timothy Brown. When we sing it, look closely in the lower right hand corner and you will see that the name of the tune is “Macar.” As in Kamilla Macar our choir director. How cool is that?! The text of the hymn is all about gifts. “Let us use the gift to bless the gift, praising God for music with a song. Bless the choir begun when time began – stars were singing like the birds of dawn.”
What would our world be like without music? Imagine the empty, eternal silence unbroken by the sweetness of Bach chorales and Gregorian chants and freedom songs and folk ballads and the Beetles. It’s fascinating to me that Scripture is so clear about the blessing of music; the sounds of trumpet and flute and harp; tambourines and strings and pipes and cymbals; the new song that is sung in praise to God; and yet, Christians in their theologizing have sometimes forbidden the use of any instrument in worship or have severely limited what music can potentially honor the Creator. I think perhaps people have been frightened by the power of music and the feelings that its beauty evokes in us. It’s like throwing away or hiding a beautiful, rare gift because it might change us if we love it too much.
I have served ten different congregations with choirs, including one church closely associated with a music conservatory. I loved every one of those choirs, but I have often said to folks that our choir is the most gifted of all of them. It’s the truth. We have a talented group of singers. And for thirty years one persistent individual has been recruiting, cheerleading, instructing, chastening, and otherwise creating a unified chorus that gives glory to God whenever they rise to sing.
“Sing to the Lord a new song. Declare God’s glory among the nations, God’s marvelous works among the peoples!”
God’s glory dwells in this place. It shines on the faces of those who gather. It lifts us when we are momentarily without hope. It resonates in the tones of organ and stringed instruments. And it is heard in voices lifted in praise.
Let us sing a new song to the Lord!