Yesterday is worship we had our first Contemporary Hymn Sing, in which we sang some of the newer praise and worship music that’s becoming more and more a part of church culture. For some, the songs were familiar; for others, they learned to “sing a new song to the Lord.” And for everyone, there was mass celebration that there wasn’t a sermon! So I’m sharing with you an oldie but a goodie and the power of singing, preached on the Sunday we got new hymnals for our sanctuary. I pray God blesses you this week!
“Singing our Faith”
This really is a special Sunday in the life of the church. Music plays such an important part in our worship, and we have been treated to such a awesome example of that this morning. Hopefully new hymnals will make our singing together even more meaningful for us into the future.
One of the great features of the Chalice Hymnals is its variety of songs. Did you know there is even a section of Senior Citizen’s Hymns? There are! In fact, here are some of the songs in that section:
— Precious Lord, Take My Hand, and Help Me Up
— It Is Well with My Soul, but My Knees Hurt
— The Old Rugged Face
— Amazing Grace, Considering My Age
— Just a Slower Walk with Thee
— Go Tell It on the Mountain, but Speak Up!
— Blessed Insurance
— Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, I’ve Forgotten Where I Parked
Chances are, for many of us our earliest memories of worship have a musical soundtrack. The majestic pipe organ, the simple and beautiful piano, the robust choir, the woman sitting behind you who sang off-key. You may not remember any points from any sermons you heard growing up, but you can remember singing “How Great Thou Art” or “The Old Rugged Cross.” And when you sang them, you felt as if you were a part of the congregation, a part of the people of God.
Music has that kind of power. It can bring us all to the same level, so that old and young alike can join their voices to sing of their wonder and longings, their anguish and hope, their love, their lament, and their commitment to Christ. Music can conjure up old memories or point us toward the future. Regardless of our status outside the church, regardless of our theological beliefs, regardless of the amount on our pledge card, when we sing together, we truly feel as if we are one in the Spirit.
Music also helps us bridge the gap between our words and our God. We can say through music what we cannot through mere speech. Imagine the glorious strains of “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today” on a bright Easter morning. Or the sobering imagery of “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” Or the warm comfort of “Blessed Assurance.” Those tunes, those lyrics, allow us to speak from places in our heart that regular speech cannot penetrate. Music opens up an expressive part of us that allows us to connect with God on a different level than a sermon or prayer does. When there is absolutely no way to say what we feel, there is usually a song that can.
Music is also a big part of our theological and spiritual formation. For example, we may not be able to articulate our theology of God’s redemption of humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but we can sing “Amazing Grace.” Or we may be at a loss for words when asked to devise an ecological perspective of the soveriegnty of God, but we can sing “For the Beauty of the Earth.” For many of us, the hymns we sing in worship have as much influence on our beliefs as the words we hear. Music sets the tone of the service, welcomes us in, joins us together, and sends us out.
Music not only joins us together as a congregation, but as a true body of Christ. When we sing “Holy Holy Holy” or “Fairest Lord Jesus” or “Do Lord,” we aren’t just joining our voices together here in this sanctuary, but we are uniting with voices across the world and through the ages. Music has the ability to transcend boundaries of time and space, to bring together distant cultures and eras. When we sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” we are singing the same hymn sung by the followers of Martin Luther in the 1500s. Some of our hymns and tunes date back to the centuries immediately following the life of Christ.
Music not only condenses time, but space as well. Our denominational hymn book, the Chalice Hymnal, was put together with the intent to reflect the diversity of God’s people. So when we sing “Somos Uno En Christo” or the African-American spiritual “Kum Ba Yah” or the Jamaican-flavored “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” or the South African “Siyahamba” we are opening ourselves to that culture’s language of praise and expanding our own family album of the children of God.
Now, as much as I like music, and as much as the music of worship moves me, I have to admit that for a long time, I was afraid to sing in church. I didn’t like my voice, and was afraid that others around me would be adversely affected by my off-key warbling. You all push on in spite of it very well. So instead of singing my faith, I learned the art of lip-syncing, thinking God didn’t care whether I sang or not.
And then I met Gary.
I was a member of a congregation I served a few years ago. Gary and his family were faithful worshippers, and had their accustomed spot in the pews. It was always interesting to note that people went out of their way to avoid sitting in the two or three rows in front of Gary and his family on Sunday morning.
You see, Gary, who was in his 50s, was mentally disabled, and had the mental capacity of a six- or seven-year-old. He also had one of the worst singing voices I’ve ever heard. His singing was slurred, monotone, and never anywhere close to the right key. And he didn’t have the social development to recognize his lack of singing ability. So he just sang loud. Very loud.
One Sunday, without thinking, I sat down in front of Gary. As soon as opening hymn started, I realized my mistake. I steeled myself for a service full of Gary’s singing, settling into a spirit of annoyance instead of thanksgiving. I was irritated that my worship experience was going to be ruined by Gary’s singing.
And then God hit me upside the head with this question: who has the bigger handicap here? Gary, who’s singing my praises in full voice, or you? I realized what an asset Gary was to our worship, what a gift his voice was to our singing. Because Gary was singing not from his mouth or his vocal chords, but from his heart, and every word he sang was a word of sincere praise and thanksgiving. In his child-like innocence, Gary didn’t care what he sounded like or what others thought of him. He only cared to let God know of his love and thankfulness in full voice. He was doing as Ps. 98 commanded him, making a joyful noise to the Lord. After the service, I thanked Gary for his singing.
And I say today, “Sing, Gary! Sing loud enough for everyone to hear, let your voice carry to the heavens!” And I say to everyone who thinks they can’t sing, that if God gave you voice, you can sing! Don Saliers, a professor of theology and liturgy, says “there is something about humans that needs to make music.” That’s a God-given gift, and one in which we can find true enjoyment by using it to praise and worship our God. You all do a magnificent job of praising God through song. I love our singing together. God doesn’t care what key it’s in or how many beats you skip. Ps. 5 says, “Let all who take refuge in God rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.” Isn’t that all of us? The joy of music does not come from singing well; it comes from singing sincerely.
I’ll close this morning with Psalm 150, because it says this better than anything I can say. “Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise God in his mighty firmament! Praise God for his mighty deeds; praise God according to his surpassing greatness! Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lute and harp! Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe! Praise God with clanging cymbals; praise God with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Here’s an easy one (or maybe not!): If you had to choose, what are your three favorite hymns to sing? I’ll start. Mine are “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “Here I Am, Lord,” and “One Bread, One Body.”