St. Paul’s Congregational Church
June 20, 2021; Proper 7B
Church Music Sunday
As we wake up every morning, as we drive to and from work, as we work out at the gym or do our grocery shopping – as we go throughout our days, we’re surrounded by music, aren’t we. And every Sunday as we come together to worship, what frames our services? Of course, it’s music.
One of the things that has impressed me about our music leaders and our choir here at St. Paul’s is their deep and abiding sense that their ministry here is not about performance – it’s a gift to the glory of God! I can’t help but notice, too, that as in many churches, many people will stand and open their hymnals during services but don’t sing!
I can’t help but remember my home church in Farmington Connecticut was across from the Fire Department in town – back in the days when the firefighters were summoned by the blast of a fire alarm, and it would go off during worship – everything would stop - we’d sing hymns until we heard the trucks leaving – you know, that church congregation singing could drown out that alarm! In part, it was prayer for those who left the service to go to the fire and for those who had called for help.
So, when we sing together we’re building a community of faith – doesn’t matter that some of us sing better than others – but it does matter that we participate. After all, throughout scripture, we’re commanded to sing: the Psalms are prayers set to music – the hymnal of the Old Testament, the songbook for the Hebrew people. Our Litany this morning was a collection of psalms – and throughout the Bible we read of the importance of music on our faith journey.
In 2 Chronicles, Chapter 5, tells of the importance of music in praise and thanksgiving to God: 2 Chronicles 5.11-14
11 Now when the priests came out of the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to their divisions), 12all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters, 13it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever’, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 14so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
And the New Testament continues this call: What can compare to Luke 1: 46 – 55, what we have come to know as the Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise:
Luke 1.46-55 - Mary’s Song of Praise
46 And Mary sang,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
And there’s the breathtaking story of the shepherds and the angels’ song in Luke 2.8-14:
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
And the benediction in Colossians 3.15,16
5 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[a] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
Now think about how you learned Bible stories as a child – before we ever heard a word of scripture read in a service – we learned songs taken right out of the Bible. Remember those you sang in Sunday School? At summer camp? Especially from the Old Testament – Noah; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Dem Bones from Ezekiel; so many others. They’re part of us, aren’t they.
This music has touched our hearts as well as our minds. Singing allows our hearts to speak to God in a ways words alone can’t – when we sing together as part of a community, a congregation in worship, the collective heart of the Body of Christ, something happens - Worshiping through music changes and transforms us, strengthens us, builds us up, and can even restore us.
Singing is an important part of who we are and who God created us to be. We’re all wired uniquely. We have different gifts, strengths, and favorite styles of music. Scripture encourages us to find the music that allows our hearts to sing and connect to God. What touches us may be music from Kings College Cambridge, gospel songs, jazz settings, even rap - any of a wide range of genres.
Music that honors God will cause our hearts to sing. And when our hearts sing, worship happens. We’re transformed on the inside as we’re filled with the Spirit and devote everything we are to worship, praise, and thanksgiving to our loving God.
How has God used music in worship to touch your heart and life in a special way? It’s happened to all of us – I know it has. Thank you to our choir, our instrumentalists for touching us through your gifts in ways that words alone just can’t.
Stever Garnaas-Holmes has written a poem entitled, “Rekindle the Gift” – I share it with you now:
You have a treasure in you, a seed of glory planted from stars, a song written for only you to sing. You have gifts to give. The treasure is buried, and it may take some digging to recover. The song is forgotten, but still hidden in your bones. Nothing that happens to you can remove it, no fear or shame destroy it, no failure ruin it. It is who you are. Rekindle the gift. Listen for the quiet voice, the Spirit of Life singing in you. Listen... and sing. Tune your life to its melody. Let it sing in you, let it sing you into life. Rekindle the gift that is God within you. Give God this joy— for it is God who is singing.