Dedicating our Music to the glory of God
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand."
(verse 1, #463)
Godís people have been singing for a long, long time. When you next look through your Bible, take notice of those parts where the text is a bit different, where paragraphs give way to what looks like poetry. When this happens, there is a good chance youíre looking at words meant to be sung, not just read. For instance, the Psalms of the Old Testament could be called the Bibleís hymnal, as well as its prayer book. Such verses are found throughout Godís written Word. Of course, we have no idea the tunes to which these hymns of faith may originally have been sung. The words remain, even though the music has been lost.
Yes, Godís people have been singing for a long time. The verse we just sang goes back fifteen hundred years, perhaps even longer. Tradition even suggests it came from James, the brother of Jesus, a key leader of the early church in Jerusalem. The music we sang it too, however, was from a much later period.
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand." Those are good words for this moment in time. We recently stood in fear and trembling over an ungodly act of hatred. How we need - at such a time as this - to stand before our awesome God, who is taller than any World Trade Center, greater than any ideology, bigger even than any nation, whose perfect love casts out fear and shatters what hatred thinks it is creating through evil actions.
This reminds me of another song, the tune of which came from a most interesting place. Martin Luther, who helped to change the church five hundred years ago, wrote words that are also of help when the world shakes around us. As much of his theology was hammered out not in some monastery library, but in discussion around the table of a local tavern, so the music behind his words came also from that source. Listen.
"A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield
He break the cruel oppressorís rod and wins salvation glorious.
The old evil foe, sworn to work us woe,
with dread craft and might he arms himself for the fight.
On earth he has no equal."
(verse 1, #329 - listen to the different notes & rhythm)
A drinking song was transformed into a hymn of faith. I wonder what people thought about that at the time. Some may have cried blasphemy. Others thanked God for words they understood and familiar music with which to sing them from the heart. Of course, the church made this into a majestic hymn of faith which has spoken with comfort (that is "with fortification") to many generations. May it speak to this moment in time, as we sing it the way with which we are familiar. #165.
Godís people have been singing for a long time, giving glory to God. The word "glory" is a heavy word. Literally. When Isaiah sang out, "in the wilderness prepare the way" for "the glory of the Lord" to be "revealed" (40:3-5), he wasnít singing about some lightweight deity. To give God glory is to confess that the great "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:13-14) is in charge, that there is no other god but the Master of the Universe. It is to fall on your knees before the awesome presence of your Creator. To those who follow Jesus, it is to kneel before the cross and to see in it a throne. To give God glory is to share in that glory, as the One who died for us lifts us up from our knees and gives us a voice with which to sing from the heart.
Music is essential to the life of Godís people, for with it faith becomes worship. Furthermore, on the wings of our songs and hymns we remember what needs to be recalled so that we might live by faith. How many times, in a dark moment, have you remembered a hymn or song of faith that has helped you carry on?
Some people say that the church is presently in the middle of a "war" over music in worship, with the traditionalists against those who favor more contemporary music. Brothers and sisters, this battle makes no sense to me. In the first place, all Christian music, every single hymn or song, was "contemporary Christian music" at some point in time. More important, however, is that there are other struggles we face as believers which are far more significant. I, for one, can allow all sorts of music to become the vessel upon which faith travels. How about you?
We are blessed with great musical talent in this congregation, voices able to give God glory in song. If anything, we are always opening up new doors for Godís people to do so. Our adult choir has been shifting around quite a bit in the last ten years, as those of you in it well know, moving from an every Sunday ensemble to "Gospel Singers," and later to "Shalom!" Sisters and brothers, keep glorifying God, no matter what! Weíve also had special choirs, pulled together for a particular day or season, a practice weíll continue. Looking ahead, we may be pulling together a group to present the musical "Amahl and the Night Visitors" for the week or so after Christmas, recalling the visit of the wise men. Brothers and sisters, keep glorifying God, no matter what!
You children have been growing in your ability to sing "Alleluia," to lift up praise. It is sheer joy to hear you sing. Your ministry, like every other choir, helps us to worship. May you keep glorifying God, no matter what! You in the youth group have recently been venturing into new territory, singing out your faith with more contemporary music. Sisters and brothers, keep glorifying God, no matter what! And, of course, all you who share your gift of song with a solo, duet, trio, or quartet, as well as you who guide us with Morning Praise before worship, this is a blessing! Brothers and sisters, keep glorifying God, no matter what! Finally, those of you who help lead Godís people with the organ or the piano, or even the guitar, among other instruments, your ministry is vital to worship every time we gather. Sisters and brothers, keep glorifying God, no matter what!
You see, the primary purpose of music in worship is to glorify God. Once we get that straight, the type of music we employ is not as important. Our goal is to glorify God. That is the heart of worship.
Song - "The Heart of Worship" - (lyrics/chords - midi file - short clip - full length)
Scripture Isaiah 40:9-11
O God, may the songs we sing and the music we play be for your glory. May it be a "herald of good tidings" for those who need to hear. May it point to you, such that adoration leaves no room for pride. Itís all about you, Lord. Amen.
(the children then leave for choir or pre-school play)
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