This morning, I had a whole sermon prepared about music and singing to further honor our musical folks and the importance of music in our lives, but then this week happened and my heart has been breaking into little pieces with each news story I see.
And I thought, “How can I address the atrocities that are happening to children in our own country while at the same time honor our musicians and the fact that it is Father’s Day”?
First things first, to address the comments that were made this week, the Bible does talk about taking children from their families, but not as an ideal to uphold. The Bible speaks of this as an abhorrent practice that heartless rulers engage in. Also, to be clear, in a country that is founded on the separation of church and state, the fact that this policy of separating families as they arrive at the border is even being connected to scripture is bizarre, never mind completely inappropriate. The policies that a government adopts should be based on our Constitution and informed by the articles and bills therein.
However, because the Attorney General decided to quote scripture this week in defense of these indefensible practices of our government, we need to set the record straight. My friend and colleague Molly Baskette said it best when she said, “The Bible does NOT tell us over and over that God wants us to follow unjust laws. Jesus, that great lawbreaker-for-love’s-sake, told us and showed us by his example that mercy should always prevail over the law, whether religious or civil law. And the epic stories and laws of the Hebrew scriptures tell us over, and over, and over again how to treat strangers who have come to our land to escape violence and hunger in their own: [we treat them] as we would want to be treated”( https://www.facebook.com/molly.p.baskette).
You may remember, for the past two weeks we have been focusing on our young people here at Pilgrim Church, we celebrated our graduating Seniors and we had Youth/Children’s celebration Sunday. In both of those services we talked about the scripture from Isaiah “a little child shall lead them” and we talked about Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come to him. As we think about and pray about the children sitting alone, separated from their families, let us hold those scriptures in our hearts. May these children be reunited with their fathers and mother, may they know the love of God.
On this Father’s Day, a day that can be tender for many, let’s just pause for a moment and have a time of silence to reflect and pray for the families, the fathers and mothers who are having their children taken from them as they seek safety and refuge.
Speaking of children, I am not sure how many of you remember the news clip from a few years ago of the 10 year old boy, Willie Myrick who was abducted while playing in the driveway of his Atlanta home. While the kidnapper drove around, Willie sang one hymn for the entire three hours until finally the man threw him out of the car. Police say that song probably saved Willie’s life- a song that he learned in church, a song that he sang as a member of a faith community. Singing saved him (http://www.times-herald.com/Local/20140421-boy2014-04-21T07-12-56).
Singing that hymn saved him.
Speaking of hymns, the first hymns we have are actually the psalms. The psalms were originally sung or chanted as call and response songs accessing every emotion known to us- there are psalms of joy, psalms of grief, psalms of lament and anger- these first hymns have helped people through the ages give voice to their emotions when they could not yet find the words.
Often times, at a memorial service we say together psalm 23 or psalm 121 as we try to wrap our brains and hearts around the loss of a loved one. Psalm 100 is clearly a hymn of joy and thanks and praise, paying homage to the music and instruments of David’s day.
In the scripture passage from Acts, we heard the story of Paul and Silas being thrown in jail and while they were bound and awaiting their fate, they sang. They sang and they shaped their future into a new thing. They sang and they were released. They sang and the other prisoners were freed. They sang and the guard began his faith journey. They sang and miracles happened.
We are all familiar with songs of freedom and protest that have marked the various civil rights movements of history. There are powerful roots in African American spirituals, in folk songs, as well as Blue Grass music that link us to times of struggle and provide hope for our tomorrows and our todays. When folks who are experiencing memory loss or dementia hear songs that were once familiar, they can recall the words and tunes of those songs and sometimes this enables them to be present for a time instead of locked inside of their deteriorating mind.
Yes, music is powerful, music can heal us, hearing someone sing can be moving, listening to a choir can be downright divine, but singing can be transformational, life changing, maybe even lifesaving.
Now, I am Curious- How many of us grew up singing with our families? My father’s family, my grandparents, did not purchase a television for a very long time and I can remember going over to their house and being very bored until someone, either my grandfather or my great- aunt would sit down at the piano and start plunking away on the keys. Everyone would chime in with songs or hymns they wanted to sing.
My mother’s side of the family may have had a piano, I don’t remember, but they did have the songs around the campfire especially. My grandmother grew up Baptist and loved to teach her grandchildren the songs of her childhood- some were from church, some were… not. She taught us songs about Jonah and the whale, songs about dying, songs about freedom. Still, to this day, whenever my cousins and I get together, those songs are not very far from our lips and they are forever written on our hearts.
We all recognize that music is so very powerful. It can take us to the highest of highs and be with us in our lowest of lows. Music, especially singing, has some ability to tap into emotion that plain old talking just cannot reach.
In considering music in communities of faith, there is a saying that goes, “When we sing, we are praying twice” suggesting that when we sing praise and prayers instead of simply speaking them, we add something important to the words, they become something more.
Every week, here at Pilgrim Church, we experience beautiful music. We are blessed by our choir, our choir director, our church musician, our guest musicians and we thank you all for giving of your time and talents in providing the music leadership for our worship services.
I am not sure, however, if we are aware of the growing concern in the church world for music, in particular, there is growing concern about singing, even more particularly, congregational singing.
John Bell shares concerns about congregational singing.
|A minister in the Church of Scotland, a fellow of the Royal School of Church Music and a member of the Iona Community, Bell is a songwriter who gives workshops throughout the United Kingdom and the United States.
In an article from Christian Century magazine, Bell shared his take on congregational singing; the interviewer began the conversation with Bell by stating,
|You are very passionate about the importance of congregational singing. It seems significant that the church is about the only setting left in our culture in which people sing together.
And Bell Answered,
The church should be proud of being counter-cultural; we believe that music is a community activity and that all God’s children can and should sing.
Later on in the conversation, Bell shared,
|Congregational singing is an identity-shaping activity. In the past it was identity-shaping in the sense that Methodists just sang songs by John Wesley…while the Presbyterians (in Scotland, at least) would sing only the Psalms, and the Baptists would sing something more lively. We defined our communities by the songs that we sang.
I think we now are in an era in which communities can be reshaped by what we sing. Are we sectarian, denomination-bound Christians or are we universal Christians? The song of the church will tell us that…
(Bell continues) The church’s song also reminds the world that voices are meant to do more than just talk. A repeated phrase in the Psalms is: Sing to God a new song. The expectation is that this directive applies to everyone.
So, I wonder, what new song would we sing to God? What songs do you have on your hearts? What song do those families in Texas need to hear right now? How can we shape our community with the songs we sing? Do you remember the song we ended our worship with last week?
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
All are precious in God’s sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Can we sing it so all the children of the world hear it?
Please pray with me, God of many harmonies, God of different drummers. We thank you for the gift of music! We rejoice at the opportunity to praise you with hymns and rhythms and instruments! When we have a song in our heart, you encourage us to make a joyful noise! When we sit and weep and wonder how we will ever be able to sing again, you invite us to join voices in the psalms of lament that help us name our sorrow. Help us remember, dear God, that there is a song for every season of our lives and that you are with us in each and every one of those moments. Amen. (Prayer adapted from Before the Amen– Tirabassi & Tirabassi)