Sunday, August 23, 2009

Singing the Lord's Songs -- A Sermon


We did something a bit different today in worship -- we sang parts of the sermon. It was well received. Of course, I have a great partner in my minister of music, Pat Kuhl. Here is the sermon as re-posted from my sermon blog -- Words of Welcome
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Ephesians 5:15-20


I. The Call to Sing Praises to the Lord


Do you know what is great about church? It doesn’t matter whether you’re tone deaf or a professional singer, you get to sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord! In Ephesians we hear this admonition: Be filled with the Spirit and “make melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Psalmist also invites us to praise the Lord. Listen to the invitation found in the 150th Psalm, as it appears in The Message:

Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy house of worship,
Praise him under the open skies;

Praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his magnificent greatness;

Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
Praise by strumming soft strings;

Praise him with castanets and dance,
Praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,

Praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
Hallelujah! (Psalm 150, MSG)

Yes, let every breathing creature praise God whether you’re using your voice or every instrument under heaven, from guitars to the organ!

This morning you get to help with the sermon. That’s because we’re going to sing the biblical story. We’re going to sing this story because God wants to hear our voices. We’re also going to sing, because singing helps cement the message in our hearts as well as our heads. This is important, because biblical illiteracy is a growing problem in the church. We simply don’t know the biblical story as well as we probably should. So, this morning we’re going to do two things – We’re going to make a joyful noise to the Lord by lifting our voices to God, and we’re also going to take to heart the biblical story – in five movements.

II. Singing the Lord’s Songs

I want to set the stage by stating two seemingly contradictory assumptions. On the one hand, the Bible is an anthology of sacred literature written and compiled over a long period of time, representing different theologies, experiences, and circumstances. On the other hand, the Bible also tells a coherent story about a relationship between God and humanity. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. At the beginning God creates the universe, while at the end God puts everything that’s gotten broken along the way back into its proper place.

There are a number of ways to tell this story, but I like the way Disciples biblical scholar Gene Boring lays it out.* Being a Disciple, Boring borrows a tool from one of the founding fathers – Walter Scott. Scott was known for developing the five-fingered exercise to summarize the way of salvation as stated in Acts 2. Boring suggests that we create our own five-fingered exercise to remember the biblical story, using five words, all beginning with the letter C: Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation. And if we’re going to remember this grand narrative, what better way to cement it in our hearts and minds than to sing it. So, let’s begin with the first movement:

  • Creation
We’ll start at the beginning, at Creation, where the opening words of Genesis state:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be Light; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. (Gen. 1:1-4a)

The story continues on until it culminates in the creation of the man and the woman in the image of God. After each act of creation, God pronounces that “It is Good!” And since it is Good, we should celebrate with a blast from the trumpet and then celebrate with a song from the heart. Let us, then, hear the trumpet and sing:

“This is My Father’s World,” (59, vs. 1, 3)**
  • Covenant
Although God declared that everything in creation was good, as the story continues, things go terribly wrong. That’s because we decided to do things our way. God could have rejected us and left us to suffer the consequences of our actions, but instead God chose to make a way for us to get back on track. And to do this, God decided to make a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. God said to Abraham:
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Gen. 12:2-3).

The rest of the Old Testament tells us how God formed a people so that God could bless humanity. Let us, therefore, celebrate God’s decision to make this covenant, first with Abraham and then with Moses by singing:

The God of Abraham Praise (24, vs. 1)

  • Christ
As Christians we believe that Jesus is the culmination of this covenant. Jesus is the seed of Abraham, through which God blesses the nations. So, as we turn to the New Testament, we see God taking the next step toward reconciliation with creation, by inviting us to share in a covenant relationship through the Son of God. As the opening verses of the Gospel of John puts it: The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The message of the New Testament is this: God has been uniquely revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With that in mind, let us sing the story of Jesus in three movements: Birth, Death, and Resurrection:

Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing (150, vs. 1)
Were You There? (198, vs. 1,3)
Christ the Lord is Risen Today (216, vs. 1)

  • Church
The resurrection is not the end of the story, it’s simply the beginning of the rest of the story. If we turn to the book of Acts, we see God sending the Spirit to empower a rag- tag band of disciples to carry the message of Jesus, beginning in Jerusalem, and then moving out from there to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Although the Spirit-empowered church would face great persecution, it not only persevered, it grew and expanded to the ends of the earth. This story is our story, because together with them we proclaim that “God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Cor. 5). Let us celebrate this call to be agents of reconciliation by singing:
Surely the Presence of the Lord (263)
“Community of Christ” (655, vs. 1)

  • Consummation
Even as every story has a beginning, it also has an ending. With this in mind, Jesus declared to John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 1:8). Up to this point we’ve sung the songs of creation, covenant, Christ, and the church. Now, it’s time to look forward into the future and ask: Where is God taking us?

We may not know the details, but scripture says that a day will come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, as the Lord said to John:

“I’m A to Z, I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I’ll be God to them, they’ll be sons and daughters to me.” (Rev. 21:6-7, MSG).

This is our hope! So let the trumpet sound again so that we might sing:

Jesus Shall Reign (95 , vs. 1)

Having rehearsed the biblical story, from beginning to end, let us make melody in our hearts, and sing praises to the God who reigns over all. Indeed, let us not cease to sing praises to the Lord our God with every breath we take!

Notes:

*This idea comes from the final chapter of Eugene Boring's Disciples and the Bible, (Chalice Press, 1997).
**Hymn numbers are taken from Chalice Hymnal (Chalice Press, 1995).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2009

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