Posts Tagged ‘Narrative Lectionary’

Some version of this sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon on Sunday, July 9, 2017.  It was the fifth and final sermon in our summer Narrative Lectionary Psalm Series.  

art for 7.9.

For the past few weeks you’ve been invited to share either on-line or on paper your most beloved church music, and the songs keep pouring in… it’s fabulous. We’ll run this survey for a full month, so please, keep your beloved music coming. Why?

We just sang a setting of the Psalm of the week, because, after all, the Psalms are songs, made for singing. But, unfortunately, the very end of this Psalm, the part that has most grabbed my attention this week and the part that begins to answer this why question— well, it just didn’t make it into the sung setting. So, please, allow me to read this short, exuberant Psalm, I’m reading from the version in your pew Bibles if you’d like to read along:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in God’s sanctuary;
praise God in God’s mighty firmament!
Praise God for God’s mighty deeds;
praise God according to God’s 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! (NRSV)

So Psalm 150, the last Psalm in our series on the Psalms and the last Psalm in the whole book of Psalms ends with the charge “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.” Other translations render that “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord…” and that’s what you have on your bulletin covers and in our focal image for today. The preceding verses call the faithful to praise again and again and suggest a wide variety of ways to praise. They name virtually every imaginable musical instrument of the time and suggest that dancing is also a good way to go. It is clear from this Psalm that music and dance are key ways to praise God— and it is clear from this Psalm that EVERYONE , indeed every living thing, is called to praise God.

But the naming of so many instruments suggests to me that each breathing one is to praise God in his or her or its own distinct way. Very few individual people play the trumpet, the lute, the harp, the tambourine, several stringed instruments, the pipe organ, AND the cymbals… Even fewer individuals play all those instruments simultaneously, all while dancing to boot. Is that even possible? I know there are one person bands, but… Some of us don’t play any instruments at all. And some of us certainly don’t dance. But virtually all of us are moved by music— whether we feel we can make music or not. Some music will stir us to make a joyful noise to God, even if it’s just a vigorous amen or a rousing hand clap when it’s done. Sometimes our praise is more of the quiet awe variety. I’ve been emphasizing volume of late, but truly you can praise God with a quiet and deep sigh of grateful contentment, I think— and frequently it is music that will take us there. The Psalm recognizes the diversity of our ways of praising God, but the Psalm is addressed to the whole community, inviting the whole community to praise God and to praise God together.

If praise is the lifeblood of worship, and it is, then music is one of the most important dimensions of worship. And it is, hands down, one of the trickiest parts of worship to plan and execute. Even for music loving pastors like me. Why? Because everyone here, I promise you, everyone here has a distinct way of praising God and is tuned to resonate with particular music. It’s like certain music sends out the signal that connects with our hearts and allows us to praise— like when your turning the radio dial, a few people here will remember this experience… and finally arrive at a clear signal… or better, a few more will relate to this… like when you’re scanning on the radio in your car and finally a song you know comes on and you stop it and belt along. If some songs, or styles of songs, connect for me, others, necessarily, do not. But… the very song that doesn’t work for me, may well be the one that inspires the person next to me to finally start singing along. We’re all tuned differently.

So, it has been my practice for over a decade, to ask the congregations I serve to tell me what makes their hearts sing. If I want to honor the charge of Psalm 150— Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!- and I do, then I need to ask everybody in the churches I serve to tell me what music they love and I need to attend to this as I plan worship, seeking a balance between the beloved and familiar, and the new… that which will become beloved and familiar for some, perhaps, in time.

It can be hard to fathom that other people don’t love the same things we do. I mean, on the one hand, intellectually, of course, we know this. Different strokes for different folks. But when we really, really love something… it’s hard to imagine how anyone could hate it. And vice verse. Let me just tell a tale on myself— several years ago I was talking with a fellow pastor about doing a movie discussion series between our churches. I loaned her a few dvds of my most beloved movies that I thought would be GREAT discussion starters. She returned them to me a few weeks later saying she hated them all. She likes movies that are pure distraction and these were too sad and gritty and blech. GASP. I was flabbergasted. How could anyone not love these movies??

Frequently church members are like this with their most beloved church music— we love it SO much we can’t fathom how anyone could feel differently. Currently the MOST beloved hymn of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, per the mid-term results of the first ever St. A’s beloved hymn survey, is Amazing Grace. I think it has 8 or 9 votes so far. Not surprising. It always shows up in the top three, I’ve found. It had at least 7 votes in my first church. Well, in that very church I had a church member who hated Amazing Grace with a fiery passion— thought it should be permanently banned from worship. She also believed every church service should begin with Holy, Holy, Holy (which, by the way is also polling well at St. A’s). As a worship leader charged with allowing EVERYONE to praise God, I couldn’t possibly honor either of this church member’s zealous desires. At least seven of her fellow congregants expressed that their hearts were particularly tuned to Amazing Grace. And I would bet at least a few can’t stand Holy, Holy, Holy, or at least would begin to feel that way if we used it every single week. Perhaps members of St. A’s worship team will remember our discussion about how many verses should be sung of any given hymn— some believe never more than 3— sorry, did four of six on the opener today. Others think we should, must, absolutely sing every verse. Again, sorry on that opening hymn, only four of six. Vigorous diversity of opinion. Anyone want my job?

St. A’s has in its repertoire an admirable range of songs and styles. Among your beloved music is Gregorian Chant and Southern Gospel, Mozart’s Requiem and Third Day, 19th century hymns a plenty and the 20th century Catholic hymn “Here I Am, Lord.” Some of you submit lists entirely filled with songs from the white song book. Some of you submit lists filled with songs in neither our hymnal nor the white book. Some of you just say “I like the old standards.” Hard for me to know what that means to you, everyone has a different definition of “old standard.” But so far we have over 150 different specific songs listed… more songs than there are Psalms! And while there is overlap— some songs have 4 or more hits, many songs have only one or two. But I have no doubt that even these that are loved by only one or two are truly and dearly loved. They wouldn’t make the list if they weren’t.

What this means, though, is that with such diversity of taste in our fellowship, on any given week it is entirely possible that none of the music will be well tuned to your heart. And that’s a bummer. It’s hard to praise God when the music just doesn’t connect. But… my hope is that when you realize that at least some, maybe even most of the music in the service is beloved of someone in your congregation that that will help you to grow in generosity and patience and maybe even stir you to praise. Look at God! How amazing is God to make such a blessedly diverse world!

It might seem awfully navel gazing to focus an entire sermon on the diversity of musical taste in congregations, but… we’re living in a world that is increasingly divided into warring tribes and factions, even our own American civilization, even the city of Portland… we are all segmented into different groups, listening to different news sources, shopping in different stores, trusting different people and ideas… so often difference is leading to division. It is radical thing what happens here in worship on Sunday mornings. The one God of steadfast love and mercy gathers us together, representatives of several different tribes, gathers us together as one people. So when we make space for one another in all our messy diversity (and trust me you’ve got it— could you be more diverse? Yes. Are you diverse? Yup. Your musical taste is a testimony.) and when we praise God even when using music that doesn’t connect with us because of the joy it brings us to know it connects with someone… When we praise God this way, it forms us into a people who worships God not only with our lips, but also with our lives. When we praise this way, it is a powerful witness to the God who overcomes division. When we praise this way we live into love of our neighbors, even of our enemies, we live our faith each day in a way that makes a difference.

I am grateful to my dear friend and colleague, my own personal sermon doctor, the Rev. Dr. Jay Koyle, for assistance editing this sermon. Images each week either generated by or edited by the marvelous Diana Zapata.  

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