160911 – Enjoy My Songs (Creation 1)

Creation 1 ~ Psalm 57:7-11 (et al)

Celebrating the Season of Creation is gaining steam in our churches and for good reason. A functional reason is that it gives us a nice thematic focus that breaks up the very long church season called Pentecost. But more than that it reminds us that while digging into the bible is our primary mode of engagement for theological wisdom and grounding it is not our only source.

One of the key concepts of Christianity is incarnation, but it’s so much more than just the unique way that God was present in Jesus. Incarnation, deep incarnation, means that the Spirit of God isn’t just “out there and far away” but is also embedded in and flowing through everything and everyone we encounter. The Season of Creation gives us a chance to be poetic and metaphorical and really enjoy the sacredness of this world where we live and move and have our being.enjoy-my-songs

Today our poetic theme is music! We imagine Creation saying to us “Enjoy my songs!” The bible is chock full of examples of God’s people enjoying God’s songs.

Exodus 15:20 – Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing

Luke 15:25 – Now, his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

Ephesians 5:19–20 – Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God.

Isaiah 55:12 – For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

And in all sorts of psalms like these verses from Psalm 98 – Sing a new song unto God, who has done such marvellous things…Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98:1, 4-6).

And our focus scripture today, Psalm 57:7-11 – My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

Many of you have heard me say this before: I think music just may be the ultimate metaphor for God. Music, like God, is a concept and a reality at the same time. It’s knowable and yet mysterious. It manifests itself in myriad ways and no single expression comes close to capturing the totality of it. You can try to block it or drown it out but you cannot escape its presence. It’s both utterly complex and warmly pleasing and accessible at the same time. It has the ability to communicate simultaneously on an emotional, physical and intellectual level. And the experience of hearing music (and God) is completely unique to each person and yet also common to each.

Scientists tell us that the entire universe is vibrating. Well that’s exactly what music is – vibrations, waves. So one of the ways I understand God is as that fundamental harmonic vibration at the centre of the universe. It isn’t just physics; it’s music. God, if you’ll go with me here, sings. The universe vibrating is God’s song, and we’re invited to enjoy it!

So when we talk about experiencing God we can talk about hearing God’s song. That’s why we are followers of the Way of Jesus – because he came singing God’s song and drawing us into the choir.

And what happens when we tune into that song and sing along with it?
Harmony! Resonance! Joy! We feel like we’re one with God.
Singing is profoundly spiritual.

One of the fundamental concepts in the Hindu faith is the chanting of the word OM. They call it the ‘sacred sound’. It’s one of the first things we associate with Hindus – sitting on the floor doing yoga with their hands out and chanting OM. Let’s think about that for a minute. They’re saying that when they sustain that chanted sound they are resonating with the frequency of the Sacred, or Ultimate Reality, or what we’d call God. For Hindus OM is God’s song and they strive to sing it. I think that’s awesome!

They’re practicing pure resonance with God. We have another name for it. We call it communion – not bread and wine communion, but communion as in oneness with the Spirit. This is one of the main reasons we sing: to commune with God. Singing draws us into harmony with God.

Singing has always been a core part of spirituality, especially Christian spirituality. Many ancient church liturgies were entirely sung, and some flavours of church still do it that way. We certainly have singing as a fundamental part of our worship life here.

I find it interesting though that we tend to use singing for a different purpose than the Hindus, or even the early church. Like them, we use singing for community building and connecting with one another. We stand up and join our voices together to show togetherness. That’s good.

But primarily we use singing to communicate theology. Our hymns tend to be very wordy. Think about what we sing. What do you think is the more important element in many of our hymns? – the lyric or the music? With a few exceptions it’s mostly about the lyrics. Thankfully the awesome power of music comes through.

Sadly, we don’t specifically use singing to commune with God very much. Perhaps we need to get back to chanting! We do this when we worship in the Taize style.

And what song shall we sing?

Psalm 96 tells us to Sing to God a brand new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing! (Ps 96:1)
Remember, this is a psalm, which means it’s poetry – and we all know that poetry is all about images and metaphors. I don’t think it literally means that we’re only supposed to sing new songs to God and stop singing the older ones. I think the ‘new song’ represents passion and excitement and freshness.

It’s strange then that church could ever be boring. Some churches have this problem – thankfully we absolutely do not have it here. (Right?) There’s nothing more depressing than turning singing to God into funeral dirges. Or singing the same 20 hymns over and over again til they’ve lost all their shine. Churches that have bad music haven’t paid attention to scriptures like we’ve heard today.

Again, Psalm 96 – Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing! Sing to God – worship God!
For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.

Psalm 98 – I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

We sing about the awesomeness of God, of being in awe before the Presence of God, the beauty of God, God’s “terrible beauty” as the poet Yates might say. Terrible. Beauty. At first it sounds like an oxymoron (like jumbo shrimp, or unpopular celebrity, or boring preacher) – terrible beauty. But it’s not terrible as in bad, but terrible as in so extreme as to being utterly overwhelming and mind-boggling. That’s a great way to describe God.

So again, why sing? Because we cannot help ourselves. We cannot keep from singing! Once you’ve experienced the terrible beauty of the Holy Mystery we call God your whole being comes alive in song. Once you’ve tuned-in to the splendour, and power, and breath-taking majesty of God’s songs resounding throughout creation you cannot help but to harmonize, to join the chorus, to sing along.

That’s what God’s people are called to do – to sing God’s song, and to draw others into the choir – not to make our choir bigger but to add to the harmony and share the music. When more singers sing the power of the music is amplified. Imagine more and more of the people in this community, in this region, singing in harmony because their spirits were touched and moved by the Holy Spirit. How different would our communities look?

Remember the old Coca-Cola commercial? “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony!” What a profoundly spiritual dream! All the people singing in harmony.
And more than that – the psalms speak of not only the interconnectedness of people but the interconnectedness of our whole planet. It’s not only us singing:

Psalm 96:11-12 (MSG) Let’s hear it from Sky, With Earth joining in, And a huge round of applause from Sea. Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance, Put every tree of the forest in the choir.
All of creation sings God’s song! Enjoy!

And creation’s songs are also about justice. Our singing of God’s songs, our harmonizing, our rejoicing, our communion with Spirit gives us a taste of what justice feels like. It plugs us into what right relationship is all about.

As we sing, as we resonate, we embody or incarnate God’s Spirit, and as we live we share it – living justly, doing our part to set everything right.

Singing God’s song is communing with God. Usually we associate a different word with communing with God – prayer. Maybe we ought to think of our singing as praying.
If you searched in the bible for the word ‘pray’ you’d find it occurs 152 times.
Do you know how many times ‘sing’ appears? 153!
You could say that singing is just as important as praying. Or maybe even: To sing IS to pray.

Have you heard this famous line? “Those who sing pray twice.” It’s attributed to St. Augustine although he didn’t ever say that in so many words. It’s been adapted from one of his sermons. It’s perfect though, isn’t it? Those who sing pray twice. Of course they do, because singing and praying are the same stuff.

I believe that prayer, singing God’s song with joy and abandon, can absolutely change the world, because it can absolutely transform me and you, and that’s how the world changes.
One song at a time. One singer at a time.

How incredibly important it is that we take the time to pray – take the time to sing the song that we cannot help but sing, because we’ve tuned-in to God.

It’s not automatic though. Not everyone gets it. Once you’ve experienced God you can’t keep from singing but if you haven’t known that kind of spiritual experience you may not know how to sing along. That’s sounds like hell to me.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!”
Alas indeed!

Why do we love to sing?
For me, the answer is because it draws us into communion with the Holy Mystery we call God.
It draws my spirit into harmony with the Holy Spirit.
And it opens me to drawing others into the chorus to share the music.

So sing! Whether it’s in church, or in the shower, or in a choir, or just taking a walk and enjoying the day, sing!
Take a deep breath, experience the awesome, glorious, terrible beauty of God, and sing!
Sing because you cannot keep from doing it.
Sing God’s song!
Pray twice!
And enjoy the songs!