Lyrical Living: Words to Live By
“Come Let Us Sing Together” Click here for audio
Psalm 137:1-6, Isaiah 52:7-10, John 14:23-27
“There are about 5,400 animal species that make complex, intentional, repeatable, musical vocalizations. That is, there are about 5,400 species that sing. But there is one—only one—singing species with a precise and shared sense of rhythm, which is what allows us to sing together. Two birds might sing the same song, but they cannot sing it together.
“Another thing: if a roomful of people sings at the same time, they start to breathe at the same time as well. Some studies suggest that if the drumbeat or bass line is strong enough, their hearts will begin to beat together, too. And if we’re singing together and breathing together and our hearts are beating together, then it’s like we’re one body. And you know Whose body it is.”
So describes the devotional writer Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell.
Singing is a powerful act for us as humans. We sing together and are moved by the memories. As you have sung the hymns and said the prayers, as you listen to the sermon, I hope that you will hear the lyrics of songs that hold meaning for you. I have taken the hymns that you turned in over the summer and incorporated them in this service in some way. I also pulled out several themes that repeated in your hymn choices and stories of why these hymns were powerful to you.
Many of you wrote about songs that had the most meaning for you being ones that you sang with family members. “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. Help of the helpless, Lord, with me abide.” Songs that you sung at the funerals of those you love also hold deep meaning. “In his arms he’ll take and shield us, thou wilt find a solace there.” “I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it some day for a crown.”
Some of our favorites are because of the words and theology as well. Solid Wesleyan theology: “How happy every child of grace that knows its sins forgiven.” Theology of hope: “There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.” The faith that has been passed down to us: “God of our fathers, whose almighty hand…” Trust in a God who never leaves us: “In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young, I’ll be there to guide you through the night, complete what I’ve begun.”
Look at the banners hanging around the sanctuary. They are from different liturgical seasons, sharing the themes that we find powerful throughout the year. Which do you connect with strongly? Which make you think of songs with deep meaning for you?
We connect with God through nature and songs about nature. “Every clear evening that I see the stars, I feel closer to God.” “First the blade and then the ear…” “God, who touchest Earth with beauty, make me lovely too. In your spirit recreate me, make my life anew.” “Morning has broken like the first morning.”
Sometimes songs evoke a place or specific memory or event. Songs like “Shake another hand, shake a hand next to you” and “In the highways, in the hedges” may remind us of camp. Songs we have sung round the fire. Songs we’ve sung in the car. Songs we’ve sung with a choir. These musical connections remind us of our own story. Perhaps they remind us of God-moments that touched us to our core.
The stories behind the hymns themselves are often powerful. “Amazing Grace” was originally written as a poem to accompany preaching in a prayer meeting. John Newton, a former sailor and slave trader, found God after surviving a terrible storm at sea. Slowly, he mended his profane language and debauchery. He gave up sailing and became a priest in the Church of England (encouraged by our own John Wesley). Newton often said his ministry was to “break a hard heart and heal a broken heart.” From being a sailor and captain in the slave trade, he became an outspoken abolitionist. Truly this wretch was saved by God’s amazing grace and, through many dangers, toils and snares, brought safely home.
Like Newton, we sing in difficult and troubled times and find comfort. “O God our help in ages past, our hope in years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.” “Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.” We sing to survive, to resist the troubles that engulf us and say: “It is well with my soul.” We sing in the sick room and the waiting room.
I know the story that for me has been running through my head all week as I prepared to write this sermon. A story that I feel deep in me, reminding me of God’s powerful provision in times of trouble. A story that reminds me that when love is Lord of heaven and earth, I cannot keep from singing.
Now I want you to remember yours. Take a moment to think about that song that has been on your heart today, to remember that story about music that is so powerful that the memories come rushing back. Where were you? Who were you with? What happened? Through song, God gives us strength and comfort, connects us with those we love, helps us see the creator behind creation, and lets us express our joy. Give thanks to God for those loved one’s you are remembering, for God’s many blessings in your life.
Whether it is a reminder of God’s comfort, a connection through singing with a loved one, a hymn sung at a funeral, or a phrase that takes us deeper in our faith, the music and lyrics are important to who we are as humans, as people of God.
I will leave you with the words of Rev. Caldwell: “Another thing: all the other species stop singing when danger approaches. But humans sing louder the closer the danger gets. We sing together, and we become large, and we do not back down.”
So come racism, and “We Shall Overcome” you.
Come fear, we sing “It is Well With My Soul”
Come war, and hear “Silent Night, Holy Night”
Come death, for “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”
Come, all ye faithful, and sing.
Whether I can sing like an angel or can’t carry a tune in a bucket
I’m gonna sing Lord
May I have an eye to you in all I sing