(1 Cor 14: 26, 29 -33, 39-40; Ephesians 5:15-20) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Aug 19, 2018 – UBC Digby
Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves…
So says Ephesians 5:19. (Colossians 3:16 says almost the same thing.) So today we celebrate the music of the faith community. Starting with Psalms. We have a Bible book of 150 Psalms, and there are others in the Old Testament. The Psalter is numbered. Time for a Pop Quiz. What is the Psalm?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 23
The Lord is my light and my salvation,
whom shall I fear? 27
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God. 42
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. 46
I lift up my eyes to the hills —
from where will my help come? 121
This is a very old songbook. Lyrics from another language, another culture, another world religion. But they have been sung for three thousand years, or more, and been at the heart of Christian singing. This was the songbook Jesus grew up on, of course.
Some Christian groups – even today – have used only the Psalms for singing. We know so many musical versions of the Psalms. The first 3 songs we sang today: from the Psalms.
You might say the next thing we are to sing is a hymn, not a Psalm. But it is based upon Psalm 103. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Here we are, still singing such ancient lyrics. What does it mean to sing phrases that others have sung, in various languages, for three thousand years? Thoughts that may be sung three hundred years after we are dead?
Let us sing Hymn 26, Praise, My Soul, t K o H.
Be filled with the Spirit, the Bible says, and sing hymns. We have this sense of being filled with God, at times, and not being so full of God at other times. It’s hard to quantify our spirit-filled-up-ness. How do you measure that? It is not just an emotional feeling we have, either. Maybe we can be quite Spirit-filled without being overly aware of God with us. I also wonder, from time to time, if God is really so active as people think when they say, ‘Oh, it was such a Spirit-filled time we had!’
What the author here in Ephesians 5 says is, don’t be filled up with alcoholic spirits, be filled up with God the Spirit, and sing together. Then, to sing hymns, is to sing to God. It is part of a conversation. Singing together we get to speak with one voice. We do our part of the talking. Play our part in the drama we call Christian worship.
Almost any song a church sings, with several verses, gets called a hymn. Yet, in a more specific sense of the word, a hymn is a song in which people are talking to God. Not talking about God, not speaking for God, but actually singing to God directly. All the different songs we use end up being different parts of the conversation. God to us, us to God, us to us – about God.
So let me test you, again. I will give examples, and you tell me who is talking, and who is being sung to:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Person talking to person.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made. Person to God.
Jesus, all to Jesus, all I am and have, and every hope to be. Person to Jesus?
Be still and know that I am God. God to person.
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise. Person talking to person.
So our next song is not, technically, a hymn? Well, it does switch to people talking to God in the final stanza. My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim…
Let us sing Hymn 130, O For a Thousand T t S
These verses from the New Testament give us one of those rare glimpses into what those first Christians did when they got together. The few pictures we have from scripture do not quite describe what we do here each Sunday. When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.
I have just been skimming through a book we got a couple weeks ago. George Barna is famous for his Barna Group research firm, and with Frank Viola he authored: Pagan Christianity? revised and updated in 2007. Barna and Viola ask: Are we really doing church “by the Book”? Why does the pastor preach a sermon every Sunday? Why do church services seem so similar week after week? Why does the congregation sit passively in the pews?
Not sure? This book makes an unsettling proposal: Most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. (back cover)
It is going to take me a while to work through what this book is saying. It is very challenging… it will be helpful, and likely, revolutionary!
To stay focussed upon our music: how can each one of us have a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, when we come together? Or a spiritual song, or a Psalm? Our gatherings include a few, select people making music. Probably half of us here don’t make much of a sound at all for this hour on Sunday mornings. I love a singing congregation… but I have never had one. I realized, once I was grown up, that even my home church in Middleton was rather quiet when it came to singing together.
At our best moments, we hear the words and music and our souls all sing along. Praise, my soul, the King of heaven. Last week we ended with a song that said, Sing like never before, O my soul! We also sang, Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! And the Choir used Baptist Robert Lowry’s lyrics: How can I keep from singing?
Today, our worship gathering is now coming to a close. We will sing a spiritual song about God caring for us, and be praying between the verses. We will sing our benediction – which means blessing – at the end. Just now, Carol and I will sing a great ‘hymn’ or ‘spiritual song’ by the late Fred Pratt Green. I want you to follow the words; you could even turn to 403 in our Hymnal.
May your soul sing with ours.