One of the many reasons I love our worship is you never know what you are going to get. I’m sure some of you felt the same when I began to sing my sermons recently, belting out tunes like an episode of GLEE. Your surprise is not unwarranted, considering you witnessed my world premier. Well, actually, I subjected several youth groups to my impassioned off-key and lyrically challenged song-leadership around the dark flames of a camp fire. But 27 months into my tenure, why start to sing for the first time? This is a good question given my lack of training.
I suppose I started singing with you because I’m already singing everywhere else. If it turns out my life has been secretly video-taped for the world to see like Truman Show you already know I sing constantly: at home, office and car. But why? My feeble prayers vibrate with the melody of God’s love when I sing, and I find myself centered on Christ. Augustine said that the one who sings prays twice; that’s certainly true for me!
Music has the ability to connect with our whole selves like little else can; our emotions, memories, will and even bodies all come together in this one act. Nothing galvanized this country’s passion post 9-11 like the singing of our anthem and God bless America. When Christina Aguilera flubbed the words to our most sacred song at the Super Bowl Sunday she highlighted how powerful song is in assigning worth to a particular community and to that community’s values. In the same way as national songs, worship songs call us to pledge allegiance. Only our allegiance is to Christ and nothing else. Songs are my invisible Bible, a portable preacher and pocket-sized altar I can take with me anywhere to call me to my better self. Whether in worship or car, singing to God re-aligns my energies and commitments in response to God in my life. How else will I be strong enough to resist the pressures of this world? Bob Ekblad says “the mainstream church must switch sides and break agreement with and allegiance to the powers (money/materialism, laws/legalism, nation/patriotism).”
I agree, wholeheartedly. Paul says in Galatians 5:24, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The toxic pressure to conform is relentless and omnipresent, and no single act of faith commitment no matter how genuine or recent can equip you to resist. Paul ties baptism to the breaking and making of allegiances (see Romans 6). Personally, the more I celebrate communion the more I experience my own allegiances challenged, as the story of Jesus death at the hands of empire unmasks the Sin of the world for what it truly is.
Resistance to selfishness, consumerism, and the myth of redemptive violence sometimes feels “futile,” as the Borg liked to point out on Star Trek back in the 90’s. But we “work out our own salvation… because God is at work in us.” And a primary way I do my resistance work is through song. A recent favorite has been Sing the Journey #46, “O breathe on me, O breath of God, my will to yours incline, until this selfish part of me glows with your fire divine.”
Paul goes on to say, “If we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit.” The church has used many different images throughout the years to say this same thing: live by the Spirit, centered on Christ, relationship with Jesus, discipleship. The point though, is clear enough: without connection to God we can do nothing (John 15:5). Because of their holistic nature, songs do just that for me. Alan and Eleanor Kreider highlight this saying “If Christians wish to have something to draw upon when they are being oppressed or persecuted or as their brains are failing them, the songs of the faith must be stored in their memories.”
And so I sing! It is my hope in sharing singing sermons you will be empowered in your personal life to pray through song. Perhaps you’ve learned a new song, or experienced an old favorite in a new way. Or, maybe you’ve glimpsed in our You-Never-Know-What-You’re-Going-to-Get worship a talent of your own God is calling you to share with our faith family. Art Prayer in any form is based not on its beauty or exactness, but on its ability to center us on Christ. For me, singing does just that.
May your prayer life soar with the songs of our faith! And may you be centered on Christ in worship and in life.