Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
(This is part of a sermon series looking through what we do together in our worship service and why are we doing it.)
- Can you think of a time when you have been especially moved by music in church?
My kids, Liam and Violette, have been bringing a lot of music to our house lately. There are all these great songs, all the time. Sometimes they are familiar songs, like those great Vacation Bible School / Fruit of the Spirit songs we learned last summer. Sometimes they are unfamiliar songs that are created as they stir bins of Legos or sit at the table and paint with watercolors. One time after Violette had invented a particularly catchy song, that seemed to have a lot to do with Jesus, I told Violette I really liked her new song. She gave me this concerned look and told me that song wasn’t for me.
It seems like as we grow older, there aren’t as many of those spontaneous songs.
But music can still move us.
A couple of summers ago, Sarah found tickets to see one of my favorite bands at Red Rocks. It was amazing to look out at all those people who all seemed to know every word of every song … I kept wondering what it must be like for musicians to look out and see so many people singing along to something they created.
There is something about music.
When I spent a summer as a chaplain in a long term care facility, I had an opportunity to watch music therapists help a 20 year old guy, who had been in an accident and lost his ability to speak and movement on one side of his body, learn how to make vowel sounds again as the music therapists played 80’s rock songs on acoustic guitars … When I helped out with chapel services on the dementia floor of that same long term care facility, I heard elderly men and women who had lost so much to Alzheimers, somehow sing “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me” … it was like those songs were part of them.
There is all this great stuff about music … but, also some challenging things.
Like all those arguments I heard about what music to listen to in church vans when I drove High School students to mission trips and summer camps. There are churches that have similar arguments about music too – hymns or praise songs … organs or guitars … drums … some churches are even convicted that instrumental music has no place in church. (I remember a friend telling me one of his relatives was absolutely opposed to churches using saxophones in worship … I think that relative also had strong opinions about pastors with beards too!)
Music has all this power … it can have all this influence … it can encourage us … it can annoy us … it can distract us … it can teach us … it can bring us together … it can help us remember …
Why do we sing when we gather as Christ’s church?
One answer, is because faithful people have been singing when they get together for as long as we can remember. Something about being together and honoring God just moves us to singing. In one of our faith’s foundational stories, after God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Moses and his sister, Mariam, led their people in a song:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea …The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15.1-2 NIV)
Psalms invite us and lead us in singing about good things, like Psalm 96 – “Proclaim his salvation day after day” and they show us that it is ok to sing about difficult and sad things, like Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” In 2 Samuel, we see that singing can express a nation’s grief, when David, before he became king, led his nation in a funeral dirge after their king Saul was killed in battle – “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! (2 Samuel 1.17 NIV). In his Gospel, Matthew, tells us that after the last supper, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before they went to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30).
In Colossians, the church is asked to,
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3.15-17 NIV).
In Revelation, we see these pictures of the Kingdom of God in its fullness, and in these snapshots the church and angels are singing – “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7.12 NRSV).
Singing is part of the church’s DNA. When Christians get together to worship, it is hard not to sing. I remember putting together a worship service for the last day of a High School mission trip … I really wanted it to be a simple and quiet time where people could share how they had experienced God that week … I didn’t plan for any music in the service, and honestly I was curious what a worship service without music would be like, but it didn’t turn out that way. Toward the end of the service, one person started singing and pretty soon, everyone was singing.
Singing is very much a part of our faith … it might be so much a part of our faith that the helpful question isn’t “Why do we sing?” But, “What happens when we sing together?”
What happens when we sing together?
When we sing we are honoring God.
When we sing, we are praying, we are offering our hopes our fears, our gratitude to God.
When we sing, we are sharing our faith, we are proclaiming our faith, telling each other and anyone else who is in ear shot, who God is and what God does.
When we sing, we are engaged … we are participating in worship. Worship isn’t something we watch, worship is something we do. Singing moves us to participate in worship.
When we sing, we are drawn together … singing gives us a common prayer … a common voice …singing puts us in community with each other … it even puts us into community with the faithful people who have gone before us … just think of how many Christians since 1779, when John Newton wrote it, have sung and been encouraged and challenged as they have sung Amazing Grace?
When we sing together as Christ’s church, there is a lot happening!
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples (Psalm 96.1-3 NIV).
* Here are some links to the examples of music & singing bringing people together:
How Can Playing a Game Make You More Empathetic