When it comes to matters of the soul, so often it’s music that’s the fullest art-form. It’s music so often that can reach into the deeper parts of ourselves and give them voice and move us and change us and bring us to a place of prayer, awe communion with the divine.
When it comes to matters of the soul, when it comes to those times when we are in need of prayer – in those times of pain, those times of praise – what happens when we give it all a voice, what happens is a cry, or a groan, or a shout, or a long clear note of awe, or simply an open breath. And that’s the raw stuff of music. Those expressions are the raw roots of the vibrations and pulses that rise in the melodies and rhythms that we draw from instruments and from our own voices when we make music. Music is an artform rooted in the pith of our souls.
Scripture is meant to be music. The words of scripture are just the lyrics – they are words to be chanted and sung. Sitting alone and reading quietly is a very recent and historically peculiar development. Even like Charles Dickens – everyone read his novels aloud to each other. And that’s how he wrote them. When it comes to ancient scripture, for Generation after generation these words of scripture have come alive for communities as music, They are the music of prayer, as communities of people pray out their faith with God through the joys and struggles of their lives. In our Protestant tradition in Christianity, there is a strong emphasis on the preached word. This is very important. But the danger, especially now that our culture is a quiet private reading culture, The danger is that just focusing on the preached word can parch the word of the living sap of our spiritual lives as embodied beings. Holy Scripture dries up if we treat it as merely parchment for cerebral conceits, and our souls suffer the loss. Preaching is at its best when it is not merely mental – but musical.
So, it’s a good thing that our Protestant tradition also celebrates the sung word.
That was one of Martin Luther’s revolutionary acts. He got everybody singing in church. And he did it by taking songs everybody knew – even drinking songs – and putting holy words to them. He got everybody singing in church. So, I am so grateful to those here and now in our community of faith who help us all get singing in church. I’m so grateful to the members of our choir and to Julie and Jackie in helping us all open our voices for the sake of the soul. It’s been astonishing to witness how your voices and souls have opened together as you have sung us every Sunday into prayer. As we celebrate the choir before they rest for the summer, I want to give the rest of this sermon time to their music. And we’ll do it by also hearing the music directly from the Holy Scriptures.
Jen, our liturgist, and I will read some passages of scripture, which the choir will then bring to life.
The bible readings will be from the First Letter of John and from the Gospel of John. And then there are some passages from the Odes of Solomon, which is an early Christian book of sung prayers, from Syria.
So let us hear the music of holy wisdom:
“God is love. And whoever live in love lives in God, and God in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as Christ is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their siblings, are liars; for those who do not love a sibling whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have is this: those who love God must love their siblings also.” -1 John 4:16-21
“My Joy is Christ my Sovereign And my course is toward him. My journey is beautiful. For there is a helper for me in Christ. In Christ the Holy One has made Godself know to me, Without grudge, by extension. Indeed this kindness has shrunk the immensity of the Holy One. In Christ, the Holy One became like me, so that I may receive. I did not tremble when I saw, because Christ was compassionate to me. The Lord became like my own nature, so that I might join with him, And as my image so that I would not turn back from him.
Let the singers sing of the mercy of the Holy One, Most High. Let them bring their psalms. Let their hearts be as the day, and their chanting as the great beauty of our Holy Sovereign. Let there be no one that is without knowledge, nor without voice. For God gave a mouth to creation, to open the voice of the mouth in praise toward God” -From Odes of Solomon, Book 1, Ode 7
Jesus said, “As my Abba has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my precepts, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Abba’s precepts and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” – John 15:9-12
“Open: open your hearts to the dancing joy of the Lord And let your love abound from heart to lips: In order to bring forth fruits for the Holy One, a holy life, And to speak with attention to the light. Stand and be restore, all of you who were once flattened. Speak, you who were silent, because your mouth has been opened. From now on be lifted up, you who were destroyed Since your justice has been raised. For the right hand of the Lord is with you all, As a helper for you. Peace was prepared for you, before what became your war.” -From Odes of Solomon, Book 1, Ode 8