Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: Psalm 147:7-11 & Psalm 145:16 (Today’s Introit)
Sermon Theme: “Sing to the Lord . . . Make Melody to Our God”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; “Introduction to the Psalms,” Concordia Self Study Bible; original ideas; Online Church Jokes; Angels Singing, Online openbible.info; The Role of Music in Worship by Dr. Michael Edwards; Scott Bayles, SermonCentral online; Nelson’s Three-in-One)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible, and it is made up of ancient hymns, written by men and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has always been the Church’s hymnbook. The Hebrew title for this great hymn book is “Tehillah” which means “song or songs of praise”; the English title “Psalms” or “Psalter” (which came from Greek) means “stringed instruments such as harp, lyre and lute.” Throughout, it contains rubrics for music; there is no doubt that it is a song book.
We believe that 73 of the hymns were written by David; the others were written by Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Sons of Korah, and Ethan. We do not know the author of 34 of them. Many of the 150 psalms are songs of praise to God, singing fervently of His goodness and His greatness. The Psalms show us that God’s people are a Church on fire with zeal for the Lord.
They inspire us to want to be a Church on fire as the early Church was at Pentecost. Too many churches today are lukewarm churches like the Church in Laodicea Jesus condemned in Revelation: “So, because you are lukewarm –neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” How do we avoid being such a lukewarm church? How do we become a church on fire? One, we praise God with zeal; two, we sing to God with passion; and three, we believe in the goodness and greatness of God wholeheartedly.
Scott Bayles shared a story about a 5th Grade teacher in a Christian school, trying to teach her students what God is like, His goodness and His greatness. So she asked her students to watch TV commercials and see if they could find TV commercials which might suggest what God is like. Her students worked on this enthusiastically. Here are the results:
“God is like a Ford – He is built tough.”
“God is like Coke – He’s the real thing, Baby!”
“God is like All State – You’re in good hands with Him.”
“God is like Tide – He gets the stains out that others leave behind.”
“God is like Hallmark Cards – He cares enough to send the very best!”
Those examples are cute and funny, but, you know, they really do suggest the goodness and greatness of God. Yes, He cares enough to send the very best – He sent us Jesus whose suffering, death, and resurrection made all the difference!
In Lutheran worship services, like ours, you don’t get to choose the hymns; they’re chosen for you by the pastor. When we sing an awesome hymn, like the one we will close with today, — “How Great Thou Art” – or the one we closed with last Sunday, “A Mighty Fortress,” how sincerely do we believe what we are singing and how much zeal do we show?
What the words of the hymn say and what you say in your heart may not be the same thing. I found a website that gave a list of such duality; here are a few of them:
“Take My Life and Let Me Be”
“Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following”
“Joyful, Joyful, We Kinda Like Thee”
“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Much”
“My Faith Looks Around for Thee”
“Blest Be the Tie That Doesn’t Cramp My Style”
“When Peace, like a Trickle . . .”
“Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound”
“When the Saints Go Sneaking In.”
Today’s sermon texts which are taken from the Introit, Psalm 147 and Psalm 145 make two things clear to us: One, the importance of music, and two, the greatness of God. The second one requires the first one. No reading or speaking of the message could be as powerful as singing hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
In worship, how important is music anyway? In connecting with God, how important is music? The more you try to answer that question, the more absolute seems to be the answer. Our sermon text commands, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!”
It is amazing how much emphasis God put on music for worship in the tabernacle and the temple. According to 1 Chronicle 25:1-6, David chose Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to plan and lead the music in public worship. The sons of these men were also involved, each being in charge of specific aspects of singing and playing instruments (the text specifies cymbals, lyres and harps). In 1 Chronicle 23:5, David says, “Four thousand are to praise the Lord with musical instruments I have provided for that purpose.”
If four thousand were called to music ministry in the temple, God was truly serious about the necessity of music in the worship. Furthermore, 1 Chronicles 25:3 says that Jeduthun prophesied with a harp. Yes, “prophesied.”
Well, that’s the Old Testament. What about the New Testament?
It was not unusual in the New Testament for people to respond to messages from God with spontaneous songs, — such as Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, which we call the Magnificat. There is no doubt that it is a perfect song, and that the Holy Spirit must have inspired such a beautiful, perfect song. Some awesome Holy Spirit things were happening at that moment, as John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.
Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-21, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.”
The disciples sang hymns during the Last Supper. Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying in prison when the Lord caused an earthquake to spring open the doors of the prison. In talking about the importance of prayer, James says, “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” Paul tells the Colossians in 3:16, “Let the word of God dwell richly in you, as you . . . sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Our precedent for worshipping with music is the angels in heaven who were described as singing together in the Book of Job and in Revelation and in Luke at the birth of Christ. In Revelation 15:2-3, the angels, with harps of God in their hands, sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, singing, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”
In those examples, we see the importance of music in worship, both in corporate worship and in personal, private worship, and we see the goodness and greatness of God. Making up the Introit for today, our sermon texts say, “You open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving, make melody to our God on the lyre.”
Music can be used for many reasons, — for enjoyment, for dancing and partying. While music is important for entertainment, it is crucial for worship. Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Maybe “hearing” the word implies “reading” it, — like hearing the word in your mind, I don’t know. But, while the written word has its boosters, — commas, dashes, exclamation marks, italics, etc., those are minimal in contrast to “speaking” the word, where you have volume changes, tone changes, inflections, pauses, movements, gestures, etc.
Playing and singing the word by means of music has some of the same advantages of speaking it, but with even more boosters. Music was the only thing that could soothe the bouts of madness suffered by King Saul. Music has the same effect on us, in ways that most of us don’t understand. The rhythm is altered by the rests, and each slur and slide and stop has a purpose. Music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else does. We burst forth in songs of thanksgiving and praise to convey the goodness and greatness of God! God gave us the gift of music, and commanded us to use it. Let us use it with passion and zeal! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.