22 November 2015


Revelation 4

Ministry of Music Sunday

22nd November 2015

The great reformed Martin Luther (1483-1546) held music in high esteem.  He said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”[1] The other reformers didn’t share Luther’s enthusiasm.  Ülrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, who was himself a musician, wanted all instrumental music banned from worship.  John Knox (d.1572) in Scotland favored only psalms sung in the Kirk, in plain song, with no musical accompaniment.  The organ was considered the “Devil’s Bagpipe.” (Maybe you consider bagpipes as the Devil’s organ.)  Luther, on the other hand, embraced music as a gift.  He wrote, “I wish to see all art, principally music, in the service of Him who gave and created them.  Music is a fair and glorious gift of God. …Singers are never sorrowful, but are merry, and smile through their troubles in song.  Music makes people kinder, gentler, more steadfast and reasonable.  I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art”—note that theology is deemed an art, which it was and is—“that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of heart…the devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”[2] 

Music can proclaim God’s Word, meaning, not the Bible, per se, but God’s creative Word, the Divine Voice that spoke, maybe even sang the universe into existence.   Music is a force, a power; it has power over us, it has power to move through us, it has power to move us, change us, causing to act or feel or be in new ways.

Luther is right.  Music deserves the highest praise.  Can you imagine worshipping God without music? Without song?  Quakers do, of course.  Silence is holy. But so is music.  Just look at all the psalms, the songs, the poetry of Israel set to music.  These words were set to music, music that filled the house of Yahweh.  Psalm 149: “Praise Yahweh!  Sing to Yahweh with a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful.  …Let them praise God’s name with dancing, making melody to God with tambourine and lyre” (Psalm 149:1, 3).

But there are times when we don’t feel like singing.  We can’t.  It might feel a little odd, perhaps disrespectful, to praise music this morning after the events in France and Mali this past week.  These are challenging times.  When we’re feeling low or depressed it’s tough to carry a tune in our hearts.  When we’re sad, even the sound of music, music that we usually love, doesn’t touch us the same. 

It’s tough to sing when you’re anxious or weighed-down with worry.  Israel knew what that was like.  Writing in captivity, far from home, Psalm 137 goes like this, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.  There on the poplars we hung [up] our harps, for there are captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’  [But] how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).  When we’re in exile, feeling far from home, it’s tough to sing songs of praise.  In those times our soul prefer minor, discordant keys.  Exile and loss give birth to the Blues and jazz, as our African-American brothers and sisters know all too well.

It might be tough to sing when one is low and alone.  But maybe that’s the time we really need to sing with others.  Something happens when the people of God come together, week after week, to sing in community.  Whether or not one can carry a tune, something magical and holy happens when we sing, whether it’s a song of lament or a rousing hymn tune.  Something happens—the Spirit shows up—when we make music to the Lord together. 

For we were born to worship, born to glorify God in music and song!  As far as we can tell, we are the only creatures capable of worship.  We might think it's our reasoning and thinking capabilities that make us special as homo sapiens, the one who is wise.  Or maybe it’s our ability to work and create that makes us special as homo faber, the one who works.  Biblically speaking, we are first homo adorans—the one who worships.  Eugene Peterson says the most important thing a pastor does each week is say, “Let us worship God!”  In the deepest recesses of the soul we know that this is who we are.  The soul longs to worship.

That’s what Miss Miller discovered.  There was once a young American woman, aged twenty, raised a Presbyterian, who was dealing with something disturbing in her life.  We don’t know her real name; she’s called Miss Miller.  It was 1898, on a cruise ship leaving from Naples, Italy, when she had a dream.  It began with these words, “…when the morning stars sang together,” a direct quote from Job 38:7.  Then she heard a choir singing an amazing hymn of creation.  When she awoke she wrote down the gift her psyche gave her:

When God had first made Sound
A myriad ears sprang into being
And throughout all the Universe
Rolled a mighty echo:
‘Glory to the God of Sound.’ 

When beauty (light) first was given by God,
A myriad eyes sprang out to see
And hearing ears and seeing eyes
Again gave forth that mighty song:
‘Glory to the God of Beauty!’ 

When God had first given Love,
A myriad hearts lept up;
And ears full of music, eyes all full of Beauty,
Hearts all full of love sang: 
‘Glory to the God of Love!’[3] 

Remarkable.  The depths of the soul longs to worship!

William Blake, The Four and Twenty Elders (Rev. 4).
Sound. Beauty.  Love.  All the elements of music, of worship, right?  Each of these elements is found in the glorious vision recorded in Revelation 4.  This is the God, this God who is Beauty, who calls forth from us beauty and sound and love, who causes our hearts and minds and voices to resound together. 
Resonance.  From the Latin “resound,” meaning, “to sound out together with a loud sound.”  Resonance.  There’s actually a science behind this word.  Resonance “occurs when one object vibrating at the same natural frequency of a second object forces that second object into vibrational motion.” Resonance is essentially attunement among elements or agents or an alignment of energy.  “Consider a tuning fork used to tune a piano: striking the fork against a solid surface will set it vibrating at a certain frequency, producing a reference pitch; the relevant string on the piano can then be adjusted (loosened or tightened) so that the string resonates with the same frequency, so that they match.  In fact, if the vibrating fork is put in proximity with the tuned string, [the fork] will then begin to vibrate with the same frequency—they are said to be in resonance.”[4] 
What’s true of pitch is true of people.  When we sing together, when we are in resonance with one another, we affect one another.  Singing together, making music together builds community, forges connections, and when this occurs something happens to us, we’re actually changed.  And now transpose this idea to worship directed toward God.  When we sing along with the stars of heaven, singing with the heavenly chorus, when we join our voices with those who sing around the throne of the Lamb, when we resonate with the rhythm of God’s love and grace humming through the universe, something really happens to us!
We are created for resonance with God. We are created to resound with songs of praise. Worship with music was central to the church from the beginning.  Paul wrote to the Colossians, “…with gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16). And worship continues to bless and reform the church.  It’s why worship is at the heart of all that we do.  And it’s music, of all the arts, which is uniquely blessed to help us resonate, to sound forth with praise and thanksgiving to God!  
Glory to the God of Sound!
Glory to the God of Beauty!
Glory to the God of Love!

[1]Martin Luther, “Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae” (1538), Luther’s Works: Volume 53 – Liturgy and Hymns (Fortress Press, 1965), 321-323.
[2]Martin Luther, Foreword to the Wittenberg Gesangbuch, 1524.
[3] Miss Frank Miller (pseudonym), with an introduction by Théodore Flournoy (1854-1920), Archives de psychologie (Geneva), V (1906), 36-51.  Cited in C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 5 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 42.
[4] Joseph Cambray, Synchronicity: Nature & Psyche in an Interconnected Universe (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 2009), 68ff.