Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2012
“Singing and Making Melody to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18b-20)
For our sermon text today I’m using a portion of one of next week’s readings, actually. But since I won’t be here next week, and the reading has what I want to preach on today, and it flows right of this week’s reading from Ephesians, I’ll exercise a little liberty now and use part of next week’s Epistle for our text today. It’s printed there in your bulletin, Ephesians 5:18b-20, as follows: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is our text. And so our theme for today: “Singing and Making Melody to the Lord.”
Singing is something most everyone enjoys. Granted, sometimes other people might not enjoy listening to us sing, but I guess that would depend on the singer, and that’s not really the point. The point is that generally people like to sing. Human beings enjoy music. It’s kind of hard-wired into our psyches, into our souls. Our Creator built us this way, with an inherent love of music. We enjoy singing, whether that’s singing in the shower–where we all sound wonderful, I suppose–or singing along with the car radio, or singing as part of a group. By the way, interestingly, about the only place where people sing in a larger group anymore is in church. And I’m glad we do.
Music has a unique power to express our feelings and even to evoke our emotions. Musicians, composers, songwriters know this. A certain style of music can evoke a certain mood, the full range of human emotions–joyful, sad, upbeat, somber, rousing, reverent, you name it. And what is appropriate in one setting may not be appropriate in another, depending on the circumstances. But music has to power to move us, to touch us deeply. A British playwright once wrote: “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” And it does. A gentle lullaby can calm a crying baby. A stirring Sousa march is perfect for a patriotic parade. And when we sing a song–a song with a well-written text, set to a well-composed tune–and that song fits the occasion, whatever it is, the words and the music combine in a powerful way to touch our soul. Maybe God knew what he was doing when he made us with an appreciation for music.
Singing, making melody with our heart–music is a great gift from God. And like any gift of God, it can be abused. People can use good music for bad purposes. Tyrants have used music to manipulate the masses, whipping them up into a frenzy. Heretics have used songs to insinuate their false teachings into the church. That’s what the heretic Arius did in the fourth century, with his false teachings about the person of Christ. In our day, and in our society, rap artists and pop singers have used the power of music to debase and cheapen our culture, glorifying immorality through their songs. Singing and music, gifts of God, can be corrupted by the sinfulness of man.
But the abuse does not do away with the good use. We do give thanks to God for his gift of music, and we do make use of it, in many spheres of life. Singing, music, has that rare ability to adapt to any occasion. We sing “Happy Birthday” at a birthday party. We sing the national anthem at a civic occasion. We sing a love song when we’re feeling romantic. This desire to sing, and to sing all kinds of songs in all kinds of settings–this is something God has hard-wired into all people, not just Christians.
But what our text is talking about is something more than that. This is not just any old singing that St. Paul is encouraging us to do. And Paul is not writing this instruction to everyone. He’s writing to Christians. And what he’s encouraging us to do, as Christians, is especially to use God’s gift of music and singing for a specific purpose. It’s not just “singing and making melody.” It’s “singing and making melody to the Lord.” “To the Lord.” That’s what makes this kind of music distinctive. It’s sung by Christians, to the Lord whom we know, the Lord who has made us, who saved us, and who keeps us in the faith.
To sing this way is God’s will for us. This is what he wants us to do. He knows this is what is good for us. To sing our faith, in all of its dimensions. This is a way that our faith is strengthened, through putting it into music and song. This is how we apply our faith and express our faith, in all the situations we face throughout life. We teach and reinforce our beliefs. We express our joys. We mourn our losses. We lift up our prayers and our praises to the Lord. And we do it all in song, as well as in the spoken word. God wants us to do these things. He knows that’s what’s best for us.
Note also that while we are singing to the Lord, we are also having an effect on our brothers and sisters as we sing. Our text says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as we sing and make melody to the Lord. You know, when we hear a church full of people singing the hymns together, there is a strength there in numbers. We are encouraged by the sound of other voices, all confessing the same faith. This is one of the reasons, by the way, why your attendance in church every week is so important: It’s not just about you. Your physical presence and your voice will build up your brothers and sisters.
“Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Yes, this is God’s will for you. This is a normal and regular part of the new life that Christians live. And what this is set against is the old life we have left behind. That old way of life may have consisted of drunkenness and debauchery as the way to dull the pain and put on a happy face. But now we know something so much better. The Holy Spirit gives us joy, real joy, as we realize who we are–and whose we are–in Christ. Putting off the old self and putting on the new self means not falling back into the ways of the world but rather living in the new way of the Spirit, which always homes in on the cross of Christ as our compass point in life.
And see, that ultimately is why we sing. It is because of Christ and what he has done for us. Something only he could do, which is, to save us by his cross. Our Epistle today states that most plainly: “as God in Christ forgave you,” it says, and again, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That is what Jesus has done for you, my friend. God has forgiven you, because Christ Jesus gave himself up for you as the perfect sacrifice for all your sins. His death in your place, his holy blood shed on your behalf, covers all the misdeeds you have ever done. Christ’s resurrection shows us what’s in store for us, for all who are baptized into Christ and who trust in him–and that is, everlasting life. You and I were lost in the darkness of our estrangement from God, but God found us and rescued us in Christ. The Holy Spirit has enlightened our minds to know the truth. Now we know God, we know who our Savior is, we know what our future holds and where we’re heading. And thank God, that puts a song in our hearts.
Now that we know who God is and what Christ has done for us and that our salvation is secure in him–now we can sing and give thanks to God for all the good things he does for us. As our text says: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Yes, we thank God for all the blessings of this life and the next. The church’s song encompasses all of it, thanksgiving to God for all his gifts of creation, redemption, and sanctification. For our daily bread, and for the bread of heaven. For our home and health, and for the hope of the resurrection. For friends and family, and for the fellowship of the church. For singing and music, for Happy Birthdays and Sousa marches and lullabies and love songs. And especially on this day, we thank God for the hymns and chants of the church, which put our faith and our joy into that marvelous melody called music.
“Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”