Growing up Christian in the 21st Century: Sing a New Song 5/13/12

Last week, we talked about the legacy our families bequeathed to us through the church. We remembered grandparents who worked hard. (Here’s a picture of my grandmother with me and my brothers, in celebration of grand-mothers’ day that I hadn’t found by last week.) Our grandparents prayed faithfully for the future of their churches and the safety, prosperity, and righteousness of generations to come. They built churches and congregations like this one so that we could carry on a tradition of worship, sing God’s praise, nurture our children, and create a better world. Today, I want to talk about our current task of fulfilling that legacy. Next week we’ll talk about the future of the church. The sermon series, of course, is Growing up Christian in the 21st Century. Today’s sermon is Sing a New Song.

John 15:9-17 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. 11 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. 12 This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. 13 This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. 14 You are my friends when you do the things I command you. 15 I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father. 16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. 17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.”

May 13, 2012

Growing up Christian in the 21st Century: Sing a New Song   

My grandmother sat up front in the left hand part of the church, (as you face the altar). The rest of the family often joined her up there.  As we grew up we sat in other parts of the church, expressing our independence, but she always sat in that same seat up front on the left. Church was a foundation of our lives, an expectation that she held out, even though she couldn’t speak it out loud because of her stroke.  We still heard it loud and clear.

We heard it through the songs of the church – through the anthems of the choir and the hymns of the church that I heard not only in church but from my dad in the shower (I can still hear him singing “Are Ye Able” with the water running.) The songs of the church, properly sung, sung with praise and gratitude and awe, are an echo of the song that moves the universe, the song that animates our lives.

That’s why the songs of the church are so important to us. They resonate deep within us, not just because we’ve sung them Sunday after Sunday, and we remember them from when we were young. They are meaningful to us precisely because they resonate with the praise of the universe, the song of creation. We feel the song inside us and we say “yes.” Thank you, God. It is well with my soul. Great is thy faithfulness. How Great Thou art. Praise your name. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. Those songs resonate with and teach us what we have come to know of God.

Few of those songs were around 300 or 400 years ago. None of them. We have a few that are pretty old – “A Mighty Fortress Is our God” goes back to the beginning of the Protestant Church, of course. A few others have tunes or words that go way back.  But it is not their longevity that matters, so much as their resonance, the way they capture who we know God to be, and how we can give the best of ourselves to God. The best songs of praise capture and create the awe and wonder of God’s presence in our lives.


In the 21st century the old songs of praise still create and capture that awe and wonder, but not as completely, and there are other songs, styles and music that create and capture awe and wonder as well or better for the current generations we want to reach. I was deeply moved and impressed by the worship at General Conference in Tampa this year. I enjoyed watching and listening to it through the internet on my computer.

I was amazed that every worship service utilized a full band, including a big drum set like this one. Every worship service had readings in a variety of languages, and a variety of musical styles, including blues guitar riffs, Indian drumming and chanting, and horns. I was a little surprised actually at the thrill I felt when worship music began with a splash of cymbals and a funky drum beat. These songs of praise captures and created awe and wonder for me in the presence of God at my computer a thousand miles from the service.

I know that’s not (by a long shot) everybody’s definition of church music. We tend to favor the lowest common denominator of classical and traditional music as something everybody can relate to.  Certainly my grandmother would shake her head at John’s drums here in the worship area. She simply wouldn’t understand. Nor would she have been able to understand or even imagine a Black President who is in favor of gay marriage, let alone that I do understand it.

A major cultural shift is happening and it’s not being steered by the church. For some people these changes are just incomprehensible and even antithetical to their world view and faith stance. Others are working to be tolerant and accepting of ways of worshipping and ways of acting that are less than ideal. And for some of us, when we hear the crash of a cymbal or the beat of drums or the bass in our chest, we actually feel moved – we feel that act of praise captures and creates a sense of awe and wonder, of authentic worship.

The church is having a lot of trouble meeting the needs of that broad a range of people these days, but I still think it’s possible. I’m not saying that we have to have crashing drums in our service all the time, just that we can’t leave it totally out of our repertoire.  If you listened to the discussion and arguments at annual conference, you would think it was not possible. But if you worshipped with the people there, if you listened to the song that wove through the lives of that great range of people from so many countries and so many ways of thinking, if you tapped in to the song that moves the universe and animates our lives, you might find reason to hope that we together will find that song in our lives, opening us to new expressions of awe and wonder, of life-giving power and joyful exuberance.

And it might make you sing, “Sing the Lord a new song! … Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.”

3048  View the Present through the Promise