“Singing For Your Life” (sermon from April 14, 2013)
When I first heard that the choir was to sing about singing, I thought it was:
Sing Sing a song. Sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things, not bad. Sing of happy, not sad. Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long. Don´t worry that it´s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing. Sing a song. La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La Sing. Sing a song. Let the world. Sing out loud. Sing of love there, could be. Sing for you and for me.
No, today’s choir special “How Can I Keep From Singing?” By Tomlin, Cash and Redman goes:
There is an endless song, echoes in my soul I hear the music ring
And though the storms may come,
I am holding on to the rock I cling
How can I keep from singing Your praise
I will lift my eyes in the darkest night
For I know my Savior lives
I can sing in the troubled times, sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step and I fall down again
I can sing ’cause You pick me up, sing ’cause You’re there
I can sing ’cause You hear me, Lord, when I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath, sing for I know
That I’ll sing with the Angels and the Saints around the throne
How can I keep from singing Your praise.
Much better than Sing, Sing A Song by the Carpenters. One of today’s scriptures describes a massive choir and their music. Now we know from the beauty produced by our own choir each week that it doesn’t take a massive voice choir to produce beautiful music – they do that with only a few voices but I wish we had time for some of you to describe the times you have heard large choirs before and how angelic the sounds they produced. Linda and I met at a Conference Ctr in the North Carolina mountains in which 100’s of people each week would come from all over the country to take seminars/classes for Christian/church growth helps. Frequently they would merge those voices into a choir that could number in the 100’s. They sounded angelic especially when they would sing the great hymns of the church “God of Grace and God Of Glory”, “O God, Our Help In Ages Past”, “The Church’s One Foundation” and “Amazing Grace.” Now the secret for me was to stay as far from those who could make that music as possible so as not to corrupt their ability with my inability! You heard it here first. I can’t sing a lick. Whenever I wear headphones and sing, my daughter likes to ask regarding whatever I am singing “Who sings that?” Thinking that she is taking an interest in my music, I gladly explain, “Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Journey.” And her reply is always, “Let’s keep it that way.” In other words “Don’t sing, because you can’t.”
This scripture describes a gigantic choir of angels singing praise to God. Remember that it comes near the beginning of Revelation (normally thought of as only dealing with end times) but a reminder that it was written during a time of intense persecution of the church by the Roman government. It’s author had been banished to the Siberia of Bible Times, the Alcatraz of the first century – the Island of Patmos. So John writes using a lot of code language and he writes for his audience so they could be read and translated centuries later. But make no mistake, these words were those of praise and thanksgiving. What? During persecution? A massive choir of angels is formed to praise God. And then that choir was joined by all the voices in heaven and they sang praise. Why? Easter had just happened for them just like it has for us. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Meaning? Jesus was crucified and risen and deserves you to get up and be happy.
Scripture 2 does the same and it was written to be sung in worship. It’s tone is a bit different. If you were looking for the particular genre of this song, it might be a cross between a ballad, the blues and a stadium song. A ballad – I called out to God for help and he spared me from the worst. After all you know God’s anger. But it only last’s a little while, but then, in the morning, here comes the sun! But, then comes the Blues. Oh Lord, you hid from me! What good will it do if I’m destroyed? Will my grave be able to tell how good you are God? Be good to ME, God. Be MY help! Then comes the stadium song, (Those they sing in big arenas like YMCA). He turned my crying into dancing!!! DANCE! He removed my burial shroud and put joy clothes on me! JOY! Now I can sing his praises. I just can’t be quiet! I will praise Him forever! PRAISE! What is the connection between these two scriptures? What do they at all have to do with us?
They started by talking about a choir and ended talking about moving from grief to celebration and from pain to the mountaintop. (Normal life experiences for all of us – sometimes all in a week, often all in a day and occasionally all in even an hour! And the basic question I find here is WHAT SONG ARE YOU SINGING WITH YOUR LIFE?
Revelation is really about us and the trust we place in God when the chips are down. These folks were being persecuted but Jesus had still risen from the dead. John was still imprisoned on an island but the angels were still singing songs of celebration on his behalf to keep his spirits lifted up. The Psalmist went from sorrow to joy and from agony to fear to deep trust – but in the end, God was always faithful. Still their lives communicated messages of belief that God could still be victorious – not just out there by and by – but in their lives one by one. How do we communicate that? We communicate our trust by our words, by our actions and by our attitudes. Perhaps you, like me, can’t sing a lick. In fact you open the shower curtain and look out to make sure no one has come into the bathroom before you really belt out your off-key tune. But what you say, what you think and how you act reveals the particular song that your life is singing. It says “In whom do you trust?” It underscores “Who do you believe provides for you, rescues you, guides you around the danger zones and protects you while you’re in the foxholes and in the valley of the shadow of death?” “What actions does your life take to communicate “I will never be shaken (even though I’ve been in the depths). I have been cut off from God (almost like God was hiding from me) but he threw a party in my honor with singing, and dancing and celebration.” So, as a result, I will praise him forever. Forever and ever I will send his way, praise and honor and power forever and ever. WHAT SONG ARE YOU SINGING WITH YOUR LIFE? I don’t know. I don’t pay attention. Ask someone to be honest with you. Ask them for their honest feedback. If my actions had words attached, what would those words be? If my attitude was a banner, what would be written across it? What have you heard me say lately that I might not have paid attention to or even remember that might indicate “This is who I trust and I don’t like the answer.” The composite of what you said last week sure doesn’t say much about believing and knowing that God has your back. In fact, God not only has your back but your front and sides as well. God not only can be trusted with your past, but with today, tomorrow and next week as well.
The central focus of these two scriptures – from the hidden mystery of Revelation to the sometimes painful agony of the Psalmist – is worship. “What song are you singing with your life” really is about how and where you worship and I don’t just mean Sunday mornings at 10:30. We may never be able to carry a tune even if we had an American Tourister beside us to carry the notes, but it’s more important what comes from our hearts than what escapes our lips. Two things they did in these scriptures seem vitally important to our own worship and they had to do with praying and praising. They kept praying even when it seemed as if prayer was doing absolutely no good and they kept praising even when their outside surroundings would have indicated otherwise. First the prayer. Look back at the Psalm. In 12 verses he talks about being in the dumps, enemies gloating over him, needing help, being in a dire/critical situation, God being angry at him and hiding from him, crying like a banshee, and dressing in sackcloth to resemble death. The cards were stacked. Life was caving in but still he prayed. I called for help. I cried for mercy. I expressed confidence that I will never be shaken. He didn’t quit praying when it seemed as if it was doing no good. What happens when it doesn’t seem as if our prayers are going beyond the ceiling? Often we quit and give up. But the song we sing with our lives and the worship that comes from our heart tells us to keep praying. God hears and will answer…maybe not in your timeline but in His. Keep praying even when it seems as if the prayer is doing no good. Next they kept praising even when it made no sense. I remind you that Revelation was written in time of intense persecution. Rome was persecuting Christians. John was banished to Siberia. Still praise was the order of the day and the priority of their lives. The Psalmist told of insurmountable odds but he recommends, “Sing God’s praises. This will only last a short time (almost like a long, dark night but the sunrise is coming). God hid his face but my crying turned into dancing. My heart will sing God’s praises. It cannot be silent. No reason to praise but that was the order of the day.
Why keep at it? Why keep praying and praising – even when it seems that prayer is doing no good and when praise seems like the LEAST logical thing to do? A Military general retired and came to work for the GA of the Presbyterian Church. He implemented some of the methods that had won him acclaim in a long, distinguished career in the military – namely repetition. Why do we conduct drills over and over? Because no one is ever brave in crisis. But when crisis comes, it has been proven that you will default to your basic pattern. We drill over and over so that what we do will become an ingrained pattern even in crisis. Thus it is when we pray and praise – even when it appears that our prayers are doing no good and when it seems that praise is the least logical response. We do it so that it will become the default message expressed by our lives – one of faith and of trust. What song are you singing? Is it one of worship or one of doubt and despair?
Rev. Mitchell J. Coggin