". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Did you go to church today?

If so, did you sing?

If you answered yes, thank you. Because if you answered yes, you blessed your brothers and sisters in Christ, and you blessed me. If, on the other hand, you didn't sing, but only sat while those around you did so, you missed a God-given opportunity to encourage and build up, and be built up by, the Body of Christ.

Faithful church folk often give thought to how they might serve their neighbors in the congregation. Typically, they think of things like providing meals to those in need; getting involved in church governance; volunteering in the church office; serving as ushers, greeters and Altar Guild members; teaching Sunday School or VBS; or setting up for coffee hour. The list could go on. Maybe you do some of these things, or maybe you do something else. But if you aren't singing during church, you are overlooking one of the most basic callings you have as a member of a Christian congregation.

It is also one of the easiest ways you can serve, requiring no extra time on your part. You're in church anyway, right? And you have a functioning larynx? That's all you need. Contrary to what you might think, singing in church doesn't require any special training. God doesn't care whether you have a beautiful singing voice or whether you can read music and sing the right notes and rhythms, and neither do I. All that is required for this most important work is faith, the faith that was given to you in Baptism and the faith that is nourished each week as you hear the Word and receive the Sacraments. It is that faith which sings. It is that faith which cannot help but sing.

Please, dear friends. Sing. I need to hear you. My child needs to hear you. When his mind and his eyes wander, and he starts looking around the sanctuary, he needs to see not only his parents singing, but the people around him singing, with gusto. He needs for the Word of God to dwell in those around him so richly that he hears it coming at him from every corner of the room. I try my best to sing every stanza of every hymn and every line of liturgy, but sometimes I falter. Sometimes my voice cracks, or I run out of breath, or something in the hymn causes my throat to tighten and tears to well up so that I am unable to make it through to the end. That's when I need to hear you--behind me, beside me, in front of me--carrying on. That's when my family needs to hear you. And when you can't keep going, then it will be my turn to carry on for you. Together, only together, are we able to sing through to the very end.

I am a trained musician. But when I am in church what discourages me is not wrong notes or off-key singing. What discourages me is lack of singing. When you don't sing, not only do I miss out on what your voice has to contribute to the song of the assembled saints, but you miss out, too. When you passively sit while others sing, you are not experiencing the words as richly as you otherwise could. That is not to say that the Word is not having its way with you. But you are denying yourself the opportunity to have those words enter and take up residence in your being in yet another, God-given manner. And that is a grievous thing.

As the wife of a church musician, and as a church musician myself, I have heard lots of singing in church. And the truth is that some who might be tagged as the "worst" singers have over the years most beautifully sung faith into my heart. Why? Because they don't hold back. They don't worry about how they sound. They sing, from the depth of their being, because they can do no other. And in doing so, they testify to the faith they have been given and thereby build up those around them.

Along with the prophet Jeremiah, let us not just gaze upon and smell the great banquet of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that our dear Father has provided for our nourishment. Let us swallow them down ravenously and come back for more. Let us serve them up in abundance for those who join us at the table, passing the plate around, one to the next, sending it back to the Chef to get reloaded, and passing it around again. It's a feast meant to be shared, and there's a place for you, no matter how messy an eater (or singer) you may be.

 Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Here are few more Bible verses that speak of the singing nature of the Christian faith.


Portwenn59 said...

Hi Cheryl,
I've been following your little blog for a while. It's interesting especially all the music posts. I'm a member of a small, rural parish in northern Illinois just west of Rockford. I love to sing and have been singing since the 1950's. I first learned to sing probably at home but it was in the Lutheran Day School that I learned to sing hymns. We sang a lot of hymns which prompted my mom to complain that she wished that more time had been spent on science and math!

Anyway, yesterday in church we sang two unfamiliar hymns to the congregation. LSB # 873 and because of the Gospel reading LSB 516 - the king of Chorales -'Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying'. I witnessed two members of the same family close their hymnals way before the hymns were over. This happens often. It is so sad. We have such a rich tradition and treasure in our hymnody. It's almost like the people despise good Lutheran hymns.

Do you mind if I make a copy of your post and perhaps share it?

Thank you,
Diane K. Hammond
Pecatonica, Il

Cheryl said...

Hi, Diane! Thanks for reading. You are welcome to share it. I would just ask that I be identified as the writer. I would love to think it might be an encouragement to someone. God bless!

Portwenn59 said...

Thank you Cheryl. I will of course, acknowledge you as the author. I was thinking of reading it at choir rehearsal this Wednesday; just to give our small group encouragement.


Susan said...

Cheryl, I'm so glad you mentioned this old blogpost today (elsewhere in the cyberworld) because it's always lovely to hear Diane pop up online, and I missed the comment section when you originally posted this.

Diane, it just so happens that 873 was our closing hymn today and thus has been running through my mind (as well as the airwaves of the kitchen) for the last few hours. Also, my first thought when you said that people closed the hymnal before the end of "Wake, Awake" was that of course they have it memorized and didn't need the hymnal open. But ... uh ... you saw body language that I didn't see. I hope your choir is slowly leading people in learning to hear and sing and treasure their heritage. Hugs to you, dear lady.