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02.24.19 Music Accompanies Salvation Psalm 98 Sermon Summary

by on February 25, 2019

Note: This homily was delivered on the occasion of dedicating our new organ. It is based on Psalm 98 and the hymn “When the Morning Stars Together” in the Glory to God Hymnal number 689.

In the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 there is speaking and fashioning but no songs, no singing. Later throughout the scriptures, however, music is heard. Take Psalm 104:12, for example. In a passage extolling God for creation, mention is made of the birds singing. Of course. It would be natural that when the birds were created there would be singing.

But what about the rest of creation? Was there singing throughout when God made the universe? In Job 38:7 God asks, “Where were you when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” Here the answer seems to agree with modern physicists: the whole universe sings and has from the beginning.

Likewise, Isaiah 55:12 says that when God’s word accomplishes its purpose (and remember, it was God’s Word that created everything in Genesis 1), mountains and hills burst into song and the trees of the field clap their hands.

Psalm 29 says that the voice of the Lord is over the waters and the God of glory thunders. It’s a description of a mighty rain storm. And in the Revelation of John we are told many times that God’s voice is like the roaring of many waters.

I think it’s safe to conclude that music has accompanied creation from the very beginning and does so to the very end. And if so, then music accompanies salvation also.

It’s little wonder that God’s people make music, in synagogue and church as the Bible testifies, but also in every other religious tradition. The Bible testifies to music making by humans through singing, of course (the Psalms and other canticles), through stringed instruments like the lyre, lute, and harp, through percussion instruments like cymbals, timbrels, and drums, through horns like trumpets and animal horns, and through wind instruments like pipes from which we get the organ.

Most people today envision the church when they think of organs. The organ was invented in Alexandria 300 years before Christ. There blowing air through pipes was first automated. The organ accompanied games and circuses. Think about silent movies from 1910s being accompanied by organs.

The organ didn’t move into church until around 900, and it was well-established by 1400. In 1515 or so the modern organ as we know it emerged. In England in 1649 the Puritans destroyed organs. Nonetheless, organs reached their height in late 1800s to late 1900s. The industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was responsible for the installation of 8,812 organs in churches, concert venues, and civic halls by 1873. “I give money for church organs” he said, “in the hope the organ music will distract the congregation’s attention from the rest of the service.”

Today, the organ is a distraction for reasons other than Carnegie hoped. It’s not a pleasant diversion from the sermon. Some people refuse to worship unless there is an organ. Others refuse to worship because there is organ. This leads me to make a cautionary observation.

Music is highly personal. We fall in love by it, it accompanies our grief, it expresses our anger. In recent decades, music has become hyper personal. Today you can listen to countless selections of music that conform exactly to your preference. Individual tastes reign supreme. This is a very recent development.

Our ego plus endless choice has produced cranky consumers, and you see it in the church. It can keep us from worshiping together. I hate the organ, says one person. Well, I hate guitars. I don’t understand chant. I can’t stand drums. Some people hate singing. Others can’t tolerate silence.

How can we worship together with this cultural dynamic at work? I think we can if we remember two things. First is the reason we make music. We humans make music to worship God. Music-making is an expression of our divine image to create. Even though some music may obscure this original impulse, it still necessarily reflects it.

Second we do not have the luxury of worshiping alone. All creation worships its Creator. All cultures worship God. Even the most individualistic passages of scripture (and they are rare) expand eventually to envision and include all creation and all nations.

We can worship together with whatever instrument we bring—voice, organ, tambourine, hands, or just ears. We can worship together because we’re all part of God’s creation. Let us remember that we are each an instrument of God, no less than King David or Mary the Mother of Jesus, no less than the bread and the wine of Communion, no less than the organ we dedicate this day. And let us worship God together and with all creation, singing praise to the one who gives us life.

Dedicatory Prayer

Lord, as part of our worship each week we offer ourselves and our world to you through prayer. In baptism we thank you for your claim upon our lives and pledge to follow your guidance. With song we lift before you our joys and our heartaches. In all these ways, we make dedication to you each week in worship.

But this week we offer special prayers of thanksgiving and dedication. We thank you for the gift of music, and the opportunity we have to join together, not only with brothers and sisters in Christ in this place, but with those around the world, throughout time, and even with all creation, praising you in song.

We thank you for all who in the past many years have contributed to our desire to have organ music empower us for a new generation. We thank you for those who discerned and designed this organ and its installation for us. We thank you for everyone who donated to our new organ fund, for their love for music and the church is combined this day in the dedication of our new organ.

Make us all to be good stewards of these gifts—the contributions, the prayers, the skillfulness, and the music this organ represents. May all who listen and sing do so with joy and thanksgiving. May we follow the example of faithful servants like our organists, whose hands and feet harmonize the sounds of this instrument, adding our ears and our voices to their offered gift.

Let this organ, and the worship it accompanies, ever call us to faith and generosity, that in life and in death, with all that we are and all that we have, we may offer ourselves to your praise. We dedicate this organ to you. We dedicate all who hear it, in worship and weddings and funerals, to you. We dedicate all who sing with it to you. And we dedicate this church, served by this organ, to you. In Christ’s name do we pray. Amen.

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