Last Sunday at East Church, while pinch-hitting for the choir (enjoying a well-deserved day off in celebration of Mother’s Day), together we sang “Building Block” as part of our worship service. Written by Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, “Building Block” is a fun song with an infectious melody (now come on, be honest: weren’t you doing that little bass part the whole rest of Sunday?) that also conveys a deep biblical truth: that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22) of “a whole new world” – the building block who was Jesus himself. It’s a song I’ve been singing with church-folk, young and old, for almost 35 years (!), and all these years later it still never fails to lift me up both emotionally and spiritually.
There are actually several hymns and songs about which I can easily say that: from hymns like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Silent Night, Holy Night” (on the guitar, of course – I am a purist and a guitarist, after all!), to some of the more contemporary hymns like “Spirit of Gentleness,” “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry,” and “Part of the Family,” there’s just something about these songs – sometimes the words, other times the melody but most often a graceful combination of the two – that always and immediately opens my heart and mind to the presence of the Lord. And I’m sure that as you’re reading these words, there are songs springing to mind that do much the same thing for you.
Speaking as a pastor here, I ask you, where would we be without singing as a part of our worship? Certainly, without it, our liturgy would be dry and without color – but, thanks be to God, from the very beginning worship has always been about faithful people singing, as the Psalmist declared, “a hymn of praise to our God,” or as Paul urged the Ephesians (quoting the Message translation of the verse printed above), “Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of . . . Jesus Christ.”
And so we sing! And what a rich tradition of hymnody we have from which to choose what we sing, and for that reason alone choosing hymns every Sunday is one of the great parts of planning worship! Some of the songs we sing seek to express and deepen the qualities and challenges of the Christian life, and there are songs that encourage us, lead us and sometimes even admonish us as we move forward along the journey of faith. Some are hymns that have become like old friends, snatches of music that lift us up just by virtue of its familiar place in our lives; and yes, there are those songs that are brand new and unfamiliar to our ears, but still have a way of opening our hearts and minds to something powerfully new that God would say to us. But whether it is classical music composed centuries ago, one of the good old gospel hymns, or a contemporary praise and worship song; whether it’s performed on a mighty pipe organ or strummed on a strings of a guitar, what really makes the song special comes in what God puts in our hearts as we listen and sing. That’s the joy that the Psalmist was describing when he sang that the Lord “put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
And the best part of this? When you and I are offering up that “hymn of praise to our God,” ultimately, not about “how well” we sing. It’s not always about hitting the right notes, nor is it about being all operatic about the performance. Here is some good news for us all: Worship is not “American Idol” or “The Voice.” It does not matter if you’re a little “pitchy,” and at the end of the day, nobody’s getting voted off! True worship is about letting what’s inside you burst with joy, “singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” This is about bringing forth all those songs that God has put in you “with a voice of singing!”
And so beloved, in the words of another, admittedly minor prophet – Ernie from Sesame Street (!) – “just sing…sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong!” Indeed, may the songs we sing this and every Sunday be a true reflection of our great Redeemer’s praise. Alleluia, and AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry