September 26, 2021 – “Grateful for Music” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

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First Reading

Psalm 95:1-7 – 1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

Introduction

We are still in our series about cultivating gratitude in our lives. Last week we heard from Gilbert about the impact he is having in Rwanda, and we can be grateful for how Jesus can create impact through us as well. This week is Music Dedication Sunday, and as such it is a great time to be grateful for music!

Humans apparently kind of like music. Do you like music? The earliest example of a musical instrument I could find was a set of bird-bone pipes thought to be 40,000 years old. So we, as a species, have been at this a while.

And music has been a key part of our faith for a long time, too. We already heard in our first reading that music was a foundational part of Temple worship in Israel hundreds of years before Jesus. And in our main text today, we get to see how the Christian church incorporated music as well.

Sermon Text

Colossians 3:12-17 – 12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Power of Music

Well I have been through many different musical phases in my life. I started out, like any good Texan, with country music. But I then, even as a young boy, I realized that every song was the same. So I started branching out. I have had a classical music phase. A classic rock phase. A rap phase. A hard rock and heavy metal phase. My brother wouldn’t ride in the car with me during that one. I had a pop phase. And now I pretty much just listen to Christian radio.

And having been through so many different musical phases, I am able to offer some comparative analysis. For instance, my rap and heavy metal phases often caused me to speed. Perhaps fast and loud music making me drive faster isn’t a big surprise.

But do you know the most dangerous music of them all? The only music that threatened my life? You see, I might’ve gotten a couple of speeding tickets listening to rap and heavy metal. But I was listening to the same kind of music for the three car wrecks I’ve been in (although not all of these were caused by me). So out of all the musical phases, the most dangerous, life-threatening genre of music, coming through my radio for three car wrecks? Christian radio.

So there you have it – rap is less dangerous than Christian radio. Conclusive proof.

But all kidding aside, music does affect us at a very deep level. I love the quote from the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack’s character muses about listening to thousands of songs about heartbreak and rejection: “What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?”

Music can reinforce and affect our emotions. There are also some ways that music can affect the operation of our brains.

Have you heard of the Mozart Effect? There was a study back in the 1990’s that found a particular Mozart composition temporarily raised students’ IQ’s by 8-9 points. It was difficult to reproduce the effect, and it wasn’t every song from Mozart – just this one. So it kind of faded away. But just two weeks ago a new study used improved measurements to test that same “Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448)” on epilepsy patients who, like our older son, didn’t respond to medication. The weird spikes in brain waves that are correlated with seizures and improper brain function dropped by 2/3. So I’ve got that sonata on my phone now, believe you me!

Interestingly, they also tested other classical pieces, classic rock, and contemporary pop songs. Only that one Mozart sonata generated the response. But it does show the power of music on our emotions and indeed our very brains.

The psalm we heard earlier proclaimed, “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” And our New Testament text said, “with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” In both cases, the music was attached to an emotion or state of mind. Joy in the psalm, and gratitude in Colossians. Music has a powerful impact on us.

When I am stuck with writer’s block on a sermon, playing one of my worship playlists usually lets me focus, see things from a different angle, and find my way forward. Now, I’ve never tried it, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that I wouldn’t get any sermon writing help from a rap or heavy metal CD from my past. Just a guess. Do you think that’s a fair guess? Music has a powerful impact on us.

If you’re feeling down, what kind of music would lift you up? If you’re feeling joyful, what kind of music can reinforce that? If you need to be inspired, what kind of music can reach your heart? Music has a powerful impact on us.

Harmony

Music is also a great metaphor for the community of faith. Our text from Colossians encourages the community to focus on love to be in perfect harmony. And what is harmony? A collection of notes that reinforce and support each other. When those notes sound right and good, they’re in consonance with each other.

If those notes seem “off” somehow, or incomplete, or in tension, then they’re in dissonance with each other. Our older son is probably the biggest fan of handbells the world has ever seen. Don and Karen were kind enough to send me recordings of our handbell choir over the years. And our older son will sometimes pick them as his show – he’ll pick handbells over Paw Patrol or Daniel Tiger sometimes!

So over the summer, Karen let him use some of her hand chimes that are built for kids. And he loves to go down to the basement and play them. One day I was playing with him, and I was choosing notes that were intentionally dissonant. They didn’t sound right. And our son stopped playing, walked over to me, and grabbed the chimes out of my hand. Those dissonant notes didn’t meet with his approval!

Now, if you only have consonance, do you know what you have? Elevator music. If it’s only the notes you expect, all happy all the time, it’s boring. It’s background noise. It’s apathetic.

Returning to Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448)”, the researchers believe there is a reason that this piece so affects brainwaves. It expertly manages dissonance and consonance – expectation and resolution – tension and release. It’s like a good story that moves between conflict and resolution.

Applying these musical concepts to our community, I would say for our church to make beautiful music together requires us to seek harmony with each other and to care enough to work through the dissonance and conflict sometimes.

Do you know the best way to ensure there is never any conflict, never any dissonance? Just get a bunch of people together who don’t care. Apathy is a great recipe to avoid conflict. But then you’re just a collection of elevator music. Do you want to be elevator music?

Or do you want to be “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee?”

I’ve enlisted the help of Mary and the choir to demonstrate this. So let’s hear what it sounds like when the choir sings the first line of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” in consonance, in harmony with each other. <MARY AND CHOIR – “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love.”>

Nice! And now I’m going to show you what apathy sounds like. So Mary give me that first line again. <CODY APATHETIC – “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love.”>

Will our church community feel like the choir that cares, or apathetic elevator music? What kind of church do you want to be? I can’t leave us on that apathetic version. Let’s hear the choir one more time.

<MARY AND CHOIR – “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love.”>

Yeah, that’s more like it! I don’t want to be an apathetic, generally pleasant church that feels like bland elevator music. I want to feel like the choir that cares! I want to sound like that!

You know, Mary has been putting short articles in our bulletin and newsletter about congregational singing. This is something we’re both passionate about. I think congregational singing is like a microcosm of the church overall.

I love to sing. You’ve heard me play and sing. I am decidedly average at both singing and guitar. Maybe below average on guitar, actually. Would you classify yourself as an average (or below) singer like me? I’m comfortable performing in front of people, which is the only reason you hear my average (or below) singing and playing sometimes. Ain’t nobody gonna pay me to perform.

Matthew, on the other hand, has performed on Broadway. He’s an excellent singer. In fact, we are blessed to have several excellent singers in the house today. So here’s my idea. I want us to sound as good as possible. So I think we should only have the professionals sing. Let’s get rid of the congregational singing, because we have too many average (or below) singers like me. Let’s just have some amazing professional solos and duets so we don’t have to hear the average people. Our music will sound AMAZING!

What do you think? Good plan? Do you want to sit in worship for the rest of the year listening to the professionals sing without ever uttering a note yourself? Some people probably would like that kind of church concert every week. But I think most of us wouldn’t feel spiritually fed by that every week. When the congregation sings, it is a joyful noise to the Lord even though it’s full of average (or below) voices. And when we sing of our faith, even with our average (or below) voices, it feeds our souls.

Congregation or Professionals

I warn you, I’m about to move from preaching to meddling. So be forewarned.

I think it’s pretty easy to see that we don’t just want the professionals singing or playing on Sunday morning. It’s great to get the professional performances sometimes, but they’re a change of pace, a supplement. The congregation singing and playing is the main course.

But have you ever thought, “Melissa’s our children’s director, she’s got it, so I don’t need to help with children’s ministry?” Or “Carol’s our care director, she’s got it, so I don’t need to help as a Deacon or neighborhood steward?” Or “Cody and the rest of the staff are leading the church, so I don’t need to help lead as an Elder?” Or “Joan’s got finance covered, so I don’t need to help with the stewardship or finance committee?” Or “Staff have great ideas, they’ve got it, so I don’t need to volunteer to help those ideas happen?”

If you’ve ever thought, “We have staff to do the ministry, so I don’t have to,” that makes about as much sense to me as saying we should only have the professionals play and sing on Sunday. We have excellent people on staff. But we are at our best when we are the microphones amplifying your voices. Our job, according to Ephesians 4:12, is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

Just as Mary doesn’t have a choir if no one volunteers to sing, Melissa is limited in the children’s ministry if no one volunteers to be a shepherd or substitute teacher for when she’s gone. Just as Karen doesn’t have any bell choirs if no one volunteers to ring, Carol is limited in the care ministry if no one takes on the role of Deacon or neighborhood steward. I am limited in leading if we have to beg people to be Elders, the spiritual leaders in the church. And no one can have life-giving, creative ideas if no one else cares enough to help make it happen.

If the staff are the only ones singing, our church is never going to make enough sound to gain people’s attention. We’ll just be beautiful elevator music that no one notices. But if we can be the microphone amplifying your voices, we can sound like, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”

So what will we be? Will we be apathy…or harmony? Will we be a resounding choir…or elevator music? Especially after the last two years, we have to choose whether we’re going to stand and lift our voices together or sit back and fade away. We have the microphone ready to amplify your voice if you are willing to use the voice God gave you to do the ministry of Jesus Christ. Amen.