Does Your Spirit Sing?

A Different Look Toward Worship

This sermon is intercalated into the Pentecost and Holy Spirit Series (Rev. Vern A. Jensen).

The Trinity is a concept in which God can be divided into three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These three forms of God are focused upon in the Bible in three different sections. The Old Testament covers centuries of interaction between God as Father and the Jewish people. The Gospels and Acts cover the lifetime of Jesus Christ and chronicle the interaction of God as Son and His disciples. The rest of the New Testament and the centuries since the Bible was canonized cover the times of interaction of God as Holy Spirit with a range of peoples--both Jew and Gentile.

So, it is probably best to say that our direct dealings with God today are mostly with the Holy Spirit. Sure, we can study the historical Bible for inspiration, but our most direct interactions with God are most likely to be through the Holy Spirit.

As Christians, what words describe the spirit of our faith? When you think about your religion do you think of such words as: can't, don't, won't, couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't?

Or is your religion best described with such words as: help, hope, peace, love, joy, song?

What is our Christian Worship Service doing for you?

When I was a child, my memories of Sunday mornings include: a weekly scrubbing, a starched-collar-and-cuffs shirt, an itchy wool suit, a dreaded necktie, and the admonishments: "Sit still!", "Keep quiet!", and "Be solemn!" In some ways the preparation, clothes, and required behavior took much away from what might have been a joyful experience.

As an adult and parent, it seems it isn't much better. The family preparation and the long time in a hard seat still detract from Sunday worship. Of course my attention span is longer and some very good sermons do help!

I must say, though, that the worst worship experiences I've had have been visits to other denominations. As an example, at one Catholic service I attended there were no greeters, there was no bulletin to lead me through the complex liturgy, there was no order of service in a book to follow. It was like being in a foreign country. The members knew precisely what to say and sing, when to stand and sit, and I felt completely outside what was happening. It was sort of like an wasn't over until the fat lady sang. Thank goodness for that tradition or I might not have known. I'm not saying all Catholic churches are like this, but the one I attended certainly left me feeling out in the cold.

That church and ours, and many others, all share a common tradition of long faces. This traditional thinking about worship leaves young people "tuned out" at best and "turned-off" at worst; and I believe it goes against some important Biblical teaching about the nature of worship!

How can we Liven Up our Worship?

We are stuck in a Holy rut! But we cannot wait for the Holy Spirit to come into our is already here! We have the spirit but we must wake it up! How?

Well if that realization is not enough to excite us, let's turn to our Hymnal and sing both verses of #10 (Let All the World in Every Corner Sing--George Herbert and Robert McCutchan).

Jesus broke with the traditions of organized religion of his day. He broke many of the Mosaic and Levitical Laws of the Old Testament. Humans need something exciting and new every now and then to inspire them and keep them joyful. Variety is the spice of life?!

Let's open our pew Bibles to Psalms 100, and won't you read along with me?

Psalms 100
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

And then turn to Psalms 103 and read verses 1 to 5.

Psalms 103
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits--
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Singing is a very important part of worship, particularly as a form of praise. In ancient times, the Psalms were the song-form used in worship. The Bible even records that Jesus and the disciples were singing...

Matthew 26
30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

These two verses agree verbatim.

Singing was used by members of the early church too, for example:

Acts 16
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

In modern times our songs are from the Hymnal. This book is perhaps the second-most important religious book in our lives. Open the Hymnal to the Order of Worship on page xii. Notice how The Hymnal recommends 3 Hymns be sung! Methodists love to sing!

On page xiii, you will see a Table of Contents with the major headings: Hymns, Acts of Praise (Responsive Readings), Aids for Worship (information, prayers more music!), Rituals (the Sacraments), and Indices.

There are several ways to "Make a Joyful Noise!" If we look at the standard order of worship, there are several places for innovation to enliven our services.

Scientists like experiments even if they fail! I hope you won't mind...if you keep yours open, it might even be fun!

Hymns of Praise--these are supposed to be upbeat and sung with Joy! You might have noticed that our first hymn (#77 Come Christians Join to Sing) was sung at a particularly rapid tempo. This was done at my instruction..why?

John Wesley gave us specific instructions for singing. Turn to page viii and I'll read them for you.

Directions for Singing

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

From John Wesley's preface to Sacred Melody, 1761

Did you ever notice these instructions in our Hymnal before? They are really amazing in wording and are still timely for our own worship!

Responsive Reading--The responsive readings can be chanted! How? Well, the instructions are on page 662. I won't read them all, but basically the chant has two parts. The recitation is a series of words sung on a single note. This is followed by a closing set of inflection notes for the last few syllables.

Let's try this with number 663 which is entitled "O Come, Let Us Sing!" based on Psalm 95. I have asked Eloise to lead us on the organ for the first five verses, but then to drop out and let us chant authentically...a capella.

You may not have liked this too well, but it is neat because you may write any words you want to sing, and apply this type of singing to your words with some very simple planning. It is an easy way to composing music!

Gloria Patri--we can add variety to our service here through a range of tunes available for this simple song. If you turn to page 792 we will sing a different version than you are used to in our church. [sing]

Our usual version is on page 794!

You know, if we don't print the page in the bulletin, a visitor used to singing a different version might be embarassed by starting to sing the wrong tune! Making our bulletin user-friendly works toward making visitors feel welcome in our church home.

The Doxology is next! In this case turn to #21 [All People That on Earth Do Dwell--William Kethe and Louis Bourgeois] and sing verses #1 and #3. Well here is the right tune, but the words are somewhat different.

Now turn to #22 and notice that "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne" has the same tune! It is called Old 100th LM.

This leads us to the fact that we can sing the doxology words to other tunes as well. All we have to do is look in the metrical index in the back of the hymnal. It is number 850. We look for another tune that has the LM (long meter). The words of the doxology can be sung to any of the many tunes listed here!

To shake you up a bit, let's turn to number 11 [Men and Children Everywhere--John Moment, Traditional Hebrew]. We will be singing the words of number 11. I've asked Eloise to turn instead to number 120 [Rock of Ages--Augustus Toplady, Thomas Hastings]. She will be playing the tune of number 120. We will omit the refrain words.

Kind of interesting, yes? You see, I got you to sing the words that relate to our sermon topic but put them to a tune you already knew. All I had to do was find the words I wanted you to sing, then match their meter (77.77.57) with a tune you already knew.

The Lord's Prayer is next in the service. Our tradition is to recite this together. But for a service on singing, we really should sing it. This song is not for Prima Donnas only! Let's ALL sing this together...

[Sing and Direct Lord's Prayer by Malotte (low key)]

That was very nice! Feel's good doesn't it? It's like singing it in the shower. You got to be the soloist but safely in a group!

The Scripture Lesson--This can be read together rather than read to us by the minister. I was a visitor in a Presbyterian church in LaJolla, California a few years ago where the minister led this congregational reading. It was fabulous because we read WITH him and his pace and inflection led us in reading aloud with comprehension of the meaning.

[If there is time: read #651 together. (Rom 12: 1-2, 9-17, 21)]

Our Lives

Livening up our worship is great, but what about our lifeless lives? How can we make our spirits sing particularly outside the church worship service?

How do we send messages to others that show we are happy, joyful, caring, and loving people?

Make Joyful Noises!

Outward ways to make a joyful noises:
I am often caught:

Whistling--#410 but read verses 1 & 2 while whistling
[We've a Story to Tell to the Nations--Ernest Nichol]

Humming--#17 but read verses 1 & 2 while humming
[How Great Thou Art--Carl Boberg and Manna Music]

Inward ways--Your Spirit can Sing Silently!:

Henry David Thoreau wrote:

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful...

But it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.

To affect the quality of the day...that is the highest of arts!

We can show our Christian enthusiasm by:

That last one is the new commandment of Jesus. The Bible also says:

Ephesians 4: 25- 5:2
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
27 and do not make room for the devil.
28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 5
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

A modern trend is to dump our problems on others, to carry a chip on our shoulder, to honk our car horns, to flip the bird, to blow the whistle. All of these behaviors add stress to both the life of the giver and of the receiver of these negative communications. It is a lose-lose proposition.

Before you vent it next time, ask yourself these questions. Am I thankful that I am safe in spite of the apparent danger? Will it matter a hundred years from now or even next week? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? And so on.

Anger, sorrow, and hatred are not worth our limited time. Life is too short, too precious, too important for these.

Of course we will always have our many problems in health, occupation, human relations, and our relationship with God. But if we ignore the petty troubles we may concentrate on positive solutions to the major problems.

By adding cheer to our own lives, we lighten both our own stresses as well as the stresses of those around us!

How does Christianity Help Us Do This?

Be Happy! Turn you life over to Christ with more gusto! Who told us this? Well, it was a little bird...a sparrow in fact...

Psalms 84
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

Matthew 6
26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

Matthew 10
28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

These words are embodied in another song commonly sung in churches, but its message frequently does not come across in the delivery!

Let me try to experiment with this a little...I will try to sing it to give you a nontraditional focus...on the message! Listen to the words...they start "Why should I...?" That's key to the song. As I sing this, if but hopefully when you feel the new life in this music, please join me in the chorus!

[Sing: His Eye is On the Sparrow]

There is yet another hymn of JOY that we sing in SADNESS through our misguided tradition of long-faces in worship. It is #92...let's sing verses 1, 4, and 5. [Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound--John Newton, American Melody].

The message here is: Death Has No Sting!

How many of you here are going to Heaven? Yes, raise your hand! ALL!

This is the Gospel...the Good News!

Let Your Spirit SING! as we join togher in #82 in the Dove Hymnal [In My Heart There Rings a Melody]

Benediction--Let's Join our Voices with Joy as we sing #38 verses 1 & 3 [Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee--Henry vanDyke, Ludwig van Beethoven]

Joyful, joyful we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
Well-springof the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine!


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