Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Music, Sweet Music!" July 3, 20011, MCC Windsor, Rev. Martha Daniels

Please note: This was an interactive sermon in which the congregation read the hymns as theology. Therefore, instead of a manuscript, I had notes, and most of the message came from the congregation, in their sharing about the hymns and how they saw God's message im them. Most of the music in today's service was created for and by UFMCC members and clergy.

Matthew 11:16-30

Jesus said, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say,‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Abba God, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, God, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by the Holy One; and no one knows God’s Child except God, and no one knows God except God’s Child and anyone to whom the Child chooses to reveal God. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest

for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Will you pray with me? Creating God, you speak to us in so many ways—in the loving words of friends, in the rustle of leaves on trees, in the mighty crack of lightening and in the rush of rivers. Open our hearts and spirits to your music, speak to us in the ways you know will reach us. As we listen and as we sing your music, give us grace to live the ideals of which we sing. In all your names, amen.

Welcome to semi-house church—maybe this is duplex church? This in not like what we have come to call house church, but not like usual worship either. I'll be talking a bit and then we'll have a discussion.

God speaks to us in many ways, which is why there are many ways of listening to God—prayer, reading and study, communion, baptism. Music is one of those ways—for some people, music is a direct connection with God. We hear music differently than we do speech or noise—it has a direct path to our brain. In the case of song, words and music are tied so tightly in our brains that we often can’t remember all the words to a song unless we sing it.

From early in history, music has been a part of worship. Psalms were used in the worship services at the Temple in Jerusalem, and we read of the early church “singing holy songs” as they prayed together. In the medieval period, plain chant and written music were given a boost by the church—monasteries and convents were renowned for the beauty of their music—but for them, it was simply how they worshiped.

During and after the Reformation, music was banned from churches—it was seen as too Catholic, because so much church music of the time came from convents or was created for Roman Catholic worship. But people soon found they needed and wanted music in worship, and today some of the most beautiful music in the world is a part of worship. Very few faith traditions today do not use music of some kind.

When Troy Perry founded UFMCC, the music was, like the liturgy and the structure of UFMCC, a blend of many traditions. Because UFMCC pastors and members come from so many backgrounds, there’s a wide variety of music in the MCC hymnal,"Our Songs of Praise." So we have spirituals and Methodist hymns, we have Baptist hymns, and Episcopal chants, we have Presbyterian hymns—we have it all, pretty much. What MCC did with these was to inclusify them—make them gender-, race-, and colour-neutral, and to add to some of them verses that spoke to the particular pains and joys of the LGBT community, to the radical inclusivity of the MCC community.

Remember that hymns generally use standard tunes—we know them, even if we don’t know their names—and the verses, the words, are what is usually written by the hymn-writer. There are exceptions, but generally that is the way it works. Here’s at least one reason why—if the tune is familiar, then the singer—the congregation—can focus on the words and what is being said in them. There’s no need to try to learn both tune and words at the same time.

Our opening hymn this morning—as well as the call to worship—were written by Rev. June Norris, the first straight clergy person in MCC. She used a very familiar tune—so familiar that most people can hum along—and if you print the words in a bulletin or put them up on a PowerPoint presentation, they can sing along with confidence. But let’s look at those words we sang: ("Joyful People Come and Worship")

In a few minutes we’ll sing what has been called the protest song of the GLBT rights movement. The African-American rights movement had “We Shall Overcome,” this is ours. It was written by Holly Near, the well-known lesbian singer and songwriter, in response to the assassination of Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco council member. ("We Are a Gentle Angry People")

Before we go home, we’ll sing “We Are the Church Alive.” Many traditions have hymns that are the essence of that tradition—people of that tradition who do not know many hymns or are not very musical will still know that hymn and be able to sing it. For Methodists, it’s “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” For Lutherans, it’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” For Presbyterians, I think it’s “Be Thou My Vision.” For MCCers, this is our hymn. As much as local MCC churches vary—we are not much like MCCD, Divine Peace, achurch4me?, Crave, Life Journey, or Sunshine Cathedral, which are all very different from one another—this hymn speaks to all of us.

God speaks in many ways. God speaks through Scripture, through other people, through events, through that still small voice in our hearts—and God speaks through music. Amen.

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