Singing The Lord's Song
"Singing The Lord's Song"
(1 John 3:16-24)
A father took his little girl to Church for the very first time. After the service he asked her if she liked it. She replied, "I liked the music, but the commercial was too long."
I promise that this mornings commercial won't be very long. We are celebrating Heritage Sunday. As Methodists part of our heritage is music. So this morning, I would like to take Wesley's directions for singing and interpret them for everyday life through this passage from John's first letter. In 3:18 John writes: "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." I believe Wesley's directions for singing can help us "love, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action."
I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
Rev. King Duncan, editor of Dynamic Preaching in a preaching seminar said he thought the hymn "This Is My Father's World" ought to be the second song taught to children. "Jesus loves me" should be the first. The point that both he and Wesley were making about learning these tunes first is that those songs, those passage of scripture that you learn as a child, will guide you all the rest of your days. They will give a foundation to build upon, in making decisions, facing temptations and in facing tragedy and crisis.
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.
Wesley was adamant about this. He wanted us to learn the hymns the way they were written so we would understand the fullness of the faith they spoke of. When we don't learn them properly we don't get the fullness of their message.
In our last church we all laughed when we heard a four-year-old little boy singing "Angles We Have Heard On High" with great fervor, but the chorus came out "Gloria, in ex selfish deo."
That little boy misunderstood the message. We don't glorify a "selfish" God. Ours is a loving God. That's the witness of the scripture, and that's what we have to teach and learn. That's why it's important to learn OUR music, OUR message first.
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.
This doesn't mean we should sing every verse. If that were the case, we would be here all day every time we sang "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing" because I know of at least 96 verses that were written by the Wesleys. Wesley wanted to make sure that we ALL sang.
A certain conductor was conducting a concert at the Theatre Italien. The rules of the music hall permitted musicians to stop work at midnight. As midnight approached a considerable part of the program remained. The conductor turned to the orchestra just after midnight prepared to continue. Unfortunately, he found the orchestra was down to twelve musicians. Explaining to the audience that none of the music could be performed by such a small group, the embarrassed conductor had to stop the concert.
The point is takes us all to live this life of love and be the Church. We may not think anyone will miss the small part we play bbut we're wrong. We ALL count. We're ALL needed.
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.
How many of you remember that special "Joy" song we used to sing at Vacation Bible School? We would sing: "I have got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart..."
And then the leader would shout, "Where?" And we would shout, "down in my heart" Again we'd be asked, "Where?" And again we'd sing, "down in my heart," and finish with, "down in my heart to stay!" We're called to live the life of faith with the same enthusiasm of singing that song. By doing so, we put our faith in action.
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.
Harry Von Zell tells about comedian George Burns' love for singing. As Von Zell puts it, "I know George is a great music lover, because a poet once said that every man kills the thing he loves, and I've heard what George does to a song."
Burns himself is very modest about his singing ability. For example, he jokes about once going to a party. "At twelve-thirty I said I was going to sing a few songs," he recounts, "and all the guests formed a circle around the piano. By the time I broke through I was too tired to sing." (1)
What this is really about is humility. It's about not making a big show of the part you play in the life of faith and the Church. It's about serving as part of a team; bringing glory to God and not yourself. That's the attitude of love, John talks about.
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.
I once heard a revival preacher say that he thought, "too many church members were singing "Standing on the Promises," while they were sitting on the premises?"
By that I took it to mean that sometimes we are just too lazy to do what needs to be done. John asks, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" Sometimes we lose our drive or vision or purpose. We need to regain it through Christ. We need to maintain it simply by doing what needs to be done. Worship, Sunday School, prayer, Bible Study, all of these help maintain the proper tempo of our faith.
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.
Melissa Arney, one the active young leaders of the congregation in Groesbeck shared that she and her family were driving along in their van one day singing camp songs and hymns to sort of pass the time and rejoice in their faith. After about five or six songs, her three year old daughter, Morgan, got real close to the window, looked up and said: "Did you like that God?"
When Melissa asked her what God said, Morgan's eyes got real big and bright with excitement and she just shook her head "Yes!"
How could God not accept that wonderful spontaneous expression of love from that three year old? God was probably applauding and all the heavenly host giving a standing ovation for that simple, yet elegant and beautiful offering. That's what Wesley had in mind for each of us. I believe this is partly what John meant when he said we should abide in God's love. Our lives should bring glory to God.
I told you this morning's commercial or word from our Sponsor wouldn't be long, so I want to conclude with one last story.
I've read that there is a bird, a type of "finch" called the "chaf finch" in Europe, that is about the size and color of a robin. It has a beautiful song and people keep these finches in their homes to hear them sing. But the chaf finch has a peculiar characteristic, sometimes it can forget how to sing and it has to be taken back into the woods where the wild birds sing, in order to be re-taught. If they don't learn how to sing again they've been known to become depressed and die.
Are you like the chaf finch? Have your forgotten how to sing the Lord's song? Come and let our Lord re-teach you to sing the song of hope, life, love and service. So that together we can "abide in love" and "love, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action."
1. SAY GOODNIGHT, GRACIE! Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing & Communications, 1989, p. 57.