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In 1984, Elton John wrote a song called Sad Songs. The words of the chorus go like this:

                        Turn ‘em on, turn ‘em on, turn on those sad songs;

                        When all hope is gone, why don’t you tune in and turn them on.

                        They reach into your room, oh, just feel their gentle touch.

                        When all hope is gone, a sad song says so much.

The great Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote:

                        Music will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your

                        character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow

                        will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.

Martin Luther said of music,

                        My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been

                        solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.

                        Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men.

                        A person who does not regard music as a marvellous creation

                        of God must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve

                        to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear

                        nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.

Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2 said,

                        Music can change the world because it can change people.

The actor, Johnny Depp, wrote,

                        Music touches us emotionally where words alone can’t.

And in our reading this morning, Paul exhorts us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God.

So why is singing such an integral part of our worship? With the exception of the Quakers, every expression of Christian worship includes music in some style or another, whether it be the Gregorian chant of monastic worship, the rich liturgical music of the Orthodox tradition, metrical psalms with the Free Church of Scotland, the gospel style so typical of the Black churches, or the mix of hymns and contemporary songs so typical of most evangelical churches like ourselves.

Unless you came to faith quite recently, the chances are that your experience of church music was what’s generally known as the hymn sandwich: the service would go something like this:

                        Opening hymn-Prayer-Hymn-Notices and offering-Hymn-Reading-

                        Hymn-Sermon-Hymn- Prayers-Hymn-Blessing

If it was a particular season in the church’s calendar, some of the hymns might have been directly relevant such as O come all ye faithful at Christmas, We plough the fields at Harvest, Christ the Lord is risen today on Easter Sunday, but otherwise they were probably a random selection chosen because the minister or the organist (depending on who had the power!) liked them or knew them, and knew that the congregation knew them as well. There weren’t lots of new songs and hymns and, if there were, they were usually sung to tunes which the congregation was familiar with, because familiarity was important. When I worshipped at St Denys’, they were using a hymn book which was last edited in 1933. They are a bit more up to date now.

Does that sound pretty familiar to some of you? I expect so. Music has been present in worship from very early in the Bible, as we saw with Moses and Miriam’s song or praise; then we saw the power of song in Jehoshaphat’s victory over the Moabites in 2 Chronicles. We have a whole book of songs in the Psalms; and in Paul’s letters, we find a number of what were probably lyrics which were set to music in the early church. So what is the importance of music and singing for us in our worship?

Just before I try to answer that question, I want to offer one proviso and say that music and singing can also have its dangers; if you want to know about those, you’ll have to wait for my talk in a fortnight about worship without music!

  • Singing unites

When people sing together they agree with one another about something. They become a crowd. One body. United.Individualism is surrendered. Holding back is not an option. Something in the combination of words and music captures our hearts, our minds, our being and causes us to cry out YES! I agree! I am in this. I give myself to this.” I had the misfortune to watch England attempt to play football against Iceland on Monday, but some of the most spine-tingling moments in that match were when the Icelandic supporters were united together in their distinctive chant for their team. 10,000 people with hands raised and in one voice united in agreement.

If that can happen over a football team, how much more so when Gods truths combined with rhythm, harmony and melody have the power to unite us. As long ago as the fourth century, St Ambrose of Milan wrote, “A psalm joins those with differences, unites those at odds and reconciles those who have been offended, for who will not concede to him with whom one sings to God in one voice? It is after all a great bond of unity for the full number of people to join in one chorus.

  • Singing gives the glory to God

When I watched those Icelandic football fans chanting for their team, I was left in no doubt about their support for and admiration for their team. When we sing together, we are giving ourselves a dedicated time and space to enjoy God and to focus on him, we give glory to God, we declare his name, we celebrate all that he is and has done for us.

  • Singing transforms us as it touches our emotions

We Brits are a pretty straight-laced lot! We sometimes feel that it’s not the done thing to show our emotions too much. Try telling that to Christians worshipping together in the southern European countries, or in South America or in Africa! Jesus taught us to love God with our hearts, soul, mind and strength – in other words, with every part of our being, and that includes our emotions.

Now I have a confession to make: I cry at films! It doesn’t matter how often I watch The Sound of Music, when Captain von Trapp and Maria are singing in the summer house “I must have done something good”, out come the tissues. When the spaceship returns to fly ET home, I cry. When Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson died in The Bucket List my handkerchief was soaking wet! And there are pieces of music which I listen to and find myself deeply moved: whether it’s Nimrod

from Elgar’s Enigma Variations or Fix You by Coldplay, music provides for me some spine-tingling sensations. If these sorts of things can move me emotionally – and I hope no one would criticise me for this – how much greater should I be moved by a God who loves me, died for me and has adopted me as his son. So let the songs we sing move you, too.

And let me just explain here why I don’t like hymn sandwich services and why we sing several songs together in our worship. We come together on a Sunday morning from all sorts of different situations: you may be tired from having been on StreetSource last night; you may be feeling stressed having had a difficult time getting the children ready for church; you may have a family member who’s ill and you’re feeling worried; you may be feeling concerned over the future of our country at the moment. Taking time in worship gives each of us the opportunity, in the words of the song we finished with last week, to “forget about ourselves, and concentrate on him and worship him.” When we sing our hymns and songs as one-offs in isolation, we’re just beginning to get into an attitude of worship when we’ve suddenly got to move on to something else: the offering, the prayers, the reading, the talk. We all need time to focus ourselves on the one who deserves our praise and worship.  

  • Singing advances God’s Kingdom

Between 1987 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered publicly to sing forbidden patriotic songs and share protest speeches, risking their lives to proclaim their desire for independence. While violence and bloodshed was the unfortunate end result in other occupied nations of the USSR, the revolutionary songs of the Estonians anchored their struggle for freedom, which was ultimately accomplished without a single loss of life. Singing became a resistance movement activity. We saw how that was true with King Jehoshaphat; it was true with Paul and Silas who sang in prison and found themselves supernaturally released.

In his book Ambushing Satan with Song written thirty years ago, John Piper wrote, “It is no wonder that Satan hates the songs of God’s people. He does his best to keep a church from being a singing church. And he does his best to keep you from being a singing person.”

We sing to be united; we sing to glorify God; we sing to be transformed, and we sing to proclaim the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Let’s sing together now.

  • 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

    “But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

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