Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How Can I Keep From Singing?

Hi all--since we canceled worship last Sunday, the service will follow last week's schedule. I urge you to read and prepare for our worship together--there is no substitute for this to make our spirits and our church strong. Here, from last week, are some suggestions to prepare for worship:

  • Meditate on and/or memorize the Scripture passage. It is a tricky one this week, and can be a bit confusing. By memorizing and meditating, we write it on our hearts so we can gain from the preached word on Sunday.
  • Read through the lyrics of the hymns. (If you don't have a hymnal, just google the titles and you'll find them somewhere.) How do these hymns fit with the theme? What might they have to say to you?
  • Pray for those who lead (musicians, choir, lay leader and preacher) and those who worship in the congregation.

Finally, here also is a devotional thought:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul–
How can I keep from singing?
~ "How Can I Keep From Singing?" by Robert Lowry
Why do we sing when we come to worship? No one else sings anymore, at least not ordinary people. We pay people to sing and listen to them on the radio or in concert; our children sing in school before getting out into the real world and realizing singing is not something grown-ups do; we may even sometimes wish to sing, before remembering we cannot. But rarely does our world sing.
But here, when we gather, we Christians sing. We are a singing people. At our best, we sing loud and strong, lustily, with a full throat, whether we can do the tune justice or not; here, we sing.
What makes this place special? What makes this the place where ordinary people sing? What makes Christians a singing people? What makes us lean back and sing praise as our parents and grandparents did?
It is because our singing is an echo of a heavenly hymn. As Lowry (a famous hymnwriter and former pastor of The Baptist Church of West Chester) puts it, the Christian hears songs others cannot hear. The world can only hear the raging of a world lost in madness or the stubborn griping of the dissatisfied self. But the Christian knows how to listen in a world that only knows how to speak. And so we can hear this precious song, the song that "hails a new creation." It reminds us that the way we experience life now is not all there is, but there is more, much more. Hear Paul: "Listen, I will tell you a mystery: we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." (1 Cor 15: 51-52)
The Christian hears the song that these things are passing away and new things are coming; and our heart leaps up, and has to echo the heavenly song. We have the privilege of joining our voices with God’s song; indeed, how can we keep from singing?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Thoughts on the Pope

I enjoy the writings and speeches of Pope Benedict, and always find them worth encountering, if not always agreeable to me. In a January 2006 First Things article, entitled "Europe and its Discontents," Benedict thinks about the way in which European society is generally careful not to denigrate the sacred things of other cultures while celebrating art, speech, and culture which denigrate or silence Christianity, which he believes to be foundational to European culture. He says:

"This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological...All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive. Multiculturalism...can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one's own things. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God." (p. 21)

Benedict offers some important insights here. We need to be more than just open to difference, as important as that is; we also need to be followers of a path. As Christians, it is not only our open-mindedness and our tolerance that make us good citizens in the world, though that is essential. But it is also that core of truth that makes us us, the foundational beliefs we hold sacred about Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. Without open-mindedness and tolerance, we become arrogant; without a commitment to the truth, we lose our contribution to the discussion.

Benedict rightly points out that underlying anger with or rejection of God (or even the church) not only affects us, but the whole world. If we are the ones called on to represent Christ to the world, how can we do that if our gospel only amounts to "the opposite of what the Catholics/Presbyterians/Southern Baptists are doing?" We can't begin to meaningfully contribute to the world's desperate need for God if we cannot articulate what it is we believe about God because we are too afraid or angry to do so. And so we will miss out on the world's voices, and the world will miss out on ours.

The world needs voices who know and cherish what they believe but are never afraid of genuine dialogue challenging those beliefs and learning more. May we together be those kinds of people!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Church is OFF

Hi folks--as you know if you've looked outside, the overnight snow was every bit that was predicted. In fact, out here in Coatesville, we even had an amazing bit of thundersnow around 3 AM. We will NOT be having church this morning, so stay inside, enjoy the snow and have a good day!