There are many ways to proclaim the Gospel. Most weeks I stand up here and preach it in the form of a sermon. That’s typical for our Sundays, but it’s not the only way. That’s because every act of a Christian should be a form of proclamation. It’s our job the Gospel with our daily lives, and saying that God’s love is all around us.
The sort of proclamation I do on Sundays, though, is an act of teaching. I’m trying to take the Scriptures we read and explain them in the context of our lives today. My hope is that when you leave here on Sundays they make a little more sense, and seem a little more relevant.
But I’d be arrogant to think that preaching is the only thing that does the work of teaching the faith, and proclaiming the Good News. In so many ways, music does that too, and often with greater power and eloquence.
The earliest Christians knew that. When the author of Colossians wrote this letter to an early church, they encouraged the believers there to be compassionate, kind, humble, and patient. And above all, they said, “clothe yourselves in love, because it is love that binds everything together in perfect harmony. And, they go on, with gratitude in your heart sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
In other words, sing your faith with one another. Find the harmony that sustains you all, and tell the story in song.
When we listen to others sing or play, we are given the chance to hear about God’s love in new ways. And when we sing together, we tell that story together. And like I’ve told you many time, I can’t sing. At least not well. And yet, there are some hymns that, as the song goes, I cannot keep from singing. The promises of the hymns are far greater than my inability to carry a tune. The congregation is far bigger than my vocal mistakes. And so, I sing. And I hope you do too.
I sing as well because I know that years from now, you may not remember much of the sermons you hear here. But you will remember the songs, and you will know the words and how they made you feel. You’ll remember what you knew about God in that moment. That’s a beautiful thing. It transcends time, and brings us home.
Kevin Bartkovich, who is with his son who is graduating this morning, told me a story about how when he was a missionary in Uganda. On Christmas Eves so far from home he would turn on the BBC for the broadcast of Lessons and Carols from England. And it was in those first words of “Once in Royal David’s City”, even in the heat and dust, that he knew it was Christmas.
For me, every time I hear “Be Thou My Vision”, I’m take back to a chapel in Georgia, and my ordination day. I feel the weight of hands laid on me in prayer as I knelt to be ordained. I remember vows made, and the community that surrounded me then and now.
Or, as someone told me this week, they have the power to transport us back to the ones who taught us about the faith. Someone shared with me that every time she hears “How Great Thou Art” she is instantly brought back to hearing her grandmother play her grandfather’s favorite hymn on the piano as they all sang together. Even now, with both grandparents gone, that memory brings them back close to her.
That is the power of the songs we raise up to God. They are prayers. No matter if we are singing them together, filling in the words even when some cannot, or whether one or two people are offering them from the front. These are first and foremost acts of worship, and acts of proclamation. And the people who offer them are not performers, but worship leaders. They are teaching us the faith, and giving the glory to God.
And that’s why this morning, they are going to preach most of the sermon. In the two choral anthems you are about to hear, they will use their voices and both praise God and teach us the faith. Our only job is to listen, and to open our hearts and minds to this beautiful witness to God’s love. That is true worship, and that is true prayer.