Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Making Melody to Our God"

Ephesians 5: 15-20

Psalm 147: 1-7

      What’s your favorite song?  If you’re like me, you have a bunch of favorite songs.  I guess the

expected thing for a pastor to say is that all his or her favorite songs are religious ones.  Yes, there
are a lot of sacred songs this pastor enjoys very much:  “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “When

Morning Guilds the Skies,” “To God Be the Glory,” just to name a few.  But truth be told, there are

many more songs I enjoy which show up in no mainline hymnal or contemporary praise songbook. 

I call these songs ‘pop music.’ My eldest grandson calls them ‘old as dirt.’ 

One of my all-time favorites is the

Beatle’s classic “Penny Lane,” which describes Paul McCartney’s childhood memories of life on an avenue in Liverpool. 

Every time I hear it, it brings back childhood memories for me; as the first time I heard it was on a jukebox in a diner in Gettysburg on a Boy Scout trip. 

      It’s interesting we often can’t recall details from events – even important ones – that took

place twenty or thirty years ago.  But we can remember every line from a hit song of that era, or

from a sacred hymn which touched us in some distant past.  The other day in the car, a song came

on the radio which I hadn’t heard in a while.  It was the Cowsills 1960’s hit “The Rain, the Park, and

Other Things,” better remembered by its lyrics:  “I love the flower girl.”  Every note and word came

back to me, along with the flood of memories of that time when I started noticing girls.  As it turns

out, I ended up marrying the person who was, and remains, the flower girl I fell in love with the

first time I heard that song as a twelve-year old.

      A recent Facebook post featured a man named Henry, who was in a nursing home suffering

from Alzheimer’s dementia.  He was described as “depressed, inert, unresponsive, and almost unalive.”

As he sat in his chair, blank and emotionless, someone placed headphones over his ears and proceeded to play

come of Henry’s favorite music from his youth.  At once his face lit up; his eyes grew wide.  He began to bob and

sway and attempt to sing along.  After he’d listened, and the head-phones were removed, for the first time in a long time,

he began to speak clearly of his love of the music of Cab Calloway.  He was restored to himself, reacquiring his identity,

reconnected with his past – if even for a short time – by the power of song. 

      From time immemorial, people have been making and listening to songs; putting words and

melody together in an intentional way to communicate more deeply than mere words themselves.

The ancients studied music and developed music theory because they were intrigued with how

music could so convey mystery and meaning.  The medieval troubadours, for example, sang of

both the pain and promise of love, often in the same song; inspiring poets, priests, and prophets

alike.  In every age, songwriters have communicated challenge and even revolution against the

established order, as did so many folk singers in the 1960’a and ‘70’s. 

      There is power in song, and there is prayer in song. Augustine, great theologian of the early

church, claimed that the one who sings prays twice.  During the middle-centuries of the Christian

era, the most profound truths of doctrine were not set forth in dry studies, but in lively hymns that

were available to anyone.  There is spiritual power in singing, to inspire and to capture the depths

of the human spirit, and the heights of God’s Spirit.  Music, in fact, is where the human spirit and

God’s Spirit figuratively join hands and kiss.

      The apostle Paul some twenty centuries ago knew that music had the power to capture the

imagination and the soul.  And he was of a culture wherein the wisdom of a people could be captured in song.

Did you know that for the early Jews, the great truths of the Torah were not spoken, but chanted and sung  that’s part of the

function of the Psalms for the Jewish community.  So it is a natural progression for Paul to suggest when he writes to the Ephesians

that their inner-music should be released in the Christian community; not at the prompting of wine and spirits, but by the prompting

of the Holy Spirit dwelling and welling up in them.  As the music is released, the

person is filled with prayer and praises, along with wisdom and insight. 

     Paul even goes so far as to suggest that our main communication with one another as Christian

folk should be musical.  That’s quite a challenge, seeing that some people can carry a tune while

others – try as they may – can’t.  But that should not inhibit us.  Years ago, a church member told

me that he belted out hymns at the top of his lungs, but somewhere near the bottom of the melody, because he wanted to make

a joyful noise to the Lord.  Bill Moss was never sure how joyful his noise was to those who sat near him. 

But he truly believed – and he was absolutely correct – that God loved to hear him cry out from his heart, even near the bottom of the melody.

      Paul urges the Ephesian Christians to address, literally call forth to, one another with “psalms

and hymns and spiritual songs.”  I don’t think he meant that one should come up to another and

start singing “A mighty fortress is my God” while the other replies, “My faith is built on nothing

less.”  It does mean, however, that in worship and praise, music and song should take the lead. 

Think about how we begin worship here at Central after our announcement time.  We begin with

music (we call it “Prelude”) which sets the tone and prepares our spirits for what is to follow.

     In these latter years of the Christian era, it’s generally observed that there has been a decline in

congregational singing; particularly in the mainline.  We at Central are an exception, as I consider

our congregational singing as strong as any church of our size I know.  At any rate, it seems that

these days, much church music – especially of the contemporary genre -- is geared mostly toward

production and performance; with praise songs often accompanied by jazzy electronic instrumentation; even by light shows. 

At the same time, hymns and songs are being written in a narrower vocal range because people today just aren’t accustomed

to singing in large groups.  And folks are being taught music in very few places beyond high school.  More often than not,

the great old classic hymns just aren’t being sung with the gusto they once were. 

      Even so, we all run around with melodies in our heads, and in our hearts.  The key is to help

turn that melody into prayer and meditation on the living God.  As one way to take some routine

out of our existing spiritual practices, we could write our own love songs to God.  What if we took

a familiar phrase such as “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and as a prayer, try to sing

the phrase to a melody that pops into our mind.  I suspect that’s how a lot of praise music is written today,

with tunes that have been in the minds of songwriters as they’ve prayed.  This may not fit in very well with

our ordered Presbyterian worship, but might be a neat personal spiritual

discipline.

      The point is to make beautiful music with our lives; music that may be unique to us and to our

walk with God.  Often, a deep sense of gratitude will help to cultivate our inner-music.  And often,

that inner-music will in turn bring a deep sense of thanksgiving.  That’s what Paul suggests song

can be and do for Christians.  Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling really thankful, or

happy, or super content, and all is right with the world, music spontaneously wells up in you?  We

see this so often in the lives of children – impulsive and unrestrained song.  To have a spirit of

thanksgiving is to train our hearts and minds to be open to that inner-music; our spirit wanting to

join hands with and kiss God. 

      Now I know this is a stretch for we staid and true Presbyterians, but it’s important to be open

to new musical tastes and styles.  Dyed-in-the-wool as I am, I find that extremely awkward.  I grew

 up on the great classics.  And to me, that is church.  But consider that 16th century reformer Martin Luther

– whose great classics we love to sing – shocked the people of his day by taking a tavern song – a drinking song -- and converting its melody

into one of the great hymns of the church: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  It is said that Luther asked all the proper people

who were so critical of his radical expressions of spiritual praise, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” 

Yet my open-mindedness to contemporary music in the church clashes with my deeply-held Presbyterian sensibilities,

and it saddens me that so many of the great classic hymns have been set aside in favor of more modern expressions;

some of those old hymns even jazzed up beyond recognition. With somewhat clenched teeth, I suppose I need to accept this reality.

  But “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” and “To God Be the Glory” shall always continue to play in my soul. 

And when everything shakes out, the type of music one is reached by is a highly personal matter.  The point is to not idolize any

particular type or genre of music, but to hear the Spirit of God in it all.  We may find that we are able to hear an old truth in an

entirely new way, or to thank God in a very simple yet profound way.

     In all of this music, which Paul understands as a vital means of communicating among Christians

and between Christians and God, there are two goals.  One is to praise God with all our hearts,

minds and souls.  The other is to be able to grow into and live as “wise” people, not as “unwise.”

And what is the essence of music but to reflect on God’s word, on God’s wisdom and order, and

on our experiences of God in our personal and community lives?  In those reflections, we can be

led into deeper wisdom even as the gift of music opens us and frees our minds to meditate in new

and grace-filled ways.

      Paul intimates that an unwise person will not be discerning about what enters into his or her

heart, mind and soul.  Did you ever hear a young person say in defense of listening to music with

violent, destructive or degrading lyrics, or did you ever say, something like:  “I just like the music.

I don’t pay attention to the words.”  Don’t buy it.  Music is really a spiritual vehicle because it  

transports the listener at the very level of their spirit.  So if the listener, via the music, is exposed

to lyrics of despair, their spiritual life will in some way reflect that despair.  If the lyrics are filled

with anger, with degradation of others, with racial hatred, it is more likely than not that the hearer

will be more apt to act out upon that anger, degradation, or hatred. 

      On the other hand, if the music and its lyrics are uplifting and ennobling, or cause our mind to

be fixed on things of God, then we are living as wise people, because we are filling our spirits with

that which is healthy for and constructive to our interior lives.  Don’t you know that a dying culture’s suffering and poison is

reflected in its art, and especially its music – precisely because music and song can inspire or destroy the inner-person. 

There is clear evidence of that very thing in our American culture, whether we care to recognize it or not.

      In closing, there is much wisdom in singing and making melody to our God.  For there, we can

fix our minds and hearts and souls on what is noble, joyous, pure, unchanging, and eternal.  And

along the way, we shall grow more and more in the image of the God we worship if our song and

melody truly reflect prayer and praise.  Reflect on your favorite hymn, praise song, or contemporary Christian music. 

You will grow wise by walking and singing with the wise.  Make that joyful noise – even this day in the company of

God’s people – and you will find your life changing, and I daresay, coming into greater and deeper harmony and inner-peace. 

 

 

Lord of music and Author of song, may we pour forth our praise and thanksgiving in lyrics and melodies which lift up our spirits, and bring honor to You.  Thank You for the gift of music which transcends mere speech, and draws us into Your holy presence.  Hear this our prayer, in the name of Christ.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102