Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Silly Love Songs"

Text: Ephesians 1:3-10

Jeremiah 1:4-8

 

Let’s play a little music trivia. I’m going to spare you, and read – not sing -the opening lyrics of a song from the 1970’s era. See if you can tell me who the artist was.

“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs. But I look around me and see it isn’t so. Some people wanna fill the world with silly loves songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, cause here I go again…..” If you answered “Paul McCartney and Wings,” you’d be correct. What you may not know is that this song was written by Paul McCartney in response to the incessant teasing by his former Beatles band mate John Lennon about the sappy love songs McCartney was inclined to compose. In this song, McCartney was saying to Lennon and to other critics of such music that they could think what they wanted, but that he would keep writing the love songs because people wanted to hear them, and he loved writing them. McCartney must have been right as “Silly Love Songs” soared to the top of the pop charts in 1976, and was reprised by the cast of Glee in 2011.

            How do you respond to a love song? A couple holds hands and exchanges tender looks when they hear their love song played at their daughter’s wedding. They remember how to dance. The song somehow rekindles the flame of young love. One of the themes which recur in many silly love songs, as well as in the toasts offered by the best men and maids of honor at wedding receptions,is the rightness of a couple being together. Two people are matched so well that we say they were destined for each other. In the same decade that Paul McCartney penned “Silly Love Songs,” Bob Dylan composed a silly love song of his own which he titled “The Wedding Song.” Of the destiny of love, Dylan wrote this: “O can’t you see that you were born to stand by my side. And I was born to be with you; you were born to be my bride. You’re the other half of what I am, you’re the missing piece, And I love you more than ever with a love that doesn’t cease.” Life together seems so right. Lovers destined cannot imagine their lives any other way. Before theworld was even made, surely they were intended to be together. This pre-destiny of love does notdeny what we might call “the lucky chance” of meeting each other. But it does underscore the sense of wonder and mystery of being chosen and loved by the one who seems a perfect match. That’s a theme we often explore in pre-marital counseling.

            These love songs can perhaps help us to better understand one of the most debated and misunderstood doctrines in the Christian faith. Sometimes new comers to Presbyterianism will ask, “Do Presbyterians really believe in that predestination stuff?” Most of us Presbys flounder and end up reassuring them (and perhaps ourselves), “Naw. No one really believes that anymore.” What they and we probably mean by predestination is the belief that God chooses or elects some people and doesn’t choose or rejects others, and that we really have no free choice in the matter. In this sense, predestination is a statement of logic that if God rules the world, then God surely controls whether or not people come to faith. The doctrine attempts to address why some people willingly offer their lives to God and others do not. But in the extreme, this thinking leads to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what happens, or what choices we make; that we are passive in God’s plan of salvation.

            Certainly the passage we read from Ephesians could be used to support this view. Paul writes: (God) chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…..” And there are those words of Jesus that we read from John 15 in a sermon several weeks ago: “You did not choose me but I chose you.” All that sure sounds like what strict Calvinists call “predestination.” Paul suggests that God has chosen persons before the world ever came to be, and that God has been working out a plan of which they are a part. But in saying that God chose people, is Paulclaiming that God has excluded others; that people have no choice in the matter? Some have said “Yes,” that God’s choice is so far beyond human understanding that what seems unjust to us ismerciful and loving from God’s divine perspective. That sounds religiously-correct, but I don’t see this as the most helpful way to understand this passage or the doctrine of predestination.

            The choices we make daily are too crucial to believe that in matters of faith and religion, our choices don’t matter. Jesus’ call to follow; Jesus’ invitation into discipleship; Jesus’ offer of choice, rubs against the grain of strict determinism. We need to understand that Paul’s writing in the 1st chapter of Ephesians is not intended to be a statement of logic. It’s meant to be a love song from God to humankind. The first half of chapter 1 is a worship ballad about the extravagance of God’s love. The song’s lyrics teach that God lavishes upon us forgiveness and redemption, adopting us as God’s own precious and beloved children. In a sense, God is the composer of extravagant words of a love. We say that God – in the eternal scheme of things – could have gotten along without us. After all, God is God! We say that we did not have to decide to follow Christ. But that would miss the point. When we speak of predestination, we don’t explain away the choice. We don’t (or certainly shouldn’t) include some and exclude others. That’s not our call to make. Rather, we give voice to the amazing love of God in the lives of people who find themselves chosen and beloved. Such divine love is truly hard to grasp.

            A little girl was learning the Lord’s Prayer. She prayed the first lines, reciting what it sounded like in her ears: “Our Father who art in heaven, how do you know my name?” That’s something of an insightful mistake. For the answer comes back in the words of the prophet Jeremiah that we read earlier: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you…” “Child, I’ve always known your name.” Here again, a love song from God.

            But unlike a love song written about or for one person, God’s love song is for the whole world! The mystery revealed in Christ is that God chooses all, not just a lucky few. God’s plan for the fullness of time is to gather up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. Everyone has been chosen by God, called by name, flooded with the riches of God’s goodness. This is the plan that God has been working on since time began. This doesn’t set some apart from others. God wants everyone to be united, in heaven and on earth. Nothing silly about that love song! Of course, not everyone wants to be chosen. Many lovers have been turned away by the one they choose. Yet we can imagine God’s grief when we refuse God’s loving overtures. Likewise, we can imagine God’s joy when we, or anyone, respond to God’s overtures with faith.

            How do you respond to God’s love song? Hopefully you accept it the way you accept the flattery of someone who loves you passionately. Understood this way, predestination comforts and encourages all of us, reminding us of the eternal reach of God’s love. Predestination is an affirmation that God’s love has been active since the beginning of time. And God’s love will remain so until the end. It is this reality that frames our lives of faith. Understanding God’s plan to ultimately unite all things invites us to be on the side of unity as well. From Paul’s perspective, God had united the Jews and Gentiles through their faith in Jesus. Paul saw this as God’s long-range plan. If then God desires that all things be united in God’s self, we cannot separate ourselves from those who are different from us. We cannot determine that some are not chosen; again, not our call. Instead, we hear a peculiar love song that keeps playing throughout the gospels. It’s lyrics teach that we have been chosen, not to be judge of any, but to be neighbor to all; that we have been chosen, not to be superior to any, but to be a servant of all; that we have been chosen to demonstrate God’s love, and to sing God’s love song to the world, however silly it may seem to some.

            On the free will side of things, we are free choose whether or not we want to listen and sing along. The fact that God has called us by name, made us sisters and brothers of Jesus, doesn’t mean we are compelled to say “Yes” to God’s call. Saying “No” may mean we miss the joy akin to the joy of lovers who find in one another the secrets of the universe. We are free to turn away and close our ears to the song. But God has a way of beckoning us, even the most resistant of us. We can almost imagine God singing: “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, cause here I go again……” May that eternal song rekindle or kindle anew our love for the One who has chosen us, “even before the foundation of the world.”

 

            Let us pray: O God, You who have known us even before the beginning of time, thank You for the long reach of Your love; for Your love song which plays over and again, beckoning us into the intimacy of relationship with You through Christ. May we respond with joy, and an acceptance of Your call and invitation to live as Your children, beloved and free. Hear this our prayer, in the name of Jesus who was sent to sing Your song. Amen.