Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today we take a little pause in the action with our Sizzlin’ Summer Sermon Series. We will do the finale next week, including an after church workshop, if you like. Today we need to rightly celebrate the gift of music, and it’s meaning, to share God’s word in song and let ourselves be lifted up in tune.
I had first thought that I might sing this sermon to you, in verse, but then I thought better. (It took me a half a second to process that idea.)
I need to begin with a little misdirection play, in order to get us started in the right direction….
Last Sunday I was the featured guest at the church I served as pastor before coming here- Trinity Presbyterian, in Hendersonville, NC. It was their 50th anniversary celebration. Interestingly, virtually everyone in that congregation is a good deal older than the church; it’s a retiree’s congregation. The day before the service I had a good chat with the current pastor about how things are going there. He said, ‘well enough’ but he had counted up how many people had passed away since he arrived on the scene, about ten years ago now. The number was 144; a pretty good percentage of a 375 member congregation (!) They have almost replaced the number of those they’ve lost with new comers, but the going is hard. I remember that.
So, last Sunday, as I greeted folks, many of whom I remembered, and as I sat up front, glancing around the church sanctuary, I was struck by those who weren’t there who I remembered: Mary Bell, Charlie Reynolds, Lois Shimon, Marihonor Widmayer, Harry Henderson, Jack & Betty Case, George & Midge Mack, Bill Lowery and on and on…
Even more striking though- (and more to the point for today) is the welcome I received from so many folks… “It is so wonderful to have you back!”, “I’m so glad you’re here!”, “Welcome back to where you belong!”, (and so on…)
Putting these two notions together; missing folks, aware that they were indeed looking down upon us all from the gaze of heaven, combined with the welcome I received, caused me to share with them, pretty spontaneously, what I’m about to share with you now. (Now the sermon begins….)
Of all the sounds of salvation we hear in our lives, and there are many; perhaps the most common, and maybe the most important word we hear is ‘welcome!”
It is an opening invitation to belong, to take your rightful place, made just for you; to fit right in, to be at home, to be safe, sound and secure; whole, wanted. In the right context, a proper welcome might be rightly understood as a ‘quick dose of heaven.’
What I mean by that, is if, from that brief experience I had last weekend, that feeling of being REALLY welcomed, is anything remotely close to what heaven is all about, – where our loved ones dwell, where God is truly sovereign and evil has been banished, then what a wonderful thing it is! It is a great thing to celebrate, to sing about, to give thanks for, and to pray and live toward, too!
If the church is in any measure an outpost of heaven, and I definitely believe it is, then we have a special calling to be as welcoming as we can to all of God’s people; to extend the fundamental sounds of salvation, beginning with our welcome, to as many as enter our doors- and then to take that same welcome with us as we go, in Jesus’ name.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of catching the right tune to have it all ‘click.’
Here’s a little story that can speak to this situation, that fits just right on a day like this…. There was a certain church deacon who was to an extraordinary degree a person of prayer, generosity, kindness and sincerity; a person carried away by an awareness of the Holy Spirit and the gift of peace. Once asked how that blessed state had been attained, the answer was somewhat hard to explain. “Looking back,” the faithful Deacon said, “my impression is that for many, many years I was carrying some sort of song within my heart, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was like a deep water spring, but covered by a large, flat stone. Then at a certain moment a song about Jesus arrived in my life and carried the stone away. I knew all the words to the song; I knew the script, but I had never caught the tune before. Once I caught it, it has never stopped. The spring started to flow and has been flowing ever since. My life is a song; of praise and thanks; sometimes there’s sadness and pain and my song is a little slower and softer, but gradually, it comes back, just as strong as ever, and carries me in my living faithfully as I can.”
So it is that some people, through music, are able to take away the stone from their hearts, so that the deep praise and prayer which lies there like a hidden spring might begin to overflow throughout their lives and into congregations and ministries throughout God’s world. We are beneficiaries of that gift given to Liz, and the band, today.
The gift of song is not one that we create on our own, but rather one that we are ‘given over to…’; and music, like springs of water, tends toward movement. Water is always in motion.
Even when seemingly still, in a pond, it evaporates; rises up, up and up, only to return as rain, renewing life all over again.
Music, like water- is a renewing gift… a gift of healing /of salvation made tangible. We feel the impact of it, even without seeing it…
Think of all the ways you hear sounds of salvation in your life. What do they sound like? … from the drip, drip, drip of baptismal waters rolling off a babies’ forehead at the font; to — what? the squeal of a baby- their first laugh…. Maybe its the ‘thank you- bless you” that you hear from the fellow on the street corner who asks you for change/ always… and you give it to him. Or, maybe its the sound of a church organ, playing “A Mighty Fortress”- or, the piano- warming up for the doxology… or?? (name some…. Sounds in your life… that speak to you of salvation, a heavenly healing…)
They say hearing is the first of the 5 senses we are given…and the last sense go go, before we pass over to the other side… is that right?
From the very first heartbeats of your mother, in the womb, even before you were born; to the last words, maybe Christmas carols, sung to you by loved ones; the ears are the primary receptacle of the most basic message of God to you in life: you are loved; welcomed, just as you are….
But sounds, of course, are not always joyful. The Apostle Paul, in our scripture passage for today, mentions both “sighs, too deep for words”, and the ‘groaning of Creation.’ Life does not always elicit happy sounds. The sound of salvation is sometimes even more powerful in its absence…
You may have heard about the #1 hit in Europe these days, an Austrian piece,by an artist named Raoul Haspel, dedicated to those thousands upon thousands of Syrian refugees, in camps, on highways, struggling for a new life in Western Europe. The tune is called ‘Schweige minute”- ‘A Minute of Silence’; and that’s what it is; a full minute ………………….. of nothing. You can buy it for 99 cents on the iTunes store. People are buying and downloading it in huge numbers to support refugee relief. (Check it out.)
Closer to home, and with somewhat similar purposes in mind, you may have heard some music on a local radio station, WTMD, composed by local musicians and sung by middle school kids “Believe in Baltimore.” It hasn’t made it to the iTunes store yet, but you can google & download it easily enough through YouTube or a TV affiliate. ”Believe in Baltimore.” It’s catchy, upbeat and very positive!
Our world is full of sighs and groans… if its not the latest shooting of a TV crew, or people at a movie theatre, or in a church, then its those suffering in border shelters, in Texas; or those facing another day of hopeless unemployment- here in our city.
And as we listen to the groans, we sigh, and we want to respond. Our songs are often ways to bring us closer to the ideal of what we’re looking for, to help us transcend our gloom and lead us to participate in some practical way in God’s dream for a healed world. But where do we begin? Very simply, we can ask God— “What particular groan has my name written on it?” This is what faithful believers have done for generations; not to respond in action to every groan that comes along, but to listen deeply and carefully to that groan on which our name is written, to discern our own unique call to live out some little piece of God’s dream within God’s world; to sing the part written just for you- as it were, with the gifts given you- at just the right time, in just the right key, with just the right accompaniment.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. Though we may know who to pray for, and who to pray to- we might not know so well what to pray for, for ourselves. This is more than just “not knowing what to say, or finding the right words.”
Perhaps it comes back to hearing those sounds of salvation in our lives; where we’ve heard them before; to allow the Spirit to intercede in us, for us, with us, with sighs too deep for words.
You have a song to sing with your life, to welcome others as generously as God in Christ has welcomed you, to let the rhythms of your life be in sync with God, and to share the gifts you are given, as you are so led.
Your song is important. Your song is alive. You song is a gift given you to share. Together, as a Second Family, may we find our song, welcoming, sharing and praising, all in Jesus’ name. Amen.