Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why is there so much singing in church?


To the choirmaster ... a Psalm of the Sons of Korah.  How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.  Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, o LORD of hosts, my King and my God.  Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!  Psalm 84:1-4

THE SONS OF KORAH, who penned this Psalm for the church, had skeletons in their closet.  As Elijah went to heaven alive, their distant ancestor, Korah, did the opposite.  He and his entire family went to Sheol alive, which is the Old Testament name for the world of the dead.

What did Korah do to deserve such a fate?  He led a rebellion against Moses, who was the divinely appointed pastor of God's flock, but in despising Moses Korah was, in reality, shaking his fist at God.  Jesus speaks this way in St Luke.  He says to the disciples, "Whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me, rejects the One who sent me."  That is how zealous the Lord is for His pastors, so may we always hear and heed.

After due process the Lord meted out just punishment.  Korah, his clan and all his possessions, along with 250 others who joined the mutiny, were put to death.  The Lord commanded the earth to  open up beneath them, swallow them alive, and then close up again.  From that time the name Korah became a byword among God's people.

Although their father's infamy lived for generations, the Sons of Korah did something amazing.  They broke the cycle!  They did not join the sins of their father.  They did not despise the church or the ministry, but quite the contrary, they were so fully devoted to it, that King David put them in charge of Israel's music.  May God in His mercy break the cycle of sin in our families, too.  May the Son set us free from the skeletons in our closets, too, and then we will be free indeed!

Music helps!  The Word of God is a living word that bestows life on all it touches, but when we sing God's Word, as we do in our liturgy, hymns, canticles and prayers, what is already perfect attains, if it were possible, even greater perfection.  The Word of God works fine without music, but it works better with it.  This is why Jesus is called "the New Song" in Psalm 98, why heavenly choirs sang when the Lord "was made man," and why David spared no expense, avoided no pain, and exerted every effort to provide music and song to liturgize the house of the Lord; so that in worship men might gain a foretaste of the things to come, for heaven is nothing if not music; glorious song that will renew our flesh, settle our hearts, and drive all our demons ever away, for in heaven there is only good, only God, His heavenly counsel, His holy angels and His unblemished bride who, with one glorious voice sings the hymn of all creation.  You are that bride.

God's Word and music!  It is a peerless combination, pulsing with life that permeates a person through and through.  It discovers the sin that lies hidden deeply within, then heals it with the cross, with holy water from the Lord's side that removes every blemish by baptism and the sacred blood from Jesus' side that dissolves every sad sin.  This is the cup of the New Testament we drink at His altar where we, like the swallow, find a placid home and a nest for our young.

For us the Word of God is everything.  We use it to baptize, celebrate the Sacrament, pray for the sick, ordain pastors, confirm our young, start every task, bless every home, sanctify every meal, consecrate every marriage, prosper our work, dedicate our churches, and finally bury our dead so that the voice of the Son of man will raise them up on the last day.  All these things are done with prayer and the reading aloud of God's Word appropriate to the occasion.  Why?  Because where God's Word is, God is, not in vague fashion, but in a very particular way to give us His grace, mercy and peace; present to pardon us, soothe us, fortify us, clear our heads, soften our hearts, hear our every whispered prayer, prosper us in every way, cut off our rear view mirror, and to show us the way forward.

In today's gospel we learn that the people at Lake Genessaret "pressed" on Jesus from every side so that they might hear the sparkling words that issued from His silver tongue; gracious words that opened heaven to them, taught them about the Father's love, about salvation from sin, and about the glorious things God has prepared for those who love Him.  So intent were they to hear the words of eternal life that the Lord was forced onto Peter's boat which he used as the chancel for his watery church that day.

Elijah, too, heard God's Word, not in the ruckus of the tornado, earthquake or fire, but in a still small voice.  Please do not interpret this verse in the spooky way Pentecostals do.  The subject here is not private revelations whispered to your heart, but about God's Word administered in the church to all who will hear the message of the cross, for we preach Christ as crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to the those who are called, both Jew and Gentile:  Christ!  The power of God, and the wisdom of God!

The Father gave His Son to bear the sins of every man, to drink the cup of every sorrow, to die a sinner's death as our substitute, and to rise again with great power and glory on the third day for our justification, so that sinners might be reconciled to their true father, remain faithful unto death and so receive the crown of life.  Is it any wonder then that we, like the sons of Korah, whatever skeletons we might have in our closets, cannot but help sing, chant and hymn God's holy Word without ceasing?  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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