Thank God for Music!


June 11 is being observed as Music Appreciation Sunday at Resurrection.  This is also the observance of The Holy Trinity.  The entrance hymn at 8:30 is “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the hymn of the day at 11:15 is “Come Holy Spirit.”


Dear Friends in Christ,


Today at Resurrection we are thanking God for bestowing the gift of music on His Church. Do you agree with me that worship would be pretty dull if we did not have our wonderful music?


We do not all have the same tastes in music and that can lead to some strong feelings about what is appropriate in worship, what is uplifting and what is not uplifting.  Today I hope we can all learn something in this sermon time about how music can and does shape our religious faith.


We have Martin Luther to thank for putting congregational hymn singing in place in worship.  Prior to Luther,  trained singers and priests chanted any singing that took place in worship, and they did it in Latin.  This was a “work” that needed to come as close to perfection as possible, for it was being presented to God, and you in the congregation didn’t need to know what the words meant.


Luther wrote hundreds and hundreds of hymns for worship.  He freely took tunes he heard in and about Wittenberg, including, as you know, drinking songs.  Luther believed that music, like people, could be transformed by the power of the gospel to share a higher purpose.  It was Luther’s thinking that “music should permeate worship and we will sing the gospel into the hearts of the people.”


Some of the other reformers disagreed with Luther about music.  John Zwingli in Geneva  wanted no music in worship.  John Calvin in Edinburgh would allow only psalms to be sung in plain song.  These early Presbyterians wanted no showiness in worship. 


One of my favorite Luther quotes about music is this:


            I wish to see all arts, principally music, in the service of Him who gave and

            created them.  Music is a fair and glorious gift of God.  I would not for the

            world forego my humble share of music.  Singers are never sorrowful, but

            are merry, and smile through their troubles in song.  Music makes people

            kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable.  I am strongly persuaded that

            after theology there is no art than can be placed on a level with music; for

            besides theology, music is the only gift capable of affording peace and

            joy of the heart…the devil flees before the sound of music almost as

            much as before the Word of God.




Johann Sebastian Bach was the dominant church musician of the 18th century.  He was an outstanding organist, prolific writer of all sorts of music, including oratorios.  He was for many years the organist/choirmaster at the St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig.  He would compose new music every week for the Sunday worship services. 


He did something that I think sets an example for all of us.  On each and every piece of music he composed, he inscribed these words in the top corner: “Sola Deo Gloria”:  To God alone be the glory. 


Bach has been called “the fifth evangelist.”  A good description of his work is “scripture put to music.”  The reason is similar to what Martin Luther was thinking.  So much of Bach’s music is based on scripture, and when you sing it you remember the scripture passage and message so much longer.  Even now I can sing in my head some of the hymns Bach wrote as I learned them in church through the years:  Wake, awake, for night flying, The watchmen on the heights are crying Brightest and best of the sons of the morning, Dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid…O sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down…


Are there any of you here today who are pietists?   Anyone?  The Lutheran Church in the 19th century was a very rational church.  The pastors emphasized proper order, clear thinking.  Worship was logical and precise.  It was controlled.


Dr. Gracia Grindal is a professor at Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She tells the story of Olaf Skliver.  Olaf had had it with that kind of worship.  One Sunday morning he shinnied up a tree near a Lutheran Church while worship was going on inside.  At the top of his lungs he sang some songs that touched his heart.  They were Norwegian folk songs.  The pastor came out and told him to be quiet.  Olaf is reported to have exclaimed in pietistic fashion, “At last I can sing the gospel in my own tune and in my own way – and I will!”


Should I ask the question again?  Are there any pietists here today?


Have you noticed that church music and hymns are changing these days?  Are you one that wishes we would sing just the songs we learned when we were growing up?


Here are some things to think about:


1.      Which songs would we choose to capture those we knew growing up?  Resurrection is a Pentecost Church – our folks come from a variety of church

backgrounds.  Your  pastors don’t even have the same hymn remembrance or preference.


2.      Lutherans don’t always know the same hymns.  There are German hymns

and Swedish hymns and Norwegian hymns and Danish hymns and Finnish


3.      In the introduction to the LBW (1978) it says they started with a premise: “most Lutherans no longer consider themselves as transplanted Europeans” and so they decided to include early American tunes and many Anglo-American hymns… (In the old red Service Book and Hymnal of 1958, they had 20 hymns attributed to Bach.  Do you know how many in the LBW?  Just two .


4.  How many of you know that the ELCA is putting out a new hymnal this year? 

     It will include hymns that many of you have missed in our present books,

     and it will include a lot of new ones that have come on the scene recently. In

     case you want to know, the chosen color is burgundy.


It is good every once in awhile to remember our core values in worship.  When the Red Book was published in 1958, our church leaders had great hopes that worship would be the same in every Lutheran Church throughout the United States.  The same liturgy, the same music.  When you went on vacation and visited worshipped in another congregation, you should expect to have everything the same as at home.  Well, that idea didn’t work out because of the variety of tastes and needs of our people.  Then, amazingly, our church leaders reread the historical documents of the Reformation that launched this so-called experiment called the Lutheran Church.    So I remind us all of what the Lutheran Confessions attest.  From the Augsburg Confession, 1530:  For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian Church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.  It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian Church that humanly instituted ceremonies should be observed uniformly in all places.  In other words for today, it is okay to have a contemporary liturgy and a traditional liturgy and even a teaching service, as we do every Sunday morning at Resurrection.  Martin Luther would say “yes! yes! yes! This is what I hoped for when I set about to reform the Church.”


I am thrilled that more and more of you are stepping forward to use your musical talents to glorify God in our worship services.  A hymn text in our LBW says it well:


1.      When in our music God is glorified, And adoration leaves no room for

pride, It as thought the whole creation cried: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!


2.      How oft in making music, we have found A new dimension in the

world of sound, As worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia,

Alleluia, Alleluia!


3.      So has the Church in liturgy and song, In faith and love, through

centuries of wrong, Borne witness to the truth in every tongue:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!


4.      And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night When utmost evil

strove against the light?  Then let us sing, for whom he won the

Fight:  Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!


5.      Let every instrument be tuned for praise;

Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise;

And may God give us faith to sing always:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!