Music: A Great Lesson in Church Unity
This sermon was presented at Resurrection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2010, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. This is also Music Appreciation Sunday. The text is John 17:20-26.
Dear Friends in Christ,
My challenge for this sermon is bringing together two wonderful ideas that are at the heart of today’s worship: First, the prayer of Jesus “that his followers all be one” and second, our appreciation for the gift of music that is so abundant at Resurrection.
Here’s something to tickle our funny bone…Some public school teachers compiled these answers that youngsters over the years have given to test questions in music appreciation classes:
1. Music sung by 2 people at the same time is called a duel. I know what a sextet is, but I had rather not say.
2. A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals.
3. When electric currents go through them, guitars start making sounds. So would anybody!
4. A refrain in music is the part you better not try to sing.
5. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was rather large.
In thinking about Resurrection and the things that we really appreciate, the music is almost always mentioned by members and visitors. Amy Burcher, our excellent Minister of Music, likes to emphasize that every musician, including herself, offers music in worship as their way of worshiping and giving back to God. It is not done for one’s own glory or ego. I like that attitude. Just think about all the folks who are a part of the music ministry and how they are gifted in various ways:
· Some read music well, others only so so.
· Some love to sing solos
· We have sopranos and altos and tenors and basses
· Some of our musicians play instruments
· Some love the traditional and some love praise and worship and many love both
Here’s the point: It takes all of us to make the music of worship. What makes a good choir and what pleases God as we all sing in worship as a congregation is not so much the sound or the words as much as our common desire to love the Lord and to give honor and praise with our hearts and souls.
We heard the prayer of Jesus today in the gospel reading. It is from the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel. You’ll remember that Jesus prayed this prayer with his disciples on Thursday evening of Holy Week at the Passover Meal, just the day before he was crucified. This is in essence his last will and testament, what he really wanted to have happen with his followers after he was gone.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
What is this “oneness” that Jesus is praying for? Is he praying that all of us will be the same? That we all look alike, or agree on everything, or have the same music and worship preferences? Are we to be “cloned” Christians? Is every follower of Jesus expected to keep the same pace, have the same stride, move to the same rhythm?
If that is what you think Jesus is talking about, I suggest you read the prayer again. When Jesus prays for the “oneness” he was not just looking around the Passover Table at those 12 individuals. He was also praying for the next generation, and the next.
When the risen Christ appeared to Saul and started him on his journey to the Gentiles, Jesus wasn’t thinking of homogeneity, or bland sameness. It was Gentiles, Samaritans, women of “questionable morals,” tax collectors, Romans soldiers – these were the focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the mission field for each new generation after the miracles of Easter and Pentecost.
What kind of unity could possibly bring all these outsiders together in the “oneness” that Jesus prays for? If it is not unity of culture, not unity of worship styles, not unity of theological system, or unity of ideals, what kind of unity is it?
Now we get to the heart of it…It is the oneness of heart and oneness of love, something that United Methodist Theologian Leonard Sweet calls “LoveMarks.” Oneness for Jesus is a LoveMark of hearts that have experienced the truth that God sent the Son into the world “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The Body of Christ is, should be, all about sharing the LoveMarks and be witnesses that we are people loved by Jesus just as God the Father loves Jesus His Son. It really does make a difference, knowing why we do what we do and being followers of Jesus in the right way.
Here’s a last story: In 1722 the Town Council of Leipzig was looking for a new cantor in the School of Saint Thomas and organist for the church of St. Thomas. The Council searched for this new person, and selected one who, three weeks later, turned them down. They then contacted their second pick and he too turned them down. The decided, as one member of the council subsequently write, that “since the best man could not be obtained, a mediocre one would have to be accepted.” This third choice they hired, the “mediocre” candidate, was Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, whose music has come to be called “the Fifth Gospel,” would later say, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hubbub.” He headed his compositions with the letters, “J.J.” “Jesu Juva” which means “Jesus help me.” He ended them, “S.D.G.” “Soli Dei gratia” which means “To God alone be the glory.”
People of Resurrection Lutheran Church, may everything we do be done to the glory of God. May the way we make music together be evidence of the unity Jesus wanst for his church, and may that unity be evidenced in all that we say and do here in this part of the Body of Christ.
Soli Dei gratia. Amen!