Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Psalm 150 (translation from The Inclusive Bible)
We praise you, God, in your sanctuary;
we praise you in your mighty skies!
We praise you for your powerful deeds;
we praise you for your overwhelming glory!
We praise you with the blast of the trumpet;
we praise you with lyre and harp!
We praise you with timbrel and dance;
we praise you with strings and flute!
We praise you with clashing cymbals;
we praise you with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
One of my three goals that I am focusing on during my time at this church is alternative approaches to music in a small congregation. Music is intrinsically linked to our life of faith. The book of Psalms is largely a book of songs of praise. Psalm 150 is the final psalm in that book and it encourages us to praise God in so many different ways. To praise God in so many different places.
We hear about praising God in God’s sanctuary. Sanctuary with a small “s”. But then the Psalmist goes on to say that we should praise God in God‘s mighty skies. Now that’s a bit different than a sanctuary. I know I am probably not alone when I say that I often feel the most connected to the creator of all things when I am out in nature. That does not have to be some exotic remote location. It could be walking my dog Buddy down the streets of Waterville. In fact, we did that exact thing yesterday. We went for about an hour-long walk around some of the streets that lead up towards Colby College and then back around to our house. I had been feeling a bit down earlier in the week, but I somehow always feel, when I am walking Buddy and the sun is shining and hitting my face, that I am so very lucky to be doing what I am doing. I am so very lucky to be on this earth at this particular moment in time.
On these walks something that helps to add to this sense of appreciation and wonder is that I almost always have music playing in my AirPods as I walk. I try to pick songs that either have a good pace for walking or that fit the mood that I am either currently in or wish to be in very soon. Often these songs may have been chosen just for that purpose, because they match the pace at which I walk or the emotion that I happen to be feeling at that point, but almost always on these hour-long walks there will come a song that strikes me in a way that it has never struck me before. Bear in mind that I mostly listen to my playlists on shuffle. I like being surprised by what might come next. And I almost always find myself surprised by a song that I might have heard five, 10, 20 times before. It is often while that sun is hitting my face and the music swells or a lyric lands at just the right moment that I am filled with that feeling of praise for God.
I feel so very lucky that I am in that moment when it happens. When the lyre and the harp, or maybe the electric guitar and the synth, and the lyricist’s chosen words have allowed my soul to join with the music in a moment of pure praise for God. It often makes me want to dance as Buddy and I are walking. Now, the streets that we are walking down are usually pretty densely-populated, suburban, house-lined streets, so my dance moves may be somewhat subdued. However! Sometimes I can’t quite help myself!
We praise you with clashing symbols;
We praise you with resounding symbols!
This praise that the Psalmist is entreating us to offer to God it’s not a quiet thing, it’s a thing that should make you want to dance down the street! Think back to Palm Sunday, to the people shouting “Hosanna!” as Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. That praise was shouted with all of the emotion and joy that it is possible to feel. No doubt those people in Jerusalem danced as Christ walked by, riding his double-donkey. The psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise God,” so maybe the donkey did a little jig as well!
The playlist project that I will be wrapping up and releasing today was about asking folks to think of songs that speak the language of their spirit. Songs that cry out to our souls and help us feel connected to God. Maybe they make us want to dance down the street, or maybe they move us to tears, or center ourselves in silent contemplation. That is the power of songs. That is the power of psalms. They can move us in ways that we often do not expect. They can hit us at exactly the moment when we need them! And in that moment, if we are very lucky, we might feel like we are in the presence of God; in God’s sanctuary. We might feel grateful for those powerful deeds, for all of God’s overwhelming glory, and it could all be because of how we connected to that song in that moment.
As I mentioned, there are times when a song hits me in a way that I did not expect... Times when the song that I have heard innumerable times in my life speaks to me in a way I never expected. I’m sure some of you have stories like this, but the one that comes most quickly to mind for me is when I was at a particularly low point a little while ago and I was talking with somebody about how I was feeling. I just did not have the words to explain to them what I needed at that particular point. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, and how grateful I was that they were there for me. And as I was telling them in a very roundabout way how I was feeling, the words of a song that I have heard easily over 100 times, probably over 500 times, “Help” by The Beatles, started playing in my head. I did not expect it and when it came forward for me, all I could think was that God had put that song on my heart at that particular point. I shared it with the person that I was speaking with. I told them, “I’m sorry, I have to stop. This song just came to me...”
Help me if you can I’m feeling down,
And I do appreciate you being around
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me.
That song was not there five minutes earlier. It was not in my heart as I was feeling in the depths of a point of depression. But I believe that God put that song into my mind so that I could see a way forward. In that small moment where I was able to share how I was feeling and what I needed more clearly than I could have in any other way, I felt incredible gratitude for God. I wanted to praise God in that moment because I could not explain it. I cannot explain how I was feeling, but God plucked that song out of the shuffled playlist of my life and shoved it into my brain exactly when I needed it.
Now, I recognize that The Beatles may not be the band for everybody. They may not have a song that would soothe your soul at a point when you needed it, but I think that’s the beautiful thing about music. That’s the beautiful thing about all the different ways that the Psalmist tells us that we can and should praise God. We have a lot of options! The selections for the playlist that I will be releasing this evening from suggestions that people emailed to me shows just how varied the languages of each of our spirits are. And that is a beautiful thing! The song that I pulled the title of today's sermon from has a pretty simple name. It's “Sing”. This is a song by Joe Raposo, originally written for Sesame Street, but most popularly known by the version that The Carpenters recorded in 1973. It has a lyric that I think speaks so perfectly to just how lovely it is to have such a diversity of music represented on our congregation’s “spiritual playlist”.
Sing, sing a song,
Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
God calls to us in so many different ways, and no one way is better or more “correct” than another. There is a song for everyone, we just have to sing it!
For me, music connects me to the world and my place within it. That might be why I almost always listen to music while I am out on a walk. Music serves as a backdrop to inspire me, to awaken my awareness to God’s glory in something as small as a gentle breeze or something as everyday as the warm sunshine on my face. As the music swells, my spirit soars. My spirits soars like the song of the meadowlark, the bird in the photo on our slides today. It calls out to me, inviting me to pay attention to all of the small things that I have, all the small things around me, and all of the big things that God has provided. And the song that does that for me does not have to be the song that will do it for you. God is truly great and has given us so many different ways to encounter the divine through the sound of symbols crashing, harps and lyres being plucked, electric guitars and synthesizers sounding out a thrumming beat. And in the end, most of the music that sticks with me is pretty simple. “Help me if you can, I'm feeling down.” That's pretty simple, but for some reason it didn't come to my mind until God put that song in my heart. That is worthy of praise! And I am sure that my spiritual connection with music will last my whole life long.
I would encourage all of you to spend some time, maybe while you listen to the playlist that I will share on our Facebook page or maybe when you next put your own music on shuffle when you’re out on a walk, and listen... really listen... and feel the ways that music helps us to praise all that God has given to us. Let everything that has breath praise God, let everything that has breath sing, sing a song.
Here's the link to the playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6J7xdydiLiVjGgb3gke9ui?si=97909443fda34b8e
Here's the link to the playlist on Youtube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXas3ZoIykcEpb3ArePXTAUBBBvKDyi6N
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.