Why We Sing

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, October 29, 2017, Consecration Sunday and the final Sunday in the “I Am Foundry: Voices in Harmony” series.

Texts: Psalm 96, Philippians 4:1-9

 

Why?  That is one of the most important words—one of the most powerful questions—in the work of being and becoming human. Any parent knows that there is a long developmental season when their child asks “Why?” again and again and again.  It is the way we learn; it is the way we begin to understand the relationship of things and our place in the world. Mentors and business innovators and educators agree that asking “why?” is a critical piece of expanding the mind, imagining something new, and discerning priorities.

 

Sometimes, as we grow up, we stop asking the question.  This happens in all sorts of contexts for a variety of reasons.  Dr. Ronald Vale—a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California—describes his observation of trends in science classrooms. He says that the approach to teaching science is to “Learn the facts and don't deviate from that script.” He goes on to say, “Young children are full of questions, spawned by true curiosity rather than a desire to impress. But over the course of their education, students and adults ask fewer questions and more passively accept facts as ‘the way things are.’”[i] 

 

I was struck by this because it rings true across so many areas of life.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about how folks were taught that asking questions in church was not allowed, that the mode of instruction—much like what Dr. Vale describes—was to provide answers to be memorized and accepted “as the way things are.”  As we grow, it seems the tendency is to stop asking so many questions and settle into “the way things are” mode.  We may stop asking questions because we think we have the answers. We may refrain from asking questions because we assume we’re supposed to know the answers already and that others know the answers—and we don’t want to appear ignorant. // It is powerful—at any point along life’s journey—to stop and ask the question, “Why?”  Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Why does this matter? Asking “Why?” opens up all sorts of helpful conversations and can lead to greater clarity, collaboration, and freedom.

 

Foundry is a community that believes in the power of questions, of wrestling with ideas, of being honest about what we’re thinking, of exploring things from a variety of perspectives.  And we also realize that even a community like Foundry can fall into habits that, without meaning to, might discourage folks from asking questions.  This year at Foundry, our hope is to make space to ask questions, to explore some of the foundational stories, teachings, and practices of Christian faith without taking for granted that everyone “already knows” them.  Today, the question is “Why do we sing?” 

 

This month we’ve been thinking about our identity and call as Foundry Church, we’ve been thinking about how our voices in harmony—our different personalities, experiences, gifts, talents—are essential to the vitality and impact of Foundry’s life and mission.  John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing” have inspired, amused, and reminded us that we are called to share a common song, to be connected to one another, to participate and join in.

 

Today’s direction is the final word from Wesley about how to sing together and it pretty clearly answers—from a literal standpoint—the question about why we sing. Wesley writes, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing God more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually...”

 

We sing in worship as an offering to God—specifically as a way to offer our heart to God.  Also, the admonition to “have an eye to God in every word you sing” and to “attend strictly to the sense of what you sing” reminds us that the words and their theological meaning are important as well. We sing to both learn about and proclaim our faith.  In this direction for singing (as in all of them), there is an inherent connection between the heart and the head, between the cognitive power of the words and the emotional power of the music.  This strong, intentional focus on connecting heart and head, passion and good thinking, is a distinctive mark of our Methodist spiritual tradition from the beginning.  Singing together is a primary way we practice that connection.

 

So, we sing to offer our praise and our hearts to God in worship, to proclaim our faith in God, and to join our voices with others in a shared song.  But even here we can ask the question, “Why?”  Why is God worthy of praise? Why does this faith need to be proclaimed? Why does it matter if my voice joins with others?

 

The only way to answer to these questions is to look to the core of our faith story. And that is where we began back in September as we set the stage for our year-long exploration of faith using the language and metaphor of music. We began with a 101 course in music composition, applying it as a metaphor for the life that God creates.  In that metaphor, the life we share and the whole creation is God’s love song.  Foundational biblical stories— the creation, the flood and rainbow, Moses and the burning bush, and the exodus from Egypt—give us the framework for understanding not only the essential elements of God’s love song, but also how our lives are part of the song. Here is what we learned:

 

God’s creative love is the “melody,” God’s saving grace is the “rhythm,” and God’s empowering, eternal presence with us is the ostinato, the “stubborn” repeated reality undergirding the song.  We are made to sing, dance, live, love, and serve in harmony with God, other people, and earth.  God’s overflowing love—wanting to be shared, powerful to create and recreate life, to wake us up and set us free—is the center of the song, the connecting point. There is tension in the song…but resolution happens when we cross over whatever it is that keeps us separated from God’s love and enter the freedom of being fully received into the welcoming arms of God.

 

Friends, we sing because God has given us this amazing song to sing, a song of love, a song of grace, a song of presence, a song of liberation. The God who composes this song, who grants us new life every day, who forgives us again and again, who never leaves nor forsakes us, who calls us to do scary and beautiful things, who leads us forward into freedom—this God is worthy of songs of praise.  This story of love and grace, liberation and justice is a proclamation worth sharing! 

 

Last week, Pastor Dawn, preaching on the gospel story of Jesus sending out 70 of his disciples to proclaim the Kin-dom of God (Lk 10:1-9), reminded us that our collective call is to get shaken out of our seats to carry the good news of God into the world—to be the “surround sound” speakers of God’s grace and liberating power in every place that we go.  Why is it important for us to do that, to add our “voice” to God’s song?  Because our lives may be the only gospel other people ever read.  Your love, your hope, your mercy, your ability to rejoice even in difficult times because of God’s promises—that witness might change someone’s life for the better.

 

It matters that we add our voice—that we participate and share our time, talent, and treasure with Foundry—because without our collective power—without the harmony of the whole—we cannot change lives and change the world as we are called to do.  There is powerful change happening in and through Foundry.  Since implementing A Disciple’s Path as our entry point for new members, we are seeing an uptick in sustained connection with the church. Of those who have joined Foundry since August of 2016, 92% are actively engaged in ministry—most in at least two different areas.  Three folks are exploring candidates for ordained and consecrated ministry, five have planted small groups, eight are ministry team leaders. 39% of new members are involved in small groups!  In the past 10 months, Foundry has helped launch Sanctuary DMV, trained folks in rapid response in solidarity with vulnerable populations, created a Sacred Resistance Ministry, stood in solidarity with Bishop Karen Oliveto and T.C. Morrow and advocated for affirmation and full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church, been written up in the Post for our life-giving ID Ministry, furnished a home for a previously unhoused family, offered unconscious bias training, coordinated tours of The National Museum of African American History and Culture with guiding questions developed by our Racial Justice Ministry, and re-energized our connection with Washington Interfaith Network. Our children, youth, and families are getting a wider range of experience in worship and education through the addition of classes, children’s worship, and a youth retreat with so many young people that our Director of Family Ministries is scrambling to find enough transportation to get them all there!  Foundry has provided guidance and inspiration to people through our hospitality and inclusion, through our livestreaming of music and preaching, through our pastoral statements and congregational stances in response to the critical issues of the day.  In other words, Foundry is as important as ever—not only to those of us who worship here, but to all those whose lives are touched by the harmony we create when we sing, share, and serve together.

 

Today, if your life has been impacted for the better through Foundry church or if you are inspired by what Foundry stands for and who Foundry stands with; if you are a regular worshipper here in our sanctuary or part of our virtual congregation through livestream, I am asking you to find the estimate of giving cards (in the pew or on the website…) and write down what you want to contribute in 2018 to support Foundry.  In a few moments we will create harmony through singing and through bringing these estimate of giving cards forward or confirming them online.  It is impossible to overemphasize how important our shared ministry of stewardship is—and these commitments are the single most critical piece of that stewardship.  What we give sustains this community through which we can be good stewards of our time and talent.  Last year we had 395 pledges and this year our goal is a 25% increase to help us raise $1.6 million.  To date, we have received 107 pledges for a total of $700,000.  You may have noticed the stepped graph in our “I Am Foundry: Voices in Harmony” booklet that reveals the giving breakdown of our congregation. We have many people who are giving generously and carrying much of the financial load.  But for almost half of our membership we have no record of any gift.  If those more than 650 folks were to make a commitment—even of $5 or $10 per week—our financial picture would look even stronger.  

We at Foundry sing together literally and figuratively to love God, love each other, and change the world.  And the world needs changing.  So we sing!  We sing through our prayers. We sing through our study. We sing through our service. We sing through our advocacy. We sing through our solidarity. We sing through our care. We sing through our financial support.  We sing because children in our human family are hungry, because siblings are abused, because sisters are sold, because brothers are bullied, because cousins are profiled, because mother earth is poisoned.  In a world gone mad, its values resting upon idols and illusions, we sing a song that echoes what is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  Our song is God’s love song and it has power to heal, to mend, and to bring new life.  We are those privileged to know that God’s love and faithfulness are new every morning.  So sing the song. Sing with all you’ve got. Because right now, you—we!—are who God’s got in this beautiful, broken world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Ronald D. Vale, “The value of asking questions,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3596240/