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Feb 11, 2018

Servant Leadership: Muscian

Servant Leadership: Muscian

Passage: Psalm 150

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Servant Leadership

Category: Leadership

Read Psalm 105

I’d like for everyone to answer this question: “When I think of ‘good’ music, I think of (the artist or group that comes to mind).”  (Share responses).  How about “When I think of ‘bad’ music I think of…”  In the early 1980s when I was developing my musical tastes, my dad would come into my room, hear me listening to Duran Duran or Foreigner or Queen and pontificate: “How can you call that music!  That’s just noisy screaming!  You should listen to the Kingston Trio or Mitch Miller or Frank Sinatra… now that’s what you call music!”  Music – like all art – is subjective and every older generation has probably thought they listened to “real” music while the younger generation just listened to “noise.”  Just as my son will now ask me, with all manner of passion – “Dad what do you think of his You Tuber?”  To which I say, “Uh… not much?”  To me, it is as much empty noise as my music was to my dad.

As a subjective art form, music has been used in attempts to divide Christians for longer than any of us can remember.  In the 1890s, our church (Christian Church Disciples) split from our ancestors over the issue of whether instruments should be used in worship.  We said “yes” (obviously) while what would become the Church of Christ Non-instrumental said “No, only a capella singing ought to be allowed.”  Nearly 100 years later, in the worship wars of the 1980s and beyond, the same Psalm (150, our Psalm for today) was used both to support and denounce contemporary worship.  Some said, “See, Psalm 150 talks about praising God with the lute and cymbals, which today would be guitar and drums.”  While others said, “No Psalm 150 says ‘Let everything that breathes praise the Lord,’ and since an organ uses air when it is played, it breathes while guitars and drums do not!  Therefore, God prefers traditional worship.”

No matter how it has been viewed, no one can deny that Psalm 150 is about music and worship.  It’s short – just a few verses – but it’s packed with information.

Psalm 150 is a song of Praise!  That’s what it is.  All of the verses begin with the words “Praise the Lord…” except the last one, which ends with those same words.  And the word “praise” is mentioned 13 times in just 6 verses.  There are different types of Psalms in the scripture.  There are Psalms of Thanksgiving, Psalms of Ascent, and Psalms of Lamentation.  Today’s Psalm is called a Psalm of Praise because of its emphasis on praise.

And who is involved in praise?  We are, first of all.  This Psalm consists of words written to all the faithful (you and me).  So we are the ones intended to offer the praise.  And God is to be the object of our praise.  We are to praise God, as opposed to anyone or anything else.  For God is the source of all life (that was our focus last week).  But we should also praise God (as Psalm 150 says today) for the mighty deeds God has done.  “Praise the Lord for his mighty deeds.”  Sometimes we need to be reminded that God has done wonderful things for us.  It is in our human nature to forget that; to focus on the obstacles in front of us over the blessings in our past that have sustained us.  In Behavioral Economics this is called the Headwind-Tailwind Effect.  This is the tendency to think that we are always facing a headwind, even if the wind is at our back.  In spiritual language we might say, “It’s easier to see the things we want God to do for us than it is to see the great things God has already done.”  But Psalm 150 won’t let us forget that. 

Where are we to praise the Lord?  First, in the sanctuary.  In the special, holy place, set apart by God.  For us today that is the church.  The literal sanctuary of God.  Which means that giving praise to God requires intentionality; going out of our way to come here, which signifies our commitment to honor God with our praise.  But Psalm 150 also says “Praise the Lord in the firmament.”  In the book of Genesis the firmament was a dome – invisible ceiling – which separated the earth from the sky.  It was the place where earth and sky meet.  Or, as we might say today, “in the midst of nature.”  Psalm 150 is reminding us that wherever we are – in the sanctuary or outside it – there is reason to praise God.  Simply look around you and you’ll see evidence of God’s beauty and love of creation.  (Someone happened to send me a video that is a combination of beautiful pictures and scripture verses.  It happens to coincide nicely with our message so I am linking the video here:

But what Psalm 150 spends most of its time on is how we are to praise God.  2/3 of the verses are given to the how.  And it is clear that we are to use instruments.  Not only that, but every section in the orchestra is covered!  Praise God with the trumpet (brass); with the pipes (winds); with the lute and harp (strings); with the tambourine and cymbals (percussion).  Furthermore, we know the music Psalm 150 desires is loud!  It’s not enough to praise with cymbals.  They must be “loud, clanging cymbals.”  There’s no mention of making beautiful music.  Rather of making joyful noises.  Psalm 150 gives us a picture more of Mr. Holland’s Opus than the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra.  Every year at Johns Hill Magnet School the 5th grade band plays the same song to open its fall concert.  Most of the students have barely had the horn up to their mouths more than few times.  The first song is always Hot Cross Buns.  4 measures, 3 notes and one would think: How hard can this be?  But as Mr. Miller says about that first concert every year, “This is a concert only a parent can love.”  He means, of course, “Just remember how rough this concert is in a few years when you see how far your children have come.”  But like Psalm 150, the goal of that first concert is not beautiful music as much as it is music – offered with a sincere heart and great effort.  Which is all our heavenly parent – God the creator – desires of us.

Psalm 150 was never meant to be used in a debate over the “right” or “wrong” way to worship.  It was never meant to inspire arguments over whether this or that music is good or bad.  It’s about the purpose of worship, which is to praise God; to be glad; and to give thanks.  In that respect, loud is good because it suggests we are putting our whole selves into it.  And the list of instruments is not meant to be read literally.  The message is to use whatever is at your disposal to make music for the Lord.  And finally, effort and intentionality matter far more than perfection.  The great composer Igor Stravinsky, famous for writing music incredibly difficult to perform, is said to have been approached by the concert master (violinist) who complained that Stravinsky’s music was impossible to play perfectly.  To which the composer is said to have replied, “I’m not looking for the sound of the music played perfectly.  I want the sound of someone trying to play it perfectly.”  There is something holy, life-giving and transformational, not in the achieving of perfection but in the striving for it.  That’s the spirit of Psalm 150.

Today we conclude our sermon series called “Servant Leadership.”  Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”  Each week we are looking at a servant role in our church; some of the ones most associated with worship, with the goal of sharing the ministry of this church with more and more servant leaders.  Today our theme is Musician.  We certainly value music at all of our services.  We have a quality organ and organist.  We invest in our chancel choir.  We have more gifted piano players than I’ve ever been around.  We are the kind of church that honors beloved choir members with special, commissioned music.  We have a band that is really, really good!  We value quality, because we believe if it’s worth doing for the Lord it’s worth doing well.  I know Don would welcome your musical gifts in worship.  And just because you’ve never stood up to share your musical offerings in worship, or that you don’t do it very often, doesn’t mean you can’t.