Songs of the Spirit

a sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

Food and song bring people together. For Jesus, food was an extremely important part of ministry. And the early church sang when it gathered. That’s why music is such an important part of worship; it brings the congregation together. It doesn’t matter if you are an opera singer, or if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. What matters is that we are joined together in the Spirit, preparing to worship. And it is through our worship that we join as one body – one Spirit in Christ – to make our sacrifice to God.



In today’s epistle reading, we heard about how important singing is to building up the body of Christ:

Be filled with the Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it amazing how music can lift up our spirits, and bring people together? When ever I listen to the radio, I immediately tune in to one of the stations that plays “oldies.” You know which stations those are, right? They are the stations that have been playing the same 100 songs ever since they were “newies.” Of course, my daughters don’t listen to the same music, they have their own music they like to listen too. But one day, not too long from now, they’ll be listening to an oldie’s station and remember when “Call Me Maybe” was a hot song.

Of course, the reason we listen to oldies is that it brings back pleasant memories. The song triggers a remembrance of a time and a place and the people that we enjoyed being a part of. The songs and music fill us with good feelings, and remind us of what it was like to be a part of something larger than ourselves.

Eleven years ago, when our country was attacked on September 11th, this parish held a special prayer service. It was a Tuesday. We called everyone we could to spread the word, and we put a sign out on the road. This place was packed, not just with members of the congregation, but also with people we had never seen before – people who just came in and wanted to be with other people. They didn’t want to be alone. They wanted to be connected with other people.

The service was different. I don’t remember if we even had communion that night, but I do remember that we prayed together. And then, without anyone having any music, we started singing. And do you know what we sang? The First Song of Isaiah.

In the same way, food evokes strong memories of people being together. Thansgiving dinners, meals with family, a bowl of soup shared with close friends on a cold night.

Food and song bring people together. For Jesus, food was an extremely important part of ministry. And the early church sang when it gathered. That’s why music is such an important part of worship; it brings the congregation together. It doesn’t matter if you are an opera singer, or if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. What matters is that we are joined together in the Spirit, preparing to worship. And it is through our worship that we join as one body – one Spirit in Christ – to make our sacrifice to God.

Yes, a sacrifice.

For that is what we call the Eucharist: a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Of course, we don’t offer up anything that is remotely equivalent to the sacrifice Christ has made for us when he died on the cross. That would be completely and utterly impossible! But we do offer a sacrifice all the same. We offer our thanks. We offer our praise. We offer “ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” to God.

Jesus said,

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

This is why our liturgy, or form of worship, is shaped the way it is, beginning with singing, which draws us together, and moving to instruction, hearing the word of God, and finally climaxing with the Eucharist, the mystical meal that Christ himself commanded us to share. Our prayers, our songs of praise and thanksgiving, our offering of all that we are – all of these lead us up to the holy meal that Christ himself gave us, like a musical crescendo. And it is through our participation in that meal that we live in Christ, and he in us. It is through our participation in the Eucharist, as a community of hope and love for one another, that we are given abundant life, the life of the ages.

Recently, some studies were done with elderly patients with dementia. And they discovered that when they hear old songs from their youth, the patient’s blood pressure decreased, and their anxiety relaxed, and they became much more alert and engaged with others around them. The same thing happens with the smell of food. It is as if our our deepest and fondest memories are permanently connected with food and song. The aroma of bread baking in the oven, or the refrain of an old favorite hymn, transport us to a different place and time.

As we gather to worship, may our hymns of praise and thanksgiving transform us into the body of Christ, so that we may once again live in him, and he in us.
Thanks be to God.

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