Sunday, August 4, 2019 “How Do We Keep Singing the Lord’s Song?”
The message for Sunday, August 4, 2019 “How Do We Keep Singing the Lord’s Song?” by Pastor Erik Goehner, heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00AM Worship service.
HOW DO WE KEEP SINGING THE LORD’S SONG? Psalms 137:1-6
August 4, 2019
Mandy Harvey was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type 3, a connective tissue disorder that led to her losing some of her hearing. Despite the difficulty she had, Mandy still loved music. She was still able to sing and was hoping to study music in college. After a series of six major leg surgeries when she was in high school, however, her problems intensified.
“My body attacked itself,” she said, “and so over a period of nine months I lost the ability to hear. The nerves in my brain kind of fried themselves.”
Mandy soon found herself now unable to understand people talking at all — and no longer able to hear music. She said, “I even lost the ability to hear the piano, and that’s when I started to crack.”
As a Christian, she struggled to understand why she was facing such a life-altering situation. In addition to hearing loss, Mandy was also dropped from the vocal music education program at Colorado State University. “Having my world swallowed up seemed to happen overnight, and as far as my faith goes — I had prayed every prayer you can think of.” Mandy pushed music to the side and was ready to give up on it entirely.
Can you imagine someone at this point in Mandy’s life asking her to sing a song for them? Can you imagine someone saying, “Hey, I heard you used to be pretty good. Would you mind singing something for us?” Can you imagine how disheartening and discouraging it would be to have someone ask her to sing knowing she couldn’t hear herself anymore and not sure what she would sound like? Such a question would seem cruel and uncaring.
This is how the Israelites were feeling in Psalm 137 that we heard in our first reading. Some of the Israelites were known for their singing. They were known for their religious music and their songs about the Lord. The Levites may have been particularly well known. They were the religious leaders of the Israelites and worked in the Temple to assist people in their worship. But when this Psalm was written, it is most likely that the Temple was no more. The Babylonian armies had invaded the lands of Israel. They had destroyed their holy city of Jerusalem and had burned down their mighty temple. The Levites and other leaders of Israel were all taken off many miles away from their homes. The people of Israel were filled with grief from their loss and fear from an uncertain future. The Psalm tells us that they are weeping by the waters of Babylon. We don’t know if it was the Tigris or the Euphrates river that they were weeping by, but we do know that they have come to a river that is not familiar to them to shed their tears.
Apparently the Babylonians have heard of the songs of the Israelites for it sounds like have asked the Israelites to entertain them, but the grief is too much for the captives and it seems like their oppressors are mocking them. As the Psalm says,
3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
Zion is another name for Jerusalem and the Israelites seem to be thinking, “How can we sing songs about our city when it has been destroyed?” “How can we sing the Lord’s song when it seems like the Lord has abandoned us?” “How can we sing the Lord’s song when we’re not sure what’s going to happen to us, and it feels like part of our lives have been taken away?”
Even as they ask this question, though, the Israelites vow not to forget their holy city. They vow to remember their home and while they may not want to sing for their oppressors, I have a feeling they sang for each other, and those that just didn’t feel like singing could have drawn strength from those that still could.
Music can sometimes have a healing effect. When grief or loss has struck, people will sometimes feel strength or solace in a particular song that speaks to them. Music can also help people express the emotions they are feeling inside, like anger or sadness when perhaps they can’t find the words to express such feelings.
Is there a song that has helped you through a difficult time? Can you remember a time when music brought you some comfort during a period when you were struggling with something? I will bet if you paused to think about it for a while there has been a season in your life where a certain song, or a certain kind of music may have brought you some strength or comfort.
One song that has done this for some people over the last couple decades is a song by a band called Mike and the Mechanics. The song was written in 1988 from the perspective of a son who has a conflicted relationship with his dad. After his father dies, he discovers that he and his dad had a much stronger connection than he realized, and he regrets not saying more while he was still alive. The song was written by Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson after both of their fathers had recently died. The last verses of the song are:
“I wasn’t there that morning when my father passed away,
I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say
I think I heard his voice later that same year
I swear I heard his echo in my baby’s newborn tears
I just wished I could have told him in the living years”
Mike Rutherford says that people still write to him to this day saying how they had lost touch with their fathers, and how they had written to their fathers on the strength of that song. Maybe listeners were not able to sing themselves because of their situation, but listening to this song and hearing its words spoke to them and reminded them of what was important. It then moved them to action, to keep trying to reach out to their fathers.
This last week my wife was a part of an event at California Lutheran University where they were hosting survivors of the Borderline Shooting here in Thousand Oaks, along with families of the victims. The event was being run by Interface, which is a counseling center along with a County-wide crisis support center. Part of the event was a dinner and part of the event was to facilitate a space where the families and individuals could share and support each other. One of the questions the facilitator asked was, “What has been helping you?” As different people were offering the things that had assisted them in coping with the grief and tragedy one young person stood up and said, “Music has been helping me. Lots of music.”
I wonder what kind of music could possibly bring comfort to the newest victims of violence from this last week in Gilroy, El Paso, and now last night, in Dayton. Three killed here in California. Twenty in Texas. At least nine or more in Ohio. Many more have been wounded and in critical condition. Three places thousands of miles apart yet at least two of them connected by perpetrators who fit the same description: both angry young white men motivated by an ideology of hate with a fear of the other who is different, whose skin is darker. Now dozens of families are in mourning and entire communities are in shock just like ours was. These families and communities probably do not feel like singing right now. Like the Israelites lamented over the loss of their home city, these communities now lament the loss that has occurred in their towns and we who hear the news lament with them.
So how do we keep singing the Lord’s song when life has been taken away and we can feel like parts of our souls are crumbling? How do we keep singing the Lord’s song when sometimes we are not quite sure what we believe any more and the difficulties of this world have disrupted the melodies where we used to find meaning? Maybe we don’t keep singing. Maybe there are times we just have to stop for a while and listen—listen for the still, small voice of God that can get drowned out by the noise of the struggles around us. Maybe there are times when we need to listen to the voices of the community that would encourage us to not give up and to keep on trying. By listening long enough we just might hear the promise of Christ that love is still with us and will not let us go and perhaps that can give us the courage to try again to believe and reach out to others.
Remember Mandy Harvey, the young woman I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon? When she lost her hearing completely she was almost ready to give up on singing forever. But then she was continuously encouraged by her community, by people around her who she said, “refused to give up on me when I gave up on myself.” Then, one day everything changed when Mandy’s dad convinced her to play the guitar with him. “I was strumming the guitar and I could feel the vibrations of the instrument,” Mandy said.
And that’s when she realized that she could rediscover her music through the vibrations. Mandy performs now with her shoes off so she can feel the beat and tempo of the music through the floor. Her story became international news after she decided to audition for “America’s Got Talent” at age 29, ten years after she lost her hearing. “I wanted to … encourage people and show that it’s okay to fail,” she said. “I wanted to show a different side of what a disability looked like.”
And that she did. Mandy’s performance immediately went viral, with people all over the world learning about her inspirational story of faith, hope and perseverance in the midst of uncertainty.
Mandy now says this about God, “God is not a bully with a stick” she says “… it’s not some kind of cosmic joke. He’s [like] a dad watching his kids suffer and he’s crying with you,” she said. “Bad things happen … you live on Earth. It’s a broken place. It’s full of muck and mess and people who have freewill who make horrible decisions.”
“It’s not our job to understand what tomorrow’s going to look like,” she says. “It’s our job to keep walking the path of faith, regardless of what happens.”
As the young woman found her voice again, she was moved to action to encourage others and to be a witness to the power of community and hope in God. It can take some time after we are hit with tragic events to rediscover our own voice again, but encouraging one another, find it we must because when faced with hatred and violence the world desperately needs the Lord’s song of love and peace. May God give us the courage to keep singing the Lord’s song for our brothers and sisters who need to hear it. Amen.
Today we are going to have a moment of silence after the sermon to listen, to pray, to silently lament, then we will slowly begin to sing the song “Come and Fill Our Hearts.”
-Pastor Erik Goehner