Singing for Joy

Psalm 67           Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III          May 1, 2016

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.

Prayer:  O God of all things, all words, all music, all of life, we worship you.  May all our thoughts and senses focus in on you; for we are disciples in song—please receive our praise.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

I don’t know if any of you are watching The Voice on Monday and Tuesday evenings.  If not, really quickly, it’s a contest of singers who audition in front of four coaches.  In the beginning of the season, if a coach likes their voice, the singer is selected to be on that coach’s team.  In the beginning, four teams of singers compete against each other.  Each coach works with each singer, preparing songs for them to perform.   At first the coaches choose who are qualified to continue and who are not, but then America votes and chooses who continues and who goes home. At the end of the season, by process of elimination, only one singer will remain and win the contest.

Right now the number of remaining singers is 10, and they compete by singing on live television.  The coaches are famous celebrity singers/songwriters/producers—Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton.

 It’s very interesting to observe the relationship between coaches and singers.  These coaches mentor each singer.  They offer words of encouragement and affirmation.  They make suggestions about how to sing a song saying things like, “You should try going up on this part..”  Or, “Play the guitar to about the middle, then keep singing without it for the rest of the song.”  Or, “Sing the story of the song to the audience.”  Or, “Make us feel the song’s emotion…” and other statements like that.

After each singer’s performance, if the singer impressed his or her coach, especially in the beginning, that’s what matters.  Now towards the end of the season, when America sends text messages to vote, if the coach stands up and applauds at the end of the performance, wonderful!  If all the coaches are moved to stand and applaud, well, that is HUGE!  Viewers across America see the coaches standing, and it increases the chance that the singer will be selected to continue on in the competition.

After a performance comments are exchanged between the coaches and singers. Sometimes, the singer will affirm the work of their coach, saying how delightful and instrumental it was to have been under his or her tutelage.  Even the other coaches have on occasion offered praise to a coach for helping a singer do well on stage.

And that’s the connection to Psalm 67.  At times, in The Voice the focus is on the coach, not the singer.  In Psalm 67, the focus of praise is on God, not on the psalmist.  In verse 1, the psalmist writes, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…”  Why?  What’s the reason to ask God to be gracious and to bless us?  It’s not because we all like God’s blessings.  Not because we want to be comfortable.  Not because we want success… or because we want an easy life.  No.  The answer is because God’s blessings upon our lives helps God’s way to be known… God’s activity is shown in our lives when God blesses.  God’s blessings help to reveal God’s saving power among, not just a select few, but all people… all nations, all Gentiles.  It’s about God.

Let the nations be glad!  Let them sing for joy!  Why?  Not because we hope that our nation would be blessed more than other nations.  Not because we want to be comfortable with God’s blessings upon our nation.  No.  Let all nations be glad and sing for joy because God is governing all people.  God is the guide for the nations.  It’s about God.  We are invited to seek God’s blessings and to sing for joy first and foremost to give glory to God.

So maybe we shouldn’t limit seeking God’s blessing to only personal requests: “God, bless me with a family and a house and a better car and a good job, so that I will be happy.”  Those things may be legitimate requests, but perhaps the prayers could be that God would bless you so that all those blessings received may further God’s glory among others, even among the people of other nations.  It’s the principle that Jesus stated in Matthew 6: 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Seek God’s blessing first for the sake of others to know God is the Source of the blessings.

This principle applies to us at Christ Church.  Today, we’re celebrating the music we rehearse and perform in worship as disciples of Christ

together in song.  We are among those who sing for joy—but we sing for the glory of God, not for personal affirmation.  We lift our music up so that God may be praised.  And, the blessings God showers upon us through music and through many other ways reflects the joy we have.

If we have such joy, how can we keep from singing?  Praising God leads to gladness and singing for joy.  Gladness and singing for joy leads to praising God.  It’s circular.

There’s a church in the Fillmore District of San Francisco called St. John Coltrane Church, an African Orthodox Church.  John Coltrane was a jazz musician back in the 60’s, and all he wanted to do was to express the awesomeness of God and God’s love through his saxophone.  He wrote music to express the sheer joy he had in life because God was in his life.  As the church got started, it became an “AWTW” church (Another Way to Worship) church.  Worship services are all about jazz music both prepared and improv.  Jazz ensembles offer music along with singing of hymns, liturgy, preaching, and sacraments.  It started 48 years ago, in a small storefront, with an emphasis on music and praise to God and peace and justice for all.  Now they’re looking for a new place in the jazz district of San Francisco to share the awesomeness of God. Praising God led to gladness and singing for joy.  Gladness and singing for joy leads to praising God.  It’s circular in that church. (http://www.coltranechurch.org/, retrieved April 29, 2016). 

But, there’s a wonderful offshoot.  As we sing for joy, we can’t help but to share the joy with others, right?  When something wonderful occurs, it begs to be shared.  If you experience a wonderful sunset at the shore, you might take pictures of it and share those on Facebook with all your “friends.”

If we know God’s blessings, especially the blessing of deep joy because we are a redeemed people in Jesus Christ, which is the greatest reason to give praise to God, then it makes total sense that we would share that joy with others.  When we are glad in God, we want to share that gladness with others so that they can know that joy as well, and God’s ways are known upon the earth.

That’s why we sing for joy!  That’s why we celebrate music—because we know of God’s deep blessings, and we sing to give God glory.

And, I hope God, who knows our hearts, will stand and applaud knowing that we are glorifying God’s holy name.

Amen.