Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
One of the little known things about Jesus is that he was a song writer. We often think of Jesus a serious teacher who always has a moral at the end of his talk. Today, I'd like you to think about Jesus as one who fills us with song. He gives us the words and we sing the song.
One way of coming at this is simply to take a look at our hymnbook. Open it to nearly any page and look at the bottom of the hymn. There you will probably find a scripture passage in parentheses.
Let's look at some of these and listen in on how things keep getting expanded, because that's the nature of song. I have long suggested that any love song between two or more people that is worth anything can be translated to a love song between people and GOD. We have a harder time seeing how any good hymn about the love of GOD can be translated into a love song between human beings. But I think that if you use your GOD-given imagination you will see what I am talking about.
Hymn 218 (It Came upon the Midnight Clear) begins with Jesus' birth and the angels singing in Luke 2 about peace on earth. It ends with the whole world singing that song of peace back to the angels. What was only the angel's song has become your song and my song and our song together. (...with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.") We are in the business of expanding peace into our lives and the life of the world.
Hymn 266 (Heal Us, Emmanuel) looks at a couple of representative healings by Jesus but can't simply leave it at something in the past or on the pages of the Bible. This hymn brings it to the healing that is needed in your life and my life and anyone's life. (...with hopes and fears we come to touch thee if we may; O send us not despairing home; send none unhealed away.) We are in the business of participating in the healing of our lives and the life of the world.
Hymn 314 (In the Garden) is often used at funerals but it is in the section of the hymnal for resurrection and exaltation. It pushes us beyond just staying in our grief and joy and bids us go forth to share our experience and to tell others about new life. I wish we wouldn't sing the last refrain but leave the hymn hanging with Jesus' voice calling. (I'd stay in the garden with him though the night around me be falling, but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe his voice to me is calling.) We are in the business of constantly being called forth by the voice of woe all around, the voice that needs our presence and through us the presence of the risen Christ.
Hymn 339 (Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast) picks up that calling from Luke 14 and extends it to everyone, whether we think they deserve another chance with God and with Jesus, or not. This is the United Methodist understanding of the universal gift of prevenient grace (see the top of the left page for that term) that keeps us from ever getting so far away from GOD that we can't turn around, that we can't be found. (Come, sinners, to the gospel feast; let every soul be Jesus' guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid/called all humankind.) We are in the business of letting everyone know they are and always will be within the sight and love of GOD.
As we work through other graces of GOD that help us make that turn and learn ever new ways of deepening our spiritual lives and strengthening our community of faith through support and correction of one another, we come to Hymn 427 (Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life), Matthew 22, and another United Methodist trait of directly facing the crowded ways of life without giving in to despair and cynicism. Eventually we are follow the love of Jesus for us by loving others until this city of West Bend becomes the city of GOD's love. (...till all the world shall learn your love and follow where your feet have trod, till, glorious from your heaven above, shall come the city of our God!) We are in the business of transformation from this heaven and earth to a new heaven and earth.
I am interested in your seeing how these hymns work so when we get to Jesus words about his body being bread and his blood being wine that we don't get to literalistic or ritualistic or mystical about such matters. Jesus is a song-writer and song-writers have a way of turning a phrase to both catch our attention and to stimulate our imagination. If we just take song-writers at their literal level we no longer have a song, but a lecture in rhyme.
One of the key things we have been working on these first seven months that I have been here is trying several different ways to loosen us up to hear the song of Jesus in individual lives and in the life of us all together. This is never an easy task because, like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, we seem to think the way things now are should be the way things should always be.
We take a wonderfully dynamic phrase from our United Methodist heritage, "We are going on to perfection," and turn it into an end-point that will never be changed rather than an on-going journey with a living GOD. We keep taking a song and reducing it to the lowest common denominator, what everyone can put up with, rather than taking a song and elevating it to evoke more and more life in our midst.
One of the struggles we have had is similar to a problem in the church at Ephesus. We have taken the wonderful songs of Jesus and made them for our own use. Paul talks about it in terms of our having become foolish rather than wise in understanding GOD's love for us and for all. Paul uses the image of getting drunk on wine that makes us all individuals, everyone out for their own good time, and contrasts that with becoming filled with the Spirit as we grow closer together through thanksgiving for life and love.
This is sort of the difference between waking up with a hangover and waking up energized.
Let me put it this way: We are all at different levels of spiritual maturity and we are all intended to be continually growing wiser in recognizing the difficulties of present living and the benefits of making changes for better living.
When we were young we enjoyed the lullabies and rhymes of childhood songs. As we grew we gradually graduated into more complex songs that described the loneliness and problems of trying to live together. Eventually we find the love songs that stick with us and the songs of meaning and perspective that carry us through.
What would be the most spiritual song for someone new in the faith? What would be the most spiritual song for someone facing a huge difficulty like the lose of a job or family member? What would be the most spiritual song for someone who has just had a significant victory? What would be the most spiritual song for someone who has returned to GOD after a long absence? What would be the most spiritual song for someone who has gone to church every week of their life? What would be the most spiritual song for someone like you? Someone like you were a year ago? Someone like you desire to be a year from now?
Obviously, just like we are ready for different songs at different parts of our lives, we are called to recognize the problem caused by the faithful at Ephesus when they took to getting drunk on their own songs and ignoring the songs of others.
A significant part of our life together is helping one another to sing and to appreciate the value of Jesus for folks at different stages of their spiritual maturity. We do this by appropriately playing pat-a-cake with babies and camp and popular culture songs with youth and finding the life-application songs with young adults and sifting through it all for the classics with our elders.
As we sing all the different spiritual songs in thanksgiving for what is going on in our life or in thanksgiving for what is going on in the life of our sister or brother, we affirm the variety of gifts from Holy Spirit and are closer drawn to one another and to GOD.
To conclude, turn with me to 2141, (There's a Song).
There's a song of love in my heart, love is a gift from GOD.
Alleluia, Love in my heart is singing praises.
Alleluia! Love is a gift from GOD.
GOD of song, may your lyric be for us today as well as our ancestors in the faith. Include us in the music of the spheres. Help us include others in this same creation-wide hymn. Give us the wisdom to sing spiritual songs of every kind and to continue to grow our spirits through such songs as we make Jesus' melody our melody. We are thankful at all times and for everything. This song of thanks defines us. Amen.