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A Sermon Given January 18, 2009 at the Alafia River Rendezvous

My message today is about music but it will also be a winding journey through the Bible. I chose music this year, in part, to honor our Bushways, Susan and Charlie Chapman. As you roam about Alafia this week, going from tent to tent and activity to activity, the air will be filled with beautiful music. Because of the Susan’s and Charlie’s love for music, music will be our joy at Alafia. I also thought that it would be interesting to see how music honor’s our God and how it can help each of you make a connection to God this week.

So what exactly is music and where did it come from? The Bible references music 1,150 times. The first musician recorded in the Bible, Jubal, is mentioned in Genesis 4:21 as “the father of all who play the harp and flute”. Now it is important to pause here and to understand the significance of this. Adam and Eve were just thrown out of Paradise in chapter 3. And here we are just a few dozen verses later, celebrating the creation of music. We all get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, we loose our life of ease and pleasure, and we just got cursed with having to live with pain and we have to work hard. A few short verses later, God gives us music! That’s important to remember. What our God does in response to the “fall of mankind”, to sin, is something that can tell us a lot about our God. I am going to come back to this later.

In Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament, Moses, our very first Bushway, can be found leading the Israelites to the Promised Land and we learn about Miriam who played a tambourine and danced. While I am sure the sounds of music were really appreciated while they wondered aimlessly, camping each night for forty years. Personally, I would have preferred that God gave out a compass so I could get the trip over much sooner. But it appears that Moses was happy; as he wandered, he listened to music.

Perhaps the Biblical figure who most of us remember for his musical abilities is David. David charmed others with his harp, playing songs that he wrote himself. You remember David’s story:

God withdraws His favor from King Saul and sends the prophet Samuel to David’s father, Jesse. The message from God is “I have provided for myself a king among your sons.” This is important to note that even in Biblical times, there was unemployment. King Saul is to lose his job and now a junior upstart, David, Jesse’s youngest son, is to become king. And what are David’s qualifications? He is off guarding his father’s sheep. David is just a simple shepherd. And oh yes, he is very good with the harp.

David’s story moves quickly to the time when the Israelites are facing the army of the Philistines. David hears the giant Goliath challenge the Israelites to send their own champion to decide the outcome in single combat and insists that he, little David, can defeat Goliath. David is indeed victorious, felling Goliath with a stone from his sling, at which the Philistines flee in terror and the Israelites win a great victory.

The part of story many of you may not remember is that throughout David’s early association with Saul, Saul is tormented by an evil spirit. Saul’s servants suggest he send for David, who is skillful in playing the harp. A harp player that is a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the LORD is with him. Whenever this evil spirit was upon Saul, David took the harp and played it and Saul was so refreshed, he became well.

Of course, Saul becomes jealous of David and tries to kill him. David flees and becomes an original mountain man, living off the land for years. David’s adventures go on to include numerous escapes from death, war, victory, adultery, murder and, of course, he eventually becomes king and writes a lot of music we have come to know as the Psalms. In fact, it is from David where we gain many of our insights as to our connection between music and God. Nowhere is it more evident that music was used for worship than in David’s Psalm 150:

“Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with crashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!”

Many other times in the Old Testament, music is mentioned. Sometimes the musicians went before the Army of Israel in battles, like the battle at Jericho. King Solomon, credited as being the history’s wisest man, wrote more than 1,000 songs.

Today, we are surrounded by music, yet most people don’t realize the vast impact it has on our everyday mental, physical, and spiritual health. Researchers delving into why and how music affects our minds and bodies have come up with some startling facts. For instance, music creates changes in metabolism, circulation, blood volume, pulse, blood pressure, and our moods. Claims are made that nearly every organ in the body responds to music. Music can compel us to laugh, to cry, to worship God. It can calm us or whip us into an emotional foot-stomping frenzy. Playing “our song” can trigger memories and nostalgic moods.

While listening to good music can have a positive impact on us, participating in a musical activity (e.g., singing or playing an instrument) has its own unique benefits as well. Active participation in music, can provide an escape from everyday problems, help develop concentration, quicken our senses, and relieve stress. It satisfies the creative urge and gives us a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Music’s interconnection with society is seen throughout history. Every known culture on the earth has music. Music seems to be one of the basic actions of humans. Music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. When he could not figure out the right wording for a certain part, he would play his violin to help him. The music helped him get the words from his brain onto the paper.

But why did God create us to be so responsive to music? First of all, we must always remember that we have a God of Order. That is, every part of His creation, you, me, the stars, the earth, the water and the sky are all part of a perfect order for a perfect purpose, His purpose. Part of the order of our world is that we respond to its rhythm. The day, the night, the moon, the tides, those things that set our internal clocks. This order includes repetition and changes, certain patterns of rhythm, and pitch and contrasting moods. All of these are key ingredients of music.

We also have a God who wants to be connected to us. So I want to go back to the Book of Genesis for a minute and read you the part where our lives took that very different turn, the “fall of mankind,” you know, that first sin. In Genesis 3:8-10 reads – “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” “Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” – This was the moment you and I became separated from God.

Adam and Eve just recognized that they are naked and were hiding from God behind some bushes and their first sin separated us from our God. So what does our God do? Let’s move just 11 short verses to Genesis 3:21 to see. God knows any separation from Him is not good for mankind, so God gives us the first sacrifice, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” God took the skins of animals, God’s very own creations, to cloth Adam and Eve so that they would not hide from God. That by the way is a sorry message for those who do not believe in hunting and any kind of fur trade. Our God was the first to kill animals and to use their skins for clothing. Remember, we have a God who loves order and He has a plan and purposeful sacrifice is part of His plan.

We are still on that winding road to understand music so hang in there with me. Now let’s jump forward a few thousand years to the prophet Amos, around 790 BC. The Book of Amos 7:7-8 “This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” he replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”

God is still on track to bring us back to Him. Do you remember the purpose of that first sacrifice, to bring Adam and Eve back into fellowship with God? Well, Amos the prophet is telling us that God is going to give us something else to help bring us back into fellowship with God, but this time, forever. Better than animal skins, it’s a “plumb line.”

I need to stop here for just a moment and to show you a plumb line. It is the only tool that when placed into any hand, operates perfectly every time. It hangs perfectly straight. In fact, you cannot make it hang in any other way than perfect. So what is God going to do, give us a tool? No, the plumb line is an example of what is to come. God is going to provide something perfect. God is going to provide the ultimate sacrifice; God is going to give us Christ. Christ will be the plumb line to measure all we do by, someone perfect, and someone to bring us back into fellowship with God, but this time, forever.

Now in the New Testament (the Bible written after Christ came), hymns were always a source of comfort and strength as early Christians faced their challenges. In Acts 16:25 Paul and Silas used hymns to comfort them when there were in prison.–“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” The Bible further talks about the role of music in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” In Revelations 14:2-3, the Bible talks about music during the end times. “And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.

While this is a Sunday message about music, it is also important to understand, it is also about our connection to God. So we need to end our time here today looking at our perfect example, our “plumb line”, our Savior, Jesus Christ and look at His connection to God through music. Jesus sang hymns with his disciples. One of the most mentioned is right after the Last Supper. “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:26.) Jesus takes the lead here, He sets the tone, He is at His “Last Supper” on earth and He is singing hymns.

The timing of Jesus’ singing in the Bible is most remarkable. We read at the end of the verse that after they had sung, they went out to the Mount of Olives. You are sufficiently familiar with your Bibles stories to know that when Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives His suffering began and the cross was less than one day away. Remember Adam and Eve? Christ was about to suffer on account of our ancestry, and because we, the descendents of Adam and Eve, just can’t get our own act together either. We keep separating ourselves from our God. What we need is that perfect plumb line to build our lives by and that perfect sacrifice so each of us can be brought back into permanent fellowship with our God.

Jesus’ singing happened directly after the celebration of the Passover. Because this was Passover, we can also speculate on what He sang. The typical Passover celebration included the singing of six Psalms (113 and 114 before the meal and Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118 directly after the meal). So, when Mark wrote this down—“when they had sung a hymn, they went out”— the Apostle Mark’s readers knew exactly what was sung. So what kind of songs are these? Don’t forget, Jesus was on His way to suffering and death. As a matter of fact, all six of these psalms sing the praises of God. They tell of the greatness of God. They express great contentment in the way God leads things. That is what Jesus sings. Jesus chooses to open His heart to God, to connect with His Father, our Creator and He chooses to do so through music.

But there is more. In all of history, God has tried to prepare each of us for a journey that ends with salvation, with joy and fellowship with Him. It is no easy task to contemplate and understand the meaning of life and its inevitable passing. We relate to the here and now, the temporal things of this world and when someone asks us what is “forever,” we smile and just shake our heads. But our God knows us well. We need more to build our hope upon.

So let me try to close with where we have just been. We are, because of our nature, separated from God and that is not good. God has provided us both music to connect with God and a Savior to bring us back into fellowship so God can guide our hearts to Him. As we close our worship service here today and as each of you begins what I hope is a very blessed Alafia week, please take with you the knowledge that music is a gift to us from God, given to bring us joy and to wet our appetites on what lies ahead. Music and the joy it brings will let you see just a glimpse now of what God’s love has in store for each of you. And whether you sing, dance or just listen this week, do so with joy, do so with praise for your God and do so with thanks, do so with Christ.