Tuesday, 05 May 2009 17:17

May 3, 2009 Sermon

“Creatively Joyful Noises”
Psalm 98
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 3, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Last weekend, our family was in San Francisco at the final worship service of the church we were a part of for six years. They chose to close the door on this part of their history so that they can move forward, realizing that the trauma and triumph of their common story was holding them individually and collectively back.  They so much wanted to sing a new song, but the old one kept rattling around in their psyche.  Rather than slowly fading out, they engaged in a liberation initiative.  They set themselves free from the old structure and institution.  Now with free-er ears they can listen anew to God’s creatively joyful noises.  They will gather together in the coming months, but not as the old church.   They will gather as people listening for the creatively joyful noise of God that will lead each of them to a new future.

But before they could do that, they had to gather one last time to pray together, tell the stories of their life together, remembering those who had gone before.  The words we spoke were memorable, but what I’ll remember most is the music.  It wasn’t great high art.  It was people scratching out the words to familiar hymns.  Singing one last time together.  Voices choking over words, warbling here and there and mystically connecting with the voices that had stood aside them and who joined once again in our imaginations.  In that rented church hall, we sang full throated the songs of faith.  The music gave us the permission to give voice to the sorrow and the memories, even the laughter.  When you sing, you are not just reciting words, you are using both the right and left portions of your brain and your are connecting with memory and an often unnamed piece of our lives existing just below our consciousness.  It’s there where our spirit lingers and gets called forth when we sing.  I hope and pray that wherever those individuals land, they will hear the music of their lives, mingled with others whose creativity and traditions will reveal new insights, new imaginings and eventually new songs.

J.S. Bach said, "The aim and final reason for all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the Spirit."

We at UBC appreciate good music.  That’s a given.  We have great and committed musicians—professional and volunteer—all of us coming together to make great, if not unique music.   But what is good music is in the discerning eye of the beholder.  Is good music the kind that you can dance to?  Is it what causes cheers from an audience here, on American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent?  Sometimes really good music, profound music, evokes reverent silence.

What is it about the music that feeds your soul?  Is it all about the words?  Is it about the tune?  How about the instrumentation?  The tonal quality?  The aesthetics?  The way it touches something deep inside you?  The way it dances with your memory?  The way it challenges you to observe something new?  The quality of the performance?   Is it the Spirit behind the performance which doesn’t always match the quality?  Remember, one person’s music may be another’s noise.  I suppose the opposite is true as well.  I know I have sung some things that have sounded like noise—sometimes to me, too.

I think what makes music good is the joy.  And when the music can be done creatively then we have wonderful music.  The best music in my opinion is creatively joyful noise.  Think about it.  We use our creativity.  We add to it joy and we break the silence with noise.  Creativity, joy and noise create the best of music.  

Let’s unpack that word joy a bit.  Joy is not the same thing as being happy.  Joy is being filled with emotion and touching a spirit beyond yourself.  That Spirit is an aspect of God.  So joy can be a sense of security.  It can be a sense that there is a benevolent power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity.  Connecting to that power is joy.  You know joyful people because they are free.  They are folk who know what real power is about. 

They sing new songs to God who has done marvelous things for them, as the psalmist suggests.  We need that kind of joy, don’t we?  

We need to sing the songs that give us power and draw us beyond ourselves to connect with that power which we find at times in the people with whom we share a pew or choir loft.

The psalmist says:
"Sing to God a new song, for God has done marvelous things…
Make a joyful noise unto God all the earth;
break forth in to joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to God with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn."
Here, we might add handbells, flute and even a guitar or two from time to time.  

The scripture does not tell us just to sing, but to sing a new song. What can this mean?  If we believe that the psalm was written around the time of the Israelite people’s return from its Babylonian exile, the new Song could well be a reference to the new Israel. The same land, but viewed in a different way: a way that has been affected by the influence of an encounter with the Divine. Old words, new songs. This is the creativity aspect.  We are creating our new world view and giving voice to it on our new song.  

When we sing a new song, making our own joyful noise, might we be referring, in our own situation, to:  Our own return from exile?  A spiritual rebirth?  A renewed commitment to a nonviolent lifestyle?  A new attitude with which to pursue a new job or potential downsizing?  A renewal of covenant?  The hopes and dreams which we see coming true, if even only in our imaginations?  Old words infused with new meanings?  Old bones strengthened with new life, or new will to live?  Old patterns re-imagined and charting a new course?  New ways of dealing with one another?  New doors opened while old barriers fall away?  

How can we move toward the joyful, creative music of our lives?  The first thing we do is gather.  We mingle our creative ideas and imaginings with others and we add it all together.  At first, it may sound like noise.  But if we’re attentive enough it can evoke a symphony of and for our souls.

We sing in church, we make music in church to witness to the new life we seek and celebrate. We sing and play as a way to connect us with a power beyond ourselves, a power where God transcends, enlivens and renews us. That is the power of music. That is the new song—it’s not referring to music written last week as much as it is referring to making us new people. Then we become the new song emerging out of creatively joyful noise.
Sisters and brothers, let us sing a new song.  Let us make a joyful noise.  May we make it creative, connecting with the creativity of God and our own God-nurtured creativity.  May we find that sense of joy, and may the music we make be an honest expression of our sense of blessing and gratitude not only to God, but to the expressions of God with whom we share this music, creatively making joyful noise together.  All of us are blessed reflections of God.  When we creatively make joyful noise together, we unmask God and we become the new song.

Let me close with a poem featured this past week on the Writer’s Almanac.

by Anne Porter

When I was a child

I once sat sobbing on the floor

Beside my mother's piano

As she played and sang

For there was in her singing

A shy yet solemn glory

My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked

Why I was crying

I had no words for it

I only shook my head

And went on crying

Why is it that music

At its most beautiful

Opens a wound in us

An ache a desolation

Deep as a homesickness

For some far-off

And half-forgotten country

I've never understood

Why this is so

But there's an ancient legend

From the other side of the world

That gives away the secret

Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries

We have been wandering

But we were made for Paradise

As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us

With its heavenly beauty

It brings us desolation

For when we hear it

We half remember

That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields

Their fragrant windswept clover

The birdsongs in the orchards

The wild white violets in the moss

By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it

Is the longed-for beauty

Of the One who waits for us

Who will always wait for us

In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us

And wanders where we wander.

from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Steerforth Press, 2006