Why We Sing in Church
Scriptures: Psalm 34:1-8, Psalm 142:1-7
In 2016 the Chicago Cubs went to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. Mariner fans have been waiting 41 years to get to a World Series, so we are starting to feel their pain. But the Cubs fans waited 71 years to get to a World Series and finally made in 2016. I did not see much of that series, but I did see game five. The Cubs had their backs to the wall. They were down to the Cleveland Indians three games to one. Game five was played at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the last game of the series that the Cubs would play at home. In dramatic fashion they pulled out a 3-2 victory, and the fans went crazy. It was like the Kingdome in 1995 when Edgar Martinez hit that double to score Ken Griffey, Jr. Forty two thousand fans at Wrigley Field jumping and screaming and waving banners with tears running down their faces. And then I heard a sound that I had never heard before at the end of a major league baseball game. Listen. [Video]
The crowd was singing. Not “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” for the seventh inning stretch, not “Sweet Caroline” like they do in the eighth inning at Fenway Park. They were singing at the end of the game to celebrate their victory:
Go, Cubs, go! Go, Cubs, go!
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
Cubs are going to win today.”
What I found particular interesting is that the series wasn’t over. This was only game 5. The Cubs still had to win two more games to win the World Series, which would be a daunting challenge since the last two games were in Cleveland. Yet they sang. Cubs fans are a parable of faith. They waited 71 years for a chance to win the World Series, and when it came they sang.
Which is why we sing in church. As Christians we have been waiting over 2000 years, waiting for God’s final victory, waiting for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But when Jesus rose from the dead, it was like winning game 5. Now we have a chance to win. In fact we are assured of winning. It is only a matter of time. And so we sing.
Go, God, go! Go, God go!
Hey, Southminster, what do you say?
God is going to win some day.
It is no accident that the longest book in the Bible is a songbook. God’s people have always had reason to sing, because they have always had hope.
A good example is Psalm 34. It did not show on the screen when Rob read it, but Psalm 34 has a title. It is called “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” This refers to an obscure story in I Samuel 21. David is running for his life from King Saul, the king of Israel, who sees him as a threat and wants to kill him. The only safe place for David to flee where King Saul can’t get to him is to go to the Philistines, the enemies of the Israelites. But when the Philistines find out who David is, a former commander in the Israelite army, they want to arrest him and execute him. But David pretends to be severely mentally ill—drooling, disheveled, incoherent. So instead of arresting him, the Philistine king sends him away, and David escapes.
Psalm 34 was written in honor of that bizarre rescue. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. … This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” Psalm 34 is what we call a psalm of thanksgiving, a song of gratitude and relief, like the Cubs surviving game 5 of the World Series, only bigger and a lot more important.
But not every Psalm in the Bible is a song of victory. Which brings me to Psalm 142. Psalm 142 also has a title: “A Maskil [which probably refers to a certain style of song like jazz or blues] of David, when he was in the cave.” This refers to something that happened right after David escaped from the Philistines. Remember, David had fled to the Philistines because Saul, the Israelite king, was trying to kill him. But when David got away from the Philistines by feigning madness, he ended up back in Israel and had to hide from King Saul in a cave. Now listen to Psalm 142:
Verses 1-2: “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”
Verses 6-7: “Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name.”
We don’t sing only when we are happy or relieved or grateful for God’s work in our lives. We also sing when we are fearful or confused or devastated by some setback or loss.
I don’t imagine the Cubs fans sang after game 4 of the World Series, when they lost and found themselves down 3 games to 1. At that point they were facing elimination with slim chance to win all three of the remaining games. I did not see game 4, but I doubt the Cubs fans were singing at the end.
But we Christians do. We sing even when we lose. We sing even when we are face setbacks or suffering or injustice or even death. We sing because we know that God is not finished yet. We sing because God raised Jesus from the dead and showed us what God can do in the face of injustice, suffering, and tragedy. We sing because we believe, in the words of that great civil rights song, “We shall overcome some day.”
So I invite you to sing this morning, no matter what you are experiencing, whether you are experiencing joy or sorrow, whether you feel hopeful or depressed, whether you are confident or worried. I invite you to sing because the game isn’t over, and God is not finished with us yet.
I know that some of you, at times, don’t feel able to sing. Maybe a song is unfamiliar, and you don’t know how to sing it, at least not until the third or fourth verse. Or maybe you think you are not very good singer, that you can’t carry a tune. My father-in-law did not consider himself a very good singer. He had a deep voice but it was not terribly melodic. I liked to say he sang percussion. But he always joined in. Sometimes his voice quietly rumbled under the parts, but he was always saying the words of the song, even if he was not singing them out, and he let the singing around him carry those words up as an offering of praise to God, and sometimes I think the singing carried him too.
I invite you to do the same. If you can’t sing, then mouth the words. Say them softly with us as we sing them, and let the harmony of everyone around you carry your words up as an offering of praise to God, an offering that may end up carrying you too.
Go, God, go! Go, God, go!
Hey, Southminster, what do you say?
God is going to win some day.