Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The priest sat in the deep of the ship as the storm raged above. He tried his best to remain steady as the ship rocked back and forth with every gust of wind and the waves were relentless. Supplies and cargo rolled in every direction and panic was grabbing hold of the passengers.
A nearby mother with a tiny infant nestled in her arms begged the priest to baptize her baby right then and there in fear that they would not survive the storm. Everywhere he looked all he saw was terror and fear.
And then, strangely enough, he heard singing coming from a group of Moravians, German Christians. Meanwhile the main mast split in two but the sound of the tiny little choir reverberated and resonated deeply in the wooden hull of the ship.
Days later, when the sun finally returned in the sky, the priest found the group of singers and asked why they were not more afraid during the storm.
They replied, “We are not afraid to die. We are prepared because we know God will never let us go.”
Afterward the priest was deeply moved and wrote in his journal: This was the most glorious day that I have yet seen.
It was 1736 and the priest’s name was John Wesley.
Music had always been a part of Wesley’s life but something in him changed that day. Today, the people called Methodists are those who know what it means to sing our faith in large part because of what took place on a ship long ago.
Music is a truly remarkable thing. It can make us laugh, it can make us cry, it can bring forth emotions we didn’t even know we had access to.
If someone puts on the Vince Guaraldi Trio I am immediately transported to Christmas Time Is Here, Charlie Brown, and all the other things that make that season the most wonderful time of the year.
If someone starts spinning some Supertramp or Queen or Fleetwood Mac then my entire extended family will start flipping tables and chairs until we’ve made enough space for a dance floor.
Even Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian of the 20th century, when asked by a student what he learned after an entire career in theology he responded: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
Music is powerful stuff, and Paul tells us that being filled with the Spirit necessarily results in the making of melody.
Years ago, while on a mission trip to New Orleans, I was tasked with spending the afternoon in a nursing home and proctoring a session of Bingo. The youth and I tried our best to liven up the place a little bit but the whole thing was tragic. Residents of the memory care unit were staring off into space, using the laminated cards to fan themselves, and totally unconnected from just about anything.
Until we found a forgotten and worn out hymnal on a shelf in the corner. I pulled the youth close and we started singing all the great hymns we knew without even really needing to look at the hymnal.
By the time we made it halfway through The Old Rugged Cross, every eye in the room was on us, and when we rounded the second to last verse of Amazing Grace some of the residents were singing with us, and when we landed the last note of Great Is Thy Faithfulness, more than a few people had tears in the eyes.
Including the orderlies and assistants who later told us that it was the first time they heard many of the residents actually say anything at all.
The science is all there about how our neural pathways change, literally rewrite themselves, whenever music is performed or consumed. Music changes things and gives us access to things we otherwise wouldn’t have.
But this is nothing new.
Again and again in the strange new world of the Bible we discover how music rests at the heart of what it means to be connected with the divine. Moses and the Hebrew people sing songs of praise after being delivered from slavery to the Promised Land, David plays the lyre in order to calm the anxieties of King Saul, and Paul and Silas are in the middle of singing when an earthquake sets them free from captivity.
Music is often the gateway to unanticipated blessings.
Paul writes near the conclusion of his letter to the church in Ephesus about being careful about how they live and to make most of the time they’ve been given. This is not merely a call to “seize the day” but more a recognition that life is a gift and that we have much to be grateful for.
When the Moravians were singing on the boat – they weren’t being fools living in denial of the situation they found themselves in, they were not naive. Instead they held fast to the promise made to them in Christ that nothing in this life, not even a storm upon the sea, can ever separate us from the love of God.
It’s all too easy to take most of Paul’s letters and turn them into an exhortative exercise. As in, someone like me will stand in a place like in order to get people like you to start behaving yourselves. Which is all good and fine, but that’s not actually what the letter is doing.
Paul doesn’t tell the Ephesians to do this that and the other in order to be Christians, but rather he tells them to do all these things because they are Christians. And that’s an important distinction. Paul urges them to make the most of their time, and put away foolishness, and sing with one another not to become Christians but because they are Christians.
All of the stuff we do as Christians, from praying to singing to serving isn’t to get somewhere with God, or to earn God’s favor; we do these things because, in Christ, we already belong to God. Living like this is just what kind of happens when grace grabs hold and refuses to let go; we can’t help but make melody together.
So lets do it…
The first music was percussive. Drums were used to tell stories and eventually communicate over distances of space and time. But somewhere along the line, it was discovered that if you changed the tightness of a drum it would create different pitches – pitches that could eventually become a melody.
Strictly speaking, a melody is a sequence of single notes that are musically satisfying. What makes the connection between the notes satisfying is how they relate to one another, something we might call harmony – which is exactly what we’re going to try to produce right now…
[We broke the sanctuary into four quadrants and gave each section a note to sing C-E-G-C in order sing a harmonic chord)
As we come to the conclusion of our series on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, it’s notable that Paul didn’t start that particular church. In fact, they were strangers to one another when he shows up in the book of Acts.
In other words, they didn’t pick him.
And yet, what wildly wonderful good news! God delights in gathering together people who otherwise have nothing in common save for the fact that Jesus calls them friends. Paul reminds us again and again and again that we, with all our differences, can actually make melody and harmony together because God is in the business of making something of our nothing.
In many ways, God is the great conductor of an orchestra we call the church in which we are all given instruments to play however we see fit, all while God keeps us in rhythm with each other. When we begin to see, and to hear, how we make music together, it starts to reshape everything else about our lives.
Strangers become sisters and others become brothers.
We, who were once far off are brought near by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We, who have no business being close to God at all, are incorporated into Christ’s body to be Christ’s body for the world.
And it’s because of all this work done by God for us that we can give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gratitude, like music, changes things.
We can certainly go about day to day complaining about particular individuals who drive us crazy, we can lament the need to mow our lawns, we can even grumble about having to help our kids with their homework.
Or, with gratitude, we can reframe it such that we get to be connected with the strange and wondrous and confounding human beings around us, we get to spend time outside communing with creation, and we get to sit down with our kids and watch their minds grow and change before our very eyes.
Music and gratitude are not distractions from the harsh truths of life. Instead, they give us the means by which we can experience all that life offers knowing all the while that God is, in fact with us.
In the end, Paul is right – it is not only possible, but even necessary, that we should “always and for everything” give thanks. God transforms the darkest night and the most frightening storms into glorious day and beautiful seas.
God can even take a ragtag group of people called church and make a melody. Amen.