“A Profound Experience”

~ Psalm 66:1-4/Colossians 3:12-16 ~


A cynic would say that all music is manipulative. Including, or maybe especially, church music. Music manipulates your emotions. Through the ages composers and musicians created clever devices to manipulate our emotions. A haunting melody, a catchy tune, a simple harmony, a four-part chorus all designed to work their way into our bodies to manipulate our emotions. The evocative percussive rhythms of a jazz or rock beat, the driving cadence of the snare in a Scottish bagpipe band, the mesmerizing beat of the bongo, the thunderous force of the timpani, the crash of the cymbals –  all to make our bodies move. The serendipity of an improvised jazz lick, a key change at just the right moment, the swell of the symphony bringing it all to a dramatic climax. So manipulative! The great emotional manipulation of music, says the cynic.

It is because of its emotional pull that some faith traditions have been quite leery of music in worship. Those traditions which emphasize a more rational approach to faith are fearful of the manipulative effects of music on the emotions of the worshipper. Being fearful of the artist who looks outside the Bible for inspiration they are scornful of any poetry that isn’t the very words of scripture themselves. And instruments? Too worldly. To manipulative.

And, of course, music just might make you want to move, it “makes me wanna dance!” Thus, music can be dangerous; things just might get out of hand. Evidently, in the early church exuberant music, and its accompanied corollary, dancing, were quite ubiquitous. Singing and dancing in church everywhere! So much so that church leaders tried to quash the practice. In the 3rd century, Gregory of Nazianzus expressed his concern:

Let us sing hymns instead of striking drums, psalms instead of frivolous music and song…modesty instead of laughter, wise contemplation instead of intoxication, seriousness instead of delirium.

By the end of the 4th century the intolerant John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, virtually ended the discussion with this pronouncement: “for where there is dancing there also is the Devil.” So, yes, for centuries religious cynics have feared the manipulative emotional power of music.

Of course, we, we who are not cynics, welcome all that musical emotion manipulation. We embrace the effects of music in our bodies, in our lives – in our worship. We are not afraid to let music work in us to move us spiritually. Oh, we are thoughtful in this. We don’t go for cheap thrills. We don’t make music the end thing. But we, we here, welcome the profound experience of music in worship.

Indeed, music has been part and partial of religious observance for thousands of years. The Psalms are replete with urgings to make music as an expression of worship. “Make a joyful noise,” says the psalm Carol read, “sing with glorious praise.”

It continues in the early church. Along with admonitions to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” the church in Colossae is to sing – sing with “gratitude in your hearts,” sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. As our Call to Worship said, “How often, in making music, we are moved to a more profound Alleluia!” “Let every instrument be tuned for praise! Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!” We embrace the profound experience of music in our bodies, in our lives – in our worship.

True, we are Presbyterians; we are liturgical which might serve as a brake of sorts. But in our liturgy music plays a significant role. We sing hymns…from a hymnal yet (OK, not lately). We like the inclusiveness of our UCC hymnal. We stay away from ‘blood’ hymns. We sing all the verses – most of the time. The choir sings a fairly wide range of choral music, from typical church anthems to spirituals to an occasional non-churchy song, like What a Wonderful World just a few Sundays ago. I think we’d all agree that for us music in our worship is a profound experience. No doubt!

I must say, Kelly, for this church, you have been a profound experience. Not only have your nimble fingers dancing over the piano keys (and occasionally harpsichord keys) moved us in our worship. Not only have your choir-directing skills got our little choir to present some pretty incredible musical offerings. And in this past year + of Zoom worship, your newly discovered music production tech skills helped us to keep on singing, even if it was at home – on mute!

But not only just all that but, you personally, have been a profound experience in the life of our church. Your gentle spirit, your love of the music you bring to us each week, your enthusiasm for new things, including our Music for the Soul adventures. You have been a joy to work with, a wonderful creative collaborative presence. You will be missed, greatly! Yes, you have been a profound experience to us all. Thank you.

And there are more ‘thank you’s’ to come. But first it is time for you to apply your musical skills in leading our choir for the last time. Here is your Noe Valley Ministry Choir under the direction of Music Director, Kelly Savage singing, I’ve Got Peace Like a River. And watch for the key change.

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