The Gift Of SongSeries: Turbulence
THE GIFT OF SONG
Sermon By Terry Siverd / May 03, 2020 / Cortland Church of Christ
Good morning to each one of you. We miss you greatly and love you dearly.
Our thanks to Vic Rossi for the wonderful message he delivered last Sunday. He's become quite a preacher.
You'll notice that our venue has changed. Jeannie is helping me record this message from my study. We're grateful for the technology but it can never fully take the place of our weekly gatherings. To be able to see the faces others and hear their voices makes the experience of group worship to God so very special.
Nothing stops us from reading & studying The Word of God in a private setting.
Likewise, for praying - - we can go into our “closet” and pour out our hearts to the Lord.
We can partake of The Supper at home, even though it lacks that communal aspect that makes it even richer.
We can also listen to the preaching - - perhaps with less distractions than we encounter in our assemblies. I have to confess that I am “hindered” by the absence of visual and sometimes audible feedback. This is especially true when it come to our interactive class discussions. Being home-bound reminds us: there's something quite heavenly about gathering together in one place.
We can also engage in giving from afar, which many of us are doing on a regular basis. I want to commend you for your ongoing faithful generosity. Your giving during these days has been inspiring.
Finally, we can join our voices in singing in satellite locations, but here again, its not quite the same. Part of the beauty of acappella singing is that it involves ... speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph.5:19).
This morning I have titled my sermon, “The Gift Of Song.” As Paul notes in Col.3:16, the act of singing conveys God's wisdom by means of teaching and admonishing. Learning to heed the Biblical messages offered in hymns thoughtfully written brings rich blessings. Sometimes we fail miserably in this regard: we can sing a song robustly (with heart and pathos), only to go our way and fail to live out that which we sang about. This should not be the case.
It is really important that we practice what we sing!!
Today I want to invite you to join with me in thinking together about three songs - - two today, and one soon to come. The singing of hymns has the uncanny ability to shape & reshape our thinking & disposition, almost instantly.
The apostle James wrote in Js.5:13 - - Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. The three songs that will be the focus of our attention today and on another Sunday in the near future are: Be Still, My Soul … Be With Me, Lord … and Be Thou My Vision. In actuality all three of these songs qualify as prayer-hymns. They have the power to nurture and calm our soul when we are suffering. They also have the capacity to draw forth joy, allowing us to be cheerful even in the midst of suffering.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we're not all suffering in the same degree. This deadly virus has indeed brought serious suffering to many: 60K fellow citizens have died and their loved ones are grieving terribly. This number is quadrupled when we scan the globe - - bringing about 230K deaths among 3.2M cases. Yet most of us have gone unscathed, with the exception of suffering boredom. But even here, this boredom is often a mask for a disconcerting & wearisome worry - - even fear & anxiety.
We are providing some video renditions of these two songs - - attached to our website sermon notes. I would urge you all to click on them and sing along.
BE STILL, MY SOUL
This song derives it roots from Ps.46:10 (cease striving and know that I am God). This peace-giving hymn was written in the years following the reformation movement in Europe. Katharina von Schlegel, the author of this stirring hymn, lived about 200 years after the death of Luther. Martin Luther spearheaded this reformation, which burst forth with great excitement and enthusiasm. Sadly ,however, two centuries later things had waned to the extent that the fires of reformation had turned to embers. We know very little about Katharina von Schlegel. She wrote a number of hymns, but this is the only one that has survived the test of time. This hymn served in helping to re-energize Christians who were living in a 17th century religious world that had grown cold, sterile and lifeless. I think that God has often used used songs like von Schlegel's Be Still, My Soul, to revive His people.
The lyrics are filled with assurances: the Lord is on Thy side … In every change He faithful will remain and admonitions: Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain … Thy hope, they confidence let nothing shake.
Virgil Bachman was a U.S. WWII veteran from Michigan who wrote these words of reflection after the war: I had probably sung 'Be Still, My Song' many times before, but it was not until I sang it in a small stucco church in a tiny village in France during WWII that (it) became a part of my life. The war was going very badly. The news from the front was disheartening. We had suffered reverses. We were edgy, confused and discouraged. It was at this crucial time that some chaplain arranged a service in this quaint church somewhere in France. Halfway through the service it happened - - we sang, 'Be still my soul, The Lord is on thy side.' It was as though the Lord was speaking to me in a very personal way. 'Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain - - the cross of war with its hardships, misery, separation and pain.' As we sang the second stanza, 'Be still my soul, Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as His has the past.' God seemed to whisper,'Don't give up, I'm still in command, yes, even here...' The thoughts of dead and missing friends came as through a choked-up throat I sang, 'Be still my soul, though dearest friends depart.' Soothing, personal assurance came at that moment... With renewed spirit I was able to sing the final stanza: 'Be still my soul, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.' As we left that little church, the peace I felt among the horrors of war was nothing but a gift of the Holy Spirit.
This hymn is an antidote for anxiety. Now is a really good time to sing Be Still, My Soul. Although it was not written by David (it seems to spring from Ps.46), it comforts and strengthens us in ways very similar to some of David's psalms. It has the feel of David's 23rd psalm. Have you ever contemplated how David sang his way through life? He wrote at least 73 psalms.* David had a gift for song-writing and singing, but he was also by richly blessed by the gift of song.
BE WITH ME, LORD
Many of us have grown up with this beautiful prayer hymn, written by one of our brethren, L. O. Sanderson. Actually, it was written in 1935 as a collaborative effort of two friends** – L. O. Sanderson & T. O. Chisholm. I'm not sure if or how well known it is among other groups, but for many of us who have enjoyed a long association among the churches of Christ, it was, and remains, a standard in our fellowship. One writer, in commenting on this song, remembered the custom in the congregation of his youth. The song was used frequently as a closing hymn, and the “me” was changed to “us”. I recall that as well.
Sanderson tells how the musical melody of this song came to him at 2AM one Tuesday night. To Sanderson's delight, about eight days later, he received a letter from Chisholm conveying to him that the theme for a powerful poem came to him … on the same Tuesday night shortly after midnight. Sanderson was born and raised in a log cabin in Arkansas. His parents were musical, but they could not afford any instruments. Sanderson was a gifted child - - he began school at the age of 4 and was promoted to the 4th grade at the age of six. He took all the schooling he could before he was permitted to quit school. Around the age of 11, he recalls that his father “put me on my own”, meaning that he would henceforth have to buy his own clothes and earn money if he desired any further schooling. He began picking cotton so he that he could afford to attend music schools. By the age of 15, he was certified to teach his own singing school clinics.
Knowing this about the author, the words of the song come to life: Be with me, Lord – I cannot live without Thee, I dare not try to take one step alone, I cannot bear the loads of life, unaided, I need Thy strength to lean myself upon. The second stanza describes “the loads of life” - - Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten, If storms of trial burst above my head, If lashing seas leap ev'rywhere about me, They cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.
The fourth verse is also a good one, but for me the third stanza is the real gem. Be with me, Lord! No other gift or blessing Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare - - A constant sense of Thy abiding presence, Where'er I am, to feel that Thou art near. Nothing in life will serve us better than cultivating A CONSTANT SENSE OF GOD'S ABIDING PRESENCE.
I do not know what particular Scriptures might have been on the heart of Chisholm when he wrote the words to this marvelous song. There are several that come to mind. I cannot sing this song without thinking of the latter portion of Heb.13:5 - - He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is My Helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?
Dear Heavenly Father, Help us to cease striving - - to be still and know deep down that YOU are GOD. Father, when our world seems to be crumbling all around, anchor our souls in the sure knowledge that You are on our side and that in every change You will remain faithful. Grant us a life that can be empowered so as to endure (and even smile) in the face of suffering and dis-ease, undergirded by a constant sense of Thy abiding presence. Through Christ Jesus, The Rock Of Our Salvation, we pray. Amen.
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* King David wrote almost half of the 150 psalms that comprise the Hebrew Psalter.
David wrote the following Psalms: 3-9, 11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133 & 138-145.
** Sanderson and Chishom also collaborated to write A New Creature (Songs of Faith And Praise / #619).
A special thanks to Jeannie Siverd for procuring these two beautiful video renditions of the above hymns.