Monday, June 23, 2008

Music and Worship

All morning I have been blessed to hear the organ being played by candidates for our Organist position. Several candidates have been brought our way, and I have been privileged to hear them rehearsing for our interview. Music is a communication all its own. Certain songs/hymns are played and I’m taken back to another time. Methodists have always been a singing people.

Just recently our choir and the choirs of other United Methodist Churches performed in a tribute to Charles Wesley’s 300th birthday. It was a glorious evening at Twitchell Auditorium at Converse College. With orchestra, and narration, we were led in a beautiful trip through some of Charles Wesley’s greatest hymns. Many of you know that John Wesley, Charles’ brother, was the founder of the Methodist Church. Some say that John was the preacher and Charles the musician/hymn writer.

Music is the great gift of God. Whether it’s the gift of the birds singing early in the day or the gift of a church choir, like ours, praising God, music calls forth our deepest selves. Psalm 150 invites all creation, all who breathe, to praise God with cymbal, and strings. Charles Wesley writes: “O for a Thousand Tongues to sing, my great redeemer’s praise; the glories of my God and King; the triumphs of his grace.” I wish I had a thousand tongues, said Wesley, to give the praise that God deserves.

Several years ago, when Betsy (our oldest daughter) was in elementary school, she sang in the chorus. And, of course, mom and dad were there. I was amazed that the choir sand “religious” music. With the separation of church state and all, I didn’t think it would be permitted. But, as I thought about it later, as our Frances and Martha, sang in choruses, the best music is religious music.

Nothing is more beautiful than hearing voices crying out to God, for God, and because of God. Tom Long tells the story about visiting one of the great Episcopal Churches in New England, where the great Phillips Brooks preached. Long entered the sanctuary. It was quiet. Then, all of sudden, someone sang, “Come Thou Almighty King, help us thy name to sing…” It got quiet again. Then, the voice sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty…” After several verses, Long decided that this great church was so filled with praise for God that voices were there all the time singing and praising God.

Looking around, Long found the sexton on his back under the pews cleaning and polishing and singing his way around the sanctuary. Long says that it was almost as if the sexton, aware of the holiness of his task, could not help but break into hymns.

The organ is still going in the sanctuary. We are blessed with a great instrument, a great pipe organ. A pipe organ brings out all the sounds of a whole orchestra almost. It is a pleasure to hear the singing along with the pipe organ. Dale has been playing in the absence of our latest organist. We regretted losing Gregg Duncan. But, with Dale at the console, and Mark leading the choir, we have been able to go on celebrating “the Church’s one Foundation”.

Pray for the Organist Search Committee as we come now to the end of our work. Pray that God will give us insight as we take care of this important ministry of our church.

See you in church!
Dave Nichols

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sermon Series from Genesis

I am currently preaching a series of sermons on the book of Genesis. I first preached these sermons (four of them) in a revival when I was district superintendent. So, I pulled out the ideas and re-worked them for now. Every sermon must be re-worked for a new setting.

Two weeks ago I preached about Genesis 1: 26-31 and asked the question: "Who are you?" Yesterday I preached from Genesis 3 about sin, always a popular topic. I asked the question that God asked: "What have you done?" I talked about God's placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with everything necessary to make life full and meaningful. God often took walks in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve.

God said: "Eat whatever you like, except for the one tree here." A wonderful Jewish theologian says that this story reminds him of what it's like having a GPS system in your car. I was riding with a friend of mine the other day on the way to a golf course. Yesterday one of my members wanted to know which golf course I didn't know the directions too. (so funny)

I friend put in "recreation" and the golf course came up. We drove down the road a bit and a woman's voice said: "Turn left." Then, "Turn right"- "Take this exit."

My Jewish theologian says that no self-respecting Jew would do what a voice in a car told him/her to do. If told to go left, he would most likely go right.

That's good Jewish theology, and good Christian theology. God says: "Do not eat." And, we eat. The serpent tempts. Eve eats and turns to Adam and says: "Here, eat this dummy." He eats. And, they're exposed, naked, afraid, and they try to hide.

God says:"What have you done?"

I didn't get to use one of my favorite stories yesterday in the second service. Time ran short. Carlyle Marney preached on sin and walked to the narthex to greet people on their way out. One lovely young woman asked: "Where is the Garden of Eden?" Marney said, without hesitation, "215 Elm Street, Knoxville, Tennessee." The young woman said: "You're lying; it's somewhere in Asia."

Marney said: "You can't prove it by me. When I was a boy on Elm Street I remember the day when I stole a quarter from my mother's purse and bought candy with it. I ate the candy, but I felt so ashamed that I hid in the closet."

Marney said: "My mother came looking for me. She said: 'where are you? what have you done? why are you hiding?'"

Sin means, as I said yesterday, living my life as if God were not its author. The passage ends with God making clothes for Adam and Eve, a sign of God's graciousness and forgiveness and protection. The consequence is still there; "Leave the garden." But, so is forgiveness.

See you in church.
Dave Nichols

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