Make a Joyful Noise

The people of God sing. After escaping from the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea, the people of Israel sang a song to the Lord. In fact this song, the Song of Miriam, is the oldest piece of Hebrew scripture in existence. Singing was part of Israel’s formal worship in both tabernacle and tem-ple. Then the Psalms bear rich testimony that in joy and sorrow, in praise and lament, the faithful raise their voices in song to God. Hymn singing also was practiced by Jesus and his disciples (Matt. 26:30). The Apostle Paul instructed the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. (Col. 3: 16-17).

Yet today so many of us treat hymns as “background” rather than as an opportunity for serious listening, much less participation. So many folks will just stand and stare stoned-faced as others try their best to raise their voices almost alone when the hymns are sung. But this is not supposed to be the case.

Of all the musical instruments that may be employed in the praise of God, the human voice has priority. Other instruments are to be used primarily in the service of the singing of God’s people. Reformed theologian Karl Barth points out that singing is not an option for the people of God; it is one of the essential ministries of the church:

The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from a soulful response to God’s amazing power and love it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression. What we believe is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles and mutters, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only as a group of people which is not sure of its cause, whose ministry and witness is tepid at best. Just imagine being a visitor wandering in, looking for fellowship and meaning for life, only to find a bunch of people looking like they hate part of the soul of our very worship experience. Will they want to come back and be part of that?

No, the praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the parish is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church. Sure, sometimes it’s not easy; sometimes the hymns are unfamiliar, but within a verse we can all get the hang of the melody. And you know what? Bad singing is much more joyous and fun than no singing. You ought to hear me in the car!

In Tennessee, I had a congregation that had some problems deciding how they wanted to tackle a certain issue. They were going at it tooth and nail. But every Sunday, they would all get together, young and old, left and right, high church and low, and they would sing those hymns at the top of their lungs, knowing there were a few clunkers here and there, a few notes that got abused, and a few ear drums that were insult-ed. And they relished in that! We would all smile when those hymns were over because they did that work together. And it was fun!!!

So, folks — well, let’s face it — GUYS, when the bishop comes on June 24th, I want us to sing. As un-trained as our voices are, as grumbly as they are, sing! I promise you, your neighbor in the pew may look like you’ve gone nuts, but God will be smiling.

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