How Can I Keep From Singing?

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For the next twenty weeks, my sermon themes will have to do with twenty Spiritual Gifts. Today’s gift is “Music,” and the associated scripture passage was Psalm 30.

            My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

 

This hymn always reminds me of Jack. Jack was an active member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, the congregation where I was an intern. Jack was heavily involved in the Sunday School and youth programs at Good Shepherd. Jack was in his mid-50s, but he was a kid at heart, and the kids loved him. He had a beautiful voice, sang in the choir, and he served on the Worship and Music Committee. Jack basically was the Worship and Music Committee. Worship was so important to him, and perhaps the most powerful part of worship for him was music. He found the grace of God in music, the grace of God that gave him peace and hope, comfort and forgiveness. Jack was a blessing to Good Shepherd, and certainly a blessing to me in the short time I knew him.

Jack was also the first person whose death I witnessed.

            Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Jack was already sick by the time I met him. He had bone cancer that was aggressively and excruciatingly spreading throughout his body. Yet he never gave up hope. He never felt pity for himself. I can remember sitting in the sanctuary at Good Shepherd with Jack, as he told me stories from his past. He had been through a lot. And he had done some things that gave him great regret. But in recent years, he had found forgiveness, he had found peace, he had found a new direction in his life, and he had fallen deeply in love with his second wife Jill. (Yes, it was Jack and Jill, and they loved that.)

I can remember sitting with Jack and Jill in various hospital rooms, as they cried and laughed together, knowing what was coming, but trusting that God was with them. And I can remember that Sunday in April that I went into his hospital room right after worship. I discovered that day that death isn’t like in the movies. There wasn’t a clear moment. There wasn’t a doctor there who said, “Time of death, 12:30.” There was Jack lying in the bed, and there was Jill, holding his hand. I didn’t realize at first what was happening, but by the grace of God, I just sat there and put my hand on her shoulder. We sat there for half an hour, as Jack slowly moved from life to death. I have no idea when exactly it happened. It wasn’t like that. It was like a slow, mournful song that played so quietly and so slowly. And as I looked back on those thirty minutes, the only word I can put to it is “holy.”

 

            What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

When we planned Jack’s funeral, we knew that it would be in the church, and that there would be lots of music. I take pride in remembering that I chose the last hymn for the funeral, the one I’ve been singing throughout this sermon. I think it captured beautifully both Jack’s faith in God, that enabled him to continue to find joy even amid the pain and the fear of his illness, and also Jack’s love of music, one of the primary ways he experienced that faith.

Our Psalm today, Psalm 30, reflects this. “O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life even as I was going down to the grave.” “Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.” “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes with the morning.” As I said in last week’s sermon, God will not always cure our illnesses, but God will always heal us, always bring us peace and hope in the midst of anything. Jack knew that. Jack lived that. Jack died with that song on his lips. And so we sang together in the Psalm:

So let our hearts their songs employ
To thank the Lord with hymns of joy

Now, I said I would talk about the Spiritual Gift of Music today. Jack had that gift in spades. I do not. Nor do many of you. And that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s not my calling to create beautiful music. Thank God that Jack was called to that. Thank God that Robert Lowry, who wrote “My Life Flows on in Endless Song,” was called to that. Thank God that our Minister of Music and our choir are called to that. People who have the spiritual gift of music are those who are especially called to create music that glorifies God and changes lives, those who are especially called to give our hearts the words, give our hearts the notes, give our hearts the songs to sing in response to God’s love.

choir-305352

And the rest of us are just called to sing out however we can, with whatever voices we have, with whatever songs we have, in response to the God who is always, always with us. The God who saves us. The God who loves us.

            The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

 

Amen.

2 comments

  • HI Pastor, just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed your sermon and singing today. Don’t know if mom told you but afterwards she said to me, “he did that really well”. LOL she meant your singing. It was very nice and heartwarming. Made me wish I had known Jack. Made me want to sing along with the chorus. I like that song. I also thought the whole service was nice, the special music and hearing from the men from another church. I kind of was thinking Why do we need to advertise that all are welcome. But listening to them and your little non-scripted speech. I think I have changed my mind. I will vote yes. it’s the best way, other than showing people that we do welcome all. So we should! Thank you for sharing as always. 🙂 Do you remember the song The Day the Music Died? Just thought about that. There is a line “can music save your mortal soul?” well listening to the right music, I think it can. 🙂 Happy Sunday! See you Tuesday night. Sherry Date: Sun, 5 Jun 2016 18:26:48 +0000 To: slhock@hotmail.com

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  • Thanks for letting me know how you and your mom felt about the sermon. Jack was amazing…it truly was a blessing to know him. And yes, I sure do remember “American Pie”! I used to have that whole song memorized when I was in high school…I bet I could still recite chunks of it. That’s an interesting take on that line! Thanks for sharing.

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