Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:15-20
Churches love arguing over music used in worship. There are the traditionalists, those who typically adhere to using music only between the years of 1400 and 1900s. They forget that our traditional hymns were once considered ‘new’ and controversial to those who believed chant was the only proper type of music to be used in worship. There are those who are thankful for the music that came out during the time of the Second Vatican Council, songs written by David Haas and Marty Haugen, but they see no place for the ‘boring’ traditional hymns or the repetitive worship songs of the 2000s. Then there are those that believe anything but praise and worship is ‘outdated’ and too difficult to follow. They opt for the repetitious phrases and easy melodies of praise and worship, overlooking the theological depth and beauty found in traditional hymns of our past.
At some point, the music wars have to stop. Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts. To me, the apostle Paul says all we need to know right there in his letter to the Ephesians. Sing the psalms. Sing the hymns. Sing the spiritual songs. Sing it all… as long as you are singing it to the Lord in your hearts.
Gregorian chant may not be my thing, but who am I to stop someone from worshiping God with their hearts? Praise and worship music may be too simplistic for many, but have we not all felt the depth of worship in our soul as we meditate on a simple phrase in worship? How is a worship song any different than repeating ‘Jesus, Remember Me’ or worshiping God during a Taize service? Hymns may be considered boring to many, but if they can focus their hearts on God, how could their singing not honor Him?
God has gifted us with different types of music, thanks to his creative spirit flowing through his creatures. Within our different genres used in worship, he has given us upbeat, joyful songs and slow, meditative songs, positive songs in a major key, and mournful songs in a minor key. The Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” If we are singing the words of Scripture, it is all good. It is all inspired. It all brings God glory.
Jesus repeatedly warns the Pharisees not to focus on outward appearances and rules, but to focus on cultivating an inward humble heart. My concern is that the church has become so caught up in the battle over which genres are allowed or are not allowed in worship that we have forgotten the purpose of singing in the first place, to set our hearts on God. We do not need to love each song to be able to set our hearts on God while we sing. We do not need to appreciate the melody, the key, or the tempo to sing from our hearts. We need only to choose to give God the gift of our voices and our hands and our instruments. We need only humble our hearts and remember why we do what we do. We need only to remind ourselves that someone standing next to us may be connecting with God through a song for which we personally have no affinity.
Let us not stand in the way of the Holy Spirit’s movement in our music, in all types of music from chant to praise and worship, from minor keys to major, from slow to fast. Let us not stand in the way of others connecting with God. Let us not stand in the way of our hearts being lifted in worship, for that is the only reason we come together to sing.
Before we take a breath or play a note this week, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves why we do what we do. The breath in our lungs comes from God and to God it should return. We should remind ourselves to stay humble, recognizing that God can speak to us through any means he chooses, keeping the door of our hearts open so that we can hear his voice. May we stay positive, recognizing that we have the ability to choose to go through the motions and grumpily follow along or we can choose to give God each song that comes in front of us by singing and playing it in our hearts.
There’s no music war or battle that needs to be won. The only battle is within our hearts.