Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Colossians 3: 12-17, Psalm 100: 1-5)
There’s a lot that goes into writing a song. Much like a lot goes into baking a loaf of sourdough bread, or building a house, or earning a college degree. It’s a lot of little things, done with intentionality and sometimes in a particular order, that makes it come together the way it does.
And in whatever project you’re taking on, almost always the foundation has to come first. Before the house, a row of cinderblocks deep in the ground outlining the frame. Before a yummy loaf of sourdough bread, the heralded starter. Before declaring a major, a host of general college classes.
When it comes to a song, the foundation can vary. Sometimes it begins with the beat and goes from there; other times it’s a melody that gets stuck in your head. Still other times it’s a chord progression or guitar riff that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Case in point: when the rock band U2 was working on the follow-up to their wildly successful “Joshua Tree” album, they found themselves in a serious creative funk. This went on for a while; long enough that it threatened the very future of the band. They were struggling mightily to come up with that foundation, and they were beginning to question if they would ever find it.
Audio recordings of the band’s rehearsals chronicle one particular jam session where the guys were messing around, trying to land on something, anything, that might prove to be a spark. And at one point The Edge – U2’s famed guitarist – stumbled on a particular chord progression that he kept repeating over and over again: Am, D, F, G, Am, D, F, G. Bono, the lead singer, began riffing on some lyrics. Bass and drums found their groove. They knew in that moment they had something in the works, and they were right – that riff would later become their huge hit, “One,” the lead single off “Achtung Baby” that went on to sell more than 18 million copies.
A lot goes into writing a song.
Just ask Paul. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ; Paul, once the church’s worst persecutor and later its greatest champion. Paul, church planter and renowned letter writer; one of the first Christian theologians other than Jesus himself. We don’t usually think of Paul as a songwriter but in our passage today it is a song he is speaking about; a song that captivates our hearts and leads us to give thanks to the one who is most deserving of it. The kind of song that Paul describes is a song that gets stuck in your head, as good songs do, and just won’t let you go.
What goes into writing a song like this, we might ask? Paul gives us all the ingredients, the way a homebuilder takes their long supply list to Lowes or a baker lays the recipe on the kitchen counter. The foundation of the song that Paul implores the church to sing has five components to it: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
This is a pretty significant foundation, don’t you think? It goes deep. Take “compassion,” for example – what the King James version translates as bowels of mercy. A strange expression to be sure, but actually closer to the original Greek, since in that time the bowels, the gut, were considered to be the place where human emotions were stored and released. It’s deep stuff we’re talking about here: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience.
There’s a reason Paul is advising the Colossian church specifically to sing this song. Colossae was a trade-heavy, cosmopolitan city in the heart of modern-day Turkey. Like many churches that Paul corresponded with, the Colossian church was facing a number of challenges, the most significant of which was a group of church leaders – traveling preachers, if you will – who had taken up residence in the church community, preaching an overly-legalistic version of faith that emphasized specific ascetic practices, dietary restrictions, and other strict codes for living. Throughout his letter to the Colossian church, Paul pushes back on this works-righteousness way of understanding the Christian faith. His message is clear: society and the culture at large seek to define us by our “doings. But God doesn’t do that. God seeks a deeper knowledge, one that gets to the heart of the matter, to one’s gut, even And what is that deep knowledge?
It is compassion. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. Patience.
Paul not only encourages the people to do these things but to sing them. For Paul knows, as any good worship leader does, the importance of singing in worship, hymns and spiritual songs, as he puts it. As one scholar points out, “Hymns were meant to function as vehicles not only for worship, but also for instruction. So, if people sing loud and sing out, the words and sentiments might sink into their hearts and minds and gut and ensure that they leave the worshiping moment differently than they came.” Like melody and lyrics that get stuck in your head and won’t let you go – that is the kind of song and the kind of singing God is calling us to.
Our Psalm today is one of those songs. The vast majority of psalms in our Bible were written with the intention of being sung, as this one. Now I have vivid memories of my youth group growing up, the singing we’d do at the top of our two hours together on Sunday nights, our youth leaders leading us with their guitars. One of the songs we sang was simply titled “100” – it was Psalm 100 put to music, key of G, had a doo-wop feel to it, the low voices singing one part and the high voices another:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord
All the, all the earth
Serve the Lord, the Lord with gladness
Come before God’s presence with singing….
And you know what I find notable about that? It’s not that we dared to sing an ancient piece of scripture as a doo-wop tune. It’s that forty years later I can still remember the key, I can still sing the melody, I can still hear all of us singing it.
Songs have a way of doing that; getting embedded in our subconscious and staying there. Imagine this: sitting at the bedside of a loved one who is not long for this world. Hospice has been called in. Family and friends surround the bed, waiting for that moment of transition. The person lying there is unresponsive, has been for awhile; even though they are certainly aware of who all’s there, of the voices they hear, of the conversations and the stories remembered and shared. They are aware of all of that, but they don’t show it.
Until someone starts singing. A familiar hymn: How Great Thou Art. I’ll Fly Away. Amazing Grace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Their eyes flicker open.
Bright shining as the sun….
The hand they’re holding, gripped tighter.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise….
A smile spreads across their face and maybe even mouths some of the words.
Than when we first begun….
I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before; I imagine you have as well. That is the depth that songs can take us; and that is why Paul exhorts the church to sing their hearts out. Because when songs have deep meaning and purpose, they can have an impact on us and lead us to have an impact outside ourselves. But without meaning, without purpose, there may be something that sounds like music, but it’s not a song.
The19th century Irish novelist George Moore tells the story of Irish peasants building roads during the Great Depression. For a while everything was fine – the men worked heartily, glad to have jobs, singing their Irish songs as they went about their labor. The road work progressed nicely. That is, until some of the workers up front began to notice that the roads they’d been working so hard on were leading nowhere – literally, running into bogs or just ending abruptly. And so as word of this trickled back to the masses, the truth gradually dawning on them, the men grew listless. They kept working, although the quality and efficiency of their work noticeably declined. But you know what they stopped doing entirely? They stopped singing.
Back over the summer, your Stewardship ministry team was talking about the theme for this year’s Stewardship season, which starts today. Earlier in worship you heard Mike Wellman talk about it: “Make a Joyful Noise,” taken right from the 100th psalm. I love the way that Mike and the Stewardship team phrased it In the letter you’ll be getting later this week:
As a dissonant chord in an anthem needs “resolution” to create harmony, so too is Trinity meeting the challenges of the pandemic and celebrating their “resolution.” Thanks to your generosity, we’ve certainly been able to make a joyful noise. This Fall let us again pledge to “resolve” the discord with further harmony, coming together as “one body… called to peace… thankful…singing to God with gratitude in [our] hearts.”
I love this idea of stewardship and ministry in general as song – a song of deep meaning and purpose in our gut, the multiple melodies of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience coming together in five-part harmony; a beautiful sound that seeks to resolve the dissonant discord of our lives and our world. Making a joyful noise – a curious juxtaposition, if you think about it, “joyful noise” – as not just our personal commitment to the work and ministry of God’s church, but a testimony to the song that is our very life.
And beloved, the truth of things, if we think about it, is that we are all songwriters – even if we haven’t a clue about music theory, even if we couldn’t tell a treble clef from a bass clef, even if we have zero experience playing a musical instrument. We are all songwriters. And along with that, we are singers – even if we don’t know how to carry a tune, even if we aren’t sure what part to sing. We are songwriters, we are singers, simply by virtue of the fact that we are part of the larger musical masterpiece that God has been composing since the foundation of the world. We have our part to sing; we have our own special song to add to that masterpiece.
And so perhaps the question that you and I should ponder this day and in the days to come is this: what is the song that you long to write with your life? What is the song that you long to write with your life? Where does your passion lie? What gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you what you need to go through your day? How do compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience serve as a foundation for the lovely song you’re in the process of writing with your very life?
And what is it that makes your heart sing? What brings you joy; what inspires you? Where do you find deep meaning and purpose – is it in family? Friends? A desire to see the world made a better place? A passion for letting that love fill up your life and the lives of those around you?
Friends, I want to invite you to take time in the coming weeks to think about the song that is your life and how you are sharing that song with the world. I invite you to consider the impact your song can have on yourself and on others. I challenge you to think about the ways your song can merge with the melodies of others and create something truly beautiful, spiritual, other-worldly. For we are all songwriters and singers. We are all children of a God who gives us every reason imaginable to sing our hearts out. Thanks be to God for the song we’ve been given. Thanks be to God for the song we get to sing together!
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 John Haughey, S.J., The Conspiracy of God (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973), 35.