Love Song

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A while ago, I was driving from my house to the church… from Davenport to DeWitt… cruising along US-61… listening to NPR.

I don’t remember what show I was listening to—Morning Edition or Here and Now or whatever—but it was a show that played little snippets of music between segments. And on this particular day, there was a familiar sound of piano and bass and quarter-note triplets.

And it took me a few minutes to place it. And it took me the rest of the drive to remember all of the words. But by the time I pulled into the parking lot, I had the whole thing. Because somewhere along the journey of life, I had memorized the lyrics to April in Paris. And now they are stored somewhere in my brain… forever.

There is power in music.

When Clive Wearing was in his 40s, he developed herpes simplex encephalitis. A virus inflamed his brain and damaged his medial temporal lobe: the part of the brain responsible for explicit memory like facts about the world or memories of events. After the disease took its course, Clive had a memory span of a few seconds, could no longer form new lasting memories, and had lost almost all of his past.

He is still himself. He still remembers his wife. You can ask him a question… and he can give you an answer… and while he is giving you the answer… he will forget the question… and that you had asked one… and who you are.

But he is a musician. And this man without a memory can still play music. And not only can he play it, he can play with it. He can improvise and joke and create… and then forget that he has ever played that piece at all.

Music works its way into the very core of our being and becomes part of who we are. And even when we forget who we are and what we are and where we are and how we are… the music that we know still lives inside us.

There is power in music.

Our reading today is from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. And in our reading today—in the middle of this letter—Paul drops a verse… maybe a little bit more…

Actually, that might not be quite right. This portion of scripture doesn’t really have good rhythm or meter or rhyme. Even in Greek. But someone once called it the Christ hymn… and the name stuck… so let’s imagine…

In our reading today—in the middle of this letter—Paul drops a verse… maybe a little bit more.

And that’s strange. I mean… I listen to a lot of music. I am always listening to something. And I have never put K. Flay into an email… or Prince into a text message… or Cat Empire into a thank-you note.

And your musical tastes might be different, but I’m guessing that you haven’t, either. It’s just not something that we do. 

But Paul is sitting in prison, writing this letter to the church in Philippi, to these friends who he has known for so long. And this song wells up from inside him—this song that he might have song with other Christians in Corinth or Thessalonica or Rome—and he writes. it. down.

Christ Jesus, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I’ve told you parts of this story before.

When I was in college, I fell in with some Christians. We would meet together on Friday nights to read scripture, and pray prayers, and do a little bit of business. But we always started with singing. People would close their eyes… and raise their hands… and sway ever so slightly…

Our God is an awesome God.

Shout to the Lord. All the earth, let us sing.

Come, now is the time to worship.

…for fifteen minutes… or for half an hour… or until time had lost all meaning.

And some of the songs that we sang were fine; Mike might even take out his guitar one of these days and we might sing them. And some of the songs that we sang were troubling; I would mumble my way through some of the lyrics because I didn’t want to sing them. 

And all of the songs that we sang worked their way into the very core of our being and became part of who we are. Because that’s what songs do. That’s how music works.

But the thing that I remember about the songs that I remember is that they were about how great God is…

…about how God reigns from heaven above…

…about how mountains bow down and seas roar at the sound of God’s name…

…about how, one day, every tongue will confess and every knee will bow down (but that the greatest treasure remains for those who choose God now)…

…and nothing else.

The songs would say that now was the time to worship, to shout to the Lord and sing, because our God is an awesome God…

…and then the preachers—those fellow students who were mature Christians and had memorized the right verses—would say…

…well…

There’s this idea that swirls around. Preachers preach it… pray-ers pray it… and I’m sure that, somewhere, singers sing it. There’s this idea that swirls around that we worship God because God is powerful; and that we put our faith in Christ because God is angry

…that God is holding each os us over the pit of hell much like someone might hold a spider, or some other loathsome creature, over the fire… that God abhors us for our sin and is dreadfully provoked…

…so God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself by paying the price for our sins in the currency of blood…

…so we’d better get in line and believe… because God reigns from heaven above… and mountains fall to the ground at the sound of his name… and, one day, every tongue will confess and every knee will bow… but the treasure is for those who choose God now

…and everyone else… … … well, there’s that fire right there.

And, sometimes, that idea is explicit. And, sometimes, that idea is hiding under the surface. And, sometimes, that idea sneaks into songs, and works its way into the very core of our being and becomes part of who we are.

And we learn to fear God.

But I will insist that the verse—maybe a little bit more—that Paul drops in the middle of this letter tells a different story. I insist that the whole Bible… and the whole tradition… and the whole of our history tells a different story…

…Christ is great because he put aside glory to become one of us… to live among a dispossessed people in an occupied land… to be the people who we could not be and do the things that we could not do and live the lives that we could not lead… to show us how to live and to love and to be human… even to the point of being hung on a cross and laid in a tomb.

And just as the God who called the worlds into being led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to a land of milk and honey, the Christ who redeemed the world let all of us out of slavery to sin to a kingdom of extravagant welcome… and radical charity… and steadfast love… and abundant grace.

Christ is exalted because Christ did what God does: the loved the world.

And how can we help but love the God who first loved us?

There is power in music.

Music works its way into the very core of our being and becomes part of who we are. And even when we forget who we are and what we are and where we are and how we are… the music that we know still lives inside us.

And I don’t know how many songs lean more toward fear and how many songs lean more toward love. And I know that there will always be songs that are fine… and songs that are troubling… and songs that are even glorious.

And God is awesome… and shouting and singing to the Lord is a wonderful thing to do… and now is the time to worship… and those are things worth singing.

But it is so important to remember that we do not come to God because God is powerful… and we do not fear God because God is angry… we trust God because God. Is. Love.

And our whole lives are acts of worship because we strive to be like God… to be like Christ…to put aside glory for the sake of friends and neighbors and strangers and enemies. 

Because our song—the song that God has put in our souls… the song that wells up within us… the song that we will remember even when we forget who we are and what we are and where we are and how we are… the song that lives inside us and brings us to life—is a love song.

And even more, it is the song that is love.

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