April 17, 2016

Church of Peace, UCC

Choir Sunday

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

Acts 16:16-34

All the Earth Gives Back the Song

(first in the series: Faith Set Free)

One of the things that makes the church, the church, is that we are a people who sing together. We always have been. In the earliest days of the church, believers would come together in one place and share praying, and eating, and singing. See there’s something about the singing…

Now over the past two thousand years, the church has experienced significant change —early schisms establishing orthodoxy, the protestant reformation and counter reformations, the brush arbor churches led by slaves in this country, the rise of the mega churches, and still the church keeps changing. And still, church happens when people show up and pray together, and eat together, and sing together, like there’s something about the singing that makes us who we are.

You hear the beginnings of this in the Psalms: “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (Psalm 104:33). Maybe that is meant to be a threat. Or maybe that is the psalmist’s response to being alive. See what God has done. Behold the glory of creation, the splendor of the stars. Remember the promise of the power of God, then we can’t even help it. Praise pours out of our being. Once I see the truth that I have been made by God, that you have been made —created and found out— then what else can we do… Who could stop us? Who would try?

I once had a music teacher who would tell us, “Singing is your birthright.” If you ever wonder whether you have the authority to sing, the test is simple: Were you born? Anybody born has the right to sing; and it might be the case that anybody born can’t help it, really.

Friends, today we are beginning a new sermon series at Church of Peace. It’s called Faith Set Free: Stories and Songs of Liberation. It follows our Lenten series called Faith Locked Up: Letters and Stories from Behind Bars. These pair together nicely; if the problem is captivity, the solution is liberation. When we think of liberation, we think of release and rescue, and that is not wrong. And that is not all.

The promise of liberation is not that the people who are locked up now will be the ones who do the locking up later, where the ones who hold the keys will be the ones behind bars. That’s just switching places. The promise of liberation is lasting and meaningful when everybody gets set free, when everybody’s chains come unfastened, when we don’t even need chains any more. Imagine the world! Activist Lilla Watson says it like this, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Exactly.

In this work of liberation where nobody is truly free until everybody is free, what happens is the ordered sequence for cause-and-effect goes all topsy-turvy. When liberation is going on, victims become heroes, heroes become helpers. You know the song: the powerful are brought down from their thrones, and God lifts up the lowly. Not just to switch places, but so everybody moves toward the greater fullness of liberation, so you can’t even tell who’s rescuing whom.

In just a minute we’ll hear an exhilarating story from the book of Acts. Now it might seem like the course of events follows an orderly progression of cause-and-effect. First there is a slave girl who annoys Paul by going around proclaiming the truth of God. So Paul casts out her spirit which triggers the outrage of her handlers. Which causes Paul and Silas to get dragged into the marketplace. Which causes the crowd to call for their arrest. Which causes the magistrate to throw them into prison. Which causes the jailer to lock them in the innermost cell and so on and so forth…

It’s like that board game mousetrap. Have you seen this game? It’s a whimsical Rube Goldberg machine you build one piece at a time. Turn the crank which causes the swinging foot to kick the marble down the stairs. Which makes the ball fall through the bathtub. Which makes the see-saw drop the trap. Each move causes the next one until the cage comes falling down capturing all the mice.

Maybe it seems like that’s what’s happening in the scripture —one action triggering the next all the way down. Or maybe this is a story of liberation which makes the cause-and-effect go all topsy-turvy…

I invite you to listen for this as Judy reads the scripture. What if the slave girl is the one who reminds Paul and Silas of the song they knew all along? What if the inmates end up saving the jailer’s life and setting him free? What if the singing in the prison is not just a response to the glory of God but part of the very power that causes the earth to shake open? Because you know there is something about the singing.

Singing has been the work of the church since its earliest days. It is our human response to the glory of creation, and maybe that is not all. Maybe it’s the singing that invokes the glory of God. Music is what brings us together, and music is what instigates our liberation, which is so much more than getting sprung from the joint. It’s getting together like this. And who knew we could ever be this free?

May God give blessing to the reading and hearing of this word. (God help those prisons that fall down from the singing.)

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