Why I Am Lutheran–Part III: Song

“Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.” Man, do I love to sing! I took a lot of heat in the clique ridden halls of high school for listening to the kinds of music I did. Imagine a fifteen year old in 1980 walking the halls singing “Do you hear that whistle down the line, I reckon that it’s engine number forty-nine,” or “Oh give me land lots a land under starry skies above; don’t fence me in,” or even “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande.”

Big Band and Swing, Frank and Bing—deathless music, the kind of music you can sing along with, and that’s what matters to me: participation. Garrison Keillor once wrote: “I have made fun of Lutherans for years—who wouldn’t, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.”

So true! Most all Christians love music, but Lutherans love to sing, and we’re willing to do it in public, as long as our pew mates are singing with us. I love contemporary Christian music. I love listening to it, but in church I don’t want to just listen to other people sing; I want to follow the advice of the Amy Grant song: “Sing your praise to the lord. Come on everybody stand up and sing one more Hallelujah!” It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s scripturally sound, honors God and I get to sing along.

In the first part of this series, I wrote about the importance of the liturgy, and song is closely related to that. The primary purpose of the liturgy is to focus our attention upon Christ, and singing helps us do that. We sing hymns, like everyone else, and we have fantastic choirs, but in addition, as part of our worship, Lutherans have the “Ordinaries” (ordinary, every Sunday songs) of the liturgy: the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”), Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).

In other words, throughout the entire service, I get to “sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104) Singing is a very important part of Christian worship. There are 165 references to the words ‘sing’ and ‘singing,’ in Scripture, and they are not just found in our hymnbook, The Psalms, either.

Chronicles tells us to “Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Zechariah commands “Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the LORD.” Samuel says “For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.” Paul tells us in Ephesians to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

The adult Sunday school class recently watched a film (“Amazing Grace”) on the life of the evangelical Member of Parliament and anti-slavery champion William Wilberforce. He first introduced his bill calling for the end of British involvement in the slave trade in 1789. By 1797, still unsuccessful, he had worked himself to the point of illness and exhaustion. Earlier in the movie, he had stood up on a table in a gambling establishment and joyfully crooned “Amazing Grace,” the hymn written by his mentor, and former slave ship captain, John Newton. But by 1797, his voice was shot, and he said “the worst thing is that I can not sing anymore.”

At one point his friend, the Prime Minister William Pitt, asked Wilberforce: “Do you intend to use your voice to praise the Lord or change the world?” Wilberforce did both because he understood that it is in praising the Lord that we change the world. He won his fight, regained his voice and went on to champion other just causes.

In Psalm 40:3, David says “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” In five other Psalms the phrase “new song” can also be found. When we become “new creations in Christ” we sing a new song. Indeed, John tells us in his Revelation that none but the redeemed can sing that new song. (14:3)

Last month I wrote about Baptism. This is where we learn the new song, “And this must be the start of something…This could be the heart of something…This could be the start of something big.” The liturgy is where we Lutherans get to practice it, so “Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.”