Monday, October 22, 2012

Can You Sing With Your Enemies?

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Park Street Brethren Church in Ashland OH. They have two Sunday morning services - the 9:00 in the sanctuary built in the 1920s and the 10:30 service in the gymnasium built in the 1980s. Two very different spaces and different styles of worship music. The second service is set up in the round -- and so I was spinning around like Bono on U2s last tour!

My sermon was really trying to make a theological case for why congregational singing is a constitutive practice of the church -- why singing God's praise together is a profound act that makes us who we are. (The message is streamed over at the Park Street's website). At the heart of what I was saying is that the Church is the community of forgiven sinners and reconciled enemies and that the discipline of singing together testifies to this truth. As the congregation submits itself to this discipline people are taught more about forgiveness and reconciliation and are transformed. I was preaching from Colossians 3:12-17 and was noting the proximity of the instructions to "bear with one another" and to "forgive each other" with the exhortation to "sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs." Congregational singing is the song of the reconciled and the reconcilers. It testifies to this reconciliation because--I claimed--enemies do not sing together.

After one of the services a person came up to me and said they had been estranged from their sibling for over a year (I am being vague here to preserve this person's identity). "We used to sing together. I think I am going to suggest we sing together again . . . we won't talk, we'll just sing." This person heard in my words the notion of singing as a transformative discipline which might open up the possibility of reconciliation.

I have been thinking about this and I was reminded of something the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about prayer. In his short book Life Together, Bonhoeffer talks about a “happy discovery” he made. “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner” (Life Together, Fortress Press, 1996, 90–91).

Perhaps, in a similar way, one can no longer hate a brother or sister in Christ with whom one sings God's praises.

1 comment:

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