Monday, January 24, 2011

How Long Do We Sing This Song?

Psalm 40:1-11
Matthew 9:9-13

Preached in the Center Moreland Charge, January 16, 2011

Some of you probably know by now that one of my favorite bands is U2. You may not know that I came to them very late, less than 10 years ago. When I was a campus minister in Texas, I had a group of students who were all friends and looking for a home. Most of them were musicians of a sort, and they played together a lot. Usually they would play in a way that turned to worship naturally. Listening to them from my office, I would hear a lot of the usual type of music, the praise choruses, the Rich Mullins repertoire. But there were some songs that didn’t fit-and I thought I’d heard them in decidedly non-worship settings, like school dances and MTV (back when they played music).

Sure enough, they were playing U2. and it was about that time there were a number of books that were dissecting the spiritual content of u2’s music.

Preachers sometimes are behind the trends, so I got a book or two to try to get into a place where I could be of spiritual help to them, and one actually had a Bible study based on U2’s music in the back. (I still have that book, if anyone would like to do that study.)

What ended up happening is that we did a series of worship services that were based on the music of U2, with one video being shown, and the band playing one live, and the message being inspired by the scripture that inspired the songs.

And I ended up being a fan.

One of the most overt scriptural references in U2’s music was a song that was pretty early in U2’s career, a song called “40”. And it was inspired by this morning’s Psalm.

I will wait patiently for the Lord, he inclined and heard my cry
He lifted me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song,
I will sing, sing a new song,

He set my feet upon the rock, and made my footsteps firm
Many will see, many will see and fear
I will sing, sing this song
I will sing, sing this song

How Long, how long do we sing this song?

It’s a song of confidence in the presence and activity of the Lord, and echoes the song that first made U2 notable, a song about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, called “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. They both have the question “how Long to sing this song?” When will these troubles cease? How long must we sing and praise you, O Lord, I think they might be asking.

When you read deeper into the psalm, you get to the passage that caught my eye.
“Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin you have not required.”

It starts a discussion, this passage. It’s clear for many of us why we come to church, but why do we do some of the things we do? Why do we do a doxology as the offering comes forward? Why do we either affirm our faith or confess our sins together? It seems clear why we read scripture, and why there is a sermon, or a message, but why this other stuff, especially since God does not require sacrifices and offerings?

Why do we praise God, who is omnipotent, who created us, and who knows our innermost hearts and minds? Why should we praise God when God knows if we’re lying as we stand here?

Well, I don’t think God does. But I do think we do.

I think we need to be reminded of the basics of our faith. I think we need to be reminded that we fall short of God’s intention for us. I think we need to be reminded that God is great, but he has given us a great charge, to be God’s people on earth. If we are not the evidence of God among our fellow human beings, then there will not be any evidence.

How Long do we sing this song? Our whole Lives.
How long do we sing of our Joy in God? Our whole lives.
How long to we raise lament, how long do we express our sadness and anger to God?

How long do we have a real, honest, troubling at times, loving always, relationship with God?

Our whole lives.


Let me tell you a story. There was once a man called Matthew, and he did a job that put him at odds with his birth culture, and placed him in a place in between them and the dominant alien Empire that ruled his land. He was generally ostracized from his native people, and I’d imagine even the family holidays were a little tense.

And yet, there was a man who came along one day, saw Matthew working at his tax booth, and said “Matthew, follow me”. He did, and at dinner, sitting with this man and his followers, he noticed that there were many other people he knew who were also at odds with their people sitting around the table too. The people who were “right with God” asked why this teacher, this rabbi, was sitting with such sinners, and the teacher replied that those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

Then he says this: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And he tells the Pharisees, and probably everyone there, to go learn what that means.

Why do we sing this song? God does not desire our sacrifice, or our offerings. But we need to give of ourselves. We need to prove to ourselves how central our faith is to us. We need to confess our sins to be reminded we are sinners. We need to affirm our faith to be reminded what it is we believe.

What God does desire is mercy. What God does require of us is to be loving, human, grace filled people. All that we do as a church is to support this mission, to strengthen this message.

How long do we sing this song?

Our whole lives.

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