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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Singspiration!

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

September 2, 2018

Acts 2:14-21, John 5:1-9, Exodus 13:21-22, 1 John 1:6-7

 

Intro

The songs you’ve been hearing and singing this morning are among the favorites of our Immanuel Worship Band. As we were planning this worship service we nicknamed it “Singspiration Sunday.” As we have been living into it, I’ve realized that name really fits.

 

Singing inspires us. It touches our heart and soul in ways beyond what the spoken word can do. Singing gives room for God’s Spirit to flow among us breathing into us whispers of God’s love. Singing touches us at times of great sorrow and times of great joy. Singing is the language of the angels and the language of worship. Singing binds us together as God’s people across time and space. We feel that special connection as we sing music that our grandparents and great grandparents and many generations of God’s people around the world have sung and will sing. Singing also speaks to us in the in-between times – those times between what has been and what will be. Times of uncertainty – times of hope and fear, times when we’re not sure what is coming next and our faith needs and extra boost.

 

The composer of our hymn of the day, Carlos Rosas, once said, “The Bible and music go together, feeding and enhancing one another.” Our sermon will weave scripture and preaching and singing together. To help this flow smoothly, I suggest that at the conclusion of each of the scripture readings you open your hymnal to the upcoming hymn. That way you’ll be ready to sing when the time comes. And as I preach about the upcoming hymn you may find it helpful to glance at the words of that hymn and notice how they speak to you.

 

Acts 2:14-21

 

Sermon Part 1

Each of the three hymns we are focusing on for this sermon has some connection to the Holy Spirit. You may recognize this scripture from the Pentecost story. The prophet, Joel, foretold that coming of the Holy Spirit. The night before he was crucified Jesus told his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit. On that first Pentecost it was the apostle Peter who recognized what was happening and told people that the events of that day meant the Holy Spirit had come. He quoted Joel’s prophecy and preached that it was being fulfilled that day.

 

One of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness. The Spirit works gently in our lives encouraging and shaping us into the people God would have us be. In so doing, the Spirit brings forth gentleness in us.

 

If you were here the Sunday Jason preached and the kids shared their mission trip experience, you may remember that Jason referred to gentleness as “strength under control.” It reminds us that although the Holy Spirit is a spirit of gentleness, it isn’t a spirit of wimpy-ness. The Holy Spirit has the full power of God at its disposal, and sometimes uses it in dramatic ways.

 

The hymn “Spirit of Gentleness” begins as a prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to blow among us, stirring us up. And then each of the verses recount times and places where the Spirit was active. As the Spirit gently blew over the water and through the wilderness, the earth was created together with all the creatures on it. It was the Holy Spirit that came upon Mary as she became the one to bear God’s Son. The Holy Spirit was present as Jesus was baptized, ministered, and was crucified. And the Holy Spirit inspired 3000 believers to faith on that first Pentecost. Each day, the Holy Spirit is gently but powerfully at work, as God’s presence in our world today, as it has always been and always will be.

 

In just a moment we’ll be singing Hymn 396, Spirit of Gentleness. As we do, I encourage you to listen not only to the gentle sounding music, but also to notice the power unleashed through that gentle Spirit. Think of all that is accomplished as the Spirit blows and stirs and whispers in your life, in your soul, and in the world. And reflect on how the Spirit’s gentle touch can have profound results.

 

Hymn 396 - Spirit of Gentleness  verses 1, 3, & 4.

 

John 5:1-9

 

Sermon Part 2

Music has long been an effective way of teaching the faith in societies where literacy levels have been low. Wade in the Water was written as a spiritual during the time of slavery in the South. For slaves who were not allowed to learn how to read, music helped them take the Bible stories into their hearts and souls. Music has a way of helping messages stay with you.

 

There’s a lot going on in this song. It operates at least two levels:

1.       that which you can directly notice, as it relates to scripture and

2.       that which is coded as it relates to slaves seeking freedom.   

 

The refrain is a command to “wade in the water.” Three times it tells us to “wade in the water,” and then follows with that line “God’s a goin’-a trouble the water.” Why would you want to wade in the water? And what does this “troubling the water” mean?

 

This refers to the scripture we just heard. The gospel tells the story of the angel stiring up the water at the pool at Bethesda which brought healing to those who waded in that pool. Where there is healing to be done, God is at work stirring up, or “troubling” the water.

 

The verses of this song talk about times God’s spirit has been active, troubling the water. It opens and closes with images of baptism – with people dressed in white, the color of baptismal robes, and following down to Jordan’s stream, a reference to the place where Jesus was baptized. God works through water in the sacrament of baptism to bring freedom from sin. As God stirs up the waters for baptism, those who wade in the water dressed in white baptismal robes, are cleansed and freed from their sins.

 

The middle verses remind us of God’s Spirit being with Moses and the Israelites. It also connects us those who sang it during the time of slavery. It tells God’s people how to escape slavery and go to freedom. And it still speaks to us today.

 

For the enslaved people in the American South, it was both spiritual and literal instruction. Yes, be baptized, and be free from sin. Also, when you walk toward freedom, wade in the water. Go off the trail and walk in the rivers and streams so that the dogs being used by the slave traders will lose your scent so you can escape to freedom. The key message of “wade in the water” is really an important instruction of how to escape slavery and get to freedom – on both a physical and spiritual level.  sThat is why “wade in the water: is reinforced so many times throughout the song.

 

It reminds God’s people then and now that even if life is filled with troubles, ultimately, all who are baptized are free because we are free from sin. Our freedom has been bought and paid for by God’s own Son. As God’s baptized and redeemed children, no matter what might be enslaving you, you are already free. As we wade in the waters of baptism, it brings healing and hope and freedom for now and to life eternal.

 

Hymn 459, Wade in the Water, verses 1 &3.

 

Exodus 13:21-22 and 1 John 1:6-7

 

Sermon - Part 3

We Are Marching in the Light of God is about God’s people on the move, moving together in God’s light, moving together at the direction of God’s Spirit. This song was originally written in South Africa during Apartheid as a freedom song. It rallied people together, inspiring them to march for freedom and calling on God to help them in their struggle. It drew on the image of God leading his people through the wilderness with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It drew on the image of Jesus as the light of the world, reminding people who had walked in darkness that they now walk in his light.

 

The original title “Siyahamba” is a Zulu word which means “to march.” But there is more to it than just marching.

 

The “We” part of “We are marching,” is broad and inclusive, like that great cloud of witnesses. It includes living and dead, Christians throughout the ages, parents, grandparents, and ancestors who believed in God. And it also includes generations to come, all marching together. There is power in all God’s people through the ages moving together to accomplish God’s purposes. From one generation to the next God’s work gets done – like a big relay race where each person runs their lap and passes the baton on to the next generation.

 

“Marching” unifies the community. As people march in step with one another, physically and spiritually, they follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. Their marching takes their faith outside the walls of the church into the streets, into the community. Faith becomes active, making a difference in the world.

 

“Light of God” refers to Jesus, the Light of the World, bringing us from darkness into light, from struggle into hope. As we follow Jesus in our marching, we march from darkness into light.

 

This song was popular in South Africa, but how did it make it into our hymnal?

There was a Swedish choir that traveled to South Africa in the 1970s under the direction of Anders Nyberg. This choir heard the song “Siyahamba” sung all around South Africa and was inspired by it. They were determined to do what they could to support the effort to end Apartheid. When they returned to Sweden they translated it into Swedish and sang it all around Sweden. Gracia Grindahl, one of my professors at Luther Seminary, became aware of it from her Swedish colleagues. She translated it into English and advocated for it to be included in the ELW hymnal.

 

When I was in Tanzania in 2016, the people of Itonya loved to sing this song and we joined in and sang it with them. As they sang about marching in the light of God and singing and dancing in the light of God, they marched and sang and danced, with enthusiasm and joy. It is a song that bridges continents and cultures. It captures that shared desire to march together in God’s light to move the world a little closer to being the kingdom on earth God wants it to be.

 

Hymn 866, We are Marching in the Light of God verse 1 & 4 (marching, singing)

 

Conclusion

Today our songs have focused on the Spirit’s role in bringing freedom in body and soul. As we wrap up this “Singspiration” sermon we move into our hymn of the day, O Sing to God Above, #555. The composer of this hymn, Carlos Rosas, once said “Music should be used at the service of the kingdom of God. It should awaken people to fight for the kingdom instead of sleeping while injustices are being committed.” As we have been singing here today, we have sung songs of freedom, joining with God’s spirit in the service of God’s kingdom. As we end this time, our next hymn is filled with Alleluias, a prayer of praise and joy.

 

Hymn 555 O Sing to God Above