Today has a two-fold purpose for us. We are concluding our sermon series on Music and the Psalms with a look at the Taize community and their unique style of music in relation to Psalms of strength. This is also Christ the King Sunday, hence you see the crowns sitting around and if you are needing to wear a crown today that does NOT come from Burger King, by all means take one! This is the day we acknowledge Christ as our King – King of our hearts, King of our schedules, King of our wallets, King of our households, King of our whole selves.
As we consider Taize style music, this style resonated from an ecumenical monastic community in Taize, Burgundy, France. It is composed of more than one hundred brothers from Catholic and Protestant traditions who originate from about 30 countries across the world. It was founded in 1940 ny Brother Roger Schutz, a Reformed Protestant. It has become a pilgrimage site for over 100,000 young people ever year. They come for prayer, Bible study, sharing and communal work. Through the community’s ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity, and reconciliation [source: Wikipedia.com.]
The music of this community holds influences from around the world using simple phrases often sung in many languages. Often the phrases sung are from the Psalms or other passages of scripture, such as “Jesus Remember Me” which we will sing today. The songs are highly repetitive, often chant-like, which build on the strength of voices joined in harmony. If music is played, it usually does not take the lead – the strength of joined, diverse voices offers the foundation for its style and appeal.
Strength in diversity – our strength stems from God while our diversity builds breadth and variety while still remaining unified as followers of God and God’s son, Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look at one of these Psalms of strength, Psalm 18. [verse 1-6, 16-19, 31-35] Throughout this Psalm you have these images of strength to represent God – a rock, a shield, mountains trembling. When times get hard, to whom do we turn? Do we see God as our strength?
Today, many do not. Many believe that we are responsible for our own strength. It is up to us to solve our own problems, navigate our own struggles, care only for ourselves. But here is the blessed assurance as a follower of God and God’s son Jesus Christ – we do not have to bare our burdens alone. We do not have to solve every problem that comes our way because we are children of God. We have the source of strength with us always. We have the support of the Maker of heaven and earth providing us with a shield of strength against any and all slings and arrows. If we are going to remain powerful, we need to stay connected to the source of power, amen? Listen to this Taize style song called “Bless the Lord.” [Play video]
There is a story of a man who lost his wife, and he was grieving so badly he could not seem to get past his grief in order to continue living. Every day he took flowers to her graveside, and sat there weeping for hours. When completely sapped of energy, he would drag himself up and head home. He could not eat, sleep – in essence he, too had stopped living. Finally, on his way home from the graveyard one day he stopped in at his church to talk with his pastor. He described his grief and his inability to continue living without his beloved wife. The pastor prayed with him and offered this suggestion. The next morning, instead of taking flowers to the graveside, turn left and take them to the nursing home in the same neighborhood. At first this seemed like a silly suggestion but the man decided to try it. The staff members directed him to those who had been forgotten – those who never received visitors much less flowers. Over time, the man was able to share his time between the graveside and the nursing home. He found himself talking to his late wife about those he met at the nursing home. He became a blessing to all he visited, giving of himself and sharing the love of God. He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that only through the strength provided by God could he even take that first step toward the nursing home. Through the compassion of others he felt a part of a community as he gave back in a small way.
Our strength stems from God and only increases as we share it with others. There are those here who have experienced the pain of loss, and yet when you were nurtured and cared for by this community of faith, there was this strong desire to give back, even just a little. We are given an unimaginable strength to carry on when life gets hard. Let’s take a look at another Psalm of strength – Psalm 48. [Read Psalm] Here God is seen as a citadel, our strong defense against the evil forces of this world. Yet we also see God as our guide. We speak a lot of God being our light in the darkness – a beautiful image but what does it mean? I think one thing to consider is that the light shines brightest in the deepest darkness – in other words we are going to experience hard times, times of darkness in our spirits. Perhaps it means taking a stance of generosity, sharing with others even when we are steeped in our personal darkness, similar to the man who began visiting the nursing home in addition to the graveyard. Perhaps it means giving as well as receiving.
Consider that today is also Christ the King Sunday. We pray each week for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. What is the kingdom of God for which we celebrate Christ as King? Perhaps it is best expressed in the words of this next Taize song, “The Kingdom of God.” (Review words and encourage folks to sing along.)
The kingdom of God is justice and peace
And joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come Lord and open in us
The gates of your kingdom.
Justice and peace – that is the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. As we head into this Thanksgiving week and the Advent season, I would like us to consider ways to be the kingdom of God on earth. You heard a bit about the Angel Tree program, and we have heard the stories of gratitude from our neighbors. Consider ways we can share the wondrous story of the birth of the Christ child. How has your life been changed by the presence of Christ the King? Why are you here today and not at IHOP? What is it about serving God and serving others that resonates with you? Consider the words we will recite together as we leave this place – ‘our worship is over, but our service has just begun.’ Amen.