Are You Tone Deaf?

Sermon Text – 07.14.2019

[John 15:12-17 and 1 Chronicles 17:1-9]
          There is a song woven through all of creation, if only you have the ears to listen. In the United Methodist Church, John Wesley was a very famous man – credited with the creation of the Methodist movement. But I don’t want to talk about him today. Today, I want to introduce you to John Wesley’s little brother – Charles. John Wesley was a brilliant preacher, and he was extremely talented in administration and organization – he could break anything down into simple how-to methods for growing closer to God. But Charles Wesley was the rock star of the family. Charles Wesley was a composer, a poet, an artist. He is widely known for writing more than 6,000 hymns. Basically he wrote a brand new song every five days of his entire life. I thought I was busy.
          See, back in Charles’ day, music was the original Sunday school class. Music was the original Christian education. Think about this. Hundreds of years ago, the literacy rate in the world was peanuts. It was rare for common folk to be educated enough to read. You didn’t have to in that time. It was a different world. If you were lucky enough to have a book – you only had one – the bible. We didn’t have bible studies, or classes to teach you understanding – small group leaders, or Sunday School teachers. You know those little book-marks with the catchy phrases – None of that. So how did they figure out the bible back in the day? Through song. They took Sunday school lessons, and put them into rhythm and sang them. Maybe I can’t read, but I can remember the words to a song. And that’s how they taught people about God before Sunday School, before bible studies and life groups. A sermon is great, but you I bet you can’t quote a whole sermon. But if you reorganize the lesson and the main point into a structure and put it to a catchy tune – you can teach people everything they need to know. You see, our hymnal is the original school of rock.

          Today is part 1 of a brand new sermon series “School of Rock: Hymnal Edition.” For the next few weeks we are going to take a look at the message and story behind some of our favorite hymns. So often we take the music for granted, and we forget that there is something beautiful and profound in the lyrics that we sing every week. Today we’re looking at the songs Amazing Grace (378) and Trust And Obey (467). Now, we’ll be in our bibles, but we’re also going to be looking at the lyrics to the songs.

          Couple hundred years ago, in 1748, there was an English man named John Newton. John Newton was not necessarily a good man. He wasn’t raised religious. When he was young he was conscripted into military service and then later he worked in the slave trade. But then one day in 1748 there was a violent storm. And their slave ship was tossed around like a tin can, and he was so afraid – he cried out to God for mercy. Now, he didn’t know what that meant, he wasn’t Sunday school educated or spiritual in any way. He just knew there was something out there bigger than he was, and he knew he needed help. In a moment he cried out to God. it marks the moment he accepted Jesus into his life, the moment we might call conversion. It was that spark that we talk about here at Flushing. Eventually he left the slave trade completely and began studying theology. John Newton went from slave runner to pastor. In 1779 he wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace. When the song was first released, it actually wasn’t that popular. But across the ocean in America – something was happening. It was called the Great Awakening, and in 1835 someone paired the lyrics of Amazing Grace to the tune we all know and love and a legend was born. Basically, Amazing Grace is John Newton’s spiritual autobiography. It’s a story of a man who realized he was living in darkness and realized he needed God. God doesn’t need us, but we need him. God loves you, and that doesn’t make any sense – it’s not logical. Which is why it’s called amazing.
          I found out in some of my research that John Newton actually based the song on our first scripture lesson for today. It’s a story about King David. 1 Chronicles 17 tells us, [read v.1-2]. King David is one of the most famous kings of all time, and he did great things for Israel. But there was a point when David had everything he could ever want. Awesome palace, peace in his kingdom, glory and splendor. And he looked around and said, “This is not right. I live in a great house, but God only has a tent.” This was way before temples and churches. The place that they were worshipping God was called a tabernacle, and it was just a tent. David said, that’s not good enough. My house is nicer than God’s house, and that’s wrong. I know what I’ll do – I will make God better, by building a huge temple for God. I will improve God – make him even more impressive. But God said to David, No, no, no. You don’t understand me. I don’t need a bigger building to be more amazing. I’m God, I’m good all by myself. You can’t make God better, God doesn’t need that. Instead God said, in verse 7, [read 7-8]. Nothing we do can add to God, God is already perfect. He doesn’t need us. But God can make us better, because the truth is that we need God. By having God in your life, you can find this incredible peace inside. The message of Amazing Grace has two parts. First, that God doesn’t need us, but we need God. We can’t make God better, but God can lift us up higher than we ever were before. The second part is that even though God doesn’t need you, he chooses to love you. Grace is a gift, we didn’t earn it. Nothing in your life forces God to love you. God loves you already. He wants good things for you, he calls us away from sin. Whatever happened in your past, God wants you to have a better future. He already loves you and he is ready to forgive you.
          In 1887, 130 years ago or so, there was a meeting led by a man named Dwight L. Moody. He’s pretty famous, he has a seminary named after him nowadays. Anyways, part of the meeting was sort of a question and answer portion for new believers. Christians would get up front, and people would ask them questions to test their knowledge. One man got up, and he was a brand new Christian. As they asked him questions. It was really obvious he didn’t know much about the bible, because he hadn’t read it. He didn’t know very much about God either – he was literally a brand new Christian. Someone asked him, “Are you sure God will forgive you?” And the man responded, “Well, I’m not quite sure, but I will trust and I will obey.” In the audience that night was a well known musician named Daniel Towner. He wrote down that phrase, “I will trust and I will obey” and he sent it to his friend John Sammis, who eventually wrote the hymn that we know – trust and obey. What’s amazing to me about that story is that no-one knows who that man was who first said those words. It’s been lost in the legend. He was just your average guy. He wasn’t fancy or famous; he wasn’t well educated. He didn’t have degrees, perfect doctrine, complicated beliefs. And yet with his simple words, we sum up so much of the Christian life.
          Our second scripture lesson comes much later than the story of King David, from the actual words of Jesus. See, faith starts with a spark. Just a flash of a moment when we realize that there’s something bigger out there. Something we want to be a part of. It can be a moment when the King of Israel realizes that God doesn’t need him, or when a slave trader cries out from the eye of a storm. But then we take that spark and we feed it, we nurture it and it will grow into a flame. When we become a follower of Jesus, we all start from the same place – with nothing. Like that man in Dwight Moody’s auditorium, I have so many questions, and I don’t the answer – but I will trust and obey. And so we learn. Jesus tells us, [read v12]. Okay, so our job is to love each other as Jesus loved us. So how did Jesus love us? [read v13-15]. In his life, with his teachings – Jesus shows us a way to live. He gives us that spark, and then he nurtures the flame. Verse 16, [read 16a]. The disciples were just like you and me. They were not famous, they were not well educated, they didn’t know God very well. But God reached out to them and said, “trust and obey.” Verse 17 tells us, [read it]. Jesus came and taught us to love one another. The story keeps going and Jesus warns them that people will not like them. People will fight against them, hurt them, even kill them if they follow Jesus, because they are trying to love like Jesus. All they can do in a world of questions is to trust and obey. Even when things are tough, even when we are uncertain – when we don’t have all the answers – all we can do, is trust and obey.


          See, here’s the thing. God is perfect. God is God. Nothing we can do could ever make God better. God is already perfect. God doesn’t need us. And it sounds mean, but follow the line of thought all the way through. God doesn’t need us, but he still sent Jesus. He still stepped into our world as a human being. He still teaches us the way, gives us his commands, he still died for us, he still rose from the grave – not to make himself more perfect. He’s already God. All this stuff God does in our world – it’s not for him, it’s for us. To bring glory to his name, God reaches into our world and reveals himself. God doesn’t need us, God wants us. God chooses us. God doesn’t need to save any of us. We’re all broken sinners living in a broken world that we created. This place, with all the pain and brokenness, and abuse and inequality and oppression and all the…darkness, this place is our fault. But there is a song woven through all of creation. A subtle melody of redemption so often drowned out by the distractions of the world. And when we realize that God is offering us a second chance, a better way – we join our voices with the one who teaches us how to sing.
          Let’s take a second and walk through the verses of the two songs we’re talking about today. These two hymns are a story of a life away from God, a story of a light shining in the darkness. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. We start with brokenness, we start with empty hands and nothing but the hope that this Christian story is actually true. I once was lost, but now I’m found – I was blind but now I see. There are moments in life when we feel as though we are adrift on an ocean. Sometimes the sea is calm, and we think we are going to be okay – but other times the waves of life crash down on us and we are convinced that we are about to sink. This is the starting point – the lost, wretched, blind state we were in before we find God. Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. When we first find out about God, we realize that we are not living a life that would make God proud. We are not living by God’s commands, we are not following God. It can be scary – we are worried we do not measure up. I’m not perfect, and for the first time in my life, I’m actually trying – what do I do? We hear about the awesome power of a perfect and holy God, a God of justice and judgment – and it’s terrifying. Grace that taught my heart to fear, but that same grace my fears relieved. We learn about God’s judgment, and then right after we learn about God’s grace. That gift of forgiveness that Jesus gave us on the cross. In the face of punishment and judgment, how precious did that grace appear – the hour I first believed. Most of us probably grew up in the church – so maybe you don’t remember that moment. We have spent so much time with God’s grace, that we’ve forgotten just how precious it is. We take it for granted.
          Switching over to Trust and Obey. The first verse continues the story. Amazing Grace talks about the spark, about experiencing God. But Trust and Obey is the next step – fueling the flame, nurturing the spark so that it can grow. When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his Word. What a glory he sheds on our way! His word is the bible. We walk with the Lord by reading the bible, trying to figure out how to live the way he wants us to. Jesus said in our scripture from John, “you are my friends if you do what I command.” So we need to learn Jesus’ commandments. Study the story of Jesus and the things he taught. That’s how we “walk with the Lord.” Verse two talks about protection in moments of pain and fear. Verse three talks about how God will bless us through our sufferings. If we can trust God and obey his word – we will be rewarded. But verse four sort of hits the nail on the head. Then in fellowship sweet, we will sit at his feet, or we’ll walk by his side in the way. What He says we will do, where He sends we will go – never fear, only trust and obey. After we spend some time with Jesus, we feed that spark, that original tug on our heart, and it grows into a baby flame – brand new Christianity. Then we fuel that flame, and it will grow. Our trust, our connection to God will grow the more time we spend with God. Reading his bible, talking to him in prayer, studying him with others, worshipping him in church. All of this makes it so that when life brings in the pain – we will be ready. Never fear, only trust and obey. What he says we will do, where he sends we will go. Eventually, as mature Christians, our flame with grow so much that it begins to radiate warmth outward. The people around us feel the warmth, and we venture out to where Jesus sends us. Our song floats away from our mouth into the world around us. Once we line up our voice with the creator, we can sing out with confidence!


          Let me ask you, Are you tone deaf? In the school of rock: hymnal edition, we’re all a little tone deaf. We walk to the beat of our own drum, but it’s out of sync with God. Our pitch is a little out of balance – the harmony just doesn’t quite come together on our own. We are lost, blind, wretched – the very definition of tone deaf. But the soul is a muscle just like our voice. If you spend time training it, we can bring our heart in line with God’s heart, and walk in the way he has taught us. That’s what being a Christian is – Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” So the first part of the application this morning is simple – inch closer to God. Every day I want you to inch closer to God. Ask another question, seek another answer – get that much closer to God. Get to know God. Study his word, talk to him in prayer. Line your heart up with God’s heart, bring your soul into a connection with God’s – train your voice to live in harmony with the creator of the universe and your life will sing a beautiful song of new creation.
          The second part of the application, and the last thing I want to share with you this morning is that we must bear fruit. So first, we inch closer to God. We feed the spark, we fuel the flame – we line up our voice with the Creators’. But we can’t stop there! When we are ready, when we have lined up our heart with God’s – we must share this song, this incredible harmony, with the world around us! We feed the spark, we fuel the flame – but all of that comes to the third step, which is to feel the warmth! Jesus said, [read 16a]. First we inch closer to God, we grow up as Christians. Then, once we’ve learned the basics, once we are mature – we bear fruit. A fruit tree is considered mature when it produces fruit – same thing for Christians. Don’t stay a spark, don’t stay inwardly focused. Go and sing this song to all of creation, spread God’s warmth across the world – as a mature Christian, bear fruit with your life.

          School of Rock: hymnal edition. We have a lot to learn from these old hymns. It’s like a bible study wrapped up in a song. To start off, we’re all a little tone deaf. We feed the spark, we fuel the flame, and then we get to feel the warmth. It’s our purpose and process here at Flushing. Inch closer to God, bear fruit with your life. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you train your soul to sing in harmony with the God of the universe. May you listen for his melody and follow where he leads. And then may we teach that song to the entire world. Amen. 

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