Tuesday, September 27, 2011

sermon: Christians Sing Cross Shaped Songs

Christians have been singing for a long time.
During the Communist era in East Germany, Christians sang songs of resistance and peace—songs about swords turning into plowshares—as the walls of authoritarian oppression came tumbling down.
During the Civil Rights era, hymn writer Charles Tidley’s song “We Shall Overcome” became the theme song for racial equality and justice.
During the Reformation, traditional bar tunes were overlaid with words that conveyed Luther’s understanding of God’s grace.
During the early period of the church, as questions surrounding the divinity of Jesus and the meaning of the Trinity were debated, songs were written to express these complex ideas in simple, and memorable, ways.
You could even say Christian theologies, and Christian ethics, are not fully formed until they can be sung.
Often times Pastors fancy themselves the theologian of the church—but I would venture to say the church musician is in fact the theologian of the church—because church musicians choose the words that the church sings.

And today—in Paul’s letter to the Philippians—we read the earliest recorded Christian hymn—commonly called the Christ Hymn.
“Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to grasp.
Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and being found in human form.
Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Christ, who God also highly exalted and gave the name that is above every name
Christ, at whose name every knee shall bow in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth
Christ, confessed by every tongue as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
And at the center of this hymn—smack dab in the middle—between the section that deals with emptying and the section that deals with exaltation—is the phrase, “even death on a cross.” “Even death on a cross.”
And, this section of early Christian song—this hymned phrase, “Even death on a cross.”—is a paradigm, a blueprint, a model,
for the songs that alight from the lips of the faithful of every age. It is the refrain of every Christian song.
Know today that Christians Sing Cross Shaped Songs. Christians Sing Cross Shaped Songs.
Let us pray—

Christians Sing Cross Shaped Songs.
Our songs are songs like that of the Christ Hymn found in Philippians. Our songs are songs of emptying and exaltation. Songs that affirm two things.
First that: God is in the last place we would think to look.
Second that: Nothing looks the same after God finds us.

God is in the last place we would think to look.
The reason we find this Cross Shaped Song in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is because the cross was the last place that Paul would have ever thought to look for God.
You see, the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, was a strict interpreter of scripture. He read the Bible carefully and when he came into contact with Christians, and they told him about their messiah—when they told him that Jesus had died on the cross—he said,
“Well then, I know you must be wrong. After all scripture says that all who die on a tree are cursed and God would not curse His Messiah. Therefore, Jesus is not the Messiah.”
In other words, Paul was proof texting. He was using Deuteronomy chapter 21 to prove that God could not—in any way—be doing something in the life of Jesus, or in the life of Jesus’ followers, because of the way Jesus died.
He believed God could never be there. The cross of Christ was not a place to find God.

But then, on Paul’s way to the city of Damascus, he had an experience that made him changed his tune—that made him sing a new song. He had to hum an impossible hymn.
He intoning that the immortal put on mortal flesh—the fullness of all things became empty. He sang that the One who cannot die, died. He chanted that the King of Kings was crucified, like, and with, criminals.
He had to sing that cross-shaped song that the Christians he met were singing to him—that Christians continue to sing. And part of that melody is admitting that God is in the last place we would think to look.
Some of you, who came to my ordination last week, mentioned to me that the service was wonderful—the sermon was great—the Bishop was warm and friendly—everything made sense—everything seemed right—except the neighborhood the ordination happened in.
The part of Trenton my ordination happened in was a rough neighborhood—a neighborhood you might not expect to go to for an ordination. You could even say it would be the last place you would think to look for an ordination at.
Yet there was Trinity Cathedral—there the Word of God was proclaimed—there ordination vows were taken—there communion was received. Perhaps the last place you would think to look… but there it was.
So too with God.

The Christian song, however, does not end with this first stanza—that God is in the last place we would think to look.
No. It continues on, as we sing out, “Nothing looks the same after God finds us.”
Listen to what Paul is singing about this humiliated man on the cross—this man emptied of Godhood—this Jesus.
He sings out that God exalted him—that his name is above all names—that all of creation bows before him and confesses his Lordship!
Paul himself—at Damascus—fell down and made this confession.
Paul makes this confession—he sings out this song of exultation—even as he copes with the fact that Jesus was crucified on a cursed cross
—even death on a cross.
And think of how the way Paul viewed the world changed, when he was confronted with God’s messiah on the cross!
Paul’s religiosity—his proof-texting—spoke against God—nothing looked the same.
The crucifying power of the Roman Empire became weakness—nothing looked the same.
The wisdom of this world became foolishness—nothing looked the same.
Every piece of reality, every piece of Paul’s very self, was confronted by the cross, and nothing looked the same.

I remember when I received my first pair of glasses—you see I can’t see the big E on the eye chart without glasses or contacts.
All of a sudden I could see the blackboard in the classroom,
I could see people’s faces,
I could read street signs from far away!
Through those glasses lenses nothing looked the same.
The cross of Christ is that kind of lens as well. When we look through it, nothing looks the same.

And that is the song we sing.
Christians sing cross shaped songs.
The repetitive refrain of our song is Cross—Cross—Cross.
The first verse is “God is in the last place we would think to look.”
The second verse is “Nothing looks the same after God finds us.”