Summary: The first sermon in the hymn-writers series focuses on Isaac Watts and also Martin Luther as writers of a new kind of church music.
Isaac Watts: 1674-1748
"It’s All About You, Jesus"
CHCC: June 22, 2008
We just finished a series of sermons from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Every few chapters in both books you see a long list with the names of the exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem.
I noticed something interesting in these lists. They all included listings of musicians and singers. Music has always held an essential place in the Worship of God. Of course worship is much more than just music … but music has always been a central part of worship. So today I want to spend some time talking about Worship Music.
Now, that is a BIG subject. If we look at Worship Music historically, we need to go back to the first books of the Bible. Exodus records songs of praise written by Moses and Miriam. Numbers records a song of praise that starts with the words, “Spring up Oh Well…” (Which makes sense when you consider the Israelites were wandering in a desert.) Then, of course, we have the hymn book of the Old Testament which we call the book of Psalms.
The New Testament records Mary’s song and Zachariah’s song. And on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before going to the Mount of Olives. We read about Paul and Silas singing praise to God while in prison. Paul gave the early church this instruction: Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19
Moving on, a few hundred years or so there were the chants of the Middle Ages, the antiphonal choral music of the Cathedrals, and the sacred hymns of the Reformation. By the way, that’s the kind of music that was playing before church started this morning. Now you know why you felt like you’d gone back in time!
Until the 1500’s congregational singing had gone by the wayside in most churches. People went to church to listen to singing by professional choirs, not to join in the praises themselves. When Martin Luther set off the Reformation, congregational singing was revived.
It was said of Martin Luther that: “He did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as he did by his translation of the Bible.” In fact, those words are inscribed on his tomb at Wittenberg. In all, Martin Luther wrote 36 hymns which were meant for congregational singing. The best known of those hymns is A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD.
Luther’s hymns opened the way for the congregational hymns of the 18th century and the gospel choruses of the 20th century. And, all that leads up to the great variety of Christian music we enjoy in the 21st century. Music has a central place in the history of the church. And music is an important part of life for most of us today.
The week before last I made a trip to Lincoln, Illinois. I drove Dallas and Alpha’s car up there and left it off for them. (It was an 18-hour road trip, but I actually enjoyed most of it. The reason I enjoyed it was not JUST that I was driving a red SAAB with lots of pickup --- that got 35 miles per gallon by the way --- The reason I enjoyed that long trip was because I was listening to all kinds of music on a great sound system (at top volume!)
I listened to some of my favorite old CD’s … and to some new ones. One of the new CD’s was a re-mastering of some vintage Big Band music. Susan’s parents live in Lincoln … and when they heard the music, they wanted to hear it. They said those old songs brought back memories from their youth … in the 40’s.
That’s the way music is. Just hearing music can stir up old memories and emotions. Music sets a mood. It can sooth us or it can wake us up. Music helps us remember. I’m not all that great at memorizing, but I can remember the lyrics of songs I learned 40 years ago. Music orders our thoughts. In church, music unites us in voice and in purpose.
Music is powerful. I believe God created music to help connect our spirits to His Spirit. Think about the Christian music that you have listened to throughout your life. What Christian Songs mean the most to you? Are they OLD songs, or are they NEW songs? OR maybe you are like me and you enjoy both OLD and NEW.
Today I want to take a little time to talk about a writer of Christian songs who lived hundreds of years back. How many of you have heard of Isaac Watts?