Summary: Singing is a matter of skill and practice, but it is only when your spirit is freed that you have a convincing song to sing, only when your life is changed that you have something to share.
What makes it possible for voices like these to sing music like that? Where do they get whatever it takes to sing with such grace and power and beauty?
Of course they have been blessed with a good deal of natural skill. Of course these singers are talented, and there’s no substitute for that. And yet I don’t think that’s all of it. There are plenty of gifted singers, and a good many of them can go through the motions and belt out the notes, but it leaves you cold. It’s not convincing. There’ s something more in these people.
Could it be their trainings? Clearly these folks have worked and have been rehearsed well. And again there is no substitute for that. Especially when you are doing something for the Lord, there is no substitute for that. Why is it that when we are doing something for the Lord or for the church we think we can get by with so-so work? There is no substitute for careful preparation, for good solid training, for knowing what you are doing. And when these folks sing, their training shows.
And yet I don’t think that’s quite it, either. I don’t think that fully explains the sound we’ve been hearing. I don’t believe that really tells us why these voices provide the music we’ve heard. There are plenty of technically capable people, who can do the music correctly, with every note in tune and every word in perfect diction and every beat right on time, but when you hear them, you know something is missing. That warmth, that personal quality, that human side: it’s missing with some people. But these folks have something extra.
Let me tell you exactly what I believe we are hearing this morning. We are hearing not only the voice of talent; we are hearing not only the results of training; we are most of all hearing the power of the song of a free spirit. The song of a free spirit.
For, you see, the thesis of my message this morning is that it is only when your spirit has been freed that you have a song to sing. It is only when your heart has been released that you have praise to offer. It is only when your life has been changed that you have a dynamic quality to share.
The other night some of us gathered to look over some line drawings showing how we might do some renovations and expansions of this church building. The line drawings were all right in their own way. They did show the length and the width, they did have all the facts right there. But as we struggled to visualize how it all might look, one of our members, who is an architect, said to another, "Let’s you and I build a mode1 so that we can see it in three dimensions.” "Let’s give it that missing ingredient that goes beyond the mere facts and give it some body, some substance, some feeling".
When your spirit has been freed, you have a song to sing like no other. It is not just the song of a talented person; it is the song that convinces, because it comes from deep within. It has body and substance and feeling.
And it is not just the song of a well-trained musician; it is the song that reveals the very heart and soul, coming out of personal experience. And for that there is no substitute, no substitute at all.
The Christian church back in the 16th Century did its thing and did it well enough. No end of artists, musicians, craftsmen, teachers, writers, many others, gave their skills to the church. You have only to look at the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages and you will see that. Tremendous beauty, fascinating and intricate work. But by the sixteenth century, it became clear that something was missing. Something just did not fit. Something was not there amid all the masses and festivals and pomp and circumstance. What was it? What was it that did not satisfy?
Martin Luther thought he knew. This young German monk, studying the Scripture not only because he had to teach it to others, but also because he truly wanted to know it for himself, Luther thought he had found the missing ingredient: “The just shall live by faith". "The just shall live by faith" -- a personal, vital relationship with the living Christ. And Luther thought, you may do church all day long; you may chant psalms and repeat prayers and do everything the church asks you to do, but if you have no faith, no trusting relationship with Christ, it means nothing.
And so when Luther found faith -- when Luther found out how to set his heart free -- is it any surprise that a mighty renewal came about in his life? Is it any surprise that a mighty revolution came about in the church of his day? Is it any surprise that "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" came out of his lips and off of his pen?