Some of us grew up acquainted with choirs. Recently I saw the Voices of Hope Choir on American’s Got Talent. I could not help but think there was a metaphor that would help explicate something Paul was aiming for in what I think is his four-part harmony at work.
Voices of Hope
Pastoral Prayer – Lord God, in a world of competing voices, may your church be a choir of grace full of voices of hope. So this morning – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight. And all God’s people say. Amen.
Beware, I am thinking of embracing heresy. Rather than urge you to join me with cunning and deceit, I am simply going to offer an open invitation to follow me. I will be direct. Before you stop listening and consider leaving this morning, know that I am talking about a musical heresy. Are you ready for it? Here it is, “Choirs sound better than solo artists.”
Now you know.
Simon Cowell, who created the Got Talent franchise, remarked to the founder of the Angel City Choir, “No choir has every won America’s Got Talent.” The show debuted in 2006. Asked why she thought no choir had ever won, founder Sue Fink replied, “They weren’t us.” After they were passed through with four, “Yes,” votes, Cowell commented,
“I just felt there was something magical about hearing you all sing together. When a song works and the vocals work, it just washes all over you and you feel amazing. That’s what great choirs can do and you’ve got a fantastic combined energy. This is a great audition. I’m gonna remember this for a long time. I’m thrilled.”
Cowell has said they are the best choir they have ever had audition for the show. However, the final decision will be difficult because there is not just one great choir, there are two. More than half the size of the 160-member Angel City Choir, the Voices of Hope Choir is made up of children ages 5-17. Founded as a tuition-free choir to make music accessible to all children, the Choir won the coveted Golden Buzzer in the second round of auditions. Let’s see what you think.
Take a look.
Sarah Grandpre’s story may well have inspired my new heresy. In an interview for the show she shared,
“If you had told me when I was 21 that my biggest passion project was going to be directing a children’s choir, I would have been so surprised. I graduated from college, and I was going to pursue a solo singing career.”
After facing rejection in her own singing career, she felt lost until presented with the opportunity to start Voices of Hope.
“My calling found me in the form of this children’s choir,” Grandpre said.
Cowell admits that this season will be as difficult for any choir to win as there are many good individual talents. But, for me, I am determined to choose the winner from the two choirs no matter what the judges say. If you are going to be a musical heretic, you might as well go all in. They have my Golden Buzzer.
Maybe it all started with that 1970’s rock-n-roll band, Foreigner, that was joined by the New Jersey Mass Choir in their 1984 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” that planted the seed deep all those years ago. Goosebumps when the lone voice in the setting of an abandoned music hall is joined with the harmonies offered by multiple voices.
Likely it was growing up singing in children’s choirs, youth choirs, and adult choirs. In those settings the sense of accomplishment is shared. It undermines the temptation to think, “I sure make that choir sound good!” The shift to individual talents is expressive of our cultural soup. The rather thin type that leaves you always wanting more. For churches and Christians, it is the subtle undermining of the “we” of Church.
Then again maybe the current influence is working through how Paul’s calling found him. Making a name for himself he received the loud no. Here he reminds his readers in Philippi of his solo career.
If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.
He then let’s them know that his solo career got swept up in the calling that found him.
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.
Paul frequently includes snippets of early Christian hymns in his letters. Here in Ephesians 4:8 he calls back to the Hebrew Song Book , Psalms,
When he ascended on high
he took the captives captive
he gave gifts to people (Ps. 68:18)
Maybe he is teaching the Gentile Christians some of the oldies. Something like hearing, To God Be the Glory among the more current songs we sing. Don’t proof text this verse as a way of pressing that we should only sing old songs. Paul included a Jesus song in Philippians 2. Those would have been centuries apart.
Remember, if we want Cohen to learn Amazing Grace then it might be good to go ahead and give in to Reckless Love. If we want Emerson to belt out, To God Be the Glory, we may need to learn Sound of Adoration. And if you are inspired by Great Is Thy Faithfulness, you may need to join Max with lifted hands as he belts out Bigger Than.
Paul’s plea for unity in the church is not a call for uniformity. It is not the call to always sing in 4:4 time. We need to mix it up with a little 6:8 from time to time. It is not a call to be exactly alike but to know that it is exactly the same grace you receive as the person sitting next to you. Together our understanding of grace is what issues our calling.
Paul is not begging for unity in the church by listing a series of new laws to keep. Instead, he points out that our grasp of grace calls attention to the life of Jesus. From there we find the calling that finds us. The natural response to grace is grace. It, grace, is something we find hard to give for we wrestle with thoughts of what we do not deserve
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that save a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Enemies would attempt to divide a people. They would come for a people with cunning and deceit. Their attempts would be to divide and conquer. Paul lays out that the life to which we have been called is the very life of Jesus. If we stay with an emphasis on choirs as a means to draw out the
unity of the Spirit through the blond of peace – one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above and through all and in all,
we may liken the formation of our unity as learning four part harmony.
Paul’s Four part harmony is found in the stacked nouns of verse 2. We think of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Paul stacks these nouns as representative of the four part harmony lived by the church as it expresses God’s wisdom to the world. The four parts of Paul’s harmony are:
The enthronement song, the song of victory referenced in Psalm 68 in verse 7, came through the very exercise of this four part harmony in Jesus’ own life. Rather than archive victory by means of brute force, in Jesus Christ God claims victory through the weakness of death, even death on a Cross. This shameful experience became the victory for us. If we think through the life of Jesus, these four ways describe the life of Jesus, and Paul’s own pattern of living that left him comfortable that as a prisoner *in* the Lord.
Humility – lowliness – Not my will but yours. He humbled himself to death, death on a Cross. The natural tendency then and today is not to view humility as a virtue. It is rather a weakness. No one gets ahead unless they grab what the want, even take it. But for those grasped by grace, the gift of Christ is the unity brought by humility.
Gentleness – meekness – Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your for my yoke is gentle. Here we witness the discipline and control of God’s love for all.
Patience – He who is without sin cast the first stone. But while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Grace and mercy present themselves in love that is slow to avenge wrong, slow to retaliate. The word is often used to describe God’s disposition toward people.
Bearing – Bearing with one another is not ceasing to love one’s neighbors because of their faults. Peter who challenged. Thomas who doubted. James and John who wanted first place.
These are gifts given to all in Christ. Practicing the life of Jesus in our own prompts Paul to write,
Rather by speaking the truth in love we shall grow in every way toward him who is the head, the Messiah. He is at work fitting and joining the whole body together. He provides sustenance to it through every contact according to the needs of each single part. He enables the body to make its own growth so that it builds itself up in love. (Markus Barth translation)
The Church by the Gospel presents a godly harmony through lives of hope for the love of the world. You are God’s Choir of Hope, of Peace. In Christ
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.