Music & Faith – Country: Sermon for Sunday November 13


 

countryWe are in the third part of a four part sermon series on thinking about the connection between music and faith.  And we’re looking at how four different types of music can help us express our faith and grow in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

This sermon series is based on a music survey that was conducted by Pew Research a few years ago.  They surveyed people of a variety of ages and found that rock music was the most popular type of music but country music which is our focus for today came in at #2.

The 65 plus age category ranked country music as their favorite type of music, and it ranked fairly high with the younger age groups as well.

Good or bad, one of the things that country music is known for is its lyrics.  I did a little research on this and I here are my favorite country music song titles.  And I’m not making these up.  Here they are:

“Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life.”  “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”  “Been Roped and Thrown By Jesus in the Holy Ghost Corral.”  “I Changed Her Oil, She Changed My Life.”  “I Fell In a Pile of You and Got Love All Over Me.”  “I Would Have Wrote You a Letter But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck.”  “I’ve Been Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart.”  “If Love Were Oil, I’d be a Quart Low.”  “If the Phone Don’t Ring Baby, You’ll Know It’s Me.”

But actually, I think what is so appealing about country music to a lot of people is that this type of music is so down to earth and has a way of removing any kind of pretense we might have about who we are.  It just kind of says it like it is.  And this is the first point of how country music can help us to grow in our faith.  It reminds us that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.

Maybe you’ve seen the movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou” starring George Clooney and John Goodman.  It came out several years ago and ended up getting two academy award nominations.  It’s about a prisoner in a chain gang who decides to escape with two other prisoners, and they set out to find buried money and the rest of the movie is about their long adventure involving chases, close calls, near misses and betrayal.

Several years ago, someone who really loves bluegrass music encouraged me to watch the movie to gain an appreciation for this type of country music which is the type of music used in the movie soundtrack.

It’s interesting that this movie which is filled with all kinds of adventure and surprising twists and turns uses bluegrass music because that’s the way our faith journey often is.

Whereas classical music offers us a majestic sense of the beauty and splendor of God that words cannot convey and jazz music reminds us to be creative in our faith, country music has a way of helping us to identify with what it means to be human and go through the highs and lows of daily living.

Many of us continue to feel the highs and the lows of the recent presidential election. Regardless of who we supported with our vote, this election cycle has led us through many twists and turns throughout the very long campaign. It has been a roller coaster ride like no other.

In many ways, our presidential election process has felt like a country music song, that has taken us all on quite an adventure that has included many surprising detours and an election result that has left people from both of our political parties speechless.

In light of this past week’s election, there are many people which includes half the country who are very hopeful for the future. They see our next president as someone who will make needed changes in our country that our present elected officials have not been able to accomplish.

At the same time, the other half of the voters in our country, while trying to have an open mind, are very worried, fearful, and concerned about how this change in the oval office will impact the lives of immigrants, minorities, and the LGBT community. These fears are very real and concern many of us greatly.

How do we move forward as a country? No matter who we voted for this week, this is a question all of us have been asking these last few days.

As your pastor, I want to offer some thoughts on how we as a people of faith can move forward and find unity. I pray that these will be helpful to you.

The first thing is to pray. Pray for President Barak Obama and President Elect Donald Trump during this time of transition. The scriptures are pretty clear that we are to pray for those who are in positions of authority. So the first thing is for us to continue to pray that their leadership will ensure freedom and justice for all.

The second thing we need to do, and this is the challenge for those of us who may not have voted for Donald Trump. We need to come together as a country and work toward unity while at the same time, be faithful to our beliefs and core values about what is right, what is wrong, and what is unjust. Holding our elected leaders accountable and working toward unity as a country are not mutually exclusive things.

Here’s the third thing. As people of faith, let’s remember that as followers of Christ, we are first and foremost, citizens of God’s kingdom. And this means that we recognize Jesus Christ to be the true Ruler, Savior, and Just Judge over all creation.

And then this fourth thing which came to me 9 o’clock last night. God just hit me with this out of the blue. The fourth thing is for us to actually listen to each other’s hopes, joys, fears, and pain. And I’m not just talking about listening to the people who agree with us, but especially with the people who think differently than the way we do.

This is hard stuff, because it means that maybe I should do less talking and more listening. And you know what? Confession time. I personally really stink at that. That’s why I think God gave this to me at 9 o’clock last night! A wise friend once told me to do these three things. Listen. Listen. Listen. I forget these all the time! What are the three things again?

Now, I don’t offer these thoughts as an easy answer in how we move forward as a country. I offer these things to remind us that no matter how many twists and turns our country has faced over this past election cycle, not to mention the twists and turns that remain for us as a country in the future, this presidential transition is not something that God can’t handle.

God’s got this. God’s got this because God has always been faithful.

When I think about country music and how it can help us to be in rhythm with God, I think of the many stories in the bible in which God’s people go through the highs and lows and twists and turns in what it means to be God’s people.  Following God isn’t as straightforward and simple as we might want it to be, as we know all too well.

Life isn’t that easy.  Following God isn’t always easy.  Yes, there are times of great peace and joy in our faith journey, but there are also detours, disappointments, and fears along the way.

Noah, after obeying God by building the ark and saving his family and the animals, ends up getting drunk.  Abraham who responds to God’s calling to leave his home to go to an undisclosed country ends up putting his wife, Sarah’s life in jeopardy through his cowardice.  Joseph ended up in prison because he thought that he was more important than his brothers.  Moses didn’t want to lead God’s people and more than once grumbled at God about the way things were going.  Even Jesus’ own mother, called “blessed” by all generations, was rebuked by her son for misunderstanding him and his mission and purpose.

As we read the bible, we realize that its purpose isn’t to show off all of these saintly, virtuous people so that we can simply copy them and follow their example.  Sometimes they get it right, but more often than not, they find themselves caught between their faith in God and the temptations of the world in which they live.

In other, words, the people in the bible are a lot like us!

A man about my age started coming to church every Sunday.  He was what I would call a hard living kind of guy, drank more than he should, probably told one too many inappropriate jokes, and would just kind of say whatever was on his mind at the time.

But he was coming to church every Sunday and he was growing in his faith.  He would help around the church and was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him.

For worship, he would sit in one of the front pews and when I would preach, I couldn’t help but notice that his eyes would stay focused on me the whole time during the entire sermon.  I knew that he had come a long way because his wife told me that she could see a change in him.

After worship one Sunday morning, he came up to me, because he had heard that our church was having some issues with a man in the community who was causing some problems at our church.  And as he began to pound his fist into the palm of his hand, he said to me, “Pastor Robert, I heard about the problem you’re having with that man who’s up to no good.  Just say the word, and I’ll teach him a thing or two.”

     So like I said, the road to holiness is a long road. It’s not always easy to change from our old ways. We don’t always apply what we hear and experience on Sunday mornings into our everyday lives.

The very style of country music exposing our vulnerabilities and our human desires, reminds us that our faith is meant to be a life long journey in which we allow God to shape us and mold us into the people God has called us to be.  And that is often a very messy process.

In the Book of Jeremiah, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go to the Potter’s house where the potter was shaping some clay on a wheel. The vessel that the potter was making was spoiled and he had to rework it into another vessel.

And the point of this scripture is that we are the clay and the Lord is the potter, continually shaping us to be the people we are called to be.  Being formed into the image of God isn’t a simple process.  It takes time and patience.  But as we trust in God during our faith journey, and especially during those times when we fall backward and need to start over again, God is more than able to reshape us again into the people we were created to be.

When Jesus called those first disciples, he knew that this was just the beginning of the journey with them.  Along the way, those disciples would stumble and not get it right.  Eventually, they would all deny Jesus when he needed them the most.  But Jesus promised to always be there for them and to help them get back on their feet.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine from High School died suddenly of a heart attack. We were co-captains on the football team. We were in a lot of the same classes and spent a lot of time together.

But after High School, we went our separate ways. It wasn’t until 3 or 4 years ago, about 32 years later that we reunited through Facebook. I learned that he had been in the Marines and when he got out, he ended up working a lot of different jobs.

Talk about the twists and turns we face in life, he had his share, that’s for sure. He actually made national news back in 1987 but not in a good way. He was working outside for a company when somebody’s 160 pound pet Chimpanzee got loose and attacked him almost killing him. Fortunately, he was life-flighted to a hospital and survived. He became known over the years as the “Monkey Man.” Crazy, crazy thing, right?

When I reconnected with Fred on Facebook a few years ago, and knowing that I was a pastor, he asked me questions about faith and religion. We had some nice messages back and forth.

I think what prompted his interest in faith, were some tragedies that had recently happened in his life. For example, he had gone through a divorce and had struggled with a drinking problem. His 23 year old son died in October of 2012 and then his 19 year old step-daughter died one year later in October of 2013. So these past couple of years have been really, really hard on Fred.

Fred liked country music, loved to fish, and was just a really down to earth kind of guy. He was always that way.

After the news of his death, I was reading condolences that were posted on his FaceBook page. For a guy who had so many twists and turns in his life, from the chimpanzee attack, to working different jobs, to his divorce, to the deaths of a son and step-daughter, to struggling with a drinking problem, I was amazed to read so many Facebook posts from so many people who commented about what a difference he had made in their lives.

Let me read one of these posts from his Facebook upon the news of his death:

Fred, 

     I owe you my life!!! Literally!!! You kept my heart beating until the paramedics showed up to bring me back… Wow… we had a lot of fun times. You dragged me to meetings & brought me in with the “herd”. I owe you so much!!! I’m grateful for you!! My family is grateful for you!!! You saved their son’s life!!!! FRED , Plz continue to watch over me… walk with me through this life… give me the strength I need… It’s NEVER good-bye , It’s only until I see you again!!! I have so much love & gratitude for you!!! I’ll see you on the other side brother.

And then this one final post that also really got to me and also helped me to see that Fred really did have a “Country Music” kind of faith. Listen to this post from another of his friends:

     Almost everyday for a year, Fred and I walked through the streets of Baltimore witnessing the miracles of sobriety. We learned how to slow down and recognize the beauty in everyday life. He would look up and simply say “thanks Dude.” May you wake up on the beach that you always dreamed about with the loved ones you had lost.

As I read through these condolences on his Fred’s Facebook page, I was reminded that even though Fred didn’t attend church all that much, his down to earth faith is what helped him face the twists and turns and the ups and downs of his life. His life was very much like a country song.

To be in rhythm with God, country music style, we need to have a lot of patience along the way and realize that even when we fall and mess up, God is there to pick up the broken pieces and form us into a new vessel. The church isn’t a place where perfect people gather pretending to have their act together.

The church is a hospital for sinners where we confess our sins, receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ, and invite God to continue to shape and mold us as we continue on our journey of faith.

And then this second way that we can be in rhythm with God, country music style, is by helping us express the pain and the grief that we often experience in life.

Alan Jackson is a popular country music artist who blends both honky tonk and mainstream country into his songs.  He has recorded several studio albums and more than fifty of his singles have reached the Top 30 on the Billboard country charts including twenty-five number ones.

Even if you’re not into country music, you probably know one of his songs which he recorded soon after 9/11 entitled, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning which helped so many people express what they were feeling soon after that terrible tragedy that struck our nation and our world.

Sometimes, we need music and simple lyrics to help us get in touch with our faith and what we’re experiencing along our journey of faith.

So whether you’re a country music fan or not, we can learn a couple of things of what it means to be in rythem with God in our faith. We are sinners in need of God’s grace where we are invited to allow God to shape and mold us into the people we are called to be, just like a potter patiently shapes the clay in creating a beautiful vessel.

And the other way that country music can help is to be in rythem with God is that it reminds us that God cares about the pain and the grief we often experience in life.

And my prayer for you today is this.  I pray that God will drop kick you through the goal posts of life.

And I mean that in a good way.

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