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For this special day on which we celebrate the importance and the joy of music in worship,
and we appreciate those who so ably lead us in worshipful music, we appropriately turn to the psalms.
The psalms are not only the “prayer book” of humanity, they are also the “song book” of faith.
People of faith have been singing the psalms for millennia.
Jesus knew the psalms very well, and quoted them often.
I can imagine Jesus and his friends singing psalms in the synagogue in Capernaum,
or sitting around a fire on the beach, roasting fish and singing the psalms.
There are at least 80 references to singing in the book of psalms. 4 of them appear in Psalm 98.
Hear the Word of God:
O sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things.
God’s right hand and holy arm have gained victory.
The Lord has made known his victory; God has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
God has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn, make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for God is coming to judge the earth.
God will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Friends, it has been a long several weeks.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us that we have a long way to go.
Multiple storms – hurricanes even – have ravaged countless communities
and caused long term suffering and deprivation in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
The inscrutable and incredibly sad shootings at the country music event in Las Vegas
rocked our nation, feeling like a punch in the gut of our communal soul.
There has been talk of the use of nuclear missiles, which is never a conversation to be taken lightly.
And, of course, there are those personal challenges,
those issues that weigh heavy on our hearts and minds.
Many people in the last months have born witness to significant struggles at work or at home,
serious challenges that have caused anxiety, concern for the future, lack of sleep.
In addition to grieving over the national news,
I was concerned this week about a particular “situation” regarding a family member.
It was weighing heavy on my mind, and keeping me awake at night.
I needed to regain a sense of hopefulness, a sense of peace.
What is it that brings you hope? What helps you restore some semblance of peace?
This past Wednesday evening, Alex Rogers did a wonderful job leading the first of three programs
that she has planned on “hope”. What a timely discussion.
In the first session, Alex asked us:
When you think of hope, what images, sights, sounds or smells come to mind?
I confess that the first thing that popped in my mind was the smell of cinnamon buns!
Can’t you just smell cinnamon buns baking when I mention them?
What a wonderful smell! The smell of hope!
Sort of like the smell of bacon on a weekend morning…
The second thing that popped in my mind was the sound of our Chancel Choir,
in particular, the sound of our choir singing “Deep Peace”.
There are many advantages to being the pastor of this church on Sunday mornings.
One of those advantages is that I get to sit right here, right in front of the choir.
On the hymns, I can sing away, whether off key or not,
because the force of their voices is right behind me.
On the anthems, I may not get the same mix of their voices as you do from a distance,
but I get the proximity, and I get to watch Matt play the organ with his hands and feet
and direct a full choir with his head all at the same time;
this is quite a feat of focus and dexterity.
After the benediction, I get to stand in the narthex where the choir sings the benediction response.
More than once, it felt as though they were singing just to me.
More than a few times, I’ve teared up when I heard them sing:
Deep peace of the running wave to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you. (Gaelic Blessing put to music by John Rutter)
So, after Alex’s Wednesday night program, even though I was already feeling more hopeful,
I walked over to visit the choir during their rehearsal.
The choir was singing an anthem you will hear later in the service, and as anticipated,
I was not disappointed. I felt a heightened sense of joy and hopefulness
as I sat and listened to the choir sing in beautiful harmony.
Over the years, choir members have told me how much singing worshipful music
means for their spiritual life.
Every Wednesday and Sunday, these extremely dedicated folks offer their time and talent,
and they are nurtured in faith as they sing their anthems.
Many a choir member can quote untold scripture, because they have sung it over and over again.
Many a choir member will spend their Mondays and Thursdays, at least,
humming the songs they have sung the day before in choir.
The God-focused, Word-centered, spirit-filled music sung by this choir first nurtures them,
long before they come to worship and nurture us.
Matt and Lori’s ministry among these singers, and upon the children and youth who sing in our choirs,
has had a deep and lasting spiritual impact.
The impact upon our choirs and certainly upon our congregation as well for 20 years! is immeasurable.
It is immense! Matt and Lori’s ministry has been life-sustaining for this body of faith,
and this congregation we will be eternally grateful to God
for the faithful and selfless Christian ministry of Matt and Lori McMahan.
Singing songs of faith and experiencing worshipful music changes us.
Everything that we ingest through our ears and our eyes affects us,
seeps into our heart and soul, and helps determine our well-being.
Consider the media we consume – Everything we listen to or sing
impacts our sense of hopefulness and peace.
When we have the opportunity to break forth into a song of praise,
or to listen intently to an anthem of lament, such an experience reorients the heart,
the soul, and the mind.
The songs of faith led by Matt and Lori make possible our worship,
and engender a spiritual impact upon the rest of our week, from one Sunday to the next.
Those of us who worship weekly, almost every Sunday, truly miss what we receive,
miss our spiritual sustenance, when we are away just one Sunday morning.
I am fed by the music ministry of this church, and my soul gets hungry when I miss even one meal.
When life is going well, when our hearts are grateful, when all seems relatively oriented,
the songs of faith in worship keep us grounded, give us a vehicle for gratitude,
and remind of the source of our comfort and joy.
When life is not going well, when trouble is swirling around us, when our hope is battered,
or our strength is faltering, when our love seems empty,
the songs of faith in worship, sung before the God of all ages and all nations, renew us.
The music of the choir and of the organ makes us stronger, and more hopeful,
and more patient with ourselves and others.
The music of faith comforts us and reminds us of the grace we have received,
and the grace we are to extend to others.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; the psalmist cries out,
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
God has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
God has done marvelous things.
Through the ministry of Matt and Lori McMahan, God has done marvelous things.
Matt and Lori, for twenty years you have led us in joyful song and given us a vehicle for praise.
Your leadership, through the gift of music, has upheld us in difficult times.
You have enabled us from week to week to remember God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
You have grounded us, comforted us, strengthened us, and given us hope.
You have been God’s faithful servants, and you mean the world to this congregation and its worship.
And you have meant the world to me.
Thank you! And thank God for both of you.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
October 8, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030