Monday, August 31, 2020

GUEST Sermon (Donna Oyama): "Singing in the Time of Covid", Psalm 100 (August 30, 2020)

Pastor's note: Many, many thanks to Donna Oyama for agreeing to lead worship and share a message this past week while I was on vacation. (She says she said "yes" because God was pushing her to challenge herself; I think it was because God knew her voice needed to be heard!)

When she told me that she was going to be using Psalm 100 as her primary passage, I was delighted. I bet Donna didn't remember, but that was the scripture I used in the very first sermon of this series way back in the middle of June! Her words created the perfect bookend to our summer series by reinforcing many of the themes that we've touched on over the past 3 months with brand new illustrations that never would have occurred to me...and I didn't have to say a thing! The Holy Spirit was definitely moving this week.

I'm grateful for Donna's willingness to share her gift with words this week, her sign language skills with us every week, and her faith in our community every day! -- KSW


Over the past few weeks, Pastor Katey has shared a series of sermons about a number of favorite hymns. I would like to offer one more reflection on the topic before we move on to something else.

When Katey asked congregation members to submit their favorite hymns for her sermon series, I told her I have too many to single out only one. Even so, I am amazed at how many of my favorites she has touched upon this summer. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Each of these holds a special place in my mind and heart. I even learned a couple hymns that were new to me. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” is an old favorite for many; I was only vaguely familiar with it. 

Through hymns we celebrate, we praise God, we beg forgiveness, we plead for miracles, hope, comfort, and mercy. We all have our favorites. We love to sing along with the choir, or in the choir. We love to hum along when we don’t know the words. We harmonize. We clap our hands to the up-tempo songs, and close our eyes to enjoy the comfort of the quieter ones.

It is ironic that we should have spent this time focusing on singing during this time of COVID-19. Medical experts warn us that singing is not safe, that it can spread the insidious virus faster and farther than talking. In fact, singing these days is downright dangerous. In March of this year some sixty members of the Skagit Valley Chorale met at a Mt. Vernon, Washington church to rehearse. Skagit County had not yet reported any cases of the virus. Chorale members practiced social distancing and followed other safety measures. Unbeknownst to those present, one member had been infected with COVID-19. Fifty-three choir members became ill, some seriously enough to be hospitalized. Two died.*

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us there is a time for everything. Specifically, verse 7 says, “A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” This time of COVID seems to be one of those times when we need to be silent, at least where singing is concerned. 

That does not mean that we cannot search for other ways to offer songs and praise to God. As a congregation, we have already begun to use silent, sign language responses to the familiar liturgy of the worship service. You have watched and contemplated the lyrics of hymns as Sylvia played and I signed. I sometimes sign to music when I am alone; and now you know a song to sign, too.

(I have enjoyed signing for you by the way. Sign language holds a special place in my life, because in a way, signing gave me my voice in the world. But that’s another story for another time.)

As this time of quietness continues, we can find still other ways to “sing”.

The first alternative to singing that comes to my mind is through instrumental music. Percussion, piano, organ, strings—although nothing that involves blowing air into an instrument, please. Shucks. I guess that rules out pennywhistles and kazoos. But I have my shaker eggs, and a friend has a potato, so it’s all good.

We can listen to our favorite recordings.

We can sing in the shower.

We can write songs and poems to be sung later.

We can choose our favorites from the hymnal and ponder the words. If you’d like to make it a Bible study, there is a good resource at the back of the Glory to God hymnal; a lectionary index beginning on page 968. A quick Google search could also help you out.

If you are like me, you can sing in your mind as  Corinthians 14:15 suggests. “I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind, also.” Of course, singing with your mind involves using that blessed annoyance called the earworm to your advantage.

Way down deep in the recesses of my mind lives a disc jockey, spawned and mentored by the likes of Wolfman Jack. (Kids—if you don’t know who that is, ask your grandparents.) My DJ sits in the radio studio of my brain surrounded by his thousands of records from all eras and genres. He is mischievous. His goal is to drive me bonkers.

Ordinarily, my DJ chooses a relatively harmless song to play. The song becomes my background music for a few days. I often ignore it, but it returns to my mind when I’m not thinking of something else.

Other times, the DJ decides to entertain me with that inane little ditty involving three generations of a family of dangerous sea animals. Kids love it. I’ll spare you the earworm and not name the song, but for those of you who have it figured out, it’s already streaming in your mind, right? I can hear my Wolfman wannabe howling with delight as the silly children’s song loops round and round and round, never ending, driving me to distraction.

Once in a while, the DJ chooses to play something I need at that moment—a hymn, a favorite oldie, some calming classical music. It is as though he has actually listened to God’s advice and has given me something worth pondering for a change. Once I have enjoyed the selection, I am able to make a request to the DJ to play my hymn of choice to sing in my mind.

Today’s Scripture reading, Psalm 100, tells us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord...” We often think of making a joyful noise as singing. But consider this. The Message version of Psalm 100 says, “ On your feet now—applaud God.” There just might be other ways to make a joyful noise.

Walt Whitman’s poem, “I Hear America Singing” speaks of workers across this land who sing through their work. It isn’t a long poem, so I can share it with you.
“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, 
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”
We, too, can sing. We can applaud God, as we go about our daily lives.

When I use geometric shapes to piece together a quilt, I sing the orderliness of God’s creation.

The neighbor who shares those ubiquitous tomatoes and zucchinis from his garden sings God’s bounty and abundance.

A piece of artwork, a culinary masterpiece, or a garden landscape--each sings the beauty of His world.

The school volunteer who sits and reads with children sings God’s love for His children.

Demonstrators marching against injustice to the oppressed sing God’s justice.

Those who minister to children locked up at the border sing His compassion.

Oskar Schindler who employed Jews in his factory to save them from the deadly horrors of Auschwitz, sang God’s concern for the oppressed.

The food bank volunteer who packs and distributes boxes of needed commodities sings His command to feed those in need.

When former President Jimmy Carter helps build houses with Habitat for Humanity, he sings dignity for those who are struggling and need a hand up.

Sister Helen Prejean whose story is told in Dead Man Walking, sat and prayed with death row inmates as they were about to be executed and sang His mercy.

The songs we sing to God, the joyful noises we make are as many and as varied as the people who inhabit the earth. So make a joyful noise! Find your song. Share your produce. Make a quilt. Paint a picture. Volunteer where there is a need. Sing God’s mercy, His love, His compassion, His beauty, His abundance. Belt it out when no one else is around. Sing it in your mind! Whatever your song and however you sing it, God hears you. Amen


*LA Times, CDC

(c) Donna Oyama, 2020

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