I Heard Michael in a Different Way

Psalm 95:1-5
LUKE 9: 28-36


And, our Psalm of the day begins, “Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!! Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!”

As you can imagine, Psalm 95’s beginning energy is an energy of faith that has throughout my life inspired me and encouraged me even on those difficult days of struggle, trauma, and sadness. I have often wondered whether God, in the immensity of who the Creator is, whether God’s beyond human comprehension abilities and capabilities … is listening in to every church service where the love of God is showcased; we have heard where two or more are gathered in His name that He is there. Since God created the universe … I am pretty sure God has the capacity to notice the worship.

I have often wondered whether God … in God’s own way is smiling every single time a song of praise is lifted up by one of us as we drive along the highways with K-Love tuned in on our radio’s or some other Christian station or perhaps a singer or band of faith’s music stream filling our cars with joy in the Lord or just in those moments when each of us is finding a way to connect with and to praise God along our journeys.

As Paul would remind us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!” Is God listening or has God assigned others in heaven to be the ones who take in the joy … hear the praise … sense the love … take notes and then they report it all back to God in their morning staff meetings amidst their coffee, bagels, and other breakfast goodies.

I have wondered … but I know that when you love God … when you recognize that God is God and frankly, there are too many realities amidst our world that verify God’s existence that it is hard to not want to both recognize and praise God with energy, love and as best as we can. It’s not about being quiet … nothing in our Scriptures tells us to be hushed in worship or to not lift our voices when songs of praise are played and sung … “Come, before God with thanks! LET’s SHOUT SONGS of JOY to GOD!!” And, for those of you who might think you sing off key … Scriptures has you covered too … PRAISE GOD WITH CLASHING CYMBALS!

When you think of all the things in life that you celebrate with energy and praise don’t you think that God should be right up there with your favorite teams or the joy you see in children and grandchildren … this morning can you feel deep in your bones the words of this Psalm … Come, before God with thanks! LET’s SHOUT SONGS of JOY to GOD!!” Can I get an amen? <<AMEN>>

Do you agree with the psalmist who thousands of years ago first wrote down the words of our Scripture for this morning … “THE LORD IS A GREAT GOD!!”

I absolutely will shout AMEN to that! You may have noticed that occasionally I get slightly excited about my faith …you might even sense that I am joyful in my connection to God … last month I even had all of you singing JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME … absolutely JOY … raising joy to the rock of our salvation!!! And, those awesome kids from Vacation Bible School knew the joy and they most certainly raised a shout that lifted this roof from its moorings. I sure hope they come back in September.

Over the next few weeks, our messages on Sunday mornings are going to be connected to a song of faith, protest, and devotion to God that slaves in South Carolina first started singing in the days of the Civil War. They sang as they rowed … they could sense new tensions amongst the evil men and women who whipped and chained them … forcing these beautiful human beings to do their ungodly bidding … and so an unknown someone started singing “Michael Row the Boat ashore hallelujah!” And, soon one enslaved individual passed the song to another … soon more and more were singing of the hope that they might be rescued “The Jordan River is chilly and cold hallelujah … it chill the body but not the soul, Hallelujah!”

Before this morning … a few of you have heard how Michael coincided with the words of verse 7 from Psalm 95 and changed our lives. We ended today’s reading with Psalm 95 verse 5 but the Psalm continues, “Come let us worship and bow down! Let’s kneel before the Lord, our Maker! He is our God and we are the people of God’s pasture, the sheep in God’s hands. If only you would listen to God’s voice … RIGHT NOW!”

I happen to believe … well I do believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit … I do believe that Jesus came to taught us very specifically how God wants us to live. I take Jesus at His Word when He told us that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father and He will send another Companion who will be with you forever … the Spirit of Truth will live with you and be with you.” I happen to believe friends that all of us who are willing to let go of ourselves and become changed through our faith in God and in Jesus Christ … all of us will experience the nudging or redirecting of our journeys by God’s Holy Spirit from the day we believe right through the day we are face-to-face with God and Jesus Christ in glory. We might not pay attention … we might go in another direction but the directions are always being given to us and when we listen almost always we will see the results.

I always enjoy sharing my faith walk with folks. Born and baptized a Methodist, grew up as a Baptist, after marriage becoming Episcopalians, and then Missouri Synod Lutherans before returning to the first denomination of both of our lives. I also get to toss in some Roman Catholicism into my journey and I do have my rabbi, Aaron Krauss. Every step of the journey has impacted me … my pastor growing up gave me all of his books of ministry and many are in my office today but it was a truly Holy Spirit moment reflective of Psalm 95 that changed our lives and fulfilled God’s plan for me to be in ministry with you today.

Remember that first verse of Psalm 95? Sing out loud …. Sing with a joyful shout … sing songs of joy to God? Well, in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church we were attending all of the songs that were being sung in worship were 19th or 18th century hymns that frankly none of us could sing but Donna and I were particularly concerned that Megan and Colleen were not singing … frankly the lyrics used old English terminology that we had to think twice about to understand what we were singing.

And, this really bothered Donna even more than me because when she grew up my Aunt Hazel, who was Donna’s Sunday School teacher, had taught Donna an amazing array of songs of faith full of joy that kids could sing with their parents. To this day, she knows more of those songs than I do, thanks to my aunt’s faith and their church’s commitment to worship God joyfully through songs.

We had had enough after one particular worship service when the day’s hymns tested both of us and after the service we asked to speak with Pastor Joel. He was happy to have us sit in his office to hear our unplanned challenge … Donna looked at him and said, “Why can’t we sing a song like Michael Row the Boat Ashore in worship? So the kids can sing along.” Now, friends you have to know that Michael was not a particular favorite song of our kids nor of the two of us. It was just in the moment that Donna used Michael as our example. Pastor Joel smiled and said, “No! Songs like that can be sung in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School but not in worship.”

Needless to say his direct NO took the air out of us and we had already been considering looking for another church because we disagreed with some of the theology of the denomination. Now, you should know that Joel is still my friend although he is no longer a pastor.

Within a week or two one of Donna’s friends invited us to go to her church, the local United Methodist Church, which actually is the closest church to our Smithville home. I was not able to attend that Sunday morning but Donna and the girls were curious and excited about going somewhere different to worship God.

And, friends … of the thousands of songs that exist in the world …. What song did the church family at Emmaus United Methodist Church sing that Sunday morning? Now, please remember that only three people know of our conversation with Pastor Joel.

MICHAEL ROW THE BOAT ASHORE was sung …. Donna called me after church and said ‘We are changing churches … God has given us the direction.” And, we did.

Now, I have gone through every United Methodist hymnal and song book … guess what song is not in any of them? You got it … MICHAEL. We believe that the fact that Michael was sung and Michael was randomly chosen in our conversation was a God plan … a Holy Spirit moment … you know the words from Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord … they are plans for peace filled with hope.”

And, God gave Peter, James and John a Holy Spirit moment on the top of Mount Tabor. They witnessed Moses and Elijah with Jesus. They heard God declare, “This is my Son, Listen to Him! And, they were left speechless.”

I have been to the top of Mount Tabor and there is a beautiful cathedral there. But, what impacted me the most on the top of that holy location where Jesus had walked was this ancient olive press that the Franciscan monks who still live on the mountain use to press olives in olive oil … on the day I was there I considered how God calls us to be more than who we were when we started … fine olive oil can come from the presses.

And, to each of you … listen, pay attention, be joy-filled in your faith and never forget that God is God … worship God … sing out loud to God … but most importantly embrace the Companion of faith, the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us and through the Holy Spirit we each have the opportunity of faith to listen to God’s voice right now! God will never stop trying to direct our lives. Imagine if we listened and paid attention. AMEN

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