When confronted with the raunchiness of the lyrics in their music of choice, teenagers often tell their parents or teachers that they don’t listen to the lyrics, they simply like the beat. Parents and teachers alike tend to roll their eyes at such a feeble defense for listening to music that blatantly glorifies violence, drug use, and debauchery. But perhaps it would be wise to pause a moment and consider whether adults always know and believe the lyrics we sing consistently, or whether we too simply like the beat or rhythm or melody – especially in church.
I was struck by this today as I happily sang “A Mighty Fortress” during morning services. Although we sang the isorhythmic setting instead of the rhythmic, which I prefer (If you know the difference, you’ve been Lutheran for a few years now . . .), that melody still stirs me. It brings back memories of choir tours and Reformation Festivals and simply makes me proud to call myself Lutheran.
But I caught myself a bit today as I was happily singing that even if the devil, the world, and my sinful flesh would take my house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, even if my life itself would be wrenched away, they would not win the day, for the kingdom’s ours forever. In my moment of pause I wondered, are these words my words, or do I simply like the melody?
For that matter, how often do we think about the words we say in our liturgy on a weekly basis? Do we believe them? Do we believe that we deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment? Don’t we prefer to believe that we are entitled to health and comfort? Don’t we tend to act as if the struggles in life are the injustice and the good times are what we ought to expect? Yet that’s not what we confess as we kneel before our Lord praying for his boundless mercy. That’s not what we sing at the end of “A Mighty Fortress.” Would we still consider ourselves victorious if we, like Job, lost our goods, fame, and children?
But then I remember that this is the point of confessing and singing these things each week. Left to ourselves and our own understanding, of course we will fashion a god to suit our own desires. Of course we will fashion an idol out of our own impressions about the way things ought to be. But our Lord has not left us to ourselves. In the water of baptism, he has claimed us as his dear children. And now he has given us his word so that we know what being his child means for us – both now and into eternity.
God’s Word breaks into the darkness and gives the confession of his truth – which is the only truth. Left to myself, I’m sure I would never declare victory after losing my wife and children; such a loss would be too devastating. It is only through the working of the Spirit that such a confession can ever be mine. It is only because our Lord has made the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, both for me and for my family, that I can with the Apostle Paul declare that I can get through all things through Christ, who is my strength.
I need to be reminded of who I am as God’s child, and I need to be reminded a lot. That’s why we teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. So as we continue through Lent, then through Easter, then through whatever comes down the road, I rejoice that our Lord has given us such words to sing and speak. I plan to pay attention to the words, and I encourage you to do the same. For as we sing the confession our Lord has given, we might just learn something about ourselves we had forgotten, or perhaps that we didn’t know before.