We live in a world where conflict and strife are everywhere. The dizzying hum of division floods our conversations and the air waves. Many of us, in the pain of our hearts, seek a voice of healing and reconciliation. We look out from the brokenness of our families, work places, and even church relationships to find a place of hope and rest.
Where might we find unity and togetherness?
There is good reason to think we are already singing it! We sing our unity when we sing our faith!
The church gathers in the unity of God’s love to sing songs of praise and remembrance. We are taken beyond our current and past disputes. For a fleeting moment, our hearts and voices are joined together to proclaim a truth that is beyond the mistrust, fractured relationships, and partisan quarrels of this world. For a time in our praise, the Kingdom shines forth as the Holy Spirit speaks through melody and verse!
Of course, seeing music as a unifying force is not a new idea. When John Wesley preached the funeral sermon of his theological opponent George Whitefield, he introduced the hymn of praise for Whitefield’s life, saying:
Let the fire of Thy love fall on every heart! And because we love Thee, let us love one another with a “love stronger than death!” Take away from us “all anger, and wrath, and bitterness; all clamor and evil speaking!” Let Thy Spirit so rest upon us, that from this hour we may be “kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us!”
The congregation then sang a powerful praise for the witness of Whitefield’s life. Wesley understood that when we sing praises to God for the witness of Christ, we are bound to one another in a mutual love that overcomes all earthly disputes. Forgiving and loving become natural behaviors when we are joined together in the act of worship.
When we worship, and especially when we sing, we do not do so independently. We sing with the company of saints, past and present. We sing alongside like-minded people and those with whom we may disagree. The Holy Spirit turns our eyes away from our differences and towards the unifying vision of Christ!
Charles Wesley captures the unifying nature of praise in his hymn, “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee”:
1 Jesus, Lord, we look to thee,
let us in thy name agree:
show thyself the Prince of peace;
bid all strife for ever cease.
2 Make us of one heart and mind,
courteous, pitiful, and kind,
lowly, meek in thought and word,
altogether like our Lord.
3 Let us for each other care,
each the other’s burden bear;
to thy church the pattern give,
show how true believers live.
4 Free from anger and from pride,
let us thus in God abide;
all the depths of love express,
all the heights of holiness.
Dan Forrest’s arrangement of “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee” performed here by Bel Canto Company under the direction of Liz Doebler.
We see in Charles’ verse that celebrating the image of God empowers us to overcome our shortcomings and sin. When we cast our eyes toward God and lift up our voices, we are released from the pride and arrogance of discord! We are conformed to the God we worship and enabled to love each other better, honoring the image of God in each person.
So let us be encouraged in our congregational worship and our church life together. We need not be joined by the same ideas and opinions in order to be joined as one. We are joined by something far greater than mere consensus. We are joined together by the way, truth, and life. This truth is called Jesus. This truth will illumine all others and with the Holy Spirit, continue to make us one!
May it be so.