One of the marks of being a Christian is reading and studying Holy Scripture. We must recognize, as an aside, how fortunate we are in the modern world to have printed copies of the Bible available easily and affordably. The earliest Christians did not have that luxury, as it was virtually unheard of and ghastly expensive to have written copies of Holy Scripture back then.
Anyways, back to it. I have begun to follow a reading plan that I heard Fr. John Whiteford put out awhile back. You read six chapters a day, one chapter from each of the major sections of Holy Scripture. So, a chapter from the Torah, a chapter from the Wisdom writings, a chapter from the Prophets etc…
This morning my chapter from the Gospels was Matthew 7. If you’ve never read it or at least haven’t read it recently, you should go and do that before proceeding. Jesus says something here that is absolutely terrifying. Picking up in verse 18,
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
Right in the middle of this text..see that? Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him Lord and even prophesies, cast out demons and does wonderful works will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He says that not only will He say to them, “I never knew you” but also calls them workers of iniquity. What?! Think about this. These people, He says, will prophecy, cast out demons and do wonderful works in His Name. That indicates, to me, a certain amount of faith and we would even call them Christians. But He says that He will cast them out.
Because they will be known by their fruit. Because they will just hear but not do, He says. I’m noticing a trend among most people who call themselves Christian these days (including me). In fact, I had this conversation with a young man yesterday. I said to him that, if early Christians saw us today (in both our private and church lives), they would not recognize us as Christians. We are far too worldly.
We are far too worldly.
For example, I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would never have asked or thought, “if I go to a wedding, does that count as my Sunday obligation?” They would not have viewed attendance at Church as merely an obligation. I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would not have worried if the clothes they were wearing made them hip or trendy and they certainly would have made sure that their bodies were covered. Many of them lived in rags and abject poverty in the desert and monasteries and didn’t really care about the style of the day. Our forefathers would never have questioned “sacrificing” sleep for prayer or the giving of tithes because inflation has risen. Our forefathers in the faith never said they needed a vacation or that Church services lasted too long or that fasting isn’t necessary.
We are weak and worldly people, brothers and sisters. We have traded a way of Life, a manner of being for comfort. We have traded Christ for TV, fasting for fish on Fridays during Lent, and our preferences over prostration in humility before the majesty and grace of our Lord Jesus.
Will you join me as we purify our lives and hearts? We must flee from sin and run to Christ (1 Timothy 6:3-14). We must get rid of the things that hold us back from Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus even went so far as to tell us that, if our eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out (Matthew 5:29)! We should be ruthless with sin and the things that can lead to sin and the world. We should be ruthless with ourselves and the passions which so easily enslave us (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Do we really think we are immune from God’s wrath because we espouse a certain set of moral imperatives? Because we go to what we call church once a week and don’t sleep around? What about what we say, the words that come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29, James 3:10, Matt. 12:34-37, Prov. 4:24, Luke 6:45)?
We are weak and worldly, brothers and sisters. Let us fall on our faces and repent. Let us cleanse from our lives, our hearts the things of the world that we have allowed to distract us from Christ. Let us throw off the things that so easily ensnare us and turn again to Christ.
Pray for me and each other.
My music tastes have changed over the years. Once upon a time, I was all about some “gangster rap.” I mean, weren’t we all in the 90s? But seriously, my musical tastes over the years have ranged from rap to “classic rock” to classical music.
I guess I didn’t really think about music all that much to be honest. I went to boarding school in Kenya for middle and high school. We had pretty strict rules about music. There were certain kinds of music that we were prohibited from listening to. Naturally, that was the kind of music I gravitated toward. If it was against the rules, I was all about it.
I guess that’s pretty natural, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves anyway; that it’s natural to be rebellious and break rules. From a theological perspective, I can see that. We are, because of the Fall, prone to sin. We are prone to sin because we’ve inherited that disease, the sickness of self from our first parents.
But I guess I never really took music that seriously. Or at least didn’t really think about it that much or how much influence it could have over us. But the voice lifted in song is powerful. Singing moves us, generates emotion and so on. It reminds me of the story of the creation of Narnia from C.S. Lewis’ work The Chronicles of Narnia. The character of Aslan creates the land of Narnia entirely by singing.
Lewis describes it, in part, this way,
“In the darkness, something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it . . . Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale; cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn't come out gently one by one as on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out . . . If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.” – from The Magician’s Nephew, pg. 98-99
The most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…of course, Lewis is describing the “First Voice”, but the point remains. There is power in singing. Maybe this is why Holy Scripture talks about it so much. There are so many texts that it would be pages and pages of quotes but let me give you a few,
“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.” Psalm 96:1-2
“I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:2
“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” Psalm 5:11
And the list could go on and on. Singing is important. What we sing is important and how we sing it is important. Over the last year or so, this has become really important to me in my own walk with Christ and is supremely important, I believe, in how we all follow The Way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; what we consume matters. The things we put in our minds matter. That especially comes to media and, in this case, music.
Let me illustrate it this way. Have you ever found yourself singing the words of a song you’ve heard a hundred times and never realized you knew the words? One of the best ways to teach children something is to put it to song. There is something in the human person that responds to music.
Which makes it super important that we pay attention to what music we listen to. I’ve recently heard my own children singing song lyrics that are not exactly Christ honoring. That’s my failure as a parent and spiritual leader of our home. Now I know some of you will say that I’m being a prude or going too far or that they’ll hear it eventually. It’s true that, as long as they are in this world, they will hear the things of the world. Doesn’t mean I have to just let it happen.
Recently (over the last year) I have begun listening to a lot of chant, Orthodox chant. I have been amazed, first off, that my own family is critical of this. Comments like “boring” and “depressing” have been leveled at this sacred music. It saddens me that I have allowed my own family to be so corrupted by the world. It amazes me, secondly, how this sacred music has affected me. It leaves me at peace, joyful, but also deeply and soberly reflective. It also makes me a little jealous of the monks who get to live their lives singing and praying and worshipping God in an environment like that.
It also gives me hope. One day, all this trash of the world will be gone. All these voices raised in praise of ugly depravity, sinful debauchery and trivial nonsense will be silenced. One day the voices we raise will be raised in triumph and worship and praise. St. John, the Blessed Theologian, describes it for us,
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5:8-14)
Sing, brothers and sisters! Let your voices be heard lifted in song to our Lord and King and Saviour! One day we will all worship around the Throne and join in the song of the Lamb! And it will be the most beautiful sound we will ever hear. Until then, sing to Him with anticipation and love and fidelity!
Sing to the Lord!