Transcribed from the audio.

Please pray with me. Gracious God from whom every good gift comes, send your Spirit into our lives and by the flame of your wisdom, open the horizons of our minds, loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words and to go beyond speech, praising you in the silence deep within our hearts. Amen.

Earlier this week I happened upon a podcast that provided for me a very welcome reminder of the words of the psalmist who wrote that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob, our refuge—from Psalm 46. It was welcome as I reflected on the week that we’ve just experienced, which has been a pretty tough week between the floods and the tornadoes that have wreaked havoc and devastation across a wide swath of our country and then, on Friday, yet another senseless shooting.

It’s been a hard week and that podcast reminded me, and I remind you, that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; that we are never ever alone. The podcast is a series that’s being done by Jonathan Capehart who’s with the Washington Post. The name of the series is Voices of the Movement. He’s been doing interviews with leaders of the civil rights movement, talking about seminal points in time in that movement. A particular episode that caught my attention was the one that talked about how music propelled the civil rights movement. In interviewing the leaders, he asked, how did you hold it together? How did you, in the face of so much injustice and darkness and bigotry hold it together, one with another?

Then he asked one of the founding members of the Freedom Singers, what’s been your bed rock song, a song that you turn to in time of trouble, the one that abides deep down inside of you? He said, “Hold on. Keep your Eyes on the Prize.” You may know it. It goes like this:  Paul and Silas bound in jail with no money to forego their bail. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on. Hold on, hold on, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.

You see, one of the keys of the songs was they came from gospel songs.  That particular song ties directly to the scripture you just heard a little bit earlier from the Acts of the Apostles— reminding everyone who sang “keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on,” that they have ancestors in the faith who did exactly that. Turning to that passage from the Acts of the Apostles, you heard it. Paul and Silas get into trouble, not for a theological controversy, but an economic one. In calling the spirit out of that girl, who was property of her owners, they cut off the revenue stream for her owners and they called out that spirit with the name of God, the name of Jesus, and so the owners were not too happy. They dragged them before the magistrates. They were beaten up, thrown into jail, shackled, put in to the inner most cell. No one wanted them to escape.

What did they do in the midnight hour? They prayed and they sang songs to God. What an extraordinary witness, that in their dark hour, they went deep down deep to the source of their strength and refuge because they knew they were not alone. Then the story goes, an earthquake happened. Shackles fall off, jail doors fly open and the jailer is now terrified. Here’s part of the irony. One would think that the people who were imprisoned were having a lack of freedom, but in fact it was the jailer who was bound up by the Roman authorities. He might’ve had the key to the cells, but he was bound because when Paul calls out to him, “Don’t kill yourself. We’re here.” He goes to them and he says, “What must I do to be saved?” Or as it’s translated in the Message Bible. “What do I have to do to be saved, to truly live?”  In essence, what do I do to live like you do: free, children of God? They respond, “Put all of your trust in Jesus and then you will live as you are meant to live.”

Never underestimate the power of prayer and song to pick us up wherever we are and to take us to a different place, in our midnight hour. In the podcast, Capehart goes on to interview some of the other leaders and in speaking with Ruby Sales, she makes the point that these songs, like “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold on, Hold on,” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” embodied their courage. Those songs were the repository of their hopes and their dreams and their victories and their defeats. That in singing together, they were one, one in the spirit and one in the Lord. That when they were in jail, their liberties might’ve been taken away, but nothing could take away their faith and their singing to God, the source of strength and refuge.

My friends, we’ve had dark times before. We have some dark times now. What’s your bedrock song you go to in those dark hours—the song that you lift up at midnight to remind you, you are not alone? I hope you’ll share it with me. I’d love to know. My bed rock song is taken from Psalm 23:

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
And He is mine forever.

We have these songs, they live deep down inside of us. I experienced that most miraculously in the last year of my Aunt Jeanette’s life. My Aunt Jeanette was my mother’s identical twin sister for whom I am named. In the last year of her life, she suffered a massive stroke that pretty much took away everything—her mobility, her speech. My mother wanted all of us to go to visit her together.

So my parents and my brother and I went to see her in the nursing home in Chicago. My mother had asked me to bring communion, that which helps to bind us together and remind us that we are never alone. As we went through the service, my aunt—who really couldn’t speak—when we got to the Lord’s Prayer, didn’t miss a word, the woman who could not speak. Even more miraculously, my mother wanted us to sing when we finished communion and she knew that one of my aunt’s favorite hymns, is an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.

My aunt joined in and sang all four verses without missing a beat or slipping on a word. These songs can transport us and remind us that God in Christ abides in us. A little later in the service, we’re going to say farewell to our acolytes. You have been steeped with songs and prayers in this place. Take them with you. Pull them out when you need them. They’re there. We’re going to welcome some new acolytes a little bit later this morning. Listen deeply. Take it in because these songs are one of the chief ways in which the word of God abides in us, richly and deeply. No one can take that away. Music can be powerful.

In closing, I invite you to join me in singing a bedrock song, I suspect all of you know it.  I’m going to invite those who are worshiping with us online to do the same.

This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Let all God’s people say, Amen.

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