The Sound of Music
Wednesday of Pentecost 22
19 October 2016
One of my congregation's former Associate Pastors disliked the soundtrack to "The Sound of Music," starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. For him the syrupy sweet music and the legalistic sentiments ("I must have done something good.") of the soundtrack to the movie was like the scratching of fingernails on a blackboard. I suppose, although I love the movie, I understand his dislike. At one time, we speculated that it would be a fun auction item to sell at our school's benefit to watch him strapped into a chair and forced to listen to and watch the movie. However, we decided that such aural torture would not be God pleasing. Needless to say, this shows the power of the sound of music for human beings. Music can have detrimental effects when it is used to support the doctrine of Satan, as it often does in pop music. It can be soothing and comforting when used to support the delivery of forgiveness in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians have universally wed texts to fine music. Martin Luther was himself a very accomplished musician. Quite a number of his compositions have come down to us. For example, think of hymns like "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" or any of the six catechism hymns that he wrote. Following Luther, the Lutheran church has always been a singing church. Get enough Lutherans together and they will break into four-part harmony with very little encouragement. Ironically, Robert Bellarmine, a seventeenth century Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote, "Lutheran hymns have killed many souls," expressing thereby the attractive nature of Lutheran hymnody and its power to deliver the message of God's mercy in Christ. Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schütz were certainly fine Lutheran musicians in the seventeenth century and perhaps Bellarmine was thinking of them when he wrote this.

In the eighteenth century the best Lutheran composer was none other than Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent the majority of his life in Leipzig as the Cantor at St. Thomas Church. He wrote for the pipe organ, of which he himself was a great master, orchestral suites, church cantatas, and many other compositions. Much that he wrote is still loved and sung with gusto by Lutherans all over the world. For this we can thank Felix Mendelsohn (another Lutheran), who in the nineteenth century popularized Bach's music reintroducing it to the world, after it had been moldering in the music libraries of Europe for more than 75 years. Unfortunately, the jaded musical community of the twentieth century, while they appreciated Bach's music, presumed that Bach was merely a musical hired gun in Leipzig; composing for a paycheck. Thankfully, the discovery of Bach's personal Bible in the library of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, showed the Leipzig Cantor's deep piety and faithful Lutheran confession. He was no hired gun, much to the disappointment of the moderns, who were themselves just hired guns. Bach sought to extol Christ in his divine mercy in a way that was entirely faithful to our Lutheran confession. We are now aware that he actually rejected some librettos (texts) for cantatas in Leipzig, because they were not sufficiently orthodox for his use. He thought them unworthy of being set to music. Bach was all about singing the right things the right way and that, after all, is what the sound of music is for. It can make alive and liberate us from burdens and sorrows. Long live the sound of music!

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"There is no doubt that there are many seeds of good qualities in the minds of those who are moved by music. Those, however, who are not moved by music I believe are definitely like stumps and blocks of stone. For we know that music, too, is odious and unbearable to the demons. Indeed, I plainly judge, and do not hesitate to affirm, that except for theology there is no art that could be put on the same level with music, since except for theology music alone produces what otherwise only theology can do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition.

"Manifest proof of this is that the devil, the creator of depressing cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology. This is the reason why the prophets did not make use of any art except music. When setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed the truth through Psalms and songs. But why do I now praise music and attempt to portray, or rather smear, such an important subject on such a little piece of paper? Yet my love for music, which often has quickened me and liberated me from great vexations, is abundant and overflowing." 

Martin Luther, Letter to Louis Senfl, 4 October 1530
Psalm 95

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways." Therefore I swore in my wrath, "They shall not enter my rest." (ESV)
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your Lutheran Church grace to show forth Your glory in music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For the new rank of pipes added to the pipe organ of Memorial Lutheran Church in thanksgiving to God, who gives us the gift of music

For the family of Jeff Byers, whom the Lord took to Himself, that they would mourn as those who have hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come

For the family of Tammy Bergstrom, who died suddenly, that they might be comforted by the Lord of life as they live in the midst of death

Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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