This is from a study I wrote this week for the Center for Congregational Ethics based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, from Luke 1:68-79, Malachi 3:13-18, and Philippians 1:18b-26.
What makes your heart sing? That is a personal question with a multitude of answers. It has been another dreary year for many. Too much anger. Too much grief and loss. Thanksgiving Day already seems long ago. Let’s rephrase the question: What does your heart sing when you are feeling blessed, burdened down, or conflicted? Let’s start with the easy one.
Luke is the most music-filled of the Gospels, reporting the heart songs of Mary, Zachariah, the angelic host, and Simeon. Zachariah and Elizabeth echo Abraham and Sarah’s story. Zachariah sings of scriptures being fulfilled in his presence and a blessing to John, his first and only son. “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…” A son of promise has been given. What heart songs do we sing when God gives grace so lavishly?
Malachi, the last of the prophets until John the Baptist, calls out the wayward pharisees of his day. In the name of the Lord, he accuses them of failing to meet the basic teachings of a life of faith by corrupting the essence of a godly life. These weary religious leaders proclaim futility instead of hope and ritualism instead of joy. In their eyes, the Lord’s accusation continues, the arrogant become the blessed, and evildoers become the winners because God lets everyone escape judgment. Then suddenly the expected pattern of the people rejecting the prophet’s words takes a remarkable turn. Authentic conversations begin among the formerly faithful. Pride is set aside. Hearts and minds publicly change to repentance. A new way forward is noted by all. What heart songs do we sing when God smiles upon us?
Paul seeks to lend pastoral care to the church at Philippi from the remoteness of a jail. Majoring on the minor things always is a temptation for believers. This passage reveals his conflicted attitude about his circumstances and his ambivalence about pressing on. In his anxiousness for the future of this church, he remembers his call: Preach Christ. As he works through his situation, he seizes on the major theme—For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. His heart song becomes the prelude to the song of the Glorified Christ in the next chapter. What heart songs do we sing when God brings clarity to the moment?
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