Seventh Sunday of Easter – Greenfield Lutheran Church
John 17:20-26 – sermon by Rev. Dr Rolf Svanoe
There’s something magical that happens when we sing. Do you feel it? We feel it just in listening to you. Music touches us all at a deep level. The famous singer Billy Joel said this about music- “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”
It’s true that something happens when we sing and that’s true whether we sing alone, or whether we sing in a group. But there are added benefits when we sing together. Whether we sing in unison or we sing in harmony, something happens inside of us.
• Singing reduces stress and anxiety
• Singing increases your energy
• Singing improves mental health and well-being
• Singing helps to improve social bonding and social interactions
• Singing has a beneficial impact on our physical health by boosting our immune system.
• Singing improves your memory and brain function.
• Singing can impact our emotions at a deep level (Tragedy and grief)
There is a recent video of a neuroscientist who talks about what happens to the brain when we sing. “If you put people in a scanner and look at their brains when they are singing what we see is that large areas of the brain light up or activate. These include motor networks, listening networks, planning and organizational networks, memory networks and language networks, and also emotional networks. And they augment social bonding and empathy. The complexity of singing is striking for the brain, even though to us it feels like a relatively easy process. What’s remarkable about singing is that in the act of doing it, we activate our reward network. Those emotions lead to the release of dopamine which is the feel-good chemical for the brain. [singing] lifts our mood… it gives all those networks a workout bringing protective… benefits for our mental health.”
One study in Germany found that in children musical training improves both cognitive and non-cognitive skills by more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance. Music leads to better attendance, improved academic performance and ultimately happier children.
There was an interesting study done in Sweden. They hooked members of a choir up to heart monitors. They found that as the choir began to sing, their heart beats began to synchronize. They began to breath together and their hearts beat together as one.
In our world today, we need more singing, not less. Our country is so polarized into different camps. We would be better off if we sang more. We could come together in respect and empathy for one another, even those we disagree with. Men and women, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, even Vikings fans and Packer fans, we would learn to be more human more compassionate, more loving.
The Bible is full of singing. When we sing together to express our love to God, it unites us. It brings us together. There is a reason that we sing in church. It brings us together and helps us to express emotions deep inside of us. Certain hymns- tears.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus prayed for his disciples just before his death. He prayed that they might be one, united in witness to God’s love. When Christians fight it gives a terrible witness to the world.
Yesterday, we elected a new bishop of our synod, the first woman bishop. Rev. Regina Hassanally, pastor in Goodhue, MN. Forums before the election candidates were asked to explain their approach to dealing with conflict. Regina shared that the starting point for her is that we are all made in the image of God. When you look at another person that you may disagree with, you see them first as a person who is made in God’s image. You look at that person as someone that God loves, someone that Jesus died for. We may disagree strongly with that person, but we can still love and respect them. There is a deep unity given us by God’s spirit and when we deal with conflict we need to recognize that in each other.
Someone once said, we can disagree without being disagreeable. It’s true, and for us Christians that begins in recognizing that the person we disagree with is someone God’s loves and someone Jesus calls us to love.
I sing in the Luren Singers, which is the oldest and largest Norwegian Men’s choir in the US. The choir was scheduled to sing in our town one year. The advertising had gone out. Then a scheduling conflict arose and the concert had to be canceled. A newspaper headline was published that said, «The Luren Singers will not sing in Harmony.» Well, at least we always try to sing in harmony!
One of my favorite stories about music is the story of the Christmas truce that happened at the start of World War 1 in 1914. It was Christmas Eve. Soldiers were entrenched in their battle lines. Because of the holiday, the generals decided to have a truce. Soldiers on both sides were thinking about home and their loved ones. And then they started singing Silent Night. The English sang in English and the Germans in German. Soon they were singing together in their own languages. Eventually a few of them left the fox hole and went to meet the enemy. Shared stories and pictures of loved ones. Some of them shared gifts. They even played a soccer match. That is the power of music to bring us together. The next year the Generals decided that there would be no truce on Christmas. When soldiers get to know the enemy, it makes it harder to kill them.
We need more music in our world, not less. We need more unity. And that is what God is calling us to. That is what Jesus prayed for. Let’s have harmony.