Sermon of Bishop Emmanuel Ade Badejo : Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, OYO: 2021 ANNUAL MUSIC FESTIVAL , July 25, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING : Psalm 98:1-9
People of God gathered at this festival, I thank those of you who have invited me to this annual music festival. I congratulate you and I hope this event turns out better than you expect in giving honour to Almighty God. I also pay tribute to the well-known Baptist legacy for good Church music some of which I have enjoyed in this sanctuary. With all the challenges that stare us in the face in Nigeria a religious music festival is certainly a welcome therapy for the stress we all go through, lifting our souls up to heaven where we all really belong. “Oh, when the saints go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in, Lord let me be in that number… when the saints go marching in…” The scripture I have chosen to read here is just one of the many others, so relevant to music, which I could have chosen. Just think about the entire psalms, some, more than others, the Song of Solomon, the Magnificat, the song of Zechariah, the Israelites song of victory at the Red Sea, of Judith, etc. (Psalms 113:1-9, 108 1-5, 105:1-3, 126:1-6, 146:1-2, 147: 1-20, 149 and 150) Thanks be to God who has said so much to us about music by his Holy Word.
Music, according to the Wikipedia definition, is one of the universal, cultural aspects of human society. But I think that music covers much more than that. For those who believe like we here all do however, I say music is one of God’s most important gifts to keep human beings sane, to keep them in harmony with the universe and keep them going in the right direction of their heavenly home. One of the greatest musicians that ever lived, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), once said that the sole purpose of all music is to bring praise to God. Even Martin Luther, the great reformer, is known to have declared: “After theology, I accord to music the highest place and greatest honour … next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise”. Such exalted words about music! Let me try to blend my own modest insight above with their own with a little personal story.
I had this experience as a young deacon 35 years ago at Ile Ife which convinced me that music, the power of music goes beyond the confines of our human thoughts, science and art. I had just returned from Rome 6 months earlier and was still quite committed to my music lessons, being not yet so busy with extra responsibilities. I would play my keyboard, placed very close to the window of my room daily from about 2.30pm in the afternoon after lunch or after a chat with the parish priest. After a few weeks I noticed that a particular swallow (bird) would perch on my window and stay there. The bird could not see me because of the opaque wire netting. It did not take long before I realized that the bird always came around that time every day and perched on the same window sill and would not depart, till I stopped playing normally for about an hour.
When I invited the seminarian living with me then in the house to come and watch what I considered a curious coincidence, he came on different days to watch the bird. It was he who then called my attention to another creature which I had not noticed, a big red- headed lizard which also regularly came below the window sill about the same time with the bird, this one remarkably moving its head from side to side as the music was played. This continued with remarkable regularity and I continued to perform to my audience of 2, until after a year or so, I had to move to Ifetedo and could no longer keep the appointment. How I wish those were the days of camera phones I would have recorded those incredible episodes.
The above only contributes to the truth about the universality of music. It also showed me that music goes well beyond us human beings. When we read David in Psalm 18 declaring: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows forth his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, night unto night shows knowledge” we understand better what our fathers and mothers meant when they say that everything in creation sings: the trees, the birds, the animals. For example, the cock crowing is said to sing its praise to God for being alive another day (mo bo lowo eko…) and even the frog at the river, sings admonishing human beings to be mutual givers. (Bunmii Bun ooo. Bun ooo, bunmii).
No wonder that the importance and the power of music spans the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Right from Genesis 4:21 where Jubal was introduced as the ancestor of all who play the harp and the pipe and Genesis 31: 27 when Laban scolded Jacob for not allowing himself to be given a good send-off with songs and the music of tambourines and harps, we see that music has been part of God’s creation and the life of his people. We can also guess, going through the Bible, that there is hardly any instrument which we use today which has not existed before in Scripture in one form or the other. Going through, we cannot fail to mention the therapeutic event of David’s recruitment into Saul’s court to help cure the Kings melancholy with his musical skills (1Sam. 16). We can conclude that trip through the Bible and find in the book of Revelations how music is predicted to take a prominent place when we get to God. The vison of John where we find the angel choir in Rev 5: 11-14 is so instructive. (Rev 14 2-3) reads: “I heard a sound coming out of heaven like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder, it was like the sound of harpists playing their harps. There before the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four living creatures and the elders, a hymn that could be learnt only by the hundred and forty-four thousand which had been redeemed from the world” (Of course we know the symbolism of a hundred and forty thousand as an uncountable mass as Rev 7: 9, 12 show). These are the people according to chapter 14 who “have been redeemed to be the first-fruits for God and for the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths and no fault can be found in them” (Rev 14: 4-5). The same is in chapter 15:2-4 where the victorious are equipped with harps from God himself.
In many places all over the world music has been put to all kinds of uses namely: inspiration, mobilization, reconciliation, healing, galvanization, conversion, sanctification just name it, up to even the growth of plants and animals. No doubt at all that music is made in heaven. That is why we have it in our veins depending on how well each of us develops its appreciation. We know that music is the best vehicle for all forms of prayer: silent, vocal, meditative, contemplative. It is also the best vehicle for communicating love. That is the specialty of the Song of Solomon. We have heard it said often that: “He who sings prays twice”, well, these days I say, he prays several times over. You have also heard it said that the family that prays together stays together. I go a bit further… the family that sings together worships and grows together. That is the fact! My own biological family offers me evidence for that perspective. In spite of distance, we still sing together today the family hymns of old by Conference call even though we pray less often than that together. But then singing together is praying several times over…
In our world today there is so much to be said in our context for what music has become. Let me say I believe that the definitions of music as secular, jazz, reggae, folk, country disco, dancehall, bar or even “devil music” only serves out cognitive, differentiation purpose…. For me, all music understood as the arrangement of sound in time according to the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre is GOD’S GIFT. There does exist though, music arranged or performed for secular, dancehall, bar, war, or even diabolical sensibilities or purposes. In other words, had God not given us the gift of expression, sound and intellect no music would exist in the first place. The gift remains God’s own while the purpose and intention is ours. May his name be glorified forever. Amen
“Of course, here today, we are more concerned with music intended for sacred purposes. The Christian Dictionary of the Liturgy puts things this way: “Sacred Music is needed in all aspects of liturgical and spiritual life, whether it makes prayer more pleasing, promotes unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. When it is an integral part of worship and combines both a spiritual superiority and an artistic dignity, music is sacred, therefore liturgical. Such music has the ability to cultivate, strengthen and deepen the spiritual experience of the assembly gathered for worship, liturgical music, in expressing Biblical and ritual texts, is usually a great positive force of catechesis, while it facilitates and nurtures prayer in the community”. Please note the phrase (artistic dignity which powerfully encapsulates, solemnity, moderation and balance). That helps distinguish between Church music and the recorded or performed chaos which is often experienced today.
Of all the very important elements we have mentioned about the power of music I wish to just emphasize the its power to unify us and therefore to respond to one of our greatest needs in Nigeria today. Music has incredible power to unite us as Christians. Many other gifts which God gave to us, even that of praying together, simply do not command that same power like music does. Music ranks well over them. Recall Jesus’ passionate prayer before he went to his death: “May they all be one, just as, Father you are un me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). Music is a great tool for that. For example, when we sing “Kabiyesi o Hosaana o” who stops to ask whether it is, Anglican, catholic or Baptist? When we sing “Amazing Grace” or “It is well with my soul”, who minds about the identity of the author? But if I begin my prayer here with the sign of the cross… differences can appear. That is why a certain Alphonse de Lamertine said: “Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends” As one of our priests submits Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”. It surely touches us where words cannot. I think that we Christians should exploit the power of music a lot more for our unity and for world peace and transformation. Let us have music festival against corruption, nepotism, tribalism, infidelity, kleptocracy selective justice, oppression etc (My Jerusalem experience expresses this very strongly).
Music can surely serve for our re-humanization and through us, serve to redefine and refine the world we live in. No surprise that the great author William Shakespeare in his book “Merchant of Venice” wrote this smooth verse “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor, is he moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affection dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”
In other words, without music the entire world would be incomplete. The exhortation of Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians should encourage us to do all we can to support a musical festival like this one. Paul writes: Sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs among yourselves, singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, always and everywhere giving thanks to God who is our father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5: 19-20).
So, it is in heaven that worldly music will be finally silenced. The Bible tells us about the time when the great city of Babylon will be hurled down and destroyed: It says: “Never again in you will be heard the song of harpists and minstrels, the music of flute and trumpet; never again will craftsmen of every skill be found in you or the sound of the hand mill be heard” (Rev 18:22). Then of course the music of the new Jerusalem will take over… the new Jerusalem that is…. Should you and I not prepare from here to be part of it? Well, I strongly advise you, if you are going to be part of the choir in heaven, you had better get some rehearsal here on earth.
Let me end this short reflection with this lovely quote from a publication called: “Our Daily Bread” An old Jewish legend says that after God had created the world, He called the angels to himself and asked them what they thought of it. One of them said: “The only things lacking is the sound of praise to the Creator” So, God created music, and it was heard in the whisper of the wind and in the song of the bird. He also gave man the gift of song. If that be the case, distinguished audience, exercise that gift in your family, among your friends everywhere you are …. then let the music play on, let the hymns ring out, let us all join our voices to the choir’s, transform our world and transform ourselves and let God take all the glory. I wish you every blessing for this festival and may God bless you all as we sing together a hymn that I do not consider a hymn for the dead but for the living…. Emi pelu won ni yoo ko orin ayo lojo naa. Orin ayo ti oba ogo, orin ayo t’irapadaaa, emi pelu won ni yoo ko, orin ayo lojo na. God bless you all…