The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 12, 2023
Some years ago, researchers at the University of Wurzberg in Germany studied and compared the cries of babies born in Germany with those born in France. In maternity wards they made extensive and precise recordings of newborns using their voices for the first time. They then digitally graphed the pitch and the cadence of all those cries.
The researchers discovered that babies cry with an accent! In France, babies consistently inflect from a low to a high pitch. It’s a wah-ayyy! In Germany, it’s the opposite, high to low. It’s an ayyy-wah! In both cases, the babies, in their intonation, exactly mimic their mothers’ voice “melody”. They duplicate at birth what they’ve been listening to for nine months.
A baby emerges from its mother’s womb with the music of her voice ringing in its ears and reverberating in its bones. Its unthinking instinct impels it to imitate Mommy’s tones and tunes. It’s as if imitation were written into the human DNA.
In his book, Your Church Is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan wonders whether God writes imitation also into the spiritual DNA of those born a second time in the womb of His grace, so that their instinct impels them to take up the tones and tunes they’ve heard from their heavenly Parent and to sing along with God the music of His grace.
By the way, isn’t the major theme of all God’s music His loving generosity toward all?
Today’s scripture from Psalm 104 tells us that God has lovingly and generously enveloped His creatures, both animal and human, with good gifts from His extravagant grace. He brought each of them into existence because life is too good to keep to Himself, and by them together God brings forth a delightful diversity of manifold life forms – both those with whom we land-dwellers are familiar and those who are mostly mysteries to us dwelling as they do in the deep dark ocean, creatures like Leviathan and the creeping things moving along the sea floor.
Moreover, this Psalm notes, God is lovingly generous not only in His creating, but also in His sustaining of those whom He’s created. He gives them their food in due season, fills them with good things, breathes His Spirit into them that by His life they might have life, and for them renews the face of the ground on which some of them walk and in whose waters others swim.
It all is, this Psalm says, a “glory” that sings of God’s goodness.
Now, if we have heard, not just the melody of God’s creation that the Psalmist heard, but also the melody of God’s grace in the Person of Jesus Christ, will we not, of all people, want to imitate God’s music and sing on His song of loving generosity?
The Bible commands us to imitate God. In both the Old and the New Testaments, it tells us to be holy as God is holy. In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Be imitators of God!”
Are we not most like God when we love like God? And do we not love most like God when we give like God – this God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, the Son who gave His everything for everyone and asked His friends to follow Him in His dance of loving generosity and to sing with Him His song of good news?
The life of Gordon MacDonald was transformed on a mission trip in West Africa. The first Sunday there, he worshipped with a congregation of desperately poor Christians.
As the worshippers filed in, almost every one of them carried in something that struck MacDonald as surprising. Some bore cages of noisy chickens, others hefted baskets of yams, and still others toted containers of eggs or cassava paste.
Not long into the service, everyone stood up for the offering and stepped into the aisle. They then danced down it toward the chancel bearing their gift and singing out their joy. As they made their way forward, they each brought with them what they had carried into God’s house: their offering of loving generosity. In worldly terms, nothing was worth all that much; but each gift represented a big percentage of the person’s possessions and often something they’d made a real sacrifice to give. But they did so with glad gratitude to God and with a holy intention to bless His heart and to provide for neighbors in need. After all, this chicken would help someone start a tiny farm business, and that cassava paste would feed a hungry family, and these yams, once sold in the marketplace, would fund the building of an orphanage. By their generosity, these inspired and inspiring Christians revealed the direction and tenor of their lives…and their delight in imitating God Himself.
Never before had MacDonald witnessed such a joyful and moving offering. It captured his heart and challenged him to let himself get caught up in the happy chorus of those singing out God’s music of loving generosity.
To sing as those brothers and sisters sang is to love like God, and to love as they loved is to give like God.
Yes, those who imitate God’s loving generosity like that look a little mad to those who don’t hear the music to which they’re dancing and singing.
Sam Allberry, a writer for the Gospel Coalition, noted that if you have the sound off while watching a music video, those singing and dancing look, well, ridiculous. Their movements appear random and meaningless, and their facial expressions nonsensical. But if you put the sound on, what they’re doing makes perfect sense – and you might begin to wonder whether you’d be mad not to join in on all the fun.
Most of you have prayed, meditated on scripture, and talked things over with someone or other. Have you picked up the melodies and rhythms of God’s grace, and been moved to be a fool for your faith and to dance and sing its music? Are you ready to pledge and to imitate God in His loving generosity?