Rev. George N. Miller
“Stories of Our Songs”
May 25, 2014
There are two kinds of news: the kind that matters and the kind that distracts us from what actually matters.
Many folk are fans of the 2nd type. It’s nice to be distracted; to run away from the issues of the world and read about places to travel, the newest movies or latest celebrity gossip.
This weekend the big news was the nuptials of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Love ‘em or hate ‘em most people have at least heard of them.
Kim is famous for being famous. Kanye, well some say he’s the greatest rapper alive. Others recall him as the narcissist who disrespected Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards; others recall him as the loud mouth who criticized Pres. Bush on national TV.
But before the fame, fortune and controversy, there’s a back story about Kanye. Before the cover of Vogue and the platinum records, he was an underdog. In fact, Kanye’s story is more like a Never-Shoulda-Happened-Dog story.
In 2002 Kanye was an up and coming rapper. He had some success as a music producer, working for Janet Jackson and Jay Z, responsible for bringing a new style of sound to the radio, meshing modern rap with traditional soul.
He was poised for greatness when one day tragedy struck. He was an innocent victim of a car crash and was put on life support.
Days later he awoke and it was not pretty. His youthful, skinny face ballooned to twice its size. A steel plate was put in his chin. His mouth was wired shut.
Imagine being a rapper whose main source of livelihood is the ability to speak fast rhymes with amazing dexterity and here he is in the hospital, mouth wired shut, the only sustenance he could get was by sipping Ensure through a straw.
The average person would be downtrodden, allowing depression and failure to creep in.
But Kanye was raised in the church; he was raised with spirituals that spoke of pressing through. He was also raised to the sounds of soulful divas like Chaka Kahn who sung of personal strength.
So he pulled from these songs their stories of survival and their stories of hope and he did something unique.
Two weeks after the accident, with his face still bloated, with his jaw completely wired shut, he recorded a song called “Through the Wire” in which he sampled the music of Chaka Kahn’s classic song “Through the Fire.”
It wasn’t easy. It was incredibly painful. It took a long time to create. Kanye rapped one line at a time until many days later he had an entire song pieced together.
The song detailed his accident, his hospital stay, his will to survive and thrive, and it became his first solo hit.
I personally think this is amazing stuff, a spiritual testimony told through secular tools about what God, faith and perseverance call pull one through.
The chorus plainly states:
Through the fire
to the limit; to the wall
Right down to the wire
Even through the fire
Would today’s palmist approve of Kanye’s lyrics? Hear how they compares to vss 8-12:
Bless our God, O peoples…
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, has tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried…
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us into a spacious place.
Psalm 66 is a much needed reminder of “You’ve come a long way, baby; and don’t you forget who brought ya.”
Psalm 66 makes up a group of songs called the Psalms of Thanksgiving; songs designed to be sung by the congregation, celebrating all that God has done in our lives as a people and as individuals.
These psalms do not take an ignorant view of the world; they do not proceed forth with blinders. They are fully aware of the hardships in life, they are songs that know all too well about war, disease, and famine, and still choose to focus on the ways in which God is working.
These songs are designed to shape us, to help us develop trust in God in the midst of our pain, and to denounce that which is spiritually unhealthy.
Psalm 66 acts as a way to bring the community together in remembrance of all the times God has been present, to remind us that God has brought us through the fire, past the limit, over the wall.
Psalm 66 reminds us that even when we thought there was no way, God found a way, bringing us into a good, spacious place where we can worship God, give thanks and freely place our offerings.
These Psalms were important for God’s people back then, over 2,000 years ago, and they’re still just as important for God’s people today.
You know why? Because we still go through the fire. Money is funny. People are not who they seem. Natural disasters strike any time, any place. Our bodies have a way of becoming our worst enemy and time keeps marching forward regardless if we are able to follow or not.
The stories of the Bible talk about this. The newly freed slaves are led to a wall of water that seems impossible to pass.
40 years later when they’re done wandering the wilderness and ready to enter the Promised Land they confront a river that’s too flooded to cross.
An outcast of outcasts is asked to retrieve water for a stranger even though it is she who thirsts.
Jesus is humiliated and nailed to a cross simply for teaching people the truth and his willingness to share a meal with all.
Each of them faced their own fire, their own limit, their own wall. And yet…
…and yet even to the wire, the Red Sea parts, the River Jordan runs dry, Living Water is supplied and the tomb is declared empty.
Surviving moves to thriving. Why? Because God continues to work in the world which God has created and called “good.”
There is no fire, there is no limit, there is no wall in which God is not present and God is not willing to lead us through.
And as Psalm 66 teaches us, the good news and the thanksgiving doesn’t just stop there. We get to share the good news with one another and we get to share our own stories of deliverance.
Why? Because when we share our stories, we remind ourselves of just where we’ve come and how far God has taken us.
We share our stories to inspire those who are facing hard times. It’s difficult and ever so lonely to be in the fire; the flames can make it almost impossible to see and believe that there’s a way out.
But when we tell our tale, we offer others a glimpse into a future that’s possible with God.
We share our stories because when we do we are also offering God our praise and thanks for all that has been done. Doing so allows us to celebrate the ability for love and hope to carry us through.
The simple act of worship and thanking God is transforming and should never be neglected.
We give thanks for God’s delivering love during the Exodus because even today God is surely bringing us from one place to the next.
We give thanks for God’s actions at the Jordan River because even today God finds ways to stop the floods and to make the ground a bit drier to travel upon.
We give thanks for Jesus’ offering of Living Water at the well because even today we find our spiritual thirsts quenched and satisfied.
We give thanks for the mystery of the resurrection because even today we come to the garden alone, in need of reminding that death and deceit do not have the final say.
This does not mean that we won’t get wet; it doesn’t mean we won’t get mud on our feet or our hands a little scorched. It doesn’t mean we won’t still experience thirst or the dread of death.
But what it means is that at the Sea, at the River, at the Well, even at the Cross, God is there.
Even in the fire, God is there.
To the limit, to the wall, Psalm 66 calls us to praise God together and to celebrate how God has taken us through so much.
Psalm 66 teaches us how we can look beyond the current moments of discomfort and with the eyes of faith see the ways in which God is working, moving and bringing us to a spacious place where life is good and we can praise God some again.
Thanks be to God whose name is glorious, to the Son who is victorious and to the Holy Spirit that takes us through.
Their steadfast love endures forever. They are the story of our songs.
Amen and amen.