The Power of a Song IV

July 29, 2018 Speaker: Matt Benton Series: The Power of a Song

Passage: Psalm 27

There’s a song from the musical Hamiltonthat always makes me cry.  I mean always.  Every time. I’m a manly man.  The name of the song is “Quiet Uptown.”  If you’re a Hamilton fan, if you’ve seen the show, you’re probably nodding your head with me now.  If you haven’t heard the music or seen the show, and by the way I’ve never seen the show I’ve just listened to the studio album about 700 times, let me explain.

“Quiet Uptown” is a song that occurs in the second act of the musical, about midway through the second act.  It occurs as Hamilton has moved out of downtown New York City and is embracing a quieter life away from public service and the public eye.  He’s slowing down the way his wife has always wanted him to and he’s trying to seek refuge in his family and his children.  Some of the opening lyrics are Alexander Hamilton singing, “I spend hours in the garden, I walk alone to the store, And it’s quiet uptown, I never liked the quiet before. I take the children to church on Sunday, A sign of the cross at the door, And I pray, That never used to happen before”

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Why is that so powerful?  Why is that so moving?  Why is that a song you’re telling me about?  Let me really explain, but for that I need to give you a much greater context for the song.

The first thing you need to know about the context of this song is what happened between Alexander Hamilton and a young lady named Maria Reynolds.  While Hamilton’s wife and family were vacationing, Hamilton began to have an affair with Maria Reynolds.  She claimed that her husband was abandoning her and abusive and requested money and aid from Hamilton.  An illicit affair ensued that Reynold’s husband was in full knowledge of.  James Reynolds extorts and blackmails money out of Hamilton to keep the affair secret.

Next Hamilton’s political opponents find out about these payments that Hamilton is making to James Reynolds and accuse him of political corruption.  In order to clear his name politically, in the musical, Hamilton writes and publishes a pamphlet confessing and detailing his affair with Maria Reynolds to prove he wasn’t corrupt.  Of course the truth of his affair then gets to Hamilton’s wife who is livid.  Rightly so.

Next thing that happens is Hamilton’s son hears a man besmirching his father’s name.  So he challenges this man to a duel.  And he takes his father’s guns to the duel.  Now most of the time dueling was about just showing up and once both of you showed up you shot your guns into the sky and the matter was resolved. Phillip Hamilton shot into the air on his first shot as did his dueling partner.  But then the other man aimed his gun at Phillip and shot him. Alexander’s son died as a result of the wounds sustained in the duel. 

When “Quiet Uptown” begins, Alexander’s wife Eliza is not speaking to her husband.  She is infuriated by him for the Reynolds affair and the publication of the pamphlet.  She is crushed by the grief over the death of her son.  Alexander and Eliza move together uptown to grieve in solitude, even from one another.

Later in the song Hamilton sings, “Look at where we are, Look at where we started.  I know I don’t deserve you, Eliza, But hear me out. That would be enough. If I could spare his life, If I could trade his life for mine He’d be standing here right now And you would smile, and that would be enough.  I don’t pretend to know The challenges we’re facing I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost And you need time.  But I’m not afraid, I know who I married.  Just let me stay here by your side, That would be enough.”

And the song ends like this, with the full company of other characters singing:

He is trying to do the unimaginable, See them walking in the park, long after dark,Taking in the sights of the city, They are trying to do the unimaginable.

There are moments that the words don’t reach, There is a grace too powerful to name, We push away what we can never understand, We push away the unimaginable.   They are standing in the garden, Alexander by Eliza’s side, She takes his hand.  Forgiveness. Can you imagine?  Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

Context and specificity create powerful moments in music.  Every time the lines come in there are moments that the words don’t reach, there’s a grace too powerful to name and I think about all that the Hamilton’s have been through, infidelity made public, the death of a son, and how day in and day out they have grieved apart yet together, alone even in each other’s company and then the words come in, softly, she takes his hand.  And then a simple word.  Forgiveness.  That is the unimaginable thing they are trying to do.  Forgive.  The weight of all that and the beauty of one human being forgiving another wreck me every time.  

We are going to be looking at Psalm 27 this morning.  It’s a Psalm of David.  And it’s one in which context and specificity create power.  So I’m going to read the Psalm but then we’re going to talk about its author.  And how his life story brings context to this Psalm and how that context brings power and beauty.  First the Psalm.

Psalm 27:1-14

The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face! ” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Before we talk about David we need to talk briefly about Saul.  Saul was Israel’s first king and he was everything you’d want in a king.  He was an Adonis.  A foot taller than any other Israelite and mighty in battle.  He was the warrior chieftain you’d want to protect you against the nations.  But at some point Saul oversteps his bounds.  He does something that God has expressly forbid the king to do.  So God tells the prophet Samuel, who is the literal kingmaker, that God is done with Saul and that Samuel is to go to Bethlehem to Jesse’s house and God would show Samuel who was to be the next king from among Jesse’s sons.

We talked about this a little last week, after inspecting all of Jesse’s sons Samuel doesn’t hear God pick any of them, though Samuel himself would have chosen one of them.  But God didn’t. So he asks Jesse if there are any other sons and sure enough the youngest, David, has yet to be seen and David is out with the animals.  So David is sent for and upon seeing him God tells Samuel that David is to be anointed as king. 

Now, have you ever made a decision and failed to effectively communicate that decision?  What happened next?  Conflict, right?  Well here Samuel has anointed David king and I’m pretty sure Saul has not been informed. Because David’s reception at court is pretty hot and cold.  At first David is assigned to be an armor bearer and soothes Saul’s temper by playing the lyre.  Then David defeated the Philistine champion Goliath in single combat.  David is placed in charge of Israel’s army by Saul but then Saul begins to get jealous.  Saul makes multiple attempts on David’s life.  One final plot is reported to David by Saul’s own son and David flees. 

But Saul is king.  If you’re David and the king wants you dead, to where can you flee? He seeks refuge first amongst the Philistines.  The people whose champion David had killed.  Then he goes to the Moabites with whom the Israelites were constantly at war.  He goes to the wilderness but the problem with the wilderness is you can’t survive there for very long.  He’s in and out of cities and territories controlled by Israel’s enemies all the whole Saul’s armies are perusing him. 

It is this man in this situation who writes these words: The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.  When David talks about wicked advancing against him, he’s not really employing metaphor.  Wicked people are literally advancing around him.  While he’s on the run, while he’s in exile, while he’s going to and from different enemy kings, he has faith that God will be his salvation.  He doesn’t fear, he isn’t afraid.  At his lowest point, David isn’t abandoning God, instead he’s leaning on Him even more.

Then David continues with this: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.  David is saying he wants to go home.  He wants to go back to Jerusalem and stand in the Temple.  He wants God to see him through this time of trial so that he can return to his homeland.  David is faithful and David is hopeful that the God who had called him to this place would see him through to a happy future.

We talked so much about David’s story because I think its crucial to understanding this Psalm.  People of faith can be really good at having faith when times are good.  People of faith can be really good at saying we will trust in God when the sun is shining. People of faith can be really good at telling hurting people that they just need to trust in God, brushing away their anxieties and pain with a simple platitude.  When we read these words from David, we need to see that they come from someone who is on the run, someone who is in trouble, someone who literally has enemies all around him.  The sort of faith we are talking about today comes not from naïvety or from disengaging from the pains of the world.  It comes out of the crucible of lived experience from the lips of one hurt by the powers and machinations that injure us all. 

David’s faith is proven true.  He eventually becomes king, returns king, and dwells in the house of the lord all the days of his life.  David trusted that God would be faithful to His promise.  David claimed a safe and secure future for himself and believed God would bring that about.  God did.  Because God does.  Because that is who God is.  God makes good on God’s promises.  God is faithful to us.  Even when we face times of trial, even when we face times of wandering, even when it feels like we are surrounded by enemies, God is faithful to us.  God is working for us.  And we can have faith and we can have hope.

So today the rest of this Psalm will be our prayer, it will be our good news.  It will be our claiming the victory that God promises us.  Whether you come here today ready to celebrate or you come here today in a time of trial, this Psalm is for all of us.  Because God can, God will, and God does.  So no matter where you are or what you’re going through, let’s read the rest of this Psalm aloud as our prayer, as our hope, as what we are claiming for ourselves and our lives.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face! ” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way,  Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

 

The second to last sentence of this Psalm is my favorite line in the whole thing.  I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  And I want to spend a little bit on this to close.  Because its my favorite line, I wrote the sermon and I get to choose. Doesn’t that work out nicely for me?!

 

It’s one thing to have faith that no matter what happens in this life, God has us in eternity.  It’s one thing to believe that the point of faith is to have us secure in the afterlife.  David could have easily thought as he was going from enemy town to dangerous wilderness to enemy town, all the while being pursued by Saul and the armies of Israel, that he’d be fine because even if he died God would keep him safe in eternity. But that’s not what this Psalm is about. Because faith in the afterlife is part of it but its not all of it.  David believed that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  David believed that his God would work and act and be for him in this life as well as the life to come.  David believed that the things he was claiming in this Psalm, safety, security, salvation, shelter in the house of the Lord, he would see them in this life. He would see them in the land of the living.

Do you believe that you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?  Do you believe that you will experience salvation in the here and now? Do you believe the blessings of God are for life on this side of the great divide?  Do you believe that reconciliation and redemption and healing are for now AND for later?

What hardship do you need to claim God’s victory over?  What is encircling you that you need to claim God’s salvation from?  What part of your life needs to see the goodness of the Lord active and alive in it?  And do you believe that you will see this victory, this salvation, this goodness in your life here and now? 

I’m a Christian because as one living in a fallen world I have to believe in the story of resurrection.  I have to believe in a God that makes all things new.  I have to believe in a God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead as a sign to us that everything broken, everything fallen, everything disordered will one day be reconciled, redeemed, and healed.  But where this Scripture becomes a memorial stone for me to which I can return again and again is that the goodness I long to see in this world I shall see.  I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

So whether that’s a reconciled relationship with a friend or family member, whether that’s peace and wholeness in your family, whether that’s safety and security, whether that’s an end to homelessness in our community, our county, our state, our nation, our world, whether that’s friends, family members, coworker, neighbors coming to Christ, do you believe that you shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? Do you believe it?  And will you walk out of here and live as people who believe that? 

We’re gonna close in silent prayer today so that you can spend some time with God and name to Him what area of your life you’re gonna claim for Him.  Where are you gonna choose to not be afraid?  Where are you gonna choose to believe that God will bring His salvation?  Where are you gonna believe that you shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?  And then listen.  Listen to how God wants you to live as a person believing His goodness shall be made known.  Let’s go to God in a time of silent prayers and a time of Holy listening.

More in The Power of a Song

August 12, 2018

The Power of a Song VI

August 5, 2018

The Power of a Song V

July 22, 2018

The Power of a Song III