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Music sermons

Theologian John Calvin talks about an inner reality called the sensus divinitatis (a yearning for God that God has built into every single one of us). This yearning expresses itself in many ways and has formed the basis for most of the sermons I've preached on music. Through song, we cry out for justice, meaning, hope and love. We lament. We celebrate beauty. We express our yearning for adventure. Following are a few of the many music based sermons I've preached.

Anger and Metallica

God's prophetic power through heavy metal

So here's the 2004 Metallica sermon that Warner Music Canada filmed at the request of drummer Lars Ulrich. You can read the story behind the sermon here. And yeah... our church band did several covers as the 'call to worship'. 

God & Truth & Mumford & Sons

"I don't really like that word," he tells senior writer Brian Hiatt in his band's first Rolling Stone cover story. "It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn't call myself a Christian…”
Marcus Mumford, Rolling Stone, March 2013


“But I'll still believe though there's cracks you'll see,
When I'm on my knees I'll still believe,
And when I've hit the ground, neither lost nor found,
If you'll believe in me I'll still believe”
Mumford & Sons, Holland Road, Babel


“You are the God who sees me… 
I have now seen the One who sees me.” 
A lost in the wilderness woman named Hagar in Genesis 16:13, NIV


The Parable of Leonard Cohen

“Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can't move this thing alone
Show me the place where the word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began”
Show Me the Place, Leonard Cohen


“Show me how you work, God;
School me in your ways.”
Psalm 25:4, MSG

“I love Jesus. Always did, even as a kid. I kept it to myself; I didn’t stand up in shul & say, ‘I love Jesus’”
Leonard Cohen, Saturday Night, 1997, in I’m Your Man; The life of Leonard Cohen


RUSH - Humanist Philosophers and God's Prophets

“Lean not upon your own understanding…”
Clockwork Angels, RUSH

“Lean not upon your own understanding…”
Proverbs 3:5, The Bible

“Rush is an ‘outsider’ kind of band (never really accepted by the mainstream), made up of three self-confessed ‘outsider’ musicians (Geddy Lee says they’re “terminally unhip”), who speak to and for the outsider fan (the guy who was never cool, never really accepted in high school).”
Pastor John to CJAY’s Gerry Forbes on Thursday’s morning show


“You just perfectly described my (Rush loving) friend!”
Gerry Forbes, CJAY


Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto - Prayers

This message listens for God’s truth in the music of Coldplay (via their album Mylo Xyloto). 

“Oh morning come bursting, the clouds, Amen.
Lift off this blindfold, let me see again…
And I just want to be there when the lightning strikes
And the saints go marching in.”
Us Against the World, Coldplay


It Might Get Loud

Where is God's truth in the cultural product of an electric guitar? What do the stories of Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White uniquely reveal about who God is?

"So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it."
Genesis 1:27-28, TNIV

"Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes."
Genesis 4:20-22, TNIV

"In the bible God cursed the ground so that man will always have to work hard. Whether you're a farmer, a carpenter, a guitar player or whatever it is, you have to fight these man-made materials."
Jack White, It Might Get Loud


How God used Supertramp (Roger Hodgson) to Save My Life

Supertramp's Roger Hodgson was deeply moved when he watched this sermon. He reposted it on his social media and many more were impacted as well. Meeting Roger at a Calgary concert a few years after preaching this message was a pretty amazing experience. “I’m not much into preachers, but you’ve got it right", he said. "Keep spreading the love.”


U2 - Creation, Fall, Redemption and Return

This message examines the overall arc of the Christian narrative (creation, fall, redemption & return) via the lens of U2.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”
Genesis 1:1, TNIV

“Only love... only love can leave such a mark!”
U2, Magnificent, No Line on the Horizon

“Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. The devil said, "I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. Just worship me, and you can have it all."
Luke 4:5-7 CEV

“All of this, all of this can be yours
All of this, all of this can be yours
All of this, all of this can be yours
Just give me what I want and no one gets hurt...”
U2, Vertigo, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb


Arcade Fire

What is God saying through this band?

All the kids have always known that the emperor wears no clothes, but they bow down to him anyway, cause it's better than being alone.
Arcade Fire, Ready to Start

People don't necessarily know that they're taking on a worldview, or absorbing ideas [while watching television]. It doesn't necessarily seem like [it's happening], but it definitely does. I find it very easy to get sucked in. It starts to affect the way you see the world.
Win Butler, 2007, Pitchfork

I feel like I've been living in a city with no children in it, a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside a private prison.
Arcade Fire, City with no children

For death has crept in through our windows and has entered our mansions. It has killed off the flower of our youth: Children no longer play in the streets, and young men no longer gather in the squares.
Jeremiah 9:21, NLT


Amy Winehouse - Finding Real Freedom

What’s with this gifted musician’s life? What is it about her search for freedom that rings so true... and that seems so self-destructively wrong? And what is God saying through all of this?

“They’re tryin to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no
Yes I been black, but when I come back, You won’t know, know, know.”
Amy Winehouse, from her hit song Rehab

“The weight of this sad time we must obey
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
Edgar, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, 5.3.324-325

“What drives addiction is longing—a longing not just of brain, belly or loins, but finally of the heart.”
William Lenters, The freedom we Crave


In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel

This message unpacks Peter Gabriel's 1986 hit, In your Eyes, from the album "So" (Geffen Records)

"Love I get so lost, sometimes days pass and this emptiness fills my heart when I want to run away I drive off in my car but whichever way I go I come back to the place you are"
In your Eyes, Peter Gabriel

"Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight?"
Psalm 139:7, MSG

"In your eyes I see the doorway to a thousand churches in your eyes the resolution of all the fruitless searches 
In your Eyes, Peter Gabriel


Lauryn Hill - I Gotta Find Peace of Mind

"I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." 
Job 3:26, NIV 

"Yes, weep and grieve until the Spirit is poured down on us from above And the badlands desert grows crops and the fertile fields become forests. Justice will move into the badlands desert. Right will build a home in the fertile field. And where there's Right, there'll be Peace and the progeny of Right: quiet lives and endless trust. My people will live in a peaceful neighborhood, in safe houses, in quiet gardens. The forest of your pride will be clear-cut, the city showing off your power leveled. But you will enjoy a blessed life, planting well-watered fields and gardens, with your farm animals grazing freely."
The prophet Isaiah 32:15-18 (The Message)


Regina Spektor - Laughing with God

What is God’s message through Regina Spektor’s hit song, Laughing With.

"We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him… These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence… So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can… We don't reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is… I don't want you to become part of something that reduces you to less than yourself.”
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, verses 8, 12-13, 14, 17, 20, MSG


Coldplay - Knowing God

This message examines the music of Coldplay.

“The bad songs come from me and my knowledge of how to write songs, and the good ones come from somewhere — I have no idea where. And they tend to be sort of flying around at about 2:00 in the morning. You just have to be there to catch it. That's how I feel about the good ones."
Coldplay’s Chris Martin in The Jesus of Uncool, Rolling Stone interview, June 2008

“Everything of man... must have been of God first." So what the poet "creates" he really only "finds." The patterns are already present in the mind of God, awaiting our discovery...”
Dr. Trevor Hart re: Rev. George McDonald, in Books & Culture, Issue 86, April 2005

“At their most truly prophetic, prophets speak things, that my guess is, even they themselves did not entirely understand, because they are things that are of truth itself, rather than of particular truths. Truth itself, which cannot finally be understood, but only experienced. It is the experience that they stun us with. Speaking it out in poetry which transcends all other language in its power to open the doors of the heart. The man of sorrows acquainted with grief.... Who can put a word to him and who needs to? They simply hold him up to our gaze and then at their utmost, at their most poetic and powerful, they do not say something as much as they make something happen."
Frederick Beuchner, page 21, Gospel as Fairy Tale


Alicia Keys - No One (and the inseparable love of God)

This message talks about the love of God as it's described in Alicia Keys’ song "No One". 


"I know some people search the world 
To find something like what we have
I know people will try try to divide something so real
So till the end of time I'm telling you there ain't no one
No one, no one, no one Can get in the way of what I'm feeling
No one, no one, no one Can get in the way of what I feel for you, you, you Can get in the way of what I feel for you"
Alicia Keys, No One


Billie Holiday - On the Love of God

In this message, 1930’s Jazz singer Billie Holiday teaches us about the nature and character of the love of God.

“Jim doesn't ever bring me pretty flowers
Jim never tries to cheer my lonely hours
Don't know why I'm so crazy for Jim
Jim never tells me I'm his heart's desire”
“Jim,” Sung by Billie Holiday

“Jesus brought into the world a new emphasis on love which he demonstrated in his own life and which he made clear he expected his disciples to produce too. For him love depends on the nature of the lover rather than that of the beloved. Jesus loved because he was a loving person, not because he found attractive qualities in those he loved. His followers are to be loving people, not simply to be drawn to attractive people.”
Page 492, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels

“You know I’m yours for just the taking
I’d gladly surrender myself to you
Body and soul”
“Body and Soul” Sung by Billie Holiday

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Jesus in Matthew 22:37, NIV


Neil Young - God's Prophet?

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousnessand perception of the dominant culture around us...”
Theologian Walter Brueggemann in The Prophetic Imagination, pg 13

“The birds, he says, "are a messenger to mankind.”
Neil Young in an Independent News interview, September 2005

"Cranes know when it's time to move south for winter.
And robins, warblers, and bluebirds
know when it's time to come back again.
But my people? My people know nothing,
not the first thing of God and his rule."
The prophet Jeremiah 8:7, MSG

“America is in deep crisis but not beyond redemption.”
Neil Young in Rolling Stone interview, August 21, 2003

‘Prophecy does two things; it criticizes and energizes’
Theologian Walter Brueggemann in The Prophetic Imagination


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