A Sermon For Sunday April 22, 2012, Psalm 18:1-3, Luke 4:16-19 and Luke 19:37-40
If you’ve ever had the privilege (or misfortune) of standing next to me in worship during the singing of a hymn or heard me sing along to tunes off an iPod during a summer youth trip, then you know I can’t sing a lick! As a former member of Pleasant Hill’s youth group once said quite pastorally (with a sweet smile, head tilted to the side and hands clasped together): “You have many gifts Andy Acton, but singing isn’t one of them.”
It’s quite true and unfortunate that I lack that particular talent because I LOVE MUSIC! I enjoy many kinds and could be considered a musical mutt like (senior pastor) Dave Fry. But actually deep down, I’m a pureblooded rock hound! AWOOOOO! (Albeit one that sounds like his tail got run over by a car.)
Of all the genres of music that I listen to on a daily basis, none of them truly move my heart, mind, body and soul more than rock n’ roll! Whether it’s classic, modern, alternative, indie, or folk rock, I savor every bit of those stirring guitar riffs, drum beats, keyboards and vocals. Rock music gets my blood pumping and makes me feel alive!
I was introduced to rock n’ roll at the age of 10 when my parents purchased a brand new stereo system that was capable of transferring an album recording onto a cassette tape. We spent an entire weekend listening to one amazing record after another, my younger brother and I dancing and singing to the music of my parents’ youth—The Beatles, Elvis Presley, James Brown, CCR, the Kingsmen, the Troggs, Jefferson Airplane, The Beach Boys and many more.
In the years that followed, my love for rock music grew as my family would tune into radio stations that played the hits from the 60s and 70s. For a while, I simply viewed rock music as a joyful form of entertainment, something that gave you a good feeling and made you want to tape your feet and nod your head.
Sinead O'Connor on Saturday Night Live, October 3, 1992, Wikipedia Images
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I started to realize how a rock artist and song could express such a powerful message on faith, God and the human condition. October 3, 1992: Saturday Night Live was on TV with a popular Irish-rock singer named Sinead O’Connor as the musical guest. While performing an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s protest song “War” –which she intended to be an objection over the sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church (by changing the lyric “racism” to “child abuse,”)—she held up a picture of then Pope John Paul II. And as she sung the word “evil,” she tore the photo into pieces and then said loudly “Fight the real enemy!” before throwing the pieces toward the camera.
A devout Roman Catholic and ardent champion of women and children’s rights, Sinead O’Connor received immediate backlash for her courage to speak out on an issue that has only grown worse in both the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant denominations 20 years since.
Although I didn’t fully understand O’Connor’s actions, the motivation of her beliefs or the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, I knew there was something more to rock music than dancing and head banging. I began to pay closer attention to particular artists, the references to faith and social messages in their songs and the meaning behind them. I also discovered new artists, like U2, who would ultimately help shape my faith and beliefs as it related to God’s love for the poor, abused and oppressed.
Formed at a Protestant-run school in Dublin Ireland in 1976 when the members were teenagers, U2 has become one of the greatest rock bands of all time, selling more than 150 million records. The band often uses Christian and spiritual imagery to comment on social, political and cultural issues of the past and present and to dream of a more hope-filled future. 
Consider these lyrics from their hit song “Pride” about the prophets like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr., who were martyred for speaking in the name of love:
One man caught on a barbed wire fence
/One man he resist
/One man washed up on an empty beach
/One man betrayed with a kiss.
Early morning, April four
/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life
/They could not take your pride.
/In the name of love
/What more in the name of love.
Or how about the wonderful gospel anthem “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in which lead singer Bono shares his belief for Christ in a world that is not yet healed entirely from brokenness:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
/Then all the colors will bleed into one
/Bleed into one./But yes, I’m still running.
/You broke the bonds/
And you loosed the chains
/Carried the cross of my shame
/Oh my shame, you know I believe it./
But I still haven’t found
/What I’m looking for.
Bono of U2 visiting children in Africa, from Google Images
Bono once explained the vision of U2 this way:
I’d like to think that U2 is aggressive, loud and emotional. I think that’s good. I think that the people who I see parallels with are people like John the Baptist or Jeremiah. They were very loud, quite aggressive, yet joyful, and I believe they had an answer and a hope.
Over the band’s history, when one least expects it (especially from a rock star wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses), Bono declares his love for God. Like the 2002 Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans when Bono—while the names of the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks were displayed over a huge backdrop—prayed Psalm 51:15: “O Lord, open my lips, so my mouth shows forth thy praise.” Or the numerous times he leads 70,000 plus fans in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” during a U2 concert.
A longtime activist for those afflicted by extreme poverty, particularly in war and disease torn Africa, Bono never hesitates to talk of God’s presence in the world. As he said in a speech in 2006:
God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house…God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
Bono and U2—through their music and the ways they serve those in need from New Orleans to Zimbabwe—show that God and God’s love is on the move in people’s lives, including our own. Their work is a testament to how rock music can remind us that God, according to Psalm 18, is the “rock in whom (we) take refuge.”
Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) with Jennifer Hudson (Katniss Everdeen) in the 2012 film The Hunger Games, Lionsgate Films
Another musician who wears God on his sleeve (or who more accurately has “My Heart Belongs to Jesus Christ” tattooed on his back) is Lenny Kravitz. Many of you may know him as the Cinna, the stylist and dear friend of Katniss Everdeen in the recent movie adaptation of The Hunger Games.
For the older generations in the pews who are not familiar with Kravitz, you might recall his mother Roxie Roker. Roxie had a groundbreaking role in the mid-70s sitcom The Jeffersons, as Hellen Willis, the wife in the first interracial couple to be shown on regular prime time television. Appropriately enough, Roxie Roker, a black Christian woman, was married to television news producer Sy Kravitz, a white Russian Jewish man. From them came a multi-cultural son who would spend his entire adult life performing rock songs about his faith in God and the importance of love and racial equality. In the song “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” written from Jesus’s perspective, Kravitz says this:
I was born long ago/I am the chosen I’m the one/I have come to save the day/And I won’t leave until I’m done/So that’s why you’ve got to try/You got to breath and have some fun/
I don’t know why we always cry/This we must leave and get undone/We must engage and rearrange/And turn this planet back to one
So tell me why we got to die/And kill each other one by one/We’ve got to love and rub-a-dub/We’ve got to dance and be in love
But what I really want to know is /Are you gonna go my way ? /And I got to got to know /Are you gonna go my way?
Another artist and contemporary of Lenny Kravitz offered a similar message, declaring that people need to stop fighting and come together as children of God. Raised in a Presbyterian church in the small town of Kennett, Missouri, Sheryl Crow sings the following in her song “Out of Our Heads”:
If you feel you wanna fight me/There’s a chain around your mind
When something is holding you tightly/What is real is so hard to find
Losing babies to genocide/Oh where’s the meaning in that plight
Can’t you see that we’ve really bought into/Every word they proclaimed and every lie, oh
If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads/And into our hearts/Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your tears and look to your heart.
In Luke’s Gospel, the Pharisees demand that Jesus order the disciples to stop praising God’s name. But Jesus replies, “‘I tell you, if these were silent, the rocks would shout out.’” As its been proven by several artists, rock music makes the best and most intimate connection with people and their faith when the songs are crying out to God…in praise, thanksgiving, lament, love and hope. Even if rock musicians stopped recording songs, the music would still shout out forever. And no rock musician cries out to God for the poor and oppressed than Bruce Springsteen.
Last month at a concert in Tampa, Florida as part of the tour for his new album, the blue collared bard played a song first performed in Atlanta in June 2000: “American Skin (41 Shots). The song, originally written about the 1999 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, has taken on a new resonance in light of the Trayvon Martin killing. 
Take a moment to watch the footage of “American Skin” from the Tampa show and observe the artist’s facial expression and mannerisms as he prays the song from deep within himself.
Rock music cries out and in doing so, it can shatter the barriers we put up before God and others. Rock music demands that we release the pressure of prejudice, anger, hate and violence that daily consumes us by shouting it all out to God. And simultaneously, the music beckons us to instead breathe in a new way of being, the way of love. As Queen and David Bowie so eloquently put it in their 1981 masterpiece “Under Pressure”:
Pressure pushing down on me/Pressing down on you/no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down/Splits a family in two/Puts people on streets
It’s the terror of knowing/What this world is about/Watching some good friends/Screaming let me out/Tomorrow gets me higher/Pressure on people – people on streets
Chippin’ around, kick my brains across the floor/These are the days, when it rains it pours/People on streets – people on streets
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking/Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?/Why can’t we give love that one more chance?/Why can’t we give love, give love, give love..?
‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word/and love dares you to care for/The people on the edge of the night/And love dares you to change our way of/Caring about ourselves/This is our last dance/This is our last dance/This is ourselves/Under pressure/Under pressure
“Under Pressure” continues to remain relevant more than 20 years after it was written. In 2005, the band My Chemical Romance recorded a cover of “Under Pressure” to raise money for the victims of the tsunami that hit Indonesia. 
My Chemical Romance’s co-founder and lead singer Gerard Way is by all appearances the last person you’d think would sing about God. But beneath his alternative rock persona is a man (raised as a Roman Catholic) with a deep and abiding faith.
Recalling a time when he was 15-years-old and held at gunpoint with a .357 Magnum gun pointed to his head, Gerard Way told Rolling Stone Magazine that “no matter how ugly the world gets or how stupid it shows me it is, I always have faith.”
Gerard’s belief that God calls each of us to make a difference in a broken world that attempts to muffle the voices of the oppressed is echoed magnificently in the March 2011 hit tune called “SING.” The song—re-recorded a month later with a symphony and vocals from Japanese musicians to raise support of those affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami—is a beautiful reflection of Jesus’ prophetic declaration in Luke 4 where he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Rock music can strips away all pretensions and falsehoods and reveals us for the flawed human beings we are. And rock music can communicate a prophetic message of hope for a world in which all are redeemed and made whole by the love of God.
And that my friends…truly rocks! Amen.