Learning a New Song
18 October 2008
The Lutheran Church of Guam
This morning I’d like us to spend a few moments with Psalm 96.
I’ve noticed that I’ve been preaching on Psalms a lot over the past few years. Maybe it’s because others don’t preach much on the psalms and I feel sorry for them. Or maybe it’s the dynamic nature of the psalms. They’ve got all the ups and downs of life -- the nitty gritty.
Our hymnals and worship songs are often somewhat homogenized -- nicefied. The Psalms, which is the Hebrew hymnal, is so raw -- dynamic -- life & death -- just the kind of thing we need to hear in turbulent times. There is so much change in the air -- so much uncertainty. And in midst of it all the Psalmist is leading his readers to "sing a new song."
"Sing a new song to the Lord!
Let the whole earth
sing to the Lord!"
Now, some of us don’t really like anything new -- let alone new music. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Chicago and the Moody Blues -- Jethro Tull... I could groove on that -- but have you listened to that new stuff on Power 98?
NEW SONG! Blahhh... New music brings out the curmudgeon in me -- us.
I want to suggest that we’re not all that different from the Hebrews. They were pretty set in their ways and patterns. I mean, life is a whole lot easier if you don’t have to sing a new song -- to change -- even if we’re talking change from a negative unhealthy situation.
Moses almost had to drag the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Hey, Egypt wasn’t perfect but it was predictable. They knew how many bricks they’d have to make for their masters.
It is so easy to get into a musical rut.
So, to all of us nostalgic people comes a music prompt -- "time to sing a new song." As anxiety producing as that is -- sing a new song!
"Okay, okay -- if I’ve got to learn a new song -- at least you should give us the music. At the very least you can teach it to us."
And that’s exactly what Psalm 96 is about -- teaching people to sing a new song.
And when you start looking closely at this psalm you begin to realize that it’s full of four part harmony -- four parts all of which we’re each singing -- at once.
The first layer of the new harmony -- the first thing to realize about the new song is that THE NEW SONG IS A GLOBAL SONG.
You can’t miss it through-out the psalm -- maybe this is the melody.
Vs. 1 -- "Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!"
Vs. 3 -- "Publish his glorious deeds among the nations."
Vs. 7 -- "O nations of the world, recognize the Lord..."
vs. 9 -- "Let all the earth tremble before him. (10) Tell all the nations, ’The Lord reigns!’"
This is world music. The old song is insular. It operates on the assumption that life revolves around me and my issues. There is a lot of "I" in the old song.
Now, of course, if you go back far enough you realize that the old old song is really the basis of the very new song.
In Genesis 12 when God calls Abram out of Haran it is so that he can multiply and become a blessing to the whole world. However, somehow, that whole world part of the song drops off after a few years and the descendants of Abraham become mostly interested in looking for ways to get blessings from God. But they are so self-absorbed that they have absolutely no idea what they are supposed to do when they get them.
The low point comes when God sends Jonah to give a message to the hated Assyrians and he runs the opposite direction because he’s afraid that they might repent and experience God’s blessing, too.
But the theme shows up again loud and strong in the gospels. "For God so loved the world..." -- "Go make disciples of all nations..."
Dave Nelson is looking at Matthew 16 passage in his Sunday School class. Jesus leaves Judea and goes north into Caesarea Philippi -- which is Gentile territory -- a pagan area. And it is there that he for the first time admits to being the Messiah. It’s not in the Temple or even Jerusalem.
The new song isn’t one that can or should be confined to church walls or among a single ethnic group or people.
There is a lot of talk about globalization these days -- international connectedness. But this isn’t such a big shock for the Lord’s people. We’ve been singing about globalization from the moment we began to sing God’s new song. It’s a part of who we are. It’s a part of the church’s DNA.
The new song is a global song -- world music -- global transformation. And it challenges us to look beyond our own needs -- our own families -- our own church -- our own people -- our own country. It challenges us to look out and see the big picture -- the world.
"I’d like to teach the world to sing..."
Do you have any friends or connections (real connections) with people who are outside your own kind?
Jesus says in Acts 1:8: "And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere -- in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The new song is a global song.
Secondly, THE NEW SONG IS ABOUT THE WONDER AND WORKS OF THE LORD.
Vs. 2 -- "Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!"
Vs. 6 -- "Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord; recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor."
The new song is a worship song. It’s about refoucsing our lives so that they are responding to who God is "awesome" -- and what he does. He saves, says vs. 2.
It’s easy to get sidetracked and to start singing our own songs -- or at least songs that are about ourselves.
This is why country music has been so popular in the US. It epitomizes self-focus. My pick-up truck, my dogs, nationalism ("I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free..."), love gone wrong... We like that kinda stuff -- even if the genre drives us a little crazy -- because it is all about us. Country music feeds our narcissism.
We like to sing about ourselves -- our issues -- our struggles -- our loves -- and perhaps that’s okay -- to some degree. But there’s a new song out there that is waiting to be sung -- and it’s not really about you or me.
It’s about the glory of God -- a real notching up.
Now, I’ll tell you a secret -- there is a bit of paradox at work here. The more we sing the new song which is about the Lord -- the more our own issues are addressed. When we sing about ourselves we never get beyond ourselves. When we sing about the Lord -- we’re no longer driven by pick-up trucks or our love quests and failures. But all of those issues get addressed in indirect ways. That’s the paradox. The harder you work at fixing yourself the more frustrated you become -- but the more you focus on the Lord and what he is doing the more completely your own issues are dealt with -- indirect growth.
Thirdly, the new song, and this is related to #2, is exclusive. THE NEW SONG IS EXCLUSIVE.
Vs. 4 -- "He is to be feared above all gods. The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens!"
Note that the Bible recognizes that there are other spiritual beings -- deities -- gods, if you will, with a very small "g" -- deities that have been -- can be reduced to idols. But they are impotent compared to the Lord -- who, BTW, the tag at the end of vs. 5 says, "made the heavens!"
The other so-called gods of that day -- and indeed for much of the world today -- seem to be attached to various aspects of nature. There were gods of thunder, gods of the sky, the gods of the rivers, gods of the ocean, gods of nature... But says the Psalmist -- the Lord MADE the heavens -- which are over all these things. That is, the Lord is over all.
And that informs our reading of vss. 11-13. The heavens, the earth, the sea, the fields, and crops, the trees -- they all had gods associated with them in the mythology -- but here they are all commanded to enter into praise of the Lord.
Why? Because being the creator "the one over all" he is the only one worthy of praise.
Vs. 11 -- "Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming!"
This is unconventional singing -- not the kinds of instruments you might have come to expect in worship. But the point is that they sing to the Lord! He alone is worthy of our attention -- our affection -- our song.
About 10 years ago Matt Redmond wrote a song called Heart of Worship -- which contains the engaging lines: "I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you all about you Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it when it’s all about you, All about you Jesus. King of endless worth no one could express how much you deserve. Though I’m weak and poor all I have is yours, every single breath..."
That’s the gist of the life that sings the new song. It’s all about you, Jesus...the Lord. I’m joining with the heavens, the earth, the sea, the fields, the trees and the forests to sing your praises. My lifesong -- our lifesong is the new song about you!
Fourth, THE NEW SONG IS ROOTED IN THE FUTURE JUSTICE OF THE LORD.
So much of what we sing is rooted in the past -- and we certainly don’t want to forget the past -- only the unhealthy forget the past -- but it can’t define us. Yet, our songs tend to be reactions to the good and the bad things which have happened to us.
We sing of nostalgic good ’ole days... "Country roads, take me home to the place where I belong -- West Virginia -- Mountain Mama -- take me home Country Roads..."
We sing of lost love -- lost children -- lost jobs -- and most recently lost stock portfolios. Every time we open our mouths the conversations -- the songs -- all draw back to these defining events. But the new song is different because it is more forward looking. I mean, yes, it does glance back at how the Lord created all -- but it stares forward.
Vs. 10 -- "Tell all the nations, ’The Lord reigns!’ (He’s in charge -- he is sovereign -- his will will be done) The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. He will judge all peoples fairly."
Vss. 12 & 13 -- "Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth."
As frustrating as life is -- as much as the unfairness eats at us -- there is a day of reckoning on the way. And so the notes and the words of the new song we sing are drawn from that future. We live now in light of the then.
Think of it this way. I sometimes receive spam sent by someone who claims to have inside information about a stock that is about to shoot up. What if that were not really bogus -- it is but what if it were not? What if you could know with certainty which stocks were going up and which were going down?
What if you knew 9 years ago what Google was going to do? You would have rearranged your life and re-prioritized your spending so that you could invest in the future -- with Google.
That’s what the psalmist is doing with his new song. He sees the future and he’s saying -- the old song is getting really old -- stale -- things are maybe not going so well. But it doesn’t matter because I’m singing a new song anyway -- because I’m living now in light of the fullness of God’s justice then.
The day of judgment here in Psalm 96 isn’t so much a threat... as it is a promise. We can rejoice -- we can live joyfully because we know that the Lord’s fairness and truth ultimately win out.
Now, of course, that should encourage us to embrace God’s coming justice and fairness for ourselves. If you know who wins -- If you know which stocks go up you begin to re-prioritize your life and sing a different tune so that you’re on the winning side.
I mean -- are you going to align your life with a bunch of mere idols (vs 5)? Even if they are American Idols?
No, says the psalmist. I’m singing a new song! -- And really -- when you think about it the old songs weren’t that good anyway. They were small-minded and insular. They’re about weak gods. They’re secular songs -- which go on and on as though God didn’t exists -- completely ignoring his wonder -- his majesty -- his great work -- his justice. And they’re wrapped up in the here and now -- stuck on the crisis of the moment.
The psalmist invites us to leave the old behind and join in the new chorus -- the new song.
Maybe you’ve recently become aware of how much the old song has been playing over and over again in your life. Sometimes we get a song stuck in our heads. It just won’t go away.
I can’t stand it when I hear "It’s a small, small world..." It gets stuck in there and I can’t make it stop!
The psalmist is inviting us to start singing a new song. You see, that’s the only way to get rid of the old songs. When we start singing something new the old is forced out.
In Matthew 22:15-22, the gospel text this morning, Jesus talks about giving to God what belongs to him -- which is another way of saying singing a new song to him.
The fact is that we can’t really do that on our own. We’re all hopelessly tone deaf. But the good news is that the Singer has come into the world and started a new song again -- we just have to join in with him -- follow his lead.
So, I want to invite you to take advantage of this moment and commit yourself to the Singer -- and his new song.
As a way of doing that I want to teach you a new song -- literally -- perhaps some of you know it -- new for most -- but I want us to sing it together. Yes, it will be a little rough -- at first -- new songs usually are -- but as you get into it you’ll see that it has gotten into you.
To conclude we sang Sing a New Song to the Lord by Timothy Dudley-Smith. Copyright 1973 by Hope Publishing Company.