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A New Song

“A New Song”

Psalm 98

 

Prayer for Illumination

Speak, O Lord,

that in your Word we would encounter Life,

in your Story, experience Grace,

in your presence, know peace.

In Christ, we pray, Amen.

 

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

The Lord has made known his victory;

he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness

to the house of Israel.

All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,

with the lyre and the sound of melody.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

at the presence of the Lord,

for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

 

If you were here at Bill Newell’s memorial service this week,

you’ve heard his line.
There are good hymns and bad hymns. That’s what he would say.

The good hymns?

Well, they are the ones he knew.

And all the rest. . . . are bad.

 

Grass isn’t always greener and new isn’t always better.

 

When New Coke came out back in 1985,

when Coca-Cola was anxious about losing ground on the market to Pepsi,

they reformulated their old recipe. It was a major failure.

 

Sticking with the classics is wise–on oh, so many accounts.

 

Trouble is, God doesn’t always follow suit.

 

God has a way of not sticking with the status quo in this life.

 

Just in the last few days I’ve borne witness to it:

standing at the grave, laughter eeked out

and I fed vows last night to two people who’d been so

burned and banged up before,

that none of us saw a free fall into love coming around the corner

 

Surprising us along the way

God has this habit of

working new life out of dead ends and grave circumstances

rustling up new hope when the despair of the world is heavy

showering new gifts when our own efforts are a day late and a dollar short.

 

God is in the practice of doing marvelous things,

to which the Psalmist bids us,

 

Sing to the Lord a new Song!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

 

I don’t think this is a plea for choir membership,

though I’m sure Tom and Kathleen would take you.

I think the Psalmist is saying, worship, ya’ll!

 

Worship because the Lord has done marvelous things,

because his righteousness has carried the day before,

and will carry the day again, to all the ends of the earth.

Worship because the Lord brings steadfast love and faithfulness.

Worship because the Lord is coming,

and when he comes,

he will bring justice and goodness and mercy to all people,

all people and all the earth.

 

Psalm 98 is of course one of a large collection

that was created to be used in worship.

 

These words…

they came from worship

they instruct us to worship

and they remind us why we worship[i].

 

One of my best teachers

was my ethics professor, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon.

 

“Why do we worship?” she once asked our class.

“Does God need our worship?

Will God cease to be God if we sleep in on Sunday?

Does God’s ego or ability depend upon our singing and praying?”

 

No, never.   So what do you think? Why do we worship?

What difference does it make if God is going to be God no matter what?

 

Here’s my honest truth:

worship matters because it is here,

in this time and place each week, with all of you,

that I am convinced anew again and again that God’s promises hold,

even when it feels like the world is unraveling around us.

 

This week:

another school shooting in California

in Washington, more evidence of the erosion of our nation’s core values

in the air we breath, more carbon dioxide by the day.

 

And this week: here,

a scripture that reminds us that the way God acts

is not the way of violence, never the way of self-interest,

and opposite of complete apathy, but rather

the way of God is the way of equity for all people, all people, not just for some

This week: a text that tells us of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness

that will be seen and felt to the ends of the earth

This week: a promise that God will come, indeed, to make all things, all things right.

 

I don’t know about you, but I know I need that counter testimony to what we normally are swimming in.

 

And, hear me, I’m not saying that our worship makes God’s promises true.

I’m saying our worship helps me trust they are true,

and that worship gives me a place to respond with joy, even off key joy.

 

There is a rhythm to it, really.

In worship we come to confess and lament the mess,

we come to gather around the truth

we come to respond with gratitude and praise.

And we can do it all over again, and again and again.

Because our hearts and minds long for it over and over again. We were made for this.

 

It’s been a full couple weeks, and I confess, at bedtime with the girls,

I may have tried to cut corners.

Last week, I’d read Zanna her new library book about the planets

(that no longer feels new because we’ve read it now 14 times)

I’d turned on the sound machine and not one but two nightlights,

I sang I see the moon

I was about to pray, and she stopped me.

 

You forgot “toils and snares.” I thought, well actually. . .

toils and snares are what are making it likely that I will not make it to my own bed, but  instead just stay horizontal right here.

 

But then it dawned on me. Toils and snares. That’s a song.

I had messed up the rhythm she had come to rely on, and expect.

She wanted to sing. She wanted to sing Amazing grace.

 

Which, of course, was a song, like many, that was written

because of a new thing God was up to in someone’s life,

in that case a slave trader named John Newton.

 

Sometimes God’s marvelous works that keep unfolding, sometimes

they demand a new song,

which means we’ll have to somehow get used to them, because they’ll keep coming.

 

I can tell you I’ll be thinking about Bill Newell next week in worship meeting—

with his good hymns and bad hymns.

That is when we will sit down with Tom Brown and have index cards each with a hymn name on it— all the Advent and Christmas classics—and we’ll play tetris with the hymns and available worship times.

See, some people’s classics vary, and every church I’ve ever been in makes different decisions about when to start eeking in Christmas into Advent,

so it is a delicate mapping process.

 

I know one of those index cards will say Joy to the World.

 

For me, Joy to the World, is one of the good ones.

Every single Christmas morning, from before I have memory,

our family has sung joy to the world in our pajamas

at the top of the stairs

before coming down for gifts and breakfast.

I can hear my dad in my mind booming out the bass part even now.

 

Isaac Watts penned those words.

He grew up in 17th century England. In the same way that our theological forebearers, like John Calvin, wanted simple, clear windows rather than stained glass, they too encouraged simple biblical songs: using the original song book of the church: the Psalms.

 

Watts criticized this practice in church, so his father challenged him saying[ii],

“Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?

He rose to the challenge by writing his first hymn,

which was well received by congregation of which his family was a part.

For the next two years, Watts wrote a new hymn for every Sunday,

the bulk of which were collected in the book Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which was the first Protestant hymnal. That collection includes some of our favorites like:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Our God our Help in Ages Past.

 

Watts became a minister, but because of his health retired early, and at 45, Watts took up his father’s challenge again: that of re-imagining the Psalter.

 

And here’s the thing, he didn’t just write new songs for the heck of it.

Watts wanted new song in worship because of the new thing God had done in the world: and that new thing was Jesus Christ.

He felt strongly that the Christian church should sing of Christ[iii].

 

The very first Psalm he chose to tackle was Psalm 98.

Watts just brings in the new thing God did in Christ,

moving us further down the timeline.

You can open up the hymnal and bible to compare if you like.

Watts shifts from rom God is coming, to “The Lord is come”

From “He will judge the world with righteousness” to “He rules the world with truth and grace”

From “Let the floods clap their hands – let the hills sing for joy” to “While fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy

Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth became Joy to the World!

 

The dirty little secret of this hymn is that it isn’t a Christmas carol,
it’s Psalm 98 sung in a new way because of a most marvelous thing that God did.

 

We will sing it today,

not in it’s classic tune—no, we’ll save that for Christmas,

but in an alternate one.

 

We’ll sing because this is worship

and though we confess that it seems we are swimming evidence of the contrary

God rules the world in truth and grace

and we need to remember that truth above all else.

 

We’ll sing because this is worship

and we join our voices with the rocks hill and plains

to respond to such good news with resounding joy.

 

We’ll sing because this is worship

God doesn’t need it to keep on being marvelous,

but we sure do, don’t we?

Oh, let us sing to the Lord a new song!

 

[i]  Rev. Jenny McDevitt’s sermon Worship Makes a Difference from May 6, 2018 helped inform this one.

[ii] This scholarship came from the Rev. Michael Kirby in his paper on this text from The Well 2013

[iii] “Where the Psalmist describes religion by the fear of God, I have often joined faith and love to it. Where he speaks of the pardon of sin through the mercies of God, I rather choose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. Where He promises abundance of wealth, honor, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory and life eternal, which are brought to light by the gospel, and promised in the New Testament.”

 

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.