Songs and Signs Psalm 96
Sept. 10, 2017 Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
My son Christian and I were driving in the car a few years ago. He had his cell phone plugged in and we were listening to his play list. Most of his rap songs I did not know. But one came on I knew, so I was singing along “B, B, B, Bennie and the Jets.” He asked, “Mom, how do you know this song?” I said, “This is not a new song—it’s been around for years—I used to sing it when I was your age. He looked at me with surprise, as if to say, “It’s been around that long?”
Psalm 96 begins with “O sing to the Lord a new song.” What kind of song does the Psalmist invite? A song that blesses God’s name, tells of God’s salvation, declares God’s glory and marvelous works, and praises God’s strength. A remix might sound like this: “G, G,G, God and his Grace.” This is not a new song—it’s been around for years, for centuries…
After the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery through the Sea to freedom, Miriam called on them to “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.” And they responded by singing a song of praise to God.
After the Babylonian Exile and the people returned to their home city of Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah called on them to “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing for joy, give glory to God.” And so they did.
These songs are not new—they have been sung throughout history in response to God’s mighty acts of deliverance. But, these songs are not just sung in response to something good, when the people have been delivered from trouble. These songs have been sung even in the midst of despair.
After the Last Supper in which Jesus announced his betrayer was at hand, and before he went out to the Mount of Olives to be arrested, they sung a hymn. Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the gospel; from their cells, they were praying and singing hymns to God.
Singing songs to God is not just a way of saying thank you, but also a way of saying, “help!” and “I trust that you will deliver me, I put my trust in you, O Lord.”
This is not a new song; it has been sung for centuries by faithful people. And it is still sung today. In the midst of the devastating hurricane and floods in Houston, at one of the make-shift shelters for people who had to leave their homes and everything in them, a woman broke out in song. She sang a song of praise to God, and people joined in singing. It became a spontaneous worship service that lifted the hearts and minds of the people there. O Sing to the Lord a new song. And so they did.
For those of you who are thinking, But I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Psalm 96 is not just about singing. It is first and foremost about seeing God’s ongoing activity in the world. It is believing the good news which is the theological heart of the book of psalms: God reigns. God rules. God’s got the whole world in hand. And so, even in times of discouragement and despair in our personal lives; even in times of injustice and brokenness in our country; even in times when it seems evil is rampant in the world, we can see God at work—trying to bring good out of bad. Morning by morning, new mercies we see. And so, because we see signs of God’s presence and love in the world, trusting in a brighter tomorrow, we can sing a new song.
Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon is a testament to this truth. In this church’s history, throughout good times and bad, the people have studied the Bible and learned of God’s faithfulness; the people have reached out in mission to share the love of Christ; the people have laughed and shared their lives; the people have gathered together on Sundays to sing songs of praise. And we have carried on the tradition. Why? Because we believe that we are called in for refuge (where we sing songs of praise to God) and we are called out to reshape the world around us (where we act as signs of God’s love). Singing songs of our faith in here gives us courage to go out there, to stand up, to do what is right, to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, to be a sign of God (G, G, G, God and his grace!)
Friends, when I was called as your Pastor nearly 4 years ago, I preached how God had been faithful through the years and was writing a new chapter in the life of this church, and I was excited to see what it would be. And what a fabulous and faithful chapter it is! Today we are taking time out to celebrate this new chapter. To sing a new song to the Lord.
Friends, I invite you now to listen to Deb and Kristin as they tell the story of our New Beginning.