Sermon: Sing the Song
Sing the Song
I spend every Thanksgiving at the home of my parents. It’s the only holiday that I get to spend at home with them because I work on the other ones. So I go home to the Lake every year, and the sneaking around begins. Dad and I have whispered conversations about what we’re going to get Mom and how we’re going to surprise her (because she’s always hyper-aware of our Thanksgiving machinations). Mom and I have whispered conversations about what to get Dad, and Mom and Dad try to pull out of me what I want. It’s tradition.
So this year, I was telling mom that I’m going to get my dad an itunes gift card, and my mom asks me what use it will be since he owns every song he’s ever listened to and liked. I said, “Oh, man, you can use an itunes card to buy movies, tv shows, books, apps, software.” And she said, “Well back in the day you could only use it to buy music.” And I started to laugh. Back in the day? I remember that.
Back in the day, I bought my first record. It was a single, and it was Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” Back in the day, I listened to my first cassette tape and was blown away by the audio quality of this little tape played on my brother’s walkman that was so small, it was barely thicker than a United Methodist Hymnal. The tape was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Back in the day, we bought our first CD player. It was boombox-esque and played tapes and CDs, so I made hundreds of mix tapes on it from the 10 or so CDs we had. The first one was Dire Straits’ brothers-in-arms. Back in the day, we were lucky if our cars had more than a radio, and now my dad’s car can catch music from his ipod or from the built-in satellite radio. Back in the day, we joined Columbia Music House to get 10 CDs for the price of exorbitant shipping. Now we download it digitally. I haven’t bought a CD in maybe 5 years! Back in the day, my mom’s used to sit around the piano and sing if they wanted music, but now we can sit around and play each other our favorite songs from our i-music-devices. How we play music has changed. The world has changed from back in the day.
Back in Bible times… now that was back in the day. But there really isn’t such a thing as “Bible times.” There is sort of a guessed-at period of time in which scholars think the Bible was written, and it touches two millennia. It’s really a huge period of time, and it encompasses lots of different ages. The world was a different place from the way it is now. It was a different place when the writers of the earliest Bible-writing period wrote from when the writers of the latest Bible-writing period wrote. They wrote and spoke different languages, faced different crises, knew different cultures and peoples. The Old Testament and New Testament are from vastly, vastly different people in vastly, vastly different worlds and situations, but even the writers in the Old Testament vary in their worlds and situations, which is why we end up getting stories that have layers of storytelling, like Noah’s Ark, where 1 pair of every animal and then 1 pair of every animal except the ones with 7 pairs walk onto the ark, or the two back-to-back creation stories. There are these layered stories with layers written in from different time periods that explain the story from the point-of-view of a changed world.
And then we have the Psalms. These are songs, written over the course of Israelite history, throughout the times of the writing of the Bible. And we have, specifically, Psalm 33, probably written very early in the whole scheme of things.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the LORD with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Okay, Mary Lea. Turn off the organ and get out your harp. And Kay, we’ll have no more of that piano playing. Get out your ten-stringed lyre. You don’t have one? Does anyone have a ten-stringed lyre? How many of you have an inspirational song on itunes? Good thing the psalm continues:
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.
The psalm, the song, goes on to declare the strength of God. He keeps the deep in jars. He breathed out the stars. He overcomes our plans with His. He just speaks and it happens. No army can stand against him, horses can’t save us. Remember, this was the ancient world. But you get the gist. This song of praise sings of a huge, powerful, undefeatable God… in a world that was changing and lost and full of war and natural disaster, in world in which it was hard to scratch out a living and raise a family, in a world that wasn’t going the way people thought it should be going… there is this one thing over all, and it is God. And God is good.
So get out whatever instrument you’ve got and sing God a new song… that’s what the Psalmist is calling us to do through thousands of years after the song was first sung.
This week, I came home to sing at the funeral of Monty Russell’s mother, Elnora. I had lots of options for accompaniment. I could have downloaded a background track. I could have played the piano or had the organist play, but I chose instead to sing a cappella, simply. And that turned out to be the right choice, because her life was a simple song.
I had met her only in a hard time, but I loved hearing the stories shared about her life, her faith, and the connection she made with her home community. I knew she was one of the founding members of her church, but as I heard stories about the way she sewed for everyone in town and charged only what they could afford… As I hear stories about how she baked cakes for the school’s baccalaureate reception… As I heard stories about how she held tea in her home for students… As I heard the stories of a life filled with generosity, kindness, and love, I had two thoughts. 1) She sang God’s song, and 2) I know that particular tune because I know Monty and Katherine. I don’t want to embarrass them by spelling out the ways they live out the same generosity, kindness, and love in this community, and I don’t need to for most of you. It’s the same song Elnora sang in her life. It’s the same song the Psalmist sang. Joyful, gentle, happy, strong… because it is a God-given melody, the song of life, the song of joy, the song of a life touched by the hand of God and sure in his existence.
It doesn’t matter whether we get our music on a cassette, an 8 track, a record, a phonograph, a piano, a ten-stringed lyre, a harp, a guitar, a CD or itunes. What matters is that as the world changes around us, we keep singing the song in our lives.
You were made to sing this song. You were gifted to sing this song. Maybe you can’t carry a tune in a bucket or play a kazoo, but you were given a life in which you can sing out this song with whatever gifts you have. Sing it in the nursing home. Sing it in the car. Sing it with a child who needs help. Sing it with a stranger who needs your kind word. Sing it with a couple in trouble. Sing it with the clerk at the gas station. But sing it, sing it, sing it out. God is good. God is powerful. The world changes, shifts, nations rise, nations fall, disasters come, disasters go. But God is good. God is in charge. That is something to sing about.
We wait in hope for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.