Sing a new song (what's wrong with the old ones, anyway?)

Psalm 96:1-9


O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

Drawing theme: joy.

I used this Psalm during my approval essay at the end of seminary. During the faculty interview, I got nailed to the wall for it. Every other interview along the way had been filled with delight. No one questioned me or asked me to defend myself theologically. This one was different. In response to my claim that this Psalm (along with a host of other Psalms) invites us to write new songs and tell new stories, my prof wrinkled her nose and said, "Why does it always have to be new? What's the wrong with our old songs." I was unprepared for that response and couldn't actually find the words in the moment. I did, however, begin to sweat. 

The Book of Chronicles tells us that when David brought the ark to Jerusalem, David appointed Asaph and other Levites to sing praises to God. So, singer/songwriters commissioned to write new songs that told the stories that they were in the middle of—their real experiences. I wonder if they were paid a living wage?

Do you think some of those Levites said, “Nah, were good with the old songs. Why do they always have to be new hymns of praise?”

We aren't just talking about songs, of course, but the ability to see God doing something new. Perhaps resistance to it—like my old professor's reaction-might be the inability to see God doing new things. Or maybe it's sentimentality about the way it was or the good old days which actually weren't that good. Or maybe it's grief that things can't stay the way they are. Not ever.

Because if we aren't growing, we are dying. 

Because some of those old songs are actually crappy.

Because we have new stories to tell.

Because we are death and resurrection people. 

Because somewhere along the line, Bono told me I have a new song to sing.

Because before Bono said it, a bunch of Levites said it.

What are the songs we would like to let go of? (Actual songs?) Call them out.

What about metaphorical songs? Stories and tunes that seem worn out.

The story that I'm ready to rewrite is that one where we have manage to embed racism deeply into our lives as people of faith. Maybe you, too, watched in horror as the gun that George Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin was auctioned off and sold. Remember that story? Where the middle aged white man shot an unarmed black teen because he was scared of him? He just sold the gun he used for $250,000. To a mother who bought it for her son.

Maybe you, too, watched the video of a giant St Paul police officer brutally take down a young man outside Central High School this week. It's hard to watch and hard to argue that it was unnecessarily violent. I shared a really well written essay by another parent of Central High School student. I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here's a portion:

"I don’t know the police officer in this video, Bill Kraus. I can’t say what he was thinking or feeling in that moment. He may have been exhausted or frustrated. He may have been calm. He may have been afraid. He may be a racist. He is a victim of a racist society – we all are. He may be poorly trained or sadistic. He may be a sociopath. He may be none of those things. He may have acted in line with his training (the police have released a statement essentially defending his work). He may look at this video with pride. He may look at it and feel sad and sick like I do. I don’t know. I probably won’t know. This is what I can tell you: I don’t want that kind of policing in my community. I want something different. I want something better. “

I want something better, too. I want a new song.

Laura and I represented this church at the annual synod assembly last Friday. I looked around that room of 500 people—representing churches all throughout the St Paul area. And remembered once again that we are overwhelmingly white.

I don't know how to fix it. I don't know how to write the next song. And I'm a little afraid that if I start writing a verse that the social media spin cycle will reign down on me and have all sorts of opinions about how to do it better. But I don't care. I'm willing to try and to fail and to try some more because I want a better song.

As we write these new songs, we don't need to change the chorus. The chorus has been the same since the beginning of creation. The chorus is the truest thing we know. We belong to God and we belong to one another. And God is making all things new.

We could choose to sing the same old sad songs of hunger, poverty, patriarchy, violence. We could sing those songs for another whole generation. We know them so well. But they are songs of death. Those are songs that give privilege to some at the great expense of others.

Let's be done with those tired anthems.

We belong to God and we belong to one another. And God is making all things new.

God's will is that the whole world be set right. Not just for the church folks but for all of creation. If we look, we can hear songs of life, too.

If we pay attention to today's Psalm, we'll see that the whole world is being new-God is setting the world right all around us. All creation gets caught up in praise—the heavens, sea, field. All of creation wants to sing these new songs. And even if we don't sing along, it's happening all around us. It does not depend on us. It is inevitable—God is making all things new. It doesn't depend on us, but I sure want to be a part of that action.

We glimpsed it this week through Obadiah's Teddy story. Which seeped into the world at a small hum. And the hum grew and grew until 1000's of people were singing it. You know it's a song about life and the world being set right because it's bathed in irrepressible joy. And an entire community continues to get swept up in the chorus.

Some new songs are quieter than Hey Teddy. I glimpse it in this delightful dad that I see at Elsa's school who wanders around outside at school pickup...playing his ukelele and talking with people. Every day. Wandering around, singing his song, being a human.

It seems he knows the chorus by heart. That we belong to God and we belong to one another. And God is making all things news.

We also glimpsed it around a house fire. Remember Emily from our bar community? Remember her house burned down on Christmas Eve? Well, this week she heard about another house fire. So we ran to Target and filled 2 huge tote bags full of things that this family of three would need. Things that they didn't know they would need: a binder to keep all the insurance papers in, toothbrushes, good chocolate, soft Kleenexes, fresh fruit, etc. Emily delivered them to the hotel they were just moving into. Emily knows because she lived this death song. And now she is writing a song of life. This is beauty and compassion born out of disaster.

Let's write some more songs of life together.