Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 2, 2013

2013.06.02 “Sing a New Song to the Lord” Psalm 96

Central United Methodist Church

Sing a New Song to the Lord

Pastor David L. Haley

June 2nd, 2013

Psalm 96

(Grail Version)

 

O sing a new song to the LORD, sing to the LORD all the earth.

O sing to the LORD, bless God’s name.

Proclaim God’s help day by day, tell among the nations his glory

God’s wonders among all the peoples.

The LORD is great and worthy of praise, to be feared above all gods;

the gods of the heathens are naught.

It was the LORD who made the heavens,

his are majesty and honor and power and splendor in the holy place.

Give the LORD, you families of people, Give the LORD glory and power;

Give the LORD the glory of his name.

Bring an offering and enter God’s courts, worship the LORD in the temple.

O earth, stand in fear of the LORD.

Proclaim to the nations, “God is king.” The world was made firm in its place;

God will judge the people in fairness.

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad, let the sea and all within it thunder praise,

let the land and all it bears rejoice,

all the trees of the wood shout for joy,

at the presence of the LORD who comes, who comes to rule the earth,

comes with justice to rule the world,

and to judge the peoples with truth.

Today I want to do is exactly what today’s Psalm – Psalm 96 – calls me to do, which is to sing a new song.  Except I’m not going to sing it, I’m going to preach it. My new song is going to be the song of the Psalms, a summer series on the Psalms of the Bible.

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, especially on those Sundays where the only spark any of the four Scriptures the lectionary gives us, was the Psalm. I confess I want to do it for a selfish reason, so that I can learn more about the Psalms.  But I also want to do it for you, – dear people – to help you learn more about the Psalms, to understand why they are so important for our public and private worship and prayers, and to help you draw upon them, in your worship and in your prayers. And so we are going to have a summer of Psalms.

But before I walked out on that limb, I wanted to make sure it would hold my weight. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it. I thought about preaching our favorite Psalms, I even thought about taking a survey as to which Psalms to preach, but that raised scheduling problems, with all of us coming and going over the summer. So what I decided to do, is to take the Psalms were given us by the lectionary, and preach through them as representative Psalms.  Each Sunday, I’ll talk about one psalm in particular, but also Psalms in general.

I will try not to be like the preacher, who showed up in church on one particularly cold and frigid day in January, to be greeted only by one parishioner, a farmer. The farmer told the preacher, he didn’t really have to preach if he didn’t want to. The preacher said, “If you go out to feed your cows, and only one cow shows up, do you feed them?” The farmer said, “Yes, I do.” So the preacher began to preach, and preached for 45 minutes. Afterwards, he said to the farmer, “Well, how was it?” And the farmer said, “If I go out to feed my cows, and only one cow shows up, I don’t dump the whole load!” As we talk about the Psalms, I will try not to dump the whole load.

In reality, the song of the Psalms that I begin today is not a new song, but a very old song, sung often and with much feeling. If you have sensed the importance of the Psalms in our public and private worship, you are correct; the Psalms hold a place of importance in two religions.  I would go so far to say that if there is a vocabulary of prayer that God hears more often on a day-to-day basis than any other, it is the vocabulary of the Psalms, infused with the prayers of both Jews and Christians.

Consider the following:

       – As the hymnbook of Israel, the Psalms are 2,500 to 3,000 years old, originating before, during, and after the Davidic monarchy, around 1,000 B.C.E.

In the Hebrew Bible, they represent the third important division, after the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nabiim).  The Book of Psalms, in Hebrew, Tehillim, is the first book of the third section of the Bible, the Kethubim, or the Writings. In our English version of the Bible, the grouping is different:  the Old Testament is divided into: Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy.

The Psalms – of course – fall under poetry. Thankfully – for those of us who desire to live our lives not in prose, but in poetry – the Bible is constantly slipping into poetry: a proverb, a riddle, an orator’s appeal, a prayer, a thanksgiving, all slip into the rhythm of poetry. Much more about this later; remember, I’m trying not to dump the whole load.

       In Judaism, , the Psalms are used in both public and private worship. Psalm 145, for example, is read 3 times every day, in addition to another Psalm, the Psalm of the day. Psalms comprise the introduction to the Sabbath service. When someone dies, a watch is kept over the body and Psalms are recited constantly, until the burial. Many Jews read the book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis.  Lubavitcher, and other Hasidic Jews, read the entire book of Psalms prior to the morning service on the Sabbath preceding the new moon. Taken together, the Psalms express virtually the full range of Israel’s faith.

In the New Testament, there are 116 direct quotations from the Psalms, demonstrating they were well-known to Jews and Christians alike. Surely Jesus heard them in synagogue, and quoted them, just as he quoted Psalm 22 as he hung on the cross.

The earliest Christians used the Psalms in worship, and they have been used in the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant churches every since. In the early centuries of the church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire book of Psalms from memory, something they learned automatically during their time as monks.

In the Catholic Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, prayers observed through the day and the week, are centered on chanting or reciting the Psalms, either directly, antiphonally, or responsively (as we do). All the Psalms are recited over either a one, two, or four week cycle. I can tell you from my visits to the Benedictine community at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, that their three-times-daily public prayers consist primarily of the Psalms. And, believe me, if you’ve experienced prayer with them, you would know that the Psalms are not pages in an ancient book, but living, breathing, contemporary, prayers, prayed every day.

In Protestant churches, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Methodists, as well as in evangelical and independent church, while Psalms are still read as part of worship, the Psalms, more than anything else, have been the inspiration for almost all of our hymns, ancient, modern, and contemporary. I’ll give you an example shortly, as well as throughout the series.

So you see, whether we are Jewish or Christian, our worship and our prayers are still prayed primarily in the vocabulary of the ancient yet modern Psalms.

Consider our Psalm for today, Psalm 96, “Sing a new song to the LORD,” in Latin, “Cantate Domino.”

It falls in a group of 8 Psalms – Psalm 93 through 100 – where the focus of praise is of that the LORD (YHWH) is King. Let me ask, and see if anyone knows: “When we write, “Sing a new song to the LORD,” why is LORD capitalized? (Answer: Because it is the divine name, the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), the Unpronounable Name of God.) In Psalm 96 we affirm, what every Jew prays in their table grace, that God is “Melek ha-olam,” the King of the Universe. It’s what we Christians mean when we call Jesus, Lord, meaning Jesus is Lord; and Caesar, or King James, or the President, or our modern idols of fame, money, and power, are not.

Since some of the language is the same, the origin or at least usage of Psalm 96 may have been the parade described in 1 Chronicles 16, (and also in 2 Samuel, chapter 6). King David has captured Jerusalem, where he has built a house for himself.  But the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of the commandments given by God to Moses, is still at the house of Obed-Edom. So David builds a tent in Jerusalem for the Ark, and in festive procession, they proceed to bring it to there.  In fact, if you remember, it was so festive, that when Michal, David’s wife, looked out the window, she was embarrassed and disgusted at the way David danced before the Lord in his underwear, likely the way my wife and my kids are embarrassed and disgusted when I do the same. (Dance before the Lord, that is).

So can you imagine that parade, with music and horns and everyone singing:

O sing a new song to the LORD,

sing to the LORD all the earth.

O sing to the LORD, bless God’s name.

Proclaim God’s help day by day,

tell among the nations his glory

God’s wonders among all the peoples.

The LORD is great and worthy of praise,

to be feared above all gods;

the gods of the heathens are naught.

In many ways, in was laughable. All the nations around them had their own gods, and both the nations and the gods seemed greater. There was Egypt with Ra, and the Canaanites with Baal, and in time, their conquerors the Babylonians, with their god, Marduk, and the Assyrians, with their god, Ashur. It was like us affirming Christ as King, when much of the world shows plainly that he is not.  At least they had the vision to see what it took the Church a long time to see, that God’s intent for the world was not just for them, but everybody.  And not just everybody, but everything, in all creation – the heavens and the earth, the sea and all within it, the land and all it bears, even the trees of the wood. Wasn’t this what Jesus was talking about, at his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, when he said that if his followers remained quiet, the very stones would cry out?  Sounds like quite a theology – no, a doxology – of creation, if you ask me.

These are joyful, audacious, universal affirmations.  No wonder, ever since, for those who worship God, and for us Christians who follow Jesus the Christ, we have used Psalm 96, 97, and 98 in synagogue and church as the official language of celebration and affirmation, even when, at times, now as then, it seems laughable.

For example, do you know what other day of the year we read this Psalm? Psalm 96, 97, 98, are the Psalms read on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, in celebration of the One coming into the world. Might the new song sung, be the song of Mary, the Magnificat, the song of Zechariah, the Benedictus, or even the song of the angels? Are we beginning to see how this works?

Or might those new songs be this? According to Hymnary.org, Psalm 96 alone is referenced in 104 hymns.  One of the more recognizable ones is one we sing every Christmas, published in 1719 by the English hymnist, Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, which according to Hymnary.org, is published in no less than 1,556 hymnals.  Does this sound familiar?

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

       Do you get what I’m saying about the Psalms providing the language not only of our prayer, but our worship?

However, regardless of what it meant in the past, what does it mean in the present? What does Psalm 96 mean to us, today?  What does it mean to be challenged – every time we read it – to sing a new song? What was the matter with our old song? Was it inadequate? Were we not fervent enough, did we not sing with sufficient imagination or conviction? Do people not get it anymore?

Or is it simply that, as God’s mercies are new each day, each new day we wake up alive requires a new song for us to sing? As does each new day and age in the church.  Why? Because God is always doing new things, and we need not just the old songs –as much as we like the old songs – but a new song to sing.

       So the final question Psalm 96 raises for us is this: What will OUR new song be? Will it be the blues, our old song, which we sing so often? Or will it be Gospel? Blues and Gospel have much the same roots, you know, down there in the Mississippi Delta, but the Gospel is like blues with hope; acknowledging the sufferings in life, but – thanks be to God – that there there is also a better day coming!

Sing!

Sing a new song!

Sing to the Lord all the earth!

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,

let the sea and all within it thunder praise,

let the land and all it bears rejoice,

all the trees of the wood shout for joy,

at the presence of the LORD who comes,

who comes to rule the earth,

comes with justice to rule the world,

and to judge the peoples with truth.

Amen.

 

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