This reflection was offered through the livestream program called “Take Five” at New Zion Baptist Church on July 28, 2020. This is the text from that talk.
Tonight we turn to Psalm 149, which says, “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.”
Now I know what you may be thinking. Really? You want us to talk about praising God? We’ve got a worldwide pandemic, which our country is becoming one of the worst handlers of in the world, which disproportionately is affecting people of color, and has become so politicized that we are no longer worried about the sanctity of human life, but are instead arguing about rights and the ethics of sacrificing life for some contrived greater good. Not only that, we are in a crucible around racism, that alternatively gives us great hope for change and makes us despondent about how far we really have to go. Add to that the emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical toll of this time, a time when we seem incapable of respecting the dignity of every human being, and you want to talk about singing to the Lord a new song?
I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling the weight of the world, and when I am longing for a word from God, an old song is usually where I return. Every once in a while, when I slow down enough not to just to pray to God, but to actually listen to God, those old timey hymns from my childhood come back. Their words speak to my ache, or let me wallow in my despair. They talk about sweet, sweet Spirits, and walks through garden alone with Jesus, and balms in Gilead. When I talk to Jesus, I want an old song.
But that is not what the psalmist says. We are not asked to recall the old songs; we are invited to sing a new song. In fact, seven times in the psalms, we are invited to sing a new song to the Lord. As a fellow pastor says, “New songs of praise are appropriate for new rescues and fresh manifestations of grace. As long as God is gracious toward us, as long as he keeps showing us his power, and wowing us with his works, it is fitting that we not just sing old songs inspired by his past grace, but also that we sing new songs about his ever-streaming, never-ceasing grace.”[i]
In this time of utter upheaval, unrest, and unevenness, two things are happening. One, God is still moving. The Spirit’s movement may be hard to see or hear in the cacophony of noise. But I know in talking to New Zion’s leadership, talking to the folks at Hickory Neck Church, and talking to our neighbors here in James City County, Jesus is still moving. I know that you are finding moments of grace, even in the darkness of this time. I know that you are seeing shreds of hope, even in what feels like the disappointing failures of our nation. Two, despite how comforting those old songs are, I am guessing the Holy Spirit has whispering some new songs in your ear. You may not be sure of the words, and you may be straining to hear the tune. But in the depths of your heart, where we fear change and we harbor anxiety, we know that only a new song can help get us out of this mess.
So, here’s the good news. We are not on our own to birth these new songs. Psalm 40 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” God put a new song in my mouth, says the psalmist. Not I, out of my genius, wrote a new song. Not, I worked hard and put in the time, and out of my labor created a new song. Not, I listened to what others were singing and sang their songs. No, the psalmist says, God put a new song in my mouth. Our invitation tonight is to open ourselves to that new song. Our invitation is to concede that during this time – a time unlike anything any of us has experienced – God is providing something new – new grace and new songs (which might be even better than that old favorite). Our invitation tonight is to sing the new song God gives us out in the world – to trust in the wisdom of the words and notes Jesus is giving us and shout them out to a world that desperately needs to hear that new song.
Let us pray. Holy and creative God, we know that you see our suffering and our cries. We know that you see us patiently waiting on you to lift us up out of the mud and mire, to put us on a firm place to stand. Help us to trust that you will put a new song in our mouths – a song to give voice to your ever-streaming, never-ceasing grace. When we finally hear your new song, help us to sing that song – help us to praise your name with dancing, and make music with tambourine and harp. Help us to remember that when we sing your new song, we shine your light into the world, helping your transformative, life-giving love take root, and disrupt the injustice of our day. We praise you, Lord, and we bless you, and we sing a new song with you. Amen.
[i] David Mathis, “Sing a New Song,” May 4, 2014, as found at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/sing-a-new-song on July 27, 2020.