Psalm 98

Preacher:  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

People:     The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Did you notice?  This morning’s psalm begins not with a suggestion but with a command: “Sing to the Lord a new song.”  And I want to know something.  Why?  Why should I sing to the Lord a new song?  I like the one I’ve always sung.

“Sing to the Lord a new song.”  Why?  “For he has done marvelous things.”  Okay.  So what are the words of this new song?  And what is the tune?

Many years ago I began to worship at a parish that I liked very much: great people, great priest, great worship; great outreach to the community.

After a month or so I noticed that our Sunday worship always began with the same opening hymn.  Every Sunday we sang Hymn 410: Praise My Soul the King of Heaven.  I happen to love that hymn. Maybe you do, too.

Praise my soul the King of Heaven,

to his feet thy tribute bring.

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

evermore his praises sing.

Alleluia, alleluia!

Praise the everlasting King!

         Time passed, and I got to know the rector fairly well.  One day I said to him, “I’m curious about something.  Every Sunday we sing Hymn 410.  I’m not complaining.  It’s one of my favorites.  But I’m wondering; why do we sing it every Sunday?

He said, “That’s the hymn that people know best.  That’s the one they like to sing.”

“Oh,” I said, “Okay.”  But I wondered something else.  I wondered if Hymn 410 was the one he knew best, if it was the one he liked to sing Sunday after Sunday.

“Sing to the Lord a new song,” the psalm tells us.  And new songs must be learned: new tunes, new words.

If you were living in this area back in the summer of 1986 you might remember a big ruckus up in Forsyth County.  Ku Klux Klan members held a march there that summer.  They were confronted by a few counter-demonstrators.  It was ugly, and it made national news.

On the following Saturday thousands of Atlantans boarded old school buses and made the journey to Forsyth County for an anti-Klan march.  My friends Pamela and Bill and I were on one of those buses.  We marched in opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.

Actually, I don’t remember much about the march itself.  It was uneventful.  As I recall, there were thousands of us and just a few of them.

What I best remember happened on the bus before we left Atlanta.  For some reason, we sat on the crowded school bus for two or three hours, waiting to leave, I never learned why.

We had a bus captain.  He was a middle-aged African American.  He told us he was a veteran of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.

As time passed and we sat there, he made occasional announcements.  He reminded me of an airline pilot: “This is your captain speaking.  We’ll be taking off any moment now.”

But we didn’t take off.  We sat there a long time.

Our bus captain was a congenial fellow.  He told a few jokes.  I remember this one.  He said, “Those Klan members are waiting on us and we’re running hours behind.  I can just hear it now, They’re sayin, ‘Those colored people are always late.  They never show up on time!’”

Except, he didn’t say “colored people”.  He said the word Klan people use.

As time passed and we sat there, our bus captain decided to lead us in song.  Songs help pass the time.  More importantly, songs unify people.  Songs bring people together.

But there was a problem.  Again and again this good man launched forth in 1960’s Civil Rights protest songs: songs we did not know.  This was not a matter of race.  Most of the people on the bus were African American.  This was a matter of generations.  Most of us were thirty years younger than our bus captain.  We didn’t know his songs.  They were good songs, but we didn’t know them.  They were his songs, not ours…

Every three years elected bishops and delegates from each diocese of The Episcopal Church gather for General Convention.  This summer General Convention convenes in Austin, Texas.

As always, many resolutions will be presented, debated, and voted on.  This year there will be serious discussion about prayer book revision.  Some will claim that it’s time to change the way we pray.  Viewed within the context of today’s psalm, they will contend that we should “sing to the Lord a new song”.  Others, of course, will disagree.

Whatever happens in Austin, it’s important to keep in mind that prayer book revision is nothing new.  The first Anglican prayer book appeared in 1549 at the onset of the English Reformation.  The next one came along three years later.  That 1552 book was replaced by another in 1559.  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still the official prayer book of The Church of England, though it’s seldom used.  Contemporary service liturgies are the norm.

The first American prayer book was issued in 1789, after the American Revolution.  Revisions followed in 1892 and 1928.  Our current Book of Common Prayer dates from 1979.

We’ve been changing the way we pray for a long, long time.

Today’s psalm tells us to sing a new song.  When you’re young, that’s easy and exciting.  Youth is a time of discovery.

When you’re older it is hard, because, truth be told, your old song just doesn’t matter as much to others as it once did.  It matters to you, of course, but not so much to younger generations.  It may always be your favorite, and that’s fine.  But you must learn the new songs.  Otherwise you become angry and bitter, and something inside begins to wither and die.

I’ve seen this happen to people.  I’ll bet you have, too.

I renewed my AARP membership the other day.  I’m not getting any younger.  Funny, how that works.  You either grow old or you die.  There’s no compromise, no in-between.  It’s one or the other.

However, I’ve noticed something.  Some people grow old yet remain young at heart.  Last Sunday we celebrated Peggy Beal’s ninety-ninth birthday.  Peggy is one of those who remains young at heart.  She lives in the present just as it is.  She doesn’t look back.  She doesn’t cling to the past. 

I’d say Peggy sings a new song.  I’d say Peggy adapts to the world the way it is.  She doesn’t waste time complaining.  She doesn’t wish things could be the way they used to be.  She sings a new song.

Peggy is an example for all of us.

“Sing to the Lord a new song” means simply this: remain young at heart.  Adapt to the world as it is today.  It will never be the way it used to be. (And by the way, you are not the way you used to be.)

When we sing a new song we live in the present moment, and we offer thanks: thanks for the marvelous things God has done and for the marvelous things God is doing, even today, even now.

Sing to the Lord a new song, for God is doing marvelous things.

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.


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