Psalm 98:1a, 4-9a
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have been so blessed to get to know you all these past 8 months, and as I’ve been preaching, I’ve tried to make a habit of sharing little bits about myself. But this morning, I would like to share a little about someone you might not have gotten to know as well – my husband, Morgan. I will preface this by saying that while I do have his permission to talk about him this morning, he isn’t actually here this morning. He is at a work retreat this weekend… so I guess all bets are off. J There are many ways in which my husband and I are the perfect complement to one another. For example, where I tend to be a list-maker and go-getter when it comes to house upkeep and chores, he tends to take a more laid-back approach. And so we balance each other out. We also balance each other out when it comes to our faith. Morgan is a devoted Christian with a strong belief in God and in Christ as our Savior and Lord. But he isn’t what you might call a deep theological thinker. While I can spend hours circling around the whats and the whys and the hows of God, Morgan just shrugs and says, “God is God. He’s got it under control. I don’t need to know all the details.” And because of that, he actually serves as my constant reminder to just slow down and spend some time with God. While I’m busy shuffling through papers and picking through texts, Morgan is there just taking God in. This is especially true when it comes to nature. Morgan loves to just sit and look at forests and mountains and waterfalls and just thank God for his greatness. Thank God for the wondrous things he’s created. In his own way, Morgan lives out the psalm we read this morning.
“O sing to the Lord a new song,” it says, “for he has done marvelous things!” The Lord has done marvelous things. Now, we could easily spend the rest of the morning trying to enumerate those marvelous things. But in our text, the psalmist paints God particularly as the creator and king of everything. God made it all – the forests, the mountains, the waterfalls – and he continues to mercifully rule over all of it. And because of that, we are called to praise God, our creator and king.
You probably picked up from the text that we’re not talking about any old praise here. We’re talking specifically about praising God through music. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. Even though this is a particularly musical congregation, music is not everyone’s strong suit. And in our post-American-Idol culture, some think that the only ones allowed to sing and make music are those who can sound “professional.” But that’s not what Psalm 98 says. Here, it’s not just the ones with enough talent or training that are invited to sing praise to God. In this text, all of creation praises God. The seas roar, the floods clap. The hills are literally alive with the sound of music. And we humans are invited to join the chorus, with our voices and with whatever other instruments we can find.
With all of creation making music to their creator, we begin to see just how inherent music is in creation. Have you ever stopped to wonder why we humans bother making music at all? We don’t really need it… we can just use plain old words to exchange thoughts and ideas. And yet, in music, God has given us a way to communicate beyond simple words. Through music, and all art for that matter, God has created a way to express emotion, to convey things that words could never fully articulate. And when it comes to praising God, sometimes we need that. One of my favorite lines from any song comes from the refrain of the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” “Then sings my soul, my savior God to Thee.” Then sings my soul. Music comes from a place deep within us, a place that longs to praise the one who created it. That longing transcends finding the right pitch or being in the right key. We, like the rest of creation, are created to sing praises to God.
But if you’re like me, not every day feels praiseful. Some days, praising God is the furthest thing from our minds. Well, the Bible tells us it’s okay to use music on those days too. The psalms themselves are sort of song lyrics, poetry meant to be set to music, and of the 150 psalms we have in our bible, almost half are lament psalms, psalms that express grief and despair and wondering when God will show up and do something. One example is Psalm 22, which Jesus himself quotes on the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Just think of the Tenebrae service we do on Good Friday. During that service, we use music to express not only Christ’s lament, but our own, our grief and our contrition over the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. Through music, God invites us to do just that, to communicate our earnest emotions, whether they be exuberant praise or deep sorrow.
When I was in college, I was part of a Christian a cappella group. A cappella is very big in the east coast, and we used that medium to sing to and about God. Every spring break, we would travel to a different city and spend the week singing in churches, homeless shelters, nursing homes. One performance that I will always remember was at a homeless shelter in Dallas. I was singing the solo for a song called, “Never Alone.” The words of the chorus are very much like a lament psalm: I cry out with no reply and I can’t feel you by my side, but I hold tight to what I know, You’re here and I’m never alone. As I sang those words, I noticed one man in particular just drinking the words in. In that moment, I imagined what he might have gone through in his life, what led him to the current situation he was in, how alone he might have felt sometimes. And in that moment, the two of us were connected through God and through the promises God had made to us both. Neither of us would ever be truly alone. And through that song, I think both of us thanked God for that promise, for the marvelous thing he had done.
Music connects us, to God and to one another. It is a gift that God gives us that gives expression to our deepest emotions. It is something that God instilled in us from the beginning – we are created to sing praise to God. So the next time you wonder why we spend so much of our service on music, remember this psalm. Remember that we sing to the Lord because he has done marvelous things. Thanks be to God. Amen.