The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2011
The Psalm: Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
Sermon: "Singing Lessons"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13):

Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.
Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.
Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the LORD honor and power.
Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
Tell it out among the nations: "The LORD is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the LORD when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.]

Psalm 96

Singing Lessons

Sing to the Lord a new song. Music is important to our life as a church. After-all, our faith began with angels singing in the heavens, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill..." Music is important to us.

We are thankful when the organ booms, the choir sings, or a soloist ministers to us. Their abilities strengthen our worship by helping us bring our very best to God. That is part of what worship is about; giving our best to God; that sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. 

What a welcome thing it is then, that we consider this admonition from the 96th Psalm this morning, "Sing a new song unto the Lord." It's not a great performance that the Psalmist is asking for here, though. What he is calling for from you and me is a new passion for being God's people. There are three elements in this new song we are called to sing; three singing lessons, if you will, that could do a lot for the passion of our worship.

The first singing lesson is this: WE ARE TO SING AS WITNESSES. In the first two verses we read: "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." And again in the tenth verse we read, "Say among the nations, 'The Lord reigns! Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved: he will judge the peoples with equity.'" It is clear that the first song that we are to sing is a song of witness. We are to tell the world. 

Now, of course, everyone's life is a witness for one thing or another. I like the story about the battered old man who got up one night during a revival meeting and said: "Brothers and sisters, you know and I know that I havenít been what I ought to of been. I've stole hogs and told lies, and got drunk, and was always getting in fights, and shooting craps, and playing poker, and I've cussed and swore; but I thank the Lord there's one thing I have never done: I have never lost my religion." 

I have known witnesses like that. We are all witnesses. And we witness most effectively in the way that we live our daily lives. That's important to remember, because many are willing to do something spectacular for Christ, in the midst of some great event, yet ignore the common everyday tasks and duties that validate our testimony. God does not want us to do extraordinary things as much as he wants us to do ordinary things extraordinarily well. 

Of course there are those people who go beyond silent witness. The name of Heinz is known throughout the world for his "57 Varieties," especially pickles and ketchup. But Heinz was also a committed Christian. His greatest efforts for the Lord began after a particular evangelistic service. His pastor turned to him on the dais and said to Mr. Heinz, "Youíre a Christian, but with all your energy, why aren't you up and at it for the Lord?" The great businessman went home in anger. That night he couldn't sleep. At 4 o'clock in the morning he was awake, praying that God would make him a true and zealous witness. 

Not long afterward, at a meeting of bank presidents, Mr. Heinz turned to the man next to him and shared the joy he knew as a believer. His friend looked at him in amazement. "I've wondered many times why, if you really believed in Christ, you never spoke to me of it." That man later became the first of 267 converts Mr. Heinz eventually influenced for Christ! He witnessed as he worked. We dare not lose sight of a major reason we exist as the body of Christ; and that is to tell the Good News. Our first singing lesson is to sing as a witness. 

Our second singing lesson is this: WE ARE TO SING AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP. The Psalmist writes in verses eight and nine, "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 array; tremble before him, all the earth!" We are called to witness and to worship. That is why we are here this morning; to give glory to the Lord, to praise His name. 

Of course, authentic worship does something for us as well. Far back, I remember an old saint telling me that after some services he liked to make his way home alone, by quiet bypaths, so that the hush of the Almighty might remain on his awed and prostrate soul. He had captured the essence of worship. Jesus said, "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name there will I be right in the middle of them." Jesus is actually here right now in this building. Not figuratively speaking, but really here. His Spirit is upon us; all because we have gathered here to worship God in His name. Worship will always make a big difference for us if we capture this truth. When we enter this house of worship with others we are singing, sitting, standing, kneeling and praying in Christ's presence. He is he because we are here. We are here because he is here. This being in the Lord's presence has a dramatic physical effect on us. According to Dr. Berton Kaplan, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology at UNC, Chapel Hill, worshiping regularly is good for our physical health. His studies show that people who go to church services once a week have lower blood pressure on average than infrequent church-goers, and, therefore he says, are less liable to have a stroke or other complications. All of which proves, the good doctor points out, that "Piety is good for us in more ways than one." 

The point is obvious; worship is not an option for a Christian. Worship attendance is not a decision we make each Sunday morning any more than loving our spouses or children or friends is a matter of continual review. Worship is part of the commitment we have made. It is part of the new song we have been called to sing. Witness and worship comprise our first two singing lessons. 

Here's our third singing lesson: WE ARE TO SING PATIENTLY. The closing words of this great Psalm go like this, "...for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and peoples with his truth." Witness, worship and waiting. The early disciples knew about waiting. They expected Christ's return at any moment. They waited and they worked. 

I believe in the imminent return of Christ. But I fervently lament a condition all too common with some Christians; namely, missing the whole point of Christ's return. The second coming is not to be looked upon as some kind of divine escape hatch, a way up and out after we make life unbearable here on planet Earth. Instead, the promise of our Lord's return is to be the single most effective stimulus to lead us into a truly and consistently Christian lifestyle; to do good to this earth he has entrusted to us, and to do good to the nations and peoples who inhabit it, and to do good in the relationships of our daily lives. We are to be witnessing and worshipping ad waiting and working. That is what the new song is all about. 

One of my favorite kindergarten stories is the one about young Paul who, during the art period of kindergarten, drew a particularly fine picture of a stagecoach. Encouraged, the teacher said, "That's very well done, Paul, but I don't see any wheels. What holds the stagecoach up?" Answered Paul, "Bad men."

Thinking more in terms of what the teacher meant; what holds the kingdom of God up? That is, what keeps it going? You and I do, and other believers along with us, when we lift our voices in Christ's new song. Witness, worship, and wait and work each day to the glory of God. That is how to let your life break forth with a new song. 

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