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Psalm 98: The Song of All Creation

Good morning, church. Please go with me to Psalm 98. If you want to use one of our Bibles, just raise your hand and we’ll bring one to you. You’re actually welcome to keep it if you’ll read it. There is no greater gift we can give you this morning.

Psalms is a book of prayers, spiritual songs. It’s music, poetry. How appropriate during Jazz fest, right? Like all good music, we should expect beauty, imagery, and honesty. Beauty is something we can’t live without, and something in short supply in the modern world, because beauty can’t be manufactured usually. The moment you sell it, the moment you mass-produce it, something is lost. Andy Warhol proved this. Beauty is bound to personhood. It has to be given as a gift, and yet beauty is something we need desperately.

A lot of the Bible is God speaking to humanity. This book is the opposite for the most part. This is humanity speaking back to God, in all of our flaws and misunderstandings. I don’t mean to say the book isn’t true. I believe everything in the Bible is true, and many of the psalms are prophetic, but you have to understand these prayers rightly. Again, expect imagery, expect honesty—in our psalm today, he’s not trying to say rivers and hills can literally sing. But metaphorically, mysteriously, the truth is, nature does sing the praises of God—if you’re listening.

Many of our spiritual ancestors would have considered the soul to be in three parts: thought, beauty, and gut feeling. It was believed beauty bound rational thought and gut feeling together, that without beauty in your life you would end up either as cold, emotionless rationality, able to justify anything because nothing was sacred—either that or you would end up as an impulsive creature chasing after anything you want regardless of the consequences. In our culture today we have a lot of thoughts, a lot of visceral reactions, but not a lot of beauty to bring the two together.

I want us to use the psalms as Jesus used them. This was his prayerbook, his hymnal. Mysteriously, when we pray the psalms we pray them in the Spirit alongside our God. There’s power in that, just like there’s power in singing your heart out to the Lord, even though the words are something someone else wrote, that multitudes of people have already sung. Prayer doesn’t need to be spontaneous or original to be meaningful. We have the Lord’s prayer, and the book of common prayer, and hymnals many of us have sung since childhood. Jesus, and centuries of worshippers before and after him, had the psalms.

My hope is, as we read through this book all Summer and into the Fall, we would learn to pray these words together. Go with me this morning, psalm 98. If you will, please stand as we read the word of the Lord together. [] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me.

Psalm 98 opens asking for us to sing a new song to the Lord because of what he’s done, the marvelous things he’s done. Singing a new song is like speaking a new word or writing a new poem. It’s not a rejection or a forgetting of what’s old, but an overwhelming celebration of everything new. This is the slack-jawed moment where all you can do is stare, because there are no words. This is my nine-month-old squealing with excitement because she hasn’t learned to speak. This is that moment in Spring in New Orleans when the air is still cool and every field, every tree, is covered in bloom and color.

Most scholars date this psalm back to the time of David the king, and think it would have been sung for the first time as he arrived back at the city of Jerusalem after some great victory. You can imagine the city erupting in shouts and in song as soldiers marched through the gates bathed in glory. Wives searching for their husbands in the crowd, children for their fathers, younger brothers jealous of their older brothers fighting with sticks behind the crowds. Think of all of the shouting for joy as loved ones find the son, father, husband for whom they had been praying all the time they were away in battle.

I don’t know if anyone else has seen YouTube videos of soldiers coming home from a tour and greeting their spouses, surprising their kids at school—even the dogs! (OK, maybe I especially watch videos of the dogs.) Sing a new song for the new future where none of your anxieties came true, where God did something almost unthinkably good, and the new real future that replaces the imaginary is something that blows you away.

As I was writing this I was thinking about Christmas last year, when we first learned we were going to have a child. We knew her name immediately—it’s Elizabeth Joy—and while I was driving around all through that advent season, I would just see the word joy everywhere I went. I started taking pictures and sending them to my wife. My heart was singing a new song then.

And I thought this week of Jeremy, who is a member here, who had a rough year two years ago, by all accounts; he was dealing with medical and other trouble and anxiety to a degree that I was always amazed to see him standing much less smiling often and focused on family, leaning into friendship and the Lord. And in that time, I remember we had a conversation—this was right after my family got some really troubling medical news, ourselves, we were sitting on the patio of a restaurant near my office—and we talked about how comforting it is to know that all of the futures we were imagining at that time, everything the doctors warned about, that none of it was real or sure.

We talked about how God alone held the future, and the only thing we can know about what comes next is that God will work in the future just as surely as he’s worked in the past, redeeming the worst of everything humanity has done, and turning the arc of our world and our lives to an ending that is joy, justice, truth, and peace. I was thinking about that conversation this week because he got married this week and adopted a child. God has worked a remarkable redemption in his life, worth a new song or a sermon, which is what I wrote instead because a sermon just felt more attainable for me this week than a song.

Life is so often difficult, it’s true. We’re going to preach through psalms that cry out to God to take action, psalms for mourning, psalms meant for the midst of struggle. Life is so often difficult, and God is there for you in the difficulty. But always, and at the same time, life is staggeringly beautiful, profoundly full and joyful. And God is with us in those moments too. What’s more, in Christ eternity is filled with joy, and not sadness. One day, this brief momentary affliction will give way to pure and undefiled joy.

God has done marvelous things. And even in the depths, especially in the depths, we can hold onto his joy, life, and light. Usually when we do, his light shines all the brighter for all of the darkness. Sing a new song, for God has done marvelous things.

Then the psalmist writes, “the Lord has made known his salvation…to the ends of the earth.” He’s made it known; so should we. If God is making his works in our lives and in the world known to the ends of the earth then so should we. Nationwide surveys from a few years ago revealed that nearly half of millennials in America, people my age, believe that evangelism is an immoral act, akin to lying and cheating. I don’t believe that. I do believe there is a kind of evangelism which does harm—an evangelism which makes people feel small, like I have something of worth and you should be blamed for your poverty; like the choices I’ve made have set me up well, and you are to blame for your embarrassing lostness. There is a kind of evangelism that is more motivated to show the skill and boldness of the evangelist than it is to help people see the hope of the gospel, and I understand why people may look down on that kind of evangelism, though even then “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

There is another kind of evangelism, though, which rejoices in awe at the marvelous work of the Lord in the earth. There is a good news that even the hills and the rivers can’t help but share. It’s a kind of evangelism that lights up like a parent when someone asks to see pictures of her kids, or like me whenever someone actually wants to talk at length about the theology of Narnia or Middle Earth. It’s a very small subset of people, but it’s always fun to find each other. There is a reason the Bible uses the word evangelism, meaning to share good news, to talk about the salvation God brings to the ends of the earth, because it really is good news.

In all of the war and unrest in the world, even in our city right now, knowing that the Lord is a God of peace and one day he will rule over all the earth—that’s good news. Knowing how many mistakes I’ve made and all the things I’ve done wrong, knowing God came into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it, is good news. Knowing he’s willing to come into my life not to condemn me but to save me because he loves me is good news. Knowing that death and loss are undone in resurrection is good news. That’s something I would want to share with anyone who is struggling, with anyone who is rejoicing, with anyone, because he’s able to heal everyone.

If God has done marvelous things in your life, isn’t that worth sharing? If his right hand and holy arm is able to work salvation, isn’t that something people need to know? When I was younger, I probably shared the gospel more out of a sense of being right. I wanted to win arguments. I wanted to show people where they were inconsistent in their thinking. I wanted to convince people through the cleverness of my answers to all of their questions that Christianity was something true and right.

The more mature I’ve grown in the faith, the more I share my faith, but not because I want to win an argument, but instead I want people to be able to rest in the sovereignty and righteousness of our God. I want to give you hope this morning. Suffering made that change in my life. Only Jesus has words of eternal life. The more difficulty I face in life the less I understand how anyone can go through life without trust in the Lord. How do you sit in a hospital room without prayer? As people have done evil things to me and to my children without recourse, I’ve learned to love and place my hope in the justice of the Lord. And as I’ve sought joy in life, I’ve learned to trust God’s wisdom on what pursuits will bring joy and what will just bring sadness in the end. And when I’m uncertain about the future, or when I face loss, my only hope has been in the return and resurrection of the Lord.

His death answers our sin, his return answers our cries for peace and justice, his promise of resurrection and restoration answers our cries of mourning. Jesus gives our lives meaning and hope. That’s good news, and I want to share that with everyone who mourns, everyone who celebrates, everyone who lives and breathes and has a being. God loves you, and there is hope, there is joy in him.

The psalm ends with a beautiful shift. Instead of Jerusalem rejoicing because their king has won a battle, in v.4, every people, every nation begins to rejoice. The song and shouting in the streets of Jerusalem begins to spill outside the walls, to the ends of the earth. The rivers start clapping their hands. The seas start shouting with the people. The hills begin to sing along with the psalmist all because, v.6, in truth—far more important than a battle being won—the Lord is King, not just of Jerusalem, but of every nation. David may have won a battle, but our God has conquered death and overcome the world. Whenever we celebrate, we join in a song all of creation sings in praise of the marvelous works of our God.

Whenever we gather together and sing praises to the Lord, we join in a song creation has been singing since the beginning, and I believe this is more of a mystery than it is a metaphor. I know in a literal sense rivers don’t have hands, and hills don’t sing, but in another sense I know exactly what he means. I know this to be true. Every time I go camping or spend the day in my garden, by the end of the trip or by the end of the day I can almost hear the song.

We worship God in church not because he demands it, or because we think it will earn us extra credit, we worship God because it’s right. Worship and awe is the right response to a being so large, so wild, and so good. And we sing in worship because creation is singing. Music has a way of inviting people into joy, making them a part. You could go to just about any culture at any time in all of the earth and when people gather to celebrate they make music, sing, and dance together. It’s what we’re meant to do. It’s what all of creation is meant to do.

When Christ returns, the Bible tells us, in the Day of the Lord, at the end of this age, he will overthrow death and redeem suffering. He’ll judge the earth in righteousness and equity, the kings and the poor alike. Everything old will be made new, and everything temporary will give way to the eternal. He has prepared a place for all of his children and laid of feast, Isaiah tells us of meat, full of marrow, and well-aged wine, and in that day suffering will end.

God’s people will not be called upon to fight any wars because they will have been won. He won’t ask them to do justice or care for the oppressed because justice will reign. No one will need to care for the fatherless because God, himself, will be our good father, and no one will need to preach, disciple, or prophesy because we will know God face to face. The work of the pastor in the new earth is to wait tables. Evangelism is passing away, because in that day every person from every nation to the ends of the earth will confess Jesus as Lord and greet each other as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, beloved.

Marriage, baptism, everything Christians and the Church are meant to do here on earth in the day of the Lord passes away. Everything except for the communion feast together, worship, and celebration. My hope is that every time we gather here we get a taste of the renewed and restored world to come and we learn moment by moment to hope, celebrate, to remember, and to sing the song all creation has sung since the beginning. May you learn every day to live, and move, and have your being in Jesus Christ, our Lord who is worthy.

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