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Easter 6B  (May 13, 2012)  

New Songs for Old.
Psalm 98 (Acts 10:1-48)

by The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Psalm 98 is a great psalm!!
It’s a lovely addition for Mother’s Day,
sets the mood for flowers and brunch and crayon cards.
It’s jubilant, upbeat, grandiose, and inclusive off the scale:
not only are all people regardless of race, age, gender, ability, orientation,
political persuasion, economic status
invited to pick up noisemakers  and make a joyful noise,
it also includes breaching whales, soaring eagles,  earthworms, dirt piles, dandelions
and mosquitos
– and yes even tulip wrecking squirrels –
in a sung symphony of praise to God.

If the Book of Psalms were a hymn book – which it is ! –
this would sit in a section called
“Raise the Roof Praise Songs!” – which it does!
Psalms  95 through 100 are all jubilant happy-clappy songs,composed to make a royal racket at splendid occasions like a coronation of one of Israel’s
kings, with umpteen trumpeters decked out in red and gold,
bulbous cheeks blasting high notes of exaltation!     *(Slide: drawing)

Psalm 98 takes the cake though.
This is not a carefully orchestrated organ and
choir affair,
it’s more like an ancient Israelite garage band,
or better still, a jam session with every musician dragging their instruments, finding the
key (or not!) and joining in.
Just like our children did. Noisy, but fun!

But, there’s trouble in this text.
Trouble begins with God.
In this Psalm, God is praised for a mighty arm wielded in the cause of universal justice.
God supposedly has more power in his pinky
than can be found  in all the missiles, tanks, battleships ever invented.

God is also praised for creation of the starry sky,
the ocean depths and mountain heights,
all of which are then compelled by the composer
to add their din to the Song and Dance of Praise.

I’m probably expected to say
“And rightly so! All of the above.”
I should I suppose break out into a rendition of        (*slide: boy)
“My God is so big to great and so mighty there’s
nothing my God cannot do!”

Now, if you have trouble with that image
– because science tells you more about creation than the Bible ever can,
– or because politics tells you justice in the earth is a faint hope, not a divine reality,
– or because your  faith in God’s omnipotence is shaken by God’s apparent inability to hold
back the assaults of illness, or family strife, or death and dying upon you or your loved ones.
If you have that trouble, then you’d be forgiven for joining the very large club outside this building.

About 50 years ago, a “new song” was heard across the airwaves,
and went gold, then platinum.
And the New Song was not “God is great,”
but “God is Dead.” i
The “Almighty Ancient of Days” was declared redundant,
defunct, dead.
Humans had pretty much figured out the birthing,
living, earning thing without God.
We’d worked out that the planet was like a superstore,
a one-stop shop for everything we need for the good life.
People looked around and discovered gods far more potent, attractive, seductive,
and they drove their cars, not to the church parking lot,
but to Chez Cora, or the Mall, or the ball park.
Guilt and forgiveness, along with honesty and ethics,
lay forgotten like empty pizza boxes in the dugout.

This phenomenon, the pundits tell us, is unique to the 21st century, an inevitable
consequence
both of modernity, and of postmodernity.

Mais, non. That ain’t so.
Because, this ancient psalm of Praise, # 98 by name, isn’t quite what it seems.
We’d be forgiven for assuming, given the content,
that it was written for the most spectacular
celebration of Stanley Cup, Summer Olympic proportions.
But you need to imagine instead,
a rather ragged, motley, malnourished remnant
of a once proud people reduced to refugee status in their own land.
Not one of them living has known true freedom,
or seen a military or a political or an economic victory in their favour.
They were slaves, the underclass of the Babylonian empire,
tossed out onto the garbage heap,
and left to wander barefoot back to a devastated,
forgotten homeland, with its burned out houses,
trampled vines, and lemons rotting in the sun.ii

They were surrounded on all sides by the peoples
of the great god Osiris, or Marduk,
gods who had whole cities and armies at their disposal,
whereas these Israelites didn’t have a king anymore,
nor much of a temple
(just a hastily put up tinpot structure to keep off the worst of the rain and sun)

‘Twas this puny people that composed our Psalm, of jubilation!

Were they nuts? Deluded?

Well, probably no more nuts than we are,
the bedraggled remnant, the less than 11% who will attend Church in Quebec today.
We are also surrounded by gods seemingly more successful, powerful, influential and life
changing than the God praised in this psalm.
We know all about Cora’s, the mall, the golf course.

But, we’re here.
As they were, there.

Singing.

Singing,  because despite all the apparent evidence to the contrary,
we see, in this “God is Dead” landscape,
evidence of God’s handiwork, God’s upside down victories,
occurring now, not just ‘way back then, in ancient Israel,
or in the home of Cornelius, but also in our own day.

Those who once trumpeted the death of God are now rushing copy to the editor
with news about the persistent increase in the  numbers of North Americans who have
had a mystical, personal experience, of God, the Divine, a miracle.

These folk may not all be here;
many left religion out with the recycling long ago.
But it seems, this New Song singing God
isn’t too bothered by that.

God, her sustenance, her healing touch,
his consolation, his spatter painted sunsets,
her magnification of human prayer, his energizing of young people to free the children,
her solace and capacity to love beyond pain or anger,
his propulsion to peace and justice;
all these new signs of a lively, death resistant, irrepressible God are popping up like dandelions on a May lawn.

What we’re seeing here at Cedar Park right now,
is nothing short of a miracle.
The statisticians tell us we’re supposed to be dwindling to nothing.
We’re not supposed to have 25+ children spending time getting to know God in Jesus,
We are not supposed to be sharing our testimonies of ‘resurrection’ happening  in our own lives.

70 Voices for Hope shouldn’t be here, in this supposedly empty husk of a dead religion.
We’re here, I believe,  and we’re singing, because each in our own way,
knows or hopes that God is “up to”iii something healing,
restoring, energizing, life-giving
among us, between us, for us,
and with us for the sake of the world.

While this “up to something” of God in our day
carries echoes of the ancient Song of Israel,
we can hear new notes, new melodic lines, new lyrics,
new rhythms, new musical frontiers being broached and breached by God’s New Song.

For example, we’re discovering that people feed their spirit,
find a welcome, and fulfill their purpose in life,
seven days a week in this place, not just on Sunday morning,
if then at all.

And we’re also discovering that the new song we’re learning
is being sung  by the strangest of companions.
God’s up to inclusion, again!
Singing with us, (or are we singing with them?)
are diverse movements of the little people,
the ragged remnant people,
singing the God-song of honesty,
of sustainability, of ethical commerce, of wellbeing,
of holistic healing,
of equity and justice with peace.

When you start to listen,
it’s not so hard then to hear
that all over the earth,
now, as when that Psalm was first written,
a new Song, God’s Song,
is ringing out, making  a royal racket,
a din to deafen all that defeats life
with the jubilant song of God-given hope.

And we, that’s why we’re here.
If God is up to something,
If there’s a new song to be sung,
we want to join in.

(VU 245, Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet, follows)

©Elisabeth. R. Jones,   May 2012.


1“Death of God” theologians, e.g. J.A.T. Robinson, T. Altizer, Van Buren et. al, used the famous maxim by Nietzche (1882) as a springboard to explore notions that human society had outgrown (or no longer deserved) the need for ‘transcendence’ or ‘providence’, major characteristics of the Judeo-Christian theological heritage. See J.W. Robbins, ed. After the Death of God, (Columbia UP, 2007).


2While the dating for this psalm is still contested, many scholars suggest a late exilic or post-exilic date for its composition, with deliberate inclusion of ‘notes’ of older enthronement psalms. This is the tack I take here.


3YHWH the ancients’ name for God (Exodus 3), can be translated “I am what I am doing” or “I am what I am up to.” (see Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology.

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