Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A New Song

Psalms 96
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
June 7, 2013

One of the joys of annual conference is singing with a group of 1000+ Methodists accompanied by amazing musicians playing all sorts of instruments. The first service I attended was one of those amazing experiences. The praise band was, well, praising. The song we began the service with was awesome, familiar
We sang well, there is nothing like a bunch of Methodists singing a familiar hymn. We even got some clapping going.
Then we spoke some great liturgy together about Jesus being our rock and strong help in times of need
Then it was time for another song. It started out very familiar. An old gospel song from my teen years, once again everyone sounded awesome; until we got to the chorus. The words were the same words I remembered but the tune was totally different. Totally different! Strange!
In a cynical tone of voice I said to my colleague, “I have NEVER sung it this way before!” and we laughed.
I wish I could remember the name of the song.  Here’s the thing, I asked a colleague the name and she couldn’t remember it either but she did remember how difficult the chorus was to sing.

In all my 20 years of worship planning the most difficult part has been to choose hymns that satisfy everyone and still speak to the message of the bible texts chosen for the day.
I am fortunate now because I have tools available that I didn’t have 20 years ago. I have the two United Methodist Church hymnals loaded into my iTunes on my computer and I can find the hymns and songs from the new green hymnal on line usually through YouTube.

I understand the struggle it is to sing unfamiliar hymns. I was just faced with it at annual conference.
YET, on the other hand, young people appreciate both the old hymns and the new hymns. I appreciate, and our praise team appreciates, both the old hymns and new expressions of songs that praise God. Many of you appreciate both the old and new hymns of the faith.

I wonder if the Psalmist was dealing with people who were struggling with learning to appreciate all expressions of praise. Do you remember how many Psalms there are in the bible? 150. Each one a compilation of songs sung in worship in the ancient temple. Now, not all 150 were written at once. New ones were being added and I wonder if the newest ones had to be introduced slowly, with special care not to upset those who came to hear the old psalms. I wonder if this psalm was written to encourage the adoption of the newest psalms. For the psalmist begins: “O Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord and bless God’s name.”
I wonder if he, as the psalm and singing leader in the temple was hearing the comments that contemporary pastors hear: “Don’t make us sing too many new songs, pastor. We won’t like it.”

Well really, it is easier to live in the past isn’t it, with what we are familiar and what we know. It is easier to look to the past and sigh because things aren’t like they used to be and it all seems so much more complicated.

As a new resident of this community I hear a lot of sighing about what was. And I would have liked to have been here when there were two hardware stores and a selection of clothing stores, grocery stores, even a jewelry store. I’ve seen the poster that depicts the old downtown.

We look at the main street through town now and sigh for what isn’t and what was. We feel as if our town is abandoned, left over, forgotten, a has-been. Not worth much of anything.

But we are United Methodist’s! We take seriously God’s promise of being with us, going before us and calling every place sacred and worthwhile.  We are UM’s! It is our job and calling to let others know that God is here. God is with us. God’s blessings are right here, right now and there isn’t anything any one can do about that. God loves us and that is that.

Now letting our community know this is tricky in a small, close knit community. We don’t want to be accused of trying to steal the sheep from other churches. We don’t want to seem as if we think we are the only gig in town worth knowing about.
Yet, we do want people to know that we believe with all our hearts souls and minds that God is present here, right now. And that if we as a community, continue to acknowledge God’s presence we will be better able to see the good, seek out the noble and encourage the holy and sacred within our own community.

And we know as people of God that a healthy community that sees itself as a place of sacred worth, gives our children, young people, adults and seniors a place to grow and thrive and become who it is God created them to be.

And we know as people of God called Methodists we are to be the ones who name it as so and who work to make it so.

That is why, this summer we are going to be physically blessing the places within our community. We will begin this morning by making stepping-stones.
Out of simple forms and concrete we will fashion a way of saying to our community, God is here, what you are doing here is of sacred worth, we want you to know that we see it and want to be a part of God’s work of blessing your work.

Now this month we are going to be working on stepping-stones for the businesses in Chatfield. Looking at Main Street you might think, well that won’t take too long. We will need about 1 dozen stones. Right? WRONG. I have a list of businesses posted around the church. Guess how many businesses that have storefronts are in Chatfield? 67!

So we have to get busy making stones today and keep at it until we have enough made. I don’t think we realized what we were attempting. But this is good isn’t it? Just this will remind us that there is more here than meets the eye.  Already we are realizing that this community is more vibrant than we thought. More alive with possibilities than we expected. What is really good to know about these businesses is that young people own many. These are men and women who have chosen the Chosen Valley for their home and place of business.

You know Wesley was a great proponent of honest good work. Without a healthy economy Wesley knew that children didn’t get fed or taught or cared for. Without a healthy economy older adults didn’t get the medical care they needed. Without a healthy economy the stress of home life was unbearable. Without a healthy economy the work of God in the world could not get done. Wesley’s first mission was to the coal miners in England. He went right to the mine sites to preach and teach the love of God to those men who had to spend hours in darkness working 7 days a week. Because of their work schedule they were unable to attend church on Sunday morning. Wesley wanted the miners to know that God had not abandoned them because they were unable to attend church. Wesley wanted the miners to know that they were God’s children, worthy of God’s sacrament, and able, even under horrible working conditions to act like children of God. Wesley wanted them to know that they had sacred worth. And that their families deserved men who were living lives of dedication to the holy and good.

Wesley knew that the song had to be sung in a different way, to a different tune, for a different audience, even in a different place.

We want, I hope, to be people who will hear the new song God is signing in our midst. The words and tune will not be familiar and it might seem dissident at times, difficult to sing, even.
But we are called upon to hear it. And to join in as we learn the words and begin to recognize the tune.

This summer we will be singing the song of God in the midst of our community, literally. And letting our community know, God’s song is here. Hopefully someone will hear the song again or for the very first time and begin singing along with us.

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