|Trinity Church, Speyer, Germany Organ pipes|
When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church, I regularly encountered Psalm 100 in our worship services. And we knew the Psalm by its Latin title: Jubilate Deo. While the wording was different at points from the NRSV, the message was the same: “make a joyful noise to the Lord.”
Although there are times when we need to be still in the presence of the Lord (Ps. 46:10), there are also times when we need to turn up the volume and let loose before the Lord. It might come in the form of song or it might come in the form of dance. Just remember that David danced before the Lord when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:12-15). It’s worth noting that this invitation to make a joyful noise before the Lord goes out to the entire world.
But here is the question of the hour: Why should we make a joyful noise before the Lord? After all, we’re living in a difficult moment in history. We have the pandemic that has yet to go away. We have the economic downturn that has accompanied the pandemic. Then there’s the question of whether the nation has finally reached the tipping point when it comes to the question of racism in our land. Now, we have attempts to undo the progress made over the past decade in providing protections for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. How do you make a joyful noise in moments like this?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of an old Andrae Crouch song: “I’m gonna keep on singin’, I’m gonna keep on shoutin’, I’m gonna keep on liftin’ my voice And let the world know that Jesus saves.” We can’t stop singing to the Lord, because it’s in the singing of praise that we find the strength that comes through God’s Spirit so we keep on moving forward toward justice. As the Psalmist reminds us, we keep on singing because we “know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” So, let us lift our voices, clap our hands, stomp our feet, and maybe even dance in the aisles. That might not be our typical mode of worship, but it might be included in the heavenly worship service. But whatever mode we choose, the point is, we can enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.
Now if these were ordinary times I might have dispensed with the sermon so we could plan a song service. We could have read the Psalm and then embodied it by singing favorite songs and hymns of the faith. We would have had a great time because we’re a singing congregation. But these aren’t ordinary times, and every study suggests that singing is a problem.
While we can’t sing like we normally would, we can still make a joyful noise in our hearts. We can listen to the hymns that are sung for us, and use our spiritual imaginations to enter God’s courts with praise. We can imagine a choir of angels singing praise to God. We might even imagine ourselves being drawn into that choir. Even if we don’t think we belong in the choir, we can still lift our voices in song.
While I worked on the sermon this week, I spent time listening to the music of Andrae Crouch. I was first introduced to Andrae’s music during my high school days when a group of us went over to Medford for a concert. That concert turned into a worship service. I got to hear him in concert a few more times over the years, and every time the concert took on a sense of worship. So, I entered God’s court with praise as I listened to his music on my computer.
Now, you might envision yourself singing a different set of songs or a different kind of music. When you use your spiritual imagination, maybe you envision yourself singing along with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Or maybe it’s Johnny Cash singing an old Gospel Song. Maybe you’re singing “We Shall Overcome” as you march for justice. Or, you might join in singing a song known as the Black National Anthem: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.” This powerful hymn invites us to “sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.” (James Weldon Johnson, Chalice Hymnal, 631).
We enter God’s courts with songs of praise on our lips because God is good. Yes, God’s steadfast love endures forever and God’s faithfulness endures to all generations. So, let us sing in our hearts as we enter God’s courts in praise:
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices, who, from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today! (CH 715).
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
June 14, 2020