I realize today is Christ the King Sunday but I thought I would break from protocol and talk about giving thanks. I know for most folks Thanksgiving means turkey, Pilgrims and football. But when I am serious about giving thanks, I go straight to the Psalms. One of my favorites is Psalm 98, a delightful song written at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. It captures a nation’s joy as God welcomes the Hebrews home. The Jews had spent a generation in captivity. Their sadness and despair is captured in Psalm 137, “How can you sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” But with news that the Persians were releasing the Jews, sheer delight leapt from the lips of the Psalmist as he “sang a new song to the Lord.”
Some of you may think I am getting a bit too excited over a song written 2400 years ago. For me, the Psalms are as relevant today as they were when they were first created. They are songs of joy, sorrows, delights, and disappointments. That stuff never goes out of date. Did you know the inspiration for “Joy to the World” was Psalm 98? Psalms live forever because they express the very essence of who we are in our ongoing relationship with God. I like to think of the Psalmist as yesterday’s folk music. The Psalmists remind me of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples, or Doc Watson.
I have been fortunate enough to witness each of those folks in concert, but perhaps my favorite was Doc Watson. I realize in the last 50 years there have been a plethora of great guitar players. But most of them weren’t blind. Doc was born in Deep Gap NC in 1923. He contracted an eye infection as an infant and was blind before his first birth day. Doc referred to his blindness as a hindrance, not a disability. He grew up listening to his father and mother singing gospel songs in their
. Through their music Doc developed a
relationship with God that lasted his
entire life. As a teenager Doc bought
his first guitar from money he had earned sawing wood. For the next 30 years this blind musician sang
gospel at church. At local events he would sing songs from Appalachia about
lost loves, shady groves and blackberry blossoms. In 1963
he played the Newport Folk Festival and became a national sensation. Doc’s singing and playing allowed him to share
his music to listeners all over the Baptist
Church . One of those listeners was his son Merle. United States
At 14 Merle decided he wanted to follow in his famous father’s footsteps. Doc’s wife Rosa Lee taught Merle his first chords. The boy was a natural. Together Doc and Merle toured and made more than 20 records. It all came to a tragic end in 1985. In a freakish accident Merle rolled his tractor down a hill and was killed instantly. Pain still swelled in Doc’s voice when he spoke of his son but he did not allow tragedy to still his voice. Doc continued to use his music to heal anyone with a broken heart. Yes Doc sang about prison, lost love, and all those tragic stories that accompany Appalachian folklore. But even when he sang a sad song he sang as a witness to his God who could heal all pain.
What a gift to be able to sing in the midst of personal tragedy. How often, when our lives go sideways, do we allow the circumstances to completely derail us? Some folks wonder why God would place such an obstacle in their way. They look for cosmic reasons for the misfortune. The hard truth is when adversity occurs, often the pain is self-inflicted. Health problems can be related to heath choices. Financial problems are usually connected to priority choices. Relational problems are usually linked to behavioral choices. Add to that the reality that we live in a world where too many folks are only concerned with their own agenda. How are we to do to respond to this obvious recipe for destruction?
Perhaps we should try singing. Why are we so quick to blame God for our calamities? Why not give thanks that God seems to never leave us no matter who deep a hole we may have dug. I’ve shared the story of Doc Watson, but I suspect each of you has a friend or family member that seems to handle adversity better than the rest of us. How do they do it? I suspect they have an unquenchable faith in God, and I suspect they love to sing, even if they can’t hold a tune.
Because he spent a good part of his early life in the spinning room of a Cotton Mill, my father was deaf in one ear and the other one wasn’t much better. Even with the miracle of hearing aids, he was pretty much has been reduced to reading lips. When more than one person was talking around him it was virtually impossible for him to hear anything because of the multiple sounds. So he would start humming to himself. My father loved music but he always sang out of tune. When Dad started humming, it was so far off key it drove the rest of us crazy. But it didn’t matter. Amidst the chaos of all the noise swirling through his head, he hummed. Sometimes it resembled a hymn. Sometimes I thought he was recreating a jazz favorite. It really didn’t matter. Whatever he was humming was a song of salvation that triumphed over the chaos.
Listen once again to the amazing words of Psalm 98. “Sing a new song to the Lord for God has done marvelous things. God has remembered to be steadfast in love and faithfulness. Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Let the sea roar, let the floods clap their hands. For the Lord will judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity.”
I can’t imagine not having a song in my heart. It would be like taking for granted that each morning the sun rose. How can one live without inspiration. I have a friend who gets excited by reading the obituaries and discovering his name is not there. I watch the way you celebrate your children and grandchildren? I’ve yet to hear a grandparent remain silent over a child’s first step or first word. So why don’t we celebrate, why don’t we sing more often? What if each morning we got up excited about the possibilities before us? What if each evening we gave thanks for clean running water, road systems, refrigeration, vaccinations, farmers, and all those unnamed folks that make our life comfortable? What if, as we prepare to retire for the evening, we spend just a moment remembering that in the best of times and the worst of times, God still knows us and God still loves us? That would certainly give us something to sing about. As the great saxophonist Charlie Parker explained, “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your own wisdom, sung. When you sing what you thought was ordinary, you create something you never imagined possible.”
Or to borrow words from Harry Chapin,
Music is our life, not our livelihood.
We sing to make us happy,
We sing to make us feel good.
We sing from our heart and we sing from our soul.
It doesn’t matter how well we sing,
It just makes us whole.
We all need to sing, not for an audience, but for our mental and spiritual health. We need to sing a song to the Lord, always remembering, that even in the midst of overwhelming tragedy or personal grief, the Lord continues to do be with us, giving us reason to sing even it might be the blues . We need to celebrate God’s hand in our lives so we can sing songs of praise, songs of joy and songs of hope.
Now I know many of you swear you can’t sing a note. So let me teach you a song you can whisper or shout each day.
Repeat after me:
Sing a new song,
Sing a new song to the Lord,
For God has done marvelous things. Amen.