When Will We Sing a New Song?

Psalm 40:1-10 June 28, 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWX-YraDuIk

It was just 2 weeks ago I was at the Synod Assembly in St. Peter on the campus of Gustavus. It was Sunday morning and I was getting my breakfast and looking for a place to sit. I sat down with some pastors I know but most of the table of people were unknown to me. I’m not always much for conversation over breakfast, so I was content to do the cursory introductions and then I dove into the yogurt and poured my coffee. I don’t know what exactly had been said, but my head snapped up as the man sitting next to me said, “Well, just like all them Mexicans don’t have drivers licenses.” All of the Mexicans? What?

I am sad to tell you that I was speechless. I didn’t find my voice to defend all of the Mexicans that had just been lumped into this category that brought this man obvious disgust. I couldn’t find my voice to ask a question about this conversation I hadn’t been paying attention to. Soon the conversation shifted and I was incredibly devoted to my breakfast.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I felt convicted. I still do. It was a terrible feeling. But it’s really not about my feeling better, being comforted for my lack of voice. What it’s about is God’s people being underestimated, oppressed, generalized, marginalized. I didn’t do anything to challenge it. And I shouldn’t feel comfort about that. I shouldn’t be put at ease. I just want everything to be ok and to feel better. But feeling better is not the answer. Having my guilt put to rest is not the answer.

The psalmist sings today he put a new song in my mouth. Which means the psalmist is looking backwards at a time when, perhaps, there was great lament, great grief and sadness. This is a “re-oriented” psalm – a psalm that has landed on its feet again in faith and thanksgiving, but does not forget what it’s been through. Maybe the Psalmist had been held captive in a war. Maybe they’d lost loved ones in the war. Maybe they were suffering under an occupied state. All of these things are possible for the psalmist.

When in your life have you regained your footing and been able to give thanks to God after you’d been up to your neck in trouble? Isn’t it an amazing feeling to have your head break through the surface of the water and you take a big, deep, greedy breath of air that you can’t remember taking in a good long time? Perhaps it’s been persistent doubt or faithlessness or distance from God. Perhaps it was an illness or divorce or a break up. Or financial troubles, or the death of someone, or depression and anxiety or sickness. I wonder about the relatives and friends and parishioners in Charleston and the lament they are in and when they’ll get on their feet again. When their psalm will change. When will God put a new song in their mouths? This psalm reminds us there is light at the end of the tunnel, that God is faithful to us. But we don’t forget the journey of the long, dark tunnel. God hears us and acts. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

Yes! The psalmist gives credit to God for the turn of events. In my study of this psalm I discovered, to my delight, that the line I waited patiently for the Lord has more of a feeling of “I waited and waited and waited for the Lord” which is a more accurate reflection of my faith life, in my conversation with God and not all that patient, quite frankly. Do you wait patiently? I often don’t. And perhaps that is how God feels about us, too. God is probably waiting and waiting and waiting for us to stop hurting one another. I imagine God grieves that people still die of hunger every day and that 3 black churches have burned in 4 days and for every 1 white male there are 6 men of color in United States prisons. I imagine God grieves continuous wars around the world and the ill treatment of women and children in all countries. I think God is impatient with our apathy.

He put a new song in my mouth. When will our song change? How does our song change?

God does not wave a magic wand but works out the nuances and the subtleties in our every day lives, writing a new song for us to sing, bit by bit, day by day, experience by experience. Perhaps showing love is having a conversation with someone you disagree with and still, by the end of it all, know that you still love them. Maybe our song will begin to change if we use this incredible gift of social media to find black authors and black reporters and black preachers and black politicians to listen to and have our ideas of how things are changed, enlarged. Maybe we need to listen more than we speak. Putting ourselves in places where we will be made uncomfortable helps us to listen and see in new ways. It has the ability to change the song we sing so that we can share it with others.

All week I’ve been singing the refrain from the U2 song called 40, named after this psalm. “I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.” A beautiful refrain taken right from the psalm, perhaps singing that new song God has put in his mouth. Yet listen to this – the song then falls back into this lament: “How long must we sing this song? How long must we sing this song?” The lead singer, Bono, impatiently waiting for God to hear his cry and change his song.

It is God who changes the song we sing and then God gives us the voice to sing it out for all others to know and see and hear. I am still searching for the new song to sing in the face of blatant racism. Some days it will feel like you wait and wait and wait for the Lord. I wonder about the folks in Charleston as they wait for their lament to turn to praise again in some distant future. I wonder how our song is changing as a country: as we sing “love wins” and still lament racial violence and inequality.

What I do know is that God does not give up on us. God forgives us. We hear words of forgiveness each and every week. We come to the table to receive forgiveness each and every week. It’s offensive because it seems out of order. Like we haven’t earned it. We’re undeserving. We’re still a mess. Racism still exists. Which is exactly the way grace works. It does not erase our memory or our past experience of sin. Forgiveness does not condone our behavior. Forgiveness is not a divine pat on the head and a “it’s ok.” No. Forgiveness transforms us, transforms our sin and gives us a future, even a new song. We wait and we wait and we wait for the Lord. God will come near. God will hear us and change us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Comments

  1. Sandy Tracy says:

    I’m not sure if this was a sermon or just a collection of your reflections. Anyway thank you for sharing this experience about breakfast at the synod assembly. Remembering to honor your speechlessness is a sign of new understanding and growth. My first reaction has been to respond with something that isn’t well thought out. Gradually, I have learned to think and reflect more before speaking about a topic that enrages me. Your wisdom to share this experience with others is the highlight here. There is no single correct response to conversations like the one you stepped into. The conversations must continue., but in a respectful, loving way. I recently was in a potentially difficult conversation with someone who sees difficult situations like immigration in a completely different way from me. As we pondered the topic of respect, I was told that “respect” is at the bottom of his list when talking about controversial issues. Fortunately, for both of us, I did not react to his statement. Instead, I commented silently to myself, how amazing that this person does not value respect as a tool for listening and understanding. I learned a lot about his story and need to learn more. We must continue to have those difficult conversations, but sometimes, as you demonstrated, the best response isn’t immediately clear to us. Thank you for your insightful example.

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