Sunday, October 19, 2014

T.B.A.: Psalm 96:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-9

Sunday, October 19, 2014
After Pentecost
Proper 24
Year A

I reference a playlist in my sermon and thought I'd share it here along with the sermon podcast. Enjoy!

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.” There is little doubt to be had that the Apostle Paul loved the churches he served in. Oh, he could get fired up, but his love shows in abundance in his letters. The personal bond he had with the churches he wrote to is evident.
            Paul’s love especially shines through in his letters to the church in Thessalonica. It is little wonder Paul loved this church so much. Many of the letters we have that he wrote to churches are addressing all sorts of quarrels and conflict. Sure, the Thessalonian church wasn’t perfect – not even Liberty Presbyterian is perfect, as super as it is. But the Thessalonians seemed to be doing something very right. That is clear right from the introduction of this letter.
            We see it especially in the end of this morning’s new testament reading: “7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. . .They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.[1]
            The Thessalonians were serving God in ways that people were noticing. They had turned from their idols and found the Messiah that the majority of the Jews of their time had missed.
The Jews in Thessalonica- the people who would have been logically the easier to convert to the new way – for the most part rejected Christianity. The church there was largely made up of former pagans who were converted by the few Jews who did decide to follow Paul.
Many of Paul’s Jewish peers had trouble seeing Jesus as the Messiah because he was not the sort of messiah they had been waiting for. They were looking for a messiah who would free them politically and change the world to look how they envisioned it. The Messiah Paul was talking about was just some Nazarene hippy rabbi talking about love and peace.
The Jews were still waiting. Waiting for their Messiah.
But even the Christians in Thessalonica were waiting for something. Look carefully at the very end of the passage. “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.[2]” The church in Thessalonica truly believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime.
The Jews still waiting for their Messiah to come and free them from political bondage and the Christians waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The waiting that Paul is talking about is a different sort of waiting than a passive and close-minded waiting for God to move on human terms. There was a robust movement to this church’s waiting. There was a tangible excitement and feeling of expectation in their waiting.
This is a difficult sort of waiting – this opened ended waiting for something you have no control over. We don’t like being left hanging. Have you ever seen that a certain something is “T.B.A.?” To be announced. Or even worse. . . TBD: To be determined – which means that nobody has figured that particular detail out yet. I really love my calendar and my to-do list. Probably a little too much. So when I see an invitation or flyer of some sort that says one of the details is “TBA” I want to cry.
My reaction is probably a little bit extreme, but I know I’m not the only person who hates waiting. In a world of instant gratification, waiting is perhaps even more difficult than it was for those in the ancient Greek world Paul knew.  
God offers something in the waiting, though, if we are just willing to stop staring at the sky and look around us. Even in their waiting, the Thessalonians proclaimed the incredible acts of God around them. They became a model and an example of Jesus in their world. There was no formula for them. . . they just loved Jesus and it showed.
This morning’s Psalm is a Psalm of praise that starts off by saying “Sing to the Lord a new song!” As a singer, I always get really excited by passages like this. I maintain that there is no such thing as someone who truly can’t sing, there are only people who have been told they can’t sing, but I understand that not everyone gets as excited about singing as I do and that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes, I get a little too excited about things and this is one of those things I probably get a little too excited about –
Right alongside my calendar and my to-do lists.
Sometimes, when I get really excited about a passage of scripture, especially a Psalm, I put together a musical playlist of it. So this week, I made a playlist of songs that are musical versions of Psalm 96 – I found 42 of them without much effort - and I spent a lot of time listening to these songs. Some of the songs are ones I know pretty well, some are great ones I’d never heard before and some are pretty weird. But it’s interesting to meditate on a piece of scripture musically like that and to hear different people’s interpretations of it. Some of the songs focused on the joy in the Psalm and were really exciting musically. Some of them sat in the reverence and fear of God and were very mellow and earthy. But all of them. Every. Single. One. . . focused on the word “new.” All of the other words were shuffled around to make them fit better musically, some were replaced with a synonym, but it was always a “new song.”
The more I thought about it, the less comfortable it because. See. . . the songs I like to sing best are the ones I know. I like to sing songs I know every note and beat of – songs that are familiar – songs other people have said I’m good at singing. New songs are hard. New songs require creativity and thoughtfulness and purposefulness and practice. New songs are uncomfortable. They are exciting at first, but it’s not long before you start missing notes and getting really self-conscious about it.
And that’s exactly the kind of song God is asking for here. Psalm 96 says that God deserves a new and exciting song. Prepare to miss a few notes here and there because this isn’t the same old same old.
The Psalm is not just literally talking about music here. If you’d like my opinion on literally what songs we should be singing in church, let’s go out for lunch some day when you have 4 or 5 hours to spare and I’ll talk to you about my master’s thesis. What the Psalmist is talking about here at the core is exactly what the Thessalonians were doing. God is asking for a new and exciting sort of waiting. An active waiting. A waiting that looks to the world around it and says, “What is God doing that I can get in on?”
John Calvin says that service is a part of worship. The way we live the Christian life when we’re not sitting in a church service is part of our liturgy, just as much as our hymns and our calls to worship and our prayers. It’s a part of a healthy liturgy and life of praise. What we do with the other 167 hours in our week is worship, just as much as the hour we spend together in the sanctuary. So in our other 167 hours per week, are we singing a new song of what our living, acting, and reigning Lord is doing in the world, or are we simply singing the same old song we’ve always sung? Are we singing of what God is doing right now in our lives and community or are we singing somebody else’s song? While we wait for the redemption of creation, while we wait for revitalization of the American Church, while we wait for whatever it is that’s labeled “TBA,” what song are we singing?
Paul says, “The Lord’s message rang out from you.” The active waiting in the Thessalonian church – the way they looked around at our ever moving, ever acting God and sang a new song of God’s new works – drew in the least likely people. Theirs was a fruitful waiting. That’s how Paul knew it was a good waiting. They might have been off in their timeline, as 2000 years later, we’re still waiting for Jesus’ return, but they were waiting in the right way – expectantly and actively and it showed. Their love for God and for one another showed – it was fruitful.
Last week, we got to celebrate a baptism. This week, we are delighted to welcome new members. In a few weeks, we’ll be having a membership class and in January, we’ll be starting a confirmation class. The adult Sunday school class is starting an exciting new curriculum. There are new songs beginning here in Liberty. One of the things that struck me very early on about this church was the willingness to sing new songs. The eagerness for a new song! So now, it’s our duty to honor God by continually looking around us, spotting the new songs and singing them. Some songs are longer than others. Some are more exciting. Some only have a few instruments or singers and some take the whole orchestra, but our God is on the move – always was and always will be. There is always a new song to sing. Instead of waiting for the old song to fit what’s happening around us, we set it aside, fondly and with care, and we pick up a new song for a new day.
There are times in which we all get stuck waiting for something like the Thessalonians waiting for Jesus. In those times, we must look around us for the new things God is doing and to sing a new song of praise with every bit of what we say and do. In our worship services, in our Sunday school classes, in our fellowship times, in our offices and schools, in our streets, in our grocery stores, in our homes. . . everywhere. That is the glory that is due God.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Th 1). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[2] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Th 1). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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