Let the Whole World Sing Amen
May 4, 2014
“O Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth …Let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar…Let the fields exult…Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”
– Psalm 96
As a student, this time of year is filled with a lot of looking forward, and reflecting back. It’s a time to see where I have been, and where the currents of my life may be leading me. As I am now near the end of my field education placement here at Peace, I’ve been spending time reflecting on the things that we have done together over the past nine month. We’ve gone on walks, blessed the gardens, read books, raked leaves, talked about caring for creation, planted seeds, and I hope that together we have expanded our understandings of what relationships with creation may look like.
As I’ve been thinking back on all of these things, I’ve come to realize what a truly unique congregation you all are here at Peace. You are adventurous, creative, generous, and supportive. I’ve been grateful for all of the warmth and the welcome you have offered me. The uncommon hospitality of your community was reaffirmed to me this past week as I read the beautiful article about “Dirty Confirmation Kids” in this month’s Lutheran Magazine. I love the subtitle to the article: “In Wayland, Massachusetts, the way the do confirmation has to do with the land.” But here’s the thing: it’s not just the way you do confirmation. Clearly, there is much more attention given to the land – indeed, given to the whole earth – in this congregation than there is in many other congregation across the country. If what you all are doing in this congregation – like installing solar panels, planting vegetable and flower gardens, going outside to recognize the changing of the seasons, reading Scripture and the catechism as the confirmands weed – if all of that were normal, if all of that was typical in a Lutheran congregation, that article wouldn’t have been written. You are doing something new, you are forging new ways in the wilderness, you are sowing new seeds for a new kind of Christian dialogue and model of Church. You are singing to the Lord a new song.
While thinking about what I wanted to preach this morning, I kept hearing Psalm 96 ringing in my head. “O Sing to the Lord a new song,” the Psalm sings.
…Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. (Psalm 96:1-4a)
In this Psalm we hear that we are to lift up a new song – any not just any new song, but a song that the whole earth can join along in singing. The Psalm continues:
…Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord… (Psalm 96:11-12)
I believe there is a new song arising, one witnessed to here in your congregation. I believe there is a new song arising that recognizes that there is a multiplicity of voices in God’s cosmos that ought to be heard, and not just human voices, but sea voices and field voices and forest voices and mountain voices. And sometimes, when we’re listening with intention, we can really hear those voices. We can hear what song the earth is singing. We can hear the sounds of rising tides as glaciers melt, we can hear the sounds of fires crackling in the drought stricken fields and forests of the West coast, we can hear the crumbling of mountains as the coal that lies beneath their tops is forcefully extracted.
The earth is indeed singing as well, but it sounds much less like a new song, and much more like the words of today’s Psalm 116:
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!” (Psalm 116: 3-4)
This is the song we are currently signing. Against the background of crying earth voices, we sing something to the tune of “O Lord, please bless us, because we did it! We subdued the land, it is firmly under our control! Bless us, O Lord, because we are dominant.” This is the old song. We are called to sing to the Lord – along with all of the earth – a new one.
When I took my first class on Church Leadership, I was taught that no matter what I prayed or sermon on, everything I offered ought to be said in such a way that everyone who hears the words of my mouth should feel like they can say “Amen.”
Amen is almost second nature to us in the Christian tradition, but it has deep roots. It’s a Hebrew word that has been passed down completed untranslated through Greek and Latin to us into English. It’s a word that nearly every Christian – no matter what their language – knows and can speak together in unison. And it’s not just Christians who use this word. All three of the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have a history of using it. Amen is a declaration of hearty affirmation or agreement – its English translation can mean “verily” or “truly.” The original Hebrew translation is “so be it” – a kind of “may it be so.”
So when we gather together and offer prayers, sing songs, listen to the words of Holy Scripture, and as we work together to listen to God’s call in those words, we should always be asking ourselves if we can all say amen. And not just us – because remember, the whole earth is called to sing to the Lord a new song. So, can the whole earth offer hearty agreement and a “so be it” along with us in our Christian living and worship? Every time we proclaim amen, we ought to be making sure that all of creation can say amen, too.
As Christians, with the words we offer in worship and the lives we lead in Christian witness, can the whole earth say Amen to what we’re preaching and doing? Can the whole earth sing with us to the Lord? Because until the answer is yes, there will be no new song. The new song – the song we sing in praise to the Lord with all of the earth – is a song where the earth rejoices, the sea roars, the field exults, and the trees of the forest sing for joy.
My sister and brother, we are still writing the words to our new song. Your congregation, though, has restored hope in me that our new song is in formation. Just as today’s reading from Acts tells us of Peter’s conversion of 3,000 people gathered in Jerusalem, today we need to – indeed we must – be working for a religious and moral conversion to the earth. I have hope that your efforts are leading us, and I have hope that a conversion to our new song is on the horizon.
Dear friends, my prayer for your congregation, as well as for me, as we look back on the paths that we have forged – especially as you look back on this congregation’s 50th anniversary this year – and as we look forward to the new places we are being called, is that we remember our call to sing together with the seas and the fields and the forest a new song to the Lord. A new song that lives within the testament of our lives, which recognize the earth as a comprehensive community. A song that allows us to sing prophetically about God’s incarnation and redeeming of our sin-filled world as much as Peter did to the crowd he gather and converted in Jerusalem. A song where, as Wendell Berry says, we humans see our place and role in the universe as completely dependent on the habitats of the Earth, all of which have intrinsic value independent of human needs or want. Friends, I pray that there be an ever-resounding chorus of amens throughout our communities and throughout all of creation. May we continue to worship and work, study and sing, pray and play together in an effort to let the whole world sing together — amen.