I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING

I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING
A sermon on Psalm 98
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
May 16, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His right hand and His holy arm have
gotten Him victory. Psalm 98:1


From grits to the University of Georgia to the Atlanta Opera, humorist, best-selling author, and
newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote about it all. Grizzard rose to fame as a syndicated columnist
for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For years and years, his columns regularly appeared in the
newspaper a couple of times a week. They were also published in more than 450 other papers across
the country as well. His observations about life in the South were often hilarious, sometimes thought
provoking, occasionally infuriating, but never less than entertaining. I remember that his columns were a
frequent topic of discussion around the Dakin supper table when I was growing up. My parents were big
fans…
This is one of my favorite Lewis Grizzard quotes. It gives you a good taste of his writing style and
subject matter. The quote goes like this: “Anyone who puts sugar in the cornbread is a heathen who
doesn’t love the Lord, and probably Southeastern Conference football as well.” (Whereas that seems a
bit harsh to me, I have to admit that I agree with Mr. Grizzard. I am not a fan of sweet cornbread
either…)
One of Lewis Grizzard’s columns that I remember reading years ago was titled “Just Give Me
that Old Time Religion.” In it, he reminisced about growing up in Moreland, Georgia and attending the
local Methodist church there. He recalled his pastor, the Reverend Floyd Tenney who always “kept it
simple and kept it where a young boy could get some idea of what the Methodist gospel was all about.
[He also] kept it where you didn’t doze off.” Grizzard talked some about the music in that church of his
boyhood where “The choir in Moreland Methodist was occasionally off-key, and it didn’t have any fancy
robes…but when they rendered ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ it was a thing of beauty and a joy
forever.”
Then he contrasted his experiences of his youth at the Moreland Methodist with those of a “bigcity Methodist church” that he had recently attended. Reflecting on the service, Grizzard wrote:
The people were nice. The minister gave a thought-provoking sermon on repentance. But they spent at
least ten minutes lighting candles. The choir was in fancy robes and sang something that could have
been opera…We were asked to sing the first and third verses of some ponderous Christmas hymn with
which I was not familiar. And right across from it in the hymn book was “Away in a Manger.” I still know P a g e | 2
all the words to “Away in a Manger,” but we didn’t sing that. Concerned about this, I turned to the
hymnal’s index. I did find “The Old Rugged Cross,” but “Precious Memories” wasn’t in there…
I want to sing the old songs. I want to sing “Precious Memories” and “When the Roll Is Called Up
Yonder” from that old brown Cokesbury hymnal… It took a big-city church to make me remember how
good it used to feel on the [town] square at Moreland Methodist, where I married the first time, where I
said goodbye to my mother and where they will say goodbye to me one day…Yes, give me that old time
religion…1
The opening words of Psalm 98 are in stark contrast to the thoughts expressed by Mr. Grizzard
in his column. The psalmist does not long for the singing of the old songs out of the old hymnal. Nor
does he desire to experience “the old time religion.” NO—not at all. Instead, the psalmist declares in the
very first verse of Psalm 98, “O sing to the Lord a NEW song, for he has done marvelous things…”
Let’s unpack that for a minute. What does that mean, “Sing to the Lord a new song?” Does that
mean there’s something wrong with the old songs? Are the old songs are out of date? Does that verse
mean that the old songs are no longer useful for the worshipping community?
Back in the ‘80’s when “contemporary worship” was a hot, new trend in many churches, I heard
a story about a Lutheran church in the Midwest that may or may not have been true. It was said that
this particular church decided to go completely “contemporary” in their worship services. Consequently
they got rid of their organist and hymn books and hired a praise band to provide the music. And it is said
that the decision was made by the leadership to not sing any songs in worship that were more than
twenty years old or that were in a minor key…I heard that story from two different sources, but I have
the sneaking suspicion that it was probably apocryphal…At least I hope it was…But if it wasn’t, I wonder
if that church is still around. Did it eventually change its decision about the music in worship? Or did it in
some way come to regret it?…
While the psalmist says to “Sing to the Lord a new song,” obviously the community of the
faithful did not simply discard the old songs out of hand. Instead, they took care to write them down
and preserve them as vibrant expressions of faith and trust in God. This is what we have in the book of
Psalms—a collection of songs for public and private worship detailing the spiritual lives and struggles of
God’s people that were written over a period of hundreds of years. Even though the psalmist calls for
new songs, it does not mean that the old songs were to be discarded…or abandoned…or ignored…
So why does the psalmist call for new songs to the Lord? The psalmist does that in recognition
of the fact that God is still at work in the world and still at work among his people. God’s creative work
did not stop at the end of Genesis chapter two. No—he is still in the process of working and creating to
make all things new…

1 www.ajc.com/news/just-give-me-that-old-time-religion/UE0oNxESUasJuQYPxT1x1L (Accessed May 4, 2021)
Emphasis mine.P a g e | 3
Carl Daw is considered to be in the first rank of those who are writing and publishing new hymns
today. He is an Episcopal priest who has published a number of volumes of new hymns. Some of his
hymns have made their way into hymnals of many different denominations and theological
perspectives. (Sadly none of them managed to find their way into our hymnbook.)
I had the opportunity to chat with Carl during a Hymn Society conference, and I asked him what
inspired him to write new hymns. His answer surprised me. He said, “Nowhere in the Bible does it say
‘Sing to the Lord an old song.’ There’s a reason for that. The central truth of the Christian faith is Christ’s
resurrection. And resurrection implies newness. That is why new songs are needed to express our faith.
It is because God is in the business of resurrection…”
So it is with the writer of Psalm 98. Psalm 98 does not disparage the old familiar songs. Instead,
he calls for new songs of praise and adoration because of the wonders of what God is doing among his
people and what God is doing in the world…not only what God has done in times past…not just in years
gone by…but right here and right now.
Many of the psalms in the Bible tell the story of God’s miraculous actions in leading the people
out of slavery in Egypt, through the forty years of wilderness wanderings, and into the Promised Land.
They are old songs that proclaim the deeds of God in times long past. One Old Testament scholar
classifies this type of psalm as “psalms of remembrance.” They focus on the past as they tell the story of
God’s intervention in Israel’s history. These psalms celebrate God’s enduring love by remembering his
creation of the world, his redemption of the exodus and his establishing them in the land of promise.2
They are songs intended to teach and celebrate God’s actions in history…And they were a treasured and
vital part of the community’s worship.
Psalm 98 makes a compelling case for all of creation to join in praising God, for all nations to join
in a new song, recognizing that God alone is God, the creator of the universe whose power and majesty
call for our response of praise. And yet, sometimes we just don’t feel like joining in, do we? It just seems
so rote and routine…it seems as if we do it every week—it is the same old thing over and over
again…Why is it that sometimes praising God seems to be a less-than-meaningful exercise?
Perhaps it is because praise has become so clichéd and commonplace in our society that it has
lost its power to invoke reverence and awe. One of the greatest of the 20th Century’s spiritual writers
was Thomas Merton. He admitted that he sometimes felt that way and suggested why this may be so
for many Christians. He wrote that in our culture:
Praise is cheap today. [That’s because] everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing,
mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make our lives more
comfortable—everything is constantly being “praised.” Praise is now so overdone that everybody [has

2
Tremper Longman III, “Psalms” The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
2014), 41. For examples of this type of psalm, see Psalm 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136.P a g e | 4
been inoculated against it], and since everything is praised…nothing is praised. Praise has become
empty…Are there any superlatives left for God? [No…because] they have all been wasted on foods and
quack medicines.3
There is more than a little bit of truth in Merton’s observation about the cheapening of praise in
our world, isn’t it?…
So what are we to do? I think the key for us is to recapture the significance of praise in the
church. We do this by keeping ever before us the fact that the God we serve is one of wonder and awe.
Our praise comes with the understanding that even the most exalted words that we can use to address
God still falls woefully short of the majesty and glory of almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, the
One who was…and is…and is to come. Even our highest thoughts…even our loftiest language is not
enough to communicate more than just a tiny bit of who God is and what he has done…and what he
continues to do in our midst and in our world. Yes—our words are inadequate…but that does not negate
the truth that our impoverished language attempts to communicate. So we continue to praise God “with
all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength…”
One more thing before we leave Psalm 98 this morning…The last verse—verse 9—in the psalm
includes an unexpected twist. At the end of the psalm, it says, “[The Lord] is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
At first glance, it may seem a bit strange that a psalm joyously celebrating God’s steadfast love
and faithfulness would end with a note of judgment and the anticipation of the coming Day of the Lord.
It appears to be a bit incongruous, doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem like it belongs with the rest of the psalm…
Our understanding of Judgment Day is that it is anything but joyous and an occasion to look
forward to. That’s because of how we conceive of the coming of God’s judgment. We tend to see it as a
courtroom in which God is the prosecuting attorney bringing charges against us, and we are the
defendants who are on trial. If God is the one accusing us of our wrongs, then surely we all have plenty
of reason to fear the coming Day of Judgment. All of us are guilty. None of us are blameless. None of us
are without sin…
But that is not how the ancient Jew understood the coming day of the Lord. He saw God’s
coming judgment as something to actually look forward to. He understood himself as the plaintiff in the
case—the one whose complaint is being heard in the courtroom. Those outside of God’s people are the
ones who are the defendants—the ones who are on trial. And God plays the role of the prosecuting
attorney. So for the ancient Jew, Judgment Day was not a time to be feared. Instead, it was a time when

3
Thomas Merton, Praying the Psalms (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1956), 5.P a g e | 5
he would be vindicated against his adversaries. It was the time when the wrongs that others had done
against him would be judged and that the evildoers would be punished accordingly by the Lord.4
So for the child of God, there is no reason to fear the judgment that is coming from the hand of
God. Psalm 103 tell us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those
who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a
father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
The Apostle Paul explains it like this in Romans 8, in language that echoes the courtroom of
God’s Judgment Day. Paul writes, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is
God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?…Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God and is also
interceding for us…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither
the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” For the glories of this
new relationship to God in which the love of God is freely made visible in us and through us, we should
“Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done marvelous things…”
Here is a song based on Psalm 98 that speaks of the themes of the psalm. It’s not exactly a new
song, but a great song nonetheless by the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. I am sure that you know the
words of this song—at least the first stanza, for sure. Sing with me:
Joy to the World! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and heaven and nature sing!
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love, and wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.
That’s a song for the whole world to sing!
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.

4
This understanding of God’s judgment by the ancient Jew is from C. S. Lewis’ book Reflections on the Psalms. I
cannot put my hand on it to give the proper citation.

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