“How Can We Keep From Singing?”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
September 20, 2015
Psalm 148 & Mark 9:33-37
On a day like today, how can we keep from singing? Take a moment to consider all that we’ve seen and heard up to this point in the service. First, six of God’s people, coming from many different places and with many different experiences, confirmed their faith in God and promised to be faithful members of this congregation. Next, Megann and Jarrod presented their sweet boy, Charlie, for the Sacrament of Baptism. We’ve sung beautiful music accompanied by a gifted organist and the choir prayed on our behalf for us to be like all those faithful people who have come before us in life and faith. We confessed our sins and heard once again the good news of forgiveness from the Gospel. We’ve affirmed our faith using the ancient words of the Apostle’s Creed and affirmed the covenant God made with us when we were presented for baptism. And along with all of this, whether we sit in the sanctuary or not, the abundant, timeless, and irrevocable love of God is ours today and always.
Honestly, on a day like today, how can we keep from singing?
The answer is that we can’t, we can’t keep from singing. The psalmist knew this, which is why more than half of the 150 psalms are psalms of praise, songs of gratitude to God. The psalmist calls for everything to sing to God in Psalm 148: the heavens and the angels, the sun and the moon, the turbulent waters and raging storms, the cedars and mountains, snow and frost, rulers of the earth, men and women of all ages, the young and old together. Jean Calvin, our forefather in faith, writes that, “The praise for which the psalmist asks arises from the realization that inanimate matter—stars and rain, for example—did not create themselves, nor come into being by chance; they are created by the great Craftsman himself”. Then writing about animate objects like you and me, Calvin says, “The psalmist calls on men and women to acknowledge God’s majesty, for all from the least to the greatest, regardless of sex, are bound by this common rule of acknowledging the divine goodness”.
The psalmist and Calvin agree: nothing in all of creation comes into being by accident or by chance or by coincidence. Every time the sun rises and then sets, and the moon does the same, God is there working the mechanics. When the seasons change and Spring rain gives way to Summer heat, and when the Summer heat smoothly glides into Fall and the snows come in Winter, God is there guiding them in his perfect timing. As the mountains rise up out of the sea, and the seeds of plants and trees rise from the ground, God is there decorating the landscape to our amazement. When life grows inside the wombs of mothers, God is there knitting the human family together into a fearfully and wonderfully made miracle. All of these things are bound together in praise, in song, because in every snowflake and hail storm, and in every new and old life alike, God is there doing what God alone can do. We can’t keep from singing, we have to praise God for everything God has done and promises to do.
Today, we have to praise God because the Body of Christ that we call the church has just grown by one. In baptism, Charlie became a member of God’s big family throughout the world that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus commanded his disciples, the first twelve and you and me, to go into the world, baptizing all people in the name of the Triune God. Today we visibly fulfilled that command and God is pleased.
Baptism is a beautiful thing, the symbolism and meaning is deep and rich. Our faith teaches that every person born is brought into this world in the grace of God. This grace is what fills our lungs with the breath of life and helps us to grow and mature in God. Our faith also teaches that we are born with the stain of sin, the inheritance we received from Adam and Eve and The Fall. Inside every human heart there is a competition between the light of God and the darkness of sin. The Sacrament of Baptism is taking a stand to say that the the darkness will never triumph over the light. When we go down into those clear and mysterious waters, we spiritually die with Jesus Christ to the power of sin and darkness. When we rise up, as Jesus did at the resurrection, we rise with him, clean and committed to seeking the light. I think baptism marks us as those that the darkness shouldn’t mess with, and though sin is a reality for the entirety of our lives, it never has the final say…God does.
In Charlie’s baptism we are called to recognize that he is a child of God, beautifully created in God’s image, washed of sin, and filled with God’s light. That’s big stuff. That’s important stuff. This is why so many promises were made even before his forehead got wet. Charlie’s parents promised to be committed disciples of Jesus Christ, since the best way to teach the faith is by example. They also promised to teach the faith to Charlie, the faith that names him as God's and accompanies him all his days. Charlie’s family made promises and we did too, to support Jarrod and Megann and Charlie as all three in faith. All of these promises are meant to be kept so that as Charlie grows he will know the fullness of God’s love for him and the world, and so that he will grow into a faithful Christian who loves God and his neighbors as himself. No Christian, child or adult, is meant to live the faith alone; we need each other. Today Charlie became one of us, God’s family grew by one, and we are called to holy work in his life. We can’t keep from singing, we have to praise the Lord!
Today we have to praise the Lord because this particular part of Christ’s Body also grew today. Joining a church is an important step in any Christian’s life, and we rejoice that God decided to add these brothers and sisters to our family.
Those who joined the church today have come to this place and time from different places and many different experiences, even from various expressions of Christian faith. Here in this congregation they have found a spiritual home, and in part I think it has a lot to do with who we are. In this congregation we study the Scriptures honestly and carefully, recognizing that the Bible is a living and transforming testament to God that has to be studied and discussed. In this congregation we prepare men and women of all ages to follow Jesus Christ, with education and worship, service and prayer. In this congregation we compassionately serve one another and those in need, not because we think Christian faith is about charity, but because we know how richly we are blessed and how those blessings are multiplied when they are shared. All of these things together make this a congregation where God is present, where faith is honest, and where we love each other and share life together.
But that is just a part of why these brothers and sisters have become members here. Sure, we are nice people, we welcome everyone who comes through the doors, and we really know how to put a meal together. But that is just one part—the other part is God. Without the spark of God’s divine inspiration, nothing happens, church membership included. Something moved in these folks and prompted them to join in our common life. Maybe it was a search for deeper faith; maybe it was a desire for a better life; maybe it was a need to be included in God’s plan for a fairer world. It is hard to say; that is between them and the Lord. But God brought them here to this place and time, and we are committed to journeying with them through life, come what may. I say it again: no Christian, child or adult, is meant to live the faith alone…we need each other. Today our church family has grown, and with these new brothers and sisters God will continue to lead us in ministry that transforms you and me and the world. How can we keep from singing? We can’t. We have to praise the Lord!
On the subject of growth and family and God’s power, I have to praise the Lord today because in just six days two families will become one as Katie and I join our lives together in marriage. If someone were to have told me in the beginning that I would meet the love of my life after moving to the Wild West I would have called them a few more things than just crazy. I’ll never forget my first trip to Oklahoma, a place where I had never been in my life, fully expecting tumble weeds to blow across the road. I may have even expected a nightly shoot-out on the town square. But what I found in Oklahoma was beyond my wildest imagination. It is a place where faith and love of neighbor were a necessity in the early days that is a way of life today. It is a place where families of all shapes and sizes and variations are sacred. And it is here that I met my love, and it is here that we are blessed to start our life together. God works in mysterious ways. So how can I keep from singing? I can’t. I won’t. I have to praise the Lord!
The psalmist is right, and so too is Jean Calvin: giving praise to God is our duty. It is our duty because without God, nothing would be that is. We have to praise the Lord because of the beautiful creation that we enjoy, that sustains our life. We have to praise the Lord for the miracle of life. We have to praise the Lord because of the faith that has been passed down to us through countless generations. We have to praise the Lord because of Jesus Christ, the one whose death and resurrection sets us free from sin. We have to praise the Lord for the Church, the place where followers of Jesus live as his disciples. We have to praise the Lord for baptism and church membership and the gift of love and unexpected blessings and trials-- all of these are given because of how powerfully and unconditionally God loves each of us. We have to praise the Lord because this is God’s doing, by no power of our own, and we can do nothing but sing.
So let me ask you: how can we keep from singing? How can you keep from singing? We can’t. You can’t. Join me in praising the Lord. All together now...Praise the Lord! Amen.