Each morning before even getting out of bed, I am still and listen for my animals. Can I hear the chickens singing their egg songs - to make sure that everyone around knows that they just produced new eggs? Can I hear the distinct sounds of my sure-footed goats hopping over logs, foraging for breakfast, and calling out to the others to come and taste something new? Has Arnold, my cat, taken his place at the door and started demanding his morning meal?
And I always know if it's raining because the usual morning farm sounds are absent. The goats stay in and the chickens hold off on their singing. Even Arnold prefers to sleep in. At first, I will only hear the sound of rain. It's as if the animals have made some secret pact to never speak on rainy mornings. But, then, when I listen a little closer and with a bit more focus, I can hear the sound of birds. The sounds are not melodic like the early morning songs of a nightingale, but I'm clear that my four ducks, are in fact, singing songs. While every other animal takes cover in the sheer distaste for rain - the ducks waddle their way to the farthest edge of the property. They find the biggest puddles in the entire yard, and they make a joyful noise! They quack in a cacophony of delight and joy as water anoints their feathers and washes over their wings.
The Psalmist in today's appointed psalm instructs the people to sing songs to the Lord, because of the marvelous things that God has done. Recalling historic victories in battles and celebrating a longstanding special relationship with God, the Psalmist wants the people to sing because of the Lord's past record of showing steadfast love towards a particular group of people.
There's this great emphasis on taking notice of the things that have already happened. The early verses of the Psalm essentially say: Hey, y'all, remember all of those past sunshiny days? Remember when you felt victorious? Those days when we were on top? Remember those? Then y'all, let's sing with gratitude like we're still living in those days. Let's sing to the Lord and let God know that we haven't forgotten all of the wars that we've won.
You see my friends, the message in the beginning verses of Psalm 98, is so simple: God has done great things for a chosen people - so they ought to sing. And I imagine that for some of those people, this all made sense to them. They embraced this narrative that God was responsible for their victories in battle and they believed that the might of God was expressed in the form of smiting their enemies. So, with images of past sunshiny days running through their minds like a slideshow presentation, I'm sure that many of them began to sing to God.
But then the lyricist makes this beautiful turn and changes the rationale for the invitation to sing. As if able to foretell a future when critics would rightfully balk against singing praises to God for selecting one group of people over another... As if suddenly realizing that people have reasons to sing even when they are no longer on top, even when the sun is not shining, even when they are captured and living in exile... The Psalmists realizes that there is still good reason to sing and shifts the narrative.
After verse 3, no longer is the singing to be in celebration of past bloody battles won. Instead, the lyricist invites all of creation to sing praises to God, because of who God truly is: A God who will come and judge the world with righteousness and equity for everyone.
No matter your position or station in the world - sing, says the Psalmist, sing! Sing to the Lord because the God that we're singing to, doesn't actually play favorites! Sing to God, because the One who created all things will come again and restore equity to all. Sing to God, even on the rainy days, even when you know that you're not on top... sing to God because you have hope of a future when God makes the hills low and lifts up the valleys so that we all are on the same level - able to see each other, just as we are: all made in the image of the One who created us.
Sing, says the Psalmist, and just in case singing isn't your thing, the Psalm gives us permission to simply make a joyful noise! You need not sing in four-part harmony - any joyful noise will do. The invitation is to make joy with whatever instrument one has. If you're human, then pick up the brass and stringed instruments. If you're the sea and the creatures therein, roar your praise; floods, clap the earth with song; give praise to the God whose might is made known through displays of a radical love for everyone.
Now, let me be clear: I'm not naive. Friends, I've read the newspaper and listened to the news, so I know that things are complicated in our world right now. It's safe to suggest that as we consider the various tragedies of our recent American experience, we aren't exactly living in sunshiny days. I get that. And I recognize that as individuals, our lives can be very complicated and hard: there's disappointment and grief, illness and loss. Those things are real. So, it makes sense that during rainy days - during difficult times - the temptation is to clam up and take a vow of silence and not say anything at all about or to God. Friends, I get that impulse to shut down, but today, I echo the Psalmist and invite you to sing a new song to God. Resist the impulse to become moored in silence on those rainy days, and instead sing, not because of any easy story of the good ole days gone by, but sing because of the hope that comes from the promise of a day when God will restore all things and all people. Sing, dear Friends, because of the joy in knowing that God's grace is renewed every morning and God's faithfulness endures forever.
And the next time it rains, I invite you to imitate my four ducks. Go! Find the biggest puddle around and make a joyful noise as the heavenly waters wash over you and fill you with delight and the simple beauty of it all.
Let us pray.
Holy and loving God, thank you for choosing all of us to be your people. Please help us to work for righteousness and equity in the world, so that we might all be drawn closer to you and your will. In Jesus Christ's name we pray, Amen.