“Let’s Sing a New Song”
A new song? The Bible asks in Ecclesiastes…is there anything new under heaven? Maybe that’s a question two song writers should have asked themselves. Recently, a jury found pop musicians Pharrell Williams (Happy) and pop star Robin Thicke guilty of copyright infringement because their song, "Blurred Lines," had too much in common with the Motown classic, a Marvin Gaye song, "Got to Give It Up." The singers have been ordered to pay $7.3 million to the estate of Marvin Gaye. Though the ruling will likely be appealed, it does highlight the significance of what it really means to sing a new song. Yet this is what the Bible tells us to do… to sing a new song to the Lord and tell of the wonders the Lord has done.
Three Psalms begin with precisely these words — Psalms 96, 98, and 149- “sing to the Lord a new song.” Isaiah 42:10 and Psalm 33:3 include it as well. Psalm 144:9 adds its voice to the chorus, “I will sing a new song to you, O God.” Bible scholars tell us that when Scripture repeats itself, we better pay attention. Psalm 40 helps us understand why. The psalmist has “waited patiently for the Lord” for deliverance. God hears her, and rescues her, and one of the things God does for her is…God “put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).
A transition time like this, is a golden opportunity to sing a new song. I can start singing right now… but you don’t want to hear my raspy, off-key voice. (Do you know at one time, back in the 1800’s, it was illegal to sing off key in North Carolina? I could have been arrested). Off key or not, whether you feel like it or not, ready or not, it’s time to sing a new song to the Lord. Yes, it can be scary; an anxious time filled with a jumble of mixed emotions, but we have to keep telling ourselves that God is with us through it all.
As you enter the opening phase of the transition period, you’re being challenged as a congregation to start thinking of the new song you’d like to sing. It’s not that the old songs are shelved or forgotten, or you forget who did what and when. Like the radio where there are stations that play the oldies but goodies, or the classic country or rock, the church always has its classics that will be observed and the oldies but goodies that will still be enjoyed. These things are still important.
The first phase of the interim process is to celebrate and understand your past. It’s kind of like when a congregation gets a new church hymnal. Everyone can enjoy the old, familiar songs but soon you find new songs to sing that speak of where you will go next and what the Lord has in store for you as the people of God. And like with a new hymnal, sometimes it’s easier to just sing the old, familiar hymns while avoiding the effort or anxiety of learning to sing a new song to the Lord. That’s natural, but it’s vitally important to understand the interim period as a golden opportunity for the congregation to imagine what the future will be like and what you might anticipate a new pastor will need to bring to the field. In a very real sense, that’s the reason you’ll be calling an intentional interim pastor. I can’t sing worth a hoot, but I know some interims who can, and the one you choose will help you find some new songs to sing as Hidenwood Church turns the page to a brand new chapter. What’s the Lord have in store for you and who is God readying to be your next called pastor? That’s what the transition period is all about. This is a season of discernment, prayer, soul searching, dreaming and most important, listening.
In Proverbs we hear how important listening is. Proverbs 18:13 says…The one that answers a matter before hearing [it], [is] a fool and an embarrassment. (paraphrased) Then in Proverbs 19:20 we’re told…Listen to counsel, and receive instruction, that you may be wise over time. (paraphrased) So, now is a time to listen before anyone acts. The leadership needs to hear what you have to say in hopes that you all can come to an understanding of who and what you are as a congregation, what you hope to be as a church over the next 5-10 years and what kind of person you may need to lead into that God inspired future as your new minister. (Does that make sense?)
Some of you are familiar with the interim process in a Presbyterian congregation. To make sure a congregation is prepared to welcome a new pastor, an interim minister, or what I like to call the pastor between pastors, will guide the church through a process. Between now and when your new pastor arrives, the church will work through five dynamic focus points designed to prayerfully look back, look around, and look ahead. Lots of prayer is needed at each stage to make sure the process is being guided by the Holy Spirit. And our Presbytery is going to be walking with you all the way. Here’s the 4-1-1 on the 5 Focus Dynamic Points
- HERITAGE: Coming to Terms with History
It is important for congregations to know their history so that they can appreciate their heritage and at the same time be aware of any past issues and concerns that may need to be resolved in order to move freely into the future. An honest look at where the church has been can be a great help to the congregation as you look ahead to what comes next. (You’ve done some of this in your goodbyes to Rev. Lamont.)
- MISSION: Discovering a New Identity
Identity is the task of understanding "who we are now in our present situation and community context, and what it is we understand God is calling us to be." It is the task of developing the vision to which a congregation is being called. A thorough self-study of the church, the community where church finds itself, and its mission is vital to discovering where the congregation needs to go next and what kind of leadership is needed to guide the church there. Goals and objectives based on the self-study and the church’s core values will guide the search for a new pastor. (Here at Hidenwood, you’re already doing this and you have a great head start.)
- LEADERSHIP: Shifts of Power/Leadership Changes
In most congregations over a period of time the leadership begins to take on much of the style and values of the previous pastor. When that pastor leaves, there is often a time when persons who have been in leadership rethink their commitment and determine whether or not they want to continue in leadership positions. Other persons often find the interim time an opportunity to take on or reengage in leadership roles. Elders (and Deacons) may be asked to ‘step up’ and take on new roles while staff may be asked to fill in or adjust schedules or pick up tasks no longer being done by the pastor. This is a golden opportunity (I like to say) to empower those who have been out of leadership to reconnect, and to welcome new leadership gifts from all parts of the congregation. Those who join the church in the interim period often find it easier to move into volunteer and leadership positions.
- CONNECTIONS: Rethinking Denominational & Local Church Ties
Congregations often are not aware of the support and resources they receive from their Presbytery and PCUSA headquarters. These relationships become more visible as the structures of the church beyond the congregation are engaged in working with the congregation in moving through the interim period and to find the right pastor to call. The transition time helps raise the awareness of a congregation to its denominational heritage, theology, polity, ministries and resources. And often this is a time to rediscover the rich history and theological depth that come with being a Connectional Church. Training for the local Pastor Search Team and access to a nationwide PCUSA pastoral database are part of the process. (I’m getting your started with the breakfast discussion about some basics of our Reformed, Presbyterian faith. If this sounds interesting, I hope you’ll join us next Sunday for breakfast and a bit of lighthearted fun with theology.)
- FUTURE: Commitment to New Leadership and to a New Future
When a congregation has developed a shared vision of its future and has extended a call to a pastor to help guide it in moving into that future, there will be a new commitment both to that new shepherd and to that new future. The Holy Spirit will have worked through these five movements and bring the church to the point of celebrating new pastoral leadership and a bright future.
Hidenwood Church is about to sing a new song unto the Lord…what’s that going to sound like? What’s the melody, the tempo, or the time signature? Will the new song be more classical, new wave, easy listening, contemporary, country, or a good ol’ gospel song? Maybe a mix of all of these or something brand new altogether? Only God knows...but you’ll help make it a reality by adding each and every voice of member and friend into the mix.
I wanted to close today’s sermon with a story behind our next hymn to demonstrate how people of faith sing to the Lord a new song. Holy Holy was written by Jimmy Owens, who, with his wife were some of the earliest contemporary Christian songwriters back in the early 1970’s, when I was a new believer singing along to their new songs in a Christian coffeehouse in downtown Niagara Falls, NY. Looking for the story behind the song, I found that Jimmy Owens website was abandoned. I did some searching and found a link to another web page where they announced their retirement from performing. Their farewell notice highlights my message today. Jimmy and Carol Owens, now living CA write:
We're supposedly retired, but only in the sense that we no longer have an organization, (website) and a staff. Both of us still work almost every day, mostly writing songs. We're working on two books and a couple of songs at the moment. We feel that this phase of our lives is the time to pass on what we've learned to others. Some years ago, a friend described those who make music in ministry as "God's flower garden." No two of the plants are alike, and they don't all flower at the same time. We prayed for one of our group who was in full flower at the time, with gold records and audiences of thousands. Afterward Carol said to me (Jimmy) "I think I see what our time is in God's flower garden. We're going to seed." We laughed, but we realized that this was a new calling from God. We had had our flowering time, and now it was time to fall as seed into the lives of a new generation of songwriters and musicians. We had done some teaching, but now we were to major on it.
As one chapter closed in their life as singer/songwriters, another opened that has allowed them to encourage others to sing to the Lord a new song. In much the same way, Hidenwood is turning the page, moving into a new season and now it’s your turn to start writing a new song unto the Lord. I wonder what that will sound like. Amen.
 Ecclesiastes 1:9