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09.08.13 Why do We Sing in Worship Psalm 96 Sermon Summary

by on September 9, 2013

One could argue that the most divisive aspect of worship isn’t the Bible or the sermon, but the songs. Why do we sing in worship?

Summary Points

  • The relationship of song to prayer
  • Four reasons for singing praise to God
  • Biblical theology in a single verse
  • Really good questions for discussion and reflection

This message was developed in light of the publication of the new Presbyterian hymnal Glory to God. It originally closes with the points in the message exemplified in the music of the new hymnal.

The Directory for Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a number of beautiful passages about music in worship. “Through the ages,” for example, “the people of God expressed prayer through actions as well as speech and song.” (W-2.1005) And music isn’t just something the people of God employ in their conversation with God; God uses it also: “The Word is also proclaimed through song.” (W-2.2008)

Psalm 96 offers us a number of insights on why the people of God praise God in worship.  In verses 2-5 the psalm catalogues at least four reasons. First, praising God in song blesses God. These songs are expressions of thanksgiving and are a delight to God. As the liturgy says, “It is right to give our thanks and praise.” Second, our songs tell of God’s salvation from day to day. In other words, not only do our songs testify to God’s faithfulness to “the nations” (the groups of people who are not among us when we worship God). Our songs also remind us day to day of God’s salvation. This is necessary because though we are the people of God, we are a forgetful people.

Third, the God of Scripture is the “Most High God,” the God above all gods. We who relate to God through the testimonies of the Bible pledge our lives to this God above any other lord and god. This God is worthy of our worship, finally, because this God made the heavens and the earth. This God is the Creator, and so it is that all creation, including us, praises this God in song. The final verses Psalm 96 tell of the sea and all its creatures, the fields and all who live in them, even the trees praising God and singing for joy. This is the created world of which we are a part. Our songs simply join those of all creation.

But in verse ten, we have as full a theology of the Bible as we’re likely to find in a single verse. “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. God will judge the peoples with equity.” Three attributes of God are identified.

First, God is king. We are tempted to trust many other kings, including presidents, generals, celebrities, religious leaders, bosses, parents and most especially ourselves. But the consistent testimony of the Bible is that the LORD alone is king.

Second, there is a return to the affirmation of God being the Creator. Because God is king, and because God is the creator, the world is secure. This is an important reminder in times when we experience the world as broken, capricious, and anything but “firmly established.” Even when the whole creation sighs under the weight of sin (as Paul eloquently describes it in Romans 8), the Bible affirms God may be trusted to resolve all things and bring them to rest.

Finally, God is not just king and creator, God is judge. We judge people using all sorts of criteria: how young or old they are; how they appear; how much money they make or how much they give away; how helpful they can be to us; how much of a threat they are to us. But the Bible promises that when God judges, in some sense a final judgment, God does so with equity.

God’s judgment isn’t primarily a moral one, or a criminal one. God’s judges the world with righteousness, as the final verse says, and with truth. God’s judgment makes things right, makes relationships right, our relationships with God, with one another, and with all creation. It is true that things aren’t right because of immoral choices we make, and because of criminal behaviors. But God’s judgment is primarily about making relationships right. It is an inclusive and hopeful judgment, which is why Psalm 96 begins and ends with a call to singing a new song for the judgment of God over the whole earth.

For all these reasons, then, the church sings in worship. The new Presbyterian hymnal Glory to God invites us into this reality through song. Here we encounter the Most High God as king, creator, and judge. Here we bless God and tell of God’s salvation. Song allows us to do these things like no other way.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What is your favorite psalm, hymn, or spiritual song? What does it say about God, about you, and about our relationships with others and the world?
  • Are you more of a listener to music, or do you like making music? Are you more instrumental or lyrical? Are you more interested in singing alone or in groups? As you answer these questions, ask yourself, “why am I like this?”
  • What are some of the other “lords” or “kings” competing with God for your attention? Are there things from creation that distract you from the Creator?
  • Have you ever thought about your singing and praying as a blessing to God? How does the fact that God delights in these gifts from you change the way you do them? What other ways do you bless God?
  • How does the perspective of God’s judgment as “making relationships right” change the way you think about God’s judgment in your life?
  • Besides singing, worship, Bible reading, and prayer, what other things remind you of God’s salvation “day to day”? What happens to you when you begin to forget?


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