Friday, May 01, 2009 12:00 AM
Photo by Rod Long via Unsplash; licensed under CC0.
One song can change your life. Just ask Susan Boyle.
Are you one of the thirty nine million people who have watched her Britain's-Got-Talent video on YouTube? It seems the whole world is talking about Boyle and this internet phenomenon. She has gone from an unknown and unemployed church volunteer to global star overnight−all because of a song.
Songs can have a powerful impact in people's lives. If you are searching for a summer preaching and worship theme why not consider the hymn/prayer book of the Bible−the Psalms. No other book of the Bible has inspired as much music as the book of Psalms. So this summer, instead of telling the story, try singing the song. SummerSong is a preaching series that will focus on the Psalm appointed for each Sunday. Its theme is broad enough for preachers to be faithful to both the Bible and lectionary, without seeming forced or contrived. Having a preaching theme for the entire summer is an effective way to generate and sustain interest in both worshipers and preachers.
Why preach the Psalms? Many congregations have lost the Psalms in worship and rarely hear sermons based on them. By focusing attention on the Psalms, pastors can lift up for their congregations this often neglected resource for preaching. I can't remember the last time I preached on a Psalm as the primary text for a sermon. This website recently added regular weekly commentary on the Psalms, no doubt to encourage preachers to venture into this overlooked homiletical territory.
I write this having just returned from a weekend retreat at the Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine monastery two hours north of Sioux Falls. The monks gather to pray four times a day, with three to four Psalms spoken or sung at each service. It was a rich feast for our souls. We experienced what Martin Luther said about the Psalms when comparing them to other prayer books, "Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard."1 What a recipe! Pour in some juice, a generous helping of strength, a dash of passion and sprinkle of fire and you end up with a summer feast for your congregation. SummerSong!
In addition to preaching the Psalms why not also sing them? This will require some coordination and advance planning with musicians. Some of our favorite hymns are inspired by the Psalms. One thinks of Psalm 46 and the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," or Psalm 130 and the hymn "Out of the Depths." Is there a hymn that connects with the Psalm? Tell the story of how the author came to write it. This might require some research, but there are several good devotional books that tell hymn stories.
There is no lack of commentary on the Psalms. In addition to this website, I want to commend to preachers the wonderful commentary on the Psalms by James Limburg (Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), filled with wonderful anecdotes from his life and ministry.
SummerSong is a series that could help both preacher and congregation intentionally enter a book of the Bible too long neglected in the pulpit. In his preface to the Psalms Luther commended this book: "The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book, if for no other reason than this: it promises Christ's death and Resurrection so clearly--and pictures His kingdom and the conditions and nature of all Christendom--that it might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible." 2
One song can change your life. And in preaching the songs of the Bible we encounter the Christ who makes all things new:
"Christ is the summing up of all the psalmists' laments and suffering--he bears it all on the cross. He is the bearer to us of all the forgiveness the psalmists knew, all the gladness they voiced, all their joy in God's abundant life. And if we preach the Psalms to our people and couple their songs with the New Testament story, our congregation will learn the proper responses to God's love. They will find themselves forgiven and transformed into the new Israel of God. Indeed, they will know themselves sent to tell to all the nations what God has done and said." 3
1Quoted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.
2Luther's Works 35, p. 254
3Elizabeth Achtemaier, "Preaching from the Psalms," Review and Expositor 81 no 3 (Sum 1984): 449.