You may listen to Father Mullen's sermon here.
O sing unto the Lord a new song, the Psalmist encourages us. But what exactly does this mean? We Episcopalians are well-known to prefer old songs to new ones – even though we allow the occasional new song into the mix. How can we take this verse of the psalms seriously?First of all, we accept that the Psalmist is speaking metaphorically. A new song doesn’t have to be a song: it can be a soup recipe, or a coat of paint, or the hinge on a door. It could be the first time you went to church on a day other than Sunday. It could be the way you said grace silently before you sat down to your food last night, or maybe out loud. It could be the way you called your mother for the first time in months. It could be the urge you are feeling for forgiveness – either to give it or get it.
A new song doesn’t have to be composed of music, it could be the dusty Bible you picked up for the first time in ages and actually read. It could be the $5 bill you slipped into the hand of someone begging on the street. It could be the way you finally un-crossed your arms when he talks to you. It could be your decision to finally go see the doctor. Or it could be your willingness to try giving up the … whatever it is you need to give up. It could be the gym you just joined, or that you finally stopped coloring your hair because why not let people know you are going grey? It could even be your pledge of support to this parish – maybe you never made one before.
O sing unto the Lord a new song, the Psalmist says. But it doesn’t have to be a song made of music.
Here’s a new song for you: Several months ago our property manager, Mark, who had heard me griping about how hard it is to see in church, now that my eyes are well and truly middle-aged, did something extraordinary. He went around to all the lamps that hang above the pews there where you are sitting, and he retro-fitted them with am amazing piece of technology. He took out the old 300-watt bulbs, and he checked the circuitry carefully, and then he replaced those 300-watt bulbs with 500-watt bulbs. And do you know, that with brighter bulbs in the lamps, it got easier to see!
Recently, our weekend sexton, Jason, noticed that it was not so easy to see the image of the crucified Christ on the Rood Beam, there in the chancel arch. Jason is comfortable on a ladder, so he dragged out a tall one, and he took the old bulbs out of the lights that shine on the Crucifix, and he replaced them with brighter bulbs. Almost immediately I was hearing comments about how much easier it is to see this central image of our faith!
It’s amazing what you can do with brighter bulbs!
The church needs to go through this process from time to time. We need to look around and find the old things that worked perfectly alright, but which may have become dim or outmoded with age. It is a matter of wisdom to be careful about discerning the baby, splashing there in the midst of the bathwater, but it is process of discernment that needs to be tended to one way or another. It’s called singing unto the Lord a new song. And it helps! Brighter bulbs have put a new song on my lips – it’s easier to read the words in the hymnal as I process up the aisle each Sunday. I hope you find it easier too!
But, of course, it’s one thing to say that brighter bulbs are a good thing. But it is quite another thing to realize that the brighter bulb, too, is a metaphor. Under normal circumstances in the church these days, a metaphor like this one would be deployed for a singular purpose. Normally, someone in my position would sketch out a metaphor to people in your position, distinguishing the dim bulbs from the brighter ones, because I needed you to see what dim bulbs you have become. And I confess that as I survey the church beyond Locust Street, I sometimes despair at the dim bulbs I see flickering around us.
But today I have a different reason for deploying this metaphor. Because sometimes when you change the bulbs, and it gets easier to see, but you haven’t bought new lamps or anything obvious like that, people notice a difference, but they can’t quite put their finger on what it is. And today, my purpose is to tell you that it’s brighter bulbs. But remember, it’s a metaphor, so I am not really talking about the bulbs! What am I talking about?!?
I’m talking about you! Do you realize what bright bulbs you have become on this block, in this city, and for our larger church?
Yesterday morning, after our 20s and 30s fed nearly 200 hungry people soup, dozens of you were outside making the gardens look as good as they have looked in years, and the Choir and dozens more were in here singing Choral Mattins. A few weeks ago, I was serving drinks in my office, following a lovely service of Evensong & Benediction, while AA meetings met in the Parish Hall, the Choir was using the Choir Room, the Ministry Residents were congregating in the Rectory kitchen, and the Boys & Girls Choir rehearsed in the Rectory Parlour. This is to say nothing of ministry that continues to go on at Saint Mary’s, Bainbridge Street, the Church of the Crucifixion, the Welcome Center on 22nd Street – all of which this parish has contributed to meaningfully one way or another – and, of course, at St. James School, and City Camp, which we founded.
I want to tell you that it takes some bright bulbs to do all this work for the kingdom of God; it takes some people who are ready, willing, and able to sing a new song! And I want to tell you that Saint Mark’s has not always looked like this; our lamps have not always been so brightly lit!
You probably know that today is Commitment Sunday, and if you do, you may have come to church expecting me to talk to you about money, and the importance of your pledge of financial support – which is, indeed, important, so I hope you have come today prepared. But generous giving, good stewardship, meaningful discipleship all begin with a new song on the lips and in the hearts of God’s children.
Brighter bulbs shed more light. And sometimes you have to stop and realize just how much more light is shining around you. You, my friends, have somehow increased your wattage, from where I sit. And it is something to behold, I can tell you. You have become brighter bulbs! What more can I say to you? I can encourage you to continue to sing unto the Lord a new song. Or, to put it another way: keep those brighter bulbs burning brightly!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
17 November 2013
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia