Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! (Psalm 149:1)
Last Sunday I enjoyed sharing with you a brief history of the hymn books we’ve used here at St. Paul Lutheran Church since 1912 (with the exception of the Lutheran Book of Worship from 1978 and Lutheran Worship, 1982.) Many new songs have been sung by the people of our church for generations, and I’m joyful and thankful to God that we added another “first” to our long, rich history of firsts: singing the Scriptures from Divine Service Setting Four in The Lutheran Service Book (LSB) at the 10:45 service. New songs can be a joy to sing and give praise to God as well as receive His strength and comfort through their words.
The new eventually becomes the familiar when you’ve experienced it more than a few times and that goes with just about everything in the church. For example, law and gospel preaching was new during the time of Martin Luther and the reformers. Now it’s quite familiar to us Lutherans and we wouldn’t have it any other way because we know we repeatedly need to hear about sin and God’s remedy for it in Jesus Christ. The hymn “Amazing Grace” was once a new song two-hundred years ago, but we’re all quite familiar with it now. The Lutheran Hymnal was new in 1941 and was a great blend at the time of the new and the familiar. The same goes for the LSB and, like everything else, will become more familiar to us over time.
I’ve heard it from a couple of people who left our church to find a new one that they did so because they got tired of the same old thing—the same old songs, the same old liturgy, the same old message, the same old calendar of events and so on. It’s difficult to address this when the Christian Church is grounded on truths that don’t change and seasons which come, go, and return again with absolute dependability. Church leaders often struggle with the question: how can we make things seem new to keep people interested? And from my point of view as a preacher, how do I continue preaching when everyone knows what I’m going to say?
There’s a lot to be said though about familiarity. Think of those family gatherings that happen every year such as Thanksgiving. What do you expect to eat? Knowing what’s going to be served doesn’t lessen your enjoyment of it. Rather it nourishes it. On a day like Thanksgiving, most of us wouldn’t have it any other way than the familiar.
The same is true for the Church. Christians return to certain teachings and songs of the faith because they want to hear what is familiar and have their faith nourished by God’s Word. Our worship services celebrate something central, foundational, powerful for our faith and we expect that. Why? Because what God has done for us and all people needs saying again and again.
Happy Thanksgiving and may God bless you and keep you,
Pastor Don, Jill, Alex and Aaron