Scripture: Revelation 5:1-14
If you have younger kids or grandkids then there is a really good chance that you long ago lost count of how many times you have heard the lyric, “We don’t talk about Bruno-no-no-no.” Even if you do not have any children around you, there is still a decent chance you have heard the song from the Disney movie Encanto, because it is a huge hit. “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” is Disney’s most popular song in almost 29 years. It is the first song from a Disney movie to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard music chart since Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” in 1993. For music critics it is a bit of a head scratcher as to why it has achieved such a high popularity. Unlike some of Disney’s other huge hit songs like Frozen’s “Let It Go”, the song does not stand on its own as well. On the surface level, “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” is a bunch of people gossiping about a family member. To truly understand and appreciate the song, requires really knowing how it fits into the overall plot of the movie. Despite that the song has become a huge break-away hit which has led several musical-savvy journalists to look into why. All of the songs from Encanto managed to bring together a couple of rising trends in popular music. Specifically, musical theater pacing and Latin music influence. However, one of the biggest reasons credited to the success of “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” is how unique it is. The song feature multiple voices that constantly weave in and out with each other. Each unique voice also has its own unique melody and throughout the song these melodies constantly interact with and stand beside one another. It is a musically complex song, and it is thought that is one of the reasons why it is so popular. Simply put, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is unique, it sounds radically different, and it stands apart from the crowd. The secret to the song’s popularity is that it sounds like a completely new song. This morning’s scripture also points out the importance of a “new song.” As We Don’t Talk about Bruno shows, a new song that stands apart is noticed. As we consider this morning’s scripture perhaps we can learn our how lives can be like a new song so we glorify God and deepen in our worship.
This morning’s scripture comes from Revelation, and reading scripture from the last book of the bible can always be tricky. It can be tricky because it is so easy to be distracted. We can get caught up in the fantastical imagery such as depicting Jesus as a slain lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. We can get caught up in the endless debate of how literal or metaphorical the book of Revelation is to be understood. When we get caught up in those details, we can sometimes miss the greater point the scripture is communicating. In this morning’s particular scripture it does not matter if we understand Revelation to be a description of a literal vision or a spiritual metaphor, because the point is the same. This morning’s scripture describes exactly why Jesus is worthy of all worship, honor, and praise.
Verses 9-14 of this morning’s scripture contain a heavenly song of worship. It is worth noting that this worship song is described as a “new song” because that phrase has biblical significance. For instance, Psalm 96:1 declares, “Sing to the LORD, a new song; sing to the LORD all the earth.” This is just one of many psalms that contain the phrase and it is also found in prophets like Isaiah. In the Old Testament the phrase a “new song” appears to indicate God’s continued presence in the world. The places where the phrase appear speak of how God is not static and distance but involved in the world and bringing about new acts of deliverance and blessing. This is why a “new song” is needed.
This morning’s scripture describes exactly why this new song is sung and why Jesus is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. Jesus is worthy because on the cross Jesus was victorious and the grave could not keep him. Jesus is worthy because even though he was slain, he yet lives. Jesus is worthy because by his blood we healed, and by his blood our sins are washed away. Jesus is worthy because people from every tribe, every language, and every nation have been reconciled to him who sits on the throne. This morning’s scripture firmly establishes why Jesus is truly worthy of worship. This morning’s scripture paints a beautiful picture of the king of kings and Lord of Lords being worshipped in the heavenly realm. As we read this remarkable imagery, I think one of the questions it should prompt us to consider is how are we worshipping the lamb who is worthy?
To begin to answer that question though, I think we need to step back and answer a more fundamental question. What do we mean when we say we worship. It is a word we us regularly, but I think it is a word that we struggle to properly define. Trying to define worship is also not the easiest thing to do, even the dictionary struggles. It defines worship “as the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity.” That cold and clinical definition may be true but it also completely fails to really get across what worship is, how it is done, or why it is done. In looking for better definitions of worship it struck me how similar so many of them are. Writing in the 1970’s, Quaker theologian Richard Foster defined worship in his book Celebration of Discipline. He wrote, “Worship is our responding to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father.” Almost twenty years later Methodist pastor and academic Don Saliers wrote in his book Worship as Theology that worship “is our response to the self-giving of God.” Then in his 2007 book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation United Methodist bishop Robert Schnase wrote, “Comprehending the meaning of worship requires looking beyond what people do to see with the eyes of faith what God does.”
Worship is our response to what God has done and who God is. We can almost view it as a cause and effect. God acts and the effect that causes is we worship. This morning’s scripture has already established what God has done through the mighty acts of Jesus. This morning establishes how God has acted in a merciful and gracious way, which leads back the question how are we worshipping the lamb who is worthy? Certainly, our presence here this morning is a large part of our response to who God is and who God has done. A generation or two ago, about the only option on Sunday morning was to go to church but that is not the case anymore. I am fully aware that there are golf courses, lawn and garden shows, sporting events, Sunday brunch specials, and a whole host of things that you could have done on this morning instead of come here. Yet, we come to church because it is our response to who God is and what God has done. We gather with the family of God to give thanks in prayer, to praise through song, and recognize who God is through liturgical reflection. Truly, we are here to worship God.
Maintaining a weekly ritual of a gathering is certainly one of the ways that we worship God. Coming together every single Sunday is a way that we respond to what God has done and who God is, but it does not need to be the only way. This morning’s scripture joins a long biblical tradition of encouraging us to worship with a new song. This does not mean we should feel compelled to trade out our favorite hymns with more contemporary music. There is still plenty of space in Christian worship for songs that have spoken to the hearts and souls of believers for decades. The year it was written is not all that makes a new song new. Remember the secret to the success of We Don’t Talk about Bruno is that it was radically different than what has been done before. Perhaps the way we can worship with a new song is not to switch out the literal songs we use, but instead our lives perform a new song when we respond to who God is and what God has done in a completely different way.
Certainly, on Sunday morning when we pray and when we worship that is an act of worship. However, we can and we should be worshipping God the other six days of the week. While we can worship through acts of private prayer and devotion, our acts of worship need not be constrained to that. Remember, worship is our response to who God is and what God has done. Anything we do as a response to how we have experienced God is an act of worship. We can give of our time to serve others, because God has so graciously served others. If we volunteer and serve others as a response to what God has done for us, then that is an act of worship. We can be a source of encouragement to others through intentionally sending cards and notes, because God has given us a reason to have hope and joy. If we encourage others as a response to what God has done for us that is an act of worship. We can advocate for, provide support for, and stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized in society because while we were at worst and still sinners, Christ died for us. If we seek to care for those who need it the most as a response to what God has done for us, then that is an act of worship.
Not only can all of those things be an act of genuine, spiritual worship but they can be a new song. Remember that in the bible the phrase “a new song” is used to celebrate new acts of divine deliverance or blessing. A new song in the bible is a way to proclaim God’s continued activity and presence in the world. Today, God is still active and present in the world. God is still moving and God is still at work, so we should still be singing new songs. In our expression of worship we can honor our tradition, but both as individuals and as a congregation we should be open for and looking for new ways to worship, new ways to respond to who God is and what God has done. We do not need to always do things the way we have always done things. We can and we should try new things, new ministry opportunities, and new expressions of faith in how we respond to who God is and what God has done. Again, as “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” shows, doing something that is different than what has been done before can attract the attention of people. When our acts of worship attract the attention of people outside the church then God is glorified, and by the power of the Holy Spirit disciples might even be made.
In this morning’s scripture may we focus less on the fantastic imagery and more on the deeper message. Jesus is worthy of all our worship. Jesus is worthy because of who Jesus is, so may we respond appropriately. May we worship with our music and our prayers but also with our actions. May we be intentional in our lives to respond to who God is and what God has done for us. May our response, whatever it may be sing. May our response to God join with the voices of many angels numbering thousands upon thousand and ten thousand times ten thousand, and we our response proclaim: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever! Amen.