Synod Theme: “Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land”
Acts 10:39 – “We are witness to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and Jerusalem.”
These words of the Apostle Peter are part of a longer speech, spoken in what was at the time for him an unusual, strange, context. They were spoken in the home of a centurion of the Roman Cohort, Cornelius. It was a strange context because Peter, a Jew, was venturing on new ground. Urged on by a revelation from God through a dream that he should not call anyone profane and unclean, and confirmed by the visit of messengers from Cornelius, who himself had had a vision, Peter goes beyond the boundary. He does the unlawful thing of the time of associating with, entering the home of a Gentile, Cornelius. The story ends with good news. God confirms Peter’s actions by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, Cornelius and his family (vs. 44). Led by the Spirit, Peter crosses over the line into a strange territory and proclaims the Good News of Jesus crucified and risen. He proclaims the Lord’s song in a strange place.
The people of God throughout history, through the Old and New Testament have sung the Lord’s song in a strange land. By this I mean they have given witness to God and God’s mighty acts in places that are sometimes geographically and or morally strange, places and contexts not receptive, and at times hostile, to the message of God. This has been in slavery and in exile, under oppression, persecution, colonialism and to a nation that at times turned away from God.
Our own country can become a strange place to us. We can remain on home soil, free and enjoying all the privileges of society and find ourselves, over time, morally, religiously or spiritually in a strange environment – a place where the religious landscape, the moral values and attitudes of people have changed and at worst become anti-God. We can find ourselves in a place where a lack of reverence for things holy, a lack of respect for authority; vulgarity, crime, violence, injustice, abuse, and a lack of care and protection for the vulnerable, our children, senior citizens and the disabled become features of our society. Geographically, the landscape can remain familiar, but religiously or spiritually strange. In this context God raises up prophets, witnesses, persons who will be faithful in singing the Lord’s song. “We are witnesses” in the strange land.
The Lord’s song is not a new song. It is recorded on the pages of scripture and passed on to each succeeding generation of believers. This is the song of God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, peace, justice and salvation for all people, a song that had concrete and complete expression in the crucified, risen and ascended Lord, and which has been sung by God’s servants, prophets and saints through the ages.
We too are called to testify, give witness, to sing the Lord’s song of love, mercy, justice and salvation for all people, everywhere.
The world and Jamaica have changed. The social, economic, technological and religious landscape has changed. As a result, there have been positive and negative consequences. The world has changed, but the Lord’s song remains the same. We are still writing and sending letters, but in a different way now.
My children know nothing about going to the Post Office to send and receive letters. Our way of witnessing, singing the Lord’s song has to change.
We may need a new tune. The message of God’s love, forgiveness, justice and offer of salvation are the same; the times, however, demand that we tell the old, old story in a new, dynamic and relevant way. We have to embrace new ways of teaching the faith by using technology through our Sunday Schools.
We have to look at new ways of communicating the unchangeable truths of the gospel – of the Lord’s song. This is what our Diocesan re-visioning process, guided by the Marks of Mission, is challenging us to do; to re-examine and to find new and fresh expressions of mission.
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. This, however, does not mean that God is static. The nature (essence) of God is unchangeable. God’s attributes are constant – “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” – and therefore God can be trusted, depended upon.
In spite of the changes around us, the hearts of men and women are still restless for meaning, for God. They still need the sweet melody of the Lord’s song, of love, acceptance, forgiveness and salvation. “We are witnesses.”
The strange land can be a good place to be, a fertile field with possibilities for growth and an abundant harvest. It was in the Gentile world, a strange world, that the early Jewish Christian Community witnessed the Gospel taking root and bearing fruit. So, we must not give up or give in. As a Diocese we are at a strange place in many respects. Things look different from what they were 30, or even 10, years ago. I share with you some words of the sermon I preached last Maundy Thursday at the Chrism Mass for the Region of Montego Bay. I stated then:
In our Diocese today things look very different from the past, decreasing membership, aging congregations, reduced incomes in a climate of spiral increases in local and Diocesan expenses. Many of us bemoan aspects of the change that have taken place, and rightly so. There are, however, aspects of the change which I believe we need to recognise as a blessing that has enabled us to focus once again on the core business of the Church: Mission. Our history of being the established Church, part of the privileged wedded to the state, has in some instances numbed our senses to the real ‘issues’, the needs of our people and God’s summons for action. Part of the challenge and the cross we must bear with our congregations in our age is to lead them to a new place, a new day that God is ushering in – a new Easter.
A strange land can be a good place to be – to give witness, to sing the Lord’s song.
Brothers and Sisters, we are called to be witnesses, to give testimony to the risen Lord Jesus Christ in new places and in a changing environment. The Master Choir Director – God – beckons us to sing, wherever we are, in season and out of season, in familiar and strange territory.
Let us sing the Lord’s song, be witnesses of God’s love, forgiveness, peace, righteousness, justice, reconciliation and salvation for all people.