This is the first in a series of five columns in which Bishop Ray discusses aspects of the 2003 Convention theme: Sing to the Lord a New Song.
The ability to sing the Lord's song is a recurring theme in Israel's history. Sometimes the theme is joyful, at others it is dark and forbidding. The forbidding side of the theme is expressed in Psalm 137, where we read:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How could we sing the Lord's song
in a foreign land?
Israel was in exile; the temple and everything that supported its religious practice were in ruins. The Israelites were not sure that they could retain the faith or hand it on to their children when all of the usual supports were missing.
Those conditions in Babylon remind me of present conditions in Canada. We live in a pluralistic society where the church is only one among many historic religions, none of which has any particular social approval. The secular-scientific world view is the dominant paradigm, and materialism drives the culture. Teachers of literature, history and art find that they must adapt their instruction to accommodate the lack of Christian memory in the present population of young adults. Our membership and resources have dwindled.
Yet, to quote the ELCIC's Constitution, "The mission of this church, as an expression of the universal Church and as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people in Canada and around the world … ." We are to sing the Lord's song in a land that has become foreign to us.
The joyful side of our biennial theme is expressed in the post-exilic psalms like Psalm 149:
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats… . .
Israel learned to sing the Lord's song in exile and it witnessed to the nations when it celebrated back in Jerusalem. When it did sing, it became a blessing to all among whom they lived.
It is not necessary to have optimum conditions in order to be faithful. God can be praised in all places at all times. The praise we give God, when it is acted out in our love and respect for others, is a powerful witness. It won't be the same song we have always sung. It will be a new song, adapted to the place and time in which we find ourselves.
-- Bishop Raymond Schultz