Advanced celebration of mission accomplished

Chris Wright, December 2003

Adrian Snell drew extensively upon the 'old words' of scripture in his moving and challenging musical performance.

Adrian Snell drew extensively upon the ‘old words’ of scripture in his moving and challenging musical performance.

The following is a shortened version of the address given by Chris Wright at our 20th Anniversary Celebration on 15 November in Cambridge. Chris has been involved with the Jubilee Centre directly or indirectly since its beginning and currently chairs the Advisory Board.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the LORD , for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.

(Psalm 96:1-2,4,11-13 (NIV))

The task I have been given is to lift up our thoughts and our hearts to the future. Psalm 96 is very suitable indeed for that purpose. There is a wonderful universality within this Psalm, celebrating God’s involvement with the whole world: all people and all of nature – the heavens, the earth, the sea, the fields and the forests.

A new song

The psalmist says: ‘Let us sing a new song about the name, salvation, glory and mighty acts of the Lord.’ We might say: ‘Well, hang on a moment! Those are very old words.’ Its lyrics are as old as the songs of Israel : the old, old stories of Jehovah and his love for his people.

What, then, makes this song new? It is going to be sung by new singers in new places throughout the world. This is the task of Christian mission and Christian action, the kind of work that the Jubilee Centre does. It is taking the realities of what God has been and done and, as it were, realising them as something to be celebrated, earthed and brought again to fresh reality among new peoples and in new places.

Displacing the false gods

In verses 4–9 the psalmist tells us that this new song must displace the old gods of the nations. The singers of this new song are all the peoples of all the nations of the whole earth. But the audience of this song is one: the Lord, the living God of Israel, the God other than whom there is no god, says Deuteronomy.

If it is the case that there is no other god, then there is no place for the old gods of the nations among whom Israel lives. The psalmist calls for their radical displacement. These other gods cannot stick around because only the Lord God is great and worthy of praise (verse 4).

What does this say to the Jubilee Centre? It reminds us that part of the task of being involved in any form of Christian work and witness, mission or ministry, is that you confront false gods, the gods of our culture, the gods of oppression, injustice or violence. You get involved in the real-life issues of debt, poverty, oppression or war. And you actually confront, as Paul would say, not just flesh and blood but the principalities and powers, the forces of evil and the idols that are worshipped within our culture.

There is a spiritual battle involved in the kind of work that the Jubilee Centre does. Christ and the cross and the living power of our redeemer God have to be as central to our social action as to our evangelism. I believe this passionately. It is one of the reasons why I am so committed to the work of an organisation like the Jubilee Centre that is seeking to live out the kingdom of God in the power of the cross amidst a world full of idols.

The music of the future

The third section of this song is where the future gaze of the psalmist comes in. This is ultimately a new song that will transform the old world we live in. Verse 10 contains the climax of Psalm 96, the praise with which many of the other Psalms actually begin: ‘Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns”.’ The Lord is king – that is the message of this new song. It is the proclamation among the nations that the Lord God of Israel, the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ is now, always has been and always will be, the king of the universe. Our God reigns.

Here is a song which puts before our eyes a transformed world. So what then will the world be like when the Lord reigns, when this Psalm is fulfilled? What is it celebrating in advance, in the language of my title?

A reliable world. First of all it is a reliable world. Verse 10 says: ‘The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.’ This points back to the stability of the world as God created it, the way God wants the world to be: a stable, reliable, trustable environment.

We know that our world today is anything but that – it seems above all things to be characterised by instability, chaos, total uncertainty and despair. Whether you look at the world of nations or the world of nature, so much seems uncertain and unpredictable, and therefore scary and fearful. Rogue states, rogue viruses; global debt and global warming. It seems that we just have no control. As Leonard Cohen has put it in one of his songs: ‘Things are gonna slide, slide in all directions. There won’t be nothin’, nothin’ you can measure any more.’

To that the psalmist says: ‘Yes, but this new song celebrates the inversion of this chaotic world by the transforming power of God’s new world order.’

A world of righteousness. Secondly, in verse 10 and also in verse 13, this new song proclaims a world of righteousness. We know that this is not the way our world is at the moment – it is a place of injustice, oppression and violence, full of unrighteousness. Our psalmist says, ‘Yes, but this new song proclaims a different world order and announces it in advance. The reign of God will be a reign of justice and peace.’

We know, standing on this side of Galilee, Calvary and the resurrection, that the reign of God was inaugurated by Jesus of Nazareth, through his birth, death, and resurrection. And Jesus tells us that God’s reign of justice and peace is already being ‘mustard seeded’ in the present world order by people who are committed to the kingdom of God and his justice. So already, agencies like the Jubilee Centre are indeed about the business of bringing this reign of God’s righteousness and peace into the world.

A future of rejoicing. And that is why, thirdly, the future that this new song celebrates is a future of rejoicing (Psalm 96: 11, 13). The psalmist says: ‘Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.’ There is a note of cosmic joy and jubilation that flows through the final verses of this Psalm.

Once again we have to say that our world is not like that. Our world is a place filled with so much sorrow it is almost unbearable – think all of the pain and tears, the weeping and mourning. We should be grateful that we only have finite hearts. Imagine what it must be like for God to be presently conscious of the totality of human grief. And we should think not only of the horrendous pile of human suffering but also, as this Psalm would remind us by the inversion it is suggesting, of the mourning and sighing of creation itself, as it groans under the weight of the violence, pollution and destruction that we wreak upon it.

And to all of this our song says: ‘Yes, but God is coming …he is coming to judge the earth.’ (Psalm 96:13) In Hebrew ‘to judge’ means to set things in order, to put things right, to get things sorted out. So when God comes things will be put right and all creation will rejoice.

Dancing to it today

This new song is a message of salvation for the whole of creation. It is not just eschatological, it is also ecological. The new creation is holistic not just evangelistic. That is why this is such a relevant song for the work of the Jubilee Centre. It lifts up our eyes and says: ‘What you are doing is part of God’s future.’ We sow the seeds; we point the way; we do acts which are signs of the future. But, ultimately, we know that only when God comes will things finally be put right.

There is a wonderful saying by a retired Episcopal bishop: ‘Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future, and faith is the ability to dance to it today.’ In a sense, although it may not often feel like it, the Jubilee Centre in its work is dancing to the music of the future. It is already acting out in the present what God ultimately will bring to pass.

So, this new song takes us out into the world. It calls us to sing this song to the nations, to rekindle the truth of the old world of scriptural revelation. It also takes us out into the world to challenge and displace the old gods and to take them on, in the name and power of the living God and of Christ. It calls us to say to them: ‘Thus far and no further! You will not rule for ever over the lives and destinies of human beings!’ Finally, it is a new song which celebrates in advance the transformation of this world into the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.

Let our work, then, be a celebration of joy! Joy in what God has done, joy in what God is doing today, and joy in what he will ultimately complete.

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Category: News and Reviews

December, 2003

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