Sunday, April 10, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: What new song are we singing?

Easter 3: God who suffered
Revelation 5:11-13; Psalm 30

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            Word has it that by the year 2020, the Mennonite Church will have a new hymnal in some shape or form.  Steps are being taken to secure a few key persons to give leadership to this endeavor called, “Project 606”.  That’s exciting!  What new songs/hymns/choruses will be chosen and included?  What old, familiar, beloved songs will not make it into this new collection?
            Some of us are old enough to remember when this one came out, if you were in the ‘Mennonite Church’.  1969!  John and I were serving with MCC in Kenya, East Africa, from ’70-’73, and received a brand new copy from an aunt of his, who sent it to us as a gift.  It took 3 months by boat mail. We learned new songs together and treasured it for those years.  It came home with us in our trunk in 1973.  This is it!
            In 1992 when our blue Hymnal Worship Book came out, we were living in Orrville, OH and served as co-pastors of Orrville Mennonite.  I remember the excitement and curiosity when we purchased them for that congregation, wondering if our favorites were still in it and what new songs we would learn to enjoy.  What a rich resource it has become to us and many other congregations.  The very well worn hymnals in these pews attest to the heavy use by this congregation!
            What new songs will we be singing in the next several decades?  What will be the themes, the styles, the genres of music?

            Please take out your blue hymnal, HWB, and note the symbol on the front lower right hand corner…..a lamb, a traditional Anabaptist symbol.  The note on the inside states, “The lamb in the midst of the briars illustrates the Suffering Lamb of God, who calls the faithful to obedient service.  Since in the past it has been used to represent unity among believers, it is an appropriate symbol for this cooperatively produced hymnal.”

            The suffering Lamb of God is a central part of the theme for today.  The God who suffered!  (Turn in the back of HWB to 689..part of the scripture text for today from Rev. 5:11-13.  I will ask you to read that in a few minutes.)
            Last Sunday Phil began the new sermon series that dips into the book of Revelation, with all of its rich symbols, imagery and different levels of meaning.  We move back and forth from earthly settings to heavenly settings throughout the book.
            In chapter 5, John the Revelator, is standing in the throne room.  He sees in the hand of God a scroll with 7 seals!  It contains top secret information!  God’s plan for the culmination of history.  What will be the future?  A mighty angel asks who can break the seals and open the scroll?  No one in heaven, on earth or under the earth was worthy to open it or even look inside.  John wept and wept.  If no one can open the scroll, the destiny, the future of the world will remain a mystery.
            Then an elder speaks up.  One is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.  It is the Lion of Judah, the root of David.  The weeping prophet raises his eyes to see the Lion of Judah, but all he sees is……is a Lamb, looking as if it were slain, slaughtered!  This was not what John was expecting.  The Lamb that is worthy to reveal God’s future for the world is himself a victim of violence.  Nelson Kraybill writes in his book, “God’s fullest self revelation has not come with brawn and bluster to match the muscle of Rome, but with the seeming weakness and vulnerability of a Lamb.”
            Yes, the Lamb is the one worthy.  And the creatures and the elders bow down in worship, and they sang a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation.”

            (HWB 689 read dark print, me light print)
            Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice.
            Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth, wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing!”
            Then I heard every creature in heaven on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
            To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

(And the 4 living creatures said, AMEN or YES, the elders fall down and worshipped. V. 14)

            The angels break forth in joy singing a new song.  It is a song of jubilation and a newfound certainty.  They are aware that the struggles are not over but they believe that God has the last and final word and as such worship belongs to Him alone!
            The Lamb of God served, suffered, died.  What emerges out of suffering?  What new song emerges out of the deep valley of pain and struggle?  What song transcends the present pain and reaches into the divine future?...where God is in control.
We are going to reflect on a few questions together as we look at and sing one of the hymns.  Turn in HWB to 405, “Where cross the crowded ways of life”. (We will sing this one instead of the one listed in the bulletin following the sermon.)

               This is a hymn that helps us reflect on what was or is and then we ask, and where should it be taking us?  What is the new song, the new creation, the new reality?

Sing together HWB 405 (one verse at a time with some space between)
Vs. 1 “Where cross the crowded ways of life, where sound the cries of race and clan, above the noise of selfish strife, we hear your voice, O Son of Man!”
            Our lives are full, busy, crowded, noisy.  It’s the nature of our world and society. We seldom experience silence, solitude.  How can we hear your voice in the midst of selfish pursuits and pursuing our dreams?  What is the new way of being you are calling us to?  What new song can we sing?

Vs. 2 “In haunts of wretchedness and need, on shadowed thresholds dark with fear, from paths where hide the lure of greed, we catch the vision of your tears.”
            We are needy, all of us, sinful, yes, that too.  Fears plague us, anxieties about everything and anything weigh us down, and greed, temptations lurk around every corner.  When we take the time to actually glimpse your way, Lord, do we see the vision of your tears?  Are you weeping with us because you know our struggles, pain, fears, sin?  Are you weeping for us, wondering how we lost our way?  What new song will bring us back to you?

Vs. 3 “From tender childhood’s helplessness, from woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil, from famished souls, from sorrow’s stress, your heart has never known recoil.”
            You have never abandoned us, Lord.  From childhood through our adult struggles, in times of anguish and spiritual dryness when our souls are starving for you, you have never pulled away.  What new songs can keep us close, nourish our souls?  What new way of being and new way of living will restore us again?

Vs. 4 “The cup of water giv’n for you still holds the freshness of your grace.  Yet long these multitudes to view the sweet compassion of your face.”
            We are pretty good at service, Lord.  We give the cup of water.  We offer grace, but many still long for more…to see the face of Jesus and feel the compassionate arms embracing them.  What new song, new deed, new action will help to bring hope into their world again?
            In Revelation many things are new….. the new heaven and the new earth, the new universe, Christ’s redemption which brings about a new covenant and a new era.  The new song is sung because of the new deliverance brought about through Jesus’ suffering and death.  Worthy is the lamb that was slain!  The whole universe and the people of God celebrate Christ’s redemption with a new song.
 (Let these last two verses be our prayer.)

Vs. 5 & 6 “O Master, from the mountainside, make haste to heal these hearts of pain.  Among these restless throngs abide..O tread the city’s streets again, for all the world shall learn your love, and follow where your feet have trod, till glorious from your heav’n above shall come the city of our God.”

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