1 Sing for joy to God our Saviour; shout aloud to Jacob’s Lord! 2 Start the music; strike the timbrel; play on strings a pleasing chord.
3 Sound the trumpet at the New Moon and at the full moon as well, 4 At the feast by God appointed and decreed for Israel.
5 God ordained this law for Joseph when he ravaged Egypt’s land; There we listened to a language which we did not understand.
6 He said: “I removed their burdens and their aching hands set free. 7 I delivered you from trouble when you called for help to me.
“From the thundercloud of Sinai all your people I addressed; When at Meribah you murmured, there I put you to the test.
8 “Hear, my people, let me warn you— if you would but listen now! 9 No strange god shall be among you; to a false god do not bow.
10 “I, who brought you up from Egypt, your own God, the LORD, am I; Open wide your mouth towards me, and your food I will supply.
11 “But my people would not listen— would not do what I required. 12 So I gave them up to follow what their stubborn hearts desired.
13 “If my people would but heed me, Isr’el follow my command, 14 I would soon subdue their en’mies, and against them turn my hand.
15 “Those who hate the LORD would cower, and their doom would never end. 16 But with finest wheat I’d feed you, honey from the rock I’d send.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Stuttgart (from v11) here.
So often we think, in churches, that if we changed the music, and made it a bit more upbeat and modern, that our problems would be solved; people would come flocking to Sunday worship. Would that it were so simple! The honest answer to our churches’ dilemmas over attracting people to Sunday worship is that it struggles to have any relevance to many. It is out of the normal experience of so many: sitting for an hour and listening, singing, sharing a text – often with no explanation or context – and having to learn how to behave in a strange setting.
Today’s reading encourages us, however, to sing God’s praises. (It even has “Selah”, meaning a space in the reading for a musical interlude!) It goes on to remind the people that they have chosen a path that separates them from God and calls them to turn back. As churches we are encouraged to share the Gospel, sing God’s praises and help people to hear God’s call on their lives. So often our solutions are to tinker around the edges trying to make worship appealing to those who currently do not attend. The world has changed and moved on and people still need to hear the Gospel message of love, but we need to be brave, radical and authentic, making it audible and accessible to those we walk with in life. We need to ask ourselves: What is it we believe? Why? How does that affect how we live? How can we more effectively communicate what Church is (not just a place where we have to fit in, hoop jump or sing the right songs)? How can our actions and words speak of Jesus and his radical and transformational ministry? Then the Kingdom comes and all of creation sings!
Loving God, we know we encounter you in worship which makes sense to us, helping us to feel safe and close to you. We also know, for many, there is no connection with you until a relationship has developed. Help us to be your hands and feet in the world, living the Gospel, sharing blessings and telling others of you, beyond the safety of our church walls. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills, Minister at Newport Pagnell URC and West End United Church, Wolverton. Convenor of the URC Children’s and Youth Work Committee.