There are many verses that are used in sermons on music in the Church, but this one rarely comes up in a discussion on worship:
Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT
“C’mon. Sing us one of your camp songs. Sing us some Chris Tomlin. Let’s hear some classic Maranatha! Music choruses. How about some Hillsongs? Know any Graham Kendrick?”
That would be the modern equivalent(s). I think it’s interesting that they were taunted in terms of their music. Made to sing at a time they didn’t feel like singing.
The last verse really states the challenge facing us in these times:
But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
Turf was important to the Jewish nation. Land was history. Land was security. Land was a medium of exchange. When you are people of a land, a territory, a nation; captivity doesn’t fit well. Finding yourself on someone else’s turf is like wearing someone else’s clothing. Going by someone else’s name. Speaking someone else’s language.
Some days you don’t feel like singing. Some days it just feels all wrong.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill upon the harp.
Psalm 137:5 NLT
It’s like a giant “nevertheless.”
Spiritually speaking, as Christians we live in an occupied territory. The challenge of singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land is our challenge.
Bonus item today:
The church I grew up had a huge missions conference every year in which every available bit of wall space was covered with banners sporting all manner of quotations and slogans.
The one that is most memorable is:
Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?
I’ve often thought about that. It does seem a bit unfair that North Americans experience so much exposure to the gospel message while in other parts of the world people are still waiting to hear this message for the first time.
Sometimes it amazes me that anyone in any part of the world ever gets to hear the gospel. What I mean is this: It is truly amazing that such a message of good news even exists.
Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink saying:
If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him.
I would add:
If this gospel of grace, forgiveness, atonement and justification had never been invented, no fiction writer, no playwright, no artist would have ever been able to compose it or conceive of it.
That’s good news.
When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last I shall see
‘Twil be my joy through the ages
To sing of his love for me.