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A short evangelistic talk given during the interval of a church concert.

This is our final lunchtime concert of the season.  And in the best show biz tradition we're going to end on a song.

But why?  Why is singing such a fitting ending?  Why do our great stories finish with weddings, feasting and singing?  What is it about a song that sums things up so nicely?

It might feel an obvious thing, but when you face the reality of our lives, you have to ask questions.

You see all our bright, bold love songs end up fading.

Our green salad days don't last do they?

Kingdoms rise, but then they fall.

And if you believe the scientists, the universe is headed for a deep freeze or a big crunch.  But either way their forecasted ending is not happy.  It's not weddings, and feasting and joy!  So why sing?

This comes close to home in our own lives.  We may bloom for a season, but it doesn't last.

As Psalm 103 says:

15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

I said those words at the crematorium on Monday, taking the funeral of a woman who spent the last decade of her life lost in a fog of dementia.  That’s hardly ending on a song is it?

And yet - we did sing.  Many from the church here who knew Betty sang and sang loud, with hope filling our hearts.  Why?  Just to keep our spirits up?  Defiance against the harsh realities of life?

No.  We sang because we knew, and Betty knew, a deeper reality to life.  There's a deeper story than the blooming-then-dying story.

The bible begins with perfect harmony.  That perfect trio of Father, Son and Spirit - a major chord of life and joy.  And so they wanted their trio to spread – they wanted a quartet – us!

And so creation - the overflow of their exuberant life.

Then the dischordant note of the fall – human beings ripping up the music, singing their own tune, bringing disharmony, chaos, darkness.  That's what we see when we look out on our world.

What was God to do?  Well Jesus, that Second Note of the Divine Triad, He descended into our mess.  And when the second note of a major chord descends, what do you get?  You get a minor chord.

Our God has entered into our sad songs.  And He's sung them Himself.  All those Psalms in the Old Testament were the songs of a people - so often suffering in this dischordant world.  And Jesus took all those heart-felt cries on His own lips.  And He carried our sorrows and our sins to the cross where He sang that bleakest of all songs; the one that begins "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Ps 22:1).  He truly entered into the depths of our sorrows - knowing our sufferings from the inside.

But then, on Easter Sunday, He rose.  He went through the tragedy and into a divine comedy.  There is a happy ending.  The minor fall gives way to the major lift.  Jesus ascended back up to God and He invites us up with Him - to sing with Him.  He descended to sing our songs in a minor key.  Then He ascended and invites us to sing His songs in a major key.

There is a way through the sad songs and into triumph and joy.  At the end of all things is not death and decay, but when He returns it will be a feast - a wedding feast - where we are invited to join Jesus in the eternal song: the Hallelujah chorus,

Hallelujah – for the LORD God Omnipotent Reigneth  (Rev 19:6)

That's the deep story, the original story.  And I submit to you that it's the only story that makes sense of our desire to end on a song.  Otherwise every song we sing is like whistling in the graveyard to keep up our spirits.

So why do you love singing?  Are you fighting against the inexorable pull of the grave?  When you enjoy music, are you trying to make merry in face of the inevitable?  Or are you tapping into the deepest reality - that Jesus has secured a future of victory, joy, immortality, feasting and singing.

At the crematorium that's why we sang.  Not a grim determination to make merry in a dying world, but a defiant proclamation that Jesus has won the victory and that when we see Betty again we will sing!

So what about you?  What is reality as far as you're concerned?  Does death have the final word or will you sing the Hallelujah chorus?

Come to All Souls on a Sunday and find out how you can participate in the real story and end on a song.

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I recorded the song (along with these) a couple of years ago on a handheld voice recorder.  Since then my ancient Yamaha keyboard broke, so there's no re-recording the music I'm afraid.  Here it is, warts n all!

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Why does the world with its ""creativity"" and ""artistic excellence"" and ""voodoo rhythms"" make all the best music videos?? Ok, Go

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI&feature=channel

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Sure, impressive.  If you like infectious pop anthems, brilliant choreography, eye-popping spectacle and irrepressible joie de vivre.  If you're carnal in other words.

Yet for my money, these fine Christian minstrels below have managed to create an equally jaw-dropping response with a fraction of the expense, planning or talent.    

Which, if you ask me, just exemplifies those topsy turvy, right-side-up values of the kingdom.  Don't you think?

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Finally.  The success they deserve -  Rage Against the Machine have the UK's Christmas number 1.

And for those who have been following the exploits of this feisty four-piece, it's more apt than you know.

It all began when Zachary Ragg formed his little beat-combo Ragg and the Be Cleans.  They hit the road, playing the usual tent crusades and church picnics.  But while their lyrics were outstanding, soaked as they were in the best of Patristic and Reformation theology, their rap / heavy metal fusion (birthed in the Anfechtung of their Lutheran heritage) was often lost on the good church folk.

Their career took a decisive turn when Sony snapped up the talented young boys and re-branded them as Rage Against the Machine.

From that point onwards, young Zachary's profoundly Christian lyrics were altered by cynical producers riding the wave of 90s angst.  But Christ the Truth can now reveal the original words to 'Killing in the Name.'  We reproduce them here with comments in the hope that its Christmas wonder can be reclaimed.

The song is introduced with its own title:

Carolling in the Name of...

So sacred is the divine Name the Be Cleans dare not speak it.  And yet they unfold His majesty with a moving ode to His divine kenosis:

Now the One who works forces

Is the same who bears crosses

So taken is Zachary with this Christmas meditation that he dwells on the theme at length.  Then, with a discernably Lutheran slant, he launches into a stunning exegesis of Galatians 3.  He addresses Israel under the law, hammering down upon them the slavery in which they are bound:

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

Soon the antiphonal response will be added, pronouncing the divine judgement:

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

The tension builds until we find release in Christ's marvellous exchange:

He Who dies - He justifies

He wears your bad - now the chosen: white

He justifies - He Who dies

He wears your bad - now the chosen: white

After this chorus of exultation in Christ's substitutionary work, the Be Cleans recapitulate their meditations on Galatians 3.  Soon all is resolved as they turn to Galatians 4:4.  With ever increasing certitude, Zachary takes on the role of the incarnate Christ, born of a woman, born under law.  Now, from within our humanity He fulfils the law and reverses the curse.  He pronounces His benediction in words reminiscent of Hebrews 10:7 -

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

The excitement of the Be Cleans reaches fever pitch and who can blame them?  Christ has come, He now shoulders the burden, the curse is reversed, slaves are turned to sons.  The final line from Zachary proves le mot juste - what else can we do but adore the condescension of this Great Shepherd of the brethren!

Brother-Flocker!

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Robbie_Williams-Bodies-300x300

If Jesus really died for me /             Then Jesus really tried for me

Bodies

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How do you say the first line with conviction without the second line sounding like a well-meaning but ineffectual gesture?  That's at the heart of the debate between limited and universal atonement.  Well put Robbie.

Pity the song's rubbish.

I like the way Peter put it:

4 to whom coming -- a living stone -- by men, indeed, having been disapproved of, but with God choice, precious, 5 and ye yourselves, as living stones, are built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore, also, it is contained in the Writing: 'Lo, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, choice, precious, and he who is believing on him may not be put to shame;' 7 to you, then, who are believing is the preciousness; and to the unbelieving, a stone that the builders disapproved of, this one did become for the head of a corner, 8 and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence -- who are stumbling at the word, being unbelieving, -- to which also they were set.  (1 Peter 2:4-8, Young's Literal Translation)

Christ through His cross is really set forth as Cornerstone.  And His proper office is to build up a spiritual house.  But, get this.  His effect (in an accidental rather than proper sense) is also to determine those in unbelief.  Not even unbelievers can 'set themselves' against Jesus.  Instead they are set in their unbelief.  They do not avoid the Stone, but stumble over Him.  They cannot escape His atonement.  They cannot free themselves from the Stone.  Either they fall on Him or He crushes them (Luke 20:18).  One way or another they are determined by Him.  In fact they find that even their rejection of Him makes Him to be the Capstone.  The cross is precisely the point where rejection is made to further not thwart His saving agenda.  Through His cross, Christ shows Himself to be so great His enemies serve His purpose.  This is the universal effectiveness of the cross.  What a crazy gospel!  But wonderful.  The Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.

Therefore Christ's atonement is for universal salvation - that is its proper effect.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  There is though an accidental and incomprehensible effect - rejection.  Yet even this rejection is taken up at the cross and through the cross to serve the saving purposes of God.  It is universally effective.

Jesus really died for you.  And Jesus more than tried for you.  At the cross He has entirely determined your existence..

Doug Wilson's reminded me of my love for Bobby McFerrin.  The man is just awesome.  I even do the chest-slapping human drum thing too.  People tell me it looks lame and sounds nothing like Bobby.  I tell them 'Envy rots the bones' (Prov 14:30).

Anyway, here's three videos demonstrating the brilliance of McFerrin and the wonder of congregational singing.  Pity the middle one is idolatry!

Grinning?

Thought so.

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