Sometimes we all get in a rut. We do things the same way over and over. We begin to be afraid of anything new or novel. We try to be “safe” by even worshipping and praying the same way as we have always done. Yet the call of the Psalmist is “O sing to the Lord a new song.”
Whether we are HIV positive or HIV negative, sometimes we forget that we stand equal at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians we acknowledge that all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We all lack perfection and need divine forgiveness and grace. We are sisters and brothers. Because we know we worship a merciful God, we can “sing to the Lord a new song” of praise and hope. The God we praise “will judge the peoples with equity” so we have no reason to fear; God is good and gracious. God understands us better than we understand ourselves.
My great joy in recent years has to become friends with persons living with HIV around the world. My heart breaks when I often hear their personal stories of how they have experienced mistreatment and malice. Yet my heart has been deeply touched by these same persons when I have seen their courage, kindness, and compassion. Truly I feel like I am with some of the best people I have ever known in the world. When we embrace with hugs, I often want to sing to the Lord a new song. Recently in Rwanda, when praying with a woman living with HIV, we felt the power of the Holy Spirit overtaking her and we departed from one another rejoicing in hope.
These days our hearts and prayers have to be with our brothers and sisters facing Ebola. Truly a dreadful disease, as infections pass too easily among caregivers, medical personnel, and loved ones. I was saddened when I read some religious leaders in Liberia were blaming gay people for the spread of the disease and saying God was angry at their country. God is not angry at Liberia or any other country struggling with intense poverty, hunger, and disease. God seeks to bring hope and health to all people and needs our help. I was encouraged to see the United Methodist Bishop of Sierra Leone tell his people that this is no time to stigmatize or blame. He says all people, Christians and Muslims, must work together to combat Ebola and to bring this crisis to an end.
Yes we must “sing to the Lord a new song”—one that does not stigmatize or victimize. It must be a song that bonds straight and gay people together, Muslims and Christians, HIV positive and negative, poor and rich. In prayer and action we have to find ways to help our neighbour. The old songs of prejudice and provincialism are inadequate; exclusiveness and narrowness must yield to God’s inclusive love in Jesus Christ. Yes, let us “sing to the Lord, bless his name,” and “tell of his salvation from day to day.” “For,” truly, “great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”
To think about: Are we singing the same old songs or something new?
Written by: Dr. Donald E. Messer, Executive Director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS, Centennial, Colorado, USA, is author of 15 books. A United Methodist pastor, he is president emeritus and professor emeritus of practical theology at The Iliff School of Theology, Denver.