Those who bring good news of Jesus

*** This hymn, a kind of conversation with Paul, aims to help him be better understood by his readers.


Those who bring good news of Jesus.midi


The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.[1] Like a musician who is given a short melodic fragment to work with and extemporizes a constructed piece from it, this hymn grew organically from reflecting on these words of Paul. But the process wasn’t easy.

For people used to comfortable, secure lives, it may be hard to imagine living in shame. But

“Persons of low status, who made up most of the early church, had been raised in the status of shame, treated by the rest of society as if they were worthless except to serve the honourable members of society …Christ dies a shameful death in behalf of shameful people everywhere, so that everyone who accepts this message gains access to a new system of honour and shame, based on grace rather than achievement of prior status.”[2]

In the experience of this writer (and perhaps of many other Christians besides) feeling ashamed used to be the norm. (Feeling ashamed is not the same as being in the status of shame, but the effects can be similarly paralysing.) What fuelled that feeling was the assertion that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.[3] From youth into adulthood I felt a pressure from that text to prove myself a ‘proper’ Christian by telling everyone I met that Jesus is Lord. Or perhaps the pressure was not so much from the text itself as from church culture: the preacher’s relentless insistence that we should ‘go out into the world’, ‘dare to be a Daniel’, ‘stand up for Jesus’, ‘share the gospel with everyone we meet’, or some such other grinding refrain.

Whatever the cause of feeling ashamed, it came as complete release to hear deep within myself that God in no way endorses the cultures that fix people in the status and feeling of shame. So far from keeping people in shame’s prison, divine grace holds open a future in the indicative mode: the age of ‘ought’ is ended; from now on all is as it is and as it will be.

This is the mood of this hymn. Although it works with a specific text – Romans 10.5-15 – it is not a straight exposition or paraphrase. Instead it works back from the last verse of the passage, describing the freedom of evangelists. They are people who, because ‘saved by his word … are most worth believing’, and, furthermore, ‘their message can be heard’. Because they are ‘themselves saved by his grace’, they are not victims of pressure from any source: they ‘serve with Christ the humblest’, and they ‘choose God’s chosen race’ (they are conspicuously free of the need to pinpoint exactly who is in the chosen race, but the phrase is not an idle cliché). They ‘name their Lord as Jesus’, God only knows where, when and why. They are not necessarily evangelists with auras and halos and reputations for being able to persuade people into faith and church membership. They are, simply, ‘ordinary’ Christians.

The last stanza is a meditation on Deuteronomy 30.14, which Paul quotes[4], and has been described as having ‘the fingerprints of the gospel all over’ it[5]. It is because ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ that, beyond the darkness of death, actual and metaphorical, ‘all live … in the Father’s glory’, in the wonderful freedom of loving ‘isness’.

The music, written on the day when the church commemorates Bartolomeo de las Casas, is intentionally simple, transparently so; it is to show the transparency of those who have faith in Christ. There is about the music something of the feel of an old-style mission hall, and that may act as the gentlest of correctives to any temptation to complacency in the light of the interpretation offered above.

[1] Romans 10.11

[2] Robert Jewett, in The Lectionary Commentary: Second Readings (2001) p.110

[3] Romans 10.9

[4] Romans 10.8

[5] Robert A.J.Gagnon, in The Lectionary Commentary: Second Readings p.107