Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

John 14:1-14 This is my favorite hymn.  Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love. This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering. And oh – do I like to wander.  My soul finds peace when my body is in motion, whether it’s hiking miles down the trail or jogging loops around town.  Andrews UMC has an indoor walking track; when I take my prayer time off my seat and and a’ wandering up there, I pray for three – five – ten times as long. “Come Thou Fount” isn’t about that kind of wandering, though. It’s the story of a man named Robert Robinson (1735-1790) – but it starts when he was just a boy.  His dad died when he was young and his mother couldn’t control his wildness.  She sent him off to London with hopes he’d learn the trade of barbering and make a decent life for himself.  Instead, Robinson wandered off that intended path to learn the trades of heavy drinking and gang life. One day when he was 17 (or so the story goes) Robinson and his buddies were drunk and silly and decided to have fun seeing a fortune teller.  Things turned serious for Robinson, though.  Something about the encounter seriously bothered him.  It seems to be this moment when he first suspects that he had wandered far astray, in a bad direction. This...
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Psalm 145 Can you name the first hymn in our United Methodist hymnal? It’s not placed there by chance.  “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” sits right at the front because it’s an important part of our Methodist story.  Its lyrics are a beautiful expression of gratitude for all God has done for us through Christ. But when you look carefully at this hymn… it doesn’t really make sense.  And that’s part of what makes it so powerful. It all started on May 21, 1738.  Charles Wesley – brother to John and writer of over 6,000 hymns – was sick and stuck in bed.  Such moments of forced rest provide good time for deep reflection, and before long Charles began to feel a “strange palpitation of heart.”  It wasn’t a symptom of his physical illness – it was a sign of his spiritual healing!  “I believe!  I believe!” he declared.  Charles had found peace with God! Just three days later brother John had a similar experience.  He was at a meeting on Aldersgate Street and listening to Martin Luther’s “Preface to the Epistle of the Romans” being read aloud (also a period of forced rest? Sorry, Lutheran friends – that’s no page-turner).  Lo and behold, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed.”  He knew, at last, that he did trust in Christ alone for salvation! These were big-time powerful moments!  They were write-a-song-about it powerful:  Charles would craft “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” to mark the one-year anniversary of his conversion experience.  They were also gotta-tell-my-mom-about-this powerful:  the Wesley brothers wrote home to share the great...

God of the Ages

Luke 11:5-13 Daniel Crane Roberts wrote one hymn.  Just one. Daniel Roberts did a lot in his 66 years (1841 – 1907).  He was an Episcopal priest.  He was also a private in the Civil War, a president of the New Hampshire historical society, a chaplain of the Grand Army of the Republic, and a member of the Knights Templar.  In other words, he was an active member of the church and an active citizen of the United States. Maybe this is where his one hymn might have something to say to those of us who also have a foot in both worlds.  I am a Christian, born and bred.  I am an American, born and bred.  If I wrote a hymn that reflected both identities… would it sound anything like this? Well – probably not.  I’m not a musician, and I don’t have much in common with this man from the 19th century.  But this week I have more in common with Daniel Roberts than on any other week of the year.  It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and this same holiday was the occasion for Roberts to write “God of the Ages” (except for Roberts it was a sweet centennial, back in 1876). So let’s take a look at this hymn.  142 years later, does it tell us anything about being a Christian and an American? God of the ages, whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, our grateful songs before thy throne arise.  As someone who’s fond of backpacking and snowboarding and the...

Moderation in all Things?

2 Corinthians 5:6-17 I just got back from a week of backpacking with Wilderness Trail – an experience that always teaches me things.  I learn things about creation, like:  you can use the bark of a birch tree as kindling to start a fire.  I learn things about God, like:  that “peace that passes understanding” is a real thing, evidenced by feeling strangely peaceful while your stuff is getting soaked in a rainstorm.  And I learn things about myself, like: I’m too attached to my phone. This hit me on the first day.  We got to our first intersection, which meant we’d stand around for just a few moments getting out water bottles and waiting on each other.  Recognizing that 60 seconds of lag time, I began to move my arm toward my back right pocket. In the middle of the wilderness, I was reaching for my non-existent phone. I made that ridiculous, almost-unconscious move for my phone a couple times on the first day.  But after that the backpacking experience worked its magic.  My mind let go of my cell phone (and everything else) and thought mostly about the uphill climb or the wonder of fireflies or how good mac-n-cheese can taste when you’re really hungry.  I laughed and struggled and reflected with the amazing youth and adults in our group.  For the better part of a week, I was mostly uncomfortable but also mostly peaceful and content. On Friday morning we loaded up our van and headed back into civilization.  My phone sprung back to life as we returned to cell service.  Little red dots told me...

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Matthew 22:37-40 I really like Jesus – you may already know that about me.  What you might not know is that I also really like art; I went to a high school where you had something like majors, and art was mine.  A few years ago I came across something that merged these two loves of mine.  It’s a Catholic tradition called the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pompeo Batoni, 1767Given that I have some training in both Christianity and art, naturally I had a very profound first impression to this particular genre of artwork: “EW!” The Sacred Heart of Jesus can’t be traced back to a clear starting point.  There was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600s, who saw Jesus and heard him speak:  “Behold the Heart that has so loved men. …Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude.”  There was Saint Bonaventure in the 1200s who wrote, “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart? Who would not love in return Him, who loves so much?”  And long before that, there was a Christ who died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice; the one who was pierced in his side (all the way to the heart?); the one who loved us enough to give his whole life for us. Out of all that comes the Sacred Heart of Jesus – and its corresponding artwork. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Josef Mehoffer, 1911But it’s strange, right?  Most of these are not cartoonish, Valentine’s Day hearts.  They’re biological and bloody and graphic.  They have arteries that should...

A Minister’s Job

Over the past month or so we’ve been talking about how we are all ministers.  I hope you’re convinced by now, that you – every one of you – is included in that call. But – to do what?  What is a minister’s purpose? In today’s Scripture, Jesus explains that purpose.  Just before he leaves them for the very last time, he says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Ministers witness to Jesus Christ.  They know something about Jesus and tell others about it.  They invite others to come and see for themselves.  This call to be Jesus’ witnesses is mandatory, and it is huge in scope.  There’s no corner of the world that God doesn’t care about.  God wants everyone to know about the grace and forgiveness and new life made possible through Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you – but that’s a completely overwhelming task.  It feels out of my league – like someone saying, “Cook a five-course gourmet meal,” or, “Paint a ceiling like the Sistine Chapel.”  Thankfully we don’t do this alone.  Remember?  We’re a part of the body of Christ.  We are all required to be witnesses, but we are all witnesses together. Today in church we got to hear from one group who takes this mandatory and huge commission seriously.  A local representative of Gideons International...

…with the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:36-42 Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about how we are called to be in ministry. All: We are *all* called – made worthy to serve through Jesus Christ. Differently: We are all made different to compliment each other, like a body made of different parts. Together: We are designed to work together, to be united. We are ALL called, as DIFFERENT as we are, to be in ministry TOGETHER. Once we understand that, it might take some prayer and thought to figure out exactly what we’re called to do.  We used three surveys to help with that, centered around three questions: What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What are your spiritual gifts? Once you’ve reflected on those questions, you may start to hear God’s call.  Maybe it’s to some logical next step:  “I’ve been thinking about volunteering with the youth for a long time.  I think it’s time to admit it.”  Or maybe it’s to some grand idea that scares you:  “I keep worrying about the drug problem, and I think God might be calling me to help provide an after-school middle-school program that supervises kids at a vulnerable age.”  Whether it’s a small thing or a gimongous thing, your next good question might be: How?  How can I answer this call?  How can we answer this call? Today gives you the answer.  You’ve heard it read in the Scripture.  You’ve seen it in the red clothes reminding us of the red flames.  You’ve felt it in the wind blowing.  It’s the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit that showed up on Pentecost...

All Together Differently

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). 7 times in 3 verses, the nature of our Christian faith is emphasized:  one, one, one, one, one, one, one.  Later in this passage, Ephesians builds on the body of Christ image by saying we are “joined and knit together.”  In the same way that muscles and nerves and tendons hold our bodies together, we are connected.  We are one. But we are also separate and different.  We look different and act different; we think differently and feel differently.  We speak different languages, literally and figuratively.  We are good at different things and bad at different things. We are one, but we are different. That’s a pretty tricky arrangement.  It means we compliment each other… but also get on each other’s nerves.  It means we can do more together than we could apart… but also that we might have very different opinions on what it is we should do. If you’re a part of a church, I bet you’ve felt this already.  You might have had a new idea discouraged (or even dismissed).  You might feel unsure about how you fit in (if at all).  You may find some folks difficult to get along with (let alone work with). Yep.  That’s real.  But you know what’s also real? One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. So...
All Differently

All Differently

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 You are a part of the body of Christ. This might be Paul’s most famous image – and for good reason.  A good metaphor is one that’s universally relatable, and what’s more universally relatable than a body?  We’ve all got one.  We live in it.  We know what it’s like to need all our body parts.  We know that when one part of us isn’t feeling well, the whole of us suffers.  We are like that, Paul says.  We are the body of Christ. But this is more than just universally relatable – it’s universally applicable.  “We” means you if you’re a follower of Christ.  You are a part of the body of Christ, Paul says.  Period. Paul does not make this optional.  Feet can’t up and decide they’re not part of the body.  Ears can’t pull themselves off and go elsewhere.  They might stop doing their job well, but they’re always part of the body.  In fact, because they’re always part of the body, if they stop doing their jobs well then they’ll affect the whole.  That is how we work as Christians, Paul says.  You might decide you’re not going to participate… but you can’t decide to leave. This is a hard part of being a Christian, because sometimes being a part of this body is hard.  Sometimes we hurt each other’s feelings.  Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way.  Being a body together means we share each other’s successes and that we feel each other’s pains.  It’s so difficult that sometimes, we would rather go solo. This is exactly why I like...

All

1 Peter 2:1-10 You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You. Don’t feel like “priestly” material?  You’re not alone; it’s normal to feel a little below the standard.  Even we pastors have days when we feel more “ordinary” than “ordained.”  We are all human; we are all flawed; we are all sinful.  And yet… we are all invited into a holy priesthood. This open invitation started with an entire nation of people.  After God got Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God asked them to live differently for a purpose:  “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).  Imagine:  a whole kingdom of priests, ministering to the world! But the Israelites weren’t perfect priests; they weren’t loyal to God’s covenant and laws.  If we had been in their shoes the end result would have been the same, because we aren’t perfect, either.  God didn’t give up, though.  Christ ushered in a “new covenant.”  Christ’s work created a holy people to minister to the world.  That’s why we’re called to be “like living stones… built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You; all of you.  And it’s not because of how good you are (or aren’t).  It’s because of how good Jesus was and is. It works like this. Imagine a lineup of people, from “worst” to “best.”  You can imagine whoever you want; I’ll get us started with some extremes.  At the “worst” end you might have someone like Hitler. ...