Lift Every Voice and Sing

 

One Fourth of July Sunday at Immanuel Lutheran Chapel in North St. Louis County I picked hymn 964 in LSB (841 in ELW), written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson.  “Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with harmonies of liberty…Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray…Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand.” I thought the hymn spoke powerfully to our Independence Day service, “Let our rejoicing rise…high as the list’ning skies.”

At Immanuel Chapel the pastor sits behind the pulpit.  When the organist introduced the hymn, I thought, “Oh no, I’ve picked a hymn no one knows.”  But when the congregation of 45-50 started to sing, their voices washed over pulpit.  “They know this hymn, but I don’t,” was my surprised reaction.

When 90 something Dessie greeted me after the service she said, “Thanks, pastor for picking the Black National Anthem.”  I silently reacted, “Oh, I didn’t know.”  For Dessie, and other older members, their freedom came with the Emancipation Proclamation and much later freedom from the Jim Crow laws. I never had to use a colored only bath room in Atlanta or sit in the colored section of the statehouse in Little Rock.  When I was at the Sem in the 60’s I could go to the Fox theater and hear Stan Kann play the organ before a movie, the black people my age couldn’t.

I’m not excusing nor approving what has been happening at football games.  But I know I was raised, and still deal with, a prejudice against the Ojibwa Indians in our township who lived on a reservation, though I am descended from illegal aliens who took their land and called it our own.

“May we forever stand true to God, true to our native land,” so James Weldon Johnson ends his hymn of freedom.

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My Head Shall Be Lifted Up

 

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy. (Psalm 27:6)

Though Psalm 27 is a confident confession of the Lord’s deliverance in the time of trouble; when I read Verse 6 I thought first of Jesus on the cross.  There, his head was lifted up above his enemies camped all around.   God did not hide him in the day of his trouble.  Instead of being his light and salvation there was darkness and deliverance into the hands of his enemies.  His cries were not answered.  Though Jesus sought the face of his heavenly Father, his father turned away in anger, for Jesus, who knew no sin had become sin for us.  He was cast off and forsaken in order that God be the stronghold, light and salvation of our life.  We now live under the shelter of God’s tent.  Because of Jesus sacrifices we have reason so sing and make melody to the Lord.  We can bring our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving with shouts of joy.

 

No Standing Without Grace

 

Prayer of the Day, Pentecost 16A

Yesterday I got grace at the library.  No, it wasn’t the Seminary library which knows little of grace, but the county library.  I wanted to renew Louise Penny’s “Bury Your Dead.” The attendant said someone else had it on hold.  “It’s due today, and I haven’t finished it,” I pleaded.  “You have a six – day grace period,” said the attendant.  “Thank you,” I replied, “I can finish it by then.”  I who had no standing one minute, left the library walking in grace.

This weekend we prayed for help in trusting God’s ever-present grace.

“Lord God, heavenly Father, since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

When I taught confirmation, I had two goals.  One was to survive.  The second, was that if nothing else, the students would understand and believe that we live by God’s grace both in this time and the next.  Because, as the prayer suggests, grace is the hardest gift to receive from God.

Sour Grapes and Jesus Grace

Picking Grapes in God’s Vineyard

The Gospel for this weekend, Matthew 20:1-16, is the parable of the vineyard owner who goes out and hires workers the whole day.  He then pays those who worked one hour the same wages as those who worked all day.

I borrowed the comments below from the online blog “in the Meantime,” by David Lose:

We tend to identify – perhaps unconsciously – with the laborers working all day who feel rather taken advantage of, rather than with those who have received unexpected and unmerited generosity.

1) God gives enough. Each of the workers received a day’s wage. Some labored all day…just as they had signed up to do. Others labored for just an hour. But at the end of the day, they all received just what they needed: enough. (Think of the petition, “give us this day our daily bread.”) God gives enough, and enough is something over which to rejoice.

2) God does not give up but keeps looking to find and save all. The landowner in the parable keeps going out – all day long! – in order to find more and more people to labor in the vineyard. He will not stop. Just so, God will not give up on seeking out the lost, the vulnerable, all who are in need, all of us.

 

 

When the plays run out before the day does

Everyday Adam and I play a game or two of scrabble. It takes at least an hour for every game. This afternoon after playing for over an hour we had backed ourselves into a corner and though we had plenty of tiles left, neither of us had any plays available. Some days are like that, we run out of plays before the end of the day. But, God willing, we get another shot at it tomorrow.
As Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Don’t sweat tomorrow, today.”

The Devout Prayers of God’s Church

 

The Prayer of the Day for Pentecost 15A, begins, “O God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the devout prayers of Your Church.”

What a challenge for God’s Church to prayer devoutly, particularly this little 54-word conversation with God who is our life’s anchor and vitality.  All our holiness originates with God.

We ask God to listen and act.  Whoever wrote this prayer is expecting a lot us as we gather for worship amid the commotion that is part of the coming together of God’s people.  Mom and Dad corralling children to pay attention, Grandparents making faces and waving to grandchildren, late arrivals seeking a vacant spot in the pew, the choir readying themselves for their anthem, the pastor trying to remember who it was who asked him to pray for whatshisname thirty seconds before walking up the aisle to begin worship, and the arthritic hoping we can sit down soon.

Devout means earnest, heartfelt, (The Germans call it Herzlichkeit).  Thus, we depend on God to look within us and not on our outside, perhaps not even what is running through our minds at that moment. Look within us for that trusting faith that God might grant us what we ask in faith so that we also may obtain it.

Prayer: O God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the devout prayers of your church, especially in times of persecution, and grant that what we ask in faith we may obtain.”  All this we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Canopy of Grace

 

As I was walking around the nearby St. Lucas church today, a familiar hymn tune kept playing in my head.  I couldn’t quite get a hold of its identity.  All that came to mind were two phrases.  “Pavilioned in splendor; His canopy of grace.”  I thought that was a great image.  God sitting in a pavilion providing a canopy of grace under which I could take refuge against the storms of life and strengthen my faith.

After supper, I looked up the word, “canopy” in my hymnal concordance thinking that reading the entire stanza might deepen my understanding of what the hymn writer meant by “canopy of grace.”

The hymn turned out to be “O Worship the King.”  Furthermore, well you know how your mind can mix things up, the phrase isn’t “His canopy of grace” but “whose canopy space.”

However, my mind wasn’t completely confused in dredging up particles of a hymn.  Because the stanza does speak of grace, in fact its invites us to “Sing of His grace.”

Stanza 2,

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,

Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.

So, what about God in his splendid pavilion?  That comes near the end of the first stanza.

“Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.”

I think the hymn writer, Robert Grant (1779-1838), is using such over the top language because he is trying to describe the indescribable.  The key to where he is taking us “Frail children of dust” is found in his very first words.  He is inviting us to “Worship the King, all glorious above.”  That’s a good thing to do anytime of the day as we live under his grace space.

 

 

Will we Christians Ever Get It?

 

A question that arises in our Friday morning study of Matthew’s gospel, “Will the disciples ever get it?”  In chapter 16, Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven, the negative influence, of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  However, the disciples are upset that someone has forgotten to bring lunch.  Jesus says he recently fed 9,000 people with some bread and a few fish.  He can provide lunch. “I’m not talking about bread.  But the dangerous thinking of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  The disciples finally get it.  Aha! The crisis is not in their stomachs.

The disciples are a mirror for Christians.  Will we ever get it?  Recently, I heard a sermon on the sower who went out to plant his field and some of the seed fell on shallow soil, some among thorns, some on a path and some on good soil.  The preacher said that all of us have patches in our lives where the Word isn’t productive.

I’ve noticed a mean spiritedness in some of our attitudes in the field of politics.  Where else do the thorns and thistles grow in our lives?  Where else is the field of our heart stony or a well-worn path of scabbed over, but never completely healed hurts?

Let me paraphrase Paul in our epistle reading for this weekend, “To this end Christ died and lived again that he might be Lord both of the stony ground and Pharisee in ourselves as well as that which is alive to Christ.”

 

Holy Cross Day

 

The epistle for Holy Cross Day is I Corinthians 1:18-21.  In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”  What kind of god would save people through the cruelty of a crucifixion?  Really?  It’s ridiculous.

However, for us who believe in the foolish and bloody crucifixion of Jesus, the cross speaks volumes about God who always seems to pick the most difficult means of accomplishing his purpose.  Wouldn’t it have been easier and more popular to have a superhero savior who at the last minute freed himself from the cross, pulled it out of the ground and used it to pulverize his enemies?  Wouldn’t Communion be more appealing with a cup of coffee and a crème filled chocolate covered doughnut?  Wouldn’t it be more appealing to hear that deep down inside we’re all okay after all?

But God has made the cross the thing.  In a display of foolishness and weakness God showed his power and wisdom through Christ crucified.  An instrument of death is become an instrument of life.

The psalm for the Day, Psalm 98, is also a psalm used at Christmas and Easter.  The psalm has it right, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”

Merciful God, your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, one God, now and forever.

Little Ones Angels Looking at God

 

Jesus begins the Gospel lesson for last Sunday (Matt. 18:1-20) by setting a little child amid his adult disciples.  As he continues it becomes clear that he is speaking of disciples who are little in the faith.  Woe to anyone who treats these little ones with contempt or looks down one of these insignificant ones.  These may be people who are half in and half out of the church, or half – hearted, nominal disciples.  Those who have been disappointed in the church or by the church in how they were treated during a difficult time; yet, they remain a follower of Christ.  In Jesus eyes, these are not little ones but those considered such by “serious” believers.

The clincher comes in verse 10b,” In heaven their angels always behold my Father’s face who is in heaven.”  Hebrews 1:14, speaks of ministering angels sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.  In Psalm 91:10-11, God sends angels “to guard you in all your ways…they will bear you up lest you stub your toe on a rock.”

These little Christians have angels close to Jesus heavenly Father who is also “Our Father who is in heaven.”  If the little disciples are that important to the God and Father of us all, then every believer is to be important to the pillars of the church.  As Chrysostom said, “How should he be little who is dear to God.”