(Due to the Ironman Race on Sunday morning, we held Worship on Saturday evening.)
First Congregational Church
September 11, 2021
16th Sunday (Saturday) after Pentecost
Mark 8:34-38, James 3:1-12
“Our Achilles Tongue”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was a notation in the Record Patriot newspaper last week, from 100 years ago in Benzie County. It read: “Tony Richardson on Sunday left his father’s farm team standing unhitched in front of the court house and while endeavoring to eat some grass they pushed the Northway Hotel sign over. As one corner of the sign struck a horse on the back they started on a brisk trot down Park Street, but Tony, being quite a sprinter, over took them in front of J. Nasker's residence and climbed into the back end of the wagon rack, gathered up the lines, and stopped them after they had gotten under a lively run. There was no damage done. There were many anxious spectators.
It’s possible that Mr. Richardson could have been a marathoner or even triathlon athlete in pre-Ironman race days, but if he were really serious about competition, I’d peg him for a 50 or 100 meter guy.
Mark 8:34-38 New Living Translation
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[a] 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
James 3:1-12 The Message
1-2 Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
3-5 A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
5-6 It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
7-10 This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
10-12 My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
Thank you, Catherine. A pious woman with a rather sharp tongue, who professed to be a Christian but gossiped like an old hen--approached the minister of her church in London. She complained that the white stole which he wore with his pulpit gown was altogether too long and that this annoyed her greatly. She wanted permission to shorten them and had come armed with a pair of scissors. The pastor agreed, handed over the stole, and the woman snipped away with her scissors and then handed the garment back to the rector.
He said, "Now, my good woman, there is something about you which is altogether too long and which has annoyed me and many others for quite some time, and since one good turn deserves another, I would like your permission to shorten it.” Startled, the woman said, "Certainly sir, you have my permission to do so and here are the shears.” Whereupon, the pastor smiled and said, "Very well madam, stick out your tongue."
It is a fairly well-known irony that while teachers are generally revered, students are often advised not to become a teacher because of low wages. Noting James’ warning about teachers reputations and the smallest ingredient needed for a conversation to go south, mainly a person’s tongue, Mr. Philip Wise, from ministrymatters.com said, “The inability to control one’s tongue is the Achilles heel for teachers.
Some of you may share that situation with me, where you generally know now, what you knew probably more specifically - back then - about various and sundry pearls of wisdom. In this case, the Achilles heal is a tough band of fibrous tissue - according to webmd.com - that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone; the longest and strongest tendon in the body.
It’s also one of the most vulnerable tendons, not only because we tend to have less cushion on the back of our ankles, but because it has a limited blood supply along with high tensions. An Achilles heel can develop micro tears to large ruptures, in an instant or over time, through constant use or thickening while aging. And regardless of the magnitude, it’s impair can cripple a person for a fair length time.
And then there’s the back-back story, from Roman mythology, when Achilles was a baby, and it was prophesied that he would die at a young age. To ensure that this didn’t happen, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, took him to the River Styx, a river and a deity that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. It was rumored that the river had magical power to make a person invulnerable - invincible and impervious to danger or death.
As any mother would know - she said tongue-in-cheek - when you dip a child into any river, you can’t do it without holding on. So when Thetis dipped Achilles, she held him by his heel, which wasn’t touched by the water. It was his one area of weakness and vulnerability, and sure enough, it is thought that Achilles was downed by a wound to his heel or ankle, or torso, or maybe by poison.
The irony is that while one can rest an Achilles heel, one’s tongue never rests. Even after a day’s worth of talking, mixing food, swallowing, tasting and germ fighting, our tongue takes on night duty, pushing saliva into the throat to be swallowed, which is a good thing, otherwise we would drool all over our pillows. Except that some of us do that anyway, despite perfectly good tongues, so we’ll just leave it that tongues are so very different from an Achilles heel.
Then there’s Chuck Swindoll: "The tongue--what a study in contrasts! To the physician, it’'s merely a two-ounce slab of mucous membrane enclosing a complex array of muscles and nerves that enables our bodies to chew, taste and swallow. How helpful! Equally significant, it is the major organ of communication that enables us to articulate distinct sounds so we can understand each other. How essential!”
To me, it’s interesting that the tongue lies between the heart and the brain. And never has there been a more false statement than the one about sticks and stones breaking bones and names never hurting.
The gospel passage speaks of taking up our cross to follow Christ, should we determine to be a follower of him. The cross is yet again another of the ironies of following Christ. He asks us to welcome the poor and care for the grieving and children, to associate with not only the beautiful, and to love even the unloveable.
During a battle a soldier was frantically digging in as shells fell all around him. Suddenly his hand felt something metal and he grabbed it. It was a silver cross. Another shell exploded and he buried his head in his arms. He felt someone jump in with him and looked over and saw an army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross in the chaplain’s face and said, “I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?”
I hadn’t really thought of it before, maybe you haven’t either, that cross-bearing doesn’t refer to meaningless or even involuntary suffering that has to be endured. It was Billy D. Strayhorn, also of ministrymatters.com, who painted the distinction. “Suffering terminal cancer or AIDS is a horrible misfortune, but it’s not bearing a cross. To offer your cancer- or AIDS-weakened self by reaching out to others and helping them, that’s taking up your cross.” …. Bearing our cross is not making the best of a situation or circumstance. It is something we deliberately take up and bear.
Mr Strayhorn also told of a time that probably happened a number of years ago, about some women who lived near Washington D.C., who picked up crosses of care and to speak the language of love to babies born with AIDS. Because the babies didn’t get much attention, no one responding to their crying aloud, they began to cry silently, shedding quiet tears.
“Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the AIDS babies home. The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies. Soon these unloved, cast-off AIDS babies began to cry out loud again. They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.”
One manner of melding together these two scripture passages is to take up our cross in paying attention to what we say and how we say it. Doug Bratt of Calvin Seminary, obviously remembers a comment from years before. “A classmate whom I’ll call Ray, incinerated my fragile psyche with one stroke of his powerful tongue. He took one look at my pants that were too short for my lengthening legs and sneered, “I guess Bratt’s getting ready for flooding.” It’s interesting that I hardly ever hear about people remembering a cutting remark that they made, while memories of receiving injurious comments of days gone by can pop to the surface in an instant.
I would venture a guess that I’m not the only one who has removed one foot from my mouth to insert the other - resulting in my own embarrassment and humiliation for lack of thought. Again, Mr. Bratt told of “A boy whom I’ll call AC , a member of the church I served when I was a new pastor. On one Sunday, in an effort to be funny, I jokingly said, “Here comes trouble” when he approached. But when I did that, I didn’t realize that AC had gotten into quite a bit of trouble. So my “tongue” lit the fire of reinforcing his negative self-image and, what’s more, hurting his parents.
I’m sure that on this day, filled with recollections of what we were doing or saying 20 years ago, that you may have re-heard words that were spoken in fear and uncertainty, particularly about a group of people that many of us didn’t know much about. It’s easy to brush away such comments, because we don’t know any of those people.
But, just for the sake of argument, suppose that one of “those” people - be they of different skin color or faith persuasion, political stance or understandings - suppose that one of your family members is one of “those” people. Or a dear friend who has suffered not so much a cross but an accident or different understanding of themselves, and that throw-away phrase come to mind - and you realize that you can stop it from inflicting pain on someone you love. Isn’t that the way God would have us treat all people?
I don’t think God is in the business of discouraging teachers or preachers, or making us paranoid mutes. It’s just that sometimes, we need to retrace our steps and words with apologies while other times we need to confront our urge to be smart with a silence that we know - inside - to be far more wise. And other times, just choosing a different word or phrase can build up God’s kingdom, rather than tearing it down. Let us begin our choices by offering them to God.
Holy and Loving God, we lift up the situations of the past weeks, should we have caused harm, and ask for your help in nudging us to help restore or heal in whatever ways that might happen. For those times, we ask your forgiveness and growth in our own souls and spirits. And for those times that will come to us in the coming week, guide us to be prudent and life-giving in our exchanges. For this evening, as our minds begin to prepare for the coming time of sleep and rest, enable us to recount the sensitivities and graces that came our way this day, that we may give you thanks for them. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
September 5, 2021
15th Sunday after Pentecost, Labor Day Weekend
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If the name Johnny Depp doesn’t ring a bell for you, I would guess that you might know him by sight, if not by name. He’s the main character in all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with either the tri-hat or wide, red, dirty bandana, long pieces of jewelry hanging from his hair, mustache and black eye-liner all around. What’s amazing about Johnny Depp is that he gets so immersed in his characters that I can never tell if its him or not...I guess i have really bad Depp perception.
Depth perception jokes are always near misses. It's like I never see the punchline until it is too late.
And jokes about perception are tricky, because so many of them lean toward subject matters that are best not addressed in the presence of young ears or tender hearts. But those aren’t reasons to avoid the topic of perceptions.
Over the last weeks, Sunday messages have spent a fair bit of time in the gospel of John, particularly the first quarter of the book. For whatever reason, the lectionary gospel changes to Mark this week. So a little scene setting may be helpful.
The writer of Mark fills in a couple small details, that before Jesus and the disciples were with the 5,000 men, plus women, children, a couple fish and a little bread, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had been killed. Any one of us that has had someone near and dear die, knows how exhausting that can be. So Jesus was looking for a little R&R. Instead, he had the 5,000 plus.
So after dinner, Jesus told the disciples to get back in their boat to go back to Bethsaida, while he went up into the hills by himself. As he was there, he saw the oncoming storm and knew that the sea-seasoned fishermen were struggling, so he walked out to calm them and the storm. Instead of Bethsaida, they ended up in Gennesaret, where the people recognized him and inundated him for healing of the sick and lame. Mark 6 ends by saying that all who touched Jesus were healed. When one woman touched him, Jesus noticed. Imagine dozens and dozens touching him, and the drain it would have had on him - mentally, physically and emotionally. Various movie stars have mentioned how touching by strangers is exhausting.
After that, in the first part of Mark 7, Jesus entered into a debate with the Pharisees and teachers of religion about what makes a person clean - from hand washing to ingesting food to behavior. Such debates, even for the Son of God, are not without cost to body, heart and mind.
Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Thank you, Jennifer. Chelsey Harmon from Calvin Theological Seminary wrote that “Discomfort serves like a funnel in the Scripture: we aren’t meant to escape it but go through it, and slowly.” There is no doubt, there is some discomfort in these two sections.
In a rare moment of recollection, I remembered that a famous, retired pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill Hirschfeld, said something about the last time this scripture passage came up, that something that came out of my mouth made some sense or brought a different understanding or truth. Naturally, wanting to remind myself - and perhaps all of us - of such wisdom, I did something I never do: I went back to that sermon.
I don’t know exactly what it might have been that made such an impression back then, but it was a little interesting, as there was mention of how gross ear willies and spitting in another person’s mouth were. My, how time and a little virus can change the perception of words that we once took for granted!
And the woman, not Jewish, not male, not educated, dares to disrupt Jesus in his exhaustion, to ask for healing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hear little echoes of Personal Protection Equipment shortages and medical staff burn-out and fatigue here, too. If we didn’t know about Jesus’ fatigue factor, and we heard only these two cases, without context, I think a good many of us might have different takes on them.
A woman called on Friday, wondering if we could help her with some propane. In previous years, those sorts of calls usually come with $200-$500 price tags. When I asked her how much she was looking for, she said $50. If she’d have come in Friday, I might have given her the funds and gone back to whatever deadline was pressing at that hour. When she came in Saturday morning, when I was more rested, I asked more about her, and found out that she lives in a camping trailer in Thompsonville, as that is the only place she can find to rent. As we chatted, you could tell that she wasn’t one to make up stories, but was rather forthright.
She’d been looking all over, but there just aren’t places to rent, even if you have a job, which she does. But she hurt her foot and hasn’t been able to work for a few days, and her last weekly check wasn’t anywhere near what she depended on. Because she lives in a camper trailer, heat and cooking and hot water come from those 20 lb., grilling tanks, which cost $20-$25 to refill. And she’s not the only one who has asked for help like this. There’s a young man who calls occasionally to get his grill tank refilled because it’s how his family cooks and eats, just on the outside of town.
As with so many sermons, it can sound like this message is all about me, but it’s not intended that way. It’s about giving all of us a glimpse into people’s lives that change how we see them. That’s part of why this new Faith in Action group is so important, because just talking to other people helps us understand so many things. It happens all the time - in movies and books and television, yes, even the news. But sometimes we need to slow down the exchange of information - to do it face-to-face. And at the same time, like a certain Son of God that we all know, we need those moments where we can re-energize - whether it is with people - for the extroverts - or alone - for the introverts.
So while we have come away from our regular lives for this time, we’ve been given clues into these two individuals - one a mother of a sick child and the other a deaf man. Both were not members of what people considered the upper echelons of society. In fact, they were from the bottom of the barrel in that day. On top of that, Tyre and Sidon were in Gentile land; a place where no self-respecting Jew would be caught walking for any reason, much less interacting with locals.
And maybe Jesus was more tired than what is written, because he called the woman a name that is not used in polite company, referencing a dog. Maybe he was hangry for a Snickers bar, because he tells the ethnically despised, economically challenged, desperate mother to wait her turn. The New Living Translation of the Bible says, “Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
If he wasn’t the Son of God, and I’d been there at that moment, I might have slugged him as a sister is sometimes apt to do to a brother. “Jesus! Golden Rule! Golden Rule!” Though Jesus was without sin, he wasn’t without being human, which can get the better of the best of us. And don’t forget the irony from the discussion right before these two passages, where Jesus was debating the Pharisees and religious leaders about high and mighty living.
What is admirable here is that instead of Jesus ducking his head and turning away, he stands up to who he understood himself to be and healed the child - from a distance. If there’s nothing else any of us get from this passage, it’s the example that we can address our failures as immediately as we are made aware of them and mend them right then and there, rather than allowing them to fester and ruin reputations in far greater ways than a slip from fatigue or any other human state.
We also have the deaf and almost mute man, and he adds to our lesson of perception in that he and the woman were both outsiders. Again, Chelsey Harmon wrote, "How many people are sitting in our communities but still feel like outsiders? How many have refrains of faith going unspoken because they do not fit our comfortable and tidy pictures of God? How many are holding on to the smallest portion of faith in Christ and need to hear that that small seed is enough for now? Where do we need to “be opened” and step into wholehearted living of God’s kingdom values of inclusion? Can we challenge them, as the Syrophoenician woman did? How is God making the deaf to hear and the mute to speak today?” Excellent questions, Ms. Harmon.
Maybe God is helping the deaf hear through media of all sorts. Maybe God is helping the tired hear the pleas of desperation through storms and fires and frustrations and how we adapt to awareness and understanding. Maybe God is challenging our perceptions when we realize that should any given situation be even slightly different, it could have been us - you, me - with friends good enough to take you to the place or the one who can heal you.
Maybe God is tearing down the walls we have created around our hearts, allowing us to crack open, for new ways of healing to come in, to touch that which is broken, to heal that which is sick, to open us to the healing power of Christ.
When we allow the walls of our hearts to come down and we open them to God’s presence, we are changed. Once we understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we begin to perceive life so much more differently than before. And that’s a good thing. So shall we pray.
God of Life and Love and Peace and Perception, thank you for the healing that has happened that has allowed us glimpses into lives that we might not have known or understood before. And thank you for all the ways that you help us see you and all your people as precious and beloved. You well know how human we are, God, and how our humanity can trip us up every now and then. Encourage us and strengthen us to put situations to right as soon as was can, and to understand that mistakes are sometimes simply mistakes. As each of us take a good, deep breath before going back to our regularly scheduled lives, empower us with understanding and insight and perception to truly be able to make the world a better place tomorrow, as each one is given. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
August 29, 2021
Fanny Crosby Hymn Festival
Isaiah 42: 6–8, NRSV
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Fanny Crosby Hymn Festival. Whether you are a music fan or not, credit is due to this person who wrote over 9,000 hymns over her 94 years; so our service today being shaped around her life and hymn texts.
Though she lost her sight as a new born in 1820, she was a contented person and well educated. As can often happen, a great deal of personal hardship inspired her lyrics, which affirmed her reliance on Jesus as Savior.
It’s an interesting “connect” that Fanny was in her prime when this church was built. And singing a tune from the 1800s is not the top goal of most modern Christians. And yet, God used this remarkable woman to turn her trials into compelling stanzas that, when paired with the power of music, found their way into the heart and onto the tongues of Christians across the globe, decades and centuries. This year marks the 201st anniversary of her birth, so it is an occasion for us to give God the glory for all God has done, is doing, and will do - through her, down to us, and on out through us. So we raise our voices in praise of our God, knowing that the same words have been sung for almost 200 years around the world, and they still have all their power today.
As we enter into our opening hymn, let us be reminded that the Light of Christ is with us as we are gathered in Christ’s name, as it will go with us when we leave.
Let us stand and sing #572 in the red hymnals. “Blessed Assurance” (all three verses)
One of the central elements of worship around the world is music. Where else can you sing in a group setting, generally with live accompaniment during any given week? Scripture is full of references to music and Psalms is the hymnbook of the Jews. We know that Jesus sang as did the disciples: at the end of Christ’s last supper, the writer of Matthew concludes, “When they had sung a hymns, they went out” (Mt 26:30).
While Paul and his companions were imprisoned for their faith, they sang hymns. This would have amazed the other prisoners - Paul and his friends having been severely beaten before this impromptu hymn sing! The book of Revelation offers images of heaven in which joyful music is continually heard by all. The styles of music change, but the song continues.
The story of Fanny Crosby is remarkable as she is one of the most prolific North American hymn writers, a woman of the 19th and 20th centuries. The great Congregational hymn writer, Isaac Watts, got to just 750 hymns, and the Methodist writer, Charles Wesley is her only real equal at 8,989 hymns.
When she was six weeks old, mis-treatment of a mild eye infection with a hot mustard poultice by a visiting physician resulted in losing her sight. Shortly after, her father died, leaving her 21-year-old mother to fend for the two of them. Fanny’s grandmother was her primary caregiver while her mother hired herself out as a maid. Both women were strong Christians and passed their faith on to Fanny.
There were few services for those with visual impairments in the 1820s, but Fanny’s grandmother had no intention of her granddaughter missing out on life. She taught Fanny to memorize Scripture, up to five chapters each week, and Fanny developed a remarkable memory. In spite of losing her sight and her father before her first birthday, Fanny was surrounded by love in her childhood and didn’t feel as if she lacked for much.
When Fanny was 18, her mother, Mercy Crosby, remarried, and the couple had three children. One can imagine Fanny’s delight at having three very young half-siblings after a quiet life with her mother and grandmother. However, six years and three young children later, Mercy’s husband abandoned the family, adding a tremendous burden to Mercy and her 24-year-old daughter. This time it was three generations who worked together to compensate for the loss of another husband: Fanny, her mother and grandmother, Eunice. Life was challenging all over again.
When Fanny was 38 she married Alexander van Alstyne, considered one of the finest organists in the New York area. Alexander, too, was visually impaired. The two met at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, where Fanny taught for 23 years. One year after they married, they had a baby daughter, Frances, who died in her sleep soon after birth. Some believe that Fanny’s hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” was inspired by her young daughter’s death.
Fanny seldom spoke of this daughter, and the couple never had another child. Fanny carried with her through life the brief joy of being a mother and the tremendous grief of losing her daughter. Sadly, Fanny’s marriage struggled after this loss, and she and her husband moved apart. Neither remarried, and they remained friends until he died. Through her own trials, Fanny clung to her faith as expressed in the worlds of her hymn “Near the Cross”: Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, “Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
Though most of Fanny’s hymns were written more than 150 years ago, they have lasting value. As we sing our way through her life today, may we draw even more closely to the God Fanny loved and served.
You may remain seated as we sing the first two verses of#319 in the red hymnals. 3
“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” (verses 1 & 2) #319
Fanny never felt sorry for herself. She wrote her first poem when she was eight years old - evidence of the positivity and love of her upbringing: “Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world contented I will be! How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t! So weep or sigh because I’m blind, I cannot - nor I won’t.”
When Fanny was about 14 years old she learned of the New York Institute for the Blind. She knew this was the answer to her prayer for an education. She was a student there for twelve years and taught in the Institute for twenty-three years. She became the face of the academic institution and was asked to write poems for all sorts of occasions. The school became the locus of efforts to promote the cause of the visually impaired. Consequently Fanny often met with dignitaries including presidents, generals and other important figures. When Fanny was 31 years old she addressed the New York State Legislature to bring attention to the school and its important work. Her sensitivity to the sightless shows up in the wording of many of her hymns.
Her hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” came from Fanny’s grateful heart after she received what she understood as a direct answer to her prayer. She once was in a desperate need of five dollars. As was her habit, Fanny prayed and placed her need in God’s hands. Within a matter of minutes a man appeared at her door with the exact amount. She said, “I have no way of accounting for this except to believe that God put it in the heart of this good man to bring the money. My first thought that it is so wonderful the way the Lord leads me. I immediately wrote the poem and Dr. Lowry set it to music.
That hymn was first published in 1875. As we sing it, we can hear how Fanny gave praise to a Savior who guided her steps and gave needed grace for every trial. May Fanny’s testimony also be ours.
You may remain seated as we sing the first verse of #680 in the red hymnals. 3
“All The Way My Savior Leads Me” (1st verse) #680 4
While Fanny has been best remembered as a hymn writer, her greatest passion was for those struggling with poverty. She willingly gave away the few assets she had for the support of the New York City missions. Fanny stated, “From the time I received my first check for my poems, I made my mind up to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.” She earned only one or two dollars per song, with all future royalties going not to her, but the composer of the melody. This small income never went toward her own home; she always rented modest apartments and had very few possessions. Her willingness to place the needs of the poorest city dwellers above her own became her trademark. Her concern for the marginalized often shows up in her hymns.
When Fanny couldn’t be found at one of the downtown missions, she might have been presenting at one of her many speaking engagements, perhaps in the company of famous people, her published poems and countless hymns putting her in the spotlight. At age 21 Fanny wrote a poetic eulogy on the death of President William Henry Harrison that was published in The New York Herald. Fanny’s poems were often published there or in The Saturday Evening Post.
One of her music students was 17-year-old Grover Cleveland. He often transcribed the poems that Fanny dictated, and the two became good friends. Cleveland wrote a recommendation for her in a 1906 autobiography, and she wrote a poem for his inauguration.
Fanny wrote the text to several cantatas, one of which comprised some 35 songs. She wrote choruses for music pieces that were performed at large churches and concert halls. She was asked to write poems of welcome for visiting dignitaries and songs to support Abraham Lincoln in the agony of the Civil War.
But in the midst of this busyness and notoriety Fanny never waved in her commitment to the poor, choosing to live frugally so she could give to others. One day, when she had returned from a visit to a mission in one of the poorest districts in New York City, her heart was particularly attuned to the neglected poor, and in response she penned the words to the hymn “Rescue the Perishing.” She tells the story in these words: “I usually tried to get to the mission at least one night a week to talk to “my boys.’ I was addressing a large company of working men one hot summer evening, when the thought kept forcing itself on my mind that some mother’s boy must be rescued that night or he might be forever lost. So I made a pressing plea that if there was a boy present who had wandered from his mother’s home and teaching, he should come to me at the end of the service. A young man of 18 came forward - ‘Did you mean me, Miss Crosby? I promised my mother to meet her in heaven, but as I am now living, that will be impossible.’ We prayed for him and suddenly he arose with a new light in his eyes -
‘Now I am ready to meet my mother in heaven, for I have found God.” With each remarkable story of faith, Fanny always gave God the glory!
You may stand as we sing the first verse of #56 in the red hymnals. “To God Be the Glory” (1st verse) 4
First Congregational Church
August 22, 2021
13th Sunday after Pentecost
“Drawing Lines - Or Not”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
You know how they throw the ball into the crowd after they win the game? That’s not allowed in bowling. I know that now. You know the way it smells after the rain? That’s call petrichor. You know the plastic or metallic coating at the end of your shoelaces? That’s called an aglet. The rumbling of stomach? Called a wamble. You know how much your pastor cares for you? She thinks of ways that will engage and start your brain for the coming magnificence called a sermon.
Actually, had this pastor been more on the ball, she’d have looked ahead to notice that the gospel lectionary passages for today and the past four weeks were all from the chapter of John 6. She might have been able to have created a sermon series, but no one would want such a perfect pastor, because that’s not reality. And she would have realized that one week had a passage that was a snippet from the previous week - kind of like the meat in a sandwich. But that might be too cheesy. Thus we get to this last section from John 6, and fair warning, yes, some of the verses - three actually - were heard last Sunday. But they are needed to make sense of the rest of today’s verses.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Thank you, Sharon. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood.” The junior high part of my brain wants to ask if Jesus was asking us to be vampires. Thank goodness, I’m a grown-up now.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sidling up the the disciples. This IS a hard teaching - in part because it’s gross. As 21st century mature Christians, we know they are symbolic words. But back then, it would have been interesting to see how the disciples flinched or rolled their eyes or had that “Dude, what are you talking about” look.
Again, I don’t know about any of you, but the first part of this passage isn’t what caught my brain and heart. It was the last part; about the “time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” I didn’t know Facebook was that old - no longer followed him….
On a serious note, knowing the emotion in their voices would have made the last exchange of words so much less open ended, if that makes sense.
Even though it says that Jesus knew who would betray him from the beginning, does that mean only Judas, or “the many” who actually turned away at that moment, too? Or even all those who have turned away from Christ since then? Just one of those ‘hmmm’ questions.
To the point, the passage sounds like Jesus is saying that his followers either believe what he is saying about bread and blood or go home. You’re in or your out. Line in sand. Pick. Live with your decisions and consequences. I don’t think that’s what Jesus - or the writer of John - was meaning.
At the beginning of this 6th chapter, the people were needing something to eat, and Jesus gave it to them - however the miracle actually panned out. They had one miracle, and as is so human, they wanted another. So Jesus did a little walking on water and stilling a storm, which is not the same as distilling a storm, and holy tomalley, if Jesus can do that, what else does the magician have up his sleeve?
But Jesus doesn’t give them more miracles. Charlotte, NC United Methodist pastor James Howell points out that “from thousands, there is now only a handful left.” Decorated Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian, Jean Vanier, “sees chapter 6 (which he says is “as difficult as a storm”) as a long journey “from the weakness of the newborn child we once were to the weakness of the old person we will become – growth from ignorance to wisdom, selfishness to self-giving, fear to trust, guilt feelings to inner liberation, lack of self-esteem to self-acceptance… The feeding itself reveals a caring God… Jesus calls his disciples to move from a faith based on a very visible miracle that fulfilled their needs to a faith that is total trust in him and in his words, which can appear foolish, absurd, impossible.”
Moving ahead just a bit, Presbyterian pastor, author and college professor, C. Thomas Hilton made the point that Jesus was speaking in the synagogue, to people who were familiar with Jewish faith. Mr. Hilton’s point was that Jesus wasn’t trying to destroy their faith, “but to fill it more full of divine truth.”
Associate Pastor of Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, VA, Laura Martin. wrote something, the gist of what has been floating around in the internets these days.
“To be human is to live in overlapping worlds. It is possible to be without illusion, but with hope. It is possible to miss what was, and also feel relief that it is gone. It is possible to want for more than this moment and to be full with what is now. Know that you can both Live with fidelity and question what faithfulness is. So let yourself point to a place where you may never arrive, And stand in the place Where contradictions meet, And both things are true.” Presbyterian pastor emeritis, Rev. Dr. Ned Edwards added, “It is possible to believe that God is Love, and not feel very loved.”
The beauty of these words is that there is no line in the sand to cross over or not. They are ways of seeing the world - not as in good or bad - but full. How many times have we seen or read about Jesus doing one thing - which seems so obvious - only to realize that it is so much more?
Even though my buy, Stephan Garnaas-Holmes is retired, he’s still putting out good, perspectively thoughtful stuff. “Our struggle is not against violent people but against violence. Our struggle is not against people at all, even the most evil ones, but against the evil itself, that old ruler, which clenches our hearts as well as theirs. Our struggle is against systems and structures, the powers that dehumanize people and diminish life, the spiritual forces we've ingested, the authorities we've knelt to. We are rebelling against our own masters. To vanquish the conquerors we must vanquish our desire to conquer. Before we are victorious we must become free.”
I have to say, it was interesting to read these words with the filter of Afghanistan over them, but they are still true. And it’s hard to recall them through the emotional and cognitive connections we have with friends or family going through a divorce or suffering from any sort of malady or debility. But the words are still true.
One final quote from James Howell, “maturity is realizing that the gift God gives is... God's own self, Emmanuel, God with us.” From that amazing pastor at Frankfort Congregational comes the reminder that there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. And then there’s that astoundingly profound sermon title, “Drawing Lines - Or Not.” So shall we pray.
Great, Extraordinary, Exceedingly Consummate God, thank you for your patience with us as we live and grow and stretch and transform more into the model that Christ set for us. Thank you for all the do-overs and second-chances that never diminish your concern or hope for your children. Sometimes we realize, sometimes we don’t, just how powerful and able and possible we are. When we don’t realize those times, forgive us. When we realize those times, enable us to embrace them for all we’re worth, that our efforts and understandings may be continually greater. Whether it is our own selves, with our family or friends, even this whole, big world, instill in each of us the desire to be all that you have ever seen us to be. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.