First Congregational Church
August 18, 2013
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon Title: "If..., then...."
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of my favorite Facebook pages mentioned that yesterday was the Feast of St. Mamas, who, together with St. Papas, chanted harmoniously about peace and love. Cha, cha, cha, cha.
The story is told about a small, country church where the pastor called a special meeting of the congregation to approve the purchase of a brand new chandelier. After some discussion, pro and con, Ole stood up and said, "Buying a new chandelier may seem like a good idea to you, but I’m against it for three reasons. First of all, it’s too expensive and we can’t afford one. Second, there isn’t anybody around here who knows how to play one. And third, what we really need in this church is a new light fixture."
This past Thursday we celebrated the life of Merry Kay Hollenbeck. It was a good celebration, but there was one moment that caught my heart with its beauty. It was the Lord's Prayer. I sometimes wrestle with my using "debts" or "trespasses," not for theological reasons, but for familiarity and/or comfort of the others at that time.
As a side-bar, while I was looking for a note I had tucked away about the Lord's Prayer, I discovered this one that I had stashed away, that had been found in a long-time member's Bible, that of Ena Jackson.
You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer And even once say “I.” You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer And even once say “My.” Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer And not pray for one another. For when you ask for daily bread, You must include your (sisters and) brothers; For others are included in each and every plea From beginning to the end of it, It does not once say “Me.” (The great God-scidence of that little piece is how it fit today.)
For those wondering why in this church we forgive debts rather than sins or trespasses, it has to do - in part - with "church" tradition. Presbyterian and Reformed churches tend to use debts. Congregational churches have a close relationship to Reformed churches. Before "tradition," there was the issue of translation. The word had been translated "debts" in 1395 by John Wycliffe and "trespasses" some 130 years later by William Tyndale. To give you an idea of how this difference of translation can happen - and it's validity, think of how you would define the color of our walls, and you get the picture.
Back to the original point of divergence, when it came time to do the Lord's Prayer this past Thursday, what ended up happening was a beautiful picture of our scripture passage this morning. When we got to that point when the word "debts" or "trespasses" was to be said, the "debtors" said their version and then left the space for the trespassers to forgive those who trespass "against us." Then we all picked up on it together again, ending in our own different ways: our "forever," the Lutheran "and ever" and the Catholic folks among us crossing themselves. Sometimes the tendency is to "bowl over" those additional pieces. I don't know how many noticed it that night, but it was a beautiful moment: celebrating a good person with each other and allowing for individual differences.
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Thank you, Judy. One of the beautiful aspects of music that few people talk about is the math of it. Generally, two quarter notes equal a half note; two half notes equal a whole note. Same for the rests. Even though it's not everyone's great strength, math is pretty cool, and one of the delightful little gizmos from geometry is the if-then statement. My dad introduced me to one of the easiest if-then statements. If you don't behave, then I will spank you. Perhaps it was the frequent use of that statement that fostered my love of the beautiful concept.
It's so vivid in this morning's passage: if we are encouraged by being united with Christ, if we derive comfort from knowing about Christ's love for us, if we have received any tenderness or compassion, then we can be like-minded (like-minded being different from identical), of one spirit - even if we express that oneness of spirit differently. If we love how it feels to be so loved, then it is easier to love everyone that God gives us, regardless of their understanding of politics, theology, themselves or even the rest of us. If we are going to be as we were designed to be, then we do best to remember that this world is about receiving and giving, being welcomed and being welcoming.
For those wondering what the purpose of this message is, there is no major conflict here - at least of which I'm aware. But you know how it is when someone tells you you're doing a good job? Or they speak highly about how you do thus and such? That's a big part of this morning's message. Keep on doing a good job.
Even when you have to wait to get onto M-22, keep on looking not to your own interests as much as the interests of others. Who knows the purposes people have for cutting off or failing to give you a break? Even when when you want to run into of the grocery store yelling, "I found a parking place" then make sure to remember to pray for those who can no longer get to the store - for whatever reasons - that God will meet their needs. Don't forget that if we are truly citizens of God's earthly kingdom, then we do best to act like it. So should we pray.
Gracious God, we are grateful that you have united us together - through Christ. So help us when frustration or fatigue, grief or ingratitude take over our day-to-day living. Remind us not to simply be good citizens but to fulfill our obligations to the communities in which we live - as your disciples. As we work toward that end, encourage us with a helpful and healthy unity of spirit, mind and purpose. For all our answers to our prayer prayers and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
August 11, 2013
12 Sunday after Pentecost, Hymn and Hum Sunday, Communion Sunday
Hymn and Hum
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
The plan for a Hymn and Hum service was laid out before I went on vacation, so I guess I can't write the trip off on my taxes. But as I drove/trolled by huge rocks every day, there were some that had great cracks and fissures: sideways, up and down and every which way. It was uncanny how they kept bringing to mind the hymn "Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee." Even in the bush and wilds of nature, there are all kinds of reminders of God and all that God is and does.
Every Sunday hundreds of hymns are sung to praise God all over the world. But we don't always realize their importance - to us or God. So today we celebrate the historicity of some of our hymns of faith, in our present singing and in our future humming of them. For those who can sing parts, go right ahead. For those who just need to listen, you are freely welcome to do so. My hope is that there will be at least one song or hymn that will stay with you into the coming week.
"When In Our Music God Is Glorified" S 168
This morning's opening hymn is a part of the reason for the Hymn and Hum theme. As I speak about it, I invite you to turn to page 168 in the spiral books. It was included in this collection of songs and hymns because 1. it is a good, fairly modern, singable hymn written in 1972 and 2. because of the words.
There are times when you are in a group of people, and the singing takes on a life of it's own. That's verse two. How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia? Not many hymns speak to this phenomena of music-making as an important part of our spiritual experience.
It also speaks to the times when it is hard to sing with gusto, which is in verse four. "And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night when utmost evil strove against the light? Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight." Even if it's not familiar to you, perhaps by the end of the song, you, too, will sing your "Alleluia" with expectant gladness and a sacred familiarity.
"Just a Closer Walk"
Some hymns and songs somehow "emerge" without a certain author or beginning, and "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" is one of those songs. An African-American foundry worker, Elijah Cluke from Atchison County, Kansas, has been thought to be the writer, but that's not very certain.
The song became better known nationally in the 1930s when African-American churches held huge, all-night gospel-singing, musical conventions. The first known recording was by the Selah Jubilee Singers on October 8, 1941, the first gospel group to play in the famed Apollo Theater in New York City. Since that time, Pat Boone, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and many others have recorded it, although Elvis Presley set sales records with it on a 45 rpm single.
It is perhaps one of the most famous jazz funeral songs, starting out as a slow dirge accompanying the trip from the home to the cemetery, or as an up-tempo celebration of the deceased person's new life in eternity. However it has been used, what really matters today is the fact that the words have endured and Matt Hubbard will bring it to life like you haven't heard for a little while.
“Whispering Hope" S 170
The writer of our next hymn has a great name: Septimus Winner, though he sometimes used the pen name of Alice Hawthorne. Jim Reeves, Anne Murray and WIllie Nelson gave "Whispering Hope" an entrance into fame. After that, not much is know about the song, other than it was written in 1868. What we do know is that the reference to an anchor in the third verse is a correlation to a Bible passage from Hebrews 6:19, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf." That anchor is the "whispering hope" that keeps the soul steadfast - even when it may seem that the boat may be slipping away from its mooring.
“It Is No Secret” S 79
Stuart Hamblin, the writer of "It Is No Secret", has sometimes been called radio's first singing cowboy. When Billy Graham was in Los Angeles for a crusade in 1949, Mr. Hamblen had Mr. Graham on his radio show, and later that week, Hamblen decided to lifve his life as a devoted follower of Christ. Some time after that, Hamblen ran in to John Wayne, who asked him about the rumor around town that Hamblen had changed his ways. He told The Duke that it was no secret what God had done for him, and that God could do it for Wayne, too. Wayne said it sounded like a song and suggested that Hamblen write one. So he did.
“How Long Has It Been?” S 56
The next three songs are as much a part of some childhoods as Kool-Aid, swimming in the lake and lilacs in the spring. "How Long Has It Been" was written in 1956 by Mosie Lister, which, if nothing else, is a pretty cool name. But behind the composer's name is the fact that he was born tone deaf in Cochran, Georgia, yet become one of the great Southern Gospel musicians. After joining the Navy, serving in Florida and North Africa, returning from World War II, and studying engineering, Mr. Lister (how cool is that name?) joined the Sunny South Quartet. Not wanting to make a career of touring gymnasiums and concert halls, he returned home to open a music store and tune pianos. Another Mr. Lister, no relation - honestly, ended up recruiting Mosie to be the lead singer of a group that many of you will recognize: the Statesmen Quartet. Jim Reeves brought the song to the front of the stage when he recorded it in 1964, just three months before dying in a plane crash.
Most people that know "The Prayer," written by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa and Tony Renis, recognize it as the duet popularized by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. It was written for the sound track to an animated film, "Quest for Camelot" and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in 1998. Since then it has been performed by familiar names like Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Sandi Patti, Jackie Evancho and Susan Boyle. The song got a huge endorsement when it was sung by Bocelli and Groban in honor of the life of Luciano Pavarotti. Despite all the "fame" that surrounds the song, better still are the words that can, in and of themselves, guide us with God's grace to places where we can be safe, giving us faith so we'll be safe.
"The Church In the Wildwood" S 151, vs. 1 & 3
Many folks love the charm of the old hymn, "The Church In the Wildwood," but few here may guess that it has a closer connection to our little church. William S. Pitts was a young music teacher, living in Wisconsin, on his way to visit his fiance in Fredericksburg, Iowa, when the stagecoach stopped in Bradford to change horses. Stretching his legs, Pitts discovered a charming setting for a church, should someone decide to build one, and returning home, he wrote the words. Meanwhile, church members grew tired of meeting in places such as the lawyer's office, abandoned stores and parishioners’ homes. With great contributions of land, materials and labor, and despite the Civil War, the building was completed in 1862, just five years before this one was gathered. Irony of ironies, the congregation painted the little church brown not ever having heard the song, but because the color was the cheapest. They, as we, belong to the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, and since 1918, well over 73,000 weddings have been performed there; over 400 each year; a considerable number more than us.
"Shall We Gather at the River" S 131
Robert Lowry, professor of literature, Baptist pastor and music editor, was laying on his couch one hot day during the Civil War, exhausted from the heat. He was envisioning a bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful cool, crystal, river life. It dawned on him that many hymn writers wrote about the river of death, but few if any hymns about the river of life. So he wrote "Shall We Gather at the River," one of the nearly 500 hymns he wrote. As he "wondered," first came the question, "Shall we gather?" The broke in the chorus, "Yes, we'll gather;" sentiment not on the sorrow of death, but the joy of eternal life.
Pastor Dinah was on vacation and Rev. Bill Nelson filled the pulpit. It was another great day for everyone!
Pastor Dinah was on vacation and Rev. Bob McQuilken filled the pulpit. It was a good day for all!
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.