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.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.