Selecting hymns is still the hardest part of each week’s worship design for me. When I look for hymns every week, first I need to find hymns that fit the place they’re going to be in the worship - praise to god, or a gathering hymn at the beginning of worship, a hymn about discipleship, mission or simply going out for the end of the service. And after the sermon. either one that restates the sermon to some extent, or leads nicely into the offering or communion. Then I have to choose one from each category that we can actually sing - either a familiar hymn or a hymn with a familiar tune, or at least one that has a fairly simple tune we can pick up easily. This is really hard, because I can’t read music, so unless I know the tune by name I have to sit and plunk out the notes on the little kid xylophone I keep in my office.
And then comes what may be the most important part - reading the words. When I read all the words to each hymn I have chosen, I have to think about the whole song says. Do all the words carry the message I want to get across or are there parts that say just the opposite? Sometimes the whole song is just so perfect I can let a difficult phrase go by. Sometimes all the verses are great, but the hymn is really long. I could just have us skip the verses I don‘t like, or shorten the really long ones, but cutting out bits messes with the message. Sometimes I wish we could just sing the chorus over and over. I think it’s important to sing the whole song, even if it’s long or has troublesome words.
James and John wanted the glory without the struggle and sacrifice that must come first. James and John had heard Jesus speak of his death, and his resurrection - and wanted to stand next to him when he came into power in glory. They wanted the places of honor in the coming kingdom - they wanted to stand in his reflected glory and have everyone look up to them. They were thinking of Jesus in terms of the only model of leadership they knew, the model of kings like Herod. In those days, kings and other leaders of nations chose their favorites to sit close to the power seat and enjoy the benefits that came with being a trusted friend. The trusted friends didn’t have to prove themselves as particularly qualified for the offices they were given, they just had to be friends of the ruler. They didn’t necessarily have to work at the job their title said they had - they had other people under them to deal with the details of the work. They simply reaped the benefits of their position. James and John wanted to sing the Alleluia Chorus without dealing with all those pesky words in between.
Jesus made it clear to them that this was not the model of leadership in God’s kingdom! Leaders in God’s kingdom must first of all be servants to everyone else in the kingdom. Leaders would be those who did not seek positions of leadership, but rather would have it thrust upon them because of their servanthood - because of their willingness to follow where Jesus led.
We saw an example of this yesterday at the GLAD luncheon and business meeting. One who has spent her life serving others - taking minutes, keeping records, decorating tables, collecting tickets, organizing anything organizable, worrying about others, making sure everything was ready for everyone else - was called forward to be recognized.
I wish you all could have been there yesterday when the GLAD moderator announced that GLAD in the PSW had instituted a new award to be given at each bienniel meeting to someone who is dedicated to the affirmation and inclusion of diversity in our churches - the Gwen Gutierrez Recognition of Affirmation and Inclusivity, and that the very first Gwen Gutierrez Recognition was going to Gwen, herself. Gwen was speechless - and when she did get her ability to speak back all she could say was that there were so many others who deserved recognition so much more! Spoken like a true servant. Sometimes singing the whole song means a servant has to accept being put in first place now and then. The thing about people who are truly servants, the way Jesus told his Disciples they must be, is that they never really believe they deserve first place.
The thing about singing the whole song is not skipping over the troublesome bits. At Assembly we voted on a number of resolutions. Most of them passed with little trouble, and with either unanimous or nearly unanimous responses. One, however, generated some disagreement on the floor and actually had to go to a hand count of the votes. When it passed with only a small majority, one Assembly participant requested that the actual number of votes be included in the minutes because on this particular topic - the war in Iraq - it was clear that there was no consensus, but that there was division among the assembled churches just as there is in our nation. If we are to present ourselves to the world as united on a given topic, then ethically we must also present ourselves as divided when that is the truth. If we are to truly serve the church and each other, if we are to sing the whole song of who the Disciples are, we must even name the things we don’t want to name - disagreements and conflicts. We must sing those troublesome verses as well as the words that make us feel good.
Every Sunday, as our offerings are presented, we sing the first verse of “We Give Thee But Thine Own.” It’s a wonderfully appropriate verse for the presentation of our tithes and offerings. But I wonder if we have permanently relegated this hymn in our minds to the realm of financial stewardship. I invite you now to take out your Chalice hymnals, turn to page 382 and let’s look at ALL the words.
We give thee but thine own,
whate'er the gift may be;
all that we have is thine alone,
a trust, O Lord, from thee.
May we thy bounties thus
as stewards true receive,
and gladly, as thou blessest us,
to thee our first fruits give.
To comfort and to bles,
to find a balm for woe,
to tend the lonely in distress,
is angels' work below
The captive to release,
to God the lost to bring,
to teach the way of life and peace -
it is a Christ-like thing.
And we believe thy Word,
though dim our faith may be;
whate'er for thine we do, O Lord,
we do it unto thee.
We are called to tend the sick, touch the lonely, free the captive - the actual prisoner of oppressive powers and principalities as well as the prisoner of depression, anger, hatred and all of those things which separate one from God - to teach the way of life and peace - for whatever we do for thine, O Lord, we also do for thee. We are called to give our first fruits - to give of the bounty we have received first to God’s service and then to everything else. We are called to follow Jesus, to live by his teachings, and to serve in whatever way we can all the children of God, for when we serve God’s children anywhere in the world, we also serve our Lord.
So let us be the servants to all that Jesus calls us to be. Let us give - our money and our lives - as we are called to do in this marvelous hymn. And now - right now - let us sing the whole song.
Hymn We Give Thee But Thine Own #382