Trinity Sunday – Summer Series
May 31, 2015
Grace, Mankato, MN
I love to sing, even though I’m not a very good singer. That’s why I like leading worship services in nursing home services. Those hard of hearing folk think I sing wonderfully. Song is powerful. Isn’t amazing how you can sing a song that you haven’t sung in 40 years ago and do it almost word for word? When it comes to the songs of faith, they are even deeper as evidenced by those with memory loss who come alive when the old familiar hymns are sung. There is an old Latin phrase you learn in seminary, lex orandi, lex credendi. It means that the law or rule of prayer is the law or rule of belief. In other words, what we pray expresses and even helps define what we believe about God, the world and our life of faith. Of course, songs and hymns are prayers set to music that not only express our faith, but also carry our emotions and feelings.
Today we begin our summer sermon series called, “Singing Our Faith.” In this series we will explore several of our most beloved hymns and songs, both old and new, as nominated by you. Each week we’ll learn something about the author and the context in which the song was written while putting the song in conversation with scripture. It seemed appropriate to start with I Love to Tell the Story, nominated by Mary LeClerc and Becky Glaser. Mary notes
I really don't have a particular reason for choosing "I Love to Tell the Story" other than it's one of the great old standard hymns and they always bring back many good memories of hearing them as a child. I may have also heard the song on a radio show - perhaps Billy Graham's hour with his choir. But the choir was not as spectacular as the Voices of Grace.Becky has similar memories. “As a child, it’s one of the first hymns I started remembering the words to. It is also a hymn that I sang at my grandmother's church. My grandmother was very faithful and nothing brought her more joy that when her family visited and went to church together."
I Love to Tell the Story was written by Catherine Hankey. Hankey lived in England 1834-1911 and this hymn grew out of the second part of a long poem she wrote about the life of Christ. She wrote it as she was recovering from a serious illness and it reflects her evangelical passion. This fervor is reflected as she taught church school classes to children, rich and poor alike, and supported both home and foreign missions.
Though Hankey and another person wrote tunes to the poem/hymn, it didn’t catch on until William G. Fischer wrote his tune (named after Hankey) and added a refrain. This was much to her chagrin as Hankey thought the hymn was just fine without a refrain. More importantly, the hymn emphasizes the importance of telling Christ’s story to saved and unsaved alike, both now and “in glory.” One more note: the original hymn had four verses, but most hymnals eliminate the second as redundant. We will sing all four verses today, adding the deleted second verse to the end.
Hankey’s song doesn’t quote scripture directly, but it did make me think of this story in Acts 16. Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned on trumped-up charges for casting out a demon from a slave girl who had been annoying them. Locked in stocks, which made sleeping, let alone rolling over, impossible, they pray and sing. We don’t know what they were singing—there were hymns being created already in the early church—but what is important that in the midst of their pain and suffering they choose to praise God rather than curse men. And in great understatement, we learn that the other prisoners were listening to them. No wonder!
Acts 16 is a snapshot of the church’s life together, in which unlikely people are chosen to be a part of God’s story. This is a story that testifies to God’s presence in our midst, especially in suffering. As a church, we gather to hear the Word spoken and sung. As a church we gather to wash each other’s wounds. As a church we gather to share a meal. Our joy in suffering comes not out of some masochistic bent but rather from remembering our identity as children and servants of God. Our singing reflects our trust in a God who is more powerful than the forces of evil in this world. The powers of this world cannot stand in the face of our singing, even in the darkest times.
Of course, today we also remember that the God we sing about is the triune God, the one we name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Bad analogies of the Trinity aside, this is not a God to be explained as much as celebrated in all God’s mysteriousness. But perhaps the greatest mystery of all is that in singing our faith, the old, old story, moves us beyond and outside of ourselves. It moves us to, as our mission statement says, “Through God’s abundant love we live and work to serve others.” I think that’s the reason I love to sing and tell the story, because it reminds me that I am a part of God’s story. It’s a story that brings meaning and purpose to my life and that, through me, God can make a difference in the lives of others. Thanks be to God! Amen.