Friday, February 15, 2008

lenten journal: answering invitations

In getting to preach this Sunday, since Ginger is away on our church’s women’s retreat, I’ve been thinking about Abram and Nicodemus, the two stars of the lectionary readings this week, and tonight that’s led me to thinking about invitations.

As one who grew up Southern Baptist, invitation is a loaded word, tied to the altar call at the end of every service, calling people to conversion, church membership, or (as we often said) to “redecorate” their lives. As we sang the final hymn, the pastor stood at the front of the church and waited for people to step out into the aisle and come forward. On many occasions, the pastor would signal to the organist to pause and he (they were all men in those days) would implore us to not let the song end without responding to God’s call. For the most part, we all stood still and sang.

The hymns we sang were ones that spoke to our desire to be changed by our encounter with God.

All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give
I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live

I surrender all, I surrender all
All to thee, my blessed savior, I surrender all
The songs were filled with imagery of transformation:
Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way
Thou art the potter, I am the clay
Mold me and make me after thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still
The one I remember as the pinnacle of invitation hymns was
Just as I am without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me
And that thou bidst me come to thee
O, Lamb of God, I come
Thanks to YouTube, I’ve spent the better part of my evening alone flipping through gospel videos, listening to songs full of invitations to follow and calls to come home. I think about Abram, who hailed from what we know as Iraq, hearing God tell him to pack up and head west. The story is told in only a few verses because Abram didn’t do much talking; he packed up and left.

Nicodemus’ question to Jesus - and Jesus’ answer – unwittingly created one of the great dividing lines in Christianity, as some cling to the idea of being born again as label more than metaphor. Both were trying to come to terms with how we are changed when we encounter God. Neither had any idea how their words and actions would alter the landscape for those who came after them.

The story of our faith is a collection of short stories of individuals and communities of faithful followers who have answered God’s call to move and grow, or to be born anew into a world that needs a fresh incarnation of God’s love. Some of the stories are rich and full; some are tragic and some are laced with laughter.

In my musical journey this evening, I came across Mark Heard’s song, “Heart of Hearts”:
Tears in the city
But nobody's really surprised, you know
My heart's taking a beating
Existence is bleeding me dry, you know

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known divine love

The world is in shambles
I'm just a young man but it's been getting a little bit old to me
I'm already aching
The years have been taking a little bit of a toll on me

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known Divine love

Two in the morning
The siren is a warning that everything is not quite alright
The city is sleeping
I'm down on my knees in the night tonight

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known Divine love



I still don’t know exactly where the sermon is going, any more than Abram knew how to get to Canaan. What I do know is I can sing a few more verses and prepare myself to be changed, converted, even born again once more.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
As the old preachers used to say, close your eyes and make it a prayer.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

Songbird said...

Well.
Amen.

Africakid said...

Can't count how many times I sang this song growing up...and yes, it still holds great meaning.

I'm feeling weary of waiting on God tonight. These words will be my prayer too.

Real Live Preacher said...

You will write about the sermon, right? Maybe on Monday? What it was like to mount the pulpit once again. How long has it been?