26 July 2020
Romans 8
St. Luke’s episcopal church
North little rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

Be filled with the spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the lord in your hearts, giving thanks to god the father at all times and for everything in the name of our lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In my last sermon, I brought two poems to share with you “Cast All Your Votes for Dancing” by Hafiz, and “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte. Today I have brought two hymns to share with you, “He Leadeth Me” and “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” To some they will be quite familiar, and for others it may be the first time you’ve ever heard of them. Before I share them with you, there is a backstory to share first.

This past week marked my 15th year as an ordained priest in Christ’s One, Holy, and Apostolic Church. Upon awakening on this important anniversary, I had a hymn playing in my mind and heart, it was one I had not thought of in years: “He Leadeth Me.” This old hymn from my childhood perfectly encapsulated my spiritual journey from a child, to a layperson, and then as an ordained priest. I posted some of the words on my Facebook page and there were 148 responses! A couple of days later another ‘oldie but goodie’ came back to my thoughts, known as “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” This hymn brought me back to a place of strength and trust. It got even better when I found out from a parishioner that the very same hymn, on the very same day had been playing in their heads as well! This brought great comfort to the both of us!

I remember meeting the late Rich Mullins, a musician who was a writer of contemporary spiritual songs such as, “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” and “Our God is an Awesome God.” When explaining why he had become a musician, he asked, “How many sermons can you remember?” There was a silent pause, he then asked how many songs I could remember, and of course there was a flood of titles that immediately came to mind. While I obviously believe sermons are important, his point was well made: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs become powerfully imbedded in our minds, and as this last week attests, can be a source of great comfort and strength, particularly when facing difficult days.

It has been a joy to see the emails coming in in response to our appeal for parishioners to share your favorite hymns. There have been over 40 titles so far. A lot of these hymns are found in the church’s hymnal, but there are a good number of those who are not. Like me, many have come to the Episcopal Church from a different faith tradition and they bring their songs with them – former Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics, to name a few. This fact by itself speaks for the spiritual power imbedded in these great songs of faith.

Back in the 5th century St. Augustine surely had experienced their spiritual power when he said, “He who sings, prays twice!” The great composer of baroque and church music, Johann Sebastian Bach said: “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.” Martin Luther, the great reformer and hymn writer noted, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul, it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” The great 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky said, “The Church knew what the psalmist knew: Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church’s greatest ornament.”

“He Leadeth Me” was written in 1862, in the midst of our nation’s bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, by a Baptist minister named, Joseph Gilmore. The idea for the hymn came to him one day while teaching his congregation about the 23rd Psalm. During the dark war-torn days, the thought of being guided and protected by the Good Shepherd seemed like a good theme for meditation, thanksgiving, and singing:

[Sing some of the words and chorus read the other verses?]

“On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” was written by Edward Mote, the son of a nonreligious British pub owner, who when he was 15 years old went to a service at the Tottneham Court Chapel, located in London, not far from the seats of earthly power found the Higher Power of God that is in Christ. He wrote over a hundred hymns and became an ordained Baptist minister later in life, at the age of 55. Mote’s hymn is a powerful reminder of the words of Jesus in the 7th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ tells us that the foolish build their houses upon a foundation of sand, while the wise build their houses upon the firm foundation of The Rock which is one of the symbols for Christ “the cornerstone, whom the builders had rejected.”

{sing some of the verse and chorus – read the other verses?}

I look forward to our singing of some of your favorites in the days ahead!

And, as we look to God and our spiritual resources during these days of pandemic, besides the Bible, and The Book of Common Prayer, let us not forget to take a third book off our shelves, The Hymnal, and to pray twice! Amen!