To God be the Glory
Based on 2 Samuel 6:12-19, Ephesians 1:3-14, Psalm 24
Fanny Crosby died more than 100 year ago – 1915 to be exact. She was a remarkable woman who, though blind from age six, wrote somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 lyrics and poems. Many of these were transformed into hymns (seven in our Methodist hymnal – most by any woman) that are still beloved today, “Blessed Assurance”, “Please Don’t Pass Me By”, and our opening hymn today, “To God Be the Glory”. Everything that I have read about her shows a woman deeply committed to her faith and though without use of her eyes, she saw a great deal and wrote poems of support for those in need. In fact, she devoted her time after she turned 60 to ministering in the Bowery area of New York City – a truly deprived and depraved area in the late 1800’s. Her song, “Rescue the Perishing” was the mantra she used as she went to this slum every day to seek for another lost soul to be saved.
To Fanny there was no greater sin than to sit around and feel sorry for herself. God had greatly gifted her, and it was her task while on earth to use her gifts to the glory of God. She must never have been without the ability to dictate her poems – in fact, stories are told of how she listened to tunes and immediately thought of words to go with those tunes. The witness she left us is one of great love and praise for a God who was worthy of all of her (and our) praises. Let us go now to God and thank God for the ways that we all have been greatly gifted…
The 24th Psalm, which was adapted for use as our “Call to Worship” today is a wonderful song for those on pilgrimage as they come near the last climb to the Temple mount in Jerusalem. King David may have penned this song to remind Israel that she was to have “clean hands” and “pure hearts” before they chose to stand in the holy place of the Temple. David calls for the very gates and doors to be lifted up so that the “King of glory may come in”. The “King of glory who is the LORD (of hosts), strong and mighty…” David wanted Israel not to forget herself and to make sure they understood who they were worshipping. I wonder if David was singing this song before the Ark of the Covenant as we heard in our Hebrew Bible reading today?
In the reading from 2 Samuel today, King David brings up the Ark of God from Obed-edom to the Temple in Jerusalem. He goes before it sacrificing and dancing our scripture says, “…with all his might;…” – “leaping and dancing before the LORD”. The daughter of Saul, Michal, saw David dancing in a linen ephod (which is basically a cloth panel front and back with a belt holding it on), and she was embarrassed for him. The king of Israel showing all of himself to the people lining the roads as the Ark came into Jerusalem. When she confronted David over his behavior, his retort was, “…I will make myself more contemptible than this…and by them I will be held in honor….” David knew that the God who had greatly favored the littlest of Jesse’s sons, deserved only the best of David’s worship and praise – something lost on Michal.
Paul is writing to the believers in Ephesus, a port city in what is eastern Turkey, and now many miles inland from the Agean Sea. He was opening his letter to them with a reminder of the blessings they had freely received from God through Jesus. Paul names those blessings as: redemption through the blood of Jesus, forgiveness of our trespasses, making known the mystery of his will, marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, and the inheritance of living for the praise of Jesus’ glory. One could wonder who, upon hearing that litany of blessings, would not also break out into loudest praise and thanksgiving because we have been adopted through our baptisms into the Body of Christ and heirs to life eternal!
Yet, there are many who do not know Jesus. This last week, I was asked to officiate the funeral of a 17 year old who took her life. I was recommended to them by a fellow Methodist minister and when they called I accepted…not knowing the situation. The family was split and many in both groups were not churched. In meeting with the families before the Visitation, it was clear that they were still in shock – and only a few of them voiced any of the questions they had about her final decision. They marveled that she was always smiling and happy and helpful/caring – nothing about the darkness which also was a part of her life.
I prayed and thought a lot about my remarks for the funeral service. How do I best speak about the elephant in the room? How do I address all the feelings that were thickly covering all of us? I didn’t know if the young woman had been baptized or even inside a church before this unknown pastor got up to help everyone say good-bye to her at the funeral home and cemetary. How would I speak about this person, Jesus, with whom many in that gathering of 200 souls had no relationship? Then I was led to a website and to a homily that a pastor had given. I liked his approach so I began to pray and work with it. I also remembered what Paul had to say in our reading today about how very blessed we are. I remembered Paul’s letter to the Romans and Psalm 139 and suddenly I was convinced in my heart that she had been forgiven and redeemed!
At that moment I rejoiced and became peaceful and calm in my soul. Even this young person with no relationship to Jesus had been forgiven and accepted into the bosom of God. She was redeemed even though she did not know about God’s grace or unconditional love for her. She had taken her life before she knew that no matter how dark the place she wandered, that she needn’t have feared – because Thou was with her. In that service on Friday I was able to thus preach good news to all, and to help them begin to address some of their questions, anxieties, fears, anger (even anger at God), etc. There were many who found some peace and hope in what was shared. A few who had a relationship with God through Jesus commented on how it built on their understanding. Thanks be to God for never leaving my side during that time – what a blessed assurance it is to be a child of God; and how great is our God who leads us to what we need when we need it!
Which brings me back to our theme for today. If those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus can be uplifted by an unknown preacher at a very dark time…how much more should we be uplifted and joyous every week when we come to refresh ourselves at the living water? Why are we not singing Hallelujahs from the roof top and telling everyone we see on the street and in our jobs what a difference it makes to know the loving presence of God in our lives? A presence that protects and defends us from giving in to the dark. A presence that reaches out to us when we are lost and afraid and says, “I know the way, just follow me”. We forget to tell anyone because it is second nature for us – knowing Jesus is nothing new and special.
Until you have a moment where you need God to be on your side…like I did this week. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would not have found my voice or the courage to say what needed to be said without the love and comfort of my God. A God who had conquered both my sin and the sins of the world, and the specter of death, through the self-sacrifice of Jesus. This is a God who is large enough to take on all the hurt and pain and anger of a world and say quietly and persistently, “I am here with a plan to make things right again. Come and follow me and do your part.” Part of what we are called to do is to rightly thank God for all the blessings we receive. To return to God our truest worship, thanks and praise for how good God is all the time. Fanny Crosby had it right with her songs, “To God be the Glory” and “Blessed Assurance” and so many others. Let us spend this next week telling the story and singing the song of our Savior, Redeemer, Lover and friend Jesus, to those who have never heard of him, or who haven’t heard in a long time the saving story of how God came to earth in the form of a child to transform us all. To God be the glory, great things God has done, is doing and will continue to do! Thanks be to God, AMEN!!