Give Those Old Hymns A New Listen

 I’m preaching again this week on a two point charge that is between ministers. They are coping with that strange period of dealing with loss and re-examining themselves. I know it will all work out fine; they are all good people and will look to God as a guide.

I asked that the Music Directors would choose the hymns and this week they opted to pick their favourites, for the most part, OLD favourites. This is fine with me because I love them too. In a period of transition it is human nature to seek comfort in the pleasant memories from days gone by.

The old hymns are comforting, like well worn slippers. They don’t challenge us; they reaffirm where we are and what we’ve become and they connect us with our history. Old hymns remind me of my younger days as well. My family considered itself Christian yet we hardly ever went to church. However, my Dad was famous for what Mom called the “morbid hour” on Sunday. Dad would listen to gospel records from the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford, George Beverly Shea, Elvis and others. He loved watching Billy Graham Crusades and I can still recall being drawn by the power of the choir singing “Just As I Am” at the end as people came forward. This was our church. That hymn obviously meant something to Mom and Dad. The words “O Lamb of God, I Come,” are chiselled into their headstone.

I began attending church in 1991. I was moved to do this by a song, “Just As I Am.” Not the gospel song, but a song of the same name by Ricky Van Shelton. The song kept playing over in my head and it spurred me to search out the gospel song of long ago. Listening to it brought back fond memories of a long forgotten time. I enjoyed that old slipper feeling.

My purpose here, however, is not to celebrate that tranquil state invoked by the old hymns. Rather, my purpose is to bring a sword; a sword to cleave yesterdays blind faith from today’s spiritual enlightenment. I choose as an example a hymn we are using this Sunday, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.”

I want to explain who Jesus, “the friend” really is. Over hundreds of years we have come to equate Jesus with God. This is supported by numerous Bible references and has been interpreted and promoted by the early church (in a language few understood) as a means to gain power. This is Blind Faith. Now, there is some truth here. God was in Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit but Jesus (the man) was not God! So the friend we have in Jesus is not Jesus the human. It is the friend that is in Jesus. This is Good News.

It is good news that Jesus was a regular human, just like most of us. He was religious, studious, industrious and loving. Yet Jesus was different than most of us too. He had a highly developed (maybe totally developed) spirit within. This Spirit was of such magnitude that people came to see Jesus as God incarnate. I hold that there have been similar people through history. People like Buddha, St. Augustine, Martin Luther King Jr. and my favourite, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi and Jesus both had that highly developed spirit within and the exciting thing for me is that they were both human beings like you and I.

Jesus and Gandhi both realized that still, small voice within and nurtured it to a magnificent maturity. They discovered that spirit was their friend within. They were never alone. They always had a guide. They always had a helper.

When we sing, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus,” and other hymns, sing “Jesus” but learn to think “Holy Spirit”. That is our friend. This is good news for us in that we have the truest friend ever, and right within our being. You know, doing this, scripture and hymns will sound the same, but they will take on a deeper, more personal meaning. Kind of like old slippers.

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