by Christopher Zurcher
On attending the church service at Church of the Redeemer, Aug. 12, 2012.
What a powerful service. I began to become aware of today’s theme during the children’s message by Courtney Mason – anger and forgiveness and, of course, love. The message followed “Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer,” a hymn ultimately, I think, about God delivering or “guiding” his people to safety through the desert, or “barren land,” regardless of their sins, regardless of how they felt after having been led across the desert.
Now this country is in its own deserts, particularly, for this rant, the mineral-rich Afghanistan.
The message, delivered eloquently by Courtney, was about anger and how it is human to have it, but ungodly to have too much of it.
Following, eventually, was Interim Pastor the Rev. Kevin Ewing’s message, echoing, again, the “too much anger” message. Ephesians 4:25-5:2:
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The hymn of preparation was #503, “O Savior, Let me walk with thee,” a poem written by Washington Gladden for a devotional column published in his magazine “Sunday Afternoon” in 1879. Gladden was an outspoken minister and writer on social-justice issues, who served churches in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio. He never intended for the poem to be converted into a hymn. But what a fitting hymn and even more fitting a writer to have written the preparation hymn for Kevin’s sermon that followed.
I wish church services had titles that hinted toward their themes. I guess during times of Lent and Easter and Christmas, they inevitably have themes. Today’s theme emerged slowly, gracefully, powerfully.
A grandmother happened to come in after the service began and sat in front of me. She had prayer requests for Ron Paul and for her grandson, who just received a college scholarship. Her requests made the message more poignant than it would have been for a number of reasons.
Ron Paul, she said, is the only candidate she trusts to not send her grandson to Afghanistan. Regardless of who the best candidate is, this grandmother continued to explain how her grandson just received a college scholarship and IS going to COLLEGE, NOT going to AFGHANISTAN.
I could hear the anger in her voice. I could hear the anger and years, decades, generations of frustration with a system led by leaders who are elected based on speeches imbued with the spirit of things like hope and change, economic improvement, Social Security and Medicare reforms, troop withdrawal and peace.
She cried so hard she was sobbing. I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder. She continued to sob. Other parishioners came to her side to comfort her. One fetched her a cup of water, and another cup, and another, as though feeding the spring from which her tears came and leading me back again to the lyrics of the Processional Hymn, “Guide Me,”
Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
The cloudy pillar image, as well as the crystal fountain and healing stream images, are from Exodus, from which William Williams drew for his “Guide Me” hymn, which was today’s Processional.
On further study I’m struck by the cruel irony of the words of this passage when relating it to my experience at today’s service – the message about the anger, the grandmother’s state, the hymns, the sermon (into which Kevin included some fitting anecdotes about his social justice work in New Haven – also a fitting addition considering Gladden’s work).
From the same chapter (Exodus 33):
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” Teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The words “Remember that this nation is your people” take on a political meaning to me. At first when the grandmother at today’s service mentioned Ron Paul, I thought, “Let’s not bring politics into the church.” But on further reflection, on hearing her anger, her determination that her grandson WOULD go to college, NOT to Afghanistan, I began to think it quite fitting that she brought politics into the service. I thought of the message of anger, forgiveness, and love that was being preached and received by all.
Teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.
Our leaders know this, but more and more it seems that We are not Their people unless we are CEOs of oil companies and armament companies.
This is why the grandmother was crying, and this is what brought tears to my eyes as well. It just took me awhile to figure out from what crystal fountain they were coming.
I can’t help but think what this grandmother is capable of and what she might do if her grandson is somehow drafted, God forbid, to go to Afghanistan.