It is November, and many of my friends on Facebook are posting gratitudes. Each day they post words of gratitude for family, friends, joyful events, fond memories. This all is done in a spirit of Thanksgiving, expanding the attitude of giving thanks for more than just a holiday weekend.
One of the people who I am always grateful for is Janice, a member at a church I served a few years ago. Janice is the kind of person who loves holidays and is always cheerful and ready to serve others. For her, worship services near Thanksgiving needed to include the hymn “We Gather Together”. Thinking about singing that hymn with her today, I began to think about the role hymns play in our worship and formation.
Hymns help us to worship God because they help us praise. Hymns help us to describe who God is and how we understand God’s grace. Hymns help us to ask for God’s help, and they help us pledge our discipleship to Christ. In that last sense, discipleship, hymns that we sing often can help form us as followers of Christ. The words we sing over and over shape how we understand how we are to live in the world. Some hymns inspire our participation in mission. During November, we’ll use this space to consider hymns that inspire us in mission.
Back in the 1980s, I was a member of a United Methodist church in central Texas. I was a young adult and figuring out what it meant to be a Christian on my own. I’d attended church throughout childhood and some of my adolescence with my family, but when people become adults they need to figure out their faith on their own. One way I did this was to join the choir.
I don’t remember much about the choir. I can’t remember anyone’s name, the color of our robes, or where we sat. In fact, I don’t remember any of the worship services in which we sang. I do remember choir rehearsal, and the laughter we shared. I remember being asked to sing once in a quartet, just one hymn as a special anthem. We sang “Freely, Freely” from the United Methodist Hymnal. Perhaps it was a special anthem from the “new” hymnal at that time, I don’t recall. What I do recall is how the words of that hymn impacted me.
“God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name, and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share his love as he told me to.”
The language of “born again” wasn’t much used in the United Methodist congregations where I grew up, but this seemed different. This hymn wasn’t interested in the details of when, where, how I was “born again” but rather the responsibility that it placed on my life. I’ve been born again, but not for me. I’ve been born again to go and share.
“He said, freely, freely, you have received, freely, freely, give. Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live.”
This hymn didn’t say that I had to speak a certain way, memorize a certain speech, but rather to demonstrate my belief in Christ through my life. As a friend said recently, I was to “show them resurrection” through my living. It was much less about “go” and far more about how I would live out my faith.
This hymn (number 389 in the United Methodist hymnal if you’re interested) motivated my faith and my participation in mission work for many years. Even today this hymn comes to mind quite often, despite the fact that I can’t recall singing it in worship since that one Sunday back in the 80s.
What hymns inspire you to participate in God’s mission? Let’s compile a list of favorite hymns for mission!