Monday, July 11, 2016

Stand Up for Jesus

You know what they say about organists and terrorists: you can't negotiate with an organist. Well, our organist might put up a big fight about singing St. Patrick's Breastplate on Trinity Sunday and definitely groans when I insist on singing all 14 stanzas of "For all the saints," but we are partners in our work. A lifelong resident of Decatur and a longtime member of St. John's, he gives me great insights not only into our worship but also into the lives and relationships of the people in the pews. We spend time talking with each other three or four times every week. He is one of my biggest supporters, and I strive to be one of his.

Every month or two, we sit down for an hour or more to select hymns and service music for the coming weeks. We've been doing this together for four and half years, and we've fallen into some predictable patterns. One of those is looking for hymns that will rouse the congregation in the doldrums of summer, especially when our church choir is on break during July. We recognize that some of these hymns will have nothing to do with any of the lessons, but they are fun to sing, and the congregation loves them. One of these is "Stand up, stand up for Jesus," and we've decided to sing it this Sunday as our final hymn.

Yes, I know it has some militaristic imagery that has the potential to distract from our commitment to the peaceable kingdom. Yes, I know that it has some antiquated gender references to "men" serving the Lord. Yes, I know it emphasizes the separation of the faithful from the rest of the world in conquering, battlefield language. But it's a hymn about being faithful to Jesus, and our congregation loves it.

More importantly, this Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42) provides the perfect foil for the hymn. This gospel reading is the story of Jesus' visit to the house of Mary and Martha. The latter busies herself with the duties of hosting an honored guest, while the former sits and Jesus' feet, listening to whatever he says. Martha, upset that she has been left alone to do all the work, begs Jesus to tell her sister to help out, and Jesus replies with those famous, cutting words: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

When we picked this hymn for this Sunday, I said to our organist, "Are you sure? The gospel lesson is about sitting at Jesus' feet. Do we really want to 'Stand up, stand up for Jesus?'" And he looked at me with a long, silent smile, and I realized, "Yes, of course we do." This is the perfect week to hold those things in tension because discipleship isn't just about sitting at the master's feet, nor is it exclusively about getting up and doing something in Jesus' name. Contemplative and evangelical are always in balance.

I'm not preaching this week, and I'm looking forward to hearing how my more contemplative colleague tackles this Sunday's gospel lesson. Maybe he'll ask us to sit in silence for 10 minutes. Regardless, by the end of worship, it will be time to stand up and move out into the world, but we will do so remembering that we must always return to Jesus' feet.

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