Our Faith We Sing: O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing

Our Faith We Sing: O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing|
1 Peter 3:13–16
June 19, 2016
Rev. Michael F. Bailey

1 Peter 3:13–16 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

This past week has been quite a week. Your clergy and lay members of Annual Conference have been at Lake Junaluska. There, we experienced beautiful scenery, great fellowship, inspiring worship, and, I must say, some scorching heat. Christ Church was very well represented even in leadership of the conference. One day I saw Amy Coles, who went into ministry from CUMC, leading a session as I was seated by Kate May, who went into ministry from CUMC. Tom Jordan was on the stage with a leadership team he’s working with and many others currently with or from our church were at the Conference. Lucy Robbins, out of Christ Church, was ordained. Cindy Thompson and Louis appeared on the big screen during one report. We had a CUMC and friends gathering one night, and between 30 and 40 people were there. Incredible Linda Wilson led in hospitality that night making it happen. It was personally gratifying for my father to be with us; I don’t know of a Father’s Day since I went into the ministry that I was with him so close to Father’s Day. More, I’m receiving my greatest Father’s Day gift ever, even as we meet: Ian, our youngest son, is preaching for the first time today!

But, as with the rest of the world there was somewhat of a pall of shock and grief cast over our time this past week. After church last Sunday many of us became aware of the horror of hate and terrorism in Orlando, where 49 of God’s children, our LGBT brothers and sisters, were cruelly murdered and 53 injured at a place of play and joy for them. This week the news media revealed the grief of their friends, family, and community. And once again we ask why? Why do people who purport to being religious practice the ultimate idolatry of taking a life? Why do people kill others because they’re made differently by God? Why do are these kinds of guns available?

Theologically, we know the “why” is that we live in a fallen state as humans; evil is a real force and we pray for God’s justice. Yet, we seek to do our part in response to evil.

And what is our part? As a nation we certainly can seek to have our leadership address all of these issues in real ways instead of resorting into entrenched partisan positions and name-calling—that help no one.

But isn’t there a deeper, more significant-than-mortal-political answers for us, followers of Christ? I think so.

I think our calling as Christians against this awful event and all evil is pretty clear—to be activists, living witnesses to and for the love of Jesus both in word and deed. Our being activists, living witness to and for the love of Jesus in word and deed, shows the world that Christ is alive and his love is both hate and evil-defeating.

And our being activists—witnesses to and for the love of Jesus—starts with claiming and sharing our own story of being loved by Jesus, doesn’t it? Our series on hymns brings us face to face with this as we consider Charles Wesley’s great hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Many of us know of his brother John’s “heartwarming experience”—a time when he realized he was totally and unconditionally loved by Jesus. John had returned from a failed missionary venture in Georgia. He came close to dying in a horrific storm that nearly sank the ship he was on. As he trembled in fear for his soul, Moravian people on the boat were calm and assured of their salvation. John wrote that he went to America to save souls, “But who or who will save me?” This from the lips of an Anglican clergyman.

Few of us know of Charles’ experience, which actually came before John’s. Charles, too, returned from Georgia in despair. He took ill. As a matter of fact, Charles was so sick that his doctor expected him to die. His whole life, to that point, had been trying to earn a gift, the love of Christ; to use human willpower to earn and deserve the unearnable, the love of Christ. In despair, thinking the illness may take his life, he began reading, praying, and studying. People began to witness to him, on his sickbed, “that you can’t work for a gift, especially the gift of God’s love, you receive it by faith as an act of God’s grace.” A few days before John Wesley’s conversion, Charles accepted the gift of salvation by faith. Restored to health he wrote, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, my great redeemer’s love, the glories of my God and King, the wonders of his love, the triumphs of his grace!”

His desire to praise God and proclaim this love was so great poetically he wished he had not one but 1000 tongues to express Jesus love and grace! Charles recommended that everyone sing this hymn as they remembered their own “heartwarming” experiences.

So, what’s your story? What are the moments or moment, the factors, the setting, the people involved in the spiritually heart-warming periods in your life where you accepted Jesus’ love?

God’s word from our passage today implies that we should share our personal experience of God’s love. The writer of I Peter teaches, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” Are you always ready to give an account of the hope that is in you? God will help you in this sharing, you know. The hymn prays: “My Gracious Master and My God, assist me to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name.” With God’s help, we can do this!

But why do we so often fail to be activists, living witnesses, in word and deed to love of Jesus? Why do we so often fail to give testimony to the love of Jesus in our lives?

There are many reasons: Some may need to accept the love; they are growing toward accepting the fact that they are accepted by Jesus. Others may think they’re on their own in bearing witness, forgetting that God is assisting them to proclaim. And many, perhaps, have experienced or heard from others of harsh, judgmental, confrontational, in-your-face ways some in some traditions try to carry out their witness and testimony. Most of us don’t want to be thought to be in that camp!

Beautifully, again, God’s word in our passage today has guidance – the writer says for us to share “with gentleness and reverance;” another translation puts it as “respect.” Think of gentleness; think of what it means; think of times you’ve experienced gentleness and gentle people. That’s how we’re to share the love of Jesus in our life-story with others. Think of respect; think of times you’ve been revered or respected. That’s how we’re to share our story of the love of Jesus in our life story. In no way can one equate “gentleness and respect” with confrontation, harshness, intrusiveness, or judgmentalism. After all,the love we’re sharing is the love of gentle Jesus, who “stands at the door” and knocks, not barging in; the love we share is good news, not argumentative harsh news. Charles Wesley put it this way: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he set the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.” We are to be activists, living witnesses to our living, loving savior to others, but always do so with “gentleness, reverence and respect” and the full knowledge that we’re sharing good news.

And we’re to share with an integrity that is birthed from spending time with Christ in prayer and in following his ways. Our scripture puts it this way: We are to “keep our conscience clear.” Now, none of us are likely yet perfected in love! Most of us are works in progress. Our lives are not perfect and if we wait until we judge we are perfect and have perfectly clear consciences to share the love of Jesus we might never share! And yet, if we spend time practicing the spiritual exercises we have—prayer, conferring with Jesus in the “two-or-more-he-is-there” setting of a small group, searching the Scripture, contemplation, fasting, giving generously, worshiping, communion, and service—I am convinced that our conscience is cleared, from the grace of forgiveness, and that our growth as Christ followers, which results, will help us avoid evil in the first place.

And then, we can share the love of Jesus with integrity between who say we are, who we appear to be, and how we really are.

This world, this hurting, evil haunted world, desperately needs each one of us to receive, in order to give away, in word and deed, the love of Jesus.

An old pulpit saw the angels discussing with Jesus, after he ascended to heaven, what plan he left on earth for sharing his love to all. Jesus said, “I shared my love with the twelve and many others and they will share my love with all through the power of the Spirit.” The angels were puzzled. “You left the sharing of love with them—with humans?” Concerned, the angels asked, “What’s plan B?” And Jesus said, “There is no plan B.”

Let’s us go forth, friends, being activists, witnesses of his love in our lives, in word and deed, assisted by God, also respectful and gentle to all. We have seen this week once again how much the world needs the love of Christ. We can choose to fret and worry; to leave it all in the hands of the pundits; to let politicians do their same-old, same-old, or we can choose to offer the world a living witness to the love of Christ. This will look and be different for each one of us, but a characteristic of the love of Jesus in a human heart is it must come out; it can’t be contained. So, friends, let his love flow; Lord knows the world needs you to do so!

Sharing Starters:

  • Share some of your fondest Father’s Day memories.
  • Share some of your thoughts about evil.
  • Share some ways you believe Christians can work with God to defeat evil.
  • Share your heartwarming experiences.
  • Share about a time when you shared your story.