Come As You Are
Prelude: Just As I Am, arr. Dale Wood. This Sunday’s worship music centers on the theme of invitation. During the prelude I’ll play a beautiful organ arrangement of what may be the most famous invitational hymn ever written. Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871) was an English poet and hymn writer. She had a severe illness early on in life which left her in great pain and often bedridden for decades. Early on, she often became frustrated with her disability, and felt abandoned by God.
“If God loved me He would not have treated me this way,” she would say. But in 1822 a visiting Swiss minister confronted her about how she was clinging to her anger and resentment, and he offered her a cure – not for her physical ailments, but for her spiritual ones. “Give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame.” Charlotte accepted the preacher’s – and God’s invitation – and she would later claim Jesus’ words in John 6:37 as her guiding scripture verse: “Anyone who comes to Me I will never drive away.” She parlayed these experiences into the now-familiar words, “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Of her 150 hymn texts, Just As I Am is the one for which Charlotte Elliott will always be remembered, for it became synonymous with Billy Graham crusades and the millions who accepted his invitation to begin or renew their spiritual journey in Christ. And where some other churches may attach a subtle web of prerequisites and a not-so-subtle host of exceptions to the principle of coming to God “just as you are,” we can be grateful that Marble truly lives into both the truth of Charlotte Elliott’s hymn and Jesus’ words to His followers, “Anyone who comes to Me I will never drive away.”
Enter with Thanksgiving
Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Lobe den Herren) [LISTEN] This 17th century hymn text by Joachim Neander was coupled with what began as a 17th century German folk song, and it is a marriage of text and tune that has stood the test of time. The result is one of the most majestic and uplifting hymns in our worship repertoire. Its theme centers on the invitation to enter into worship in thanksgiving, to “draw near, joining in glad adoration,” in full recognition of all the ways God has been, is now and will forever be there for us. “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, who with His love doth befriend thee.”
The tune to the hymn, Lobe den Herren, has served as inspiration for a wide variety of musical settings by composers over the centuries. As part of Sunday’s prelude I’ll play one of the most imaginative treatments, one by contemporary American composer Aaron David Miller. It is not a chorale-prelude in the traditional sense, but rather a fantasy which takes small pieces of the hymn tune and stretches them in surprising directions, including plenty of unexpected harmonic shifts. Miller is a sought-after concert organist and composer who holds degrees from Eastman School of Music, and a doctoral degree from Manhattan School of Music. He currently serves as Director of Music at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Burdens)
Anthem: Come Unto Me by Bob Chilcott [LISTEN] Chilcott’s sacred music is heard frequently in churches around the world. His popularity stems from the fact that his music is well-crafted and harmonically interesting, but he also scores high on the “accessibility” scale because of its approachability and immediate emotional engagement of the listener. Chilcott began as a Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge. Later, he sang and composed music for twelve years with The King’s Singers. Come Unto Me was commissioned for the Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas. It is a setting of Matthew 11:28-29, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” This is one of the most serene anthems in our repertoire – a picture in sound of the quiet stillness that often proves elusive in our loud, hurried urban life. There is a surprising choral harmony that seems to come clear out of the blue on the text “And I will give you rest.” I would love to ask Chilcott why he made that unusual musical choice. To me it makes perfect sense, however, because it expresses the “peace that passes understanding,” the mystical sense of rest and comfort found in Christ that defies every worldly circumstance.
Become Part of Something Bigger
Hymn: Welcome by Mark Miller This hymn by Mark Miller, who directed Marble’s Gospel Choir for five years, is one that has quickly become a theme-song for Marble and many other churches. It was sung, appropriately, on September 21, 2008 for the dedication of our Welcoming Christ window above the doors on Fifth Avenue, a gift of the congregation in honor of the ministry of Arthur Caliandro. [LISTEN] The refrain by lyricist Laurie Zelman portrays the essence of Marble’s inclusiveness: “Welcome, welcome to this place. You’re invited to come and know God’s grace. All are welcome the love of God to share, ‘cause all of us are welcome here.”
I believe this hymn is not only a broad welcome, however, but it’s an invitation to something, namely a community of faith where we can become part of something bigger than ourselves. The compelling text speaks of joining together to be instruments of hope in the world, to be “hands of healing and to plant the seeds of peace.” It is a clarion call to unite in shared dreams and aspirations, and to unite in the hard work of making those dreams a reality in the world around us.
Stay For Eternity
Hymn: Blest Be the Tie that Binds [LISTEN] Sunday’s closing hymn portrays what true Christian community is supposed to be about in its best sense, and how it mirrors the heavenly community of faith we hope to share in some day. “Our fears, our hopes, are aims are one, our comforts and our cares…we share each other’s woes, each other’s burdens bear…” I will forever associate this hymn with my cherished friend, pastor and mentor Dr. Arthur Caliandro, as he specifically requested that it be sung at his memorial service. I remember something Arthur used to say: “The Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.” It was a stinging rebuke of much of the conservative church, and a truthful statement if ever there was one. Thankfully Marble is a place where the wounded are welcomed and not judged, loved, nurtured, and by grace, healed over time.
The author of Blest Be the Tie, John Fawcett, was a pastor at a small impoverished congregation in Wainsgate in Northern England in the late 1700’s. His salary was meager and over time his family was growing. Before long he received a call to take over the large and influential Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London – a giant leap up and recognition of his gifts. When his departure date arrived the saddened Wainsgate congregation gathered around in wagons to say goodbye. His wife suddenly broke down and cried, “John, I cannot bear to leave!” “Nor can I,” said Fawcett. The order was given to unpack the wagons and he ended up serving his beloved, humble congregation for the rest of his life. Although he was to decline other significant offers over the years, John Fawcett became well-known as an outstanding preacher and scholar and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Brown University in 1811. Fawcett chose to sacrifice ambition and personal gain out of a deep sense of devotion to his congregation. It is for his Wainsgate parishioners, whom he so dearly loved, that he wrote,
“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love:
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”