Jesus Calls Us

Jesus Calls Us

Liturgy Lessons: June 3, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 29:1-4, 9-11 (NIV)
Hymn of Invocation: Come Thou Almighty King (#101)
Prayer of Invocation
Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Hymn of Adoration: Across the Lands (Getty)
Call to Confession: Revelations 4:14b-17,19-20
Prayer of Confession and Kyrie (“Lord, Have Mercy”)
Assurance of Pardon (from Romans 8):
Song and Hymn of Assurance: “Abba Father” (Hauck); “Be Thou My Vision” (#642)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 6:12-16 (Calling of the Apostles)
Gloria Patri
Sermon: Rev. Casey Bedell
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Alleluia! Alleluia! (#283); Wonderful, Merciful Savior
Closing Hymn: Jesus Calls Us (#591, to BEACH SPRING)

This week we continue our journey through Luke, and it brings us to the Call of the Apostles. When possible, I try to find a closing hymn for our service that resonates with the sermon topic. I find that the heart needs to respond to the preached word, and it helps if the voice can echo back what the spirit has just said to the mind. So, this week after quite the archaeological dig through dusty hymnals, I have unearthed a classic hymn text that (hopefully) partners perfectly with the sermon (Casey, are you reading this?). With the help of my colleague, I have chosen to polish the old hymn off a bit (we updated the King James) and pair it with a familiar and superior melody. Frankly, I didn’t like the old tune. The new pairing I chose is a melody known as BEACH SPRING, and you will recognize it once you hear it. Because it is double the meter of the old tune, the original five-verse hymn became two-and-a-half, and so we crafted a final half to the closing verse. My hope is that it is not a Frankenstein job that ends up moaning and wobbling its way out the door. I pray that when we breathe to life this new creature on Sunday, it will really soar and sing. In order for that to happen, though, you need to re-familiarize yourself with the music. It is a classic American folk tune that has been matched with countless other hymn texts. Ken Burns used it as a main theme for his documentary on Lewis and Clark, and many other folk artists have arranged it. I provide three different versions below, all of them instrumental. The second recording is probably the best of the lot, but I wanted to give you a broad palette of options. I encourage you to put them on play as you read through the story and thoughts concerning the text of this great hymn.

Piano Reverie on Beach Spring
Soundtrack from “Corps of Discovery” documentary
Traditional version (original words with mountain dulcimers)

Jesus Calls Us
Text: Cecil Frances Alexander, 1852; st. 3 alt. Alicia Lewis, 2018
Tune: BEACH SPRING, B.F.White, The Sacred Harp, 1844

Cecil Alexander was born 200 years ago in Dublin, the daughter of a wealthy and stern father who didn’t wish for his children to waste time or doddle. Cecil loved to write from a very young age, but fearing her father’s reaction to her “scribblings,” she hid her work under the rug in her room. One day, when Cecil was 9 years old, her father discovered the stash, but did not respond in anger. Recognizing the obvious talent and motivation of his daughter, he decided to encourage her writing by providing her with a beautiful box where she could keep all her work. He told her to place each of her poems and stories in the top drawer of the box after she was finished, and on Saturday evenings the family would pull out the papers and listen to Cecil read them aloud. This blessing from her father confirmed her gifting and validated her calling in the years to come. As a young woman she wrote verses for Sunday School lessons and by the age of 28 she had published her first collection entitled Verses for a Holy Season.

Two years later, at age 30, she published a compilation of verse for children. Hymns for Little Children became one of the most popular books of the late 19th century. It was a relatively small collection of charmingly simple and tender verse that presented clear dogma in rhymed couplets. Cecil believed that the truths of the Christian faith were best absorbed in the minds and hearts of children when communicated in poetic form. The hymnal contained such notable classics as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” and the Christmas carol “Once in Royal David’s City.” It was instantly popular and went through almost 70 editions by the end of the century. Some of the verses in the collection attracted the great composer Charles Gounod, who said that the words “seemed to set themselves to music.” He was particularly fond of the hymn “Jesus Calls Us,” saying that it was near-perfect because of its clarity and simplicity. Ironically, this was the only hymn that Cecil had written specifically for adults, but it contained her obvious devotion and trademark directness, a style she developed in defiance of what she called the “detestable gush and sentimentality” of other hymns. Cecil wrote this particular hymn at the request of her husband who was preparing to preach on the calling of Andrew and Peter, the Fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20). She sketched it out that evening and these verses were read following the sermon that Sunday.

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his voice is sounding, saying, “Christian, follow me!”
As of old the apostles heard it by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred, leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love me more!”
In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love me more than these!”

Jesus calls us! By Your mercies, Savior, may we hear Your call,
give our wand’ring hearts obedience, serve and love You best of all.

For Cecil Alexander, these were not just words scribbled out in haste to accentuate a point in a sermon. She believed them wholeheartedly, and she faithfully lived out this calling. Ireland had recently been ravaged by the potato famine, and Cecil frequently made time to travel many miles over mountains, bogs, and wet moorlands to deliver food, clothing, and medicine to the starving and the poor. One woman who was immobilized by a severe foot injury was visited daily by Cecil for six weeks until the wound healed. The historian Albert Baily wrote that Cecil Alexander “went to church every day and to communion every week. Beyond that her days were largely given over to errands of charity and helpfulness, from one poor Irish home to another, from one sick-bed to another, from one house of sorrow to another, no matter how remote.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “When Jesus calls us, he bids us come and die.” Jesus told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus calls us. How shall we answer?