Here I Raise My Ebenezer: Reflections on God’s Goodness

Here I Raise My Ebenezer: Reflections on God’s Goodness

Liturgy Lessons: January 6, 2019
Call to Worship: Genesis 1:27-28, 31-2:1-3 (ESV); Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV)
Hymn of Adoration: When Morning Gilds the Skies (#167)
Confession: Isaiah 30:15; Heb. 4:9-11; Selections from Ps. 38
Musical Meditation
Assurance of Pardon: From Ephesians 2:13-14a; Matt. 11:28-30
Hymns of Assurance: Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose (#510; vss. 1-3); My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone
Catechism & Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Leviticus 25:1-12
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Shiv Muthukumar, “The Holy Habit of Resting”
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Jesus, Keep me Near the Cross (#264); My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness
Closing Hymn: Take My Life (#585)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

– Robert Burns, 1788

The holidays are rife with traditions. Some of them are worth repeating, and others are just worthlessly repeated. As a kid we used to break open a piñata and watch Ben Hur on New Year’s Eve. At midnight we would run out in the street and bang pots and pans together. Don’t ask. My wife and I still let the kids whack away at the piñata, but we have discarded the other two traditions.

It is an ironic tradition that the song we use to usher in the New Year is about days gone by. At midnight on New Year’s Eve we raise a glass and sing to each other an old tune that begins with a rhetorical question: “Is it right that old times be forgotten?” That famous refrain of this 230-year-old Scottish poem may be loosely translated into standard English as “for the sake of old times” or, more idiomatically, “the good ol’ days.” In the Scots’ language, the phrase “auld lang syne” has even been used as the equivalent of “once upon a time” in the retelling of fairy tales.

At some point in history, a clever and creative soul had a good reason for suggesting the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” to ring out the old and bring in the new. Some might think it odd to look in the rearview mirror before driving forward, but reminiscence is hardwired into the human psyche. It’s the reason everyone has a box or shelf full of old pictures, snapshots of their “auld lang syne.” Another childhood memory from New Year’s Eve is pulling out the large flip calendar that held a written record of the past year’s events. My mom (super-organized, with an encyclopedic, detailed memory) would read through the highlights of each month as we would pass around a “victory candle,” each taking turns expressing our gratitude for our favorite flashbacks. Many recollections brought a smile and enthusiastic outbursts “oh yeah…I remember that!”

For Christians, remembering is sacred. The word “remembrance” is carved on many communion tables, and the practice of recounting the deeds of the Lord is all throughout the Psalms.

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”

– Psalm 77:11

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all your wonderful deeds.”

– Psalm 9:1

Psalm 107 begins with this statement, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Then the Psalmist launches into a 40-verse litany of God’s saving works. The very last verse in that Psalm says, “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”

It is not just the Psalter that gives us a mindful celebration of past chapters in God’s story. There are several powerful accounts in the Old Testament. After the Israelites had crossed the river into the promised land, Joshua ordered 12 men (one from each tribe) to each place a stone of remembrance:

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24)

And in the New Testament we find these encouraging words:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder. (2 Peter 1:3-4, 12-13)

Should old acquaintance be forgot? The answer to Robert Burns’ question is obvious. Of course not. And it is precisely many of our old songs that help us fulfill the biblical injunction of remembrance. They stir up our hearts by way of reminder. Should our old songs be forgot? Some, perhaps, but not many. Our old hymns are the “cup of remembrance” that we lift, and they allow the “redeemed of the Lord to retell their story.”

This past July, I experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of hearing in my left ear. It just closed up. For about four weeks I endured constant loud tinnitus and chronic eustachian tube dysfunction. If you take your hand and cup your left ear, and then pretend you are in an airplane on descent, you will have a good idea of what it sounded like. I went to several ENTs. No answers. “Congestion” they said. Meanwhile, the audiogram showed a loss of upper frequency hearing in my left ear, a condition that could be stable or progressive. This was a terrifying scenario for a professional musician. When I sang, there was a numb and dull resonance in my head. It felt like I had earmuffs on. Suddenly that thing I had been doing my whole life, upon which my livelihood depended, was fading away, and I was a bird trying to fly with one wing. I was helpless but not hopeless. With this Red Sea of unknown before me, and an army of fear behind, I heard the word of the Lord say to me “Fear not, I am with you. Stand firm.”

His word became more priceless, and many hymns more precious to me than ever before.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of thy Name.

Jesus, the Name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of reigning sin,
He sets the pris’ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks and, listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
The humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
– Charles Wesley

It is now six months later and my symptoms are far less severe. My left ear “opened” and I am able to make music and sing with minimal difficulty. The medical term for this is “regression to the mean,” which is basically a way of saying that the body and mind have habituated over time to whatever change occurred, which in my case was most likely in the inner ear (cochlear nerve). It is a slow process of healing by adaptation. But I know it is so much more than that. God is healing me, body, mind, and soul. His is a miraculous and ongoing process of redemption. It didn’t start in 2018, and it won’t finish in 2019. For many years to come, I will continue to retell the wonderful deeds of the Lord. And, as long as I have the health to do so, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever!” (Psalm 89:1). For God is indeed our help in ages past and our hope for years to come. He is our eternal home.

In 1719, Isaac Watts, in a paraphrase of Psalm 103, provided us with a biblical version of “auld lang syne.” He and Robert Burns were asking the same question, but it was Watts who recognized the true author of the story. I leave you with his words as a call, a credo, and a commission for 2019.

Bless, o my soul, the living God,
Call home thy thoughts that rove abroad;
Let all the powers within me join
in work and worship so divine.
Bless, o my soul, the God of grace;
His favors claim thy highest praise;
Why should the wonders He hath wrought
Be lost in silence and forgot?