Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: For Everyone Born

   Hymns extol God’s goodness, and bind the individual’s soul to God. Hymns also can have an impact on society, on us as people together, on the Church’s work out in the world. When the earliest Christians sang “Christ is Lord,” it was a protest against the Roman empire’s linchpin claim that Caesar was lord. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was sung by soldiers during the Civil War, dreaming of American unity and freedom. Slave spirituals were codes: “O Canaan, I am bound for Canaan” was biblical, but also a dream of escape to Canada! “We Will Overcome” lifted sagging spirits during the Civil Rights movement. Even the revival of “God Bless America” after 9/11 revealed the power of a song to galvanize hope.

Given the disturbing debates within churches over issues like same gender marriage, race or immigration, it’s not surprising that new music is emerging. In “All Are Welcome,” we sing “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Here the love of Christ shall end divisions… All are welcome in this place.” Of course, it’s never enough just to sing “All are welcome.” Singing it presses us to ask who might not feel welcomed, and why, and to be willing to feel restless ourselves until it really is all who are welcome – which pretty clearly was Jesus’ big quest when he visited us long ago and showed us how to be today.

Another lovely song that may soon achieve “hymn” status is “For Everyone Born.” The Gospel isn’t for some subset of humanity, those who are like us or politically correct or good or American or straight. John Wesley sparked the Methodist revival by preaching of “prevenient grace,” which is God’s loving and empowering regard for all who have accomplished just one thing: being born. And so we sing “For everyone born, a place at the table… a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing… And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace… For young, old women, men, the voices of all are heard, and all can be free.”

The Church’s task isn’t to pass judgment or to condemn or to hunker down behind our secure walls. We dream of becoming a safe place for everyone – and for that to happen, we have to get busy with doing what Jesus told us to be busy doing: creating justice, discovering and spreading the joy, our hearts and actions full of compassion, making peace instead of division.

And the freedom the hymn invites us to at the end is interesting. I can’t be free until the other guy is free. Sure, you might feel free as Americans. But we chafe under a bondage we may not even be aware of. We miss the joy. We miss out on the richness of a shared life with others who’ve been born. We get stuck in society’s marsh of anger and anxiety, isolation and trendiness. The old saying is that you can never be happier than your unhappiest child. God wired the world so that you can never be free until others are free, you never grow until others can grow, you miss the grace until you dig it that the grace is for everyone. God made us for connection, not to those like us, but to those who are like God. And that would be everyone born.

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