“For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5
It’s May, and with the warmer weather, my thoughts turn to baseball and softball. Over the years, I have both played on and coached a number of teams. Some have been very competitive, and others, not so much. However, I have always been blessed to have good teammates and coaches who valued sportsmanship over winning. When I was younger, I didn’t always appreciate…or understand… why, in the final innings of a close game, the coach would send one of our worst players up to bat or out into the field. As I grew older, I began to
develop a new respect for the deeper values sports teach, especially what it means to be a team. For example, when a batter swings and misses a pitch, the crowd and the players in the dugout will enthusiastically yell things like, “Good cut…you just missed it!” Or, when a player bobbles a ball on the field or makes some other kind of error, the coach and the team shout, “Shake it off! You’ll get the next one!” The players, coaches, and fans find ways to find the positive in even the worst performance…always encouraging one another because they know that if a player loses confidence or the team starts to get negative, the whole team will suffer. There have even been times when a player on the opposite team has congratulated me for a solid hit or a good play, and I have done the same for players on the opponent’s team.
St Paul’s of German Lake
Jesus would have made a great coach. In his interactions with even the “worst” of sinners, he always sought to lovingly restore them even as he confronted their sin. I think of the Samaritan woman at the well…the disciples, Judas and Peter in particular…the woman caught in adultery and others. In each case, Jesus’ end game was never to condemn but to lovingly instruct and correct…always making sure that they knew they were cared about as part of God’s creation (the team). As families, as a congregation, as workers for a company, and in many other ways, we are members of a team. Like Jesus, we are to find the best even in the “worst” of sinners, to offer encouragement instead of criticism, and to always value the well-being of the whole over individual success and status. When I helped coach the girls’ softball team in Red Wing, we were never in contention for first place in the league, but year after year we consistently won the award for best sportsmanship. I am prouder of that than any first-place trophy! I see the same thing here at St. Paul’s. We aren’t the biggest congregation. We won’t do big things in the way that the large churches do. But we are a congregation that supports one another, reaches out to the community around us to help those in need, and works together for the well-being of all our members as we seek to be the people God calls us to be. But no team worth its salt will rest on its laurels. There is a process of constantly practicing, constantly honing our skills and abilities, constantly growing in our understanding of who we are and what we are about, constantly developing our ability to be bearers of God’s love and mercy in the world around us. It is my prayer that, as we celebrate our new life in Christ this Easter season, we will be the best “team” we can be.
Music to Our Ears
Each month we include a little article about a favorite hymn. Do you have a hymn that gets stuck in your head like ear candy? Is there a hymn that touches your spirit deeply each time you hear it? Perhaps you have a hymn that always gives you a sense of peace when your heart is troubled. Do you want to know a bit of the backstory behind that hymn? If so, you can submit your suggestions by e-mailing either Pastor Karl at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . Although it isn’t necessary, we would love it if you would include a little story telling us why this is your favorite hymn.
Our hymn choice for this month is the ever-familiar Rock of Ages. As we move through the Easter season and continue to reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and the meaning of the cross and resurrection, this hymn reminds us of the surefooting God’s love and forgiveness offer us in the midst of an ever- changing and insecure world.
“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” John 10:29
On November 4, 1740, a baby in Farnham, England, was given the formidable name of Augustus Montague Toplady. His father died in a war. His mother spoiled him. His friends thought he was “sick and neurotic,” and his relatives disliked him. None of that bothered Augustus in the least for he was not interested in people’s opinion of him. He was focused on the Lord. On his eleventh birthday, he wrote, “I am now arrived at the age of eleven years. I praise God that I can remember no dreadful crime; to the Lord be the glory.” By age twelve, he was preaching sermons to whoever would listen. At age fourteen, he began writing hymns. At sixteen, he was soundly converted to Christ while attending a worship service held in a barn. And, at twenty-two, he was ordained an Anglican priest. As a staunch Calvinist, he despised John Wesley’s Arminian theology and bitterly attacked the great Methodist leader. “I believe him to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel system that ever appeared on this land,” he wrote. On another occasion, he said, “Wesley is guilty of satanic shamelessness…acting the ignoble part of a lurking, shy assassin.” In 1776, Augustus wrote an article about God’s forgiveness, intending it as a slap at Wesley. He ended the article with an original poem:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.
Augustus Toplady died at age thirty-eight, but his poem outlived him and has been called the “best known, best-loved, and most widely useful” hymn in the English language. Ironically, it is remarkably similar to something Wesley had written thirty years before in the preface of a book of hymns for the Lord’s Supper:
O Rock of salvation, Rock struck and cleft for me, let those two streams of blood and water which gushed from thy side, bring pardon and holiness to my soul.
Perhaps the two men were not as incompatible as they thought!