♫ Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won. ♫
Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family & Friends,
James Weldon Johnson’s prophetic and powerful poem set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson is the quintessential sermon in a song. The evocative call for those who have been denied their humanity and wronged by society to sing highest praises to our God in spite of their situations speaks to the unshakeable and steadfast faith in God through Jesus Christ. The cornerstones of faith and hope, undergirding the lessons of our past and the reality of our present, and leading us triumphantly into our future destiny, is a work of pure and divine inspiration. It is no wonder that so many across the nation hold fast to this anthem. I would commend to all to listen and learn the beauty of these words. I have always found that this song and its inspirational verses, sewn together in a tapestry of ecclesiastical expressions, galvanizes the heart, stirs the soul, and emboldens a collective courage among all who sing it. Like a great sermon, it builds community and camaraderie. It creates a sense of the “We” instead of the “I”. It challenges and comforts. It considers all that we have done and celebrates all that we can do! It is the homily of the resilient, the courageous, and the best of humanity.
As we celebrate Black History Month, I want us to reflect on the history of African American people here in North America. The messy history of America is predicated on the story of Black people: brought here in captivity, endured chattel slavery while becoming the economic backbone of this country whose blood, sweat, and tears built this country. When we look at the unique, tragic, and beautifully redemptive story of the struggle of Black people in America, as a society and culture, America can come to acknowledge and reconcile its past sins and history and work to create a better society and nation. The lessons are there for us to learn, remember, and implement in this grand social experiment called the United States of America.
We as a church have been experiencing impactful and inspiring worship. Week after week we are blessed with members, friends, and visitors who have added to the warm and inviting atmosphere of our service. I am thankful that God has blessed us with talented people who aid in our worship experiences. I am grateful that the talented musician, arranger, director, and singer Jeff Bolding has come to be with us and impart his God-given gifts to our choir. Jeff was formerly the director of the Chancel Choir at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. He brings a love of Christ and a respect for sacred music that has made an immediate impact on our worship. I invite all to come, feel the spirit, and sing praises to our God every Sunday.
Finally, let me encourage all who love the Lord but are anxious about the world in which we live. God is still moving! It may seem that ignorance, hatred, violence, and foolishness rule the day. It may seem that societal ills and inequality have won the day. However, I believe in what Heaven’s hero and Earth’s emancipator came to do in this world in his work of redemption. Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4:18-19) Jesus conquered sin, death, and the grave so that we could live better and be better. That is why I love the last verse of “Lift Every Voice” where James Weldon Johnson pens the hope Christians should feel for tomorrow and the many tomorrows to come.
♫ God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land. ♫
God is with us and if we stay committed to our God and Christ we will be the blessed and needed change in this world.
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.