Faith United Methodist Church
August 31, 2014
Hymn Festival
Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6

Prayer of Illumination: 

Lord, put a song on our hearts.  May we dance to the melody of your love all the days of our lives.  Amen.

Sermon:  Hymn Stories

Pass It On # 572
Sometimes songs allow us to time-travel.  It only takes a spark to get a fire going.  Those words, along with that tune, bring me back to my church camp days.  And soon all those around will warm up in it’s glowing.  The smell of the campfire and the taste of toasted marshmallows.

The information I found about this hymn comes from The General Board of Discipleship History of Hymns (as well as other sources).  I learned that Kurt Kaiser, born in 1934 in Chicago, wrote this hymn ~ so it’s relatively new compared to some of the other hymns in our hymnal.  Kaiser made is career in music as a composer and author and composed more than 60 hymn texts and tunes.  In 2001 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of fame.

His intent with Pass it On was to create a modern Just As I Am for a Christian youth musical he was composing in 1969 called Tell It Like It Is.  In his own words he describes the writing of this hymn saying, “On a Sunday night I was sitting in our den by the fireplace where there were remnants of a fire, and it occurred to me that it only takes a spark to get a fire going . . . and the rest came very quickly. My wife suggested that I should say something about shouting it from mountaintops, and that ended up in the third verse. It only took about 20 minutes to write the lyrics. Afterwards my wife and I went for a walk, letting the song ruminate in our minds.”

After that, the song took on a life of it’s own.  Kaiser continues, “I am always amazed how the Lord can take a little song and use it to reach so many people. It has been sung at countless weddings and funerals, at ordination services, by the Sea of Galilee, in Rhodesia, on the aircraft carrier Enterprise, and lots of camps.”  It’s a simple song with a powerful message, reminding us of Jesus Great Commission in Matthew 28, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  Whether we first heard it at church or around a campfire or at a youth gathering, this song reminds us of what is most important in the life of faith.  The Lord of Love has come to me, I want to pass it on.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus #526 (vs. 1,2)
I have to be honest.  What a Friend We Have in Jesus has never been one of my favorites.  My time-travel with this song brings me back to my childhood church where we sang it painfully slow what seemed like every Sunday.   We certainly sing it much better, but the memory still remains.  Yet, learning the story behind this hymn helps me to like it a little better.  The information I share here comes from along with other sources.

Joseph M. Scriven was born in Ireland in 1819.  When he was 25 years old he found himself in love and engaged to be married.  The day before his wedding his fiancé died in a tragic drowning accident.  Heartbroken, Scriven sailed to Canada to start a new life.  While in Canada he fell in love again and became engaged a second time. Yet, once again, Scriven’s dreams were shattered when his beloved became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Although one can only imagine the pain this young man endured, his legacy tells us that his faith in God sustained him. Soon after the second tragedy Scriven joined the Plymouth Brethren and began preaching for a Baptist church. He never married, but spent the remainder of his life giving all his time, money and even the clothes off his own back to help the less fortunate and to spread the love and compassion of Jesus wherever he went.

Around the time that he joined the Plymouth Brethren, Scriven received word from Ireland that his mother was ill.  He couldn’t afford go to be with her, so he wrote a letter of comfort and enclosed one of his poems entitled What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Many years later when Scriven was much older and quite ill, a friend came to his bedside.  During this visit, the friend was impressed when he ran across his poems, including What a Friend We Have in Jesus. As a result of this visit, almost 30 years after his letter of comfort to his mother, Scriven’s poems were published in a book called Hymns and Other Verses.  Soon thereafter, noted musician Charles C. Converse put music to the poem we just sang.

After Joseph Scriven’s death, the citizens of Port Hope, Ontario, Canada ~ his adopted hometown ~ erected a monument to his life.  While we may consider Scriven’s life tragic, we can see how God can use difficultly to bring about great blessings.  This hymn remains popular across denominations and even countries because, as one commentator put it, “… a man acquainted with grief –– who happened also to be acquainted with faith –– helps us to see that faith can triumph over grief.”  Through Scriven’s words many lives have been comforted and uplifted.  Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?  We should never be discouraged.  Even as I suffered through it as a girl, the words sunk-in and I can appreciate them even more today.  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Amen.