Very often, we miss the profound theology contained in the hymns we sing in church. Sometimes we sing the words that have become familiar to us, without really thinking about what we are singing. The Scriptures contained in the Bible, is our first and most important place to search for the way that Jesus left for us, but coming in right behind that is the hymnbook that is present in most of the pews we used to sit in a church. There is a profound, rich theology contained in those hymns.
One such hymn and a favorite of mine are Judson W. Van DeVenter’s “I Surrender All,” written in 1896. The theology contained in the refrain and follows along with the passage we just heard from the Gospel of Matthew.
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
This is the response I imagine Jesus hopes to hear from us following his invitation to discipleship in the closing lines of today’s passage:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Before this invitation, Jesus has been rather clear that divine wisdom is proved right by its results and that Jesus has a special relationship with God, and Jesus chooses to share that relationship with us. There are many marks of this call that Jesus has given us to discipleship, but one of those is that we understand the profoundly theological nature of the quest that we are on and the concrete ways we live out our faith.
I have mentioned before that God loves each of us and longs for our salvation, but it is a personal decision. God has given us the freedom to make that decision and loves us regardless of how we go. Although God loves us, that love is a tough love that must come through the struggle of faith, love, hope, and justice. If we accept the call to be a disciple of Jesus and follow in his way, we must accept the struggle that may not always be popular.
As we live into this struggle, we must remember that we, and everyone, is created in the image and likeness of God. This creation not only includes those who look and believe like us but also those who do not. It is not our job to decide who is worthy of God’s love, for God has already done that through the words that Jesus spoke, love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemy. Again, we do not have a choice in this. One of the requirements, the central requirement I would say, of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, is to love everyone without conditions.
God’s love comes to us without condition, and that is how we are to love. This unconditional love is a paradox through which God demands that we share that love, that grace and that mercy with others in our circle and beyond. Through all of this, we are to love through our potential and not our mistakes, and we are to answer yes when God says, “what if?” Once we can do this, the love of God revealed in Jesus’ witness moves us to grow in compassion, understanding, and acceptance of each other.
But, we must also remember that being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires us to live our lives with integrity and faithfulness to God. Integrity is something that seems to be lost these days. Why is it that we cannot have a simple discussion about issues without the conversation devolving into a character attack? Why is it that we can brand someone a liar if we disagree with their message? Why is it we accept lies and misinformation from those we put in positions of trust? What has happened to our moral compass when we are more concerned about statues of metal and stone than actual human beings?
As we become more self-aware, as we find our identity in God, we realize we are developing markers of our faith as we deepen our theological understanding of this call to discipleship. This discipleship we are being called to will not only provide rest, as Matthew points out, but it will also guarantee us persecution. We must live lives of conviction that we are being called into a new vision, not a vision of some faraway place on a cloud, but a vision of heaven right here on earth. If we proclaim that we are followers of Jesus Christ, we must understand that we will not always be on the popular side of issues, but if we follow the way of Jesus, we will always be on the right side of those issues.
Our discipleship, our theology, must be living, not some arcane way of living that we only find in dusty books on our shelves. I heard a saying once, live your life as if you are the only Bible someone will ever read. When we speak, when we act are, we do so with the love of God and the understanding of what Jesus taught and preached? Are we genuinely seeking answers to questions according to God’s word for our lives, or do we base those on what other people say is God’s word for our lives?
The motto of the United Church of Christ is “God is still speaking,” The symbol of that motto is the comma. God is still speaking and revealing to us constantly. Each generation is tasked with taking the word of God and making it fresh for the next generation. We do not, and we cannot live as the first century Christians did because we are not first-century Christians. Scripture and theology speak to us through the lens of current events. Someone once said we should “preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” I guess we would have to modernize that for today by saying, “we need to preach with the bible and one hand and Twitter in the other.”
God is still speaking because God is not finished yet; we are not finished yet; in fact, I think we are just getting started.
Today we celebrate the birthday of the United States, the grand experiment as it has been called. America’s greatness is that we are not finished; we continue to adapt and change as time dictates. The men who wrote the Constitution of our great nation realized that the words they were writing, Although fitting for their day, might need to be changed and adapted. They gave us a way to do that, we are not finished yet, and I believe, although we are struggling right now, our best days are still to come.
If you have one handy look at the backside on the one-dollar bill. On the right-hand side is the great seal of America with the eagle clutching the olive branch and the arrows in her talons. But on the left side is the unfinished pyramid with 13 rows of building blocks and on that first row, in Roman Numerals 1776. The pyramid is unfinished that signifies strength and duration, but hovering over that pyramid is the ever-knowing eye, the watching eye of God, not an eye of judgment but an eye of love.
Friends, we are just like that pyramid, we are unfinished, and God is watching and loving and guiding our job is to listen to that still small voice and take up the challenge of discipleship.