Jesus, My Star, My Sun
I was listless in worship Sunday morning. Not enough sleep the night before. The prospect of an overheated day. The usual morning slump of a nocturnal soul. Things like that. I wasn't prepared to give those leading worship the benefit of the doubt.
When a line in the choir's anthem, beautifully rendered, stopped me in my cranky tracks. These words from a familiar hymn rendered in a contemporary composition: "I looked to Jesus, and I found in him my star, my sun; And in that light of life I'll walk 'til traveling days are done." My soul smiled with recognition. "That's it," my soul would have shouted through the nave, if shouting were acceptable. And it wasn't.
Well, I hear that diamonds are mined from the muck and gold is panned from gravel. The word from God may sometimes, maybe most times, find its way to us in worship against all spiritual odds.
Suddenly everything seemed better. The hymns were better tempoed and thematically on target. The sermon accurately reflected the message of the Lord's parable. Even the bread of the communion seemed tastier. Crankiness departed.
It's to that line I return, about how Jesus is "my star, my sun," why it was epiphanic. In these three years of retirement, in a community where half of the neighbors are Jews; in an American society where Protestant fundamentalists are intent on making us more religious (which means, like them); with no vocational responsibility any longer for upholding the ecclesiastical institution; and few day-to-day occasions to demonstrate my piety; I find myself divesting my faith of many of its trappings, like so many unused stoles and bible commentaries.
But, when asked, and sometimes even when I'm not, I'll explain to those with whom I'm conversing that I am a follower of Jesus. He is my star, my sun.
It was Kenny Hansen, the eighteen year old returning from a Billy Graham Crusade in the summer of 1957, who summed it up: "If it weren't for Jesus, I don't think I could believe in God." Kenny, the sixty-eight year old insurance security engineer, about whom I recently wrote in the essay "Brooklyn," was wise beyond his years... and mine. Faith flows from discipleship to the Galilean. Going with him, listening to him, trying to be obedient to his commandments, learning from him, as the hymn puts it, how to live and how to die, arranging our priorities according to his scale of values, and, in the doing, discovering as he did that a cross always lies athwart our way, if as a reminder of human limitations and human evil, then even more as our ladder to a far larger life here and for ever.
A thoughtful friend worried to me online about creeping sacramentalism in the Methodist Church. He knew he would find in me a sympathetic ear. But I worry less about my denomination's going gaga over bread and cup and more about the tendency, as in contemporary worship's praise songs, to be mindless, forgetting one-third, the last third (see Matthew 22:37), of what Jesus names the first and greatest commandment. A new Wesley is needed, not the original one, who was concerned to get the glands committed to the Christian faith in an era and a land where faith was relegated to a discussion among dilettantes. We need a revival of a mindful Christianity, a thoughtful faith, focused on the teachings and deeds of "my star, my sun."
George Bernard Shaw quipped in his preface to "Androcles and the Lion" that the trouble with Christianity is that no one has tried it. I fear he is right... still... a century later. My fears increase when I take a personal inventory of my own faith. The hunger and thirst not felt for righteousness. The unwillingness to go the first mile, let alone the second. The problem loving friends, forget the enemy! The sun that regularly goes down on my anger. The forgiveness withheld. The cross unshouldered. And that's just for openers.
Life will simply not be long enough for me to get in step, to follow my star, "'til my traveling days are done." Fortunately, the salvation lies not in the succeeding but in the trying.