The journey inspires a lot of questions. One of them is simply who else is on this road? And that is a forked question. The first fork is what we typically hear today, which is a complaint against God. Just what kind of God are you that you might damn this person close to me. The second fork though is the buried concern for myself. Can I be one of the few?
Jesus I think answers the question rather straight-forward. First, you strive to enter. The other person’s salvation is not you concern, but your own is. You strive. And that striving is not earning it, it is simply living the life of Faith. The journey to Jerusalem is always up hill. It is always contrary to natural desire. Walk it. Second, just as we take Jesus at his word to strive, we should take him at his word that many will be outside the kingdom. The way is narrow. When the day of grace is done, there will be lots of people who knock on the door, but at that time it is just. Today, though, seek, strive, the door is open. Third, there is some solace in the midst of striving. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets. All the great cloud from East and West, from North and South. All will sit at the table in the Reign of God. All Israel will be saved. Can you be one of the few? Are you baptized?
I’m a numbers guy. I hold firmly to the truth that if it isn’t measured it isn’t done, or said another way, the things you really care about, you attempt to track. The big problem with being a numbers guy is that the numbers never tell a full story, and they are often tracking the wrong things. They might be tracking a nominal number when a percentage or an indexed number might be better. In light of the stewardship series running, an example of that is total offering to a congregation. That is a nominal number. It is important to the congregation, but it tells you little about what you really want to measure which is something of the spiritual health of the individual. A percentage or an index that most congregations have no way to track would be better – like percent of gross income given in charity or the percent contribution as an index of when the Christian life started (i.e. baptismal year = 1). The percent tells you something good and makes it more broadly understandable as there are widow’s mites that mean more than ruler’s talents. The index would tell you even more. It might tell you the heights from which you have fallen (Rev 2:5) or it might say to you that you have not just buried the mina given you (Luke 19:20).
One of the things that I track is the hymns that we sing together. Part of our vision as a congregation is that we teach the apostolic faith and that we encourage depth in that faith. The hymnody of the church is a big place where that happens. If our typical church service is 45 mins (and here it is), about 12 of those minutes are sermon, but about 20 of those minutes are singing. The hymns carry a larger burden of the word for that day than the pulpit. And while people might exit thinking about a line from the sermon if it is very good, more often they will exit humming a line of the last hymn. The music is sticky. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of singing the same hymns once a quarter or more often. That might be very comforting to a section of the congregation, but it is not a good signal of spiritual health or vitality. In fact it is probably the opposite. It is a statement that we as a people don’t want to engage the faith in any way deeper nor learn anything new. So that is one of the big reasons that I track and keep an eye on how many times we’ve sung any particular hymn. It would be rare to hear the same hymn in our congregation more than twice in a given year. God has more to say that that.
What I intend to do in this series to walk through some of the “new staples”. These are hymns that are newer in vintage that we have sung multiple times. I want to flesh out their teaching and give an explanation why they deserve their role in our congregational life. The first one that I will discuss in Lutheran Service Book #782 Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings. We will be singing this hymn this coming Sunday. Tomorrow I will walk through it as I’ve used up my words today for an introduction.