World Refugee Day Homily

2018.06.20 MidWeek Communion Service Homily (World Refugee Day) at Oak Grove United Methodist Church

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15
“When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died.”

In this part of the birth narrative of Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is telling us the story of love coming into the world through Jesus–fully human, fully God. The obedient Magi have just left the scene, being warned in a dream to flee from the somewhat insecure, and certainly murderous, King Herod.

And so, we come into the story at the point where Joseph is also being warned in a dream to escape. They go to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.

We don’t get a lot of details about their experience getting to Egypt, nor how they were received in Egypt, but shortly after this scripture they do return and move to Nazareth in Galilee.

Today is international World Refugee Day. A day created by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 2000. The assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This 1951 convention determined who qualified as refugees, set out the rights of individuals to be granted asylum, and defined the agreed-upon the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.

The UN High Commission of Refugees says that a refugee is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and notes that refugees are typically unable to return home for those fears of persecution or unable to return home. (more info)

We see in the early text of Matthew’s Gospel narrative that Jesus, God incarnate, was forced to flee with his parents for fear of persecution and violence. Matthew’s portrayal of the birth narrative is mostly a story of God’s activity. The story is about the baby, infant Jesus, so Jesus here is not saving himself nor are these particularly really heroic  deeds from Mary or Joseph, but rather faithful action–just as any parent would do what they needed for their children. This minor digression in the birth narrative is only found in the Gospel of Matthew and is often an overlooked portion of scripture. It reminds us that we are called to pay attention to the minor digressions in stories and that even through unappreciated and seemingly less important people God might be trying to show us something.

Photo Jun 23, 11 16 53 AM.jpgImagine being someone in Egypt who met a baby/toddler version of Jesus brought in by two young parents, likely scared and yet hopeful. They went to Egypt with dreams for a better life for their child, the baby Jesus. And we don’t know that they found welcome in Egypt, but I like to imagine that some Egyptians saw them, had pity on them, recognized their gifts and abilities, and wanted to help them succeed.

World refugee day is about the celebration of not just the triumph of the human spirit, but also of the provision and welcome offered by host countries and community members.

How might we be called to pay attention to make room in our own lives for unexpected people or to create a space for others who are looking for a place of safety.

Sometime this week, whether tonight or later this week, perhaps re-read Matthew 2:13-15a and perhaps imagine yourself as an Egyptian seeing the holy family coming into town.

How do you feel drawn to help to encourage or to provide welcome?
How might God be using that to encourage us all to find a little more room?

Let it be so. Amen.


FYI: MidWeek Communion is a weekly Weds 5pm Worship service of prayers, a song, a Homily, and Holy Communion held in Grand Hall at Oak Grove UMC–feel free to drop by if you’re going to be out of town over the weekend or wanting to stop in & say “hi.” –JMcBray

O Young and Fearless Prophet

O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here,
amid our pride and glory to see thy face appear;
once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.

O Young and Fearless Prophet (Passion Chorale) from joseph mcbrayer on Vimeo.

Pastors, musicians, students, and friends, as we enter the season of Lent (a time of repentance and remembering our humanity)  I offer this timely hymn: “O Young and Fearless Prophet” (written in 1931) set to the Passion Chorale (1601 — O Sacred Head Now Wounded) for our Lenten Journey:

“O Young and Fearless Prophet” (text by S. Ralph Harlow, 1931) set to the tune of Passion Chorale (Hans L. Hassler, 1601, arr. Joseph McBrayer — .pdf below)

“O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.

We marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course
while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross;
thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
while we betray so quickly and leave thee there alone.

O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
where hate and lust and falsehood hold back Christ’s holy sway;
forbid false love of country that blinds us to his call,
who lifts above the nations the unity of all.

Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth,
while others starve and hunger and plead for work and health;
where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.

O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here,
amid our pride and glory to see thy face appear;
once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.”

S. Ralph Harlow (1885-1972), a congregationalist and practitioner of the Social Gospel, wrote this hymn on the back of a menu in 1931 during the Great Depression*–the United Methodist hymnal committee didn’t include stanza 5 in either the 1935 or 1966 Hymnal edition as the editor told Harlow: “the church is not ready to sing that.” Harlow told him it wasn’t “as radical as the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, which is sung in the Methodist service” and stanza 5 eventually made it into our 1989 hymnal.*

The epiphanal moment leading me to set this text to PASSION CHORALE came in during Lent of 2014 when the hymn text was an ideal fit for a worship series on Race and the Church, but the hymn tune in 13.13 13.13  was unfamiliar. I realized that any tune in 7.6 7.6 D could work and PASSION CHORALE fit the text and the occasion quite well serving as a prelude of the coming terminus of Lent in Good Friday when we most often sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

Another stanza that didn’t make it is below — may we live into this stanza and the call heard in this hymn from our “Young and Fearless Prophet.”

“Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind.
That knows not race or color as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul,
And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.”

*source: Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1993, pages 537-538.

here is a chord sheet of my arrangement: o-young-and-fearless-prophet-passion-chorale

“This is My Song” (July 4th)

The hymn “This is My Song” serves as a reminder of the love God has for all people–not just for this nation or another nation. On this July 4th, may we be mindful of all the people in this nation and other nations who are still striving for justice and for peace.

The Fourth of July brings up many themes of patriotism: we celebrate our United States of America and demonstrate our pride in our nation–there are some instances of appropriately and carefully crafted celebration and pride, while other instances seem to exalt our nation over and against all other nations. The hymn, “This is my song” reminds us that ALL nations are loved by God and that we as individuals or as a nation do not have any more or less favor in God’s eyes. As the author puts it, it is “a song of peace for lands afar and mine.” The familiar tune Finlandia , by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, was written in 1899, as a covert protest against the oppressive Russian forces, and is a much beloved symphonic piece.

The 4th of July began as a day of celebration of our independence from the tyranny of the British empire upon the American colonies. Those many years ago our forefathers and foremothers gave birth to a land where religious and political freedoms were guaranteed and that all people had civil rights (although we are *still* working on getting these parts right some MANY years later).

The first two verses were written by American poet Lloyd Stone who wrote a number of books of poetry, two children’s books, and served as chapter president of the National Society of Arts and Letters. The final verse was written by Methodist theologian Georgia Harkness, who was one of the first women to hold a full professorship at a U.S. theological seminary--she taught at Garrett & Pacific School of Religion to name a few. Harkness was a leader in the ecumenical movement and was important in securing ordination for women in the Methodist Church. Most of her hymn writing was in the form of prayers and the final verse of “This is My Song” is a fine example of her work and her prayer for God’s peace to be known in “all earth’s kingdoms.”

Below is my own arrangement of “This is My Song,” which serves as a reminder of the love God has for all peoplenot just for this nation or another nation. On this July 4th, may we be mindful of all the people in this nation and other nations who are still striving for justice and for peace. “Si quieres paz, lucha por la justica” “If you want peace, work for justice.” –Pope John Paul II

“This is My Song” Lloyd Stone/Georgia Harkness, 1939 // UMHymnal #437, Finlandia, 1899 , J. Sibelius
This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
And hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

the chord sheet of this arrangement: This Is My Song (Finlandia in C)
(fair use)

*resources used:
the Commentary on the United Methodist Hymnal by Carlton Young
The Hymns of the United Methodist Hymnal by Diana Sanchez
Wikipedia (mostly the sources in the footnotes!)

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

This musical arrangement carries melodies which convey the solemn, yet hopeful words and tone of this hymn, which many consider to be Watts’ finest & most recognized hymn.

This is by far one of my favorite hymns for the season of Lent in the Christian tradition. The original hymn text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)–one of the greatest hymn writers of the English language (more info here: The modern refrain in this version was co-written in the year 2000 by JD Walt (Theologian, musician, professor of worship at Asbury Seminary–link here) along with Chris Tomlin and Jesse Reeves (two rather popular christian musicians–link here). The refrain adds a humble call to action and submission to ‘come and die’ with Christ during this season of lenten preparation for Holy Week. There is also an amount of light shining ever so slightly with hints of the resurrection Christ and resurrection for us–the promise of Easter.

Although a variety of tunes can be used for this Long Meter tune (–that’s 8 syllables in 4 lines), the original tune ‘Hamburg’ (#298 in the United Methodist Hymnal) is still my favorite. Hamburg tune was written by Lowell Mason a prolific hymn tune composer who is responsible for many advancements in music education (wikipedia info here). For me, this musical setting carries with it the more helpful melodies and notes which convey the solemn, yet hopeful words and tone of this hymn, which many consider to be Watts’ finest and most recognized hymn.

This is my own arrangement with the guitar tuned to DADGAG: a common Irish/Scottish/bluegrass tuning which allows for the playing of ‘melody’ while playing ‘rhythm.’

verse D Bm G D     D G A    D Bm G D    D G A D //  refrain  G  D/F# G  D/F# G  D/F# A  D