“A Heart Strangely Warmed”

Faith Matters Music

Ok, I acknowledge I am still a Methodist preacher, so you can forgive me if I draw from my Methodist tradition. This week is an important date for Methodists. May 24, 1748, John Wesley recorded in his journal that he went unwillingly to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London.  He writes

“…about a quarter before nine, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I knew that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and freed me from the law of sin and death.”    

That heart-warming experience gave birth to the Methodist movement, much of which was carried on the hymns of brother Charles Wesley. There is more to the Aldersgate story than that, but as I sat in worship last Sunday I too could say “I felt my heart strangely warmed”. I felt it as we opened a new hymnal and sang some oldie goldies and some brand new songs of praise. I felt it as individuals called out the pages numbers for their favorite hymns and we sang words which were familiar to many of us. My heart was strangely warmed as the choirs and the instruments rang out in praise. My heart was strangely warmed at the smile of little Ethan in the row in front of me and the welcome of dear friends. As the fog lifted over Platte Lake, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the corner of the world in which we live. In the gathering and the singing, in the word and the worship, my heart was strangely warmed once again.

The thing that touched me the most was the “hymn sing”. Of course, I couldn’t help but note that the hymn Michael Berry chose to use as an example was a Charles Wesley hymn, but there I go with my sinful sectarian pride again. As individuals called out the numbers for their favorite hymns, I couldn’t help but wonder what story lay behind that selection. Why did one particular hymn mean so much to one particular person? What life experience was expressed in that selection? From more than 800 hymns, why this one? Whatever the story, it’s obvious that music often expresses our deepest feelings and inner thoughts. There are songs that can bring me to tears and there are songs that draw out incredible joy. When we sang a verse of the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father Strong to Save” I remembered singing it on the weekend of John Kennedy’s death and I could still see retired Navy man Larry Price standing at attention and saluting every time we sang it on Memorial Day weekend in our church in Birmingham. When we sang a verse of  “This Is My Song”, I could envision friends in Cuba and Estonia, Zimbabwe and England and around the world with whom I have been privileged to worship. When we turned to “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” I could feel the gratitude and praise welling up inside. These hymns touch us and speak to us and speak for us in ways our simple words can never do and when the people of God join in praise, we feel our hearts strangely warmed once again. I suppose it might be possible to be a Christian without weekly worship. Maybe there is a place in the kingdom for solitary Christians, but for me the faith is best expressed in community and in the company of others I discover the Christ who promised to be present “where two or three are gathered together in his name”.

I would say the opening hymn was one of my favorites, but then, I have so many.  It expresses the hope and the joy of worship:

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!

Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!

And may God give us faith to sing always,

Alleluia!

And may our Presbyterian (as well as Methodist) hearts be strangely warmed once again.

Jack Harnish, Author