Good afternoon. I am so pleased you can walk with me today. It is a pleasant day here in New Hampshire. The sun is brightly shining, and the temperature is around fifty- five degrees. One of the blessings of living here is that so many people walk together, many of them on the various trails here in Hopkinton. When they are walking, New Hampshire people wave to the people in the cars that pass by. And the automobile drivers here respect the walkers and move as far away from them when they pass as it is safe to do. On my way today, I found that all the people that I passed were walking at least six feet away from each other. How grateful I am that today’s technology allows me to walk side by side with you, and perhaps (I hope anyway), we can feel each other’s love and concern.
Today I have been down in my shop working on a couple of chairs. They are called jointer’s chairs and were made by early American carpenters. When I am working in my shop, I often listen to some of the old familiar hymns of the church. In a book about our different Christian churches I read a short time ago, it was stated that our denominational differences are overcome by our love of familiar hymns.
Certain hymns I connect with people in my family and with some of the people I served in the churches where I have been a pastor. I can never hear the hymn “How Great Thou Art” without thinking of a man named Bill Pimental. He was one of the first people I met when I was called to Four Corners Chapel in Rhode Island. A screen door needed to be replaced and Bill and I joked as we installed a “forever” screen door. If during a service we requested hymns from the congregation, you could count on Bill asking for us to sing his favorite hymn. We did so with enthusiasm and with love in our hearts for Bill. Although he was called too early to be with God and the saints, he is never forgotten.
Our beloved organist Glenn Cunningham loved the hymns “Breathe on Me Breath of God” and “Lift High The Cross” which was his grandmother’s favorite hymn. Never do I hear those hymns in my home or church that I do not remember Glenn.
Chyrs Alam, our soloist in Cumberland and at Candleberry Chapel would sing the beautiful Nunc Dimittis at the end of our midnight Christmas Eve Service by candlelight.
“Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
On Mother’s Day, Chrys had to sing “Ave Maria”, at my request and others. My mother’s favorite hymn was “The Sweet By and By” and my Dad’s was “In The Garden”. He also loved the favorite Easter Hymn that was written in a key he said that a man’s voice could sing. The hymn is called “Up From The Grave He Arose”. Over the years that I served as an active pastor, I found that many young people loved that hymn as well. Two of those were the Pielech brothers.
What is your favorite hymn? Do you have a favorite hymn? My wife Dale’s is “Be Still My Soul: and mine is “My Jesus I Love Thee”. The hymn, however, that I want to hear on our walk is the familiar and loved hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. Please think about that hymn as we walk together this afternoon.
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
It seems to me that this hymn is a perfect hymn for our present time. So many people seem lonely and at a loss because of our separation from each other. My brother and sister have both been in rehabilitation because they have both had severe falls. Neither has been able to be visited by their children or other family members or friends. They have had to face their hospitalizations without visitors. Grateful for modern technology, they have been able to FaceTime and see each other while talking on a telephone or tablet. However, that is not the same as having a conversation with a loved one with the touch of a hand or a hug to make you feel better.
In some hospitals or nursing homes, people have had to spend their last hours on earth without a loved one present. As expressed by some people, this is a time of such loneliness and sadness. When alone, we who hold the Christian faith are taught that we never are without a close friend and that friend is the Risen Christ. In the early church during times of persecution, the people knew that even at the time of death they had a friend who would not desert them.
This hymn expresses so well what we need to hear in our present day and condition. We have a friend who bears our sins and griefs. Just look at the life of Jesus, you see how He understands grief and how He understands and forgives our sins. When we are alone, we need to tell Jesus how we are feeling and what our needs are; we do that by praying for his help and courage and understanding. The hymn tells us what peace we can find in prayer and how foolish we are not to turn to the Lord to dispel much of our anxiety. In a time of trouble, temptations and fears, we are not to be discouraged. We need to just pray for help to the everlasting Christ.
Now let us put this in difficult terms. If we were to find ourselves in the hospital gravely ill, do you think that Jesus will not be with you or me? Is not the basis of our faith – the central precept of Christianity – the words, “ I am the resurrection and the life” saith the Lord. He that believeth in me shall not perish but will have everlasting life?” Of course, we do not wish to pass from this life without our family present, but if we are alone – if it is our time to meet our heavenly family – remember we are not alone for Jesus is always with us. He will take our hands and comfort us to where those we have loved are present.
For the Christian believer, it is not an idle dream that we will meet again with those we have loved in eternity. Hold fast to the Risen Christ – hold fast – pray to him as the “faithful friend he is.” No storm defeats our Friend – when frightened, alone, worried, grief stricken, feeling weak at heart, go to the One who can give you and me strength and everlasting love. We are so fortunate for – “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
Be strong and know we are not alone. Our friend Jesus is always with us. Always and Forever.
“And now may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.”