Wow. Just wow.
Here’s another hymn that I have bypassed time and time again, not thinking it would have anything to do with anything I might preach, especially in the last six or eight months.
O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee:
your 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 unbowed.
O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
where hate and lust and falsehood hold back your holy sway;
forbid false love of country, that turns us from your call
who lifts above the nation the neighborhood of all.
Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind,
that knows not race nor station as bound’ries of the mind;
that learns to value beauty, in heart, or mind, or soul,
and longs to see God’s children as sacred, perfect, whole.
Stir up in us a protest against unneeded wealth;
for some go starved and hungry who plead for work and health.
Once more give us your challenge above our noisy day,
and come to lead us forward along your holy way.
Now I will say that this is not entirely your father’s “O Young and Fearless Prophet” – the lyrics as written by Congregationalist S. Ralph Harlow are altered here, first to take out that thread of ‘we forget about Jesus but we should devote ourselves only to Jesus” theology; and second, to add a remarkably stirring third verse in their place, that emphasize the first principle-ness of Jesus’ ministry. (Also, our intrepid Hymnal Commission changed “the unity of all” to “the neighborhood of all” – which seems a more realistic goal.)
But even with alterations, the heart of Harlow’s lyrics are not only preserved but are celebrated. I mean, look at that second verse. It was written in 1931 – a time between the wars, with League of Nations failing to quell growing unrest in Germany and Italy, a country laid low by the Great Depression (being mismanaged by President Hoover), along with a surge of racist (Jim Crow) laws and the KKK. Most assuredly a fraught time. And that second verse could have been written for 2017.
And I wonder why I haven’t used it.
Except I know – it’s the same thing I say whenever I discover a hymn: we have our favorites, and often a first line or two doesn’t connect us. But POW! BAM! this text is a powerhouse. To be sure, I’ll use this one now.
This Welsh tune, Meirionnydd, is familiar – we also sang it with The Morning Hangs a Signal, another hymn that is made for this time. I’m not sure it’s the right tune, exactly, but it’s not bad.
So today’s lesson – as if I haven’t learned it well already – is don’t judge a hymn by its first line.
I decided to show you a bit of Wales in the featured image today, because (a) our tune is Welsh and (b) any depiction of Jesus as a prophet that I could find was very white and very trite. Blech. So go Wales!