James Weldon Johnson

  • I have a lot of books in my office. A whole shelf is dedicated to books about preaching. One of my favorites on that shelf is a book of sermon poems by James Weldon Johnson called God’s Trombones. James Weldon Johnson was a poet who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We sang one of his hymns last Sunday, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some of you were perhaps not too familiar with that hymn. That was probably only the third time I’ve ever sung it. But I’m sure others were more familiar with it. That hymn has been called the African American National Anthem, and it speaks of challenges overcome and challenges ahead.

    Perhaps the most striking phrase in the hymn is in the very beginning.

    Lift ev’ry voice and sing
    Till earth and heaven ring,
    Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

    The harmonies of liberty. What a phrase. It reminds me of driving in my car with the windows down, listening to a great song and trying to invent my own harmonies with the music.

    Harmony is a beautiful thing. It’s when two or more people are singing different notes, but they somehow sound good together.

    Harmony and liberty are at the heart of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we are all different. We are all gifted in different ways. Yet we all work together in a way that is pleasing and useful. And we are all free to give of our time and gifts as we see fit. Nobody is going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. For example, I once had a band director who was willing to do anything at church except music. To him, music was work. He had other ways he preferred to serve his local congregation. He was at liberty to do that.

    Johnson’s hymn is a fantastic reminder of the challenges we face as a nation, as a church, as the human race. And it is also a fantastic reminder of the hope we have in God who always provides for us, even in the midst of disharmony.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

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