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The Votes Are In

This past Sunday, we talked in worship a good deal about the value of having communal songs. My sermon focus was largely on how one of the ways we pass on our faith to our children is through the music that we sing, and after the sermon I invited the congregation to fill out a little card that had at the top the words "My Favorite Hymns".

The response was overwhelming. Not that we needed to verify this, but you all - as most Christians do - care a lot about hymns. Indeed, we all have certain hymns that are meaningful to us. I was speaking with Jean Holley this morning, and she noted how she has a few lines from one of her favorite hymns posted on the inside of one of her kitchen cabinet doors. Every time she opens that door, she is reminded of how much this is God's world and how richly God's glory and goodness shines throughout all creation (can you guess the hymn?).

Not surprisingly, the hymns that received the most votes were the ones that have long topped the list. How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, and I Come to the Garden Alone received the most votes, and several other solid hymns landed just behind - hymns like: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty; This is My Father's World, Rock of Ages, The Old Rugged Cross, and I Danced in the Morning. One of the top hymns was one I had never heard (Whispering Hope). But one of the things that surprised me was the sheer number of hymns offered and how different they were from one another. Some people included the famous Christmas hymns. A few people listed the Doxology, and a few others listed cultural classics like God Bless America and When the Saints Go Marching In. Overall, there were 72 different hymns listed, which says a lot about the diversity of our religious heritage as a congregation (if you would like to see a copy of the list, please see the sheet on the outside of my office door). That diversity, however, is not that surprising. Most congregations - including our own - have a wealth of Christian traditions. Even though we are Greencastle Presbyterian Church, we are Christians with roots in Baptist and Methodist heritage as well as non-denominational.

Returning to this idea that our hymns impart and implant faith - namely the Christian faith - I wondered if there was a way to help illustrate just what these hymns convey and share with us. It was then that I remembered a wonderful new tool on the internet called Wordle. Wordle is an internet site that can generate an image - a collage - of words. So, what I did was take all of the hymns that you wrote down, and I typed every hymn title into Wordle. If a certain hymn received more than one vote, I made sure to write that hymn in as many times as it was voted for.

And after typing in all the hymn titles, this is what Wordle produced:

That's a pretty wonderful picture. Again, this image was created by taking all of the hymn titles. The largest words (Holy, Lord, Grace) are the words that appeared most often, but even the smaller words have tremendous significance. Do you notice "Jesus" tucked in at the bottom right corner? What about the word "friend" or "joy" or "vision." It is a tapestry of the words that anchor and define our faith as Christians. And every time we sing one of these hymns, it is an occasion for us to remember how great is God's love for us that He should send His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

I wonder what the picture would look like if we took the top 100 selling tunes on the Billboard charts from 2010 and did a Wordle of those titles? Actually, I don't want to know. I'm fairly certain of the results - words that are anchored infear and sexuality and self and greed and pride.

I bring that up just to acknowledge what we all know: that what we sing influences the way we think. This is why singing hymns and praise songs is such an important part of our worship. Singing hymns helps us maintain a right focus on who God is; hymns remind us of God's holiness, grace and compassion. And singing hymns also trains our hearts and minds; it is a way for us to be formed as Christians. That is why many people have said that "singing our faith" is one of the key disciplines needed for our spiritual health and wholeness.

Thank you for your responses yesterday, and I am looking forward to singing these hymns together with you.

~Wes

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