Friday, August 17, 2007

Mine Ebenezer

One great thing about being a geezer is the memory, both past and present, of the great hymns which cross denominational lines to glorify God. You have your favorites I’m sure. Like particular bits of scripture, certain music resonates as a result of its message and your personal experience with it. In 1948 I was sent by my local M.E. church to a national assembly of Methodist Youth Fellowship leaders in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was it an adventure for a kid from rural Iowa but an inspiration to be with 12,000 others, dedicated to Jesus Christ. We started and ended every session with All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (first tune) with the raucous laudatory vigor that only teenagers can muster. That experience earned the hymn a place among the top five for me.

Twenty years later I went to Kirtland temple and the guide, at the end of the tour, had us take a seat and activated a sound system which filled the sanctuary with those hallowed words, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning. . . .” Like almost every other visitor to Kirtland, I carry that memory close to my heart. Unlike my other favorites, it has a very special restoration relevance.

On occasion I perform special music for the congregation and I can assure you that there is no doubt in my mind what my unchallenged favorite selection is. “The End of the Sabbath” by Oley Speaks which features the words taken from Matthew 28:l to 5. I rejoice to be the voice to echo those wonderful words: “He is risen!”

As I type, I recognize that our collective music is so important to me that I could continue citing examples of personal favorites and we would be delayed getting to the hymn I really want to discuss. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” While the first and third verses constitute an important prayer let us concentrate on the second:

"Here I raise mine Ebenezer,

hither by thy help I’m come:

and I hope, by thy good pleasure,

safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

interposed His precious blood."

After many decades of enjoying this hymn, I decided it was time to discern its actual meaning. My search led me to I Samuel 7:12 in the Inspired Version. As I read the entire chapter I found the Jews in their usual pattern of repeated sin and repeated repentance. On this occasion, Samuel had started to appreciate God’s intercession in his conflict with the Philistines. When they drew a mighty host to attack, Samuel made a burnt offering and implored God to intercede. He did and brought a great thunder and “discomfited” them and they pursued and finally smote the Philistines.

That second verse tells it all. It thoroughly analyses the text stated and the text implied: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” This represents the open fact of Samuels’s and God’s actions. The hymn describes in lyric fashion the greater meaning. The hymn points to the “wandering from the fold of God” (sin), the “rescue” (intercession) and, most important, “interposed his precious blood (forgiveness by His sacrifice.”)

We may easily deduce from this a roadmap for following the path to salvation. In these important steps it takes us from recognition of our sin, seeking God for intercession, and then enjoying the forgiveness as a result of the blood sacrifice. Here we can not underestimate the importance of the Eben-ezer. This great stone, more than likely a stela, is an outward visible landmark signifying the separation of the past sin (which has been forgiven) and the prospect for the future enabled by redemption. This marker places all the importance on that which is yet to come. The prior sin, now forgiven, is relegated to the past and “remembered not.” Recognition of this separation point is very important.

I have never met a successful recovering alcoholic who does not remember the exact date, and probably hour, of his last drink. He is readily able to identify explicitly that time when he realized that God was in charge and he was not. He then headed down the path to recovery. His first step on that path was to acknowledge his errancy, his second an affirmation of his belief and from there the rest of journey is the reconstruction of the whole man and repentance.

We have all sinned in our own way. Have we identified that “turn-around” point? Can we isolate when we marked our decision to stop offending God and repent? Have we raised our Eben-ezer?

Cecil Moon

1 comment:

Equally Coy said...

With tears in my eyes I remember my Ebenezer moment as I read your post.
I often times find myself singing this beautiful hymn as I am driving or when I am alone studying.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.