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Monday, September 29, 2014

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers.
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

John Fawcett’s “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (tune: Dennis)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal


“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

A great new feature in Glory to God, our new Presbyterian hymnal, is the inclusion of notes that tell us about the world behind the hymns. Below the well-loved hymn quoted above, for example, we are told that the hymn was “written to express a pastor’s unwillingness to leave a beloved congregation.” Church historians tell us that in 1772 John Fawcett, the poorly paid pastor of a struggling congregation, was offered a prominent post and a handsome salary. He decided to decline the offer, in spite of his family’s need, and the words of the hymn describe the feelings that undergird his choice.

We admire the sentiment, and our hearts are warmed to know that, in Fawcett at least, there was an individual of faith who opted for relationship and commitment over money and prestige. But would we truly respect such a decision today? Would we make such a choice ourselves?

I oversee the membership rolls at Fourth Church, so I have many conversations with people about their decisions to move to or from Chicago. More often than not the factors behind those decisions involve employment: better employment, higher compensation, exclusive perquisites, exotic travel opportunities. Whether through our words or our actions, so many of us make it clear: we are going to do everything we must to get a job that pays us enough money to buy what we want, live wherever we choose, and travel anywhere we want to go.

But there is the question I want all of us to consider. What good is money to buy anything we want, the option to live anywhere we choose, and the freedom to travel everywhere we want to go, if we don’t have people with whom to share our wealth, if we don’t friends or family to greet us at the end of the day, and if we don’t have a community that makes us feel at home?

Great God of heaven, keep me grounded here on this earth, so that I might comprehend what is worth pursuing. Help me to resist using my freedom and my strength in search of status and wealth that will never satisfy. Instead help me to find, by your Spirit, relationships and bonds of community by which I might have a foretaste of the fellowship of your blessed world to come. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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