Songs of Faith IV: Blest Be the Tie That Binds

John Fawcett and his wife Mary began their ministry at an impoverished Baptist church. Poorly compensated, they had an opportunity to leave but did not. Instead, they chose to carry on for fifty-four years. It is not about what you have. It is about Who you know.

Sermon Series: Songs of Faith ~ Blest Be the Tie That Binds ~ November 25, 2018 ~ Luke 12:13-21

OK, friends, we have been, over the last month, looking at some of the stories behind some of the great hymns of the church. We began, at the beginning of the month, with Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” reminding us that God is our strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. We then talked about Horatio Spafford’s “It is Well With My Soul,” a song encouraging us that in the midst of our grief and in the midst of our personal tragedies in life, remember God’s promise of heaven given to all believers. Last week we talked about Frances Havergal’s “Take My Life and Let It Be,” which is a song calling all Christians to be all in, 24-7, 365. Our Christian faith is not something that we just do on Sundays, it’s something that we do all the time. Our lives are to be fully consecrated, Frances wrote, to God.

Well, this morning we’re going to look at the hymn called “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” It was written by John Fawcett, and I want to begin by looking at the parable of the rich fool in Luke. Luke told us that Jesus was speaking to a large crowd when… please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In the gospel of Luke, we read in verse 13:

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Now, I don’t know about you, but the first thing that jumped out at me when I read this Scripture is verse 14, Jesus says, “Friend, who made me a judge over you?” and I’m thinking hey, if not you, then who? Obviously, you’re supposed to be the judge! But that was not Jesus’ role at this point. There will come a day for every single person living on the planet, not just believers, everyone – believers, non-believers, all over the world will stand before the Lord and Jesus will judge at that point. But that wasn’t his role right now.

Most of us are familiar with John 3:16, right? Everybody… you know, I have a quick confession. Years ago before I was born again, you know, I knew about Jesus, I knew about God, I knew about the Bible, but I had a superficial surface knowledge. But I had no idea why all these people at football games would hold up signs that said, “John 3:16.” That’s weird, every football game I watch somebody holds up the same thing. I don’t know what that means. Confession is good for the soul. John 3:16 most people are familiar with:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Most Christians are familiar with John 3:16. Fewer read the next verse. Verse 17 says:

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus’ role when he walked the earth the first time was not to judge. It was to offer himself as salvation for people. So, his response in that context is, “Why are you calling me a judge? That’s not my role at this point, number one.” Number two, Jesus knew this man’s heart, and he knew that what the man wanted was for Jesus to get in the middle and try to be the deciding factor in this argument pitting brother against brother. Jesus saw a bigger issue here in dividing the father’s estate. He knew the man’s heart, he knew the man’s motivation. He knew why he was in such a hurry to ask the question and pushing the issue. Jesus wants to talk about greed. Verse 15: “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Are you familiar with the bumper sticker – perhaps you’ve heard of it or seen it someplace – “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Ever heard that? It’s kind of sarcastic, I guess. But that is so not true. He who dies with the most toys wins. God said through King Solomon, “We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us (from which we get the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.”)

Job says in chapter 1:21:

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21)

So, what we accumulate materially during our life means nothing in the next life. So, beware, Jesus says, against focusing on amassing an earthly fortune, against every kind of greed. That’s what he wanted to address. And then he did what Jesus often did: He goes on to tell a story. A story about a farmer. Stories are powerful. People remember stories.

Now, I want to make myself perfectly clear: God is not anti-wealthy. God is not against rich people. He really isn’t. What he is against… Remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira?

It’s in Acts 5. Let me refresh your memory if you’re not aware of it.

There was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.

They owned some property. Obviously, they owned more than just their house. They had extra property. They sold some property.

He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent…

– with Sapphira’s OK –

… he kept the rest. (Acts 5:1-2)

So, he presents to the apostles what he says is all the money he got for the house.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.”

Verse 4, critical:

“The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was yours to give away –

– or not, your call.

“How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

See, Ananias and Sapphira, number one, they wanted to keep half the money, number two they wanted the recognition, and the fame and notoriety that comes with marching in and presenting themselves to the apostles and saying, “We just sold this property and we’re giving it all to you!” They were greedy, both for the money and for the notoriety.

As soon as Ananias heard [Peter say “You’re not lying to us but to God], he fell to the floor and died.

There are always consequences for lying to God. It’s one of the commandments.

Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in…

Sapphira, she doesn’t know her husband just dropped dead after getting called on it. So, she presents the same story, tells the same lie, and meets the same fate. She drops dead.

See, the Bible is clear: the property was theirs to sell or not sell, up to them as they wished. After they sold it, the money was theirs to keep or to give away, it was their call. God is not against Ananias and Sapphira having property. God is not against Ananias and Sapphira having money. God was against greed. God does not begrudge anyone wealth.

Would you like to be rich? It’s not a trick question, would you like to be rich? You see, only some people put their hands up, and I ask myself, why is that? Don’t we all? I do! Because there’s a little conversation going on in some people’s heads. “I really want to raise my hand, but I don’t think that’s the right answer! Besides, money is the root of all kinds of evil! So, I better look like a good Christian and keep my hand down. I want to be humble!” It’s kind of like that joke, I’ve told this joke a hundred times so when it gets to the punch line just laugh and humor me.

A pastor was giving a children’s message one Sunday morning and he was using a squirrel as an object lesson on industry and preparation. So, he says to the kids, “I’m going to describe something to you, and when you figure out what it is, I want you to raise your hand! This thing lives in trees.” He pauses. Nothing. Ok. “This thing lives in trees and eats nuts!” Nothing. No hands go up. “It’s gray!” Pauses. Nothing. He’s running out of things to say. “Um, it has a long, bushy tail!” Still nothing. The kids are all looking at each other, but still, no hands raise. The pastor says, “It jumps from branch to branch!” Nothing. “It chatters and flips its tail when its excited!” Nothing. Finally, one little boy tentatively raises his hand. The pastor sighs in relief and calls on him. “Well,” the little boy says, “I know the answer must be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”

See, he wanted to give the pastor the answer that he thought the pastor wanted to hear! What I’m saying to you is, that’s why some of you didn’t raise your hand. You wanted to give the answer that you thought God wants to hear! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich. Who wants to be rich? There we go. Because remember, if you hit the lottery, I’ve already heard you promise 10% of it goes to the church! I’m holding you all to it!

There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with having money. I know some people say, “But money is the root of all evil!” No, that’s not exactly what the Bible says. That’s a mis-recitation of that verse. In 1 Timothy 6:10:

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)

So, it’s not money that’s the root of all kinds of evil. It’s the love of money, it’s the greed, that is the root of all kinds of evil.

Greed does not please the Lord. He’s got no problem if you use your gifts and talents to make money. He trusts, if you are a believer, that you understand the Bible says:

To whom much is given, much is expected, and to whom much more is given, much more is expected. (Luke 12:48)

But it’s your property to sell or not sell. It’s your money to give or not give. That’s on you. The Bible says in Hebrews 13:

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have… “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Don’t make money your life’s work.

Now, I am not saying by any stretch of the imagination, don’t try and better your or your family’s financial situation. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that Jesus is basically saying… have you ever heard this: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” Get it? Present. It’s a gift. Today is a gift. Think about it. Jesus even teaches us to pray, we just did it a few minutes ago, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Take care of us today, Lord. I’m not focused on tomorrow, or the next day, take care of me today, Lord. I’m trusting you for today. Give us this day our daily bread. When we are always focused on the next thing, we often miss all the beauty that surrounds us.

I know I’ve shared with you guys before that before I got into ministry, I was in the post office. I worked there for fifteen years, started when I was 18 years old. From the day I walked in to the day I walked out, I was surrounded by old guys – of course I say old, they were probably my age when they started – and all they talked about was the war that they were in and retirement. That’s it! The war, and retirement, every day for fifteen years. And it seeped in! I started telling stories about when I hit the beaches in Normandy! (No, just kidding). I started to focus on retirement. Retirement became such an obsession with me. I mentioned to you before – my ATM years ago, my PIN number was 2-0-1-8, the year I was going to retire from the post office. October 2, two months ago I would have been done. I was so focused on retirement until one day it hit me – what about today? I’m looking at years from now, I’m missing out on today.

That’s what Jesus is saying. He’s not against wealth, he’s against greed and all that comes with it. He’s saying that life is more than material goods. There are things far more important, which brings us to John Fawcett.

For instance, John Fawcett was born into a poor family in Yorkshire England in 1739. Sadly, he was orphaned at the age of twelve. To survive, he had to accept an apprenticeship to be a tailor. That’s what it seemed his life was going to be, his life was going to be sewing clothes, mending clothes, hemming clothes, letting clothes out. Until one day, still in his teens, he heard the great George Whitefield preach.

If you google George Whitefield, or Wikipedia George Whitefield, George Whitefield was a superstar in the 18th century. He was like the 18th century version of Billy Graham. George Whitefield drew crowds. He was evangelical, which didn’t make him welcome in a lot of churches in New England, who were starting to drift in a certain direction. So, he would preach outside, and five to ten thousand people would gather on lawns and in parks to listen to George Whitefield preach. Thousands upon thousands of people came to know Christ because of George Whitefield, as did John Fawcett.

A little bit of an aside here, a little bunny trail: There was at least one church in New England who did allow George Whitefield to preach inside – this one! George Whitefield preached our dedication sermon for our second meeting house in 1754 that used to be out in the middle of the intersection there. So, we had George Whitefield in our building at South Congregational Church, praise God! Praise us!

But, anyway, John Fawcett becomes a Christian through George Whitefield’s ministry, and eventually becomes a pastor. He gets married, and he and his wife Mary accepted a call to an impoverished little church called Wayne’s Gate Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire England. The year was now 1765.

Unfortunately, the poor people of that little village were able to pay John very little, and a lot of his salary came (as happened often in that time) as potatoes, produce, meat, whatever, which they were able to barely subsist on and get by – until Mary found herself pregnant and began to have children. Now it was getting tough, it was getting difficult to survive.

One day, Reverend Fawcett learned that the pastor of a large Baptist church in London was retiring, so he let the London church know that he was interested in that position, and in serving them. A search committee looked into his application, and they called him, they said, “We’d like you to come and be our pastor.” It was a much larger salary.

But, as John and Mary began to pack their household, preparing to move, as the story is told, Mary suddenly stopped. She turned to her husband and said, “John, I don’t think I can leave these people, whom I have come to love dearly.” And John surprised her by saying, “You know what? I absolutely agree.” So, they unpacked their wagon, and they let the London church know that they would not be coming.

Now, Fawcett, who wrote a number of hymns during his lifetime, wrote this hymn, “Blest Be the Ties That Bind” to convey the sentiments that they were feeling at that time, that those poor people in that poor church, among whom they had chosen to live, were special, and they loved them. And John Fawcett and his wife served that little church for the rest of his life, 54 years in all.

As the rich farmer discovers, none of us know how much time we have left, and when we are so focused on the future, so convinced that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, we can miss the things that are important – really important. Now, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been a pastor now for 21 years, and as a pastor, I can identify with John Fawcett sometimes. It’s not always about money. There are lots of reasons why a pastor may feel like accepting a call to another church.

In fact, let me tell you a story that I have never told anybody until this morning at the first service. The year was 2009. We had been here three years, and Renée and I were driving around the town of Medway, Massachusetts, looking for an apartment while waiting to hear from the Medway Community Church.,_Massachusetts

It didn’t have anything to do with money. There were other issues in 2009 that caused me to look, to search, for some greener pasture. You see, often when we hit a rough patch in our lives, that can be our reaction, can’t it? There’s a tendency to flee. I just want to run because it’s too tough to stay and face it. I know it’s a struggle. I know from talking to Ryan. I know he’s struggled in his job. I know in the past you’ve struggled with your work! We’ve talked about that, didn’t know if he should stay or go. I know Frank has struggled in his job, should I stay, or should I go. I know Carol Bracken has struggled with it too. Lots of people do. Well, as it turns out, the Medway Community Church was not part of God’s plan for me, and unfortunately for you, over the next seven years, Renée and I fell madly in love with you. Sorry. Which is why, out of the blue in 2016, I get this letter. It reads:

Dear Reverend Adam Söderberg,
I pray this letter find you well. My name is Alex Quint,
a member of the pulpit search committee at Mount Hope
Congregational Church in Livonia, Michigan. We, the members
of this committee are hoping you would be interested in discussions
of becoming a part of our church family, and partner with us
as we continue to grow in our faith and relationship with God.

I have absolutely no idea how they got my name, where they got my name, but this time, just like Mary Fawcett, Renée said, “We’re not considering that, are we?” Sorry, but to the dismay of many, I’m sure, Renée and I have fully unpacked our wagon. We’re here to stay! (I just want to point out, ONE person clapped).

We’re here to stay. We want to watch Selena and Isaiah, and Gabriel, and Walter and Jojo, and Levi – we want to watch them grow up. We want to see what kind of amazing Christians they are going to become. We want to celebrate love at weddings. We want to celebrate life at births, new life at baptisms, and eternal life at funerals, with all of you! We’re not always going to see eye to eye – we’re human, and that happens – but we’re family, and families work things out. They stick together. We are bound together answering the call to serve here at South Congregational Church, and blest be the ties that bind!

Now, again, I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to better your or your family’s financial position. I’m not saying that you should not consider a new opportunity or new possibility. I am saying none of us know how much time we have, so don’t focus so much on the future, be so convinced about greener pastures, that you can’t see the ties that bind, the things that are important. Like your relationship with God, and with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with friends and family. We have a tendency to do that. I did. Oh, it will just be better.

You know, on his very last album, in 1980, called Double Fantasy, John Lennon wrote a beautiful song called “Beautiful Boy,” in which he sings:

“Before you cross the road, take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Before you make any decision in your life, friends, take everything into consideration and pray, because just like the rich farmer, the Reverend John and Mary Fawcett, and the Reverend Adam and Renée Söderberg, what you have in the bank is not as important as who you know and have in your life. Blest be the ties that bind us together. Make sure you include everything before you make a decision. The grass is not always greener, and it’s not always about money, because you can’t take it with you anyway, and we don’t know how much time we have left. Let’s give God praise, would you stand and pray with me?