1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 25
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
God’s people hum. They whistle. They make foolish sounding rhythmic clicking sounds with their tongues. Some people sing like sparrows while others sing, well…like crows. Some of the Lord’s people tap hymns into the floor below their feet when their voices are too old, or weak, or worn. As a new minister, I am finding the absence or presence of music sung to God or about God is like a spiritual vital sign. I have a suspicion the faithfuls’ handy little songs are much more than songs for self-refreshment – they reveal Christ’s signature sound of triumph and authority over life and death, Heaven and Earth. I also have a hunch that sharing foolish-sounding little ditties with those who do not realize God’s love, Christ’s companionship and the Holy Spirit’s power can be like soundbreakers that penetrate ears muffled by static.
On February 17th at Bethany Woods Retirement Home, I was at the bedside of a 93 year- old parishioner whom I have come to love very much. Earlier in the day nurses found him in his wheelchair slumped over without a pulse or breath. Immediately, they called a doctor who determined Mr. Fred suffered a serious stroke and was alive, just barely. The family was called to be with their beloved father in his last hours. So there we were, gathered at Mr. Fred’s bedside sharing stories, praying and singing favorite hymns. Mr. Fred’s breathing was irregular and stopped for several minutes at a time. His pulse was low and slowing.
With tearful eyes, I heard Mr. Fred’s son share stories about his father. I learned Mr. Fred was weak and ill all of his life and could not work. He would avoid gatherings of people, even his family. He preferred to be quiet and keep to himself. I learned how all of that changed eight years ago on a November day when he was Baptized. Soon afterwards, Mr. Fred became known for breaking out in song and was often heard humming quietly to himself. I find it difficult to imagine there was a time when Mr. Fred did not sing. Well, to be perfectly honest…he does not sing rather he ‘dees’ songs, like “dee dee doo da do do dee.” Mr. Fred proves that even a lack of teeth can’t keep a person from singing. His son smiles as he talks about His father’s Baptism and his father’s singing.
Every time I visited with Mr. Fred we sing together, pray and laugh. He never remembers who I am so I introduce myself as his preacher from Matton’s Grove. He find that fact absolutely hilarious. I do too, so we both get a good chuckle then we ‘dee de doo dee” hymns together. As I heard about Mr. Fred’s life, I wondered if these little hymns of praise and prayer he heard as a boy had been penetrating Mr. Fred’s silence and seclusion for 85 years. I wondered most about the moment he realized those songs about the Lord’s love were about the Lord’s love for him. As Mr. Fred’s son and family rested, I found myself happy to know that for eight years Mr. Fred experienced God’s love, Christ’s companionship and the Holy Spirit’s power. I could see why this man could not be kept from singing.
From time to time a nurse would come in and check Mr. Fred’s vital signs and look at us with a consoling gaze. We knew it would not be too long until Mr. Fred would be leaving us to meet Jesus… so we thought. Mr. Fred’s favorite song was an Albert Edward Brumley hymn called, “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven.” I located the hymn’s lyrics and we decided that it would be a fitting way to send Mr. Fred off. So we sang,
“Soon we'll come to the end of life's journey And perhaps we'll never meet anymore
'Til we gather in heaven's bright city - - Far away on that beautiful shore…”
Mr. Fred’s legs began to rhythmically move. We stopped singing. Mr. Fred’s granddaughter yells in his face, “Papaw are you there? It’s me. Papaw.” He settles down a bit. We begin to sing again.
“If we never meet again this side of heaven. As we struggle through this world and its strife.
There's another meeting place somewhere in heaven. By the side of river of life.”
Mr. Fred moans, his breathing quickens and his legs are moving again. He looked like he was horizontally dancing a strange dance. We stop singing. Mr. Fred’s granddaughter once again yells in his face, “Papaw, are you there? Are you hurting? Is something wrong?” We start singing again thinking he is responding to the music.
“Where the roses bloom forever. And where separation comes no more.
If we never meet again this side of heaven. I will meet you on that beautiful shore.”
Mr. Fred then pulls off his oxygen mask and says words too weak to understand. We call a nurse who takes his vital signs and she is amazed. She leaves and comes back with other nurses who are all equally astonished. It seemed Christ’s signature sound of triumph and power over life and death, Heaven and Earth, were vocalized to us through the weak word’s of a man redeemed from death that day. Five minutes after we started to sing, Mr. Fred’s breath, sound and body were revived. But also, all of us there experienced a spiritual revival when God’s sound filled the room. When I came back the next day I was astonished to discover Mr. Fred fed himself breakfast and was sitting up looking around.
I sat next to his bed like a little girl feeling foolish and free. Indeed I am free for I know “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” God’s strength in Mr. Fred assures me this is true. So, I join him and sing a foolish sounding song that goes something like, “De de de dee de dee de de de deee…”