“Some times you want to go, where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came…”
The Rembrandts “I’ll Be There For You” was a number one hit in America in 1995.
“So no one told you life was going to be this way. Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s D.O.A… I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)…”
If you read those lines, it is almost impossible to not start humming the tune. These, of course, are lines from two of the greatest TV theme songs. (If you’re interested in getting an hour or more sucked from your life, you should go to his website, with playable videos of the top 40 TV theme songs of all time.)
What makes these great theme songs? First of all, they were attached to great shows. The theme song to Veronica’s Closet might have been a masterpiece, but no one is going to remember it. Secondly, they were truly “Theme” songs. Meaning, they set the theme for the rest of the show.
The Friend’s theme is upbeat and youthful. You can clap along to it, and identify with the emotion of starting off in the world. It captured what was so popular about the show. It’s lyrics about friendship and being there for each other make the same emotional claim on the viewer that the show was able to make. The Cheers theme is a beautiful song (ranked number one by that website) that speaks to what made the show great – the desire to be a part of a community. Lovers of Cheers felt intimately connected to Sam, Norm, Cliff, and Diane, and that connection began with the wistful “Making the way in the world today, takes everything you got. Taking a break from all your trouble, sure would help a lot.”
The United Methodist Church has a theme song too. And just like these great TV theme songs, it captures the heart of what the Methodist movement was, and should still be, all about. The United Methodist Church wasn’t always a church. In fact, its founders were never members. John and Charles Wesley were members of the Church of England, and never intended on creating a new church. Charles, in fact, was adamantly opposed to it. John saw it more as a pragmatic solution to the problem of a movement that grew too fast for the institution.
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is the unofficial theme song of the UMC, and it captures perfectly what our church once was, and what it could be again. It is a song that is about two things – the power of a redeeming God and our only proper response. Charles Wesley wrote this hymn on the anniversary of the day he found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was deeply rooted in the Church of England, but for most of his life he felt no real connection to the loving, merciful, and gracious God that can transform lives.
The song is a reminder of that experience – the power of knowing a God that makes sorrows cease, makes the sinner clean, and restores us to new life. Wesley’s hymn captures the joy and excitement that is felt when a relationship with Jesus Christ becomes real and personal.
There are very few things that are more personal than a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. My relationship with Jesus is intensely personal. It has had its ups and downs. We have had times when were were extremely close and times when I’ve alienated myself from him. Jesus knows the inner depths of my soul and can see the blackest parts of my heart. He has seen me stumble. He has seen me hide. He has seen me fall. He has seen me get knocked down. But every time I get knocked down he is right there. He puts his arm around me and whispers in my ear, “Get up, Robb.”
And those times when I have gotten back up, there is nothing that I can do but sing my praise to God. My only wish is that I had more than one mouth to do it with. I wish I had more than one tongue to sing my savior’s praise. O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing my great redeemer’s praise! You see, transformation in the Holy Spirit is an intensely personal experience, but it is not private. Authentic faith in Jesus Christ is a personal matter, but it must never be private.
This dual nature of faith as both intensely personal and never private is what our theme song is about. Knowing our redeeming God brings tremendous joy. I am convinced that others are in desperate need of this kind of joy. They are in need of a relationship with the God transforms lives, transforms communities, and transforms the world. People are looking for something that gives life meaning. I have found meaning in a relationship with Jesus and in involvement with the United Methodist Church, and if I am to live up to our theme song, then I must share this with others. It doesn’t mean that I am going to tell others that they are wrong. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to insert God into conversations where it isn’t warranted or welcomed. I’m a grown up with grown up social skills, but I’m also not going to hide from the opportunity to share with someone what God has done in my life and what life in the Church means to me.
John Wesley preaching outside (because most churches wouldn’t let him inside). Notice: He’s using words
“O For a Thousand Tongues” is our theme song, and it captured what was great about the Methodist Church. It was written for a movement that was driven by the Holy Spirit. It was the song of a movement that captured the hearts of thousands. It was written for a movement of people that were willing to take risks – to go places others weren’t willing to go. It was written for those going into the prisons, for those preaching to the working poor that would never enter a church, for those that were meeting in their homes to have hard discussions about how God was working in their lives. It was written for a movement of people that were on fire with the Holy Spirit, and could not help but tell others. It doesn’t mean that they were pushy or judgmental or rude. It was written for a people that had found the good news of Jesus Christ and found that one tongue to share that good news just wasn’t enough.
In our world where we are inundated with bad news, couldn’t the world use a little bit of good news? Are people really going to think you’re a nut job if you tell them that you find meaning in worship, study, fellowship, prayer, or service?
Today, many Methodists like to quote Francis of Assisi’s “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” There’s a lot about that quote that I like. If it means “Make sure that your actions back up your words,” or “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” I can get on board. For too many though, this quote is used as an excuse to not talk about their faith. Sometimes words are needed. Most of the time words are needed.
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” by Charles Wesley
O for a thousand tongues to sing,
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad.
The honors of Thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.
Hear Him, ye deaf;
His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.
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This blog was written after I preached a sermon on this topic at Riverside United Methodist Church in Moline, Illinois. If you are interested in a CD of the worship service, please leave a comment below and I will contact you about a mailing address.