Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Growing up Presbyterian

 As if becoming confirmed was not enough of a milestone in Ashley's faith, this week she did something many people have not done. She preached her first sermon. This was in no way a requirement of becoming confirmed, especially since she preached it at a different church. Many Sunday's I attend the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville's evening worship service, called Worship in a New Key, or WiNK for short. WiNK features different music and a different approach to worship, all while staying true to the PCUSA liturgy and order of worship. It is an awesome experience. I invite all of you to join me one week during the school year for worship.

Back to my story. Ashley's 7th grade teacher CS taught her class about the story behind Amazing Grace. Ashley was so moved, she wanted to share the story with the congregation. 

It was such a moving service, in part due to the gospel singing led by Ashley's voice teacher Dr. Trineice. Also because how I envisioned the service actually came to life. I invited a bunch of people to WiNK and they came. It helped I threw a BBQ before the service (in honor of Ashley's 13th birthday) to encourage family to come down and celebrate with us. A true testament to the belief that most people come to church because they were invited. What is normally a very quiet Sunday in this service (due to the nice weather, and seminarians graduating the day before) because a spirit-filled, and body-filled service praising God through old-fashioned Gospel songs. The other two received a short introduction by Pastor Matt, and a solo by Dr. Trineice. Ashley read Ephesians 2:1-10 as part of her introduction to her mini-sermon. She the sang the first verse as a solo -- a big step for Ashley who is trying to become comfortable singing in public. She did an amazing job. Once again, I am super proud of her.

Thank you for the friends and family who came to worship with us to celebrate with Ashley.

Here is the main text of what she said. It may have changed slightly, but you can click on the above YouTube link if you want to hear it "live."

For as often as you've sung and heard "Amazing Grace" have you ever wondered about the story behind the words? 

I recently had to write an essay on the slave trade, and my teacher made a comment about how one of the slavers we had been studying wrote the song, and she told us the little-known story behind it, which I thought was amazing and should be told.

Slave trader John Newton was on his way to pick up some more slaves and transport them over to the colonies, where after a three-month journey of being starved and beaten, the slaves were sold for a few dollars and made to work in the harsh sun of the southern colonies. However, Newton was soon caught in a terrible storm, of which he didn't know if he would survive. So he did what many people would do: angrily shouted at God, and made a promise that if he did live, he would become a much better person, and would stop being a slave trader. Well, Newton did survive, and unlike most people, he held true to his word. He turned his life around and stopped treating people so harshly. Later, he wrote the song "Amazing Grace," which is now a famous and well-known song, but not many know the historical significance behind it. 

Even though that song was written a couple hundred years ago, there are some things that still apply to us every day. The first, the most obvious, but perhaps the most important is to be a good person, even though it is sometimes hard. My motto for this year is: "Don't be mean in 2015." Of course, that also rhymes with 2016 and 2017, and so on, but it's still a good thing to live by. We should also always remember that God is with us, by our side when we need him, and when we don't. He's there with us in good times, and in bad, not just when we need help. 

The other message is also an important one to remember: to keep our promises. John Newton could have easily said, "oh, well, the storms over, I'm alive, that's good." He could have kept on going, and never thought about the experience again. Instead, he did something that people usually don't, he not only remembered his promise, he did what he said he would. He stopped being so cruel and heartless, and even wrote a song about what happened to him. Newton had only been thinking of the money he would receive for managing to keep most of the slaves alive. He had, in effect, been "blind," but now he "sees," and "lost," but now he's "found." It took a near-death experience to open his eyes to the world around him. 

There are several clues to Newton's experience in his song. He says "how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed," saying how happy he is that he became a better person and is following God's path for him now. He talks about how many toils and snares he's already gone through, but that grace will always lead him home. By the "toils and snares" I think he means his work as a slave dealer, and by grace leading him home, I think he's saying that he will always follow God now that he has discovered what he was missing. Newton also says how the Lord has promised good to him. By this, I believe he's saying that he knows that even though he was bad, he is a good person now, and God forgives him for how he was. 

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