Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 21, 2018
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Stewardship Commitment Sunday
Psalm 121; Romans 11:33-36
The word “doxology” comes from the Greek δόξα, meaning “glory” and λογία, meaning “saying”—so the literal translation is “saying glory.” A doxology is a short hymn of praise, typically sung to the Triune God. Each Sunday we sing a version of the Doxology during worship but is inside the church the only place where such praise is appropriate? This question was taken up by Fred Craddock in a sermon entitled, “Doxology” –a sermon that has been preached around the world—by him and others. Fred Craddock, who passed away a couple years ago, was one of the greatest preachers of all time. He was a minister, professor, writer, storyteller, but above all else, he was a lover of God.
Often churches have visiting preachers for Stewardship Sunday, but instead of doing that, I want to share Craddock’s “Doxology” with you. Why? Because I believe it reflects why it is important to be good stewards of our God-given resources—to give glory and praise to our Triune God. So, nearly in its entirety, I offer you Fred Craddock’s “Doxology”:
In the fall of the year, even after the days grow short and the air crisp, I still go out on the patio alone at the close of the day. It usually takes only a few minutes to knit up the raveled sleeve, quietly fold it, and put it away. But those few moments are necessary; everyone needs a time and place for such things.
But this particular evening was different. I sat there remembering, trying to understand the painful distance between the day as I planned it and the day as it had been. The growing darkness was seeping into mind and heart, and I was at the night. Looking back on it, I know now that it was the evening on which the Idea came to me. But frankly I was in no mood to entertain it.
It was not really a new Idea, but neither was it old. It was just an Idea. And it returned the next evening. I was relaxed enough to play with it a little while before it went away. The following evening I spent more time playing with the Idea and feeding it. Needless to say, I grew attached to the Idea before long, and then I had the fear that it belonged to one of the neighbors and that I would not be able to keep it. I went to each of the neighbors. “Is this your Idea?” “No, it isn’t our Idea.” I claimed it for myself and exercised an owner’s prerogative by giving it a name. I named it Doxology.
I took Doxology inside to our family supper table. Supper is family time, and conversation is usually reflection upon the day. If all are unusually quiet, I often ask, “What was the worst thing that happened today?” John answers, “The bell rang at 8:30.” “Well, what was the best thing that happened?” “It rang again at 3:30.” Tongues are loosed and all of us—Laura, John, Nettie, and I—share our day. Supper is a good time and pleasant, and the whole family agreed Doxology belonged at our table.
The next day Doxology went with me downtown for some routine errands. But somehow they did not seem routine. We laughed at a child losing a race with an ice cream cone, his busy tongue unable to stop the flow down to his elbow. We studied the face of a tramp staring in a jewelry store window and wondered if he were remembering better days or hoping for better days. We spoke to the banker, standing with his thumbs in vest before a large plate glass window, grinning as one in possession of the keys of the kingdom. We were delighted by women shoppers clutching bundles and their skirts at blustery corners. It was good to have Doxology along.
But I had to make a stop at St. Mary’s Hospital to see [Marva]. [Marva] was dying with cancer, and the gravity of my visit prompted me to leave Doxology in the car. Doxology insisted on going in and was not at all convinced by my reasons for considering it inappropriate to take Doxology into the room of a dying patient. I locked Doxology in the car.
[Marva] was awake and glad to see me. I awkwardly skirted the subject of death.
“It’s all right,” she said. “I know, and I have worked it through. God has blessed me with a wonderful family, good friends, and much happiness. I am grateful. I do not want to die, but I am not bitter.” Before I left, it was she who had the prayer.
Back at the car, Doxology asked, “Should I have been there?”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I did not understand.”
Of course, Doxology went with the family on vacation. This summer we went to the beach down on the Gulf. What a good time! A swim before breakfast, a snooze in the afternoon sun, and a walk on the beach for shells in the evening. Doxology enjoyed watching the young people in dune buggies whiz by and spin sand over an old man half-buried beside his wife, who turned herself in the sun like a chicken being barbequed. It was fun to walk out into the waves. These waves would start toward us, high, angry, and threatening, but as they drew near, they began to giggle and fall down. By the time they reached us, they had rolled over, we scratched their soft undersides, and they ran laughing back out to sea. There is no question: Doxology belongs on vacation.
Too soon it is school time again. I return to seminary classes, explaining all the while to Doxology that really Doxology is unnecessary, superfluous at seminary. After all, do we not spend the day every day talking about God, reading about God, writing about God? We do not need Doxology when we are heavily engaged in theology.
I was leading a group of students in a study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The class soon discovered, however, that in this weightiest and most influential of all Paul’s letters, the argument was often interrupted by Doxology. Early in the letter, in the midst of a discussion of the spiritual state of all those who live out their lives without Bible or knowledge of Christ, Paul insets a burst of praise to the “Creator who is blessed forever. Amen.”
After a very lengthy treatment of the tragic situation concerning the Jews, from whom came the Christ but who had not believed in him, Paul breaks off his argument suddenly and begins to sing: “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Time and time again Paul breaks the line of thought with a doxological reservation, as though suddenly reminding himself of something. Why?
Probably because Paul is aware that the Doxology is most appropriate to his task as a theologian. Theology begins with words not about God but to God. People discern first what is sacred, and from there move to what is true and right and good. Worship does not interrupt theological study; theology grows out of worship. And we do not attach chapel services to seminary life in order to provide something extra; we worship because of what has already been provided. A mother does not put a ribbon in her daughter’s hair to make her pretty, but because she is.
But more especially, the Doxology is appropriate for Paul’s own life, who he is. Who is Paul that he should write of the grand themes of creation, the history of salvation, and redemption in Jesus Christ? He is himself a creation of the very grace of which he speaks. He offers himself as Exhibit A in evidence of the effective love of God. Why not break into song now and then?
Nothing, in my opinion, could be more appropriate for any of us, whoever or wherever or however. Whether we spend our time at sticky café tables talking revolution or sit in calm indifference on suburban patios, Doxology is not out of place.
While on sabbatical in Germany a few years ago, I was taken by friends to a small hotel near Salzburg, Austria, where we had dinner and heard a young woman sing. She was Julie Rayne, a Judy Garland-type singer from London. Her songs were English, German, and American, and so many of my old favorites were included that I soon melted and ran down into the cracks of the floor. During her performance, Miss Rayne sang one number of unfamiliar tune but very familiar words: I lift up my eyes to the hills; from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
What is going on here? If entertainers move into the field of religion, some of us will soon be out of work. I asked to speak with Miss Rayne and she consented. My question was, Why? Why in the midst of popular songs, Psalm 121? Did it seem to her awkward and inappropriate? Her answer was that she had made a promise to God to include a song of praise in every performance. “If you knew what kind of person I was, and what I was doing,” she said, “and what has happened since I gave my life to God, then you would know that Psalm 121 was the most appropriate song I sang.”
…Is there ever a time or place when it is inappropriate to say, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”?
It was from the class on Romans that I was called to the phone. My oldest brother had just died. Heart attack. When stunned and hurt, get real busy to avoid thought. Call the wife. Get the kids out of school. Arrange for a colleague to teach my classes. Cancel a speaking engagement. And, oh yes, stop the…paper, the mail; have someone feed the dog. Who can take my Sunday school class? Service the car. “I think I packed the clothes we need,” the wife said as we threw luggage and our bodies into the car.
All night we drove, across two states, eyes pasted open against the windshield. Conversation was spasmodic, consisting of taking turns asking the same questions over and over. No one pretended to have answers. When we drew near the town and the house, I searched my mind for a word, a first word to the widow. He was my brother, but he was her husband. I was still searching when we pulled into the driveway. She came out to meet us, and as I opened the car door, still without a word, she broke the silence: “I hope you brought Doxology.”
Doxology? No, I had not. I had not even thought of Doxology since the phone call. But the truth is now clear: If we ever lose our Doxology, we might as well be dead.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”[i]
[i] Sermon by Fred Craddock, As One Without Authority, 131-136.
*Cover Art “So That You May Know the Hope” © Jan Richardson Images, used by Subscription.