Continuing the discussion of iconic hymns and the worship theme for next Sunday, Sept. 5…
If “Are Ye Able” was the iconic Methodist hymn for the 20th century, perhaps the equivalent Methodist hymn for the turn of the century is Kurt Kaiser’s 1969 hymn, “Pass It On,” # 572 in the Methodist hymnal. Jennie Edwards, a high school girl in my congregation at Arcola, IL, learned it at camp and taught it to us. It seems to speak to her generation in the way “Are Ye Able” did to young folks in a former generation.
It’s also Labor Day come Sunday, and it’s hard for preachers to ignore secular holidays, regardless of what the Lectionary calls for. Besides, I always enjoyed using the Labor Day theme.
One year at Orion, I asked everyone to bring to worship a symbol of their labor to put on the altar, which, in Methodist terms, is the table in front of the pulpit where we put the offering plates, to dedicate their work to God. It was a lot of fun. One farmer brought a box of baby pigs, which he thankfully put under the table instead of on it. There were wooden spoons from housewives and pencils and text books from teachers and students, and hammers and a plumber’s helper, etc.
“Snow” Cole had just gotten the job as regional manager for the brand new Illinois state lottery. This was when people, especially Methodists, had not yet accepted the almost instantaneous transition from “gambling is a sin” to “gambling will make lots of money for education.” So Snow put a lottery ticket on the altar. It was, after all, representative of his labor. I did not know how to respond to that, so I didn’t.
Of course, gambling did not make lots of money for education. With the advent of gambling, Illinois actually dropped about 10 spots among what the states spent on education. The mantra for legislators was: We don’t need taxes anymore, because we’ll get all our money from gambling.
I was chatting 25 years later with the young pastor of a church so conservative it doesn’t even use musical instruments. He said, “I really appreciate that you Methodists keep reminding us that gambling is a sin, even though it’s like tilting at windmills. I can’t say anything against gambling, because conservatives believe that the only real sin is taxation, and anything that allows us to avoid taxes is okay, regardless. I keep thinking we’ll legalize dope and prostitution so we can take a cut of their proceeds, too. We’d say homosexuality is okay if we could avoid taxes that way.”
I don’t know how to respond to that, either, so I won’t. In fact, I won’t say anything for a couple of weeks, because I’ll be away from my computer. When I get back, it will be very close to winter in the UP, but I hope to have “some good memory,” or maybe several, to warm me in the cold days.
And also with you…
 Jennie is 40 and Jennie Edwards Bertrand now, and the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at Illinois State Univ, a position I used to hold. On Oct. 16, we’ll celebrate 70 years of the WF at ISU together, along with other former directors, Raydean Davis and Tom & Sharon Neufer Emswiler. All WF alums and friends are invited.