I don’t know how our poll of this congregation about your favorite hymns is going to turn out. I do know that several years ago somebody did a poll that found that the favorite hymn of Americans was this one we just sang, “Rock of Ages.” My grandmother had a picture on her wall that was entitled Rock of Ages. It was the drawing of a young woman in some great storm or other, the waters rising about her and she was trying to lift herself above the flood, clinging to this great stone cross. I suppose the part of the song was “simply to thy cross I cling.”
So when I was growing up I had a mental picture of the rock of ages as that stone cross and I had some sort of idea that to say that it was cleft meant it was carved. Well, what we have here, of course, is a mixed metaphor. Augustus Toplady who wrote the hymn took a little from the Old Testament and a little from the New Testament. You remember when Moses asked to see God and God said, “Tell you what I will do. I will hide you here in the
cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand and pass my glory by you.” Well, “rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” But then the New Testament turns to the cross.
Do you know who Toplady was? He was an English clergyman, a contemporary of John Wesley, as a matter of fact. He was a committed Calvinist and a bitter opponent of the Wesleys. The second verse of the hymn is aimed at them, “Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know, these for sin could not atone. Thou must save and thou alone.” We could talk a long time about that, but Toplady is saying in that verse that it is
not our feeling about Christ, not our experience about Christ, it is Christ that saves us. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”
2 Samuel 7:18-29 18 Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? 19 And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord GOD, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future. And this is the custom of man, O Lord GOD. 20 Again what more can David say to You? For You know Your servant, O Lord GOD! 21 For the sake of Your word, and according to Your own heart, You have done all this greatness to let Your servant know. 22 For this reason You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods? 24 For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O LORD, have become their God. 25 Now therefore, O LORD God, the word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and his house, confirm it forever, and do as You have spoken, 26 that Your name may be magnified forever, by saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel’; and may the house of Your servant David be established before You. 27 For You, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore Your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to You. 28 Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth, and You have promised this good thing to Your servant. 29 Now therefore, may it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue forever before You. For You, O Lord GOD, have spoken; and with Your blessing may the house of Your servant be blessed forever.”
I said that I wanted to talk with you about prayer and that’s what I want to say about it. I have wanted to talk with you about David this summer, and there is a sort of model for
prayer in David’s prayer asking God’s blessing upon his house, but I am drawn back to the New Testament and to this hymn. I think it is because I like stories. There isn’t much of a story in David’s prayer, but the New Testament, this story of the sending out of the twelve and these instructions about what not to take, there’s a story. “Nothing in my hand I bring.”
Mark 6:7-13 7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” 10 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.
Look with me at the story as model of prayer. Take nothing with you but a staff. Why a staff? I looked up the word to see if there was any symbolic meaning. It just means a stick, maybe a walking stick, the kind you might use to assist you on a hike in the mountains. Or maybe it is the kind I see out early mornings, walkers carrying a stick to poke dogs away who come barking. A staff would ward off wild animals or maybe robbers, just a matter
of prudence. Take no money, no bread. We are getting ready to go to Jurisdictional Conference next week. That’s not the sort of preparation we are making for our journey. Frankly, I wonder sometimes if all our political preparation would be better left behind, but that’s not the way you elect bishops. All the more remarkable, then, these instructions, no bag, a travelers bag or a beggars bag. Francis of Assisi and his little brothers took
all but this one seriously. They carried a beggars bag. Wear only sandals. Why sandals? I’m not an expert on first century footwear, but a sandal is a rather insubstantial piece, not made for long hikes. It is a kind of symbol for something here. Don’t
wear two tunics, don’t pack an extra shirt.
What do you make of all this? Very impractical, wouldn’t you say. A couple of years ago the Board of Global Ministries did part of its training for new missionaries over here at TWU. I
dropped in just to say hello and welcome them to Denton. When I got there someone from the Board was addressing them on how to pack their worldly goods to be shipped to Africa or India, wherever they were going. These were instructions about how you can get packing barrels and how many pounds you can take and so on. Compare that to what some have called the first missionary journey. Of course these modern day missionaries were going for a matter of years.
Scholars have thought, therefore, that these instructions contain the hint of something else. Some have said that the little equipment they were to take was a sign that the kingdom
would come while they were gone. It would be a short journey. Sandals would be enough. You won’t even need two shirts. I say it is a sign of faith. You will receive whatever you need. “Nothing in my hand I bring.”
Now, how is that a model for prayer? In the first place it is a model for life. Prayer is not different from life. If prayer is different from life it is not prayer. Prayer is what is really
on your heart. Most of us already have enough, and we could leave a lot of that behind.
But let me talk to you about what’s really on your hearts. What is deep down in those secret places? What have you always wanted to do? Not what have you always wanted to have, but what sort of mark do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered. What have you always wanted to be? Why did you turn aside from it? Was it because you said to yourself, “I couldn’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m too old for that or too young for that.” Where did you get that idea? Did
somebody tell you once that girls aren’t supposed to be able to do math? Think of what we do to our children when out of impatience we say, “Here, let me do that for you.” Nothing in my hand I bring. It isn’t what you bring along for the trip it is what God supplies. Leave all that behind, you will receive what you need.
When I think about this church and its future I think that we are limited only by our own imagination. God doesn’t limit us. I think about all the talent and all the energy and all the money and all the love that we can bring to bear on the life of this community. I think about how two years ago we were spending maybe $5,000 per year feeding a few hungry people in Denton. If someone had told you that in 1987 we would spend $20,000 would you have believed it? And if present trends continue we will spend $30,000 in 1988. People come up to me in the strangest places and give me a check for our Love Fund and the Manna program. You don’t always plan these things out carefully. Sometimes you just do something and figure out how to do it perfectly later on. Look at all that we can bring to the life of this community. No, that’s not it. Leave all that behind, talent, money, buildings and land. Begin with the fact that we are sinners, and whatever we need along the way God will supply. Nothing in my hand I bring, and that’s a model for prayer.
Now, I don’t know what to expect from that sort of prayer. That’s no promise that if you pray you will get rich or pass the test or whatever. I am aware that God answers prayers with a no as often as a yes. I don’t know what will happen if we pull back the curtain drawn over those secret places in our lives, our deepest hopes, our fondest dreams to do some great work for God. I don’t know what God will do with this church. I only know what
the Bible says, take nothing for your journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in your belt. Wear sandals and don’t take two tunics. And they did and the Bible says, great miracles. They preached repentance and cast out demons and anointed with oil those who were sick and healed them. Do you suppose…? Nah! We couldn’t do that. But we aren’t talking about what we can do, we are talking about what God supplies….Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling. – William C. Crouch
This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on July 10, 1988, at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas. If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page.