A Song to Sing

Preacher: Thomas A. Mitchell
Date: November 7, 2021
 
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Scripture: Leviticus 25:1-12

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Will you pray with me:

God of our days and years, of calm wind and rushing water. Artists of souls, potter of creation, we thank you for this day and for this time to discern the ways in which your word speaks to us anew. Might we our open hearts and minds to listen. And May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you oh lord our rock and redeemer.

 

The year is 1751. The bell that hangs in the colonial state house of Pennsylvania is old. Its sound is too soft. Its tone is no longer vibrant. So the Assembly orders a new bell. Upon its arrival, the bell cracks during its test sounding. So, they recast the bell. A few months later, it debuts with a muffled sound. So they try again. A full two years after the bell was first ordered, the third time's the charm. The recast bell sounds good enough to hang in the Assembly House. Within the year, however, yet another bell is ordered to replace it. But, no shipper agrees to take away the old bell, so they keep it for ceremonial occasions. 

 

Now- you might be asking yourself, “Why does any of this matter?” “I thought the scripture was about Leviticus 25. Why is Thomas giving us a history lesson about some centuries old bell?” “This is the topic he chose for his first sermon with us?”

 

Here’s why. Because two centuries ago, a group of people committed to the freedom of human beings looked at that old, cracked, and muffled bell, and noted the inscription upon it, which read: Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. 25:10. That group of people, abolitionists, recalled a story of our ancient past, and recognized what it was saying to them in their moment. They were so moved by that bell and its inscription that they published a poem about it. That poem, which gave the bell its name, was called “The Liberty Bell.”

 

Part of that poem reads:

 

Ring loud that hallowed Bell! Ring it long, ring it long. Ring it, till the slave be free, wherever chained, wherever chained; till Universal Liberty for [aye] be gained… ring it, till the bonds of sect be torn away… till every man, as God’s elect, Kneel down to pray.

 

Those abolitionists looked at that bell, read its inscription, and then looked at this country. They saw an economy, indeed a whole society upheld by the labor of enslaved Africans. They said “enough.” They invoked this story of old in the hopes that it might lead towards something new-- that it might lead towards a time where they could, indeed, proclaim liberty throughout all the land.

 

What might any of this mean to us today? I can think of a few things. The first is a reminder that this call for liberty was originally part of the year of jubilee. A year that was recognized to be a period of rest from labor,

of rest for land, of freedom from debts,

and of the return of those who had been enslaved. In its full context, the Year of Jubilee is a year of economic justice.

 

All of that sounds well and good. But we must also recall that Leviticus is a book of laws. Laws often tell us how things ought to be, but not necessarily how they are.

We have no evidence that a year of jubilee, in the manner prescribed by law, ever actually took place. None.

The abolitionists knew this. And yet they were called to pursue liberty nonetheless.

They heard the still-speaking voice of God and went to work.

 

That is the nature of our faith. Looking back at our past, interrogating our present, and doing what we can to bring forward that future world, where things on earth are like those in heaven. I admit that all of this is easier said than done. It requires us to have faith in what we are doing, and to talk about it too. It requires us to be bold enough to put it in print, to say it aloud, to dare to challenge ourselves and those around us to rise to extraordinary standards. And all of this must be done in a world that is becoming increasingly convinced that what happens here, what happens in communities like our own, inside buildings that look like this, with texts and traditions like ours… the world that is becoming convinced that none of this matters today.

 

A few months ago, I talked with a minister at a UCC church in Des Moines, Iowa. We talked about the value of discussing our faith through storytelling. She said, “On our best day, Christianity can sing a more beautiful song to the culture.”

 

The song of those abolitionists, based on Leviticus 25, was indeed beautiful. My friends, what song do we wish to sing today?

 

Perhaps it is easier to ask why we are even here; to ask why we call ourselves Christian; or, why we choose this faith. After that, we might then consider what our faith looks like outside of this church and indeed why it matters in 2021.

 

During Advent, every one of us will have the opportunity to answer those questions. The Adult Deepening team and I are starting a narrative storytelling small group. Our hope is that the questions I just asked might be a part of exploring and understanding our faith and beliefs today.

 

As I went further into the rabbit hole of learning about the Liberty Bell, I learned that it is very poorly constructed. 25% of the bell's 2,000 pounds is tin, which made it extraordinarily brittle. And so, from the outset it was susceptible to cracking. I think that the same can be said of ourselves.

 

We are not a perfect people. We too are susceptible to sounding muffled or cracking under pressure. And at the same, we too can carve out a place for ourselves in the great story of our common lives. We too can be a part of singing a more beautiful song for the culture.

 

And so again, beloveds, I ask what song do you wish to sing? Do you hear the still-speaking voice of Love? What story of old is that voice calling you to share in the world today? Are you willing to share it? Do you dare?

Amen.