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Devotion: Lean on Me

It’s such a privilege and honor for me to stand with you tonight in my home congregation, to sing in a renewed space that I happen to know every inch of. Zion is approaching its 145th anniversary, and has been a landmark church in an historic community.  Sadly, Zion also seems to have an extraordinary number of parents who have lost children, some under tragic circumstances, who will understand the profound grief of not the ‘motherless child’, but the childless mother and childless father. 

In my role last weekend as self-appointed NLC crossing guard standing outside Casa de Cristo waiting for family to arrive, a woman whom I’ve never met (she obviously recognized my boyish good looks and fine nose) walked across the parking lot directly to me and said, “Thank you for sharing your devotions on the website.”  I can’t quote her exactly, because it caught me off guard, but the point is this:  You don’t know the impact you may be having.  And we reach out to others in more ways than just singing.

Some of you might agree that Sara Langworthy’s message last week about ‘historical trauma’ should have been printed up in the program, or presented as a talk prior to these concert programs.  It was a perfect overview of the themes in our music—the suffering of a group, the loss of culture, and the long-lasting effects of oppression.  And then Tony opened up to us, trusting us enough to take the risk to be vulnerable by sharing his story—and inevitably his story then becomes part of us, too.  Maybe it’s a little easier and more convenient for us to deal with oppression when we talk in global terms, when we can spread it out over an entire race, country, gender, or culture.  It gets way more difficult when we get down to the individual.  My mother had a profound way of demonstrating the Gospel in action—when I asked her why she was so nice to the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door or why we were housing a battered wife in our family room, she said, “You have to answer the question, ‘How am I going to respond in love to the person standing right in front of me?’”  More than once, we’ve been reminded that as a choir we may be singing—indeed ministering—to just…one…person.  Consider this:

In the mid-90’s, I was a member of ZQ, the Zion Quartet.  We worked at it, sang often here at Zion and were invited to other groups and churches during those years.  People still stop us in Cub Foods and say, “Oh, we just love it when you boys sing in church..”  We also spent some time in the studio and cranked out two collections, one of gospel chestnuts and the other a Christmas album.  Eventually, we couldn’t sustain the schedule, and even more surprisingly hadn’t won a Grammy with either album, so decided to disband and do other things.  Fortunately, we had kept our day jobs.

One of our early recordings included a Gary Mathena work, "Lean on Me" (no, not Bill Withers...). Pay attention now, this song is important later:

When no one cared about me if I should live or die,
and no one bothered asking why I'd go alone and cry.
When burdens got so heavy that I could not face the day,
then I'd feel His arms around me and I'd hear Him gently say,
"Lean on Me when you have no strength to stand.
When you feel you're goin' under, hold tighter to my hand.
Lean on me when your heart begins to bleed
when you come to the place that I'm all you have,
then you'll find I'm all you need.

Last month, nearly 21 years after we recorded "Lean on Me" in the studio, I ran into another ZQ member who was holding a mysterious, anonymous letter addressed on the envelope to both of us, the two who are still active here at Zion.  Puzzled, we opened it and read the following letter:

Dear Sirs:

To say that this letter is overdue would be an understatement, but even the span of time hasn’t quelled what I need to share with you.

In 1994, I became the victim of a most horrific and unspeakable crime, I’ll spare you the details.  What I need to say is this:  thank you.  While in the midst of time that changed my life forever, ZQ was singing and I’d had your cassette tape.  On my way to yet another occurrence of meetings, rehashing and reliving what had happened over and over again, I decided to put in the ZQ tape.  It was cued to “ Lean on Me.”

That beautiful and lifesaving message could never have been so meaningful if anyone else had performed it.. ZQ made the message so right that I’ll never, ever forget it.  For what seemed like the millionth time of my cascades of tears of despair, tragedy, and hopelessness, I was now crying tears of joy!  It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true!  Deep tears of relief were now spilling down as I not only listened to the song, but was transformed by the message...that hopeful message was really a balm for my battered and exhausted soul.

Thank you so much for singing God’s message, and thank you from the bottom of my healed heart.  

 In His thankfulness,      


That letter-writer, and others just like that person are probably sitting out there.  You do not know the hand of healing that you will extend tonight.  You may not know for 21 years.  You don’t always get thank-you letters, and you may not ever know.  We do know, however, that Jesus always reached out to the poor, the lame, the outcast, the oppressed, and he promises:

"Lean on Me when you have no strength to stand.
When you feel you're goin' under, hold tighter to my hand.
Lean on me when your heart begins to bleed
when you come to the place that I'm all you have,
then you'll find I'm all you need.   I’m all you need.

So how will you respond in love to the person standing right in front of you?