With a Song in my Heart – 40 Days of Sacred Songs
Day 6 – Tuesday after 1st Sunday of Lent
To Listen: When I Needed a Neighbour
When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter,
were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?
I was cold, I was naked, were you there, were you there?
I was cold, I was naked, were you there?
When I needed a shelter, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter, were you there?
When I needed a healer, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a healer, were you there?
Wherever you travel, I’ll be there, I’ll be there,
wherever you travel, I’ll be there.
Sydney Carter (1915-2004)
From the Scriptures:
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
From the very first steps I took in living an active Christian life I followed what was called by its detractors, a ‘Social Gospel’. A way of following the Gospel that was not just about repentance, conversion, and belief but one which put Professions of Faith into action. I did not know, in 1970s England, that it was seen as passé and a little bit twee by ‘serious’ Christians who were concerned more with the ‘New Theology’ and the de-mythologizing of the Scriptures. The idea that one was meant to take the commands of Jesus seriously rather than figuratively was seen as impractical and foolish.
But I was in love. Not her person, though as a fellow adolescent I did admire her deeply, but with her determination to just get on with it. At School we had a book club which allowed us to buy, for pocket money prices a ‘cutting edge’ book of our own choice – rather than a set text or the librarian’s suggestion. Two of them changed my outlook on life. One, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, shaped my politics, the other, Bury Me in My Boots, by Sally Trench taught me to live a faith of helping first and asking questions (if at all) later.
The book reads like an adventure story as Sally creeps out of her comfortable suburban home without her parent’s knowledge to go and help those living rough on the Streets of London. I longed to be with her wandering around Covent Garden begging unwanted fruit and veg to give away to others. I wished I could stay up with her through the cold nights and comfort drunks and the homeless with endless cups of tea from the Salvation Army kiosk. Like my other hero, Francis of Assisi, I would plot ways of filching money from my parents to go and help others. Nothing quite so dramatic happened but it seems the bug had bitten as now 50 years later I am up late at night and early in the morning several times a week collecting waste food to pass onto the most needy.
I could never quite work out why in 70s Britain this sort of faith and care for others was dismissed and looked down upon.
Perhaps it was a class thing? I knew myself that, despite being a Navy Brat, it was expected that I would better myself and look upwards for a career – Dartmouth and a Royal Navy Commission the choice of preference – and not look down into the gutters where those who had failed at life lived and moved and had their being.
Much later on as my studies led me along the path beyond the Social Gospel to full-blown Liberation Theology I have come to see how today’s hymn should not be so much about us helping those who ‘need a neighbour’ but how the hungry and the thirsty, the cold and the naked, the homeless and the hurting are the ones who bring Christ to us.
There is no such thing as a private gospel. If our faith has no acts of mercy and kindness then it is empty and worthless. (James 2.14-16). But when we do put others first, when we do remember to look below us instead of always climbing upwards, then we meet our Beloved. After all…
just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
…and seeing as I mentioned the streets of London, an earworm for you…
A poem for our prayer today.
I was in Westminster for General Synod at the beginning of February and during a church service Anthony and I became firm friends. We spoke of our families, we shared a meal, we talked about poetry (he writes very long Haikus!) and he went happy to a bed in a homeless shelter that night. This is who he was to me that night…
Jesus came to church tonight
his name is Anthony
His shoes, too big, flip-flopped around
With laces trailing close behind
Sock-less and ankles covered
o’er with sores
His stale breath brought
the Spirit near us
He sleeps tonight in a hired bed
(a Blue Boy begged made clear his way)
Jesus came to Church tonight
Pray for Anthony
1) The next time someone begs from you help them.
2) Look at your regular giving and ask yourself if you could regularly support a charity which helps the hungry or the thirsty, the cold or the naked, the homeless or the hurting.
Reprise: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
One of the most interesting things about choosing to follow a ‘Social Gospel’ is that contrary to its detractors brought me closer to God. This hymn (another Boarding School ‘Banger’) became very dear to me as it reminded me that the more we live the Gospel for others the more it becomes real for ourselves.
Thou didst leave thy throne
and thy kingly crown
when thou tamest to earth for me,
but in Bethlehem’s home
was there found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee
Heaven’s arches rang
when the angels sang
and proclaimed thee of royal degree,
but in lowliest birth
didst thou come to earth
and in deepest humility.
Though the fox found rest,
and the bird its nest
in the shade of the cedar tree,
yet the world found no bed
for the Saviour’s head
in the desert of Galilee.
Though thou cam’st, Lord,
with the living word
that should set all thy people free,
yet with treachery,
and a crown of thorn
did they bear thee to Calvary.
When the heav’ns shall ring
and the angels sing
at thy coming to victory,
let thy voice call me home,
saying `Heav’n has room,
there is room at my side for thee.’
Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott (1836-1897) based on Luke 2:7 adapted by Michael Forster (b. 1946)
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Prayers are adapted from the Psalm Prayers in the Common Worship Psalter. material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘With a Song in my Heart’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022