Voices Only: ‘O Sacred Head Now Wounded’ (Classy version)
Welcome to Voices Only, your occasional dose of a cappella.…
OKALHOMA CITY — An a cappella worship service broke out in a place I least expected it — a room full of politicians.
I was at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of leaders in Oklahoma’s business, nonprofit and faith sectors to pray for our state’s elected leaders. Mike O’Neal, chairman of The Christian Chronicle’s board of trustees, invited me to be the guest of Kimray Inc., a producer of equipment for the oil and natural gas industry.
We had bacon, eggs and coffee as ministers offered prayers for the Oklahoma’s federal delegation, judiciary, state legislature and for Gov. Kevin Stitt and his cabinet. Then James Lowe took the stage for the keynote address — and started singing “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee …”
He led two verses of the classic hymn, written by Thomas O. Chisholm in 1923. I’m sorry to say that, without lyrics on the screen, I was singing “mmm, dah, dah, mmm” by the time we got to “join with all nature in manifold witness.”
Lowe ministers for a church in Brentwood, Tenn., called Bethel World Outreach. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee introduced him in a video message. Lowe said he had expected to see more cowboy hats at the event. This was, after all, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. My hat was at the cleaners.
But what he didn’t expect to see was politicians who were “actually praying,” he said. “Praise God!”
He quoted the verse you’d expect to hear at such a gathering, Romans 13:1: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” He called on our politicians to “continually be humbled” by that reality.
Then he talked about the death of George Floyd. When it happened, in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, he kind of decided he was “on vacation,” he said, but “if that ever happened in our state, I’d be obligated to address it.” Then, of course, protests and violence over Floyd’s death broke out in Nashville.
Lowe was challenged by one of his children to respond and, somewhat bewildered, opened his Bible to a random page. (I did not know ministers did that. Always suspected it, though.) The place he ended up was Habakkuk — the Old Testament prophet that so many of us turn to when we need a quick sermon, right?
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?”
In this case, it was apropos. Habakkuk, faced with great injustice and no relief in sight, does what so many of us have done for the past two years. He complains.
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
God answers Habakkuk in verse 5: “I am going to do something in your days, that you would not believe.” God promises justice, but Habakkuk keeps on complaining. In 2:1 he declares, “I will stand at my watch, and station myself on the ramparts” and wait for God to answer.
For Lowe, the answer turned out to be “go feed the police” — something almost completely counterintuitive, he said. It was an attempt to bring about understanding, healing and reconciliation.
“You are a state that has the ministry of reconciliation,” he told his Oklahoma audience. He challenged us to do three things consistently:
We’ve got plenty of problems in our state — and in our fallen world. But I appreciated the reminder that we’re to serve as ministers of reconciliation, as best we can, and turn our burdens over to the one who carried our iniquities to the cross.
I also appreciated the a cappella reminder that “all I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
What’s your favorite a cappella song? Send us a video link and a short description of what the song means to you. We might use your selection in a future Voices Only.
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