Thomas Ken was the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and served as a priest and chaplain in the late 1600s. His ministry was marked by his relationships to royalty. His challenge was that he had a fierce sense of integrity – one that got him into trouble when he refused to condone poor behavior by royals. His conscience meant that he had to step down from his see for a time, but he refused to let go of his morals. Given the trials he faced – losing his jobs and being relocated for his opinions and actions, Ken was still able to hold on to his joy, writing many works and hymns – the most popular being our Doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
There are few of us who manage to maintain such a strong sense of integrity and such joy; we like to make things easier for everyone, avoiding conflict if possible. And whether we are avoiding conflict or are standing our ground like Ken, we can get down in the dumps about our lot in life; this life God has “blessed” us with can make us feel not blessed at all. The trials and burdens of life are just that, and we more often feel stooped over with the weight of the world than foot-loose and fancy-free.
But what our lessons and what Thomas Ken encourage us to do today is to hang on to joy. In fact, our Epistle lesson, our Psalm, and Ken’s doxology point us toward joy through song. From Philippians we hear, “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say, Rejoice.” If you haven’t heard the gospel group Israel Houghton and New Breed sing this refrain, you don’t know the power of these words to revive a soul. From Psalms we hear, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” I have sung these words from our LEVAS hymnal more times that I can count – but the words always bring a soulful smile to my heart. And who hasn’t been moved by our doxology? My family sings this at every Andrews gathering, and just the words bring back joyous memories from my childhood and adulthood.
Conflicts and challenges and trouble are inevitable, especially if we hold on to any sense of integrity. But today we are invited to hold on to joy anyway. Whether through the testimony of Ken, the words of Scripture, or the power of song, we are invited into the joy that only comes from God and is the only joy that can overcome adversity. So come to the table – taste and see that the LORD is good. Amen.