A Song for My Ordination.

Someone wrote me a song as a gift for my ordination.
Two songs.
Best. Gift. Ever.
You can hear the songs and the sermon / call story that inspired them via the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church podcast ministry.
On Sunday morning at Hennepin Avenue, in anticipation of being ordained a full elder in the United Methodist Church this Wednesday evening (livestream link), I preached about my call story. I offered highlights of my life from childhood to adulthood when I was open to God and when I was closed to God. If you didn’t know, I have had times in my life when I was a strong atheist, wanting nothing to do with God and definitely not the church. I am not ashamed of that, nor do I condemn atheists because while there are many reasons people are atheist I have certainly been there. It was a sermon of vulnerability and I knew I could trust my congregation with my story.

Ken Medema

Ken Medema is a superb musical artist. He’s written many inspiring pieces and even a children’s musical based on the Book of Jonah (my first sermon at Hennepin Avenue – filled with a metaphor of vomit! – was in response to the children performing Medema’s The Big Fish in worship, so we have come full circle). His live concerts often consist of him asking someone from the audience to tell him a brief story from their life and he responds with an original song, writing the music and lyrics on the spot. One of the first things Ken will tell you about himself is he is blind, so he’s taking notes in his mind as he listens to you. It is truly amazing.
Before worship, he and I spoke and I knew that everything he’d offer today would be in response to what came before, including my sermon. In that sense, I knew the song he crafted would be about servanthood and walking the journey. What I didn’t understand is he would truly put my life to music.
Ken made my life a song. There’s no other way to put it.
First, I was moved to tears as I listened to my life as a song. It was unexpected and such a gift. I sat in the preacher’s chair, up on the chancel and behind Ken while he was at the grand piano on the floor. After worship, the only comment I received more about the song’s beautiful content was what it was like to watch me watch him play. Mine were not the only misty eyes in the house as we heard my story to music.
Second, I was impressed by Ken’s talent from a writing standpoint. He took my 30-minute sermon (my longest ever by far and I don’t intend to go that long again any time soon, I usually preach 18-22 minutes) and condensed it into a great song. I told my story chronologically and he followed the beats precisely. He used some of my language, and it’s fascinating to listen to your words spoken by someone else (“The Jesus Stuff,” for example, is definitely a Nate-ism). He picked up on the recurring themes I intentionally laid out, the bookends of bowing to God and whether I would do that or not as a recurring motif throughout the sermon. He listened very closely. What do any of us want from each other but to be heard?
Third, it’s one thing to tell stores about you when you were a little boy or a teenager, share an anecdote from when you were a young man. It’s another thing entirely to have someone invite you to look at your own story. It was like the Ghost of Christmas Past inviting Ebenezer Scrooge to gaze upon who he was. “See the little boy,” Ken sang. “See the teenage boy… See the young man.” How often do we have people tell us a story about… us? It is rare and wonderful that someone could listen so intently to us that not only can they recite back to us our story but do so in a way that adds poetry and beauty, that connects your actions and your emotions in a way that tells you, “I hear you.”
You know, it’s funny. I had an improv show where I took suggestions from the audience and improvised music and lyrics on the spot, often taking in pieces of their story and turning them into song. Improv is all about listening to one thing in order to better respond with another thing. It’s about giving and receiving gifts. Until now, I’d been on the other end as the singer. This time, I was the storyteller. And it felt amazing to witness it become a song. A lot for me to think about there, in terms of creativity.
Sermon writing is, by and large, a solo activity. There is prayer, there’s a Bible, sometimes peer or commentary consultation or word studies for other perspectives. But mostly it’s me and my computer. You craft it hoping people pick up what you’re laying down. You hope they walk away with “the nugget,” the center that is the character of God and how we are to respond. Maybe they laugh at a fun story or feel that tickle in their throat at a touching story or feel that burn of passion when they are called to action.
You layer the sermon with imagery and themes and turns of phrase and bridge the beats with ethos, logos, and plenty of pathos and let it crescendo or go staccato or piano or get fortissimo and build it in a particular shape – the shape, the shape, always, always conscious of the sermon’s shape – and you hope it all comes together in a way that links the head and the heart to inspire the hands and feet to be Christ’s hands and feet to do something amazing in the name of the God who creates us all and empowers us all and works with us all because God loves us all.
And then.
Some guy sings you a song about you and you’re on fire with the Holy Spirit.
Oh, plus a bonus song set to the tune of “The Servant Song,” one of my favorite hymns, that is a benediction of how I can go forth from ordination to serve God.
You can’t beat that.
And you look forward to being ordained with more excitement and anticipation than you’ve ever had before.
It has been a long road and I am facing the next steps, which includes some steps of mystery, with hope, energy, and readiness to walk them with Jesus. And I’ll get to walk those next steps with a little theme song on my phone.
I’ve been meaning to write something reflective about ordination. My emotions have run high after getting this song, and it was time to write. God’s song has been playing a long time and as I am ordained I enter a new verse in this song. With God’s help, I will help sing a justice-filled, peace-seeking, all-inclusive refrain. God be with you, my friends. Thanks for reading (and listening).
The sermon podcast includes the song, a moment of celebrating my ordination and my thanking my spouse, plus a bonus song, Nate’s Ordinal Benediction, from Ken Medema, as well. The time breakdown of the podcast is as follows:
00:00-01:50 Scripture Reading (Ephesians 3:14-21)
01:50-33:10 Sermon (pretty sure this is my longest sermon ever)
33:10-37:44 “The Bow” by Ken Medema
37:44-41:05 Celebration of my Ordination (with a moment when I thank my spouse at 39:15)
41:05-42:55 “Nate’s Ordinal Benediction” by Ken Medema

Written and performed by Ken Medema
Inspired by the call story of Rev. Nate Melcher

See the little boy asking questions
While he’s learning how to play the game
See the little boy asking questions
They try to teach him using shame
I will not bow!
See the teenage boy at camp
Wondering how they can love me so
I’m not judged, I’m not evaluated
What a wondrous thing to know
But still, I will not bow!
See the young man working with the children
I could do this well
And “The Jesus Stuff”
That will surely come along in time.
But still, I will not bow!
See the young man ask the questions
See the young man turning turning
See the young man changing changing
Everything is rearranging
See the young man teaches English
See the young man lose the job
See the young man now he wonders
What’s next for me?
See the young man led to seminary
Very, very seminary
How does your garden grow?
With orthodoxy and my questions
All still in a row.
See the young man in the pulpit
See him preaching now
Still with questions, never answered
He will ask them somehow
But the difference in the young man
You can see it now, is
This young man, with his questions
Surely has learned to bow.

Written and performed by Ken Medema
To the tune of “The Servant Song”
Inspired by the ordination of Rev. Nate Melcher

Nate, you’ll wear a stole next Sunday
In the pulpit, on the street
Like a towel worn round your shoulders
As you wash disciples’ feet.
Nate, you’ll wear a brand-new black robe
‘Tis the costume of a chef
Making feasts for all God’s children
Homeless, healthy, brave, and bereft.
There’ll be little kids with questions
They’ll be looking to you now
Teach them to stand tall and shameless
Give them time to learn to bow.
UPDATE: I have been ordained! Thank you for your support!
Ordained 01

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