Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermons of D. R. Drukker -- "The Beauty of the Lord" (i)

Just exactly how it showed up is a mystery. There it lay, on the couch, dog-eared, not ancient, just old--The Beauty of the Lord, by Rev. D. R. Drukker. 

Come Sunday morning especially, my mother's relentless piety still scolds when I tell myself not to read the opinion page of the New York Times and instead read something more gifted with solace for the soul. "Read something spiritual," her voice still tells me, long after her death. "Okay," I tell her, "but nothing by Franklin Graham."  

Where on earth did The Beauty of the Lord come from? I don't know, a collection of sermons from almost a century ago, written by someone my grandfather had to know, a fellow reverend of his era. My great-grandfather likely taught him something in seminary.

The book is not heavy. The Beauty of the Lord is no tome. Won't cost you much, my mother whispers. Might just bring you closer to the Lord.

Okay. Century-old sermons from a preacher named D. R. Drukker. I'll read 'em, and you'll hear what the old Calvinist said.


It's not an idea I've thought much about, really--"The Beauty of the Lord," the title of the book and the title of its very first sermon To me, God almighty is wise and divinely crafty, always a confident step ahead the best of us. He smiles, probably more than he might have in my grandpa's imagination; and he does so despite the fact that he's got the whole world in his hands, a bundle which for him is not a load.

But beautiful? Beauty just doesn't figure into the portrait on the throne in my imagination. Not that He isn't--that's not what I mean. It's just not something I'd say because I don't have a clue about God's visage. Isn't there a "thou-shalt-not" about that?

A beautiful dawn?--sure thing. Beautiful cone flowers? No kidding. Beautiful rain. Even a beautiful funeral, beautiful cemetery. I've seen them all. But a beautiful creator? I can't picture it.

The psalmist saw it, Pastor Drukker says: "the one thing I have asked of Jehovah" and "that I will seek after" is "to behold the beauty of the Lord." That he's right doesn't make it any easier.

That species of beauty, the preacher says, morphs into what the Bible calls grace when we reach the New Testament: God's beauty is his grace. To me that's a whole lot easier to picture.

In three solid points, what follows are "the characteristics of the Lord's beauty." Rev. Douwe Reinder Drukker's first point, one hundred years ago, is surprisingly contemporary: God's beauty is "multiform"--we would say, "diverse."

Second? It's "magnetic," in explanation thereof, the Dominie spins a darling illustration. Young man comes in to speak to a pastor about his love for the Lord. Pastor asks whether this parishioner has perhaps marched forward at the revival down the block. Young man shakes his head. "How then were you convicted of your sins, of your need of a Savior--how did you find Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life?" the preacher asks.

"It was the way the foreman in our shop did his work," the kid says. "He permitted the light of his Christ to shine and I saw it."

Sweet story, as beautiful as grace always is.

Finally, Drukker says, we distinguish that beauty in its selfless character. What follows is an odd line that I understand, probably because I'm born and reared Calvinist: "It is best," the preacher says, "that we do not behold our spiritual beauty," that the foreman not really know he's glowing with the light of Christ, because from the Edenic apple on, pride goeth before the fall. The light of Christ is wholly beautiful in the faces of those who know Him, but it's always best, the pastor says, for those so blessed to avoid mirrors.

I get that--a perfectly human line in a divine reflection.

At the end of Rev. Drukker's old sermon, the pastor asks "How then can we possess this spiritual beauty?" Unsparingly, he finishes the whole sermon with all four verses of "Take time be holy, speak oft with thy Lord." And I hear my parents singing.

But my Sunday held yet another sermon, this one also all about beauty.

The preacher scheduled for the afternoon's chapel at the old folks home didn't show up yesterday, which left a nurse in charge, a woman more than a little shaky, she told us, behind the podium. So the congregation of ninety-year-olds before her just sang old hymns, one favorite after another, words they'd sung a hundred times before.

One of the old folks was someone I remembered hearing preach years ago, a sermon illustrated with his experiences on mission fields in the Middle East. Today, he and his wife live in the nursing home, where Sunday afternoons they sidle up to folding tables in their motorized wheelchairs, ready for worship.

Once upon a time that preacher would have stepped in for the no-show, and done so ably, I'm sure. Not yesterday, and no more.

During "He Lives," (feel free to hum the chorus) his wife shuddered noticeably, which prompted her loving husband, out of concern, to reach for her hand and hold it.

He looked into her eyes. She was okay--she motioned to him not to worry. "He Lives" went on.

Out of concern and love, midway through the next verse, the old pastor gently reached once again for her hand, and held her arm right below the wrist, simply held it as they sang. She looked at him, then brought her left hand over to where his rested on her right wrist, and that's the way they finished "He Lives," hand over hand over hand.

I don't know where Reverend Douwe Reinder Drukker might have used that story in his sermon a hundred years ago, or if it even fits. Maybe it doesn't. But if the Dominie is right about "the beauty of the Lord," and if the psalmist's assessment of God's beauty somehow morphs into what we call grace, then, yesterday, in the conjoined hands of a man and woman who've loved each other for what seems forever, I'm quite sure I caught a lovely Sabbath glimpse of the what somehow has to be the beauty of the Lord.

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