Summer sermon series No 3
All my hope on God is founded
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him ” Psalm 62:5
Researching for these sermons, I have discovered some extraordinary things!Did you know that Neanderthal man, the fossilised man found in Germany in the early 19th Century was named after the writer of our hymn this morning, All my hope on God is founded?
Born in 1650 in Bremen in northern Germany, Joachim Neander was the son of a Latin teacher.The family name had been “Neumann”, which would be “Newman” in English, but there was a fashion to change one’s surname to a foreign equivalent, and Joachim’s grandfather had changed their name from “Neumann” to the Greek “Neander”.
His father died while he was a teenager and Joachim could not afford to go to one of the famous German universities, so studied theology in his home city, from 1666 to 1670.He seems to have been rather half-hearted in his studies, for he gained the name of having a wild lifestyle. The story goes that it was during these carefree student days that he and two friends went along to Saint Martin’s church in Bremen with the intention of making a joke of the whole occasion.He was so touched by the words of the sermon that he decided to visit Theodore Undereyk the preacher afterwards.
The sermon marked a turning point in his life and he became noticeably less wild, though he still enjoyed hunting game.Following prey one evening, he wandered far into a steep and rocky hillside, and realized himself to be both completely lost and in physical danger if he tried to make his was in the dark.His stumbling around without any light to show him the way nearly carried him over a precipice.
Suffering what I suppose we would now call a panic attack, Neander prayed to God that if he would lead him to safety, then his future life would be dedicated to God’s service. He felt as though a hand were leading him, and following the path he felt he was being shown, he reached his home in safety.
Joachim Neander kept his promise and his life changed completely.He became a teacher in a school in Heidelberg in 1671.A visit to Frankfurt in the company of some rich merchants’ sons brought him into contact with Philipp Spener, who was a founding figure in a movement called Pietism, a movement that took personal prayer and devout Christian living very seriously and a movement that inspired John Wesley.Neander was to remain a friend of Spener’s for the rest of his short life.
In 1674, still only 24 years old, Neander became headmaster of the Latin School at Dusseldorf, a school that belonged to the Reformed Church. . When living there he liked to go the nearby valley of the Düssel, the natural beauty of the place being the inspiration for his poems. Neander was one step away from being ordained as a pastor and would hold gatherings and services in the valley, at which he preached sermons.
The influence of Spener was very evident in both the holding of the meetings and in the content of what Neander preached and he ran into trouble with the church authorities.In 1679 he was deprived of his teaching post and forbidden to preach.Neander had been very popular amongst those whom he taught and they wanted to defend him, but he prevented them from doing so.
It was summertime and he went to live in a cave in the valley for some months.In his rejection and isolation, he did a lot of writing, including the words of Praise to the Lord, the almighty the king of creation and All my hope on God is founded.
In later times, the valley was renamed in his honour, formerly called “Das Gesteins” “The Rocks”, it became Neanderthal, the Neander valley, and so when a fossilised early man was discovered there in the early-19th century, it became Neanderthal man.
Neander left his valley that autumn and went to become pastor in his home city of Bremen.The following year he died of tubercolosis on Whitsunday, aged just 30.
Thinking of Neander sitting in his cave, rejected by the authorities and uncertain about the future, I thought of Elijah hiding from Jezebel,but Elijah feels sorry for himself, whereas Neander is supremely confident.
Neander knows from Scripture not to trust human authorities for throughout the Bible there are tales of those in authority failing to live up to what is expected of them.He writes:
“Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray our trust”.
Neander is aware from his own situation that sometimes it’s hard to fathom God’s purposes, there are moments which are beyond all our thought and we just have to trust in God’s goodness and God’s wisdom :
“God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom passing thought”.
The great strength of Joachim Neander’s faith is shown in his confidence that God’s great blessings are with us every day, that in every moment we receive wonderful gifts.I think I find that the hardest bit about being a Christian, there are days that seem very blessed and other days when God seems very far away.Not so, says Neander:
“Daily doth the almighty giver
bounteous gifts on us bestow”.
He must have felt great hurt and disappointment at being thrown out of the teaching post where he was loved by his students and being barred from even talking about his faith to the people of the city, but never mind, as he sits in his cave, his hopes are in God who never fails.
The hymn was translated from German by Robert Bridges, the English doctor who went on to become poet laureate after poor health forced him to give up medicine at the age of 38.Perhaps the setbacks in his own life enabled him to have some sense of what Joachim Neander felt.
A man who would have had a profound understanding of grief and pain and hurt and disappointment is the great composer and teacher of composition at the Royal College of Music, Herbert Howells, who wrote the music for the hymn.The tune to which we sing the hymn is called “Michael”. Michael was the name of Howells’ son.
Born on 12th April 1926, Michael developed polio on 3rd September 1935.This was how Herbert Howells recorded the events of the following days;
Wednesday 4 (September): Mick’s coming to our room in early morning. Temperature. Bad Back. Dr. Nanda sent for. Herbert arrived with coat he thought Mick had lost. Dr. N at 2:30 (PM), Chill? To St. B (riavels) for medicine. At 9 o’clock in Taylor’s car.
Thursday 5: Mick worse. Dr. N at 11:15. Orders for London. Ambulance and Cheltenham Flier – London – Dr. Dowling, Nursing Home, Dr. Hunt, Fearful anxiety.
Friday 6: Nursing Home at 8:45 (AM) – Dr. H at 9 AM. With M most of the morning – lunch with Scotts. M again at 2:30 (PM). Grave change. Mrs. Fisher came – Mick worse always. Dr. H 7 PM. Hope, then despair. Dr. Brunton. Dr. Fisher, Mick died at 10:10 PM .”
To watch his son die of polio in three days must have brought pain to Herbert Howells that words could never express.Howells was a man whoseemed not to have great religious beliefs, yet he writes a tune for a hymn that expresses absolute confidence in God’s mercy
Perhaps it is at the extremes that we realize that God is the only hope we have; when we realize there is nothing else left, that God is still there; that ultimately all our hope on God is founded.