Scripture Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10
Let us now sing the praises of famous men, the heroes of our nation's history,
through whom the Lord established his renown, and revealed his majesty in each succeeding age.
Some held sway over kingdoms and made themselves a name by their exploits.
Others were sage counsellors, who spoke out with prophetic power.
Some led the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of the nation's law;
out of their fund of wisdom they gave instruction.
Some were composers of music or writers of poetry.
Others were endowed with wealth and strength, living peacefully in their homes.
All these won fame in their generation and were the pride of their times.
Some there are who have left a name behind them to be commemorated in story.
There are others who are unremembered; they are dead, and it is as though they had never existed,
as though they had never been born or left children to succeed them.
Not so our forefathers; they were men of loyalty, whose good deeds have never been forgotten.
Our lesson this morning is a famous passage from the book called Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach. It begins a three chapter narrative in which the heroes of Israel are praised along with an account of what they did that made them noteworthy. These three chapters are a summary of the famous stories of the Old Testament:
In the eyes of the writer of this book, these people didn't simply live their lives and die. These leaders of ancient Israel showed us how God worked in the world they lived in.
God's work did not end with the completion of the Bible, and the importance of looking at the lives of those who have gone on did not cease with Ecclesiasticus. In the style of Ecclesiasticus, let us look at some more recent stories which are worth our hearing today.
Let us praise the men and women who have come before us here in America. Let us praise Francis Walker and Thomas Scanlon, Immigrants. Like Abraham they left their old homes and came to a new world looking for a new life.
Francis Walker and his wife Catherine came to America in 1732 from Holland, where the Walkers had been banished in the sixteenth century due to religious and political disturbances.
They came here as people who had been exiles and now looked for a place of their own, people who had been persecuted for their religion and wished a place where they could worship God in peace.
Thomas Scanlon and his sister Ellen came over a hundred years later in 1849, by sailing vessel, from Ireland, just before Irish immigration reached its peak in 1852. Ireland had been laid waste by the potato blight in the 1840's; in 1846 alone, over half a million Irish starved to death. The Irish who came here came for life itself. For Thomas Scanlon, this farm here at Three Churches, West Virginia promised opportunity, where none existed any longer in the land of his birth.
Especially on this weekend so close to the 4th of July, let us praise our ancestors of the generation of the revolution which won freedom from Great Britain.
George Walker, son of Francis, was a teenager, 17 or 18, when the Revolutionary War took place. He volunteered. He was in the battle of Germantown. He served under Captain John Drawbridge at Valley Forge. George Walker was not fighting for the flag -- when the war started Betsy Ross had not yet put it together -- and he was not fighting for our National Anthem: Francis Scott Key didn't write that until 40 some years later in the war of 1812. If he was like most of the colonists who fought, it was for freedom to be let alone by people far away, freedom from taxes imposed by others, freedom to think and worship for oneself, freedom to be governed by people who the people themselves had elected.
Let us praise the musicians of the family. George Washington Wesley Walker, grandson of George, grew up in a house marked by the strong convictions of his father, who was an industrious farmer and devout Methodist. Deeply opposed to slavery, he worked with his own hands. To keep Sunday holy, Sunday's food was prepared Saturday. And he was opposed to the use of musical instruments in church.
Young George Walker loved music. He bought a melodeon before he was married but didn't dare bring it home. He kept it at his brother's house. His daughter Parepa later pictured him: "as he worked on the farm with his father and brothers his mind was engaged with such problems as how churches could be educated away from hymn-line singing. The rattle of the mower, the thud of the thresher could never drown out the melodies of his visualized invisible choirs."
He organized the first of many singing schools in Howard County, Md, the year he was married and continued them until shortly before his death. He became a salesman for pianos and organs, and by his death had placed over 1000 pianos and organs in as many homes. He did all of this in addition to putting in full days of work on the farm. "Many were the times he worked on the farm or with his threshing machine all day and then drove to his singing school at night and back home to work the next morning." Because of his efforts in music he was called Professor Walker.
Let us praise the women who stood by these men. Professor Walker's wife Rachel, according to her youngest son, "was the backbone of our home life. It was she who saved the butter and egg money and educated most of her children. Mother was very saving. She could spin and weave. She made her own tallow candles and loved to cook in the fireplace." She baked cornpones in an old time Dutch oven, cooked pot roasts in the fireplace, and had a wonderful recipe for curing hams....Economy, kindliness, and love were her characteristics." Mendelssohn Terrace was home to six girls and three boys, and fondly remembered as full of life and music. And her interest did not stop at the door of her home--among the causes to which she gave hard earned money were the hungry in China and India. That seems remarkable for a rural American household in the middle of the 1800's.
Let us praise Rachel's daughter Vivia for loyalty, commitment--and patience. She accepted an offer of marriage from my grandfather Roby Day and waited seven years for him to finish college and seminary so they could be married. At first the wait was to be five years; changes in program made it six. "I'll wait for you," she told him. He was coming close to the end of the sixth year when something else turned up and they tacked on another year--making it seven in all. "I'll wait for you," repeated Rachel Vivia Cochel Walker.
Finally they set the wedding day for December 4, 1899, and determined that, now that they had waited so long, the wedding would be a red letter event in the village. The church at Browningsville...was decorated as never before or since; the choir had arranged a special program, there were bridesmaids, ushers, flower girls--everything, for a high noon, history making ceremony.
At 11 A.M. it began to rain; at 11:30 the rain was coming down in sheets; at noon the flood gates had opened, and at one o'clock Browningsville was all but under water. There was a suggestion that the wedding be postponed. "Not this time!" said Roby Day. "Like Jacob, I've waited seven years for Rachel, and today I take her -- in the face of a second Deluge!" And so they brought a minister to the house and were married with all of the 'trimmin's' left out. "And I've been the happiest man in the world ever since," said Roby Day in 1930.
Let us praise another of Professor Walker's daughters, Alice who obtained the schooling in music her father never had and was a professional musician. Let us praise the ability to bring not just music, but joy and happiness into the lives of others.
I came across a clipping older than 1893 that reported on a Literary Society in Browningsville. Alice's name keeps coming up in the report. After Professor Walker, president of the Society, called it to order, there was a debate on the topic "Is the Mind of Woman Superior to that of Man." Two men debated in the affirmative and the Misses Hattie Hobbs and A. E. Walker, in the negative. The newspaper commented that the subject was intelligently debated, especially by the women, and then adds, " The way the Misses Hobbs and Walker gave it to the "dumb" minds of the men was a caution to their listeners."
Alice not only debated that evening at the literary society, she also gave the organ accompaniment for some of the music which alternated between readings. When Professor Walker headed a literary society, you could be sure it would include music as well.
V. Human Welfare
Let us praise those like Charles Scanlon who have committed their lives to the welfare of others. Not long after that meeting of the Browningsville Literary Society, Alice Walker was off here to Three Churches, West Virginia to marry Charles Scanlon.
At the end of his life, it was said he was a master of the great art of bearing the burdens of others even at his own inconvenience and sacrifice -- something he might have learned, it was suggested, as a member of a large family in which he was 14th of 21. He was said to have sympathy and intuitive understanding of the needs and yearnings of common people, for which growing up in the poverty and provincialism of West Virginia was given credit.
Charles Scanlon spent 10 years as a minister in Minnesota and then was nominated for Governor and later President on the Prohibition ticket. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wooster College in Ohio. He was appointed by American Presidents as their representative in Europe four different times between 1909 and 1921. He spent most of his later career as General Director of the Presbyterian Department of Temperance and Moral Welfare.
That kind of opposition to alcohol is out of fashion now and it's easy in today's world to dismiss people like Charles Scanlon. But why would someone leave the green hills of West Virginia to spend their life in Pittsburgh if the cause were petty? Moderate use of alcohol may have been a possibility for the well-to-do, but alcohol was a curse for the poor. In London in John Wesley's time street hawkers advertised their gin in terms of 'drunk for a ha-penny, dead drunk for a penny." There seemed little choice--stay clear of alcohol and enjoy some of life's potential, or drink and lose it all. Men like Charles Scanlon expressed the social conscience of their time; in their time it was men like him who supported the oppressed poor against the rich. At the end of a life well-lived, he received multitudes of tributes. One, especially, captured something worth hanging on to:
A common thread running through all of these lives was a recognition and vision of something bigger than the individual person. Individualism is part of the genius of our country, but it is not enough. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We see that something bigger in the lives of these our ancestors: the family, the community, the nation, the world, God.
A second common thread is that of offering, of risking. Francis Walker and Thomas Scanlon risked the familiar to set out for a new land. George Walker risked his life and future to make revolution against the British. Professor Walker risked the disapproval of all those, including his own father, who thought music had no place in worship. Charles Scanlon risked the disapproval of all those who could not see beyond the moralism of prohibitionism to the concern and compassion that lay behind it.
A third common thread was the allegiance of all whom we have named to one Jesus, the Nazarene. That allegiance gave meaning to the risk-taking and defined that something bigger of which they were a part. When Jesus wanted to make sure that those who followed him would stay together, and be, really, a family, he gave special meaning to the family meal which they had shared so many times. He made the meal symbolize himself. He made it symbolize the risktaking and commitment to which members of his family would be called--that lightly flinging sweet life away--as a little thing for the sake of the mighty need of earth. And he made it symbolize the way that anything which is offered up to God, as the lives of these heroes of our family were, as the bread and wine are in every communion service, and as our own lives can be if we offer them, transformed into something more than what it is.
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Updated May 14, 1998