PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND

MARK 1:29-39
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR

Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.  According to scholars, it may have been malaria.  When they told Jesus, he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Jesus came, took her by the hand, lifted her up, and the fever left her.

The name Thomas Dorsey may not be familiar to many people today, but his most famous hymn remains a favorite.  In fact, it was the favorite hymn of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was sung at the rally in Memphis the night before Dr. King’s assassination.  It was also a favorite of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  He requested it for his burial service.

You may know it.  Feel free to sing along.

         Precious Lord, take my hand

         lead me on, let me stand.

         I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;

         Through the storm, through the night,

         lead me on to the light.

         Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

Thomas Dorsey was a fellow Georgian.  He was born in Villa Rica, in 1899.  His father was a Baptist preacher.  His mother taught piano.  At the age of five Thomas moved to Atlanta where he first encountered the musical style known as “the blues”.  In 1915 he left for Chicago where he studied musical composition and arranging.  He began to play in nightclubs.  He was billed under several different names, including Georgia Tom, Texas Tommy, and Barrelhouse Tom.

Thomas played rent parties.  What’s a rent party?  If you couldn’t pay your rent, you hired a musician to play at your home.  Then you passed the hat and your friends pitched in.  Hopefully, they gave enough money to pay the rent and the musician.

By the way, I’m having trouble with my rent this month.  Grace has agreed to play for my rent party.  So come!  Join us – and bring your checkbook!  (Just kidding.)

Thomas Dorsey’s Wild Cat Jazz Band performed with the famous singer Ma Rainey.  His wife Nettie was Ma Rainey’s wardrobe mistress.

In 1926 Thomas battled a severe illness.  This changed his life forever.  He joined Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, and he served as choir director there for forty years.

Thomas Dorsey gave us about 2,000 musical compositions, including 200 gospel songs. He was an entrepreneur.  He had his own music publishing company.  He’s considered the Father of Black Gospel Music, combining African American church hymns with blues and jazz.  His hymn “Precious Lord” has been recorded by many singers, including Mahalia Jackson and Elvis Presley.

There’s a story behind this famous song.  Thomas Dorsey told the story.  He wrote:

“Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband.  My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside.  One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting.  I didn’t want to go.  Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child.  But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis…

“… In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again.  When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram.  I ripped open the envelope.  Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED…

“When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy.  I swung between grief and joy.  Yet that night, the baby died.  I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket.  Then I fell apart.  For days I closeted myself.  I felt that God had done me an injustice.  I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs.  I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well…

“But still I was lost in grief.  Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed.  On the following Saturday evening he took me up to a neighborhood music school.  It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.  I saw down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”

The following Sunday “Precious Lord” was introduced at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.  The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. was pastor at that time.  Later, Thomas Dorsey stated that the song “tore up the church”.  It touched people deeply.

Jesus touched people.  Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.

Jesus touches people even today.  He meets people at their deepest need.

         Precious Lord, take my hand

         lead me on, let me stand.

         I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;

         Through the storm, through thenight,

         lead me on to the light.

         Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

Amen.

         If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at barryqgriffin@earthlink.net

Note:  Biographical information was taken from an article by C. Michael Hawn in Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”.

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