(…continued) Years ago I visited an elderly lady named Hilda in a nursing home. In her last days she would often be heard singing the old hymn I’m but a Stranger Here, Heaven is My Home. She would sing that hymn over and over again, from memory, even though it had not been in her church’s hymnals for over 50 years (perhaps because the hymnal editors weren’t interested in such ‘pie in the sky’ religion). Hilda’s time here on this earth was nearing the end, and the promise of that heavenly home was all she had left. So she would go on and on, singing those great old words to sustain her faith and her hope. She’d sing:
I’M BUT A STRANGER HERE
Lyrics by Thomas R. Taylor, 1836; Music by Arthur S. Sullivan, 1872. Hear it at:
I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home;
Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand round me on every hand;
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.
What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home;
Short is my pilgrimage, Heav’n is my home;
Time’s cold and wild wintry blast soon shall be over past;
I shall reach home at last, Heav’n is my home.
There at my Savior’s side Heav’n is my home;
I shall be glorified, Heav’n is my home.
There are the good and blest, those I loved most and best;
There, too, I soon shall rest, Heav’n is my home.
Therefore I murmur not, Heaven is my home;
Whatever my earthly lot, Heaven is my home;
And I shall surely stand, there at my Lord’s right hand.
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.
The words of this great hymn reflect a Biblical approach to life. This perspective is very different from the usual philosophy these days, a far cry from the ‘I only live once so I have a right to be happy’ attitude. That attitude usually ends up spreading far more misery than happiness. The hymn teaches us to take an eternal view of things, enabling us to better handle life’s temporary setbacks and disappointments. The long view gives us the courage to simply do what is right, whether or not it makes us happy for our few short years here. One need not be so desperate to get it all and have it all this time around. Instead, one can say, “This job, this marriage, this ruined health, this life, (or whatever) isn’t what I had in mind… but I am just a stranger here, heaven is my home.”
There is an interesting connection between the stories of Joe Hill and Hilda. The song about ‘pie in the sky when you die’ was popular during the Great Depression. Hilda was a young wife and mother at that time, and a Christian. Unlike those Christians Joe Hill sang about, Hilda was well know in the area for being one who would always give a meal to a hobo, even though she had her own family to feed. Her farmhouse was along a road where many hobos traveled, and many would stop in and ask for a meal. None were refused by Hilda, because Hilda believed in Jesus, and Jesus had something to say about helping out those in need. Joe Hill wrote that song as a slam against Christians, and I do not doubt that some of the people he encountered were just as he described. There is truth in the charge that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. But most Christians are not like that. Look around whenever there is trouble, and usually you will see Christians and Christian organizations helping those in need. The Lord who prepared our heavenly home is the same Lord who created this world and has given us this life, and He told us to take care of each other while we are here. It is often those who have a lively hope for the world to come, that are the best at helping others in this world, doing so out of gratitude and obedience to God who provides for us in both worlds. Hobos Joe Hill and Utah Phillips were probably fed on more than one occasion by those very Christian people they ridiculed in their music, people like Hilda.
Joe Hill’s reference to the Salvation Army as the “the ‘starvation’ army” is quite unfair. They, better than anyone else, do feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. The Salvation Army members give their lives for the well being of others, as do many Christians in many denominations.
I am reminded of a comic strip. First frame: Two people are complaining about the church. “What a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites,” they say, “Church people are intolerant, self-serving, and are always asking for money.” Second frame: The same two people are standing by the open door of an empty refrigerator, saying, “We are out of food, what do we do now?” Third frame: Both say together, “I know, let’s go to the food shelf at the church. They always have plenty to give us.”
John Wesley worked tirelessly well into his 80’s. When he was younger he had an interest in art, but throughout his life Wesley’s work as an evangelist left him no time for hobbies. Once, a friend was telling him about some interesting things he had seen at an art gallery. Wesley responded, “I too have a relish for those things, but ahh, there is another world.”
Psalm 23:6 — Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and then, I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Hebrews 11:1 — Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:13, 16 — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised;they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth… They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.