Liturgy Lessons: October 1, 2017
Call to Worship: Psalm 98
Prayer of Invocation
Reading: Rom 8:18-24a
Hymn of Adoration: Creation Sings (Getty)
Confession of Sin: 1 Cor. 6:12-20
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 32:1-5
Song of Assurance: Jesus, Master, Whose I Am (Morton)
The Lord’s Supper: Amazing Grace (#460); God of Grace (Getty)
Closing Hymn: O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing (#164)*
“There is something irreducible in the know-how that is carried in the forms and narratives of historic Christian worship. There is stuff here that operates under the radar of our intellectual comprehension.
We get the story in the form of worship that intentionally rehearses the unfolding of our covenantal relationship to a promise-keeping God centered in the climax of the covenant in Jesus. While it has been intentionally and communally practiced over time, it also functions on a register and plane that exceeds and alludes our logical and intellectual capacities. It seeps into the soil of our imaginations, and thereby shapes our souls.”
– James K.A. Smith
“May the church not be formed by the world in which it lives,
but by the narrative to which it belongs, the story of God.”
– Robert Webber
“What’s your story?”, he asked me. We had just met at the coffee-shop condiment and creamer counter. I paused and chuckled because I knew that my response, though it would contain the requisite information (work, name, place of residence, etc.), would not adequately answer the question. I was also certain that we didn’t have the time for me to tell the whole tale. More than that, however, I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to formulate an answer. My mind struggled to form the footnotes, yet went so quickly to the trivia of life.
What is our story? In this age of sound bites and snippets, we need to remind ourselves of the grander narrative. Our world is saturated with slogans, filled with fragments, buried in buzzwords and bottle-cap blurbs. Our e-mail inboxes and Facebook feeds are a Jenga-jumble of mismatched messages; all of this din and distraction can lead us to forget the truth of who we are, why we are here, and who we are following. In any given day we are bombarded with bits that don’t exactly form a beautiful mosaic of narrative thought in our minds. But it’s all crammed in there, piled in the corners, waiting to be sorted out.
The word “story” comes from Middle English, and suggests a historical account of something. The word itself is a shortening of the Anglo-Norman French estorie, which is from the Latin historia, which means “history.” A few months ago I saw a clever church kiosk that read “History: HIS STORY.” Trite? Maybe. True? Absolutely. As a church, a body of people saved by Jesus Christ, surrendered to Jesus Christ, subject to Jesus Christ, our story is His. And the most beautiful and impactful way that we define and declare this truth is through our gathered corporate worship.
The liturgy is a weekly re-telling of God’s story. We celebrate its chapters in the form and content of our worship. Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Thanksgiving are the four acts in this grand narrative. Put more playfully, the content of our Litur”G” progresses like this: God’s Glory, our Guilt, His Grace, and our Gratitude. We come together to celebrate this story and to participate in the drama of it. And, like any good drama, there are moments when breaking out in song is necessary. The hymns that we sing (each of which has its own story) are often the gospel wrapped in miniature. They are poetic and portable. And, when we sing our salvation story, it seeps all the deeper into the soil of our souls. We carry it with us, so that the next time someone asks, “what’s your story?”, we’ll be prepared to answer.
Words: Keith and Kristyn Getty (2008)
Music: Stuart Townend (2008)
The Irish hymn-writing couple Keith and Kristyn Getty are at the forefront of the current revival in hymnody. They write strong melodies that are based in folk tradition, and they overlay these singable tunes with lyrics that are both poetic and accessible. They maintain a high view of the church and hold a reformed understanding that the congregation is the choir, and that it is the privilege and responsibility of the musically gifted to help the body of Christ sing. Standing on the shoulders of giants like Wesley, Watts, and especially Luther, the Gettys are carrying on a rich tradition by providing the 21st church with modern songs that vividly and passionately tell our salvation story. I believe that their song output will stand the test of time.
When Keith Getty gave a lecture at the National Worship Leaders Conference, the title was “Writing Today’s Modern Hymns.” His first bullet point was this:
“The primary form we use is the story form. The gospel is primarily story. How do you take people who want 4-line worship songs and get them to sing 32 lines? By structuring the song as story.”
The Gettys recognize the poverty in subjective lyrics, full of sentimentalized quips and devotional drivel. They want to write verse that is faithful to missive in Psalm 145, “One generation will declare your works to the next and proclaim your mighty acts.” Consider the second and third stanza of our opening hymn, Creation Sings:
Creation gazed upon His face; The ageless One in time’s embrace
Unveiled the Father’s plan of reconciling God and man.
A second Adam walked the earth, whose blameless life would break the curse,
Whose death would set us free to live with Him eternally.
Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing.
Hallelujah! Fill the earth with songs of worship, tell the wonders of creation’s King!
Creation longs for His return, when Christ shall reign upon the earth;
The bitter wars that rage are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky, all heav’n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!
Here you can see the intentional crafting of story throughout the hymn. The result is a song that flows from verse to verse, propelling the narrative of God’s saving action in our lives. The only repetition is purposeful and can be found in the refrains, which always seem to echo the heavenly chorus refrains in the book of Revelations.
So many modern songs are steeped in emotionalism, or what Alisdair MacIntyre calls “emotivism,” which says “if it feels good, it must be right.” They play on the listener through a variety of musical hooks and technological tricks, and the aim is to create an ecstatic experience by working up a lather in the listener. Many worship bands achieve this very well, and the feelings are visceral, akin to a drug-induced high. Sometimes this is a sign of authentic anointing, but what is often mistaken for the presence of the Holy Spirit is really just an empty endorphin rush through musical manipulation and technological wizardry. What I appreciate about the Getty’s songs (and indeed any well-written hymn) is that our emotions are a proper response to the substance of the gospel. We are moved to a place of gratitude and praise (yes, sometimes ecstatic praise) by the revelation of God and His truth as revealed in Christ. This expression of passionate praise and ardent adoration becomes deeper and more authentic when it is anchored in the unchanging truth and nature of God’s character and His awesome deeds.
We are singing two Getty hymns in worship this week. Below you will find links to the lyrics and recordings of both. If you don’t already know these hymns, I invite you to familiarize yourself with them before Sunday. They are a gift to us, and I am grateful that God’s creative spirit is at work in this generation of poets and musicians.
Full lyrics to “Creation Sings”: http://www.gettymusic.com/creation-sings-the-fathers-song/
Recording of “Creation Sings”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xc9sWYKvs4
Keith Getty collaborated with Jonathan Rea in 2003 to write the hymn “God of Grace.” It focuses on the sacrificial love of Christ as the expression of the Father’s abundant grace toward his children.
Text: Verses 1-5, John Newton (1779); verse 6, A Collection of Sacred Ballads (1790)
Tune: New Britain, Traditional Scottish/American Folk Song, Southern Harmony (1835)
If America had a national hymn, this would be probably be it. The hymn is universally loved, oft-arranged in every style, and known to all. But, do you know the story behind the most famous of all hymns?
When John Newton was just 11, he joined his father at sea and began a tumultuous life in the Navy, eventually becoming captain of a slave ship. In a period of four years, however, his life was drastically turned around: he nearly drowned, he married a very pious Mary Catlett, and he read through Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. In 1754, he gave up the slave trade and joined forces with the great abolitionist William Wilberforce. A number of years later, he was ordained for ministry, and soon after wrote this great text, declaring that we are saved only by the grace of God. Newton wrote, “I can see no reason why the Lord singled me out for mercy…unless it was to show, by one astonishing instance, that with him ‘nothing is impossible’” (Newton, The Life of John Newton).
At the end of his life, Newton said, “There are two things I’ll never forget: that I was a great sinner, and that Jesus Christ is a greater Savior!” This hymn could be considered Newton’s spiritual autobiography, but the truth it affirms—that we are saved by grace alone—is one that all Christians may confess with joy and gratitude. You may be interested to know that the tune, NEW BRITAIN, was originally a folk tune, probably originated in Scotland, but first published in the popular mid-19th-century American hymnal Southern Harmony. It is pentatonic and, as such, is often associated with myths about it being an African folk song. But its only association with Africa is through Newton’s work in the slave trade. The music is firmly embedded in the flavor, style, and form of the Appalachian Folk music tradition. Because of that, and also due to the content of the lyrics, I am of the opinion it should be sung with vigor and a spirit of celebration, rather than being simply a sentimental ballad.
*O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing has been covered in past liturgy lessons. If you are interested in the story behind that hymn, then please click here.