All Creatures of Our God and King | This is My Father’s World

All Creatures of Our God and King | This is My Father’s World

Liturgy LessonsS January 14, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 148
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: All Creatures of Our God and King (#115)
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: from Hebrews 10:15-23; Psalm 65:1-4
Hymns of Assurance: O Great God (Kauflin); Jesus, Master Whose I Am (Morton)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the word: Psalm 8
Doxology: #733
Sermon: Dr. Jack Collins, “Lord, How Majestic is Your Name”
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Lift Up Your Hearts Unto the Lord; Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
Closing Hymn: This is My Father’s World (#111)

Many people think that the music director’s job in a church is to simply raise the standards. Though I care deeply about quality, my main desire is not just to refine sensibilities. Yes, I want to elevate aesthetics and enhance musical understanding. However, my job—my calling really—is to musically minister the gospel of Christ. To use the music in whatever means I can to encourage the word of Christ, the love of Christ, to dwell in you richly. This puts music in its proper place. It is not window dressing, mere adornment for spectacle or status. It is a window itself, through which shines the light and beauty of the Lord, giver of every good gift. In these liturgy lessons, I seek to illuminate certain aspects of our hymns. Some of them (as is the case this Sunday) are very familiar to us already. I write these musings in hopes that you might enter more deeply into the singing. The hymns themselves are the vessels—the cup if you will—that carries the living water, and oh…how I want us to drink deeply, to be nourished in the inner man with the spirit of God. The Psalmist says, “As the deer pants for living water, so my soul longs for you. Where can I go and appear before God?” Well, one answer to that question is, “come to church”! Come on Sunday thirsty, drink deeply, and be refreshed.

One last note: Please reserve Saturday, April 28, 2018 on your calendar. That evening you can enjoy the music of Fernando Ortega, who will be giving a concert at CPC. In anticipation of that, I have included the recording links for his versions of this week’s highlighted hymns. Enjoy!

All Creatures of Our God and King
Text: St. Francis of Assisi, 1225
Tune: Lasst Uns Erfreuen, based on 17th century German Folk Melody

My wife and I moved out to the Northwest in 2004, being wooed by the natural beauty of this area. For us there is a childlike delight and wonder in the natural beauty here. And now we gratefully get to share that with our children. “Look at Mt. Rainier,” I tell them, “God made that. He measures it, along with Mt. Baker and all the others, on his scales.” I also remind them that God can hold the Puget Sound in the palm of his hand. That’s not me talking, it’s Isaiah 40:12. For His grand symphony of creation, God deserves a stand-and-shout ovation with raucous applause. His self-evident artistry is on didactic display, as each day the waterfalls flowing from the glacial mountains “pour forth speech” (Ps. 19:2). Their canticle of praise can be heard resounding in our hearts, as deep calls to deep, and the sonnets they sing are echoed in hymn after hymn. “For the beauty of the Earth,” “Fairest Lord Jesus,” and “This is My Father’s world” (our closing hymn this Sunday) all celebrate God’s creativity in the cosmos. The created world is a gift to be enjoyed, and a constant reminder of the character, abundant love, and virtuosity of our God.

Of all the hymns that speak of the wonder described in Genesis 1, “All Creatures of our God and King” may be the greatest. It was written by Francis of Assisi, Patron saint of Italy, and a sort of 13th-century John Muir. One of the most venerated religious figures in history, St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of animals and the natural environment. He founded a catholic order known for taking vows of poverty, and he is responsible for staging the first live nativity scene. This hymn text is based on an ode that was composed by St. Francis in the year 1225, while he was visiting a monastery in San Damiano, Italy. This hymn is considered one of the first, if not the first, works of literature written in the Italian language. At the time he authored this famous hymn, St. Francis was nearly blind from an eye disease, and was seeking rest and recovery from another illness. His death would come just a year later, while still in his early 40’s.

Named the “Canticle of the Sun,” the original hymn is written in a sort of Latin/Italian hybrid dialect, and is a bold invocation of praise from all elements of nature (sun, moon, water, fire, wind). It always makes me think of Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, magically beckoning everything to life in a choreographed dance. In similar, but grander fashion, St. Francis’ acting as the Sovereign’s apprentice, commands all creatures and elements to stir to life in a song of praise for their creator. This role of man as captain and conductor of creation is written into scripture: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8). And there is also that creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. When hymnwriters craft beautiful poetry, they are taking dominion over language. When musicians form rhythm and harmony, they take dominion over time and space.

The hymn was transcribed into the English language by William Draper in the early 20th century. The paraphrased translation was paired with a sweeping and soaring German tune and first used for a children’s service in England in the 1920s. Almost immediately, the new English setting of “All Creatures of Our God and King” became one of the most beloved and widely used hymns in the English language. The tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN (“Let us rejoice”) is one of the great tunes in our hymnal. If you listen closely, you will notice that the entire hymn is an echo. Every single line of music is repeated, except for the very final “alleluia.” This sort of musical device is called antiphony (“sounding back”), and is basically responsive singing in which one set of voices echoes or answers the other. It is a microcosm of our worship. God calls, we answer. He reveals, we respond. He sings creation into existence, and creation echoes back His praises. We love because He first loved us.

Sheet music
Suggested recording (Fernando Ortega)

This is My Father’s World
Text: Maltie D. Babcock (1901)
Tune: TERRA BEATA, Franklin L. Sheppard (1915)

Maltie Davenport Babcock was a minister in Lockport, New York. Based on his accomplishments, his true middle name should have been “Talented.” Maltie Talented Babcock was not just a pastor, but an accomplished amateur musician (violin and piano), as well as an athlete: a champion swimmer, baseball player, and runner. Oh…and a poet. He took regular morning walks along the Niagara Escarpment, a series of high cliffs with beautiful rock outcroppings overlooking Lake Ontario (see picture here). Before these walks, he often would tell his wife that he was “going out to see the Father’s world.” The panoramic vistas near his hometown inspired him to write a sixteen-stanza poem entitled “Father’s World.” This poem was published in 1901 shortly after his death at the age of 42 (same age as me). You can see the full original poem here, which contains a biblical allusion to Moses and the burning bush, as well as scripture references to Psalm 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his steadfast love.” and Psalm 50:12 “For the world and its fullness are mine.” Only a handful of stanzas from the original are used in the hymn version.

TERRA BEATA, Latin for “beautiful world,” is the name given to this tune crafted by Franklin Sheppard to fit Babcock’s hymn text. Some sources state that Sheppard adapted the tune from an English folk melody his mother taught him as a child. Sheppard and Babcock were good friends. Sheppard—an organist as well as elder and music director of the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore—served as President of the Presbyterian Board of Publications and oversaw the publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal of 1911. Sheppard’s tune is a very hummable ear-worm. The melody is well-structured, and is among the most recognizable melodies in all of hymnody. An instrumental version of the tune was used in Ken Burns’ documentary series The National Parks, and was also copied as the hobbit theme from the popular soundtrack to Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, I can’t be entirely shire, but it seems as if Frodo and Samwise were in the hobbit of singing this melody. “One tune to rule them all”!

Sheet music
Simple guitar version (used in the soundtrack for Ken Burns’ documentary National Parks)
Suggested recording (Fernando Ortega)