Liturgy Lessons: February 4, 2018
Call to Worship: Selections from Job 38, Psalms 66 & 147
Hymn of Adoration: O Father, You Are Sovereign (#75)
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: Luke 15:11-20a
Hymn of Invitation: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
Assurance of Pardon (cont.): Luke 15:20b-24
Hymn of Assurance: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
Reading: Luke 3:1-14
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Take My Life and Let it Be (New Fellowship Setting); When I Survey (#252)
Closing Hymn: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
Music has a great way of creating snobs. Classical snobs, jazz snobs, rock snobs, etc. Name a genre and it will have its faithful soldiers of propaganda who like what they know and know what they like. They will evangelize with fervor about how this or that musical diet is the highest and best. Nowhere is this temptation to superiority more acute than in classical music, interlaced as it is with the rise of Christian culture in the west. And, I confess, that I struggle and wrestle with this all the time. And yet, in my work within the church, where often “good enough” is better than “great,” this latent snobbery can be a blinder, a robber, and a killer to the joy of collaboration and celebration. Recently, I “talked” through this with Harold Best, who helped me tremendously with his humbling and nourishing comments at a 2016 address at Wheaton College. Dr. Best, in a hypothetical rhapsody about the conversation that birthed the cosmos, re-imagines the heavenly dialogue as a sort of roundtable with the angels and the Trinity.
“In the beginning, sometime during no beginning at all, when everything that had never been seen could be seen all at once, God, all three of Him, got together to talk a few things over. They decided it was time to get in the business of thinking up and making things that couldn’t be found anywhere, because there was NO ‘anywhere,’ there was no ‘there’ there, or any thing, and there didn’t have to be, because all three were all in all and didn’t need anything to complete their joy. But they decided that all these things from no thing would be framed within a curious contraption that, once started up, could continue for as long as the three of them wanted it to. They knew themselves to be absolute, changeless, blindingly and inherently loving, and unequivocally truthful, even willing to share themselves fully with anybody who might ask. They were simply a word-to-word, beyond-words, free-to-do-what-they-want-to, Holy Trinity. They had a shorter name for this: ‘We are, that we are, that we are!'”
The Trinity then sets out precedents and principles of creation, careful to portray and protect their glory and splendor through it all. Then, when discussing the work of man, made in their image, the concerns about idolatry and disordered worship are raised by the angels. This is where Dr. Best pulls out the big guns, and takes aim at the evil twins of snobbery and elitism. From the head of the table, God, the original abstract artist, speaks to the angels and says,
“Let’s assume that in every great civilization, or so, a heavy creative cream, a crème-de-la-crème, will rise to the top, and philosophers and anthropologists and historians and artists will call this “high culture” and use it as a universal measure for those who can’t make crème. Then they’ll try to export cows and make some crème for these poor people and say “this is it. Here’s how you do it”, forgetting that there are other things besides cows and crème, other things more homespun, tasty, and satisfying. In fact, the crème-de-la-crèmers back home will have already have begun to argue whether ordinary milk or even two-percent has any relation to crème. And skim milk? No way.
A post-graduate angel, having just returned from an internship in Silicon valley, texted this:
‘Well, ok, then, but we’re so used to splendor and cream.’ And Jesus, so used to communicating at the same level, texted back, ‘Well, you just wait. One of these days I’m gonna’ put on some homespun britches, I’m gonna’ learn how to speak all over again, I’m going to sing some ditties, carve some timber with my dad, maybe draw a few things in the dirt, defy the Baptists and learn to dance, and even go vintage at a wedding. No crème at all, just a buffet of loaves and fishes and good people doing the best they can with what they have. It will be good!’
After this, it got suddenly quiet.”
Come Ye Sinners (a.k.a. “I Will Arise”)
Text: Joseph Hart (1759)
Tune: RESTORATION, Southern Harmony, 1835
Both of our hymns highlighted this week are from William Walker’s song collection entitled Southern Harmony, an enormously influential and popular everyman’s hymnbook of the 19th century. In a super-romantic age of burgeoning concert halls and growing gaps between the rich and the poor, this songbook did the impossible. Over the span of a few decades, it took the folk melodies that had organically grown up along trails and around campfires, parent-to-child singing kept alive in the hulls of ships crossing the Atlantic and in huts huddled within the Appalachian hills, and it subversively wove them into the fabric of congregational singing all across the American landscape, from the pauper’s parish to the city cathedral. The greatest hit from this collection was, of course, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” but even lesser-known tunes are just as infectious. Exhibit A: “Come Ye Sinners.”
“Come Ye Sinners”, also known as “I Will Arise”, shares some interesting parallels with “Come Thou Fount.” Written less than a year apart, both of them were paired with anonymous folk tunes from the early 19th-century American south. Similar to Robert Robinson (author of “Come Thou Fount”), Joseph Hart had a wayward journey as a young man, living a life he described as “carnal and spiritual wickedness, irreligious and profane,” Also, like Robinson, he was aware of inward sin in his early 20’s, and shortly thereafter turned to Christ. They both penned their respective hymns just two years after their conversions. Seems as if the formula for writing a lasting American hymn is this: Rebel in your teenage years, get saved when you are 20, and write the hymn when you are 23. Then wait for 60 or 70 years for the right American folk tune to come along, and “Voilà”!
What is unique about this hymn of invitation is the added refrain, which hints at the story of the prodigal son, who, like Hart, turned from a life of sin and ran back to his father’s waiting arms. It is appropriately titled “RESTORATION,” which is what happens when we arise out of our sin and go to Jesus. With its repetitive and memorable refrain (“I will arise and go to Jesus”), this hymn is a textbook example of call and response form. The verses were most likely sung by a song leader, and the congregation would respond with the refrains. The original version would have had little to no accompaniment, save for the strong foot stomp on beats 1 and 3 that would have rattled the roof and shook the wooden walls of the church or barn that housed the worship. This is the way we will be singing it this coming Sunday.
If you have children, try this at home. Have your children clap, stomp, or bang the table on beats 1 and 3, and then teach them the refrain. After you sing the verses, prompt them to answer with the refrain as you all sing it together. If you have no children at home, then this back-and-forth singing can really spice up your marriage, no matter what your age! And, this sort of spontaneous singing as part of life is true to the spirit of the music that comes out of the pages of William “Singin’ Billy” Walker’s musical companion Southern Harmony, the roots of which are deep in the American faith-based music education movement of the early 19th century, when singing schools proliferated. Their primary purpose was to instruct in solfege and choral singing, especially for use in the church services. Honor those roots. Let Sunday worship and singing be merely a continuation of the private worship that is ongoing in your home throughout the week.
Original Southern Harmony 3-part version (different text and melody in the middle voice)
Suggested recording (Fernando Ortega, who is coming to CPC for a concert on April 28!)
Celtic-inspired version (Michael Card)
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
Text: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: RESIGNATION, Southern Harmony, 1835
Psalm 23 is a transcendent and iconic bit of poetry that inspired one of Isaac Watts’ most powerful paraphrases. First published in his 1719 collection The Psalms of David Imitated Watts’ hymn exchanges the original Psalm text for rhymed couplets that seek to maintain and illuminate the spirit of the original. Consider the opening stanza:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
For his name’s sake.
– Psalm 23:1-3, ESV
“My Shepherd will supply my need
Jehovah is his name.
In pastures fresh he makes me feed
Beside the living stream
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake his ways,
And leads me for his mercy’s sake
In paths of truth and grace.”
Psalm paraphrases were very controversial in the 18th century. Why submit the word of God to poetic whimsy? Is not the original, by its very spirit-inspired nature, superior? Would God be pleased or annoyed with his children borrowing and reshaping his words? What would Dr. Best have to say about this? What we do know is that the Psalms are intended to be sung, and song is beholden to meter and melody, not to mention a native understanding of language. When we consider that the Psalms were not originally written in English (in fact, Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, and 145 are originally acrostic poems in Hebrew), then we understand that some elements of the language’s internal rhythm and syllabic flow would be lost in translation. The gift and genius of Watts’ accessible versifications was to find an English-language accommodation in meter and rhyme that could house the meaning, metaphor, and imagery of each original Psalm. This opens up the possibility of pairing these new vernacular texts with some beautiful and memorable tunes, and Watts’ version of Psalm 23 benefitted greatly from that possibility. It is coupled with one of the most beautiful American folk tunes ever created. Strong, yet serene, it has phrases that arch hopefully and then settle down to rest. Its long phrases make it a bit more challenging for the untrained singer, but the internal rhythm (eighth-notes that precede each barline) give the melody a forward flow and space to breathe. It is in AABA form, so there is enough repetition for even the smallest child to hum along. And, it is the comforting nature of this melody that enhances that sense of childlike belonging that we find at the end of Psalm 23. With his interpretation of the last line of the Psalm, “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” Watts gives a new understanding to the original: “No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Here we have a powerful image of dwelling—a child, at home in the arms of the Shepherd, safe and secure in a protective place of love and comfort.