Liturgy Lessons: February 25, 2018 (Second Sunday of Lent)
Call to Worship: Psalm 95
Prayer of Invocation
Lenten Hymn: The Glory of These Forty Days
Hymn of Adoration: At the Name of Jesus (#163)
Call to Confession: 1 Cor. 10:1-7, 12
Song of Confession: Jesus, Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 10:5-13
Hymn of Assurance: Before the Throne of God Above
Reading of the Word: Luke 4:1-13
Sermon: Rev. Casey Bedell
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Jesus Thou Joy Loving Hearts (#646); Come, Thou Fount (#457)
Closing Hymn: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks
“’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
– Joel (prophet of the Bible)
“I believe that when you think of the negative, and you get up discouraged—‘There’s nothing good in my future’—I really believe that almost ties the hands of God…You’ll never rise any higher than the way you see yourself.”
– A different Joel (“prophet” of our time)
Living counter-culturally as a Christian in 2018 is a bit like running on a treadmill that is at max speed and incline, or staying a boat in a windstorm without an anchor. Without intentional effort (spiritual disciplines) and the power of God, you will eventually fall or drift. But it is in this struggle where mercy is found. It is encountered in the outstretched, all-embracing arms of our suffering Savior, who knew that the way of the cross is uphill, and that glory comes through Golgatha. Yet, for many American churches in 2018, the cultural winds have swept indoors and now there is a full-blown hurricane of heresy swirling. In their Osteen-tatious stadium-sanctuaries, they practice and preach doctrine that is more Oprah than Jesus. Motivational speakers fill the pulpit with successories and reduce the Lord of the Universe to nothing more than a butler. For them Lent is purposeless, “repentance” is a dirty word.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. You are the way, the truth, and the life. Break our idols and bring us back to you. Jesus, thank you for your example. Grant us the comfort and courage of your spirit during this Lenten season that we may rediscover a deep, abiding, and lasting joy in you and you alone. And then, open our lips, and our mouths will declare your praise as we sing with renewed conviction:
“Thou and thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my treasure Thou art.”
The Glory of These Forty Days
Text: Latin, 6th cent.; tr. Maurice Bell (1862-1947)
Tune: Erhalt uns, Herr, from Geistliche Lieder (1543)
Brace yourself. This hymn text was originally written by the pope. What? A Catholic hymn? That’s right, and this one was written by perhaps one of the most famous of all popes. Pope Gregory I, or Gregory “The Great,” for whom Gregorian chant was named. Now before you good reformed Presbyterians head for the hills, hear me out. There is no veneration of Mary here, no mention of purgatory, and no singing to other saints. It is actually a hymn text that would have pleased the reformers (and perhaps they used it), for it paints Lent in one broad stroke of scriptural history. It begins with an admonition to follow Christ’s example of fasting and praying in the wilderness and then gives mention to the stories of Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and John the Baptist, all of who find their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. The penultimate verse is a heartfelt prayer for strength, grace, and the joy of intimacy with the Lord during Lent. The final verse is a doxology to the Holy Trinity.
Still think this smells like incense? How about this? John Calvin himself admired Pope Gregory, calling him “the last good pope.” Well, that’s nice, but it actually may have been more of a swipe at the papacy when you consider that Gregory (ca. 590) came along a full millenia (1,000 years) before the reformation (1517). Either way, perhaps your concerns will be assuaged by knowing that our hymnal contains a bagful of pre-reformation era hymns, which really makes them catholic. Among those are Of the Father’s Love Begotten, Be Thou My Vision, and both of our Doxology tunes. Yup, the ones we sing every week! Those are catholic. Seems as if there has been some subversive stuff going on in our singing!
Here’s some more fodder for discussion. The original music for this was a chant that appeared in a 1543 German collection of hymns, and it was paired with a text by Martin Luther. Luther tailored the tune a bit by evening out the meter into basic quarter notes, and then overlaid it with the hymn “Lord, keep us steadfast in thy word” (Luther’s adapted tune is in our hymnal, but paired with a different text). Sometime later this hymn caught the attention of an up-and-coming young Lutheran musician named Johann Sebastian Bach, and he harmonized it, then used it as the basis for one of his celebrated church cantatas. It is Bach’s harmony that we use in our version. It is beautiful and haunting music that feels ancient and accessible all at once.
So, how is does all this history help you worship? Well, just knowing that God, in his creative way, can use papal poetry (sorry!) with protestant piety is a source of joy. Also, I’m not without an agenda here. I want to strip away any baggage and prejudice that we might bring to our songs, and cut to the core, which is really all about Christ, His glory and grace, and his redemptive action in all of history. And, to borrow from a cheesy church kiosk I recently saw, “History is His story.” That means that the Spirit of the Lord was alive and active in the church well before 1517!
At the Name of Jesus
Text: Caroline M. Noel, 1870
Tune: KING’S WESTON, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1925
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
– John 1:1
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
– Philippians 2:9-10
After a lifetime of illness that rendered her an invalid, Caroline Marie Noel’s hope was all laid up in Christ. At the age of 53, seven years before her long-suffering ended, she took the above two scripture passages and melded them into a pair of rhyming couplets that serve as the opening verse of her most famous hymn:
“At the Name of Jesus ever knee shall bow,
every tongue confess Him King of glory now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
who at the beginning was the mighty Word.”
Caroline was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. She began to write poetry as a teenager, but abandoned it until she was in her 40’s. During these years when most people grow in physical strength, Caroline grew weaker and weaker, her body ravaged by one inexplicable illness after another. For the final few decades of her life, she wrote devotional verse as a way to encourage both herself and others who were incapacitated by illness. Her poems were collected in The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861, expanded in 1870). “At the Name of Jesus” was one of the hymns in the 1870 collection, and its intended use was as a processional for Ascension Day. Her hymn is saturated with biblical references, each hymn verse is a distillation of scripture.
Psalm 33:6, 8b, 9
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host…
…let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be.
He commanded, and it stood firm.”
Verse 2 of “At the Name of Jesus”
“At his voice creation sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
All the heav’nly orders in their great array.”
Caroline’s text inspired the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He set it to a regal and austere tune which has been named KING’S WESTON, which refers to the place of its authorship, a manor house near Bristol, England. The music is definitely a procession with quite a bit of gravitas. It is in minor mode and yet manages to feel festive. Its fierce rhythmic drive and arching melody build to a climax on the final two lines. Like many of these more artful tunes, it is not always predictable. The melody has some unexpected nuances, particularly toward the end, so I suggest you practice this one before we launch into it as our opening hymn of praise on Sunday. It really is a glorious combination of inspired text and music to match.