Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Liturgy Lessons: May 20, 2018 (Pentecost Sunday)
Call to Worship: from Genesis 2:4-9; Psalm 104:24-34
Prayer of Invocation
Hymns of Praise: All People That on Earth Do Dwell (#1); O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#164)
Confession: based on Acts 2:38-39; Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12
Hymn of Supplication: Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart(#338)
Assurance of Pardon: based on Ezekiel 36:24-28 & 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
Hymn of Assurance: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 6:6-11
Gloria Patri (#735)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (#529)
Closing Hymn: There is a Redeemer

“God’s Grandeur”
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

“God has promised that, through his Spirit, he will remake the creation so that it becomes what it is straining and yearning to be. All the beauty of the present world will be enhanced, ennobled, set free from that which at present corrupts and defaces it. Then there will appear that beauty for which the beauty we know here and now is simply an advance signpost. The task of being God’s people, indwelt by God’s spirit, thus includes as a central element, not simply as a pretty but irrelevant border around the edge, the task of celebrating and creating beauty. Led by the Spirit, we are to use our God-given creativity to find new ways forwards. Christian approaches to aesthetics have often hovered uneasily between sentimental kitsch on the one hand and total avoidance on the other. But understanding the Spirit’s work within the context of inaugurated eschatology opens up a different way forward. The beauty of the present world is like the beauty of a chalice: it is beautiful in itself, yes, but far more beautiful because we know what it is meant to be filled with. It is like the beauty of a violin: again, beautiful in itself but still more because of the music we know it is designed to play. Because the Spirit will one day flood the whole of creation, our task as Spirit-filled Christians in the present is to use our differing creativities to anticipate that eventual beauty, both as mission and as celebration.”
– The Holy Spirit in the Church, N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham

The very first mention in scripture of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit comes from Exodus 31. God tells Moses this:

“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.”

God called Bezalel, among many other artists, to beautify his temple. He gave him gifts, spun him silly with his spirit, and then let him loose. It was for the purpose of worship. This is the telos—the goal, or all art and music. It should inspire the heart, awaken the imagination, and animate the spirit with a greater delight, devotion, and declaration of the praise of God. Singing the praise of God is one of the ways that we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:19-20). Indeed, when we sing the praise of God, the Spirit flows umbilically into our hearts. As you sing this Sunday, drink deeply of him, and be filled to all overflowing.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Text: Charles Wesley, 1747
Tune: HYFRYDOL, Rowland Prichard, 1831

Scriptures for reflection:
Vs. 1 – Rev. 21:3, John 3:16, John 15:9
Vs. 2 – Mal. 3:1
Vs. 3 – 2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 3:14

Last week we learned a bit about Susanna Wesley, the superhero mother of 18 kids, the youngest of which was Charles, the canticle-crazed author of this hymn and 8,988 others (but who’s really counting?). This week, we sing two of Charles Wesley’s hymns (if you’d like to learn more about “O For a Thousand Tongues,” see here). In the opening stanza one of his lesser-known hymns, which we sang last week (“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose”), Charles Wesley addressed the Lord as “Thou all-sufficient Love divine.” In this week’s hymn, Wesley picks up on that theme, and in four of his most virtuosic verses, he riffs on and on about this “Love divine.” He says that God’s love is one that excels all others, addressing Jesus as “pure, unbounded love.” Wesley is echoing the sentiments of St. Paul, who boldly said that all things were “but loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Charles Wesley had a profound conversion experience on Pentecost Sunday in 1738, where he said his heart was “strangely warmed” by the Spirit of God. St. Paul would tell Charles that the Lord gave him a deposit of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and for the remainder of his life Mr. Wesley was drunk with devotion. One can sense this in the second verse where Charles basically pleads for the Holy Spirit to be breathed into “every troubled breast” until they find “the promised rest.” He ends the hymn with a rapturous vision of all believers being “lost in wonder, love, and praise”.

Throughout his lifetime, the main theme of his Charles Wesley’s poetry was the all-surpassing Love of God, which for the hymn-writer was an inexhaustible source of inspiration, ardor, and gratitude. I think that if he were living today, Charles Wesley would be good friends with John Piper, who calls himself a “Christian hedonist.” His credo is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Charles Wesley’s hymn texts are dripping with that kind of rightly ordered desire, full of a giddy restlessness as he constantly seeks out more ardent and profound language to describe the love of God. But, of course, this is beyond impossible for even the most gifted of wordsmiths. The Love of God is, as one hymn writer put it, “ineffably sublime.” Another hymn writer said this:

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled, and pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—the saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

Writers and musicians talk about being “in the flow.” A modern Christian would use the term “in the spirit” (the literal meaning of the word “inspired”). Some describe the anointing of the Holy Spirit as a feeling of warmth, electricity, or the liver shiver. For artists, the awareness is not always acute; rather, the spirit guides hands, hearts, and minds in shaping, sculpting, and sounding out the love of God. When the dance is done, the evidence of the spirit is seen on the canvas or heard in the air, delighting eye and ear with his handiwork. This is a mystical thing for which I am deeply grateful. Eric Liddell, the great Scottish sprinter and missionary, said “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Perhaps this is best described in Psalm 42:7: “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have come over me.” Based on the frequency and furiosity of Charles Wesley’s writing, it seems as if he was always standing under that waterfall of God’s loving spirit, soaked and laughing like a loon. I envy him in that. In his hymn-writing he was performing the literary equivalent of circular breathing. Inhaling the love of God while exhaling praise (Psalm 40:3). He wrote an average of 10 lines of verse each day for 50 years! Can you imagine a hymnbook without “And Can it Be,” “Rejoice, the Lord Is King,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” or “O For a Thousand Tongues”? “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” takes its proud place among these others, shining out as one of Wesley’s greatest gems.

The original melody that was sung with this text was probably much simpler than the more sophisticated melody HYFRYDOL, which was written 130 years after the hymn’s authorship. This melody is one of the most popular tunes in all hymnody, and comes from the Welsh, a people with a rich heritage of folk music and a long tradition of communal song. The name given this tune is the Welsh word for “delightful.”

Sheet music
Piano accompaniment