Liturgy Lessons: June 17, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 27
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Rejoice, the Lord is King! (#310)
Confession: Hebrews 12:1-2 and prayer from Valley of Vision
Assurance: from Colossians 1:21-23a; 2 Timothy 2:11-13
Hymn of Assurance: Jesus, What A Friend for Sinners (#498)
Reading of the Word: Luke 6:20-26
Doxology: #731 (a capella)
Sermon: Shiv Muthukumar
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted (#257); Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken (#707, vss. 1,2,5)
Closing Hymn: O Church Arise
“Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is he.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, and hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him; from care He sets me free,
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free!
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!”
– Civilla D. Martin (1905)
“My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing,
It finds an echo in my heart, how can I keep from singing?”
– American Folk Hymn
Have you ever shown up to church on Sunday morning not wanting to sing? Perhaps Saturday’s struggles or the weight of last week hang heavy on your heart when you enter the sanctuary; and, when you hear the call to worship, your spirit stiffens and you reluctantly exhale the bold type in the bulletin. You are fulfilling your Christian duty to show up to church, but have dragged your heels from parking lot to pew, and you just aren’t “feelin’ it.” In that moment, maybe the last thing you want to do is sing. And yet, after the opening prayer, you open the hymnal and are faced with these words:
“Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and SING, and triumph evermore!
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”
In the span of about 30 seconds you have been smacked in the face with no less than four shouts of “Rejoice!”, and you know that in that moment, the Lord has found you out. He has come over to your dark corner, He is standing before you smiling, arm extended, lifting your chin, and catching your eye. He is inviting you to the dance.
What do we do when our stress and suffering threaten to smother the song in our hearts? For some of us, this may seldom happen. For others, it may be a more frequent occurrence. I have been in that place more times than I care to admit. It is in those moments that I feebly whisper the words of Psalm 51:15:
“Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
Then again…this time, more audibly:
“Lord, please open my lips so that my mouth may declare your praise!”
My heart knows that it is not the composer of the song, and it is in need of inspiration. The only way that I will properly express my love for God is if He forms that love in me. This is easily lost in our therapeutic and emotivist culture, where there is frequent talk of “authenticity” and an idolatry of feeling. The church often gives way to this and expects worship to be only expressive, meaning that the total sum of our singing and praying is “inside out,” where we simply act out of the overflow of what we already think or feel. But Jesus tells us to “pray in this way” (Matt. 6:9), and that offers us an alternative. John Witvliet, professor and director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, says this about our liturgies, stating that they “…invite us to apprentice ourselves to a text, rhythm, or gesture originating from outside us. Indeed, to engage in public worship often involves having the boundaries of our small ego-centric selves enlarged by expressions and emotions we never would have imagined on our own.” Psalm 40 illustrates this:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
And set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God.”
Do you see how God is the gracious initiator of our praise? He puts the song of praise in our mouths. This is a call that echoes creation itself. God opened Adam’s lips, breathed into him, and it is that very breath that gives capacity to sing. Worship is not just an upward expression of our praise. It is also a downward move of God stirring and shaping us. Put simply, worship is not just something we do. It does something to us. There is a formative power in our liturgy that is at work even if we are not into it. So much so that the Spirit is still working, even if our intentions have atrophied.
Rightly understood, the liturgy then consists of God acting and us responding through the work of the Spirit. John Calvin often spoke of how the sacraments themselves are the works of God, not of men. He frequently noted that “God is active in our worship.” The worship of the church is a matter of divine activity, not merely human creativity. God is both the audience and the agent of our worship. And as we respond to him, we come face to face before the living God, and we are changed. Pastor Irwin has often encouraged us all to live “coram deo,” before the face of God. Worship is central to this. The fundamental aim of Sunday morning is to turn aside and face the burning bush, and engage in all the dialogue that this assumes. We come expectantly, and we meet with God, and we leave transformed. And if we came with sorrow, then we may very well be “surprised by joy.”
Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” When we feel cold and calloused, let us turn and face the very flame of love. His light can break through the clouds. His warmth can melt the heart. Then the spirit can set the feet to dancing, and sighing can give place to song.
Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
Text: Henry Lyte (1824)
Music: O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN, Geistliche Volkslieder (1850)
Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland in 1793. Henry’s father, who was described as a “ne-er do-well…more interested in fishing and shooting than in facing up to his family responsibilities,” deserted the family. Henry’s family moved to London, where shortly thereafter his mother and his youngest brother both died. The headmaster at a local school recognized Henry’s ability, and agreed to pay the boy’s fees. More than that, he welcomed the boy into his own family during the holidays. Henry Lyte had become an adopted son. His hymnwriting and poetry reflects a lifelong passion for Abba Father and a heart full of gratitude for the unconditional love of God who accepted him as a son.
Lyte pursued seminary and went on to become a well-respected vicar and poet. It was the latter for which history remembers him. Plagued with poor health for most of his life, Henry is famous for his hymn “Abide With Me,” a beautiful prayer for God’s presence and comfort in time of suffering, loss, and impending death. He is also the author of the well-known hymn “Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven,” which has the autobiographical line “Father-like he tends and spares us, well our feeble frame he knows.”
One of Lyte’s lesser-known hymns is “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” It is a poetic response to Mark 8:34, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The original hymn contains six verses. On Sunday, we will be singing only three verses of Lyte’s original text, and we will be doing so during communion as a response to the subject of the sermon. Shiv, our preacher for Sunday, will be focused on suffering persecution for Christ’s sake. This is a hard subject that is hitting closer to home as our culture grows increasingly hostile to orthodox Christianity. Lyte’s response to this hardship is bold and brash, bordering on impulsive and masochistic, but it is also a strong declaration that echoes the scriptural promises found in Romans 8
Go, then, earthly fame and treasure!
Come, disaster, scorn, and pain!
In Thy service, pain is pleasure;
With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee Abba, Father!
I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather,
All must work for good to me.
One note on the music. We are singing this to the same tune as “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” This is for a few reasons. First, it is a superior tune to the one listed with this text in our hymnal, which is by Mozart, and has a characteristic lightness to it that does NOT do justice to the Golgotha gravity of the text. Second, it is appropriate that as we sing about taking up a cross to follow Jesus, we “take up” the same tune that carried the extended meditation on his suffering. Singing these two hymns with a combined seven verses of the same somber melody is a fitting response to a sermon about endurance.
Below you will find the three verses we are singing this week. I list them in hopes that you can meditate on the text, and pray that the Spirit will use them to shape and form within you a greater resolve and courage as witnesses for Christ. As we express these truths in the context of worship, may they be formative for us. May the singing of them shape our devotion as servants of Christ.
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shall be.
Perish ev’ry fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition;
God and heav’n are still my own!
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
Thou art not, like man, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate, and friends may shun me:
Show Thy face, and all is bright.
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heav’n’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
I encourage you to take the above verses and practice singing them to “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”.