There is a Hope

There is a Hope

Liturgy Lessons: November 11, 2018
Call to Worship: from Rev. 1 and Dan. 6
Prayer of Invocation
Sung Incipit: Not Unto us
Hymn of Exaltation: Jesus Shall Reign (#441)
Confession: from Valley of Vision
Assurance of Pardon: from 2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 8
Hymn of Assurance: There is a Hope
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 8:40-56
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Behold the Lamb; At the Lamb’s High Feast (#420)
Closing Hymn: O Church Arise

This week in the Divided States of America, we heard the results of the mid-term elections. These votes determined a great many seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This past week, people showed up to the voting polls in record numbers to tug on their side of the rope. Most believe that the ground they are standing on is the promised land, and those people “over there” are the enemy. As expected, there was a whole lot of grunting, shoving, and screaming in the news and on social media. Facebook became a rolling billboard of reactionary rancor, and when all was said and done, it seemed as if both sides had only succeeded in digging deeper trenches.

Much has been said about the increasing polarization of our country along the lines of class, region, and ideology. White vs. Minorities, Urban vs. Rural, Liberal vs. Conservative. In this new “cold” civil war it seems as if the Red, White, and Blue has been reduced to just Red and Blue, which sadly creates a flag without any stars or stripes. Perhaps this is what happens when politics becomes a religion.

Churches should be immune to this sort of derision in their ranks, and not because of denominational buffers that keep the hostiles and heretics out of the pews. Neither ideological conformity nor homogeneity is the hope of the church. Our emblem is not the flag. It is the cross. Our allegiance is to the King of kings; therefore, our hope is not in politics, but in a Person; not in a system, but a Savior.

However, there is one area in which Christians are divided. Music. In the last several decades, thousands of congregations have been split along the lines of musical preference, with many non-Catholic churches in America offering separate worship services for “traditional” and “contemporary” preferences. Most of these churches are not intentionally trying to cater to the consumer in the pew; rather they believe they are engaging in more effective outreach, but this is normally just a confused conflation of evangelism with worship. I understand why these choices are made. It is an attempt to deal with the uniquely modern problem of musical pluralism and glut. It used to be that people made music, now they mostly just consume it, binging on a musical style of choice. Before the 20th century, people were limited to live musical offerings, which created a sort of shared aesthetic in the local culture. When the radio came along, individuals and families could turn a dial and have a few options. Now with the internet, the variety available to the isolated listener is unparalleled in history. It’s an “all-you-can-hear” buffet delivered straight to your earbuds. Everyone has this steady diet of their personal favorites, and over time we form a deep emotional attachment to our tastes. This means that if music is indeed a language, then we are all forming our own dialects. Then we come to church on Sunday and ask the musicians to speak our heart language. Good thing the Holy Spirit is the great translator.

Here at CPC we have one combined service, which means once a week we attempt a sanctified flash mob in the pews. We bring all of our conditioned tastes and musical lingo with us and then we try to sing together. This means that the Gaither-loving Republican cannot avoid the Hymnocrat next to him. I wonder if the PCA committees thought about this when they replaced the old BLUE Trinity hymnal with the new RED one? Either way, C.S, Lewis would be proud:

“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.”
– From the Lewis essay entitled “On Church Music”

Last week we sang the lesser-known setting of “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” to close our service. It is more florid, and more difficult to sing. It is not the one that the majority knows and loves. But most of the musicians loved it, and I happen to know a handful of people in our congregation that grew up with that setting, and it is the one they prefer. I heard from many of them how much that hymn blessed them, and I know it was more than just a sentimental journey for them. I also heard from several folks who…ahem…felt differently. So, here’s my advice, and the point of all this. That song that bores you in the service? That’s the one that makes your neighbor raise his hands. So wait for it, your moment is coming. Not every hymn or song is going to grip you in the same way. And when you are waiting for “your song” to play, don’t just bide the time. Enter in as much as possible, and rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. It is not about the hymns. It is about Him. He unites us. As the old song goes, “We are one in the spirit, and one in the Lord. And they will know we are Christian by our love.” By the way, I never really liked that tune!

There is a Hope
Words and Music by Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards

That long preamble you just read was to prepare you for this hymn. It will take some effort. The melody is through-composed, which means that there are no repeating sections throughout each verse. This is something that is common from classical composers, but it is rare in hymns. Most of our hymns have a verse-refrain structure or set form (AABA for example) that make them more predictable from line to line. However, this challenging melody does have an inevitability about its cadences, and despite a wide range (more than the national anthem) it is quite singable. The music was written by a classical pianist, which explains a bit of its complexity and beauty. We will take some time with this one on Sunday. My hope is that we can all be united in the challenge, and then be equally blessed by the reward of singing it. That’s my way of saying “You can do it! Yes, you can!”

I picked this hymn up this summer when we were in Northern Ireland, where, evidently, it is a favorite among many of the protestant churches. The text is by one of the most gifted and respected modern lyricists of our time, Stuart Townend, who authored “In Christ Alone,” “My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness,” and countless others. God has really used Stuart to gift English-speaking Christians with a powerful and poetic heart language they can passionately sing. In my opinion, this is one of his best. This hymn text is about the hope we have in Christ, and in the unfailing promises of God’s word. We know our hope will be fulfilled and all our longings satisfied when we see him face to face; thus, each verse ends with the word “home.” The book of Hebrews has a couple of sections that seemed to inspire the writing of this hymn. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful”(Heb. 10:23) and “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). The hymn begins with a strong creed-like declaration of our identity in Christ. Then it gives way to the second verse, which is achingly honest and so deeply encouraging. I have not been able to practice this verse at the piano without shedding a tear.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head, a consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit, I find the Savior there!
Through present sufferings, future’s fear, He whispers courage in my ear,
For I am safe in everlasting arms, and they will lead me home.

The final verse speaks of the profound joy, beauty, and bliss of heaven, where we will all be united in an unending medley of songs that EVERYONE loves!


Short video with Stuart Townend on the making of this hymn