Liturgy Lesson: October 20, 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 27
Prayer of invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Our Great God (F. Ortega)
Call to Confession: from 1 Peter 5
Silent Prayers of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 5:1-11
Hymns of Assurance: How Firm a Foundation (#94)
Reading of the Word: Rev. 2:8-11
Sermon: Tom Greene
Tithes & Offerings
Supper: Jesus, Lover of My Soul (#508); Be Still, My Soul (#689)
Closing Hymn: Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken (new setting)
Let’s be honest. We all need a good pep talk now and then. “You can do it!” “You have what it takes!” “Come on!” “Keep going!” “Stay the course!” These are all things we need to hear, and they are phrases that put wind in our sails when the boat is sitting low in the water. Life can be an uphill slog, and we often need to be inspired, rallied, cheered on. We lose the spring in our step or the song in our heart, and so we require a shot in the arm or a kick in the pants. This is the meaning of encouragement.
“Encouragement is a word” that, in the old French, means “make strong the heart” or “put strength in the heart.” Words of encouragement are a necessity to the Christian who is walking heavy steps while carrying a cross, beset with doubts, fears, and an enemy that prowls and roars. We need heartening words from each other. Sometimes a well-spoken word of encouragement can be like water to parched soil. Scripture calls us to this (see 1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 10:24-25, Eph. 4:29), and encouragement is one of the primary functions of hymns. Consider this passage:
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
(1 Cor. 14:26)
In fact, the two most famous passages about group singing in the New Testament strongly suggest that it is a God-given method by which we can build each other up. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges us to let the word of Christ dwell in us as we “teach and admonish one another, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). We tend to think of admonition as a gentle rebuke or warning, but the root of the word admonish is amonester (“put in the mind”), which has close associations in French with the verb “encourager” (“put in the heart”). Song is a vessel that delivers words of life to the mind and the heart. In Ephesians, Paul is quite explicit that we should “address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,” and that this is a way that we can “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.
This is why so many of our hymns are direct exhortations to each other. “O Worship the King,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ name,” “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above,” “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim,” and the list goes on. When we sing together in church, we are often addressing both God and each other. If you feel timid and are convinced that no one would ever want to hear you sing, I admonish you to not shrink back, but sing out! It may just be that the person sitting next to you in the pew needs a pep talk. Alternatively, if you are tired and in need of a boost in your morale, then open your ears and your heart and be filled with the encouragement on offer from your neighbor. Come on Sunday and be encouraged!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near, join me in glad adoration!
Be Still, My Soul
Text: Catharina Von Schlegel (1697-c. 1797), Translated by: Jane Borthwick (1813-1897)
Tune: Finlandia, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
It is generally assumed that people who always talk to themselves do it because they are crazy. Well, if that is the case, then I belong in an asylum. And you too…probably. But what if the opposite is the case? What if we talk to ourselves to push back the insanity? What if we need to remind ourselves of the truth? That’s the sense I get when I read many of the great poets and hymnwriters. They are actually echoing Psalm 42:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
My salvation and my God.”
-Psalm 42:5 and 11
And Psalm 103:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is in within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
– Psalm 103:1-2
The Psalmist is clearly talking to himself here. This sort of self-reflective language is common in hymnody, which frequently addresses the individual soul.
“Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, to His feet thy tribute bring!”
“Arise, my soul, arise!”
“Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run.
Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise
To pay thy morning sacrifice.”
I’m no expert on the theology of the soul and won’t even begin to try to unpack that here, but what I do know is this: the soul was created with the body, and God breathes life into it (Gen. 2:7). The soul is a battleground and can be destroyed by the enemy (Matt. 10:28). We have influence over the state of our own souls (Ps. 131:2), and our souls find rest in God alone (Jer. 6:16 and Ps. 62:1). It seems to me that the nurture and care of our souls is a top priority for the Christian.
The soul certainly is a hot topic in the history of Christian song. The phrase “my soul” appears again and again in the Psalms and also in the canticles of Scripture. At the annunciation, Mary proclaimed “my soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.” I wonder what spontaneous tune she used to sing those words?
The great hymnwriters in history, steeped as they are in scripture, pick up on this language. They know that singing involves both body and soul, head and heart. They also recognize that the soul often slumbers, slinks back, loses the song. When the soul goes silent, it needs encouragement to catch the tune and start singing again. This is a theme in the hymns of John Newton, who wrote “Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare” and “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat.” Even modern hymnwriters continue to do this. Here is a 1962 hymn text from Timothy Dudley-Smith:
“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.”
This Sunday we will sing a hymn addressed entirely to the soul of the believer, and it carries a message that we need to hear again and again: Be still, my soul. It is a beautiful hymn that helps us obey the voice of the Lord himself who calls us to…
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
It was two women who first announced the resurrection of Jesus, and it is another unlikely female pair that brings the “good news” to us in this beautiful hymn. The original text was written in German. “Stille, Meine Wille, Dein Jesus Hilft Siegen” appeared in 1752 and contained six stanzas written by Catharina Von Schlegel. Not much is known about Catharina, and this is her only hymn translated into English. She was born in 1697 and was known to be the “Stiftsfräulein” in the Evangelical Lutheran Stift (similar to a protestant nunnery) at Cothen. The English translation, written by Jane Borthwick, was quite faithful to the German, and maintained much of the original text. The English version was published in Borthwick’s 1855 Hymns from the Land of Luther. Below are the first two verses. See if you can’t hear echoes of these scriptures that head them.
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Ps. 37:7)
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Ex. 14:14)
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
The third verse mentions the death of loved ones and is the reason why this hymn is traditionally used at funerals. I have adapted that verse so it is focused, instead, on the death of Christ. This makes it a bit more fitting for use at the Lord’s table during corporate worship.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
New Verse 3 (the one we will be singing):
Be still my soul, draw nearer to the cross
Find peace and mercy in the vale of tears
There you shall know his love, his heart, in loss.
He comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul, your Jesus can repay
From his own fullness all he takes away.
The tune for this hymn is a great one—a captivating melody that is lifted from the chorale-like opening to the symphonic work entitled “Finlandia,” a tone-poem originally composed by Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. The tune first appeared in The Scottish Hymnal in 1927, and was used later in the Presbyterian Hymnal in 1933. The soothing and solemn melody seems to me to be a perfect fit for the text. The music surges in gentle waves as the phrases rise in the middle and then settle back to rest. The melody comes in fragments that are separated by extended pauses, giving the singer room to recover in the stillness. I love this tune. Each time I arrive at the upper note in the phrase, it lifts my heart. It is a joy to sing. Here’s how the hymn (and our story) ends. Sing it and be encouraged!
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
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 that 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.” Tom Greene, our preacher for Sunday, will be focused on the letter to the Church in Smyrna from Revelations 2. This deals with tribulation and the persecution of believers who are faithful unto death. This is a hard subject that is hitting closer to home as our culture grows increasingly hostile toward biblical 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.”
In the final two verses, Lyte takes up our theme and addresses the soul. These closing sixteen lines of poetry are some of the most deeply encouraging (in the true sense of the word) things that we could sing to ourselves and to each other. They are far superior to anything I have written in this long-winded lesson, and a perfect encapsulation of it all. Once again, read, sing, and be encouraged!
Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Fathers smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heavens eternal days before thee,
Gods own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
We will sing these words to new music that I composed for Sunday’s service, so there is no recording below. However, you get the auspicious honor of lending your voice to the world premiere of this version! To help you prepare, here is the lead sheet that will appear in the bulletin. It contains all six verses.