Liturgy Lesson: November 17, 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 33:1-12
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#457)
Confession: Matt. 7:13-14, Jn. 10:9-10 and prayer (from Valley of Vision)
Assurance: Rom. 10:9-13
Hymns of Assurance: Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies; Jesus, Master, Whose I Am
Reading of the Word: Luke 13:22-30
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Behold the Lamb; My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
Closing Hymn: The Church’s One Foundation (#347)
I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
for the cross of Calvary.
I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.
I was bruised, but Jesus healed me;
Faint was I from many a fall;
Sight was gone, and fears possessed me,
Sut He freed me from them all.
Days of darkness still come o’er me,
Sorrow’s paths I often tread,
But the Savior still is with me;
By His hand I’m safely led.
He will keep me ’till the river
Rolls its waters at my feet;
Then He’ll bear me safely over,
Where the loved ones I shall meet.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
gathered by the crystal sea.
– Francis H. Rowley, 1886
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
– Fanny Crosby, 1880
We live in a postmodern age, which is defined by skepticism. Most of the old grand narratives are discarded, and the very nature of language and reality is questioned. This nihilistic view of the world, in which everything is seen as a mere construct of the mind, leaves the soul adrift, wandering in the dark without purpose or hope. After all, if you can’t answer the basic questions “who am I?” and “where am I going?”, then you have no story. And without a story, you have no map nor compass with which to navigate life. In such a dark time, we must rekindle the light by retelling ourselves over and over again the old story. We must reorient ourselves to true north, and find our way once again.
The word “story” comes from Middle English, and suggests a historical account of something. The word itself is a shortening of the Anglo-Norman French “estorie,” which is from the Latin “historia,” which means “history.” As a church—a body of people saved by Jesus Christ, surrendered to Jesus Christ, subject to Jesus Christ—our story is His. And the most beautiful and impactful way that we define and declare this truth is through our gathered corporate worship.
Our liturgy is a weekly re-telling of God’s story. We celebrate its chapters in the form and content of our worship. Creation, Incarnation, Recreation. These are the three acts in this grand narrative. We come together to celebrate this story and to participate in the drama of it. And, like any good drama, there are moments when breaking out in song is necessary. The hymns that we sing (each of which has its own story) are often the gospel wrapped in miniature. They are poetic and portable. And, when we sing our salvation story, it seeps all the deeper into the soil of our souls.
The Church’s One Foundation
Text: Samuel J. Stone, 1866
Tune: AURELIA, Samuel Wesley, 1864
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
– Eph. 2:19-21
In 1866, Samuel J. Stone, an Anglican clergyman in Windsor, England wrote and published a book of hymns based on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. This small collection of a dozen hymns is an astounding labor of love from a local curate who wanted to retell the chapters of the Christian story in a beautiful and compelling way. He called it Lyra Fidelium: Faithful Songs. It contained twelve hymns, one for each article of the Creed. Alongside each hymn he included a short “summary of truths confessed” in that article, along with a list of the Scripture passages supporting it. “The Church’s One Foundation” was the hymn he wrote for article 9 of the Creed, which affirms belief in “the holy catholic church” and “the communion of saints.” It is by far the most well-known of the hymns in the collection.
Stone undertook this project because of a theological controversy in the Anglican church during the mid-nineteenth century. Far away in the other hemisphere, the church’s theology had gone south. John W. Colenso, bishop of Natal, South Africa, had written a book that questioned the historic authenticity of Scripture and questioned some of the basic articles of the Christian faith. Stone saw this for what it was, an attempt to deconstruct the great cathedral and replace it with a house of cards. By writing this hymn, he answered the contemporary madness by reminding his people of their true story and putting the words of that story on their lips and in their hearts. Stone’s hymn text originally had seven stanzas, a few of which speak directly to the controversy at hand:
Though with a scornful wonder,
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end;
Though there be those that hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe and traitor
She ever shall prevail.
Whoa! Samuel certainly didn’t pull any punches. I love the fact that a man named Stone constructed a hymn built upon the rock-solid truths of the faith. This hymn helped buttress his congregation against the rising wind and waves coming from the south and reminded them that their faith was based upon the Rock, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, who “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
This hymn is sung in virtually every denomination. Its lasting legacy is because it tells timeless truths in a unique way. Stone gives us a strong declaration of doctrine, but he uses one very compelling Biblical concept to do so. The church is the bride of Christ. By framing the whole hymn within this narrative truth, Stone basically encapsulates the gospel story from Genesis to Revelation. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), pursued us when we were lost (Rom. 5:8), rescued us from the enemy (2 Sam. 22:17-18; Ps. 18:19; Lk. 1:68-79), embraced us as his own (Lk. 15:20; Jn. 12:32), and unites us to himself forever (1 Cor. 6:17; 1 Jn. 5:11; Jn. 3:16).
Almost every fairy tale has fragments of this story. Snow White once sang, “someday my Prince will come,” and Sleeping Beauty declares she had seen her Prince “once upon a dream.” Pull back the Disney curtain, and what you’ll encounter is the Prince of Glory. In Him we find the Great Story that is TRUE! Here is no myth, no imaginary tale, but the absolute, actual, authentic arrival of all our stories, which unapologetically point to Christ, who is the Ultimate Reality. Beloved of God, the way our story ends, our “happily ever after” is the great marriage supper of the Lamb, the wedding feast in paradise. The prophet Isaiah tells us:
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
– Isaiah 54:4-8
Here is that truth poetically distilled into four verses, which we will be singing on Sunday:
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the Word:
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
In love may dwell with Thee.
The tune with which this hymn is paired is called AURELIA, which means “gold.” It was written by Samuel Wesley, the grandson of Charles Wesley. This hymn served as the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s 1896 poem, “Hymn Before Action,” and also was used as the final scene in the 1941 film, One Foot in Heaven. Throughout the movie, a beleaguered pastor deals with countless internal conflicts in his congregation. On his final Sunday serving the parish, he decides to sit down at the organ before worship and play AURELIA. One by one, the people gather at the doorsteps, all singing together the first verse of this famous hymn. You can see that final scene here.
And here is the recommended recording of the full hymn.