Liturgy Lesson: February 2, 2020
Call to Worship: Psalm 111
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (#311)
Confession of Sin
Assurance: from Ephesians 1:3-7
Hymns of Assurance: Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery; Be Unto Your Name
Reading the Word: 1 Pet. 2:1-9
Sermon: Rev. Shiv Muthukumar, “A Manifesto for Exilic Living”
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Church of God, Beloved and Chosen; All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (#296)
Closing Hymn: O Church Arise
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
– Phil. 1:3-8
My work as a musical performer frequently requires travel. Some gigs are longer than others, and there are often seasonal stretches of travel that take me away from home and church for a few weeks at a time. This week I am on a mini-tour of the southeastern states, and I have been gone for nine days. I return home tomorrow.
During these trips, even the shortest ones, I have grown accustomed to the pain of separation from my wife and kids (something that becomes more acute over time). But what is relatively new, as of the past 3 or 4 years, is the ache of being away from fellowship with you all at CPC. This longing (“hankering” they would call it here in the south) sets in somethin’ fierce on Sundays. Those are the days that the loneliness is the most intense. No longer am I just homesick, but I am churchsick as well. It’s a double malady.
I miss our gathered worship, and the singing most of all. In those moments when I join my voice with yours there is a delight and a dance in my soul that I can’t explain. It is as if your exhaled song puts wind in my sails. When I am singing alone on the road, the echo of your collective voice sustains me for parts of the journey. Thank you for that.
Part of the struggle of being a professional artist is not just the travel, but the reality that I am often the only Christian in the green room. Artists are a notoriously progressive tribe, and the professional arts world as a whole leans far to the left. This can often feel like Babylon to biblically-minded Christians, whose beliefs are in discord with the song everyone else is singing. They are in exile, and how can they sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? The answer is found is the Psalms:
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”
– Ps. 137:5-6
Brothers and Sisters, we are citizens of the city of God. The passport stamp on our chest may read “United States” or “Canada,” but that is something that is given upon entrance or exit. The true DNA of the blood pumping through our veins is the same as that which flows from the wounded side of our Savior. We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” No matter how much of a political or ideological exile we are, we must continue to sing the Lord’s song because we know our true home and identity. We know to whom we belong, and to whom we direct our song. We cannot stop singing His praises, and we must encourage each other to carry the song wherever we go. It is for this purpose that we were called…”to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Church of God, Beloved and Chosen
Text: Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879)
Tune: BEECHER, John Zundel, 1870
Last week’s liturgy lesson was focused on the life of Frances Havergal and her most famous hymn “Take My Life.” This week we visit another one of her lesser-known hymns that fittingly celebrates our identity and shared promises as the Church of God, Beloved and Chosen. I could not find much backstory to this hymn, so I will focus instead on the content. If you missed last week’s lesson and would like to know more about the author of this hymn, I encourage you to read Havergal’s inspiring life story (see here).
There are many different versions of this hymn that one can find online. Some of them are astounding in their differences. The numerous edits and the inclusion or exclusion of certain verses is dizzying. It seems to be a hymn that has inspired several cut-and-paste jobs by various hymn committees. Depending on the denomination, this hymn has been tailored a dozen different ways. That’s not all bad. Here is the most complete version of Havergal’s original text (as far as I know) that I could find.
Church of God, beloved and chosen, Church of Christ, for whom He died,
Claim thy gifts and praise the Giver. “Ye are washed and sanctified,”
Sanctified by God the Father, And by Jesus Christ His Son,
And by God, the Holy Spirit, Holy, Holy, Three in One.
God Himself has set the members in His body all complete,
Organized by Jesus only, Oh, the union, pure and sweet!
Church of God, the angels marvel at the music of thy song;
Earth and hell in terror tremble, as thy army moves along.
Church of God, “beloved city,” thou art of celestial mold;
Lo, from God, and out of heaven, came the city of pure gold.
Stones of jasper, clear as crystal, is the building of thy wall;
And the Lamb, thy light forever, Jesus, Jesus, all in all.
By His will He sanctifieth, by the Spirit’s power within,
By the loving hand that chasteneth, fruits of righteousness to win;
By His truth and by His promise, by the Word, His gift unpriced,
By His own blood, and by union with the risen life of Christ.
Holiness by faith in Jesus, not by effort of thine own;
Sin’s dominion crushed and broken by the power of grace alone.
God’s own holiness within thee, His own beauty on thy brow:
This shall be thy pilgrim brightness, this thy blessed portion now.
He will sanctify thee wholly; body, spirit, soul shall be
Blameless till thy Savior’s coming in His glorious majesty!
He hath perfected forever those whom He hath sanctified;
Spotless, glorious, and holy is the church, His chosen Bride.
There is a lot of rich content in there, and Havergal has really packed in some beautiful and scriptural images. It’s a lot to take in at one sitting, and there are some phrases (like “pilgrim brightness”) that have to be chewed a bit before swallowing. So, for our purposes on Sunday, I decided to simplify the recipe a bit, without losing the flavor. Hopefully this does not cheapen the whole as a result. Frankly, I took up the tradition with this hymn and am molding it to fit our context. I have picked my favorite segments of the original six verses and distilled these concepts into three stanzas. I updated the King James and, in many cases, I have tried to keep Havergal’s original ideas and clauses. I have also altered the form of the hymn so that there is a conversational progression in the verses. Havergal’s original is a beautiful and rich poetic sermon about the church delivered to the church. The effect of this is akin to singing in the mirror. We are addressing to ourselves these truths of our identity in Christ. I kept this spirit in the first stanza, but in the second stanza I decided to progress to the collective first person as we begin to take more ownership of the these truths.
In the last stanza, which is partly my own wording, we address the Lord directly. Mostly these changes were driven by the fact that we are singing this hymn during our Communion time, and when approaching the table there is an intimate and profound place for songs and hymns that make a direct address to God. Here is what we will be singing on Sunday.
Church of God, Church of God, for whom He died,
Claim your gifts, and praise the Giver, you are washed and sanctified;
Loved and chosen by the Father, and by Jesus Christ His Son,
And by God, the Holy Spirit, Holy, Holy, Three in One.
Righteous now we stand before Him, not by effort of our own;
Sin’s dominion crushed and broken, by the pow’r of grace alone;
Gratefully we offer praises for His glorious sacrifice;
By His blood, we now have union with the risen life of Christ
Lord, we are your own beloved; Body, spirit, soul are yours;
Consecrated for your glory, serving you whom we adore.
Treasured as your own possession, those for whom you bled and died,
We will sing your praise forever, we the Church, your chosen bride.
The tune we are using for this text is a familiar one to us. It is called BEECHER, and it is the melody we normally associate with Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. It is a bit of a sophisticated melody that contains a few tricky intervals for the amateur singer. The upward leap of a Major 6th is found in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th stanzas. If you want to practice this interval just hum the opening of “It came upon a midnight clear,” “my bonnie lies over the ocean,” or the simple “NBC” jingle. Below is the sheet music and recording of piano accompaniment for the melody. Try singing these new words (and Havergal’s original if you wish) to the recording.
O Church Arise
Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2005)
This song is almost an identical twin to “In Christ Alone.” Written by the same team, in the same key, with the same meter and form, it would be easy to just write it off as a cheap sequel to the songwriting duo’s most famous hymn. However, the content is too rich to discard just because it feels musically copycat. Whereas “In Christ Alone” is chiefly a song of individual faith and hope, “O Church Arise” is a truly corporate hymn of triumph. The focus here is on the combined strength of Christians, and is a call to lock arms and unite as “an army strong, whose battle cry is love.” This is quite refreshing in a church worship culture seeking to create a hypnotic, almost “private,” worship experience for the individual believer. A recent survey by CCLI of the top worship songs produced and used in American churches found that the words “me” and “I” were used exponentially more than “we” and “us.” Many churches turn down the lights and turn up the volume in hopes of creating a sense of anonymity and aloneness with God. But the history of singing in the Christian faith is all about community. We don’t sing “A Mighty Fortress is My God,” or “The Christian’s One Foundation.” In our act of singing together we express and embody the truth of our unity in Christ. This hymn, which is replete with biblical metaphors, is a masculine and militant call for us to rise up and declare the praises of “our Captain.” One recalls the battle of Jericho and the power of the collective shout to bring down the walls of the enemy. I know it’s not possible for us to march around the sanctuary as we sing this one, but we can at least be reminded that we sing in the context of an ongoing battle. I suggest reading Ephesians 6:10-20 and Hebrews 12:1-2 before singing this one.