Fairest Lord Jesus

Fairest Lord Jesus

Liturgy Lesson: June 27, 2021
Call to Worship: Psalm 100
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Praise: Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven (#76)
Prayer of Confession
Words of Assurance: Isaiah 54:5, 8 and Hosea 2:16, 19-20
Hymn of Assurance: Church of God, Beloved and Chosen
Reading of the Word: from Gen. 3:1-7 and Eph. 5:21-28
Doxology: #731
Sermon: “Husbands, Wives, and Home” Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: In Immanuel’s Land (w/ Rev. 19:6-7)
Closing Hymn: Fairest Lord Jesus (#170)

“God is the Creator, the ultimate Artist. Every bit of natural beauty comes from His hand; our own ability to see and respond to beauty comes from being made in His image. Responding to beauty in the here-and-now, the world that God made (and called good), is a foretaste of how we will rejoice in the eternal, dynamic, unfading beauty in the redeemed creation.

The experience of worship can orient us toward that divine beauty; everything from architecture to vestments to music can preach to us something that we need to hear: that our Father loves us extravagantly and pours out His grace on us in joyous abundance, if we will but turn to Him.

To be moved by beauty in worship, beauty that is intentionally oriented toward the living God, is a gift that cannot be used up. It is a vision into the very nature of God, who is the source of all that is good. It can open up a window in the heart for the light of Christ to shine into.”

– Holly Ordway, Worship and Identity

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“O For a Thousand Buds to Sing”

As the pictures above can testify, I have been admiring the flower towers that leap up this time of year. The spectrum of colors, the unique detail in each bud, and the sheer verticality of each stem is astonishing. When I look at them, I see the hand of the Maker, the touch of the divine in their design. They lead me to ponder the goodness of God. C.S. Lewis put it well. For him, beautiful things were a message.

“We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore. Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’
One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…”

For Lewis, and, indeed, for all minds illuminated by the gospel, the enjoyment of these “tiny theophanies” can be acts of worship. After all, what Father does not delight in seeing his child take pleasure in the gifts He has given? But man has always been tempted to worship the gifts instead of the Giver.

In the late spring of 1871, John Muir met Ralph Waldo Emerson in Yosemite National Park. These two men, whom the newspaper dubbed “giant sequoias of America,” were both transcendentalists. Transcendentalism popped up in the 1830’s as a sort of idealistic philosophical reaction to rationalism. It taught that divinity pervades all of nature. Among the disciples of this new-age religion, Emerson was considered the high priest. But Muir would come to be regarded as its most radical practitioner. Emerson (a.k.a. Waldo), who was twice the age of Muir when the two met, was the philosopher poet of the movement, but it was John Muir who really walked the talk. He was the monk in the mountains who lived as one with the trees. Legend and lore state that Muir carried a copy of Emerson’s prose works with him in all his travels. Among those works was an influential essay on Transcendental tenets entitled Nature. In it, the poet expounds on what he believes to be the holistic power of nature itself.

“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

For Emerson, nature represents something akin to the Force, the universal energy wielded throughout the Star Wars movies. Communing with nature is empowering for him and his Jedi protégé, Muir. More than that, for these two seekers, the experience of nature holds power to heal the soul, for there “is nothing in life…which nature cannot repair.” I’m pretty sure I saw that quote on a national park bench a few years back. It was sitting streamside, not far from a grand waterfall. If Emerson had been there with me, I would have told him, “Hey, Waldo, if we go just a bit further upstream, we would find the headwaters and discover the true source of this beautiful thing.” We would drink deeply from the source and then sit down together on that bench and rewrite his creedal statement to bring it in line with God’s reality. “It’s a simple task,” I would tell him. “All we have to do is change one word.” The new version would read, “there is nothing in life…which GOD cannot repair.” (ref. Ps. 147:3; Jer. 30:17)

Summer is that sabbath season where we find rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation in the great outdoors. But sabbath has always been connected with worship, and our hearts are restless until they rest in God himself. So where do we find rest?

“Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9)

Nature may be the window, but Jesus is the door. Through the window we can catch a glimpse inside the Father’s house, but if we wish to dine with him, then we must knock at the door (Lk 11:9; Rev. 3:20). Through Christ we have our access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:18). Among all the grand sequoias that have stood throughout history, no tree is more splendid than the one that carried our Savior. His sacrifice upon the red wood has opened a way to Zion. The best part is that the entrance fee has already been paid. No annual pass necessary. The one Christ offers is eternal.

Let this summer season be for us a season of worship, not just out in nature, but gathered for the weekly feast in the Father’s house. It is here, through the means of grace in the Word and Sacrament, that His beauty comes into sharp and specific focus. And this is a beauty that cannot be used up. Our gathered worship is a vision into the very nature of God, who is the source of all that is good. It can open up a window in the heart for the light of Christ to shine into. This summer, it’s ok to love nature, but come and worship Him whose very nature is love.

Fairest Lord Jesus
Text: Münster Gesangbuch (1677)
Music: CRUSADER’S HYMN, German folk song

In the summer of 1662, an anonymous German hymn text appeared in a manuscript in Münster, Germany. It was known and beloved in Germany for several generations, but its worldwide fame came two centuries later (in 1842) when it was translated into English and paired with a beautiful Silesian folk tune. There is, perhaps, no greater hymn that acknowledges the beauty of creation as an emblem of its Maker, whose beauty “doth all things excel.” “Fairest Lord Jesus” is a sublime and simple hymn that has always been a staple of children’s songbooks across the globe. Its uncomplicated poetry and easy, elegant melody combine to remind us that all of nature, from the fairness of the flower to the majesty of the mountain, speaks to us of God’s divine nature and eternal love. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). The world is charged with the grandeur of God, and it is a tabernacle shot through with transcendence. “Fairest Lord Jesus” is one of those timeless hymns that can be sung in every season of life. Even though it makes mention of spring, it is also a great theme song for summer. Here are the four verses.

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.

Lord Jesus—”Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations! Son of God and son of man!”—composer of the cosmos and caretaker of creation, you are more awesome than we can comprehend, more loving than we can fathom, and more beautiful than anything we can behold. Thank you for your many good gifts. The moonlight and the meadows, the sunlight and the spring, these are all obvious overflows of your abundance and love. The mere gift of music speaks so deeply to me of your creative husbandry over all you have made. I am so grateful for the gift of singing, without which I would probably explode. Could there be any better way for your people to express the depth of devotion that we feel for your great mercies and loving care? For you are not only the ruler of all nature, but you are the great husband of our hearts, the steadfast shepherd of our souls. Son of God, you became son of man to make all mankind your sons, that we may know the embrace of the Father. All glory and honor, praise and adoration are due to your name!

Lord, thank you for this old anonymous hymn text, and for this folk song sung by countless generations over the centuries. Thank you that it has echoed in many of our hearts since childhood, and for the way that it so effortlessly expresses the ardor of our love and praise for you as Creator. Your works are wonderful, and all you have made is magnificent. Forgive us when we worship the gifts instead of the Giver. Forgive us when we turn to lesser things. As we sing this hymn on Sunday, may your spirit rekindle in us a fire of devotion, so that we may not prove false when we declare together “Thee will I cherish, thee will I honor, thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.