This is a different kind of post. Primarily because the service inspiring it was a different kind of service. Every now and again, we do a Hymn Sing. Sometimes it’s an opportunity for a preacher to introduce new music, as I did last summer in a Global Hymn Sing. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to challenge the church organist by having anyone call out whatever song they’d like to sing, as I did a few years ago the Sunday after Christmas when we all couldn’t get enough of our favorite Christmas hymns. Sometimes Hymn Sings have a theme. And sometimes, as was the case for this one, worshippers are asked to submit their favorite hymns in advance. I like those best as it gives me a way to research a little bit about each chosen song and even weave some sort of theme together. Praise of God is my go-to theme. Perhaps because, in the words of The Shorter Catechism, “the chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever!” (The Book of Confessions of the PCUSA, “The Shorter Catechism,” question 1). Enjoy these words. Maybe even find a link to listen or sing along.
Blessings as you live in a way that gives God all the glory while you enjoy our marvelous Giver of Life each day!
Praise the LORD! . . . Did you ever notice that it’s not a suggestion? All over scripture – especially in the Psalms – God’s people are charged to praise. To sing to the LORD. To make a joyful noise! It’s not an option, but a command. God desires and God deserves our praise! . . . Singing is a funny thing. Sometimes we don’t feel like it. Maybe because we’re tired – just didn’t get enough sleep last night with all the end of summer festivities some of us might be up to this weekend. Maybe our weariness goes way beyond a night or two of not enough sleep. Maybe the demands of living have piled up so heavily upon our hearts that we can’t even squeak out a thanksgiving. Maybe we’re grieving or are locked in despair. Maybe we think we’re not good enough at singing – that no one else around us would want to hear our out-of-tune notes. Even though it’s God who is our audience, not anyone else! Or maybe, like I felt a time or two this past week at the conference I attended, I didn’t always like all the songs they had picked. And there were moments when singing one more stanza of one more hymn was the last thing I wanted to do!
I love these last few Psalms of the Psalter. They are all about praise: Praise for God’s help. Praise for God’s care. Praise for God’s universal glory. Praise for God’s goodness to us. Praise for God’s surpassing greatness!
New songs! All the assembled! Making melody with all sorts of instruments, though we’ll pretty much just use organ, piano, and voice today. Dancing is encouraged too as a way of singing praise to God, though many of us Presbyterians aren’t very comfortable with much other than stoic faces and stiff bodies during worship. If you find yourself otherwise this morning, go right ahead! . . . Praise: praise the LORD!
We’re using songs some of you suggested for this day. And some songs our choir director and I really wanted to include either because we know they are favorites or we hope they will become so. . . . My hope is that these songs we sing together will inspire us, and heal us. I hope they will re-connect us with the God we’ve loved our whole lives long – or cause us to fall a little bit more in love with the God who is so incredibly amazing! Loving us each and every day, supporting us in every trial, challenging us when our faithfulness wavers, comforting us in every trouble, and guiding us into everlasting peace. . . . In these songs today, let us celebrate and praise and allow the thankfulness in us to bubble over into joy. Let us sing – whether we really feel like it; whether we think we’re any good at it. Let us sing in grateful praise unto the LORD!
We begin with “Morning Has Broken,” The Presbyterian Hymnal #469, stanzas 1 and 3.
I grew up with this next one. As many of you did too. It was written in 1912 by a Mid-Western Methodist evangelist, George Bennard, and published in 1915. The Old Rugged Cross uses a sentimental popular song-form with a verse-chorus pattern in 3/4 time. It speaks of the writer’s Christian experience, rather than adoration of God. It has been an enormous country gospel favorite ever since it became the title song of Ernest Tubb’s 1952 gospel album; it has been performed by some of the twentieth century’s biggest recording artists like Al Green, Anne Murray, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, and John Prine. . . . An artist never does know how their offering will be received OR how it will be used throughout time. Bennard certainly would not have approved of his beloved hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” becoming one of a number of Christian hymns reportedly co-opted by the Ku Klux Klan and sung at cross burnings. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Rugged_Cross). Such a history may explain why the hymn has not been retained in recent hymnals of the Presbyterian Church. . . . It remains a favorite of many – speaking to us of the one who died in love that we all might be free of such divisions. Let us sing together “The Old Rugged Cross.”
When I looked through the Favorite Hymn Sheets we made available several weeks ago in preparation for today’s Hymn Sing, Melissa listed this next one as one that motivates her best to go into the world to live for God. Our choir director and I met several weeks ago and planned to use it as a sung Psalm even before we knew how the past few weeks would unfold – that Melissa would unexpectedly die on the evening of August 17. . . . So many of us certainly have called upon the words of Psalm 23 as a comfort to us in the storms of life. The LORD is our Shepherd: what do we need to want? . . . We are given rest. Our souls are restored. We are led. Ever-present, we’ve no need to fear. Our whole lives long – here and now and forevermore – we shall dwell with the LORD.
Let us sing together the whole of this hymn: “The LORD’s My Shepherd I’ll Not Want,” #170 in The Presbyterian Hymnal.
Praise. Praise. Praise. . . . Praise takes humility. In order to give great thanks to something else, we have to humble ourselves enough to know we need that someOne else. . . . “I Danced in the Morning” is a hymn utilizing an American Shaker melody called SIMPLE GIFTS. The tune originally was set to these words: “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Gifts). This is the epitome of humility. The ability to be where and how we belong. Aware of the One who deserves all the praise.
Let us sing together a favorite requested that is set to that Shaker tune – a song in our hymnal that reminds us of the story of the One who Danced in the morning for the benefit of us all. Let us sing together stanza 1, 3, & 5 of “I Danced in the Morning,” #302 in The Presbyterian Hymnal.
Another favorite suggested for this day may be fairly new to us all. “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.” It’s a reminder of the way God in Christ comes looking for us, the regular old folks of this world, who God enlists for God’s work of love. Stanza three of this hymn summarizes well the call of discipleship: “You need the caring of my hands. Through my tiredness, may others find resting. You need a love that just goes on loving.” And so we leave our metaphorical boats on the shoreline behind us – all that keeps us from putting first the things of God’s kingdom. Then with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we seek the other sea. The organist will play this hymn through entirely one time; then we will join in singing stanza 1 and 2 of “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” #377 in The Presbyterian Hymnal.
There’s no doubt about it: this life can be difficult. We are called to open our hearts to one another – yet the storms of life still blow. Loved ones don’t always remain beloved throughout this life. Loved ones grow older and leave us. Loved ones die.
In 1876 a faithful Presbyterian layperson was notified that four of his daughters died in a tragic shipwreck. He got on a ship himself to go to his wife in Paris who remarkably had survived the wreck. Amid the tears – his aching soul gave birth to these words: Nonetheless, “It is well, it is well, with my soul. . . . Christ lives, O the bliss of that glorious thought!” (Glory to God, The Presbyterian Hymnal, Westminster John Knox Press 2013; #840). . . . In life and in death, the gift of resurrected life is the promise and comfort of our God! Let us sing together “It is Well with My Soul.”
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