All of today’s hymns and lessons encourage the worshipers to remember how much God expects us faithfully to do our duty as His disciples. It isn’t God’s job to be our servant (a cosmic genie who grants our wishes & obeys our every command); it is our job to do our duty to Him. God loved us, sent His Son to die for us, and made us His children. He did that because He loved us, not because we had done anything to deserve it. As our Heavenly Father, God teaches us to resist sin and helps us to do our duty to Him.
In order to see and hear the YouTube Videos of the Hymns for this week, subscribers to my blog will need to click on the title of the blog.)
The hymns for this week are notable for their wonderful “backstories”, as well as for being well-beloved hymns.
The Processional Hymn is “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now.” The words to this hymn were originally written (in German) by Wilhelm II, Duke of Sachse-Weimar. As interesting as he was (and he played a VERY interesting part in the 30 Years War in Europe), it is the translator’s story that most holds our interest. The reason this wonderful hymn even exists in English is because of an even more marvelous translator: Catherine Winkworth.
Catherine Winkworth is a really interesting woman. She is widely considered the best, and certainly the most prolific, translator of German hymns into English. More than any other single person, she helped to bring the German Chorale tradition to the English-speaking world. Her father was a silk manufacturer in Bristol, England, where she became very active in working among the poor of Bristol and promoting higher education for women. Although she spent most of her life in and around Manchester, England, she spent one notable year in Dresden, Germany, where she fell in love with German hymns. What she loved were the strong words and solid theology of the German Chorale. After she returned, the German ambassador to England presented her with a copy of a book of German hymns. She soon published a collection of German hymns translated into English, then she published several more of these collections. It is thanks to Catherine Winkworth that you and I sing so many of the hymns we love: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty the King of Creation; Deck Thyself My Soul with Gladness; Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates; From Heaven Above to Earth I Come; Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended; Now Thank We All Our God; Lord Thee I Love With All My Heart — and the list goes on and on — including today’s “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now.”. Because of her artistry in translating into English verse the treasures of German sacred poetry, a new source of consolation and strength has shone into many thousand lives.
Here is the Processional Hymn: “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now” (I think these worshipers are singing in German, but the lyrics are in English.)
In the Prayer of the Day we pray: O God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, by Your grace hear the prayers of Your Church. Grant that those things which we ask in faith we may receive through Your bountiful mercy; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Today’s wonderful hymns pair up beautifully with the lessons for this week: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 (The righteous shall live by faith); 2 Timothy 1:1-14 (Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace); and Luke 17:1-10, in which the disciples ask Jesus to “Increase our faith!”. I love these lessons!!
The First Reading is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4. The prophet complains to God “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and You will not hear?” In response to the prophet’s lament, God replies, (in essence) “I may not come when you call, but I hear you and I’m never late.”
The Psalm is Psalm 62 — “For God alone my soul in silence waits. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold so that I shall not be shaken.”
The Second Reading is 2 Timothy 1:1-14. From the beginning, the Church has treasured 1 and 2 Timothy as Paul’s correspondence with a young pastor. Paul has known this young pastor since Timothy was a small boy; Paul knew both his mother and his grandmother. Now Paul is writing to encourage Timothy in his ministry and to give him some advice that it is good for all pastors to heed (which is why 1 & 2 Timothy are counted among The Pastoral Epistles). Paul advises Timothy not to be ashamed of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ or fearful of the suffering that comes along with it. Instead remember that yours is a holy calling and that God will guard and protect this Gospel that He has entrusted to you right up until the Day of the Lord. So just follow the “sound pattern” of preaching that you heard from me.
The Holy Gospel is Luke 17:1-10, a wonderful Gospel about how often the disciple is to forgive someone who repents, how much faith a disciple is to have, and how important it is for the disciple of Christ to “do his duty” before your Lord.
The Holy Gospel is Luke 17:1-10. These are a collection of sayings of Jesus. Many of them are well known: What happens to someone who tempts another to sin (it were better that a millstone …); How many times you should forgive someone who repents (an uncountable number); What would happen if you had faith the size of a mustard seed (you could tell this mulberry tree to plant itself in the sea and it would obey). The final saying is not as well known: Which of you would wait on your servant when he comes in from plowing? Wouldn’t you instead say, ‘Get yourself cleaned up, cook my supper, and then serve dinner to me’? And would you even thank your servant for doing what he was commanded? You need to remember who you serve and instead of telling God ‘You owe me!’ you are instead to say to God ‘We are unworthy servants who have only done what was our duty.'(Maybe I need to remember this the next time I think that God should have helped me more / sooner / better.)
The Hymn of the Day is “My God How Wonderful Thou Art.” The words to this hymn are by Frederick William Faber, grandson of an Anglican Priest. His father was the secretary to the local bishop of the Church of England, and he himself was ordained into the Anglican Priesthood. What is really interesting about him is that while he was a student at Oxford, he was exposed to the Anglo-Catholic preaching of the Oxford Movement that was beginning to develop in the Church of England. (You could google all of these terms to find out more.) While there, he became friends with the popular Anglican preacher John Henry Newman and William Wordsworth, the poet.
When Faber became the Rector of his first parish, he found that many of his parishioners were living in sin and the little village was notorious for its double standards. Frederick William Faber was scandalized and really wanted to see a return to the faith of the early Church. Like John Henry Newman, he was drawn to the Early Church Fathers and hoped that Anglicanism would accept the Early Church’s understanding of the sacraments and liturgy as its own. However, there was a strong Methodist presence in the parish and people packed his church every Sunday in an attempt to ridicule what they called his Catholic leanings. Both Faber and Newman ended up becoming ordained as Roman Catholic priests and each of them became household words for many English-speaking Roman Catholics. While Newman became famous for his writings, Faber became famous for his hymns, many of which you know and love: he wrote “Faith of our Fathers”, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” and “All for Jesus.” These beautiful hymns were all written after Faber became a Roman Catholic, and (as a former Anglican) he was a great supporter of congregational singing. He wrote his hymns in an age when English Roman Catholics did not necessarily feel comfortable singing the hymns of their Protestant neighbors, so Faber wrote new hymns for them to sing. But what is wonderful is how many of Faber’s hymns have found their way into Protestant hymnals and hearts.
Here is The Hymn of the Day, “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art” (I regret that this is the Karaoke version, but I couldn’t find another one.)
Of all the “backstories” to the hymns we are singing this week, the most powerful is the story behind the Distribution Hymn “When Peace, Like a River.” In the late 1860s, life was good for Horatio G. Spafford and his wife Anna. They were living in a suburb of Chicago with their five children — 4 daughters and a son. They were very dedicated Christian leaders, they were affluent and respected, and Horatio Spafford had a successful law practice.
Then their four year old son died of scarlet fever, and most of their wealth was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. But the Spaffords did not despair in the face of the tragic loss of their son and their almost complete financial ruin. Their home had been spared and they still had their daughters. God had been good. 250 people had died in the Chicago Fire and 90,000 had been left homeless, so the Spaffords used what resources they had left to feed the hungry, help the homeless, care for the sick and injured, and comfort their grief-stricken neighbors. The Chicago Fire was a great American tragedy, but the Spaffords used it to show the love of Christ to those in need.
Then, as Anna Spafford’s health began to fail, they planned a trip to Europe in hopes she would regain her health. But the day the family was scheduled to leave, Horatio faced a business emergency and could not leave. Not wanting to disappoint his wife Anna and their daughters, he sent them on ahead in the steamer Ville du Havre and planned to follow on another ship in a few days.
But within days of departure, the steamer Ville du Havre was struck by a British iron sailing shim, the Lockhearn. The Ville du Havre sank within twelve minutes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Only 81 of the more than 300 passengers and crew members survived this tragic shipwreck. Anna’s unconscious body was picked up from the floating debris by the crew of the Lockhearn and she was taken to Cardiff, Wales, where she telegraphed her husband Horatio. Anna’s cable was brief and heartbreaking: ” Saved alone. What shall I do …” As soon as he received Anna’s telegram, Horatio left Chicago without delay.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, the captain of the ship called Horatio to the bridge. He said, ” A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down. The water here is three miles deep.”
That night, alone in his cabin, H.G. Spafford penned to words to his famous hymn: When Peace like a River attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” What faith this is. As my devout Lutheran grandfather said all the time: “Hammers break glass, but they make steel.” HG Spafford had a steel faith.
When Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago, they began their lives again. God blessed them with three more children, and then they led a small contingent of Americans to Jerusalem, where they served the needy, helped the poor, cared for the sick, and took in homeless children. Horatio died in Jerusalem in 1888 of Malaria at the age of 60, but his wife lived on and continued to work in the surrounding areas of Jerusalen until her death in 1923. Both Spaffords were laid to rest in Jerusalem and ic can be said of them both, that “It is Well with their Souls.”
Here is the Distribution Hymn: “When Peace Like A River.”
Our Recessional Hymn has a “backstory” that is not nearly as sad, but almost as good. The words to “For the Fruit of All Creation” were written by the Reverend Fred Pratt Green. This man lived until he was 97 and was one of the most prolific hymn writers of the 20th century. In fact, he wrote more than 300 hymns — many of which you know — and he didn’t begin writing hymns until he was in his late 60s. In fact, for most of his life and ministry, he didn’t particularly like hymns.
Then, in 1967, as he was considering retirement. he wqas co-opted onto a committee planning a supplement to The Methodist Hymn Book. The committee soon realized that they needed some hymns on new themes — and someone remembered that Fred Pratt Green was a published poet. Sp Fred Pratt Green agreed to try his hand, and found that he enjoyed the challenge and that he could hymn on almost any subject. Soon he was in very great demand tackling subjects from confirmations to the war in Vietnam. The only time he was completely stumped for inspiration was when someone asked him for a Thanksgiving Day hymn for American Indians. (!)
In 1977, the Church of England turned to Pratt Green after rejecting someone else’s proffered contribution, which was found to be “banal and absolutely pathetic.” Pratt Green observed only that it should have been called a song instead of a hymn, and that perhaps God should not have blue eyes in hymns. In two hours, Pratt Green came up with a replacement sung to the rhythm of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “It is God who holds the nations in the hollow of His hand; It is God whose light is shining in the darkness of the land; It is God who builds his City on the Rock and not on sand; May the living God be praised!”
Pratt Green rejected comparisons with another prolific Methodist hymn writer, Charles Wesley saying “It’s like being hailed as the Fourth Person of the Trinity”, but like him he remained prolific in old age. Like Wesley, he also retained a strong sense of mischief: on being asked how a hymn started that he had written for the 50th anniversary of Methodist Homes for the Aged, he smiled and replied, “Ooh I can’t tell you that. When you get to my age, you forget everything. It’s quite wonderful.”
In the last decade of his life, the success of his hymn-writing began to generate substantial royalties, especially in America. Funnelled through a trust, these were put to various uses involving hymnody and church music. Among this trust’s more unusual grants was paying the copyright fees the enable the first Roman Catholic hymn book to be published in Latvia after the demise of Communism. Other hymns that he wrote that I know you know are “God is Here” and “When in Our Music God is Glorified.”
Here is the Recessional Hymn:”For the Fruit of All Creation:”
I look forward to worshiping with you this week.