Saturday, August 30, 2008

Did Not Brave Esther Speak

John Mc Cain's choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin took me and many by surprise.  Her tenure as governor of the 49th state of our nation has included the confrontation of corruption within her own Republican party and bold leadership to improve her state.  Who had heard of her or her work before today?  A few, but not many.  What touched me most today after being introduced as John Mc Cain's choice for a running mate was her commitment to life in the birth of her Down Syndrome son.  The two parties running for office this fall are in stark contrast to each other on many issues but especially on life issues: one is pro-choice; the other is pro-life.  I firmly believe that the Word of God is crystal clear in this area:  no one has the right to choose death for the unborn child! God is the giver of life and it is indeed a sacred gift to be cherished.  Yet we live in a dying world where pro-death forces threaten to sweep into power in a dramatic way.  I believe that Christians must speak up and make their voice heard in the upcoming election.  Life is sacred.  It remains under attack and must be protected.

This hymn text was commissioned by composer Stephen R. Johnson for Mary Ragonesi Johnson.  His tune, MARY'S DAUGHTER, was written by him for the text.  The text speaks of women who have been used by God in their lives of faithful witness and service.  It begins by telling of Esther, whose bold actions prevented the Jews of her day from being eradicated.  It continues by recalling the women who did not desert our Lord even as the forces of darkness sought to snuff the Light of the world.   Other women from the New Testament era are briefly highlighted in the third stanza.  The fourth stanza calls upon us to dare to live for Christ as we daily deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow our Savior. May we continue to be inspired by such biblical women and by faithful women in our own day!

1.  Did not brave Esther speak to free
         Her people from their doom?
     She dared confront a treachery
         That would her race entomb.
     Has God not brought you to this place
         For such a time as this,
     To speak His Word of light and grace
         So none its truth dismiss?

2.  What tender care the women showed
         When Christ was crucified!
     With tears and prayers their love bestowed
          As Jesus bled and died.
     Those faithful Marys shared the gloom
         Of Jesus' bitter strife;
     They came with spices to the tomb,
         Yet found Him raised to life!

3.  O sing of Anna, prophetess,
         The temple was her home;
     Of Phoebe, faithful deaconess,
          Who brought Paul's words to Rome;
     Of Lydia, whose cloth was dyed
          With hospitality;
     Their lives of service magnified
          The Holy Trinity.

4.   God summons you to truly care,
          To weep with those who cry,
      To take your cross and for Christ dare
          To live and self deny,
      To give till wealth is sacrificed
          For those in pressing need,
      That all may see in you the Christ--
          His love your living creed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care

St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13  "For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." 

One might assume from this hymn text that Richard Baxter lived a quiet life of a British gentleman.  Not so.  This seventeenth century English clergyman was too Puritanical for the Anglican bishops and too Episcopalian for the Presbyterians.  Baxter was always getting into trouble.  And the Puritans didn't like him because he was a champion of church music.

When Richard Baxter was 70 years old, he was brought before a judge and accused of writing a paraphrase of the New Testament.  The judge called him "an old rogue, a hypocritical villian, a fanatical dog, and a sniveling Presbyterian."  The judge proceeded to have Baxter whipped and jailed in the Tower of London.

This hymn was written as a commentary on Philippians 1:21 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  It was dedicated to Baxter's wife, who had died a few years earlier after a lengthy illness.  Baxter's life was one of constant struggles, but he was content to leave such matters in God's hands.

1.  Lord, it belongs not to my care
         Whether I die or live;
     To love and serve Thee is my share,
        And this Thy grace must give.

2.  If life be long, I will be glad
         That I may long obey;
     If short, yet why should I be sad
         To soar to endless day?

3.  Christ leads me through no darker rooms
         Than He went through before;
     He that unto God's kingdom comes
         Must enter by this door.

4.  Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet
        Thy blessed face to see;
     For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
        What will Thy glory be!

5.  Then shall I end my sad complaints
        And weary, sinful days
     And join with the triumphant saints
        Who sing my Savior's praise.

6.  My knowledge of that life is small,
        The eye of faith is dim;
     But 'tis enough that Christ knows all,
        And I shall be with Him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing

Among the hymns that we sang at my daughter's wedding was #860 in Lutheran Service Book, "Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing."  We sang it as the opening hymn of the service after the processional, so stanza one was slightly altered for use at that point in the worship service. (From a purely practical standpoint, placement of this hymn after the processional enabled me to change into my alb in the vestry so that I could proceed to marry Sarah and Justin.) The text was originally written to the tune, JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING; it was included in LSB to the tune HYFRYDOL.  Even though the processional was "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," I still decided to go with HYFRYDOL as the tune for the text. The Hymnody Committee got it right in choosing HYFRYDOL over JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING, which is perhaps more suitable for a choir or a soloist than a congregation. The words of the hymn remain our prayer for our daughter and new son-in-law.

1.  Gracious Savior, grant Your blessing
        To this husband and this wife,       To this couple gathered here,
            That it peace they live together
        In Your love throughout their life.    And Your holy Name revere.
    Christ, defend them from the tempter
        And from all that would destroy
            Love's foundation You have laid here,   Love's foundation that You lay here,
       And its threshold paved with joy.

2.  Lord, if You are not the builder,
         Then the house is built in vain,
             For a home without Your presence
         Shall without true love remain.
     Yet when You within a marriage
         Come and dwell with grace divine,
             There You fill the empty vessels,
         Changing water into wine.

3.  Cana's guest, this union hallow;
         Tenderly embrace this pair.
             Clothe this couple with the garments
         They will daily need to wear:
      Patience, kindness, and compassion,
          Gentleness, humility;
              Robe them, Lord, with love to bind them
          In a perfect unity.

4.  Make their love a living picture
         Showing how You loved Your bride:
             When You gave Yourself to cleanse her,
         When for her You bled and died.
     Jesus, You have made her holy,
         Pure and fair her radiant train;
             To Yourself Your Church presenting,
         Without wrinkle, spot, or stain.

5.  Father, You created Adam
         Crafted Eve, and made them one;
             Jesus, from their sin You saved us,
         As God's true incarnate Son;
     Holy Spirit, You forgive us;
         From our sins we are released.
             Bring us, Lord, at last to heaven,
         To the endless wedding feast.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All for Christ I Have Forsaken

Among the hymns submitted for consideration by the Hymnody Committee for what eventually became Lutheran Service Book where a number of Asian hymns.  One such batch of hymns was submitted by Pastor Don Baron of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.  His direct and literal translation of a hymn by Calvin Chao is printed below in italics on the right; my English poetical version is on the left (LSB 753).  The tune SHANGHAI, the name listed in the Chinese hymnal from which the text was taken, is the same tune also known as RESTORATION.

1.  All for Christ I have forsaken     I have forsaken all things
        And have taken up my cross; And taken up my cross to follow Jesus.
    Worldly joy, its fame and fortune, The world's joys, reputation, riches
        Now I count as worthless dross. Have become as refuse to me.

2.  Who is sweeter than Christ Jesus? The Lord has never failed me, not forsaken me;
         No good thing in Him I lack! Who is sweeter than my Lord?
     Hand to plow, at peace I follow Why should my heart fear and tremble?
        Where He leads me...why look back? Why look back, having put my hand to the plow?

3.  Gone the past, unknown the future-- The past is gone, the future still remote;
        Grace supplies my daily breath; The Lord's grace is sufficient for me.
     Strong in Christ through death's dark valley,   His hand will support me through death's valley;
        Firm and faithful unto death. While in this mortal body, I will be faithful.

4.  When God takes me home to heaven, If He takes my spirit home
        Should this be the day I die, It is no loss if I die in His will.
     God will keep my spouse and children Though I leave widow and orphans behind
        As the apple of His eye. The Lord will care for them and carry on His work.

5.  Though the road ahead be thorny, The road ahead may be thorny,
        Though dark clouds all light obscure, Dark clouds dense, no ray of light,
     Though my cross-shaped path grows steeper,   The way of the cross ever harder,
        With the Lord, I am secure. But I walk ahead without alarm.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Come, Precious Lord and Triune God

Today my daughter Sarah and her fiancee Justin are being married here at St. John.  It is a beautiful, sunny day and family, friends and parishioners will be gathering at 3:00 p.m. to share our joy as Justin and Sarah become husband and wife.  The theme verse upon which I will be preaching is 1 Corinthians 13:13, "So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest is love."  The wedding hymn following the homily was written for this special occasion and is set to the tune CLOTH FAIR by John Scott.

1.  Come, precious Lord and triune God,
       O Father, through Your Son,
           Pour out Your Spirit from above,
           Come now with faith and hope and love;
      Come, join these two as one.

2.  Lord, grant them faith that trusts in You
        For all security;
            Faith that will cling to You alone,
            Bearing much fruit when it has grown
       To full maturity.

3.  Lord, grant them hope secure in You,
        An anchor holding sure,
            So that if poorer or in wealth,
            In tears or laughter, sickness or health,
       Their union will endure.

4.  Lord, grant them love, a love like Yours,
        To last throughout their life.
            You on the cross Yourself denied;
            Grant that such selfless love may guide
        Their love as man and wife.

5.  Come, precious Lord and triune God,
        O Father, through Your Son,
            Pour out Your Spirit from above,
            Come now with faith and hope and love;
        Come, join these two as one.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord

Haquin Spegel (1645-1714) wrote this Communion hymn, originally ten stanzas long.  Lutheran Worship omitted the ninth stanza, which reads:

     O Jesus Christ, our Brother dear,
     Unto Thy cross we now draw near;
        Thy sacred wounds indeed make whole
        A wounded and afflicted soul.

Lutheran Service Book omitted two more stanzas, the fifth and seventh of the remaining nine stanzas, which read:

     A precious food is this indeed--
     It never fails us in our need--
        A heav'nly manna for our soul
        Until we safely reach our goal.

     The guest who comes with true intent
     To turn to God and to repent,
        To live for Christ, to die to sin,
        Will thus a holy life begin.

The fifth stanza is not remarkable; the seventh stanza, it was felt by the Hymnody Committee, focused the communicant far too much on what he/she brings to the Sacrament.  Instead, one's thoughts ought to center more on the promise of forgiveness given in the Sacrament.  Thus, a new stanza was penned by Joe Herl and myself to reflect the catechism's answer to the question concerning the worthiness of the communicant:  "That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.' " 

That left the Hymnody Committee with seven stanzas of the original with a new stanza.  A few word changes were made, most notably in what is now stanza seven.  The concluding stanzas were slightly reordered, to end the hymn on a more evangelical note.

1.  The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
     We celebrate with one accord;
       It is our comfort in distress,
       Our heart's sweet joy and happiness.

2.  He blotted out with His own blood
     The judgment that against us stood;
       For us He full atonement made,
       And our debt He fully paid.

3.  That this forever true shall be
     He gives a solemn guarantee:
       In this His holy Supper here
       We taste His love so sweet, so near.

4.  His Word proclaims and we believe
     That in this Supper we receive
       His very body, as He said,
       His very blood for sinners shed.

5.  We dare not ask how this can be,
     But simply hold the mystery
       And trust this word where life begins:
       "Given and shed for all your sins."

6.  They who this word do not believe
     This food unworthily receive,
       Salvation here will never find--
       May we this warning keep in mind!

7.  But blest is each believing guest
     Who in these promises finds rest;
       For Jesus shall in love remain
       With all who here His grace obtain.

8.  Help us sincerely to believe
     That we may worthily receive
       Your Supper and in You find rest.
       Amen!  They who believe are blest.