First Congregational Church
August 31, 2014
12th Sunday after Pentecost, Hymn Sing Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Prelude, Welcome and Meditative Sentences
We don’t often think about the difference, but most hymns have a composer and author. The author deals with the words and the composer with the musical elements of melody, rhythm and harmony. Sometimes words and music can be written at drastically different times, as is the case with our opening hymn this morning. The words came first, over 800 years ago, long before our nation was much of a thought, from the hand of Francis of Assisi. Seven hundred years later, the English translation came from a village priest in England named William Draper, who prepared this paraphrased version for a children’s choir festival. In the richness of it’s history, let us stand and sing our first hymn this morning, vs. 1, 2 and 5 of #63 in the red hymnals.
*Hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” #63, vs. 1, 2, 5
*Call to Worship
*Greeting Our Neighbors
Scripture Reading Romans 15:1-6
1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
Worship in Tithes and Offerings
The next two hymns feature the same composer. In fact, William Bradbury wrote over 60 of the most beloved and recognizable hymns, including: “Just As I Am,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” and “The Solid Rock.”
“He Leadeth Me,” perhaps more than any other modern hymn, has been translated into many different languages. Servicemen during World War II were greatly surprised to find it in one of the favorite hymns song by the primitive Polynesians in the South Pacific.
Author Joseph H. Gilmore distinctly remembered the writing of this hymn. “I had been speaking at the Wednesday evening service of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia, corner of Broad and Arch Streets, about the 23rd Psalm, and had been especially impressed with the blessedness of being led by God. . . . At the close of the service we adjourned to Deacon Watson’s pleasant home where we were being entertained. During our conversation the blessedness of God’s leading so grew upon me that I took out my pencil, wrote the hymn just as it stands today, handed it to my wife, and thought of it no more. She sent it without my knowledge to the Watchmen and Reflector magazine, and there it appeared in print.
Three years later I went to Rochester, New York, to preach as a candidate for the 2nd Baptist Church. Upon entering the chapel I took up a hymnbook, thinking, “I wonder what they sing.” The book opened up at “He Leadeth Me,” and that was the first time I knew that my hymn had found a place among the songs of the church. For this morning, let us sing just the first two verses as you remain seated.
*Hymns “He Leadeth Me” #690
Anna B. Warner wrote the words to “Jesus Loves Me,” just over 150 years ago, with her sister, Susan, for a character to sing to a dying boy in a novel that the sisters penned. Living along the Hudson River, the sisters conducted Sunday School classes for the cadets at West Point.
Going back to the composer and link between the next two hymns, William Bradbury served as a choir director and organist in several large Baptist churches in the East, where he became especially noted for his work with children. Among the highlights of his career were his annual musical festivals, where more than 1000 children would gather, all dressed alike, and singing many of his own compositions. I don’t think he would care what children - big or small - would wear, so long as we sing it.
“Jesus Loves Me” #185
Time for Our Children
The next hymn this morning is the inspiration for this whole service, and it is found in the spiral songbooks. It’s written by Fred Pratt Green, who has been called the successor to the great Methodist hymn writer, Charles Wesley. Mr. Green, who I don’t know if he ever wore jeans - regardless of color (Greenjeans) - was born in England in 1903 and died just fourteen years ago.
While the words may be somewhat unknown to you, the tune may have a distant familiarity, because it was originally sung with the words “For All the Saints.” Ralph Vaughn Williams took over the words to “For All the Saints,” composing the tune we use today. Although it is the most modern of our hymns today, it has just as deep meaning and theology as any other good hymn.
One of my favorite lines in this song refers to the night before Christ’s crucifixion; “And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night?” Christine Stevens, a music therapist, says that listening to and participating in music heals the body/mind/spirit by helping to align all three promoting stress reduction, contentment and sense of community. When we are “in a bad way,” perhaps we should do more singing - if even to our own selves.
*Hymns “When In Our Music God Is Glorified” S 168
There are a lot of stories that float around, called “urban myths,” and the one about the next song, also in the spiral songbooks, happens to be true. Billy Graham and John Wayne did have a hand in its creation.
Back in the 50s there was a well-known radio show host/comedian/songwriter in Hollywood named Carl Stuart Hamblen was noted for his frowned-upon behavior and life-style. He heard that there was to be a revival in town, so he thought he’d go to “get some good material.” To make a longer story shorter, the preacher at that revival was Billy Graham, and during that week, Mr. Hamblen gave up his former life to follow Christ. After losing his job at the radio station, Carl tried his hand at song writing, but the only one that seemed to do anything was “This Old House,” which he wrote for Rosemary Clooney.
John Wayne was a long-time friend of Mr. Hamblen, and one day he pulled him aside and pointed out “All your troubles started when you got religion. Is it worth it all?” Carl answered simply, “Yes”. Then John Wayne said, “You liked your booze so much. Do you ever miss it?” And the answer was, “No.” John then said, “I don’t understand how you could give it up so easily.” And Hamblen’s response was, “It’s no big secret. All things are possible with God.” To this The Duke said, “That’s a catchy phrase. You should write a song about it.” And just as an aside, Carl Hamblen appeared in a number of minor westerns, including Summit starring the Duke and was nominated by the Prohibition Party as their candidate for president of the United States in 1952.
“It Is No Secret” S 79
There is a tribe in Africa called the Himba tribe, where the birthdate of a child is counted not from when they were born, not from when they were conceived, but of the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sit under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard this song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invent it.
And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts it’s knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to him or her. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rights of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.
In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or deviant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they form a circle around them – for the last time – to sing that person’s song.
We may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings our song at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding us when we are in tune with ourselves, and each other and God, and when we aren’t. We may not be in a circle, but this time, together, we are reminded of the songs that remind of who we are.
Worship in Prayer
“Count Your Blessings” was authored by Rev. Johnson Oatman, Jr., who wrote over 5,000 hymn texts, was busily engaged throughout his life in a mercantile business and later as an administrator for a large insurance company in New Jersey. Whoever it was, once said of this this, his most famous hymn, “It is like a beam of sunlight that has brightened up the dark places of the earth.” Early on it was especially popular in Great Britain, where it was said, “The men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.”
I found it interesting that some people might understand this hymn to mean “Cheer up and act like everything is fine.” I had never thought of it as being a hymn to “beat up” the soul, but to “raise up” the soul. Perhaps my lesson from this morning’s many messages is to try to wear other people’s moccasins more often. Let us sing verses 1 and 2 of #786.
“Count Your Blessings” #786
It wouldn’t be right to have a hymn-sing service without a mention of the great English, Congregational hymn writer, Isaac Watts. His greatest influence in the history of Christian hymnody is for introducing and then mainstreaming a new type of congregational song; the modern English hymn. Before Watts, metrical psalmody was the primary type of congregational song used in the worship services of both the Established Church of England and the dissenting churches - those churches that were opposed to state interference in religious matters, i.e., congregationalists. In English, that means that before Isaac Watts, churches that were ruled by governments, like Churches of England, sang songs that came only from the Bible - mostly psalms, in a sort of chant style. So the big scuttle in that day was: hymns or psalms?
While Mr. Watts was the author to “We’re Marching to Zion,” Robert Lowry was the composer. It has been said that Dr. Lowry was a man of rare administrative ability, a most excellent preacher, a thorough Bible student, and whether in the pulpit or upon the platform, always a brilliant and interesting speaker. () He was of a genial and pleasing disposition, and a high sense of humor was one of his most striking characteristics. Of “We’re Marching to Zion,” Mr. Lowry said, "It is brass band music, has a march movement, and for that reason has become popular, though for myself I do not think much of it.” And yet, on Children's Day in Brooklyn, in 1865, this song was sung by over forty thousand voices. Let us sing vs. 1 and 4 for #416.
“We’re Marching to Zion” #416
The partnership of author “Major” D.W. Whittle and composer James McGranahan did not have the most romantic beginning. They met at a train wreck, because a mutual friend died there. Major Whittle was in the Civil War, and after getting wounded, lost an arm. Discovering a New Testament his mother had sent with him, Whittle was reading when another soldier asked if he would come and pray with him. All this religion stuff was new to Whittle, but he went to the soldier’s side and prayed with him, and when the prayer was done, the young man had died peacefully. Even when this religion stuff feels new or odd or even uncomfortable, God can do some mighty stuff through us.
In fact, big, fire and brimstone, hell and damnation tent-revivals aren’t even needed to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Mercy drops are falling around us - in the lightest of showers and the heaviest of downpours. What a beautiful thought on which to end our family worship of God this morning! Let us end our hymn feast with vs. 1 and 4 of #430.
*“There Shall Be Showers of Blessings” #430
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.