Friday, November 29, 2013

"We ourselves are God's own field... wheat and tares together sown."

"We ourselves are God's own field... wheat and tares together sown."
Hymn: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” – Henry Alford (1810-1871)

This seems to me to be a great description of society… or the field of humanity owned by God himself. The good, the bad and the ugly coexisting.

Somehow, we wheat-types sometimes want to get rid of the tares-type – to set them aside as worthless outsiders… even people without hope. Jesus knew we were going to do this, so he told a parable in Matthew 13:24-30; this one is right on the heels of the Parable of the Sower which we know and understand better… although I’m never quite sure we understand everything Jesus was trying to communicate through these little stories!

"Farmer Sowing" - Charles Henry Granger
In this “Parable of the Weeds,” the hired hands want to go out and pull up the weeds (tares) from amongst the soon-producing wheat. The landowner who had planted the field says, Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

I see this kind of thing happening all the time: it’s the us/them mentality. The righteous vs. the unrighteous. The lost vs. the saved. The good guys vs. the bad. Worst of all, I see this within the church.

If we follow the Lord’s direction on this, we will leave the separating of wheat and tares (sheep and goats) up to him at the harvest time. Meanwhile, we yield fruit… period. That is our role. Pointing out and pulling up weeds is the role of the One who owns the field.

Although we sing this hymn at Thanksgiving (because of the title), the “harvest” allusions are to the final harvest – as in the Matthew passage above. That’s why the last stanza begins with “Even so, Lord, quickly come. Bring thy final harvest home. Gather now thy people in…” Together we thankful people come to say and sing “Maranatha!” Or for those of us who watch THE PRICE IS RIGHT, “Jesus Christ, come on down!”

Interestingly, “harvest home” is the name of an English festival celebrating the harvest; it is also a song they sing as they bring in the sheaves.

So it is good and right that as we sing this hymn, we should celebrate the harvest of terrestrial crops; at the same time, we anticipate the heavenly harvest yet to come when we will be gathered in, purified, and privileged to abide in his presence forever. Even so, Lord, quickly come.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us..."

"For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us..."
Hymn: “For the Fruit of All Creation” – Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)
Typical Tune: AR HYD Y NOS

This hymn has a recurring phrase that ends many of the lines: “Thanks be to God!” It’s a phrase many of us say every Sunday morning in response to the statement, “This is the Word of the Lord.”  As we sing this great hymn, it becomes our repeated common proclamation.

“For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.”

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” I hear people say often. When we get to the point that we are beyond being amazed, astonished, or even flabbergasted, we have stepped outside that realm where God can still astound us… where our reaction can still be awe – even child-like wonder. The great mysteries of God still throw me a curve; I am rarely involved in serious Bible study or theological conversation when I don’t have a flash of amazement. It’s that mystery that keeps me coming back for more. I don’t even WANT to discover all the answers; I want to keep digging and learning, and growing from what I find.

The truth we discover can confound or befuddle us. In fact, it probably SHOULD stupefy us and cause us to stand astonished. Knowing the truth and letting it set us free: what a goal for those of us who are God-seekers.

As Fred Pratt Green concludes, we should be most astounded and confounded by the fact that love has sought us out – that God has been worshiper-seeking (John 4:23), and we have been found. It’s like a grand game of hide-and-seek in which WE were hiding, love was seeking.

For all this, we say as if prompted by Sunday’s lector, “Thanks be to God.”

Hear This Hymn Tune Played at the Organ

Hear a Small Choir Sing This Hymn

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Count your blessings! Name them one by one... see what God hath done."

"Count your blessings! Name them one by one... see what God hath done."
Hymn: “Count Your Blessings” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

According to this hymn, some of the ‘rewards’ of counting your blessings are:
- It will surprise you what the Lord has done.
- You will be singing as the days go by.
- Angels will attend, bringing hope and comfort.
- Every doubt will fly.
- You’ll see what God has done.

None of us would likely sit down with a legal pad and begin making a list, naming all our blessings one by one. We know that would be a futile, unending endeavor. Our minds are boggled even before the pen touches the paper.

On the other hand, just considering our blessings as one big category is equally ineffective… if not worse. Making a wide gesture and declaring that “all these blessings” are from the Lord disallows us the special blessing of seeing each one individually… and appreciating them as separate indicators of God’s watchcare and provision in our lives.

Somewhere in between – that’s where we need to land. Looking at the overall swath of God’s blessings in our lives while being keenly aware of each one individually – even if unable to make an exhaustive list!

Tallying our blessings is one of the ways we can truly SEE what God has done prior to this place in our history. It makes us more conscious of what he is doing here and now; it also loosens the ground ahead to be more fertile – more open to receiving the blessings that await us between now and this time next year!

Hear a Fun Ragtime Setting of This Hymn

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"We too should be voicing our love and devotion."

"We too should be voicing our love and devotion."

Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living” – Katherine K. Davis (1892-1980)

This Thanksgiving hymn opens with “Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving to God the Creator triumphantly raise.” I actually like to sing this hymn all year long, not just during the last week of November, because it is one of those hymns that beautifully describes God in poetry that is well-constructed.

After listing many of God’s creative, sustaining, redeeming works, today’s hymnline continues: “We too should be voicing our love and devotion, with glad adoration a song let us raise.”

We voice lots of songs and expressions of our love for God, but here we are called on to declare our devotion – our promise, our pledge, our guarantee.

Olivia Newton John had a hit song in 1978 titled “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (from GREASE). Most of us can hum it and at least sing the ‘hook’. For Christ-followers, however, we lift up our commitment to him singing “Hopefully Devoted to You.”

I also like the phrase “with glad adoration” – not coerced or forced, but gladly offered up. I am personally delighted to sing great hymns and songs of the faith… the ones that express my adoration of him who created, re-creates, sustains and redeems me. I know I am not alone in that; otherwise, you would probably not be reading this blog.

This week, of all weeks, we SHOULD be voicing our love and devotion with glad adoration. Sometimes I encourage us to internalize concepts; this time, let’s verbalize them… voice them… even to strangers.

Hear This Hymn Sung

Hear Children’s Chime Choir Play This Hymn (directed by Jeff Reeves)

PS – Katherine K. Davis was also a composer of wonderful church music and is best known for her Christmas Song “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)