Friday, April 27, 2007

Worship Notes 27 April 2007

This Sunday is our fifth, and final Sunday, to sing Jesus Shall Reign (Psalm 72) —our Psalm for the month of April at Parish Pres. Our Psalm for the month of May will be Call Jehovah, Your Salvation (Psalm 91) written in 1822 by James Montgomery and set to an original melody in 1996.

James Montgomery was born in 1771 in Scotland where his father was a pastor in the Moravian Church. At the age of five, the family moved to Ireland, and by the age of seven, James’ parents sent him to York to begin seminary training.

In seminary, Montgomery began to write poetry and planned to write two epics after the style of John Milton. Not called to the ministry, he worked through various apprenticeships until he eventually became the editor of the Sheffield Iris for more than thirty years. Having drifted from the church, Montgomery recommitted himself to Christianity at the age of forty-three, and began to be active in Abolition work, the Bible Society, and various missionary endeavors.

Montgomery turned his poetic gift to writing hymns and metrical Psalms—about 400 published in three volumes. In addition, he started the study of hymn writers, lectured at the Royal Institution, and continued to publish other volumes of his poetry and anti-slavery works.

He never married, and died quietly in his sleep at the age of 83. The people of Sheffield honored him with a public funeral, a statue in the cemetery, and a stained glass window in the parish church. His best known hymns include: Angels from the Realms of Glory, Shepherd of Souls Refresh and Bless (which we sang last week), Stand Up and Bless the Lord, and Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Culture War?

The concept that we Christians are in a culture war actually implies that we have a distinctive culture. Unfortunately, much of what we consider to be evangelical culture is actually derived from the world around us—not just in the imitation of the world but also in the very foundations of how we think about the world.

It’s relatively easy to poke at the culture presented in a Christian bookstore and see many cheap knock-offs of the world. From Bibleman to Thomas Kinkade, from romance novels to pop cantatas and Christian Rap, we have cleverly adapted and marketed a more “acceptable” notion of worldly products. However, we are still operating within the same categories and pre-printed shelf labels of a secular bookstore. They have literature, self-help, and biographies—so do we. They have jazz, pop, alternative, and country—so do we. What we don’t have is an attempt to defy the categories and customs of the world and to think differently, more biblically, about developing a Christian worldview. Christian worldview is not replacing disposable romanticized secular stories with disposable romanticized Christian stories.

Biblical worldview requires the re-examination of all of life with Christ as the integration point of all things. From mowing the grass to watching t.v. to dressing in the morning to worship, how does the lordship of Christ influence and direct our steps in all areas of life?

Until we more clearly grasp the undergirding of Christ’s authority and integration of all things, all of our efforts will be faint replicas of various ungodly philosophies with little to do with authentic Christian culture. We are all called to be theologians—to study doctrine—and then to put it in practice, to the glory of God and for the changing of culture. That’s when we’ll really see a culture war.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Current Reading

Lack of Community

On Friday, an unemployed twenty-year-old posted a message on YouTube offering to “be there” for anyone who needed to talk. “I never met you, but I do care,” he said in his video offer. As of this morning, he has received more than 5,000 calls and text message from people he has never met. He said, “Some people’s own mothers won’t take time to sit down and talk with them and have a conversation, but some stranger on YouTube will. After six seconds, you’re not a stranger anymore, you’re a new kid I just met.”

It is a sad and frightening indictment that kids are so starved for a sense of community that they would turn to a stranger rather than parents or a pastor. The anonymity and individualism that exists in an “on-line community” is no substitute for being known in the context of real relationships—warts and all. The culture of secret relationships wars against the biblical call for covenantal life, but the lack of authentic community drives children, and adults, to find a worldly substitute elsewhere.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A New Favorite Film

I finally watched Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School this week. Wow! I was skeptical about the movie, but a friend insisted I had to see it. Whether intentional or not, it is one of the most amazing representations of worship and liturgy I have ever seen. The main character bakes bread for a living (large sacramental clue), but his life is empty and meaningless until, through a series of providential circumstances, he arrives at Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School. There, he enters into a life comprised of patterns, repetition, and rules that bring about freedom, rhythm, and joy in his life.

The film is filled with sacramental imagery and theological allusions as well as portrayals of substitutionary atonement, forgiveness, the moral foundation of rules, the bride of Christ, providence and sovereignty, and the rituals of worship. It is a fascinating movie with a keen eye for good filmmaking. **Warning—There are a few coarse bits of language.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Sound of Sorrow

Modern worship simultaneously diminished the soundscape of worship when it limited the biblical breadth of theology expressed lyrically. This fact is as true in 19th century bouncy revival hymns as it is with much of the industry of modern praise songs.

One argument for modern worship music contends that there exists greater opportunity for emotional expression in those songs. Ironically, because modern worship music utilizes such a limited harmonic and sonic palate, it actually limits emotional expression. There are whole ranges of timbre, dissonance, and resolution that are neglected by most song writers primarily because those musical tools do not fit the upbeat nature of the text. In addition to depriving the Church of the opportunity to put words to biblical notions of sorrow, pain, or contrition, we often deny the Church the opportunity to put voice to it as well.

I am reminded of this every Good Friday as we sing contemplative songs, music of sorrow, and melodies of distress and confession that explore a realm of thought, sound, and harmonies absent from many church’s repertoire. The tension that appropriate dissonance produces resonates in the very being of the congregation with a palpable sense of sorrow or sin or confession. Musically and theologically, the movement to consonance that comes after pent up tension aurally conveys the beauty of the Gospel and the victorious work of Christ. Incidentally, the building of tension and release takes time—not something that easily happens in a three minute song.

The nuance and propositional arguments and movement and confession of the Psalter and other similar texts should not only sung, but also set to music that skillfully explores the corresponding sounds of the theological content.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Are We Dead to Beauty?

Beauty is an attribute of God that reflects elements of His nature in a transcendent way. As such, true beauty provides insight and knowledge about the character of God. However, we live in an ugly culture of strip malls, warehouse churches, wimpy subjective art and music and literature.

As Christians devoted to the creation mandate and the beautiful truth of the holiness of God, why do we tolerate and even participate in such transitory and demeaning art? Are we no longer capable of recognizing true beauty? Are we guilty of suppressing the truth in our unrighteousness and has God given us over to the lusts of our hearts because we “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-15)?”

Is it possible that God has given the modern Church over to its own desires and that we have entered into a Babylonian captivity of sorts in which we are no longer able to appreciate and learn from beauty, truth, and goodness?

Paul says in II Timothy 4: 3-4 (ESV), “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The prevalent passion in the arts is for subjective entertainment—not objective, substantive, permanent, beauty.

I pray that God has not made us dead to beauty; however, because it is a spiritual attribute, we are dependent upon the enlivening of the Holy Spirit to enable us to appreciate and apprehend that which is truly beautiful. May the Lord restore and multiply this gift in His people.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Worship Notes 13 April 2007

Liturgy is a deliberate attempt to portray the Gospel in the very order in which we worship. Worship starts with God’s initiated call to enter into His presence followed by a recognition of who He is—not what He’s done for us or what we think about Him, but rather the nature and character of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This recognition is continued by instruction in His Word through the singing of Scripture, the reading of the Word, and instruction through the preaching of the Word. With a further understanding of who God is and the efficacious proclamation of the Gospel, God then calls us to repentance and to be reconciled through the blood of Christ shed in our place. We further rejoice with Him in a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at the Lord’s Table before God sends His people out into the world for His glory.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

New to the Library

Easter Hymns

There are more Easter carols than there are Christmas carols--we just don't know very many of them. John of Damascus (675-749) wrote this Easter hymn, and John Mason Neale translated it from the Greek in 1862:

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
The Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
And listening to His accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
His own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted

Following are the lyrics to Thomas Kelly's hymn based on Isaiah 53. He wrote the following in 1804:

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

Sabbath Rest

Why do we have such difficulty with the idea of Sabbath Rest? Do we see rest as an imposition and a curtailing of our activities or do we realize the freedom inherent in that boundary? Like typical Americans, do we feel unproductive or lazy when faced with the idea of not being busy? Is our self-worth so interwoven in what we do to make a living that deprivation of activity causes anxiety? Studies show that while on vacation, 57% of people check in with the office at least once a day. 67% of businessmen on vacation check in at one point or another during rest. Is it any wonder that we have trouble prioritizing rest?

As Charles De Gaulle said, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Our great humanist fear is that we are dispensable, and we, therefore, try our hardest to be noticed. We confuse who are in Christ with what we do—especially in the eyes of the world.

Work is never done. If we waited for an appropriate place to stop, for a concluding point, a resting space between jobs, we would never find rest. Just on the home front, there are always more clothes, dishes, sinks, and floors that need washing, cleaning, mopping and vacuuming. Throw the yard, garden, office, and personal projects on the list, and it’s more than overwhelming.

This is part of the beauty of Sabbath Rest. God does not say finish what you’re doing and take a break. He commands the cessation of activity in the middle of things. Adam’s job was only beginning when God called for rest on the seventh day of creation.

Rejoice in the freedom that Sabbath Rest can bring by not worrying about things until their appropriate time. Honoring the Sabbath is not about deprivation but about joy.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

Born in 1585 to an inn-keeper, Heinrich Schütz, the great Church composer, learned music from the local church and then pursued studies in law. When a Landgrave heard his musical abilities, he offered to pay for Schütz to study in Italy. Schütz spent several profitable years studying with Gabrieli in Venice. At his death, Gabrieli left Schütz his signet ring as a token of his respect for his abilities and warm friendship. Schütz said of his studies:

“Gabrieli—What a man he was…After I had been but a short time with my teacher, I found out how important and difficult was the study of composition…and I realized that I still had a poor foundation in it. From this time on I put away all my previous studies and devoted myself to the study of music alone. Upon the publication of my first humble work Giovanni Gabrieli urged me with great warmth to continue the study of music.”

Schütz returned to Italy after the death of his wife to study with Claudio Montverdi for a short time. When he returned to Germany this time, he stayed in the employ of the Duke of Saxony for the rest of his life.

Schütz’s ambition was to take the ideas of Martin Luther with regard to music and worship and translate them into practical use. He wrote a series of pieces for choir on the Psalms of David using Luther’s own Biblical translation so that the text would be understandable to the people. In addition, he set the text in such a way that the music enhanced and elaborated the meaning of the words to give greater clarity. Schütz also composed the music for the Becker Psalter.

The German Requiem, several settings of the Passion, The Christmas Story, “The Last Words of Christ,” and more than 500 extant works testify to his desire for good liturgical music to be available for the worship of the Church. Since many of his other works were destroyed by fire, war, and other causes, his full output is unknown.

Schütz died on 7 November 1672 after living a full life and composing to his last days. He was survived by his granddaughter and great granddaughter. Schütz was born 100 years after Luther and 100 years before Bach. He did more than anyone to establish Luther’s ideas about worship in such a manner that enabled Bach to build upon his foundation in his own remarkable way. Schütz’s music is energetic, complex, understandable, and a wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness and glory.