Sunday, June 9, 2019 – Pentecost (Whitsunday) Spirit of Faith, Come Down – The United Methodist Hymnal 332
Spirit of Faith, Come Down - Tune - DIADEMATA (UMH 88)
Spirit of faith, come down, reveal the things of God,
And make to us the Godhead known, and witness with the blood.
‘Tis thine the blood to apply and give us eyes to see,
Who did for every sinner die hath surely died for me.
No one can truly say that Jesus is the Lord,
Unless thou take the veil away and breathe the living Word.
Then, only then, we feel our interest in his blood,
And cry with joy unspeakable, “Thou art my Lord, my God!”
O know my Saviour lives, he lives, who died for Me,
My inmost Soul his Voice receives who hangs on yonder Tree:
Set forth before my Eyes ev’n now I see him bleed,
And hear his Mortal Groans, and Cries, while suffering in my Stead.
O that the world might know my dear atoning Lamb!
Spirit of faith, descend and show the virtue of his name;
The grace which all may find, the saving power, impart,
And testify to humankind, and speak in every heart.
Inspire the living faith (which whosoe’er receive,
The witness in themselves they have and consciously believe),
The faith that conquers all, and doth the mountain move,
And saves whoe’er on Jesus call, and perfects them in love.
This Sunday our theme is twofold. Pastor Meredith will speak to salvation and it also happens to be Pentecost. The word Pentecost describes the journey to this day, 50 days after Easter Sunday and on this day, we celebrate the birthday of the church and the Holy Spirit as the agent whereby the risen Christ is made present to the church then and today. This does not mark the Holy Spirit’s first appearance though. The Spirit was there hovering over the water in the very beginning when the earth was a formless void. In my first blog entry I spoke about the Hebrew word ruach being translated as wind, breath or Spirit. The Pentecost scripture in Acts 2:1-4 also speaks about wind.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Charles Wesley wrote this hymn around 1746 for the day of Pentecost (Whitsunday for our British friends). He carefully weaves in the work of the Spirit to bring salvation to the individual. This becomes especially clear in the third line of the first stanza ‘’tis thine the blood to apply and give us eyes to see’.
The second stanza is filled with Scripture references. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
And John 20:28
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Charles describes prevenient grace, the grace that goes before. It gives us an understanding that God woos us continuously even when we do not know God. We do not understand the saving love of Jesus Christ until that moment when we recognize God’s love when ‘the veil is taken away’. Charles describes this incredible moment in a somewhat personal way, as to say to the reader that ‘you too can have that relationship with God and the joy of life that comes with it.
The third stanza printed here is omitted in our hymnal but in this case, we must refrain from blaming the hymnal editor Carlton (Sam) Young because John Wesley, Charles’ famous brother, is the culprit here. When he published this hymn in his Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780) he omitted the third stanza and made some other minor changes as in stanza 4 where he changed the original ‘My dear atoning Lamb’ to ‘the all atoning Lamb!’.
While Charles might express a deeply personal view of Jesus’ redemption, John might have counteracted their context of Calvinism (only God’s pre-elected are being saved). Wesleyan theology insists that God loves and welcomes all into a relationship with God. Presbyterians find their heritage in Calvinist theology, but I can honestly say that I have not heard that being preached in a Presbyterian Church. One might wonder if it would not be beneficial to the deepening of our relationship with God if John’s edit should be reversed to Charles’ original ‘my dear atoning lamb’. That would also apply to omitting the third verse which also expresses our deeply personal relationship with God.
The final stanza also tells us about Charles’ belief that faith is a gift from God, not something we acquire. However, we do have the choice to say yes to that gift. This might be a new concept to you, and I would encourage you to ponder on that this week. Say yes to God – I recommend it.
Rev. Suzi Byrd
Charles (1707-1788) an Anglican Clergyman, and younger brother of John Wesley is known for his gift of over 6,000 hymns. You will probably say that you’ve never heard of Charles, but I guarantee you that you know at least two of his hymns. Do you find this text to be familiar?
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Now that we have established familiarity, let’s see if you know this one:
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Like I said, there are another 6,000 other hymns Charles wrote. In my last blog entry, I wrote about how lyrical theology that we find in the Psalms and today in our hymns is another way for us to get to know God. Charles and John understood this early on and their combined efforts of sermons and hymn singing provided double opportunities for people to begin or deepen their relationship with God.
As I said before – Lyrical theology is based on poetry and poetry is like a springboard for our imagination and that, in turn, strengthens our individual relationship with God. If I cannot hear the message through the sermon, I may hear it through the hymn and vice versa.
As Methodist we practice this double approach still today. Preachers and Worship Teams sit down together, talk about the interpretation of the scripture and carefully choose hymns and prayers that convey the same message as the sermon. We remember that our role as worship leaders is to prompt the congregation in their worship to God, to ensure that ample opportunity is given to anyone who walks in the door to worship God in their own way.
Our Wesley series speaks to the spiritual ethos and cultural context out of which John’s sermons and Charles’ hymns were born. What makes it spectacular though is that these words apply to us as much as they did to the people then. The Wesleys were a vessel for God’s love to the people they encountered, and our mission has not changed. Each one of us is designed to be that vessel and for some of us that means to help others to sing so they too can experience God that way.
Theology in hymns can be a tricky thing though, because multiple criteria in a hymn can result in different theological interpretation. S T Kimbrough, JR. outlined 5 layers of theological meaning conveyed through a hymn/song in his latest book The Lyrical Theology of Charles Wesley: A Reader.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.
Although the first line seems to be fairly easy to understand – a great emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross – the second line is really not so clear. My richest gain and loss are probably different from yours. There is a multilayered theology involving the author’s intent and the singer’s response.
Diverse communities will sing the same hymn in different ways due to their culture, language, ethnicity and life experience. The Wesley’s were well aware of that. African Americans will have a different theological understanding of the following hymn than a native German.
Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
At the same time, one wonders about Charles Wesley’s context and what prompted him to write those words. How would a prisoner walking to his execution have heard these words?
I have experienced many times how different worship settings receive hymns in different ways. The contemporary/traditional settings come to mind but more interesting are different cultures. I remember sitting in my office listening to the Tongan choir practicing and realizing that the song they were singing was an adaptation of Handel’s aria -Lascia qu’io pianga from the opera Rinaldo. I had sung that aria many times and did not associate it with my faith at all and yet, here were 20 + Tongan women and men who sang their hearts out to God. Of course, they sang in Tongan and a different text, but still…
Charles Wesley’s hymn text often included 20 plus stanzas and it was not feasible for publishers to print all of them and many congregations would not sing all of them either. Hymnal editors proceeded more or less carefully to reduce the hymns to 5 – 7 stanzas. As you can imagine, that changes the theological meaning of the hymn. The famous Charles Wesley Hymn O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing was originally titled Glory to God, and Praise and Love and included 17 stanzas. The opening stanza in our United Methodist Hymnal is the 7th stanza in the original hymn text. Thinking that a poem usually tells a story, the story will be altered when you begin to tell it in the middle.
Melody and rhythm of the tune that the text is matched with can make a huge difference in the theological meaning of the hymn. I guess, now is the time to let you in on a little secret. Each hymn has a particular meter. There is common and long meter, and many, many other kinds and they all have to do with how many syllables are in each line. Let’s look at Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound (8)
that saved a wretch like me (6)
I once was lost, but now am found; (8)
was blind, but now I see. (6)
This is called a common meter. Here is another hymn with the same meter:
O for a thousand tongues to sing (8)
my great Redeemer’s praise, (6)
The glories of my God and King, (8)
the triumphs of his grace! (6)
Now sing this text to the tune of Amazing Grace and vice versa. Isn’t it amazing? If you really want to have fun with this, you should try to sing O Little Town of Bethlehem to the tune of the Yellow Rose of Texas.
O Little Town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
I know you are in shock that that works! Something else you might not know about the hymns we sing is that the tunes were often matched with the hymn long after the hymn had been written. A hymnal editor made this choice for us and sometimes we come across hymns that we do not sing because we are so unfamiliar with the tune that it would be too much of a challenge. Sometimes the tune does not seem to fit the hymn very well. You have maybe observed that I am in the habit of changing the tune if it is unfamiliar or awkward, but the hymn would fit well with the sermon.
It has often been said that Charles matched his hymns with drinking songs, but I should probably not perpetuate this although helpful myth. He and John did, however, look for music that would be familiar to the people they were trying to reach.
In our Wesley series we (the worship team including the preacher) sat down and looked at Charles’ hymns in the hymnal and were shocked how few of them we sing due to the often-awkward tunes. Together we made an effort to choose tunes that will help us to sing these beautiful texts. But and there is a huge but…. Familiarity is only one factor in the decision of what tune to match with what text. If the character of the text is contemplative and the tune is a joyful marching song, we have obscured the theological message completely. The decision of what to sing in our worship comes with tremendous responsibility and very quickly can the intent of inviting someone into a relationship with God become a gigantic roadblock. Like Charles, we always must know our audience.
The following entries will discuss the hymns we are singing each Sunday. You will have an opportunity to look at what they are and what their theological message is (to you). If you ever have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Suzi Byrd
Key Points to Wesley's sermon "The Scripture Way of Salvation"
1. Faith, in general, is defined by the Apostle as - an evidence, a divine evidence and conviction (the word means both) of things not seen; not visible, not perceivable either by sight, or by any other of the external senses. It implies both a supernatural evidence of God, and of the things of God; a kind of spiritual light exhibited to the soul, and a supernatural sight or perception thereof. Accordingly, the Scripture speaks of God's giving sometimes light, sometimes a power of discerning it. So St. Paul: "God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." And elsewhere the same Apostle speaks of "the eyes of" our "understanding being opened." By this two-fold operation of the Holy Spirit, having the eyes of our soul both opened and enlightened, we see the things which the natural "eye hath not seen, neither the ear heard." We have a prospect of the invisible things of God; we see the spiritual world, which is all round about us, and yet no more discerned by our natural faculties than if it had no being. And we see the eternal world; piercing through the veil which hangs between time and eternity. Clouds and darkness then rest upon it no more, but we already see the glory which shall be revealed.
2. Taking the word in a more particular sense, faith is a divine evidence and conviction not only that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself," but also that Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me. It is by this faith (whether we term it the essence, or rather a property thereof) that we receive Christ; that we receive Him in all His offices, as our Prophet, Priest, and King. It is by this that He is "made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
3. "But is this the faith of assurance, or faith of adherence?" The Scripture mentions no such distinction. The Apostle says, "There is one faith, and one hope of our calling"; one Christian, saving faith; "as there is one Lord," in whom we believe, and "one God and Father of us all." And it is certain, this faith necessarily implies an assurance (which is here only another word for evidence, it being hard to tell the difference between them) that Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me. For "he that believeth" with the true living faith "hath the witness in himself": "the Spirit witnesseth with his spirit that he is a child of God."Because he is a son, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into his heart, crying, Abba, Father"; giving him an assurance that he is so, and a childlike confidence in Him. But let it be observed, that, in the very nature of the thing, the assurance goes before the confidence. For a man cannot have a childlike confidence in God till he knows he is a child of God. Therefore, confidence, trust, reliance, adherence, or whatever else it be called, is not the first, as some have supposed, but the second, branch or act of faith.
Rev. Meredith Mills
This seems like a good title for what you are about to read but before I ask that question, I should probably ask the question ‘Why do we sing?’ and further, ‘Why do we sing in worship?’
We sing because we have been designed to sing. I can already hear your protest but hear me out. Scripture speaks about music and ‘singing God’s praises’ from the early beginnings. Moses sang praises to God (Exodus 15:1) the Psalms are full of singing references, the Prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Amos and Nehemiah speak of singing, the Gospel writers remind us that Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn before they left the upper room and St. Paul writes about singing in many of his letters. But there is one reference that often is overlooked.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the breath of God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1)
The Hebrew word ruach is often translated as Spirit or wind or breath as in this case. Singing is basically phonated breath, so it is entirely possibly that the Spirit of God, the breath of God is also the song of God. Expanding on this thought, when God then created the first human “…he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” (Genesis 2:7) This is the same word ‘ruach’ that is used earlier in Genesis 1:1. Did God breathe song into us?
When we think about our vitals what comes to mind is breath and heartbeat. It has been scientifically proven that when we sing, our blood pressure normalizes, and our heartbeat adapts to the beat of the music. When we sing together, we breathe together which does not happen in any other instance, and, our hearts begin to beat in unison. Singing is the ultimate community builder because we literally form one body that breathes together, and all the heartbeats become one. In fact, cardiologists recommend for us to sing in choirs because of these amazing health effects. Singing is good for our body.
Singing stimulates our brain more than any other activity. Actually, it does not only stimulate the brain, but it also promotes the growth of new neural pathways. Studies also have shown that people with dementia can have moments of clarity and remembrance when they sing the songs they have known. The memory of music is the last one to go. Singing is good for our mind.
My friend, Rev. Dr. Victoria Campbell, recently told me about a brand-new study about the affect of the presence of a human voice singing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). They have found that when someone is in the room and sings, all the stats of the prematurely born babies go to normal.
You might call all these examples coincidences, but I think that God designed us that way. Singing is good for body, mind and spirit. And, not only did God give us a voice to sing, God desires for us to sing to him. We received the greatest commandment:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
When we sing to God, we express our love for God with our heart, soul and mind. When we sing to God together, singing each other’s songs, we also love our neighbor. Singing together to God fulfills the greatest commandment as we become one in loving God. That is why we sing in worship. It is also how we welcome the stranger into our midst, loving them by singing their song and them singing our song.
Back to the original title – Why do we sing hymns?
When I say hymns, I refer to the text, not the tune. Hymns are poetry written in love to God or as some scholars call it – lyrical theology. You might ask if this is a new thing, but it really is not. Miriam and Moses celebrated God and their rescue from slavery with a beautiful poem and certainly the Psalms are a witness to ‘lyrical theology’. In the new testament there are so called ‘Canticles’. I think you might have heard Mary’s ‘canticle’ also called the Magnificat.
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
There are several more and I will be glad to show them to you if you send me a quick email. (email@example.com)
The language of a poet is like a springboard for our imagination. I am certain that my spirit rejoices in God in different ways than yours and the poet evokes that kind of thinking in each of us. I always enjoy when our choir director Christopher Carter prints out the hymns for the choir and then asks them to read the text and write a word of response on a colored stickie note posting it on the hymn. Our choir is culturally and generationally diverse and the text evokes different emotions in different people and the responses are like a plethora of emotions. That is the beauty of poetry, it brings the word close to each of us through our experience with God and one another. We learn about God, each person in their own way and relationship with God. In other words, when we sing hymns, we learn more about God and deepen our relationship with God. Sometimes a hymn can reach an individual in a better way than another teaching can. (bible study, sermon, etc.) We continue to sing hymns in worship to God because we never want to lose out on an opportunity for someone to be in relationship with God.
Why did they not just write down the facts but instead used prose? The difference lies in the emotion and mystique of the genre. Poetry takes us into a world of imagination and emotion and we each will read it and experience it in a different way.
Rev. Suzi Byrd
Read more about her, here.
As most of you know, Westminster's Pastor, Rev. Meredith Mills began a new sermon series last Sunday called "Wesley Who?"
This Series will provide knowledge of Methodist Wisdom for the 21st Century. And while John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, might seem like an archaic figure from the 18th century, this series will convince you that his words are as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.
Pastor Meredith will be reinterpreting Wesley’s sermons to the 21st Century during small group time at 10:05 am in the Parlor. The title for the small group series is: "Wesley Who? A Deeper Look."
During this small group hour, Pastor Meredith will provide a copy of Wesley’s manuscript that she drew from for her sermon that morning and will lead a time of discussion that will allow people to encounter the text for themselves.
If you ever wondered where Methodism came from or what makes Methodism distinct, this is the class for you.
Hint: John Wesley is considered the founder of Methodism.
Each week we will provide you with the previous week's information here for those who would like more information and a link to the sermon for those who were unable to make it here on Sunday.
We hope you enjoy this encounter with our past, so we can embrace our future.