Twelve Hymns Project: Praise God from whom

Text: Psalm 148


Psalm 148 is like one of those emails you get where the sender entered all the recipients in the To: box rather than Blind Carbon Copy.  This Psalm is the text we used for our Call to Worship this morning.  It’s an invitation to what theologian Douglas Ottati refers to as “the party of existence.”  And we are invited.  Only rather than simply getting our own invite, with all the other recipients hidden, like that lovely Blind Carbon Copy feature allows, we get the full catalogue of invites, which we scan through first before getting to our part.

The sender must have had two lists going, and begins with the first: those in “the heavens” or “the heights.”  It includes things unseen and seen: angels, hosts; sun, moon, and stars; the waters above.  The second list is “you who are on earth.”  It ranges from sea monsters to winged birds, wild beasts to domesticated animals to creeping things to fruit trees and cedars.  To make sure we get the message that we’re all invited, it names kings and peoples of the earth, young men and...

12 Hymns Project: Come thou fount, and Rain down

Texts: Matthew 5:43-48

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness...”

You might recognize these as the opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and even though I’ve never read it, I couldn’t help be think of these words as I prepared the sermon for this morning.  Months ago when we were trying to decide how to fit 12 hymns into 10 weeks of worship services, Rain down and Come thou fount were lumped together mostly because they contained pretty overt water imagery and they both were prayers of petition to God to rain down blessings.  That seemed like enough to lump them together, so we did.  And we planned to figure the rest out later. 

Well, later is now, and the more I tried to synthesize these two sets of lyrics into one coherent message during the last few days, the more I found to contrast in them. ...

Twelve Hymns Project: Amazing Grace

Texts: Exodus 34:5-9; Acts 9:1-9

Joel and Abbie Miller



Anne Lamott wrote: “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Maybe this helps explain the popularity of “Amazing grace.”  The song has been so widely embraced, it spans all kinds of communities that otherwise have little in common, religious and secular.  We are at so many different places – in our life experience, in our ideas about the world.  Grace meets us where we’re at, and so, it seems, does this song that features grace as its protagonist.

A case in point for this breadth of appeal is that these lyrics, written by an English former slave ship captain, John Newton, have also become adopted among the African American spirituals.  Descendants of the enslaved and the enslavers need not understand all the mysteries of grace in order to know we need it.


The hymn “Amazing Grace” as we know it, has a grace filled history as well.  It was originally written as a reading or poem that may have been chanted instead of sung....

Twelve Hymns Project: HWB 614 In the bulb there is a flower

Text: Matthew 6:25-29

Three times a year Mennonite Central Committee publishes its Washington Memo.  It’s a little six page pamphlet.  Each one focuses on a key social or political area of concern, giving historical background, policy principles for addressing the situation, ways MCC is involved, and ways for the reader to pray and act for peace.  We get it in the church office.

The spring/summer 2017 issue is about US/North Korea relations.  The cover page includes a large picture of an agricultural field with mountains in the background.  On the ground and in the air are a number of birds, cranes.  With MCC’s permission, we’ve used that image for today’s bulletin cover.

The cover page of the Washington Memo includes a caption beside this picture that says this: “View from South Korea into North Korea.  Red crowned cranes are an important symbol on both sides of the border of longevity, purity and peace.  The cranes thrive in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the countries because of the relatively undisturbed habitat.”

Seeing this, I felt myself drawn into something resembling a parable of Jesus.  Out of...

Twelve Hymns Project: Be thou my vision, HWB 545

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

“Be thou my vision” is a prayer.  It’s an ancient prayer.  The language feels old.  When’s the last time you were having a conversation and found yourself saying “naught be all else to me save that thou art?”  I haven’t decided yet whether I know what that means.  But we sing it.  One of the wonders of setting our prayers to music is that we say things, we sing things, without having to understand everything we’re singing.  Sometimes the music and the rhythm of the words are enough to make it a prayer.

The English feels old, but the song is Irish through and through, in text and in melody.  What we have is just a translation.  The original is old enough that no one’s quite sure how old.  It may go as far back as the 6th century, words of an Irish poet, Saint Dallan.  Or maybe it was written a couple hundred years after Saint Dallan and just got attributed to him.  The oldest surviving manuscripts of this Irish prayer are from the 10th or 11th centuries.

Before Saint Dallan, around the year 401,...