Finally an update for the hymn page 🙂
Today I went to the daily lectionary page of pcusa.org for some inspiration. Today’s Old Testament reading was Genesis 37:25-36, the scene in which Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery ‘down the river Nile’ in Egypt. This struck me as an odd story on which to focus during Lent. The Gospel reading, Mark 1:29-45 covered the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, healing of many people who were brought over to her home that evening, and a leper the next morning when he had gone apart from the group to pray. This continuation of the story of Jesus seemed much more appropriate.
Then I got thinking…
Joseph was very popular with his father and, in the eyes of his brothers, spoiled. They were all older than he was and all had a right to a place higher in the pecking-order of esteem and inheritance than he should have had. They were the ones who deserved the attention.
Imagine now that the role of the older brothers is, in the New Testament, taken by the Scribes and Pharisees of his day. Jesus, despite all that he had done for people in need, made these people nervous, even jealous. What did these older brothers do? They sold Jesus down the river, or up the cross to be more accurate.
When Joseph was sold, it turned out to be to the benefit of all of Israel. It had all been part of God’s plan. Likewise, when Jesus was sent to the cross, through the planning of the Caiaphas and the betrayal by Judas, it was for the benefit of all people.
October 23 is now finished if you are looking ahead!
If you look at the Revised Common Lectionary listing of Bible readings over a three year period you will notice that while in theory it covers the whole Bible in each cycle there are parts you may never hear preached. Thankfully one section in this category includes most of the book of Numbers which contain seemingly endless lists of genealogies. One of the most curious things is that even with the Psalms there are frequently parts of the Psalm which are not designated as a part of the reading. For example; two of the Sundays in June had small pieces removed from the Psalms in the RCL. On June 5 we read Psalm 68 but left out verses 11-31. On June 12 the reading was Psalm 104 and we left out verses 1 -24 and 35A.
If you read these Psalms responsively in your worship service, these skipped sections can lead to confusion for the congregation as well as the minister, unless you print them out. What could be so wrong with Psalm 68 verses 11-31 that would deem it unusable in worship. It is a part of the Bible, that is not denied, the planners of the lectionaries, though, presumably thought it best to skip them.
11 The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12 ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13 though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.
I assume that in the case of the above verses there were a couple of concerns. In many of the verses God is portrayed in a very militaristic and vengeful light. God’s army is huge, will shatter the heads of the enemies, there is talk of feeding the enemy to the dogs and the victors bathing their feet in blood. Yuck! One of the things that is most disturbing about reading in the Old Testament comes from this sort of portrayal. This is not the loving God with whom we grew up in the mainline churches! The other thing I noticed was how much God’s desire of a mountain top abode, receiving of gifts etc. reminds me of what I have taught for years in my unit on Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations. This is not surprising exactly, but in early days it would have been very important to distance Christianity from pagan practices.
Would the reasons be the same for Psalm 104?
God the Creator and Provider
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
As you could see, Psalm 104:1-24 had none of the more disturbing elements to it at all. Paired in the lectionary as it is with the creation story from Genesis, I think we can be fairly certain that this shortening was done for time. The Genesis reading is long and covers all the same ground as in verses. Verse 35A however consigns sinners to be consumed (one assumes by fire) which seems contrary to the concept of Christian love.
I wonder if we do too much of this covering up, or brushing aside, the uncomfortable parts of the Bible. I certainly understand that one might not want your five-year-old repeating lines about feeding their enemies to the dogs, or bathing their feet in blood. My concern is that it is a little like issues of family violence. People didn’t ever talk about family violence. It was something to keep behind closed doors. Neighbors might be somewhat aware that things were happening, but would never think to ask or offer help. What ends up happening, in the case of the Bible, is that we educate Christians while side-stepping the issues, and then later when they come across these verses in their own study they are ill prepared to deal with them. I know I wasn’t prepared the first time I seriously sat down and read the Old Testament!
I’m not sure what a solution might be. Perhaps we need to be offering Bible studies on the unpalatable parts, but then, being so unpalatable, who would attend? I do feel, however that it is important to get the verses out of their plain paper bags, and into the open.
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Bible study, blood-thirsty God?, change, choices, Christian Education, Christianity, church, controversy, cover-ups, details, enemies, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadership, Lectionary, Mesopotamia, pagan, philosophy, preaching, problems, Psalm 104, Psalm 68, Psalms, reflection, sin
I expect most of us are familiar with the expression, “The medium is the message” coined by Marshall McLuhan. The phrase is as old as I am, well ten months older. At the time it was spoken in reference to the quickly changing face of media and our tendency to focus on the obvious effects and not really look for a deeper level. I don’t pretend to really understand McLuhan’s message, but I think that it is important to look at our messages, especially as they are becoming more and more public through blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.
When I prepare a message for any of my usual churches I do so knowing that, for the most part, I will be preaching to a Christian audience with a fairly similar frame of reference to mine. When I write something for my blog it is different, I have no way of knowing who may read my post so things I wouldn’t normally explain get explanation. Things that are totally open to the world on the internet need a different filter than comments to my friends and colleagues over lunch. Awareness of audience is even one of the sections on rubrics for evaluating student writing.
I am working on a service I will be leading at my sister’s church in the Montreal area. I have led worship at all four of the Presbyterian churches in my area, but this will be my first time preaching out of the province. I am somewhat familiar with the church as I have worshipped there and sung in the choir on occasion, but I don’t really know it. I do know that there are several retired ministers and theology professors who attend her church. While I am used to having one or two retired ministers in the congregation for my services at home, they are people with whom I am very familiar and comfortable. This is not the case for my sister’s church, and who knows what other areas of speciality I may trip upon in my message?
One service I did on Aboriginal Sunday a while back went well. At the end I greeted people at the back as usual. One woman hung back for a bit and when she came up to me said she was debating whether or not to tell me what she really thought. I asked her to go ahead. She was not pleased with my message and gave me various reasons mostly related to her perceptions of “special treatment” for First Nations people in our area. While she had, in part, missed the actual point of the sermon, she needed to talk about the issues it raised for her and I hope that helped her in some way.
So, would I write a different message if I was speaking to the un-churched, the working class, a room full of professors, or atheists? In the end, all I can do is what I usually do. I will study the texts carefully, review what other’s have said on the topic, do some fact checking, and then write what seems to flow. Hopefully what I say will give people something new to think about, something to inspire them, or something about which to debate.
Posted in Bible Study, Reflections
Tagged atheism, audience, Bible, blog, choices, Christianity, church, debate, details, distractions, expectations, facebook, faith, God, inspiration, leadership, Lectionary, preaching, reflection, sermon, stress, theology, writing
If you are giving your head a shake and thinking that you have missed several Praise Notes, relax. I have decided that I will only do the hymns which are in the public domain for both lyrics and music. This will allow you to actually see the words to which I am responding and might even allow me to find a sound file to include. Here we go…
Lord, our Lord, your glorious name
Gott Sei Dank Durch Aller Welt
Paraphrase, Psalter 1912 words and music public domain.
Lord, our Lord, your glorious name
all your wondrous works proclaim;
in the heavens with radiant signs
evermore your glory shines.
Infant voices chant your praise,
telling of your glorious ways;
weakest means work out your will,
mighty enemies to still.
Moon and stars in shining height
nightly tell their Maker’s might;
when I view the heavens afar,
then I know how small we are.
Who are we that we should share
in your love and tender care,
raised to an exalted height,
crowned with honour in your sight?
With dominion crowned, we stand
o’er the creatures of your hand;
all to us subjection yield,
in the sea and air and field.
This Psalm avoids two of my pet peeves with the metrical Psalms; every verse ends with a period or in one case question mark, and there is only one place in which the phrasing of the music is not a match for the lyrics. It is a lovely tune with good motion and a variety of stepwise and leaping lines without becoming un-singable. Combined with the rhyming couplet style of the paraphrase, this is a good hymn. Choose hymn #5 for those Sunday’s on which the 8th Psalm is in the lectionary as well as any time you want to focus on creation and the glory of God.
Posted in Music, Praise Notes
Tagged Bible, Book of Praise, choir, Christianity, church, creation, faith, God, God's glory, Holy Spirit, hymn, Jesus, Lectionary, melodic design, metrical Psalms, music, Presbyterian Church, Psalm 8, Psalms, public domain, song
People handle the period of Lent in different ways. First, I realize of course that many people are not Christians and wouldn’t even know what Lent and Easter are all about.
My husband and I were talking about Lenten sacrifice at lunch today. He was saying that he always figured that Lent was a Roman Catholic thing and that the Presbyterians weren’t into that sort of thing. He said he didn’t understand the point of giving something up.
When we were growing up we didn’t hear much about the liturgical year. This has been shifting in the last ten years or so, and I think it is a good change. My response about the point was that it was about giving up the distraction that took my attention off of spiritual matters.
We usually get a booklet from the church with devotions for each day of Lent, or a bookmark with the lectionary readings for the season. This is a great way of focusing on the scriptural story of the life and mission of Christ. One year we were each given a horseshoe nail to carry in our pockets throughout the season. Every time you reached into your pocket or purse you were reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you, for all of us.
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, church, cross, Easter, Jesus, Lectionary, Lent, nails, pockets, Presbyterian, reflection, Roman Catholic, sacrifice
I am leading worship at our church this Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday in the liturgical calendar, and I’m not really ready. To be honest, other than the bulletin material which was due Tuesday and having read the text and thought about it some, I’m totally unprepared. So there sits that blinking cursor at the start of a Word document. The trick is to get that first word or sentence typed in, even if we may erase it soon after in favour of a better turn of phrase, or a more valid point. Once started in the actual writing something will be on the page and you can go on from there.
As for my sermon for this week, I was pretty sure I was going to focus on the location of Moses’ and Jesus/apostles interactions with God. You know, “location, location, location!” Why did all these things happen at the top of mountains? Were these mountains like the Rockies or the Himalayas or more like the Appalachian Mountains in New Brunswick which look more like hills? Are we still supposed to be going to the mountains, and where are they?
A couple of days ago a friend of mine who is a United Church minister was on Facebook looking for brainstorming ideas for Transfiguration Sunday. It was interesting to see the ideas that came in. The focus was largely on the transfiguration itself, what it would be like etc. My friend is planning to focus on the fact that you are never the same after, when you come down off the mountain. There followed, for me, a period of second-guessing. Afterall, my idea was quite a different focus from those of others who are ordained…you get the drift I’m sure.
No one will know for sure what I will say until Sunday morning, and you would all be most welcome to come (St. James Presbyterian, 1991 Hanwell Rd, Fredericton, N.B. Canada). I do think I will go with my first instinct though, however it may end up. Historically, people felt they needed to go to high places to get closer to God. The Mesopotamians worshiped at ziggurats, man-made mountains, Mount Olympus is the mount of the Gods in Greece. The thing is, things changed forever when God entered into our world as a human child. Figuratively speaking, he came down the mountain to us and remains with us through the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to go to a high place in order to experience the glory of God, we may need a quiet place, or for some of us a worship space, but God has come down to us once and for all!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged blank page, blinking cursor, Christianity, church, facebook, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Lectionary, ordained, quiet, reflection, ritual, sermon, Sunday, transfiguration
It is choir night tonight and as I sit inside my cosy warm house with my dog by my side, my computer on my lap, and a blanket over my feet going out the door into the cold and dark is the farthest thing from my mind! I suppose some context is in order here. I am the director of the choir at my church and we meet Thursday evenings to go through the hymns for Sunday’s service, and the anthems we are preparing for upcoming weeks. We are a pretty casual group, and very small with only seven singers plus the organist. Following our practice we meet together in the kitchen at the church for a coffee, munchies and some social time. If you like to sing and socialize this probably sounds like a great way to spend an evening!
I never regret having gone to choir after I get there, but there are definitely weeks when I don’t want to go and would like nothing better than a good excuse to cancel a practise! So how do I get transformed from the grumbling, grudging, foot-dragging choir director who leaves the house to the happy camper who leaves the church at the end of practise each week?
- good music? Hymns are chosen, usually by the minister or whomever is leading the service. They are usually chosen to match the message that is being preached. For instance, when we had a service recently on the week of The Baptism of Christ we had hymns on the theme of baptism in general as well as one specifically about Christ’s baptism. In our church we sing from the Presbyterian Church of Canada Book of Praise which is a collection of many musical styles and from many different time periods. What the music has in common is that the lyrics fit within the theological focus of our denomination, and the music has stood the test of time. This selection was put together by a committee with much study, prayer and consideration as to spiritual and musical value. Similarly, I try my best to have the anthems match up with one or more of the Lectionary readings for the week.
- good people? Our choir is made up of volunteers from our church family. At present most of us have been singing in this group for between five and twenty years. We are committed (some might say we should be committed ;o) to leading the singing in worship and joining our voices to the heavenly choir in praising God.
- good conversation? Other than the frequent off topic turns during the rehearsal itself our discussions at coffee time range the gamut from what is going on in our work and family lives, to world events, politics, the growth and nurturing of our church and issues of polity within our denomination.
- good God! God is the real reason why this is such an uplifting experience!
Ephesians 5:15-33 15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Even in my darkest mood it is nearly impossible to sing the hymns and spiritual songs without being filled with the Holy Spirit and thus filled it is sometimes all can do to keep my feet on the ground! Of course, not every week is equal in the feeling of inspiration, but there is always more light while we are singing than there seemed to be before we began. Some people rely on getting drunk on alcohol to wash away their troubles for a time, but I believe that giving thanks to God through song is a much better approach!