Tag Archives: Presbyterian Church

Seed Packets Redux: Part 2


As I was driving up to Montreal last week I drove past countless fields at various stages of planting.  Some fields were bare, with the earth prepared and awaiting seed, some were newly planted with a bright fresh crop of green or yellow covering them, some were burned over and likely to be left fallow for the summer, and between them all there were wild areas with an abundance of plant life most would call weeds.  What do we see when we look at ourselves, our congregations, families,colleagues etc.?  Do we  see fertile ground awaiting seed, rows of plants growing to bear seed, or a tangled mess of weeds?

Living Faith 4.2.1 says, “The Spirit enables people to receive the good news of Christ, to repent of their sins, and to be adopted as children of God…the Spirit enabled us to believe.”  Living Faith 6.1.2 “God brings us to faith in many ways. We may have trusted in God from childhood; or our faith may have come later in life.  Faith may come suddenly or only after a struggle to believe.” 
Given these statements, it is clear that it is not really you and I who are bringing people to faith.  The job of sowing faith is the work of the Spirit through the Word.  It is with this understanding that we come to the parable of the Sower and the Seed this morning ( Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23).

Have you ever prepared a garden bed?  There are many things that need to be removed; sod, old patio stones, weeds, and rocks in the ground.  Whether in our own hearts or those of others we’ll need to remove preconceptions and prejudices against Christianity and or the church as an institution, negative prior experiences, hurts, and fears.  Some of us have built up walls around our hearts which may take considerable care to break down.  Sledge hammers are never called for, and it is important to save all we can of the soil.  Our primary tools for this work are our open minds, our love, compassion and our listening skills. Once cleared, we add fertilizer of some kind in order to aid in the growth of the plants.  Here we apply such offerings as Sunday School, Bible studies, service groups, book clubs, VBS, and of course heartfelt weekly worship.  Even if all hearts are already prepared to receive the Word, care needs to be taken over time to watch out for and remove any weeds which may come up and attempt to take over, and the weeds are many and insidious.

I can easily justify my lack of follow-through in my garden at home.  After all, if I don’t support the local farmers by buying their produce I am contributing to the economic decline, right?  The problem is, at the end of the day I will still have the hearty crop of weeds there reminding me daily of my failure.  There will, however be another spring and another chance to get the job done properly.  Those of us in the church would do well to
remember that only ¼ of the seed in the parable turned out to be productive.  Numbers are not everything!  The number of people in the pews on Sunday, the number of children in Sunday school each week, the total number of families and members, don’t need to cause stress.  When they are high we may be on the top of the world and feel that we are truly doing the work of the Kingdom, and when they are low we may fear for the survival of our congregation.  Even if our programs or events seem less successful than we would like, so long as one plot of soil was readied, or one seed planted we have done well.

Whatever Kingdom gardening we may be doing, we need to remember to take time out to praise and worship the Father who has sown the word in our lives, the Son who is that word, and the Spirit who inspires us to listen.

Living Faith is the Statement of Christian Belief of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and can be downloaded at http://www.presbyterian.ca/resources/online/2447

Seed Packets Redux: Part 1


On Feb 20th I wrote a post I titled, While Visions Of Seed Packets Danced in My Head (http://wp.me/p1hsO8-6p).  At that time, with my garden under a foot of snow, I was distracted from tidying the living room by the lure of a gardening book.  An hour later there I was with my pencil and paper making plans for what to plant in my vegetable garden and wondering if last year’s compost would be ready to use.  As soon as the snow cleared, sometime in April, I was out in the back yard with my work boots and gloves on, and my tiller in hand turning soil and getting all the weeds out of a section of the
garden.  I got about half the area cleared that day before hitting the shower. Time passed……a little over a week ago I was sitting on my deck with a lovely view of what was once bare earth and is now covered with weeds of various types, many taller than my tiller which is still stuck in the ground where I left off.

The Gospel reading this morning, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, is all about gardening, or agriculture to be more specific.  In this very familiar parable Jesus shares a story with a crowd of people beside the Sea of Galilee, so large that he actually gets into a boat to get free of the press of people.  He talks of something with which all these people would be familiar, a man, the sower, planting seed.  This man has a “packet” of seed.  We assume that all the seed is basically the same and equally capable of growing and bearing a good
yield.  Some of his seeds fall on the path and are snatched up by birds, some fall on rocky ground where they begin to grow but with shallow roots they shrivel up under the sun.  Some of the seeds fall among the weeds where they begin to grow only to be choked off by the weeds.  Some of the seed falls on good soil, grows and provides an extraordinary harvest.  He sows all his seed, but in the end only one quarter of the seed produced a
harvest.  Interestingly, the harvest was many times more than might have been expected from the whole amount of seed
sown!

Israel, situated as it was in the Fertile Crescent, was a culture which based on agriculture and much of the imagery in the Old
Testament was related to sowing and reaping.  Their laws included regulations on when and where to plant, what kind of
seeds to plant, when they should harvest, and even what to do with any grain left in the field.  They were used to God being referred to as the sower.  In creation he planted every plant of every kind in the Garden of Eden.  He is variously said to have sown Israel and Judah into the land, sown peace in Zion, and sown righteousness in the nations.

For the most part, although they were familiar with the trials of farming and the vagaries of rocks, birds, and weeds, people didn’t understand the point of Jesus’ story.   The disciples, who didn’t get the point either, had the benefit of Jesus’ extra time and patience when he explained it to them later, when they are alone together.  Unlike in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the imagery of the sower is used to represent the sowing of the Kingdom.  Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds in his story represent the Word of God.  When the Word does not get into the soil at all, on the path, it is stolen by “the evil one.”  For the other examples, where the seed reaches the soil, our hearts, the image refers to what happens with us.  Sometimes we are turned away by troubles or persecution for our beliefs, sometimes overwhelmed by the distractions of the secular world, and sometimes the seed takes root and we produce a good harvest.

There are many ways of interpreting the message of this parable for our lives.  Are we meant to look at ourselves as the soil, the seed, the plant, the sower, or the harvest?  If Jesus is the seed and we are the soil, what kinds of harvest how can our soil provide a
better harvest.  If we are a seed and plant and we produce a good harvest, what form does that take?  A lot of time is spent in considering the present condition of the soils.  One interpretation I read took the view that within each of us we may have areas of
all the types of soil, thus when the seed is sown some of it may find good soil while other parts of us are unwilling to yield.  All of these points are worth consideration, however, when I first thought about this week’s readings it occurred to me that maybe we aren’t supposed to focus so much on the current condition of the soils in the Parable and which type we are ourselves, nor on how we can do a better job of sowing the Kingdom in our communities, but on what we do in our churches and ministries
to prepare the soil for planting.

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Ten


Tenth in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #34

God be merciful to me

Psalm 51
Pressburg (Nicht So Traurig)
Paraphrase, Psalter 1912
Music: Geistreiches Gensangbuch (Freylinghausen) 1704
public domain
 
God be merciful to me; on thy grace I rest my plea
Plenteous in compassion thou, blot out my transgressions now;
my transgressions I confess; grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against thy grace and provoked thee to thy face.Wash me, wash me pure within; cleanse, oh cleanse me from my sin;
I confess thy judgements just; speechless, I thy mercy trust.
Thou alone my saviour art; teach thy wisdom to my heart;
make me pure, thy grace bestow; make me thus thy mercy know.

Gracious God, my heart renew, make my spirit right and true;
from my sins oh hide thy face, blot them out in boundless grace.
Cast me not away from thee: let thy Spirit dwell in me;
thy salvation’s joy impart; steadfast make my willing heart.

The paraphrase has a perfect rhyme and rhythm scheme which if spoken might make it seem a bit trite.  Sung however it has a nice flow.

The tune for this hymn is not one you want to spring on a congregation with whom it is unfamiliar.  In a minor key with half-tone changes in note from bar to bar (F# in one bar with F in the next) it will take some time for it to become comfortable.  Assuming your choir can sing it, I advise having the organ (piano) play it all the way through and then just the choir for the first verse and then the congregation joining as they are comfortable.

 

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Nine


Ninth in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #32

Within your temple, Lord

Psalm 48
Gopsal
Paraphrase, United Presbyterian Book of Psalms 1871
Music: Congregational Church Music 1853
public domain
 
Within your temple, Lord, your mercies we will tell,
for where your name is known there does your praise excel:
your praises sound through every land;
with righteous reign you shall command.Mount Zion, now rejoice! Let Judah’s daughters praise
with strong and cheerful voice, the justice God displays;
go round the walls on Zion’s mount
its many splendours to recount.

The towers of Zion tell; its palaces survey;
mark its defences well, and to your children say:
“The Lord, our faithful God and guide,
this God forever shall abide.”

The paraphrase is considerably shorter than the original Psalm and seems to leave out most of the more martial elements.  Other than that, it fits nicely with the phrasing of the melody.  If it were not the Lectionary Psalm of the day, I don’t think I would pick it for a service.

The tune for this hymn is ok.  I’m not a huge fan, but it isn’t hard to sing and congregations will pick it up fairly quickly.  I like the fact that the second half is not just more of the same.  After two repeated lines there are two upward flowing phrases which lead to a nice climax.

 

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Eight


Eighth in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #29

Oh send thy light forth

Psalm 43
St. Paul
Paraphrase, Scottish Psalter 1650
Music: James Chalmers’ Collection, 1749 
public domain
 
Oh send thy light forth and thy truth;
let them be guides to me,
and bring me to thine holy hill,
even where thy dwellings be.
Then to God’s altar I will go
to God, my chiefest joy;
O God, my God, to praise thy name
my harp I will employ.

Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
What should discourage thee?
And why with vexing thoughts art thou
disquieted in me?

Thou art my refuge and my help,
my God that doth me raise.
I hope in God; I will again
have cause to give thee praise.

The paraphrase is good.  It skips over the first section of the Psalm and then follows quite closely for three verses without any strange syntax in order to achieve rhymes.  The final verse is a combination of lines from the opening sequence of the Psalm and the last two lines. 

The tune for this hymn is also a good one.  I prefer it without the use of the half-notes at phrase endings.  I believe they were put in to approximate the traditional practice of putting a fermata at the end of each phrase.  I’m not sure about the half notes at the beginning of the phrases, they seem a bit gratuitous.  Check out the rhythm in hymn 76 to see how much more nicely it flows.

 

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Seven


Seventh in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #26

As Pants the Heart

Psalm 42
Martydrom
Paraphrase, Tate and Brady’s New Version 1696
Music: Hugh Wilson (1766-1824) 
public domain
 
As pants the hart for cooling streams
when heated in the chase,
so longs my sou, O God, for thee
and thy refreshing grace.For thee, my God, the living God,

my thirsty soul doth pine;
oh when shall I behold thy face,
thou majesty divine?Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Trust God, who will employ
sure aid for thee, and change these sighs
to thankful humns of joy.God of my strength, how long shall I,

like one forgotten, mourn,
forlorn, forsaken and exposed
to my oppressor’s scorn?Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Hope still, and thou shalt sing
praise to thy God, the living God,
thy health’s eternal spring.

The lyrics for this hymn are a paraphrase and of the three parahprase versions of Psalm 42 in the Book of Praise, this is the one which covers the majority of the Psalm. The phrasing in the first two verses fit with the pattern of the music perfectly while the other three continue through the midpoint.  Because of this and the fact that most of us need to breathe, the meaning tends to be lost or at least muddled.

The tune for hymn 26 isn’t my favourite.  There are many other 8686CM tunes in the BOP which would work if you don’t like this one.  Despite the fact that the paraphrase is better, I would choose hymn 25 which uses the English folk tune O Waly, Waly or 27 with it’s own tune As The Deer.

 

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Hymn#19


Sixth in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #19

High in the heavens, eternal God

Psalm 36
Song 34
Paraphrase, Isaac Watts
Music: Orlando Gibbons.
 
High in the heavens. eternal God,
thy goodness in full glory shines:
thy truth shall break through every cloud
that veils and darkens thy desings.
 
Forever firm thy justice stands,
as mountains their foundaions keep;
wise are the wonders of they hands;
thy judgements are a mighty deep.
 
From the provisions of thy house
we shall be fed with sweet repast;
there mercy like a river flows
and brings salvation to our taste.
 
Life, like a fountain, rich and free,
springs from the presence of the Lord,
and in thy light our souls shall see
the glories promised in thy word.
 

Today I think I’ll begin with the music for this hymn.  I would not recommend using the music provided for hymn #19.  There is an alternate suggested which is Truro which is somewhat better (hymn #251).  I think if I wanted to use the paraphrase I would do it to the tune Angelus (hymn #516) which lilts along quite nicely in 3 and would be somewhat familiar as the common baptism hymn ‘A little child the saviour came’.

The paraphrase itself is nice and even metricaly speaking but, as seems to be a trend, I don’t really like parts of it.  Starting at verse 7 of the Psalm it says;
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light. (NRSV)

I don’t think the third verse is very clear in its meaning.  The Psalm speaks of feasting on abundance and drinking from the river of delights.  I don’t really see that as the same as “we shall be fed with sweet repast; there mercy like a river flows and brings salvation to our taste.”  I expect the phrasing is, again, chosen to match the rhyme scheme of the poem, but repast and taste do not even rhyme so it makes it awkward and confusing without accmomlishing the goal.


Praise Notes: The Book of Praise Hymn#15


Fifth in a series of posts that go through hymns in The Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. 

Hymn #15

The Lord’s my light

Psalm 27
St. Magnus
Paraphrase, Scottish  Psalter 1650
Music: Jeremiah Clarke, from Divine Companion 1707  public domain.
 
The Lord’s my light and saving health;
who shall make me dismayed?
God is the stronghold of my life:
who shall make me afraid?
 
Though wars arise and armies camp
against me, I’ll not fear;
I will stand firma
 and confident:
I know that God is near.
 
One thing I asked of God the Lord,
and will seek to obtain,
that all days of my life I may
within God’s house remain;
 
that I the beauty of the Lord
may worship and admire,
that I in God’s most holy place
may reverently enquire.
 
In evil, troubled days, my God
will hide and shelter me,
and raise me high upon a rock
above my enemy.
 
Now I will offer sacrifice
for all God’s saving grace,
with melody unto the Lord
and joyful shouts of praise!

If you have been following this series it is quite likely that as you read through the lyrics you said to yourself, “I know the first thing Cathy is going to comment on!”  If you did that, in reference to the third and fourth verses, you are spot on!  A verse in a song should not, or at least would not normally, begin with a lower case letter as each verse should be complete unto itself!  Since the paraphrase goes over eight phrases rather than four, perhaps a melody should have been chosen which was done in eight phrase verses.  Another option would have been to have a bridge inserted to carry those extra lines of verse three, rather than calling it verse four.

The tune St. Magnus is a pretty familiar melody, at least in the churches in my area.  In 4/4 time, the range is not wide and it is easy to sing.  It is used for four of the hymns in the Book of Praise all of which will be included, eventually, in this series.  It is also used frequently to substitute for less familiar tunes for hymns which follow the 8686 meter such as In Christ there is no east and west.  It is frequently used as a melody for the Gloria Patri;

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
the God whom we adore
be glory as it was and is
and shall be evermore.

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise #9


 

Hymn #9

How blest are they, who, fearing God

Psalm 19
St. Andrew
Paraphrase, Scottish Psalter 1650 
Music: William Tans’ur’s New Harmony of Zion 1764
 
God’s law is perfect and converts
the soul in sin that lies:
God’s testimony is most sure
and makes the simple wise.
 
The statutes of the Lord are right
and do rejoice the heart:
the Lord’s command is pure, and doth
light to the eyes impart.
 
Unspotted is the fear of God
and ever doth endure;
the judgements of the Lord are true
together, right and sure.
 
They more than gold, yea much fine gold,
to be desired are
than honey, honey from the comb
that droppeth, sweeter far.
 
Moreover, they thy servants warn
how they their life should frame:
a great reward provided is
for them that keep the same.

If you recall, in my last Praise Notes I mentioned that I am not a fan of hymns in which the paraphrase needs to twist around to match the tune.  Hymn #9 has one verse which does this.  If you don’t take time to puzzle it out, this verse is just a series of words to a pretty tune.   The meaning is that God’s laws are desired more than fine gold and sweeter than honey from the comb.  All this twisting of sentence structure was done to retain a rhyme scheme.  I personally would have preferred that it not rhyme and make some sense.  I believe this sort of thing is a large part of the reason people feel that the traditional hymns of the Christian church are outdated and boring.

 

As for the music, William Tans’ur wrote a pleasant lilting melody.  The harmonies are pleasant, although the alto part does spend most of the time on one of three notes.  The bass and tenor lines are a bit more interesting to sing.  All together a good piece of music which only appears once in the book as the prescribed melody.  Another of his pieces, Bangor,  comes up elswhere in the Book of Praise at #s 6, 232 and 751 and won’t be part of my series as the lyrics for all three are still under copyright.  It is a lovely composition, written in a minor key.

 

 

Praise Notes: The Book of Praise #5


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…

Hymn #5

Lord, our Lord, your glorious name

Psalm 8
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.