given Sunday, October 25, 2009
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Here we are: the last Sunday morning of October. The goal for this month was to talk about praise each Sunday, but I just kept struggling to find the words to share with you. Last Sunday I found the inspiration in Psalms 104, which was part of the lectionary. Well the lectionary also included another psalms for this week.
Now the lectionary is a standard structure that meets the needs of many pulpits—not only this year but for years and years in the past and into the future. The goal is that every three years the entire Bible is read and reviewed. The fact that any group of scholars tackling such an undertaking seems awesome to me, but the startling thing is that the lectionary seems to provide inspiration and guidance regardless of the day, the week, the year, or even the denomination. There is always an Old Testament, a Psalms, a Gospel, and one more reading each week.
My renegade side wants to stay as far away as I possibly can from the lectionary, but the Holy Spirit takes hold of me and places the words I need right smack dab in front of me. I have to shout out praises to God just because he talks to me even when I do not want to listen. Today, Psalms 34 provided the little spark I needed, but the hymns turned the spark into the bonfire I needed.
Our first hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” shares so many of the same ideas that Psalm 34 does about the glory we experience because we love God. Look at those words again:
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love …
All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays …
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest …
The words express the very same excitement that Psalms 34 does in the first verses:
I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are helpless take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.
What better combination of hymns and scripture could there be to open the service and rekindle the joy we have knowing that God is our creator, sustainer and redeemer!
This takes me back to how tough the week has been. The glorious sunshine we missed so badly the week before appeared. The spirits of those around me—especially those of my own—lifted. The dreariness disappeared from the house, the colors shown in the trees, and the layers came off and jackets were hung up.
The words in that first verse of the hymn matched the week:
Hearts unfold like flo’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
I knew that the dreariness of the cold, rainy days was temporary, but still it wore me down. Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the accompaniment for the lyrics of our hymn, creates a tone or a mood of hope and gratitude.
If the music is not enough to demonstrate how we can praise God through hymns, then hear the story of Beethoven and this hymn:
“How Beethoven adapted Schiller’s text remains a musicological mystery. Nevertheless, it is certain that Schiller’s Ode to Joy had greatly inspired Beethoven since his youth. At the ages of 23, 41, and 47, Beethoven thrice attempted to set Schiller’s text to music (Chao 98). On January 26, 1793, Charlotte Schiller, the daughter of the poet, received a letter telling her that “a young man whose talents are universally praised and whom the Elector has sent to Haydn in Vienna proposes to compose Schiller’s Freude… I expect something perfect, for as far as I know the young man is wholly devoted to the great and to the sublime” (Klein 38). That was when Beethoven first decided to set Schiller’s text to music. It was not until thirty years later in 1823 that Beethoven finally decided to write his Ninth Symphony (Chao 98). Beethoven began writing the symphony movement by movement until he had finished the third movement and began wondering what to do with such a majestic work. At first, Beethoven wanted to use his String Quartet, Op. 132 as the theme of the final movement (Chao 98). He was hesitant to use human voices in the symphony, as he could anticipate the criticism that he would receive from doing so. Yet, for some reason he finally decided to incorporate Schiller’s Ode to Joy into the last movement of his last symphony.
“The symphony was premiered in 1824 when Beethoven was already deaf. The success of the premier is a well known story. Due to his deafness Beethoven was unable to conduct the symphony, so he sat beside the conductor throughout the concert. As the orchestra began playing, Beethoven’s arms began moving with the music, and slowly Beethoven’s conducting was out of tempo with the conductor. The orchestra spontaneously began to follow Beethoven’s arms. In the middle of the second movement after a thunderous blow of the timpani, the audience was so excited that they began to applaud and the orchestra was even forced to stop playing for a while. After the majestic finale of the Ode to Joy, the audience exploded into applause, greeting the birth of the great symphony with tears in their eyes. Beethoven stood on the stage facing the orchestra, not hearing any applause due to his deafness. The soprano had to hold his hand to turn him around and show him the standing ovation of the audience. Beethoven had to return to the stage five times to bow to his enthusiastic fans. Since then, no criticism has ever altered the sacred status of the symphony in the musical world.” (Excerpt taken from the article by Alex Tseng, “Ode an die Freude: Beethoven, Schiller, and the Enlightenment” from the website: http://herewestand.org/english/HereWeStandMagazine/OdeToJoy.html)
The story of this hymn is so surreal that many might not accept it as truth, but for me and I dare say most Christians, the story is just one more example of how the Holy Spirit works. There can be no other explanation of how a deaf composer can create any form of music pleasing to the ear—the Holy Spirit speaks even to the deaf. We must praise God that even someone with such a handicap can hear music much less write music which can lift us right up from the depths of our dreary, cold, rainy days and move us to praise God.
Praise God that we can hear and sing these words of joy. We are so blessed by the work of so many others. Look at the second stanza of Psalm 34:
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
This week a picture was released of the young woman, Jaycee Lee Dugard, who had been kidnapped and held for 18 years. Did you see her face? She was absolutely “…radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken …” her face. I thought that somehow God has been with her and protected her. The years of being held captive also protected her from all the torment, temptations, and trials we live through when included in the world. There is no doubt that she needed God every hour, just like our second hymn guides us:
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford. …
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh. ..
I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain …
As we join in prayer during worship, we must remember to praise God for being there with us, for helping us fend off temptation, to manage the pain of the days, and to keep our balance in life. Jaycee Lee Dugard certainly has reason to praise God and so does her family. Somehow she found the joy of living even with the restrictions placed upon her for those 18 years. We, too, can praise God for protecting her and returning her to her family.
One of the lessons I learned this week, though, was that even when I am worn out, frustrated, and lost in the hubbub of daily life, the concept of praise can crack open even the tightest locked door. Driving to work on one of the surprise rainy mornings, I was just thinking that I guess the deer would not be out in the rain.
You see, I look for the deer each morning as much as I look for the glory of the sunrise. I have an affection for the deer living right here in my own neighborhood despite the houses, the dogs, the cars, and all that urban life. But at that very moment, in the dark and in the rain, I sensed something: I jerked my head to the left and as I was speeding up there she was…a young doe! Not only was she a surprise to me just to see, she was literally racing along side of me! It was such a delight and my spirits just soared and I had to thank God for the very moment. I know he spoke to me in that flash.
Our third hymn, “Lord, Speak to Me,” is filled with guiding words of prayer. As I go through the verses and think about how our daily grind affects each one of us, I am reminded of my purpose and how God will guide me:
Lord, speak to me that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou has sought, so let me seek
Thine erring children lost and lone.
O lead me …
O strengthen me …
O teach me …
O give Thine own sweet rest to me …
O fill me with Thy fullness, Lord …
O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.
Thank God, praise God, that the work we have in this world does not have to be done alone. We have God. We have the Holy Spirit to work through us. We are sustained by God and we praise him for that. Turn to Psalms 34 again and look at those next three verses, 8-10:
Taste and see that the ord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him?
Fear [revere] the Lord, you his godly people,
for those who fear him will have all they need.
Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry,
but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.
The psalms and the hymns all work together. We can praise God with all our being simply by hearing the words, listening to God talk, and thanking him for being with us day by day. He really does
“… leadeth me [us], O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ‘tis God’s and that leadeth me…
Praise God for all that he is. We may never understand the full realm of his power, but we do know that he is with us throughout our troubles, toils, and cares. And as the hymns says:
And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.
Today, we praise God together. This week, we praise God on our own and with our families. We can hear the joy of our lives echoing through our minds just like Beethoven must have heard it as he sat by the orchestra, deaf to the human world, but listening to God. What a vision that must have been for the musicians and the audience! I pray today, that we will leave this holy place hearing God, praising God, and experiencing the unadulterated joy of life. That is my vision:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom…my true Word;
…my battle Shield,
… my Dignity, … my Delight;
… my soul’s Shelter, … my high Tower;
…May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you for speaking to me so that I might share the joy I find in loving you. I thank you for all those musicians and poets who have heard you and shared with us the joy they find in you. Today we praise you for the support and strength you sustain us with. May we follow your guiding words and look toward the glory of life everlasting. –Amen