Monthly Archives: February 2010

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 25 through 34

First, a reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 25-27.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

At this time, please pray with me Psalm 19, verse 14:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Do you think Jesus’ speaking style would have made him sound stilted and academic, the way that what you just read sounds? I don’t think so. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, after all, and a plain man who grew up in a small town, learning his trade from his father. For this reason, I’ve tried to strip off the stilted, academic polish on these words of his, translating them into plain, colloquial American.

Now we have a different reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 25- 34.

“… I’ve got to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about your life and what you eat or drink, or about your body and what you wear. Isn’t your life more important than food? Isn’t your body more important than clothes? Look at the birds up in the sky. They don’t plant seeds or harvest anything, or build barns to keep it in, and even so your father up in heaven feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? Can any of you add one lousy hour to your life by worrying about it?

And why’re you worrying about clothes? Look at the lilies growing in that field over there. They don’t work for a living. They don’t have any clothes, but not even Solomon in all his glory was as beautiful as one of them. If that’s how God dresses the grass, that’s here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you think he’ll clothe you? Yeah you, with only a little faith! So stop worrying, and don’t say “What’re we gonna eat, and what’re we gonna drink, and what’re we gonna wear?” Everybody’s always running around looking for these things, and your father up in heaven knows you need’em, too. So first, look for his kingdom and his righteousness, and he’ll give all these things to you, too. And don’t worry about tomorrow — just let it worry about itself. There’s too much trouble every day already.”

It reads like the plain speaking of a plain man, a man whom the conventional, the secular, the learned, and the intellectual disdain, this carpenter from East Podunk, Galilee, for God’s sake, who, while surrounded by the dregs of society, has the nerve to lecture his betters about the will of God.

I hope that it reads like that, and if it does, then thank God as I say unto you, 1

1 Stilted and academic Is okay for me, because I am an expert. I caution you, however, not to try this at home.


5 Cool Hymns from the Wilds of the United Methodist 1982 Hymnal

586 Let My People Seek Their Freedom
(see text and tune)
Words: T. Herbert O’Driscoll, 1971
Music: EBENEZER — Thomas J. Williams, 1890

Both my teenage daughters agree that “Ebenezer” is the coolest-sounding tune in the book. I agree. Two musical elements, a long note and a triplet, play together to create a rolling rhythm which gives the hymn an almost martial air. You could march to it, sure, but all the rhythm requires of one is a brisk, purposeful walk, perhaps the walk of the Christian soldier, or the confident tread of the Israelites leaving Egypt. Even as I sing it, I can’t help but feel that exciting things are going on somewhere.

589 The Church of Christ, in Every Age
( see correct text but with wrong tune)
Words: Fred Pratt Green, 1969
Music: DICKINSON COLLEGE — Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr., 1962

This tune is in the rare time signature of 5/4. It’s as if I’m falling headlong into the music as I listen. It’s like a petite piece of Polka crashing into the Waltz. Nevertheless, it does have its charms. It seemed without equilibrium, with one measure tumbling into the next, rhythmically disorienting. But now, with a sense of excitement, I anticipate all of its tottering dance1. This hymn that has no place to rest brings to mind the Son of Man and His restless, striving Church, which God renews and resurrects in every age. The lyric is a rare modern lyric that seems timeless, less anchored to a particular place and time. Unlike a protest song, which often ages to senility even while you’re singing it, it won’t become obsolete as soon as times, and their battles, change.

605 Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters
(see text and tune)
Words: Ruth Duck, 1987
Music: BEACH SPRING — attributed to B. F. White, 1844; harmonized by Ronald A. Nelson, 1978

This should be the winner of Best Pairing of a Very Modern Lyric with a Mid-19th Century Tune. Ruth Duck’s lyric sounds as fresh today as it did in 1987, and I daresay will sound as fresh in 2087 as it does today.

606 Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine
(see text and tune)
Words: Charles Wesley, 1762
Music: KINGSFOLD — English melody; arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

This one is arranged from an old English melody by the great Ralph Vaughan Williams2 . I love the modal sound in this hymn, and I also love its resemblance to one of the themes in Vaughan Williams’ orchestral work, “Folk Songs from Somerset”.

627 O The Depth of Love Divine
(see text and tune)
Words: Charles Wesley, 1745
Music: STOOKEY — Carlton R. Young, 1986

This last is a serious contender in the category Best Pairing of a Mid-18th Century Poem with a Modern Tune. It is unmetered, the better to fit Wesley’s words, and for me, the music adds significance to the question asked within the lyric: How is it necessary, or even possible that bread and wine convey to us the body of Christ and the grace of God?

1 My wife says I ought to try and get out of the house more often.
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2 When considering British choral music, Vaughan Williams is as inescapable as death and taxes, but is far better-liked.
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