Whose Faith do We Proclaim?
This Sunday our theme is “Saying My Faith Out Loud,” and as we celebrate our CYF Confirmation Class much of our worship music will center on how we proclaim our faith in both words and deeds.
I was immediately struck by Dr. Brown’s choice of the word ‘my’ in his sermon title. In 1979 I landed in New York as an 18-year-old newly-born-again Christian. I was eager to adopt the language and beliefs of what I was being taught was “true” faith. As a member of an evangelical church which prized winning converts I was very much expected to say that faith out loud in public. I dutifully handed out literature and attempted to “witness” to people in Central Park and Duffy Square, spreading the Gospel I myself was struggling to believe and live. Thinking back on those days still makes me shudder, and I’m grateful for loyal friends who patiently weathered my radical phase. I was under the influence of some persuasive leaders who seemed more intent on teaching me what I should believe then on encouraging me to find my own authentic spiritual identity. I was learning to say theological phrases like “entire sanctification,” adopting language I neither understood nor felt in harmony with.
From the vantage point of mid-life I now realize the importance of that word ‘my’ in discovering one’s genuine faith. I’m continually guided and shaped by the wisdom and spiritual depth of those around me, but I also realize that my own faith must grow from within in order to be authentic. I think of Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) But Jesus’ follow-up question gets to the heart of the matter: “Who do YOU say that I am?” This is a question we must ultimately answer for ourselves, using language that is not what we have learned to say but what we have authentically come to believe.
Introit: Come, You People, Rise and Sing, arr. Dake LISTEN As many of you know, I resonate to the earthy directness of American folk hymns, and I have set quite a number of them in choral and instrumental arrangement during my time at Marble. I’m delighted that many of them are now published with MorningStar music and are being sung in worship and concert across the country. This buoyant tune is in our Marble hymnal, which is where I discovered it for the first time. I composed this arrangement for our summer choir and dedicated it to one of our ministers at the time, Dr. Ronald Patterson. Let us always remember to come into worship bringing our “praise for mercies past, all God’s love confessing.” This Sunday when you “rise and sing,” do not think of it as merely standing up in order to sing the opening hymn. In this sacred hour let us see ourselves rising above the world’s troubles and the spirit’s brokenness in order to sing God’s praise in the midst of every trial and circumstance. Remembering that God is a merciful and loving God, we come into His presence first and foremost with praise.
Hymn: O Worship the King (Hanover) LISTEN Since 1750 this magnificent hymn-tune has appeared in every major hymnal in the English-speaking world. What we don’t know is exactly who composed it. It has been attributed to William Croft – the composer of another beloved hymn, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The tune has at times been attributed to Handel, or to Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Franz Joseph. We know for certain who authored the text, however: Sir Robert Grant (1779-1838) who was born in Bengal, India into a family with considerable British political pedigree. His father was a director of the East India Company and a member of British Parliament. Robert himself was appointed Governor of Bombay in 1834. He was revered by the people of India, and a reputable medical college in Mumbai bears his name and serves as a lasting memorial. Robert was a devout Christian, and following his death his brother Charles published a small volume of 12 sacred poems. Only O Worship the King, written in 1833, remains in wide circulation. In our rendering in worship on Sunday the women, men, and choir will each have their own solo verse. Always endeavor to sing the hymns with great joy, leaning into the text and using it as an opportunity to bring your whole body, mind and soul into worship. Be an active participant, not a passive observer!
Offertory: Witness, arr. Halloran LISTEN (This recording is from What a Mighty God, a CD by the Minneapolis based VocalEssence under the direction of Philip Brunelle.) Given the theme of the day I couldn’t resist programming this classic arrangement of the well-known African-American Spiritual – “Who’ll be a witness for my Lord…” It tells the story of two ‘witnesses’ – New Testament Nicodemus (John 3) and Old Testament Samson (Judges 16). Of the two I can relate most to Samson, since I also tend to place what is probably an unhealthy priority on hair maintenance. (Although, I do not believe it gives me any supernatural abilities.) Arranger Jack Halloran (1916-1997) was a Hollywood choral director for films, records and television. He was the choral director and arranger for the Dean Martin Show for nine years and for several Bing Crosby recordings. TV shows had choirs back then! I was born too late.
Hymn: You Are Salt for the Earth LISTEN This is one of our newer hymns that brings an element of contemporary energy into our worship. The tune and text are by Marty Haugen (b. 1950) Haugen was raised in the American Lutheran Church in Minnesota, but his music has found favor in the both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations. For the past 25 years Haugen has pursued a career as a liturgical composer and workshop presenter. This hymn was composed as an outdoor “processing song” at a retreat center in the state of Washington. For this Sunday I have written additional lyrics that speak to the theme of proclaiming our faith through what we say and how we live:
Sing Good News for a longing people, News for the City of God!
Sing your faith in word and action: faith for the City of God!
Prelude and Postlude: Symphony No. 6 by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
When Charles was twenty-four, the French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, a friend of the Widor family, helped him secure the distinguished post at Saint-Sulplice in Paris, an appointment he held until he was ninety. At the Paris Conservatoire, Widor would eventually succeed both César Franck as professor of organ and Théodore Dubois as professor of composition. Widor’s illustrious list of students includes Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, Albert Schweitzer, Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud. Widor is often regarded as the creator of the organ symphony, having composed ten such pieces which took the genre to new heights. Other composers had paved the way, however, most notably Franz Liszt with his symphonic poem, Ad Nos Fantasy and Fugue (1850), and César Franck with his Grand Piéce Symphonique (1860-62). Widor’s Symphony No. 6 in G Minor dates from around 1880, and while its Finale LISTEN will forever dwell in the shadow of its predecessor (the famous Toccata from Symphony No. 5), it still conveys all the resplendent grandeur for which Widor is so well known. On Sunday I’ll play two of the inner movements from this masterful work as a prelude to the service – the gentle Cantabile and the scherzo-like Intermezzo.
Solo: Living Prayer by Alison Krauss LISTEN The piece I’m looking forward to the most this week is this incredible song that has gotten under my skin over the last several months. It will be sung by Marble’s very talented congregant and Broadway performer, Kevin Massey. I can’t think of a better goal than to become a living prayer to God in all that we say and do, in the struggles we bear and the doubts we feel, as well as in the successes we achieve and the breakthroughs we enjoy. Life simply lived as prayer would say our faith louder than words ever could.
In these trials of life I find
Another voice inside my mind
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love the Father gives.
In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee.