shepherd sounds: Sunday Music: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday Music: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

3 October 2010

Doing our duty. It’s a good phrase for evangelical Christians who know that nothing is earned by being a follower of Jesus. The text reminds servants (a term with which we aren’t that comfortable) that doing what the master asks brings no reward. Our pleasure is to serve the master who provides all that we need.

Worship is our way of affirming this. We gather because we belong together in this community of God’s people and because we want to ‘feel his pleasure’ (as Eric Liddell put it in Chariots of Fire) in our service.

The Introit hymn, ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ (1561), embraces this thought in a most comprehensive way. Written by William Kethe, a Scottish clergyman who at the time was in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, the words paraphrase Psalm 100. ‘Why should we praise God or serve him?’ the song asks.
For why? the Lord our God is good;

His mercy is for ever sure;

His truth at all times firmly stood,

And shall from age to age endure.
The Reformed musician Louis Bourgeois (1510–1561) followed John Calvin to Geneva and edited the Genevan Psalter, the book of approved tunes and texts used in the Swiss Reformed Church. He composed many of the tunes used in this book, including the one to which this text was set, traditionally called ‘Old 100th’.

The overall solemnity of this text and tune make it one of the ‘standards’ in all Christian denominations. It was sung at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 using a harmonization provided by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The post-communion hymn, ‘O Jesus, I have promised’, was written in 1868 by John Bode for his daughter’s and two sons’ confirmation service. The language is somewhat sentimental, but it speaks of commitment and, in terms of Sunday’s Gospel lesson, explains why Christians make commitments:
O Jesus, thou hast promised

To all who follow thee,

That where thou art in glory

There shall thy servant be;

And, Jesus, I have promised

To serve thee to the end:

O give me grace to follow,

My Master and my friend.
A Christian’s commitment always begins with the promise of Jesus to claim him/her for all eternity. Based on this grace at work in our spirit, we pledge ourselves to follow and to serve. 

David Zersen

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