Monday, July 29, 2013

Last week's offertory hymn, "I've found a Friend, O Such a Friend,"  was the choice of our music director, mostly because the tune was composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.  If you listen closely, you may hear echoes of operetta in the strongly dotted rhythm.

   The text of the hymn was written by James Grindly Small of Edinburgh. He was educated at the High School, and the University of Edinburgh,  studied divinity under Dr. Chalmers, and in 1843 he joined the Free Church of Scotland.  The hymn,  "I've found a Friend; oh such a Friend" (Jesus, the Friend), appeared in his Psalms & Sacred Songs, 1866.

      Sullivan names his tune "Constance" in reference to the theme of the text.  God's love for us is constant, unchanging and unchangeable.   We hear in the first stanze that God loved us, before we loved Him. (1Jn. 4:10The second stanza speaks of Christ's gift of eternal life.  "He bled and died to save me."  In the third stanza bears echoes of Paul's great proclamation in Romans 8: 35-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Then in the final stanza concludes with the words, "I am His forever."

   Just as in his secular work, Sullivan is sensitive to the text when composing his music.  CONSTANCE is a solid Victorian tune with a fine climax in the melody of its final line.
   This hymn is not as well-known as Sullivan's most famous hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers," but since it's first publication it has appeared in 20 hymnbooks and seems to be gaining in popularity.

   Summer at SPPC has become a time to try out new hymns and old.  Everyone is invited to submit requests so don't be shy.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Here's another in our summertime series of favourite hymns. 

"In the Cross of Christ I Glory"

Scripture reading: 
1 Corinthians 1:14 - 18

        Sir John Bowring [author of the hymn]was a great traveller.  As such he must have seen, time and again, the forlorn symbols of empires and civilizations that had flourished and then fallen.  There are numerous examples familiar even to those who have not had the experience of travel - the pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens, the ruins of Machu Pichu in South America.  Built by former ascendant civilizations, they remain now as relics for the curious.  The armies of the pagans, the rationalists, the Communists and many others have warred against the Cross and the ideals it represents.  They have been destroyed but the radiance of the Cross continues to tower "over the wrecks of time".  It has survived them all and will continue to outlive them all.

            That is the historical perspective.  But the Cross has a far more personal application.  In times of defeat when "the woes of life o'ertake me", in times of fear when I am perplexed and uncertain as to the outcome of my struggles, in times of disappointment when the pleasures of the world prove to be fleeting and the hopes that the world offers prove to be a deception, the Cross still remains constant.  It is the symbol of God's love and of his deliverance from the very things that appeared to offer so much and yet proved to be so transient.  Its message still sounds forth with the promise of peace, bequeathed to us by the One who died on that Cross (John 14:27), and joy such as the world has never known (John 15:11).  We are not told how the Cross is able to do this but human experience has shown that contemplation of the sufferings of Christ and the lesson of victory through self-sacrifice that is implicit in the Cross are a powerful inspiration.

            There are other times when things go well for us, when "the sun of bliss is beaming light and love upon my way".  At such times the consciousness that our lives are linked with God through Christ puts the glory of eternity into our fleeting happiness.  It is easy, in times of joy, to lose sight of the Cross and imagine that the good things of life are the result of our own effort.  Then it is important for us to take our stand at the foot of the Cross and allow its radiance to stream over us.

            The fourth stanza reiterates these same ideas in another way.  The opposites in life - "bane and blessing", "pain and pleasure" - are reconciled when we are able to view them in the light of eternity.  We see them as being "sanctified", made holy to us, in the shadow of the Cross.  Again we are reminded that the Cross brings peace and joy.  The peace is without measure and the joy remains with us through all ages.  They are enhanced because now we are able to see them in their true perspective.  We are reminded of the words Jesus shared with his disciples in the Upper Room.  "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  The means by which he has overcome the world is the Cross.  The wonder of Christianity is that an instrument of torture and degradation should be the very thing by which we know peace and joy. 

Commentary by Dr. Cecil Kirk

Monday, July 15, 2013


  It's summertime and the choir is on holiday.   This doesn't mean we have no special music in the service, it just means a different format.   This is the time for congregational favourites.   If you haven't already noticed it, there is a sign up sheet in the narthex where you can request your favourite hymn to be sung during the service
  In keeping with the "your choice" theme, this blog will feature the same hymns.  
    I'm indebted to the late Rev. Dr. Cecil Kirk for the content of these essays and to his wife, Edna, for sharing them with us.  Here's one we sang last summer that is a perennial favourite.

Scripture reading: Joshua 3. 1 - 17

There is no more thrilling sound than that of fifty thousand Welsh rugby fans cheering on the national team at Cardiff Arms Park, not with shouts, but by singing Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch (Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah) in their native tongue. The hymn has almost the status of a second national anthem. It is the work of William Williams who was born in Llandovery in Carmarthenshire. He was twenty years old and training for the medical profession when he heard a sermon by Howell Harris, the leader of the evangelical revival in Wales, and was converted. He was ordained as a deacon in the Anglican Church by the Bishop of St. David's but three years later he left to become a minister in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist church. Rather than ministering to a settled congregation he took the whole of Wales as his parish, becoming an itinerant evangelist. During the next forty-three years he travelled almost 100,000 miles on foot and horseback preaching the gospel.

As with so many other hymns, the imagery is taken from the Biblical story of the Israelites' journey to the promised land. We are reminded of the fact that the Christian life is a pilgrimage that has a definite goal in mind. The pilgrim life is a progressive experience. The Christian pilgrim is not someone who settles down comfortably in the present world as though it were a place of permanent residence. We are here but for a time and not for ever. That means that we must have a sense of detachment from the world and the things of the world. While there may be many interesting and worthwhile things on earth we know that there are better things in store for us in the heavenly country to which we journey.

In order to travel wisely and safely we ask for divine guidance. We are moving through a "barren land" like the wilderness traversed by the Israelites and as they needed to be guarded and guided so do we. We also need nourishment for the journey, hence the prayer for the "Bread of heaven". That bread for the Hebrews was the heavenly manna. Jesus claimed to be the living bread, the heavenly bread, (John 6. 41) and it is that bread we pray for in the words "feed me till my want is o'er". And not only were the Israelites hungry, they were also thirsty and cried to Moses for help. He in turn cried to the Lord who provided water, a "crystal fountain" to quench their thirst (Ex. 17. 6). Jesus invites us, in our spiritual need to come to him and drink, assuring us that if we drink of the water he gives we will never thirst again (John 7. 37; 4. 14).

The Israelites were directed at all times by "the fire and cloudy pillar", a symbol of God's presence with his people day and night. The meaning is clear for us today. As God's pilgrim people we have the assurance that he is our companion and our "strong deliverer" at all times and for every mile of our journey.

When the people of Israel came to the end of their pilgrimage they found one last obstacle that had to be overcome before they could enter into their inheritance - the river Jordan had to be crossed. In Christian symbolism Jordan stands for the river of death and its waters which threaten to overwhelm are the cause of "anxious fears"; "Canaan's side" is heaven itself. The hymn concludes with a prayer that when our pilgrimage is over and our time comes to face death, the Lord will give us peace of mind and heart and a joyful end to life's journey. And there is an additional prayer. Jesus is described in two amazing phrases. He is called the "Death of death and hell's Destruction". He is the living Lord and he is the Death of death by defeating it through his resurrection and annihilating its power. At the same time he is also the Destruction of hell, hell meaning separation from God. In Jesus Christ not only do we die but in him we are risen, reconciled and glorified and with such blessings to be grateful for what can we do but offer him our "songs of praise" for all time.

Monday, July 8, 2013


  I've reported many times on this page that our congregation enjoys any excuse to celebrate and eat cake.  Well, Sunday morning we did it again but this time the excuse was rare and wonderful.  Doris and Royce McKinnon are celebrating 70, (that's 7-0! )years of marriage.  The milestone is so unusual I had to look up what to call it.  The answer is platinum.  Apparently that's the mineral considered more precious than diamonds.
     In my view, a marriage that has survived and thrived and nurtured its members for so long is more precious than diamonds or platinum.  As Proverbs 31 puts it: a good wife is more valuable than rubies.  The heart of her husband may safely trust in her.  She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

    In its own pithy way, the Book of Proverbs has quite a lot to say about marriage. Proverbs 18:22 (KJV) Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.
  Or even  It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife Proverbs 25:24
    Although Proverbs uses the pejorative for the wife, I'd venture to say a quarrelsome husband would be just as unpleasant.
    We live in a culture that worships celebrity and often those in the news are marrying, divorcing, and marrying again.  The committment of one man and one woman seems to have an expiry date.  Five years is considered long term.  Thus we rejoice in the example of Doris and Royce.  Surely they are a living example of
Genesis 2: 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper.”
Or Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
   Of course, there is no greater paean to the power of love than 1Corinthians 13: 4-8
 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside.

    Thank you, Royce and Doris, for  giving us an excuse to eat cake and for being a living example of marriage as God intended it to be.

King James Version (KJV)

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Monday, July 1, 2013


  The SPPC choir is on vacation until September.  We celebrated with a BBQ at Larry and Elizabeth's place. 

We had hamburgers and hot dogs and salads and lots of dessert.  There were games to play,
but the weather was so hot we mostly sought shade and indulged in that lovely past-time called chatting.  A bit different from last week's Sunday School picnic on the beach.  Still, it got me to thinking about why we celebrate endings.
For the choir and for school kids, there is a sense of release.  No more requirements to get our homework done or learn an anthem.

There is a sense of freedom.  No need to show up at a certain place at a certain time.  The days of summer stretch out in an unbroken chain of recreation.  We put down our burdens of responsibility and commitment, of leadership and obligation.

    We also celebrate endings because they lead to beginnings.  If June marks the end of one grade, September holds the promise of a new one.  We are full of hope for what the next term will bring.  Excited by the prospects of new challenges, and new adventures.  Eager to meet new people and explore new places.  Certainly we celebrate the end of school.

    But, there are other kinds of endings, and the choir has experienced those this month.  We've lost one of our own and two more in our extended choir family.  These kinds of endings are not usually celebrated with games and a BBQ and jokes around the picnic table.  These endings are greeted with tears and sorrow, but that's because we've been left behind.  For those who have gone ahead, I can imagine a grand picnic, a joyful homecoming, a release from cares, a laying down of burdens and an end of struggle.

    Even as we grieve our losses, we continue to celebrate.  Endings only mean new beginnings.