Monday, July 30, 2012

Blessed Asurance

  One of the pleasures of travelling is the opportunity to worship with a different congregation.  Recently, we did just that, joining the members of First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg, Oregon.  The minister there is doing a series of summer sermons on favourite hymns.  We hit "Blessed Assurance" Sunday.  This great hymn was the theme for the prelude and the postlude, the anthem and the offertory.  It was sung by the congregation and expounded upon by the minister.  What fun!
   This hymn is usually associated with evangelical traditions, -- loud, noisy, exuberant --  more than with the Presbyterian, characterized by the minister as "the frozen chosen."  Yet on a check of hymn books, he found that "Blessed Assurance" appeared just as often in the Presbyterian hymnaries as it did in the evangelical ones.  
    We had a great time on our Sunday visit to Roseburg and joined the congregation in a rendition of this hymn that was anything but frozen.
    Below is Dr. Kirk's essay on this beloved hymn.  

Scripture reading:  Hebrews 10. 19 - 25

            This confident evangelical hymn is the work of one of the most prolific hymn writers of all time.  Mrs. Frances van Alstyne, better known by her maiden name, Fanny Crosby, wrote over eight thousand hymns using as many as two hundred pen names! [The minister in Roseburg explained that she used so many names because compilers of hymnbooks are reluctant to include too many offerings from one writer.] We have already seen something of the difficulties she faced in life [she was blinded by inept medical treatment at six weeks of age] but she did not let her lack of sight prove to be a hindrance to her work.  Fanny Crosby was converted to an evangelical faith during the singing of Isaac Watt's hymn "Here, Lord, I give myself away" at a meeting in a Methodist church in New York.

            It has to be admitted that many of her hymns do sound as though they have come off a production line in that they sometimes lack imagination and subtlety.  "Blessed assurance" is not great poetry but it does express the heart of the Christian gospel simply and movingly.  The first stanza describes God's work of salvation in the human soul and it is interesting to see how all three persons of the Trinity are involved.  Human salvation is first of all the work of God who loved fallen mankind and sent his Son to die; through the death of Jesus on the Cross the sins of men and women are washed away; the redemption Jesus has purchased for us is applied to the human heart through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who brings us to new life as members of God's family and assures us of a secure future so that life here below becomes "a foretaste of glory divine".  We have had occasion to think of the many ways in which we can look at what salvation really means and this is underlined here again in the verbs that are used to describe it: "purchased", "born" and "washed".

            One of the important elements of the Christian life, and one sadly neglected today in our activist society, is the willingness to wait on the Lord that we might learn of him.  It is surely interesting that in Jesus' short life of possibly thirty-three years the first thirty were spent in preparation!  He submitted himself to his Father's will in all things - if we are to find "perfect delight" in our Christian experience we must first of all offer him our "perfect submission".  Then we will be at rest in him and he will have the opportunity to teach us in the school of faith.  There is a possible reference to Jacob's dream at Bethel (Gen. 28. 12) in the lines "Angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love".

            It is when we are submissive and obedient that the Lord can work in our hearts to prepare us for the tasks he wishes us to perform on his behalf.  The Christian life can be summed up in three short commands addressed to us by Jesus: "Come unto me"; "Learn of me"; "Go ye".  There must be the "watching and waiting" before we are ready to be sent out on the Master's mission.  But whatever Jesus calls us to be or to do we have with us at all times the "blessed assurance" that "Jesus is mine" and I am his. 

With thanks to Edna Kirk for sharing these essays.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Will Your Anchor Hold

    As mentioned before, I'm spending a few weeks presenting favourite hymns of the congregation, using Dr. Cecil Kirk's book as a resource.  As part of the farewell service for the Lindsays, Phyllis chose the hymn "Will Your Anchor Hold."  For a congregation situated on an island, a seafaring reference seems appropriate.

    Here is what Dr. Kirk had to say on the subject.

Scripture reading: Hebrews 6. 13 - 20

This rousing hymn is the official anthem of the Boys' Brigade, an organization founded in Scotland in the latter part of the nineteenth century and which has spread to many countries around the world. Its aim is to promote "obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness".

The author was Priscilla Jane Owens. She was born in Baltimore but came of Scottish and Welsh descent. For more than fifty years she was active in Sunday School work in her own home town and most of the hymns and songs she wrote were to promote this work.

Many analogies have been used to describe the Christian faith and Miss Owens was certainly not the first to think of it in nautical terms, indeed there are several well known hymns which develop this thought. The epistle to the Hebrews describes the faith of the believer as an "anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast". It is interesting that these last three words are the motto of the Boys' Brigade.

Anyone who has ever travelled by boat, especially if that journey has been made across any of the world's large oceans, will know of the dangers that may have to be faced. One of the most likely is storm. Then even large ocean-going liners can be tossed around like a cork, such is the power of the sea. A parallel is drawn between the storms on the ocean and those we have to face inevitably in life. How will we fare when "the clouds unfold their wings of strife"? When you are tossed hither and yon by conflicting viewpoints, when you feel the strain of being deserted by friends, when all around you people are losing their heads and blaming it on you, will you have a sense of security that will hold you firm "when the billows roll?" This is when we must be able to turn to the Saviour who knows all that is happening to us because he himself had to undergo such trials and trust the anchor of our faith that is "grounded firm and deep" in his love.

Another source of danger is described as "the straits of fear". This is when we find ourselves sailing close to the nearby reefs and we can hear the surge of the waves pulling the ship towards disaster. Here we can think of the temptations of life which, if we succumbed to them, would make shipwreck of our soul so that "the angry waves then your bark o'erflow". Jesus knew the subtle power of temptation and he can help us resist and sail through the straits until we reach the calm waters again.

Eventually every voyage ends in the port that is the ship's final destination and the passengers look forward with expectation and excitement to the landfall. The Christian voyager sails towards "the city of gold", the new Jerusalem that is our final resting place. We look forward to seeing its profile "through the morning light" and casting our anchor safe "by the heavenly shore". Then the journey will be over and life's storms "past for evermore". The best part of any trip is the joy of coming home again. As Christians we anticipate the end of our earthly travels and the joy of coming ashore in our Father's kingdom.
   Reading the commentary on this hymn it seems a highly appropriate choice for those setting out to begin a new phase of life.  Thanks Phyllis and Dr. Kirk.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Church's One Foundation

 Over the summer the congregation has been asked to name their favourite hymns to be sung during the collection of the offering.  These requests seemed like great blog material for me, especially when I know of a great resource!  Dr. Cecil Kirk, late of our congregation, had a passion for the great hymns of the church and wrote commentary on hundreds of them.  On July 1, we sang The Church's One Foundation.  Here's what Dr. Kirk had to say about it.

Scripture reading: 2 Peter 2. 1 - 3

This wonderful hymn on the nature of the Church was the product of a bitter controversy that disturbed the peace of the Anglican communion in the mid-nineteenth century. At that time a South African bishop rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment and questioned the traditional authorship of the Pentateuch. Stone, a young curate of Windsor, wrote this hymn in defence of the traditional catholic faith. It is based on the ninth article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints" and summarizes the Church as it should be in God's design, as it is in today's world and as it one day shall be.

The hymn begins with the origin of the Church and re-echoes Paul's bold affirmation: "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3. 11). The Church is a divine organism and not a human institution. Men and women may co-operate in building up the Church but all our building must be on the foundation stone of Jesus Christ. The Church is Christ's "new creation", a fellowship of people who have been born anew "by water and the word", through the preaching of the gospel and the water of baptism. And not only did Christ create the Church, he also purchased her "with His own blood" and espoused himself to her as "His holy bride".

The Church of Christ is universal: "elect from every nation", its members are, nevertheless, "one o'er all the earth". The thought is that of the unity of the Church and this theme is continued throughout the stanza which is really a commentary on Paul's description of the Church in his letter to the Ephesians (4. 4-6). Her one Lord is Jesus Christ; the one faith she professes is the historic faith of the Church condensed in the creeds; her one birth is the new birth through the ministry of the Holy Spirit; the one name she blesses is the strong name of the Trinity; the one food of which she partakes is the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the one hope to which she presses is the hope of glory.

With the words "Though with a scornful wonder . . " we have a reference to the problems which caused the hymn to be written. Unfortunately there are still schisms and heresies which distress and tear asunder the unity of the Church and these continue to rage even today, but we have the assurance that the "night of weeping" will give way to "the morn of song". That hope emerges in the concluding verses where we view the Church as triumphant and glorified. Here below we know the "toil and tribulation and tumult of her war" but this state of conflict will not last for ever. There will come a day when "her longing eyes" will be blessed by the vision of Christ himself and the Church, victorious at last, will be at rest.

All this lies in the future. In the meantime there are two blessings to comfort us. One is the union we have with "God the Three in One". God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is present with us day by day through worship, daily communion, the Scriptures, the sacraments and the faith of his people. And that is a union which cannot be destroyed. We also have "mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won". That fellowship with those who have departed this scene of time comes through Jesus Christ. He is the one who has conquered death, the one who is the resurrection and the life, and all who believe in him are alive for evermore. We think with joy and gladness of those who have preceded us into the heavenly kingdom and we look forward to a wonderful re-union with them in the presence of our Lord. In the meantime we pray for the grace which will enable us to make that prayer a reality.  --Dr. Cecil Kirk

My thanks to Edna Kirk for sharing this essay.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fare Thee Well

    The beginning of summer signalled a couple of good-byes at SPPC.  The first was the Men's Breakfast.  The second was a farewell to one of our founding members.


       June 30 marked the last Men’s Breakfast, in the current format. 
Eight of us came to celebrate the final breakfast hosted by Bill Stuart, who has looked after this mission of our church for the past 17 years.  Roy Napier thanked Bill, on behalf of the group, for his dedication over these many years.  Bill, in turn, thanked Al Ljunggren for looking after the money side, as Treasurer, for the entire 24 years since the breakfasts first began.

We still hope the breakfasts will continue, in some form, after the summer holidays.   by Brian Lawrence

     Along with eleven others, Phyllis Lindsay is a founding member of SPPC.  In 1983 this dedicated group, called St. Andrew's North at the time, were constituted a congregation and began meeting in the Sidney area.  They used schools, community halls, other churches and the Masonic Lodge as meeting places, before the present church was constructed in 1990.  Phyllis remembers the day the shovels went into the ground as a highlight of her life.  As well as being a founding member, she has served on various committees and is an elder of long-standing.  SPPC would not be what it is today without Phyllis.  Now, for family reasons, she and her son, Chris, are moving from the peninsula -- Phyllis to northern B.C. and Chris to Saskatoon.  
  To mark our appreciation for Phyllis and for Chris, we had a party.  Scottish tradition is important in the Lindsay family, so this little man came along.

Of course, we started with a meal, wonderfully prepared by a staff of volunteers.  Roast beef, ham, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots and bumbleberry pie for dessert.

Then we adjourned to the sanctuary, where we sang some of Phyllis' favourite hymns and a few Scottish ballads.

  There were many words of appreciation, good wishes for the future and the sadness of farewell -- and a couple of gifts.  The first, for a smile, was an electric wind shield scraper. Phyllis is going north!  On a more serious note, a watercolour, painted by our own Bill Richer, will travel with Phyllis as a reminder of SPPC and the peninsula.  The painting portrays the view from Dunsmuir Lodge out over the Saanich Inlet.

     We tried to give Phyllis the last word, -- she reminisced about the early days of the congregation and the people who built it -- but the final amen went to the choir who sang an Irish Blessing for Phyllis and Chris. 

 It's hard to say good-bye, but we wish them God speed and many blessings.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Canada Day


by Alice Valdal

As we celebrate Canada Day, I got to thinking about anthems, and hymns and wondering what made some timeless and others  fleeting. " The Maple Leaf Forever" was an unofficial anthem for Canada for many years but has fallen out of favour latterly because of its militaristic language and emphasis on Canada's British heritage to the exclusion of all others.  It's still a great tune, beloved of marching bands.  Did you know there is a whole new set of words?  Ones that emphasis the beauty of the land itself and acknowledge our status as a nation of immigrants from all over the world.  It will be interesting to see if the new version seeps into the consciousness of the next generation as surely as the old version soaked into the hearts and minds of a previous one.
   Hymns raise similar questions.  Why is it that "Guide Me , O Thou Great Jehovah" has rung down through the ages since the words were written in the mid-18th century, while "Jesus is the Man" set to the same tune, Cwm Rhondda, first appeared in The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada in 1971 but didn't make it into Voices United, the current hymn book of the United Church?  "God of Concrete, God of Steel"
also appeared in the 1971 book but disappeared in the later one.  Neither hymn appears in the latest hymn book of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. 
    Nor does one of the most popular hymns of the 20th century, "In the Garden."  Since it's composition in 1912 this hymn has been published in 190 hymnals, but not those of mainstream Canadian protestant denominations.  
     "For Beauty of Prairies" is a lovely hymn written by Walter Farquharson written in 1971.  It has only been published in two hymnaries, both for the United Church of Canada, probably because the text is very Canadian in its references to "prairies and grandeur of trees."  SPPC has a version of it as a choir anthem.

    Of course, popularity is not the only measure of a hymn's value.  Many hymns once popular hymns have disappeared in modern usage and with good reason.  "All Things Bright and Beautiful" once contained the verse "The rich man in his castle,/The poor man at his gate,/God made them high and lowly,/And ordered their estate."  A sentiment valued by a society that esteemed class and the divine right of kings, but not one that treasures democratic principles.  

    "Holy, Holy, Holy," appears in 1283 hymnals.  I don't know if that's a record but it might be. Of course, this hymn has over 150  years of history.  "The Servant Song" written in 1977 has been published in 21 hymnals, including our own. 
    So why "Servant Song" and not "God of Concrete?"  I think the answer lies in the universality of the message.  An ode to cities and construction doesn't reach the hearts of people in many places and many times, but the notion of servanthood is one of the pillars of Christian belief.  Perhaps that's the reason the Presbyterian Church places such emphasis on the Psalms.  We can't go wrong in the theology of our hymns if they are taken from Biblical texts.

    So, what are your favourite hymns?  Have they stood the test of time?  Will they?  Leave a comment below.