In the historical church calendar, the time between Christmas and Easter is called “Ordinary Time.” I always think of this the Sunday after “the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the shepherds return to their flocks.” You know, that first Sunday after all the celebration of Christmas is over? That Sunday that can feel as empty as the spot in your house where the Christmas tree stood? Well, that was this Sunday. “Ordinary times.” My dad used to call it “meat & potatoes.” The Sunday after Evangelistic meetings, he would say, “Well, it’s been a wonderful week. But after the filet mignon and fancy sauces of this past week, we’re back to meat and potatoes.” Not that it is a bad thing. There is something to be said for faithfulness even after the excitement has gone away. It is a good reminder that our faith is not in choirs and orchestras and fancy musical presentations. Sometimes those things can even be a distraction to what is essential to Christianity! Well. This Sunday was meat & potatoes Sunday. No special music. No orchestra with the choir. No musical moments of stunning hush or “the feels” of a dramatic exclamation of praise. Just a regular Sunday meal of spiritual roast and potatoes.
We began our service this week with a bit of Fanny Crosby. We sang one stanza of “Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It” to the tune REDEEMED by William Kirkpatrick. But after only one stanza we shifted tunes and sang a tune written in 1967 by A.L. Butler (ADA). Same text, but with a different tune. (The congregation doesn’t know it, but I am setting them up to be able to talk about tune names in the future.) Not only did “Redeemed” make a good opening hymn, but it allowed me to tell the story of our next song “Be Thou Exalted.” My friend, Bob Fuoss was not in this service. More’s the pity because he loves this song. I try to sing it when he is in town.
Because we had a bit more time this week, I told the congregation Dr. Al Smith’s story of finding this hymn by Fanny Crosby that had been shelved in a publisher’s warehouse. There were a couple lines of poetry that didn’t work. Smith attributes this to poor stenography, not a mistake on the part of Mrs. Crosby. So Dr. Smith adapted her hymn, set it to music, and made it the hymn that Bob—and others!—love. We had to sing all the stanzas, of course, because it is a Trinitarian hymn. And we don’t want to leave out part of the Godhead!
Pastor Mike told us before his pastoral prayer that his father, Dr. Dave Sproul, is in the hospital. He is stable and in good spirits.
Then the choir sang “Jesus Is Lord” in a setting by James Koerts. What a powerful text! Someone in the choir told me that they always cry through this song. This is unusual because it is a celebratory anthem, not a touchy-feely type song. But she said that the line that always “gets” her is the beginning of the last stanza. After celebrating Jesus as the Creator and Redeemer Who rose from the grave, we sing: “Jesus is Lord—a shout of joy, a cry of anguish!” She said, “That ‘cry of anguish’ is so heartrending! And when we sing ‘The judge of all will take His children home,’ I can’t help but think, What’s going to happen to everybody else?”
I reminded the congregation before our next hymn that the theme of the hymn is sometimes not in the title nor the first line. We sang all the stanzas of “How Firm a Foundation” in which the theme of the Word of God is mentioned in the in the fourth line—“His excellent Word.” Then as the choir left we sang devotional poetry (“designed to make us think”) “Break Thou the Bread of Life.”
Pastor Mike preached a powerful sermon on the Word of God in which he challenged us to live like Christians. You can listen to it here.
For the offertory we sang Haldor Lillenas’ “The Bible Stands.” The congregation was quite sluggish to begin with, like they didn’t know the song. So I slowed the tempo down considerably. Praise the Lord that Dr. Bryson follows me so intently! By the third stanza, the congregation was singing out much better. Those who used their hymnals got an additional blessing if they noticed the tune name in the bottom, right-hand corner. No, I’m not going to tell you!