Lessons and Hymns
First United Presbyterian Church
July 1, 2018
LESSONS AND HYMNS
I was informed that at times in the past, this congregation has enjoyed a hymn-sing on the Sunday before the 4th of July. And this idea intrigued me because I think it provides us an opportunity to reflect, in word and in music, on the primacy of our citizenship in God’s kin-dom, on the sovereignty of God, and on our responsibilities under God’s reign within the earthly nation of the United States of America. So I’ve selected readings from scripture and from our Book of Confessions, along with hymns that will help us explore this theme. For those of you who might not be familiar with the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, this is a collection of statements of faith stretching back to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicaean Creed, which we share with many other Christian churches. It includes several statements from the Reformation of the 16th-century, and there are also more modern confessions coming out of important historical moments – WWII Germany, the social and political unrest of the late 1960’s, and apartheid-ruled South Africa. We will hear from these more modern confessions in our service today.
But we’ll begin with a scripture that inspired the instigator of the Reformation, Martin Luther. Hear the Word of God as it comes to us through the 46th Psalm.
First Reading Psalm 46 / “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation”
Psalm 46 (translated by Christine Robinson)
God is our refuge and our strength
a haven in times of trouble.
Therefore we can be calm though the earth shakes,
though the nations change, and though the sea rises.
Our trust is in the Holy One
who is making the heavens in the earth
Who is with us in the midst of the city
and in our own hearts.
See the miracles that are a part of our lives!
and the longings for peace and justice in our hearts
and the way we can make our lives abundant
in nearly any circumstance.
God whispers to us, “Be still and know that I am God.
I am with you to the ends of the universe,
and through all time”
“The Battle Hymn of the Reformation” by John Mulder and Morgan Roberts
[“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”] is perhaps the most important hymn in Protestant history. It is sometimes called “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It was written by Martin Luther, undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity, Germany, and indeed the Western world…
…The hymn was probably inspired by the wave of persecutions that swept over Germany in 1527 or by the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which gave rise to the term “Protestant”…
…Luther declared, “I am strongly persuaded that after theology, there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart, like that induced by the study of the science of divinity. A proof of this is that the devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”
I would, therefore, encourage us to sing the devil out of this hymn as we begin to explore, in word and song, our citizenship in the commonwealth of heaven. Please join me in singing hymn #260, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Second Reading Deuteronomy 10:17-21 / Theological Declaration of Barmen
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,
18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
20 You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.
21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.
Theological Declaration of Barmen
The Theological Declaration of Barmen was written by a group of church leaders in Germany to help Christians withstand the challenges of the Nazi party and of the so-called “German Christians,” a popular movement that saw no conflict between Christianity and the ideals of Hitler’s National Socialism.
In January 1933, after frustrating years in which no government in Germany was able to solve problems of economic depression and mass unemployment, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor. By playing on people’s fear of communism and Bolshevism, he was able to persuade the Parliament to allow him to rule by edict. As he consolidated his power, Hitler abolished all political rights and democratic processes: police could detain persons in prison without a trial, search private dwellings without a warrant, seize property, censor publications, tap telephones, and forbid meetings. He soon outlawed all political parties except his own, smashed labor unions, purged universities, replaced the judicial system with his own “People’s Courts,” initiated a systematic terrorizing of Jews, and obtained the support of church leaders allied with or sympathetic to the German Christians.
Most Germans took the union of Christianity, nationalism, and militarism for granted, and patriotic sentiments were equated with Christian truth. The German Christians exalted the racially pure nation and the rule of Hitler as God’s will for the German people.
Nonetheless, some in the churches resisted. A movement that came to be known as the Confessing Church included pastors and theologians who opposed the union of Christianity and German nationalism. At the first gathering of this movement, the chief item of business was discussion of a declaration to appeal to the Evangelical churches of Germany to stand firm against the German Christian accommodation to National Socialism. The Theological Declaration of Barmen proclaims the church’s freedom in Jesus Christ who is Lord of every area of life. The church obeys him as God’s one and only Word who determines its order, ministry, and relation to the state.
The declaration was debated and adopted without amendment, and the Confessing Church rallied around it.
We will hear the fifth of six propositions in this declaration.
5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the
Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of
providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the
threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment
and human ability. The church acknowledges the benefit of this
divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to
mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness,
and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts
and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond
its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian
order of human life, thus fulfilling the church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, over and beyond
its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics,
the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of
Hymn: #289 “O God of Every Nation”
Third Reading Psalm 145:1-9 / Confession of 1967
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The Confession of 1967
The turbulent decade of the 1960s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith. While the Second Vatican Council was reformulating Roman Catholic thought and practice, Presbyterians were developing the Confession of 1967. Modestly titled, the Confession of 1967 is built around a single passage of Scripture: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . .” (2 Cor. 5:19, NRSV). The Confession of 1967 addresses the church’s role in the modern world. Responsive to developments in biblical scholarship, it asks the church to “approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding” (paragraph 9.29). It calls the church to obedient action, particularly in response to social problems such as racial discrimination, nationalistic arrogance, and family and class conflict. It sees the life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ as the pattern for the church’s mission today and calls on all Christians to be reconciled to God and to one another.
We will read from the section of this confession addressing the mission of the church and its role in the reconciliation of society.
God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace,
justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government
are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to
practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as
practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires
that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across
every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas
of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation
among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear,
chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources
from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind.
Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church
which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of
life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its
Hymn: #386 “O for a World”
Fourth Reading Matthew 5:43-48 / Confession of Belhar
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Confession of Belhar
How should the church respond when sin disrupts the church’s unity, creates division among the children of God, and constructs unjust systems that steal life from God’s creation? Members and leaders of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa faced these questions under apartheid, a system of laws that separated people by race from 1948–1994.
The roots of apartheid go back in South African culture and church for several centuries. The Dutch Reformed Church embodied racial separation when it formed three “mission” churches in the late nineteenth century, each categorized by its racial identity.
The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was formed for people designated as “coloured” (biracial). The church’s complicity with racial separation kept Christians from worshipping and coming to the Lord’s Table together. The white Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) created an elaborate biblical interpretation and ideology that supported racial separation and then the formal apartheid policies.
The Dutch Reformed Church’s active participation and theological defense of apartheid moved the global church to name apartheid a status confessionis—a conviction that the Gospel was at stake and thus the faith needed to be proclaimed. Leaders of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrestled with this situation theologically and practically. One outcome of their struggles was the emergence of the Confession of Belhar in the early 1980s.
The Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA), the church that succeeded the Dutch Reformed Mission Church after apartheid, has offered the Confession of Belhar to the global Reformed family as a gift, believing that the themes of unity, reconciliation, and justice issue a call from God to the whole church toward holy action, transformation, and life.
We believe that God has revealed God’s self as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people; that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged
• that God calls the church to follow God in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right;
• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged;
• that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology
• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.
We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.
Jesus is Lord.
To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.
Hymn: #563 “Lift Every Voice and Sing”