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In The Beginning God Created

A Hymn Festival Celebrating God's Gifts

Our God is a God of creativity. When we look around the world at the different animals—from the hairy komondor dog to the star-nosed mole—at the diversity of color, the beauty of the seasons, the wonder of the tides, we know that our God is creative. God is no less creative when it comes to humans, not just in terms of our outward appearance but also in the gifts God gives us. This hymn festival is designed to celebrate those gifts. It can be used as a hymn festival or a worship service, or you may choose to simply take one song and include it in your congregation’s repertoire. However you decide to use this resource, we encourage you to add your own creative elements to celebrate the particular gifts of your congregants.

If you choose to use this hymn festival in the context of a worship service, you may wish to reduce the number of songs to fit your congregation’s customary time frame.-JB

We have gathered here to worship, to celebrate, to rejoice: to worship our creator God; to celebrate his gift of creation and creativity; to rejoice in the Word made flesh; to rejoice in the Word of God spoken by the Spirit through Scripture; to rejoice in the Word through poetry, song, dance, and visual artistry.

Let us then,

Sing praise to the Lord, you people of grace;
fill heaven with the songs that sound from this place. His greatness exceeds what words can explain
so where music is made, let rhythms abound:
let cymbals and drums add weight to the sound;
with dance that is graceful and words that are clear, bring joy to the God you adore and revere.
Yield all that you are to worship the Lord
—let all that has breath praise the Lord evermore.

Let’s sing this text, a setting of Psalm 150 written by Martin Leckebusch from the United Kingdom paired with a vibrant tune written by Swee Hong Lim from Singapore.

Song: “Sing Praise to the Lord, You People of Grace” (See music on page 29 of the print edition).

In the Beginning God Created . . . (Genesis 1:1)

(As we begin worship we want to focus on the Triune God’s act of creation. You may decide to read a portion of Scripture, or consider reading a poem like “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson from the collection God’s Trombones (Viking Press, 1927).

We are created in the image of the triune God, who is active in creation, in the redemption of the world, and in our sanctification. We ourselves are creative beings called to delight in the gifts we find in and around us and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to use them for the continued transformation of the world. In our own small way we join in the work of the Holy Trinity. Richard Leach, in the text of “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity,” describes the community of the Trinity as a dance where the three are so clearly united as to create one movement, in which we are invited to join.

Song: “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity”, (see music on page 30 of the print edition), (an SATB choral arrangement by Roy Hopp is available through Augsburg Fortress or at www.sheetmusicplus.com.)

We continue our praise with another setting of Psalm 150, this time from J. Jefferson Cleveland, who reminds us that whether we are experiencing the mountaintop of life or are living in a low valley, we need to join in praising the Lord with whatever instruments or gifts we might have. Cleveland was one of the editors of the African American songbook Songs of Zion, and did much to advance the understanding and use of black gospel song. He wrote this text at a gathering on contemporary psalmody where participants were encouraged to write psalms in their own musical idiom. (See www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=6065 for more information.)

Song: “Praise Ye the Lord” PH 258, SNC 32, SWM 48

Christ As Artist

In the 1930s, Jan Struther, the author of our next song, wrote a column on the life of the fictional “Mrs. Miniver” for the British newspaper The Times. These columns were later collected in a book on which the Academy Award-winning film was based. But Struther also wrote several hymn texts, including “Lord of All Hopefulness.” It is set to the melody of an Irish folksong, collected in the village of Slane, which you will probably recognize as the melody of another well-known hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”

We sing this song as a reminder that though we know little of Jesus’ life before his ministry, we do know that he was trained as a carpenter. Jesus grew up around the scent of wood shavings, and would have known his way around the carpenter’s shop. He delighted in what was around him, whether it was children or the flowers of the field. This song is a prayer for Christ to be present with us throughout our days, whatever tasks we might be called to do.

Song: “Lord of All Hopefulness” PsH 558, TWC 369, WR 469

Lord Over All

However we use the gifts that God has given us, we need to acknowledge that we do so as willing servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, since every inch of the universe belongs to him and ought to be used for his glory.

This next song, according to Greg Scheer, “is a brilliant recasting of Colossians 1:15-20, portraying Christ’s reign over heaven and earth and in our hearts. After establishing the supremacy of Christ in the stanzas, the refrain bursts into the Kuyperian exclamation, ‘Every inch of this universe belongs to you, O Christ.’ The refrain concludes with the personal application ‘so you must have in all things the first place’—that is, if Christ’s supremacy is displayed throughout all creation, certainly he should also reign in our lives” (RW 83, p. 13).

The author and composer of this song, Matt Westerholm, teaches at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Song: “The First Place” SNT 199 (RW 83, p. 13).

Gifts in All Areas of Life

If we proclaim Christ as Lord over all, we should use all the gifts he has given us for his glory. Hear these words of wisdom from “Worshiping the Triune God,” a document developed by the World Communion of Reformed Churches (consider using multiple readers for the following passage):

Blessed is the congregation in which the Word is proclaimed
and prayers and praise are offered
not only through words,
but also through artistic expression:
through gifts God has given
to each local community
in music and dance,
in speech and silence,
in visual art and architecture.

Blessed are the artists
who offer and discipline their gifts
so God’s people may testify to the goodness of God,
offer thanks and express repentance.

Wise are artists who are grateful
both for the limitations offered by the second commandment,
and also for the example of the biblical artists called by God
and equipped by God’s people for service
according to God’s commands.
(Ex. 35:30ff)

Wise is the church
that gratefully receives
the gifts of faithful songs and artworks
from other centuries and other cultures,
celebrating the catholicity of the church,
and cultivating creativity
through new songs and works for worship.

—from “Worshiping the Triune God:
Receiving and Sharing Christian Wisdom
across Continents and Centuries,”
World Communion of Reformed Churches, 2010

Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, has something to teach us about how we use the gifts that God gives us. While the gifts or talents in the parable literally refer to money, many scholars understand the parable to refer to all the gifts God gives or, as F.D. Bruner writes in his commentary on Matthew, to the things that “the Lord gives us now and will ask us about later.” Hear and see the Word of the Lord.

Scripture: Matthew 25

(Consider having children act out the Matthew 25 passage. For ideas about how to do so, see Carolyn Brown’s suggestions for dramatizing verses 14-30 at www.worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com.)

(If you are using this hymn festival in the context of a worship service, consider adding a sermon at this point.)

God is the giver of many good gifts. Wisdom, truth, beauty, drama, music, dancing, atoms and galaxies, science, history, and teaching are just a few of the gifts mentioned in Jane Parker Huber’s hymn “God of Wisdom, Truth, and Beauty.” Huber was born in 1926 in Tsinan, China, where her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. In 1928 the family returned to the United States, eventually settling in Hanover, Indiana, where Jane and her husband later retired. In her adult life she was very active in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in various capacities, but she is especially well known for her hymn texts, most of them set to familiar tunes.

In the case of “God of Wisdom,” the tune is the Polish carol W ZLOBIE LEZY.

Song: “God of Wisdom, Truth, and Beauty” (see music on page 32 of the print edition)

Herbert Brokering wrote this next text for the ninetieth anniversary of St. Olaf College in 1964. David Johnson wrote the tune EARTH AND ALL STARS to go with the text, and published it in his book Twelve Folksongs and Spirituals in 1968. About his writing of the text Brokering said:

I tried to gather into a hymn of praise the many facets of life which emerge in the life of community. So there are the references to building, nature, learning, family, war, festivity. Seasons, emotions, death and resurrection, bread, wine, water, wind, sun, spirit . . . have made great impressions on my imagination.”

—Psalter Hymnal Handbook,
Faith Alive Christian Resources, 1998, p. 594

Song: “Earth and All Stars” PH 458, PsH 433, SFL 98, WR 642 (RW 16, p. 35)

(Consider inviting artists and others to illustrate this text in the weeks prior to this service; then create PowerPoint slides of the artwork to be projected during the singing of the song.)

Brian Wren, the author of our next song, was ordained in Britain’s United Reformed Church and currently lives in Decatur, Georgia, where he serves as a professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary. A fellow of the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada, Brian is a prolific and gifted hymn writer through whom many have been blessed. Like many of his texts, “Praise God for the Harvest” challenges us to expand our thinking. The harvest of our world today includes more than crops gathered from local fields—it includes foods that we cannot grow locally; the gifts of oil, iron, copper, and coal; and so much more. This text reminds us that we need to use all the gifts that God gives us with wisdom and justice.

Song: “Praise God for the Harvest of Orchard and Field” (see music on page 33 of the print edition)

Offering God Our All

God has gifted each one of us so that we may also be givers of gifts. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul reminds us that these gifts are to be used for the building up of the church and, ultimately, for God’s glory.

Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-8

Robert Edwards picks up this same theme in his hymn “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending.”

Song: “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” PH 422, WR 572 (RW 59, p. 27)

(Consider using the concertato for SATB choir, oboe, organ, and optional strings by Richard Hillert, published by the Hymn Society and available through Hope Publishing or at www.hymnary.org/node/10483.)

We conclude this festival witha number of songs of dedication. Most well known is Frances Havergal’s “Take My Life and Let It Be.” According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, “Frances R. Havergal originally composed her text in eleven couplets as a hymn of ‘self-consecration to Christ.’” She told the following story about writing this hymn:

I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House, Worcestershire, in December 1873]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. [God] gave me the prayer, “Lord, give me all this house.” And he just did! Before I left the house, everyone had got a blessing. The last night of my visit...I was too happy to sleep and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart, one after another, till they finished with “Ever, only, all, for Thee.”

—Psalter Hymnal Handbook,
Faith Alive Christian Resources, 1998, p. 432

Songs

“Take My Life and Let It Be” CH 597, PH 391, PsH 288, TH 585, WR 466

“We Are An Offering” CH 678, SNC 230
See music on page 34 of the print edition

(In a worship service you could receive the offering during the singing of this song. Consider inviting the congregation to come prepared to offer symbols of the gifts and abilities that God has blessed them with. You may also want to add closing or sending sentences and a blessing at this point.)

“I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” PH 369, SWM 238, WR 574 (RW 79, p. 21)

(Consider using the SATB arrangement from Hope Publishing, also available at www.hymnary.org/node/11306.)

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