STLT#115, God of Grace and God of Glory

Thank all that is holy for this practice.

When the world is on fire and every day is another tanker truck of kerosene, it’s easy to get lost in the flames and forget ourselves, our joys, our pleasures, our soul. The fire is meant to burn our souls away – and so practices like this are a big reminder to me that not only do I still have a soul, but that the not-related-to-the-fire thoughts and ideas must be celebrated to keep the soul cool and safe.

Two not-related-to-the-fire and not-related-to-each-other thoughts came to me while I sang this hymn – a fine hymn about courage and wisdom with a rousing melody. (A hymn that I suspect many pass by because of the G word, which is too bad because it’s really a hymn about us.)

First thought was about the author, Harry Emerson Fosdick. If you don’t know about him, he’s worth googling – the short version is that Fosdick fought hard against fundamentalism in the 1920s and 30s and was a notable force in the social gospel movement (the idea that we must do the work Jesus’s ministry calls us to – justice, compassion, etc. – work that Universalist Clarence Skinner said we’ve been doing all along, let’s not talk about how you’re late to the party but be glad you showed up at all). Fosdick, who was the minister at Riverside Church in NYC (across the street from Union Theological Seminary), was apparently so compelling a preacher that his sermons were printed for the purpose of being read by other ministers around the country. He was so influential, fundamentalists still consider him a ‘false teacher’ to be taught against, because his posthumous influence is so great. And it makes me happy that we have Fosdick’s words in our hymnal.

God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.

Lo, the clouds of evil ‘round us
hide thy brightness from our gaze;
from the fears that long have bound us,
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days, for the living of these days.

Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
make thy peace our daily goal, make thy peace our daily goal.

Fill us with a living vision,
heal our wounds that we may be
bound as one beyond division
in the struggle to be free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
ears to hear and eyes to see, ears to hear and eyes to see.

My other thought made me giggle. I am a big fan of a British mystery series called Midsomer Murders – it is everything you’d want in a British mystery: small village life, intricate relationships, multiple murders, and a fair bit of snark. The show, now entering its 20th year, is part good mystery, part taking the piss and poking fun of the British mystery.  And because they have some lightness (and gorgeous scenery), I find them to be oddly comforting in these uncomfortable days.

The episode I watched yesterday, “Secrets and Spies,” involves a series of murder at a country home run by former MI agents. The eldest of them is obsessed with his death and demands regular runs of the hearse to the crematorium, always singing “Bread of Heaven” – another set of lyrics set to this tune. It becomes a common theme in the episode, and it’s catchy enough that you might hum it after seeing the episode. Like I did. And so turning to today’s hymn, to be honest, all I could do in the first verse or two was sing “Bread of Heaven” really loud at the “Grant us wisdom” line and giggle uncontrollably. Which, of course, made me think of the pilot episode of Vicar of Dibley, where Geraldine instructs the congregation to shout that out. Which made me giggle even more. Which I think, in these soul-worn days, is a good thing.

So if you ever use this in a service and I’m in the room, don’t be surprised if you hear giggling.

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Read my thoughts about congregational life at Hold My Chalice