My God, how wonderful thou art

This is the text of the final talk in a series of talks for Lent 2017 given in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Lufton

John Newton, born in 1725, led an unpromising early life, pressed into the Royal Navy, captured and enslaved, he became the first mate and later captain aboard slave ships. During a serious illness in West Africa  he acknowledged his need of God and was converted. In time, not immediately, he renounced his former life, married his childhood sweetheart and after a time working in Liverpool as a tax collector sought ordination. It took him seven years, because of his life as a slaver and as a virtual pirate, to persuade a Bishop that he should be accepted and was eventually made perpetual curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire in 1764. He worked there for seventeen years until he moved to St Mary, Woolnoth in London, where there is a memorial to him.

At Olney his assistant was William Cowper. Together they compiled a new hymn book, Olney Hymns, in 1779. The hymns were written not for the church services but for the prayer meeting. Continue reading “My God, how wonderful thou art”

Love Divine

This is the text of the third of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & st Paul, Lufton

Today’s talk is entitled Love divine.

While during the Reformation and in the years after it in Germany the Lutherans were singing hymns the situation in England was rather different, perhaps because the Reformation took a very different course.

The dissatisfaction with the abuses of the Catholic Church and the Papacy were felt by dissenters and reformers in exactly the same way as in continental Europe. The political situation though was the catalyst for change. Henry VIII’s need of a male heir drove him to declare a sort of Universal Declaration of Independence. It was never Henry’s intention that the liturgy or practice of the Church should change but events on the continent together with a growing movement in England made change inevitable. So it was that during the reign of Edward the first Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549 and followed in 1552 by the second. However, although the worship was now in the vernacular the practice of hymn singing was not encouraged. Continue reading “Love Divine”

Hail, gladdening light

This is the second of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

Read last week’s talk here.

Tonight’s talk I have entitled Hail, gladdening light.

St Ambrose was Bishop of Milan from 374 until his death in 397. Together with St Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 367), Ambrose is considered the father of western hymnody, although it is by no means certain that he wrote any of the hymns attributed to him. What is more certain is that he was responsible at Milan for importing an antiphonal style of singing (in which one side of the choir responds to the other) from the Eastern Church.

Between twelve and eighteen hymns are attributed to him, four with a fair degree of certainty – although at various times in the past many more have been. He is also said, together with St Augustine, to have written the song which we know now as the Te Deum, although neither he nor Augustine mention it in their writings so we cannot be certain. Continue reading “Hail, gladdening light”

As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams

This is the text of the first of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

I’ve entitled this series of talks Hymns and the Faith. In each of the talks we’ll look at one or more hymns to see what we can learn from them about the history of singing hymns in church, and also about what singing hymns can teach about God, about Jesus and about the teachings of the Christian faith.

This first talk I’ve called As pants the hart. The hymn was published in 1696 in the New Version of the Psalms of David in Metre by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. It is, of course, a metrical version of Psalm 42. The original version was much longer than the version we find in our modern hymn books which have only three verses from Tate and Brady’s hymn and a doxology added. Continue reading “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams”

One day at a time

We are just a few days into a new year. New years are strange things. Nothing changes between December 31st and January 1st but there is a palpable sense that there is a new beginning, an opportunity for things to be different. Hopes are expressed that the new year will be happy and prosperous (by implication unlike the old year just ended) and we often resolve to eat more sensibly, to drink less, to exercise more, to be less judgemental, to be more patient, to read more, to watch TV less, to sort out the attic, to paint the hall – but by about now we know that those things are not going to happen; life will continue exactly as before.

Changing our life always seems harder than we thought but transformed lives lie at the very heart of our Christian faith. Paul describes becoming a Christian as a completely new life and as a leaving behind of our old life. How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6.2b-4); So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus too speaks of change being a requirement for discipleship, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9.23). Continue reading “One day at a time”

Sometimes reading the Bible is hard

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it.

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it. Its world view, its philosophical assumptions, its literary style, its imagery are all so far removed from my own experience and understanding that I find it difficult to access and even to make sense of.

I’m not alone. Throughout Christian history the place and authority of the Book of Revelation has been disputed. To this day some Eastern Churches do not include it in the canon of New Testament books. It is not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Churches, although it is read in Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Martin Luther, at the time of the Reformation called it neither apostolic nor prophetic, John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament – except Revelation. Continue reading “Sometimes reading the Bible is hard”

Reading the signs of the times

The news always seems to be full of talk about events around the world that gives us pause for thought. Last week it was the havoc wreaked in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew (why do we name them? Is it to make them seem friendlier, less scary?) and this week it’s news again of the truly awful situation in Aleppo and the constant bombing of the east of the city and the villages around it. The loss of life and the images from both events are truly distressing and alarming.

The situation in Syria can, and probably should, make us angry for a whole host of reasons. How can Russia give not only succour, but military assistance to the murderous regime of President Assad? Why has the west stood by and allowed the slaughter of innocent people to carry on for so long while apparently taking so little action? Why do we tolerate the political position that makes a friend of the enemy of my enemy regardless of the morality or lack of humanity of that “friend”? Why do our leaders so often engage in rhetoric that tars a whole group of people with the same brush so that now any action the West might take in the region feels like waging war on Islam? Why do we stand by while political leaders create fear by blaming racial groups, or religious groups, or political groups for the problems faced by our nations and our world? Why do we sell arms to nations with dreadful human rights records? Why do we train their armies? Why can our leaders not see how wrong that might be? Why will the nations of the West refuse to take responsibility for their past actions creating a refugee situation that is now out of control – and for good reasons? I could go on for there are many more questions that we can ask of our leaders, our multinational businesses and ourselves. And I confess that I have no idea how to answer these questions – or at least not in a way that could even come close to bringing about lasting change in the our world. Continue reading “Reading the signs of the times”