We Glorify Your Name, O God!

TyringhamWe Glorify Your Name, O God.
C.M.

We glorify your name, O God,
Through Christ, your Word made flesh.
We worship, listen for your Word,
To hear your Good News fresh.

You gather us to be made one,
You call us each by name,
We grow in Christ, your own dear Son,
We care for each the same.

You send us forth your sheep to feed,
Your grace and gifts employ,
To share our faith by word and deed,
To spread peace, love and joy.

We teach your truth to grow the mind
Of people young and old.
To live and learn, to seek and find,
Your story must be told.

We serve our neighbors in your name,
Ones we know and others.
From near and far they’re all the same,
Our sisters and brothers.

All praise and honor come your way,
The Father and the Son.
And Holy Spirit, each new day,
Until the worlds are done.

©Richard L. Floyd, 2004

(I wrote this in 2004 based on the Mission Statement of the congregation I was serving at the time. Like many of my hymn texts it is “open,” which means it is not attached to any particular tune. It is in Common Meter and can be plugged into any C.M. tune. If you try it and like it let me know which tune you have used.

Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2016. The Appalachian Trail at Tyringham Cobble, MA)

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“The Miracle of Christmas” A Hymn for the Feast of the Incarnation

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Miracle of Christmas
C.M.

He came to earth that winter night
to share our human frame.
A choir of angels took to flight
to glorify his name.

Some shepherds in a field nearby
were summoned to his birth,
And heard the angels raise the cry
of peace upon the earth.

They went to where the babe did lay,
and found a manger bare.
Some sheep and oxen in the hay,
and Mary, Joseph, there.

O mysteries no eye has seen,
no human ear has heard,
That God should come to such a scene,
and we should call him Lord.

The world’s vast empires rise and fall,
great Caesar lost his claim,
But Mary’s babe is all in all,
and Jesus is his name.

© 2001 Richard L. Floyd

Suggested tune: “Winchester Old”

(Photo: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst)

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Jake's baptism

Come Here by the Waters

Come here by the waters, come bring us your child.
We’ll call on God’s Spirit, so loving and wild.
These people and parents will speak their firm vow.
This child full of blessing belongs to Christ now.

Your promise enduring will follow her* days,
And lead to a life filled with service and praise.
You’ll bless her** and keep her** and always be there,
Through life’s many changes you’ll watch her with care.

Bless us with your presence, your Word, and your power,
That we may be faithful in every new hour.
Let church be a place that is brimming with love,
And bless these dear children with grace from above.

We praise you and thank you for all you provide,
For blessings and graces that reach far and wide.
Praise Father, praise Son, and the Spirit divine,
Both now and forever, and far beyond time.

(*or his, or their) (** or him, or them)

Tune: Cradle Song 11.11.11.11.

© Richard L. Floyd, 2015

This hymn of mine was commissioned earlier this year by Eileen Hunt, former Minister of Music at Green’s Farms Congregational Church, UCC, in Westport, CT, who was looking for a new baptismal hymn. I chose the tune Cradle Song, which is the tune the British sing Away in A Manger to, because of its resonances with infancy, and because it is not so familiar that Americans will hear Away in a Manger in their ears when they sing it. Below you will find reproducible PDF’s for both a melody only and a harmony version. The tune was written by  William James Kirkpatrick and the harmony by the estimable Ralph Vaughn Williams. One suggestion is to sing the first two verses just before the act of baptism and the last two just after.

COME HERE BY THE WATERS melody only

COME HERE BY THE WATERS harmony

“They sought him by a star:” A Hymn for Epiphany

They sought him by a star

They sought him by a star
they followed from the East.
We know him in his Word
and eucharistic feast.
For those who look to him for bread
will find their souls are daily fed.

The nations need his light
against the darkened hour.
Their hate and fear and might
betray his gentle power.
But those who seek by word and deed
will find he meets them in their need.

We walk on paths unknown
through days of doubt and fear.
We face each day and frown,
we struggle each new year.
But those who follow in his way
will find his light for each new day.

And when he comes at last
his glory will shine forth.
The world that moved so fast
will stop to mark his worth.
And finally see the great “I Am”
and join the Supper of the Lamb.

© 2001 Richard L. Floyd

Suggested tune: Darwall’s 148th.

(Photo: R. L. Floyd, “Wise Men from Ecuadorian Creche”)

“He Came to Earth that Winter Night” A Hymn for Christmas

The Miracle of Christmas
C.M.

He came to earth that winter night
to share our human frame.
A choir of angels took to flight
to glorify his name.

Some shepherds in a field nearby
were summoned to his birth,
And heard the angels raise the cry
of peace upon the earth.

They went to where the babe did lay,
and found a manger bare.
Some sheep and oxen in the hay,
and Mary, Joseph, there.

O mysteries no eye has seen,
no human ear has heard,
That God should come to such a scene,
and we should call him Lord.

The world’s vast empires rise and fall,
great Caesar lost his claim,
But Mary’s babe is all in all,
and Jesus is his name.

© 2001 Richard L. Floyd

Suggested tune: “Winchester Old”

(Photo:  “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst)

“In Such Sad Times We Look Ahead” A Hymn for Advent

Advents
C.M. (8.6.8.6)

In such sad times we look ahead
to futures yet unknown.
We pray amid the fear and dread:
O come, Lord Jesus, come!

We know you in our daily round,
at work and play and home.
Such advents come without a sound.
O come, Lord Jesus, come!

You meet us when we gather here
for Word and meal and song.
Your presence hallows every prayer:
O come, Lord Jesus, come!

The tasks we take on in your name
to let your will be done,
Apart from you are done in vain.
O come, Lord Jesus, come!

And at the end when life is past
and time itself is done;
We’ll meet you face to face at last.
O come, Lord Jesus, come!

© 2001 Richard Lawrence Floyd

Suggested tunes: Dundee, St. Flavian,

I wrote this hymn for my local church in the Advent following the 9/11 attacks.

Something Old, Something New. (Matthew 13: 52)

When I was a child it was the very foreignness of the church that intrigued me. There I learned about what Karl Barth called “the strange new world within the Bible,” a world where a shepherd boy could slay a giant, where angels appeared and made strange promises, where a virgin could conceive and bear a son, and where a brutal execution was somehow seen in Easter light to be nothing less than the victory of God. I was fascinated by the language.

In those days we “vouchsafed and beseeched.” I wondered what the “seed” of David was. There were weighty Latinate words such as “propitiation” and “incarnation”. There were strange ancient creeds that one said for years waiting to understand them. There were hymn texts that shaped piety and theology. One of my favorites was this one: “Crown him the Lord of love; behold His hands and side, Rich wounds, yet visible above, In beauty glorified: No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight, But downward bends with burning eye At mysteries so bright.”

What was one to make of such language? Long before I had a theology of the atonement I sang those words passionately. I still do. And then there was the music: the strange modal sound of plainsong, the emotion of gospel, the pathos of spirituals, the stately progression of chorale tunes. In my childhood our preachers had other, better gifts, so I learned my faith from singing it and hearing it. I knew this was a different world and in many significant ways a better one than the world I inhabited at Norwood School #2, where the big kids might decide it would be amusing to kick the living daylights out of me at recess. So let me suggest that “enhancing OUR song in the new century” will mean attending to this alternative world. And I think increasingly so, as the values of a global consumer society and the values of the church of Jesus Christ part ways. Walter Brueggemann suggests, rightly I think, that the best biblical analogy for church life today is the Babylonian exile. Christians today live as dispersed aliens in a foreign world. Constantinian Christianity is gone for good. And in America the day is over when the Protestant mainline is seen as the golden thread in the seamless robe of culture. We are increasingly marginal to what really matters in the eyes of the world. Or at least of the Empire. By the Empire I means the official normative construal of the world—the world as seen on TV. For advertising is the liturgy of the Empire. Take Nike’s ads. They hold out the world of the competitive autonomous individual, free from community, free from tradition, free of constraints, and free from fair labor practices. “Just do it!” If you don’t think that is a counter message to the Gospel, listen to this: There is a T-shirt that says: “The meek shall inherit the earth” on the front. On the back it says, “Yeah, right! Just do it! Nike!” Now that’s Babylonian!!

Those of us who are parents of teenagers know the power of this dominant world and its liturgy. But the church at its best offers an alternative liturgy. Brueggemann call it a “sub–version” to the official authorized version of the Empire. For in worship we exiles remember our true home. Recall Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying “sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’”

That is the question for the twenty-first century: how do we sing the Lord’s song in exile? And with it the related question: how much Babylonian do we want to let in to the church’s song? When church musicians and ministers of Word and Sacrament collaborate on the congregation’s liturgy there is nothing less at stake than what version of the world the congregation will experience in worship. Will the church’s liturgy create a world where God alone is to be worshipped, where people are treated as people and things as things and we know the difference? The tools we have to work with are words and music. If we are wise we will go about our work like the scribe in the parable, taking out of our treasure something old and something new. Jesus said, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52)

On the one hand we take out something old. The church is a community of recollection. It has a culture, whose roots are in scripture and whose development has grown out of tradition. It wasn’t born yesterday, and for us to think that we are wiser than previous generations just because we came later is the silliest form of hubris. The church is a foreign country and its language takes learning. Some church people today are like American tourists in Paris who resent it when the locals don’t speak English. A tourist bureau can help make the locals more friendly to tourists, but there are limits to how much a culture can be translated. So we need to value what the church has always valued and bring out the best of what is old.

Yet we need to bring out the new as well. “Sing unto the Lord a new song.” After all God is a living God and “there is yet more light and truth to break forth from his Holy Word.” The content of revelation doesn’t change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” But there are always new ways to witness to that enduring truth. There are new works of art, new texts, new music. It has always been that way. The music we now consider part of the canon was once new, and much of it was controversial in its day. Watt’s metrical paraphrases of the Psalms were considered scandalous. Bach’s chorales were considered unsingable. Much of what is new now will not last. The wheat and the tares grow together and time’s harvest will separate them. Over the generations the faithful will retain that which does the job. The ephemeral by its very nature won’t abide. As George Steiner says: “Fashion is the mother of death. Originality is antithetical to novelty. Art that is stupid won’t last.” (George Steiner, Real Presences)

So good liturgy is created by taking in proper measure something old and something new. Which means we are already acquainted with blended worship. Think about it. Let’s say you play a Caesar Franck chorale for a prelude, the choir sings an anthem by Palestrina and one by Virgil Thompson, the offertory is “Rhosymedre” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the hymn texts are by Michael Praetorius, Isaac Watts and Carl Dawe. That can take place within the most ordered liturgy and it is still utilizing musical and textual materials from several centuries, countries, styles and traditions.

In other words we do it all the time. The question then becomes, not whether we do it, but how do we do it so that it has integrity for Christian worship? What criteria do we use?

New or old, does it create that alternative world to the world of the Empire? In other words, is it a song of Zion? Or is it just Babylonian? Does it tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love, even if it does it in a new, new way? Can it bring people to faith, to devotion, to worship? Can it warm hearts and change lives?

In other words, the task of choosing our song for the new century takes spiritual discernment. It is a task that takes thought and prayer, knowledge and skill, an appreciation for scripture and tradition and an openness to the creative process. It is a task too important to be left to ministers alone or musicians alone but demands collaboration and collegiality. What is at stake is nothing less than how we see and hear the world which God loves and for which Christ died.

You are a church musician. At some time in your life you were moved to do this. It may have been a long time ago and you may be tired—tired from living in Babylon, speaking Babylonian, even singing Babylonian songs. I am here to remind you that you are a citizen of Zion. You have glimpsed her walls, worshipped in her temple, heard her songs. Don’t forget who you are, even if remembering Zion sometimes makes you weep.

Don’t forget who you are! Because if you forget, and I forget, musicians and clergy, who will sing the songs of Zion to our children? No one! They will learn only Babylonian.

So that is how you know what song to sing. It can be something old, or it can be something new, but sing me one of the songs of Zion. Amen.

A Sermon preached on July 27, 1998 at the United Church Musicians Conference.

Trinity Church Retreat Center, Cornwall, Connecticut.