Behind the Hymns – Love
My shepherd is the King of love 691
This hymn was written by Henry Williams Baker who was born in London, England in 1821. He was the son of an admiral but chose to enter the Church of England. Ordained in 1844, he became the vicar of Monkland in Herefordshire – a post he would hold until his death in 1877. His hymns – of which there were many – steered clear of poetical figures, far-fetched illustrations and difficult words. He chose simplicity of language, smoothness of rhythm and earnestness of speech. It is recorded that the last audible words which he spoke before his death came from the third verse of this – his rendering of the 23rd Psalm: Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me. And on his shoulders gently laid, and home, rejoicing brought me.
As with so many of the hymns we are singing this month, this one can belong in more than one category as our faith encompasses more than love, more than peace, and more than hope. My Shepherd is the King of Love is an affirmation of the love of God for each one of us. Hearkening back to the great Shepherd Psalm attributed to David, the hymn reminds us that we learn what love truly is from the life and example of God himself. Of course, the references made by Jesus to being the Good Shepherd take the sense of God’s care for us beyond the history of the people of Israel and their experience of God into the time of God’s incarnation in Jesus and then beyond as we – in this time – continue to live with the knowledge of the love of God.
Henry is persuaded that the love of the Shepherd – his Shepherd – means that God only desires good for him and he knows that his soul will ever be restored because of the goodness of God.
And even though he knows that he will ever be guided to living waters and to green pastures, he recognizes his tendencies to stray from the path. Yet it is not a vengeful, judgmental God that he encounters but one who seeks for him out of love and rescues him from any and all his perversions and failings.
Nothing in life can therefore cause him to doubt God’s presence with him. He reminds us that the rod and staff that guided and protected David are still there to provide us with comfort but that we also have the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ to guide us into the future. And so, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And so, he concludes, the goodness of God will never fail us and his closing prayer - once again echoing David’s words – that he may sing God’s praise within God’s house forever.
Teach me, God, to Wonder 704
This 20th century hymn was written by Walter Farquharson and set to music by Ron Klusmeier. Born in Saskatchewan, Walter was ordained in the United Church of Canada in 1961. He returned to Saskatchewan and settled in the town of Saltcoats where he started a tentmaking ministry. With no formal church, Walter taught English in the town’s high school as a means of securing an income. He then devoted himself to mission work in the community.
This hymn speaks to Walter’s unique approach to ministry and mission in the world. It is fitting that it is in the category of love as it does express the desire to follow the example of God’s love by being taught to see the world and its people as God sees them and so be able to truly respond to the world around. With no set place from which to share the message of God, Walter found a freedom to meet with and explore faith with those around him.
To be able to see the world as God sees it, to find the beauty in the world that often we are blind to, that is the first lesson that Walter asks God to teach him.
In the second verse, he asks God to let him be open and loving. He seeks not so much to speak to people but to let people speak to him. This is the gift of listening that so often we overlook as we seek to convince others of our own wisdom rather than listening first that we might be more able to respond to what is really going on in other’s lives.
In the third verse, he asks to be ready and awake that he may take his place in what he describes as God’s world of loving. It is quite an image – God’s world of loving. The words sound simple and it is in one way but to be engaged in God’s world of loving is challenging and something that requires readiness and alertness on our part.
In the fourth verse, he asks God to teach him to know God, to hear God when God speaks and to see God in the neighbour. If we were to truly believe that God is in our neighbour, we would probably have greater difficulty not being loving or compassionate. After all, we would not want to do harm to the God in whom we have placed our faith and whom we are committed to follow.
And so, the chorus reminds us to give praise to our God, to live our love for God and to celebrate the life and the joy God brings us.
Happy the home when God is there 703
So far we have had hymns that celebrate the love of God for each of us and the hope that we will be part of God’s loving in the world. This hymn focuses on our homes and the love that is to fill them.
Henry Ware wrote this hymn in the early 1800’s. He was a Unitarian pastor and served the Second Unitarian Society in Boston. Ill health plagued him, and the church appointed a co-pastor to assist him – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The tune of St. Agnes is more familiarly associated with the hymn: Jesus, the very thought of thee. Written by John Dykes, it was in honour of a young Christian woman who was martyred in A.D. 304 during the reign of Diocletian. St. Agnes was sentenced to death for refusing to marry a nobleman to whom she said: “I am already engaged to Christ, to him alone I keep my troth.”
Obviously Henry experienced that the home life of many in Boston was lacking love and peace. He no doubt had encountered families where God was not present or where families struggled to be supportive of one another.
Henry knew well the value of prayer and the value of the word of God to inform our lives and to guide them. His hymn recognizes how important the example we give to our children as it teaches them the faith and the values that we hold dear.
Come let us sing 706
And that brings us to our closing hymn that was written by Robert Walmsley. Robert was a Congregationalist. For 28 years he was connected with the work of the Manchester Sunday School Union as a layperson. A jeweller by trade, he published 44 of his hymns in a collection entitled “Sacred Songs for Children of all Ages.” His hymns are simple, musical, a celebration of the works of God in nature and of a deep desire to communicate a love of God to all children.
Come let us sing of a wonderful love is an invitation for each of us to not only know the love of God but to celebrate it. He begins by reminding us that the love of God streams from the Father in heaven to each and every one and that as much as that love streams to us, it never runs out but is ever renewed in the heart of God.
In the person of Jesus, God made that love as real as he could possibly make it. Robert reminds us that the Gospel, the good news, was brought to all people but especially to those who felt helpless and hopeless. Jesus shared their sorrow and shame. He sought for everyone who felt lost and alone to save and redeem their life and restore to them the joy of life itself.
And Jesus continues to seek for those who are wandering. Robert wonders why people still roam searching for peace, for forgiveness, for hope. Love only waits to forgive and forget so home, weary wanderers home. Perhaps our desire to be perfect in the eyes of God has blinded us to the real purpose for our communities. We are to be a place in this world where people can come for hope, for healing, for peace, for forgiveness. Paul’s injunction to make peace with each other before taking communion was not meant to say we needed to be perfect but rather that we were willing to acknowledge our imperfection and seek to be reconciled with one another and so be able to accept the grace offered by God through Jesus Christ.
In the final stanza, Robert prays for that love of God to come and abide with him. And that is what he hopes each of us will pray for so that our lives can be lifted above envy and falsehood and pride. So, may we ever seek to be, lowly and humble, a learner of God.