Song Choices to Accompany Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is documented in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5:1-47. It begins with the beautiful Beatitudes in verses 1-12. This section of scripture comes up in our Lectionary during the season of Epiphany on 1/30/11 (Mt 5:1-12), 2/6/11 (Mt 5:13-20) and 2/13 (Mt 5:21-37). The following are my favorite songs to use for this text:
Traditional: “Speak, O Savior; I Am Listening”, CW283, text by Anna Sophia, music by Johann Schop. I have the guitar chords for this tune if any one is interested; email me at sjbrown58(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Blended: “Speak, O Lord”, CWS735 by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend. This song is included in our hymnal supplement and lyric-wise is similar to the above mentioned hymn. Both songs do an excellent job at describing our listening to Jesus’ words as He speaks his sermon.
You can hear this song as performed by the Getty’s by clicking on this graphic:
You can learn to play it by clicking here:
You can here the MLC choir performing it by clicking here:
Contemporary: “the Beatitudes” by Michael Schroeder and/or “Unwavering” by Matt Maher. Actually, in my opinion, both of these songs are better than either “Speak, O Lord” or “Speak, O Savior; I Am Listening” for this occasion because they basically take the Beatitudes text and set them to music; especially Schroeder’s song.
You can hear “the Beatitudes” by clicking on this graphic:
You can hear “Unwavering” by clicking on this graphic:
That’s one of the great things about hymns – unction & chrism.
I say this because our choir practiced a new hymn from the hymnal supplement the other night titled: “Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven” (CWS 732). After singing our way through the song, we all kind of had a quizzical look on our faces then someone finally asked the question that was on all our minds: “what does unction & chrism mean?” They are actually words used in the song lyrics. Not one of us knew the answer so our choir director hopped over to the church library and grabbed a dictionary. Here’s what they mean:
1 : the act of anointing as a rite of consecration or healing
2 : something used for anointing : ointment, unguent
3 a : religious or spiritual fervor or the expression of such fervor
b : exaggerated, assumed, or superficial earnestness of language or manner : unctuousness
consecrated oil used in Greek and Latin churches especially in baptism, chrismation, confirmation, and ordination
Now here’s my point – hymns teach. They do contain many words and phrases that we do not know the meaning of. Some think of this as a detriment to hymns. I do not. I see it as a way of getting smarter and that’s one thing that our music is supposed to do. It says in Colossians 3:16:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Who is this Keith Getty guy who appears in our new Hymnal Supplement?
I’ve written about Keith Getty’s music in the past, particularly those new songs that have been included in our new Hymnal Supplement, most notably “In Christ Alone”. Keith and his wife Kristyn were interviewed recently. You readers just have to read this interview. Copyright laws prohibit me to reproduce it in its entirety so I am including a few excerpts to whet your appetite. You can read the entire interview here:
“If I’ve got non-Christian friends coming to church, I’d far rather give them four verses of comparatively heavy theology with some theological words which explains the gospel, than give them twenty repeated words that could be said about your pet horse or your girlfriend.” – Keith
“It seems to me that if a church splits up over music, that music has become more important than togetherness in itself. Music is merely a servant to the body of believers.” – Keith
“Every generation needs music in its own vernacular.” – Kristyn
“Also, when we write hymns, we deliberately try to tell stories, because people will sing doxological truth and theology within a story ’til they’re blue in the face. Take “In Christ Alone” for instance. A lot of people are moved by the fact that through the verses, Jesus takes on flesh as a helpless babe and ends up on the cross. They’ve sung through half of Romans by the end of the song, but because you’ve taken them through a story rather than just giving them didactic truth, it really communicates to them.” – Keith
“As we write, we’re also aware of where a song would fit in the service. That has led us write things like “The Communion Hymn” and “Speak, O Lord,” which is like the old hymns of illumination that could be used immediately before or after a sermon.” – Kristyn
“We often cite “Be Thou My Vision” as an example. The lyrics date to around the sixth century, but it’s still being sung. And you’ve heard it with a big rock band, and you’ve heard it just voices and nothing else. It’s incredible what you can do with that folk melody. That’s a great example of how a song continues to be relevant. It’s not bound by any generation or style. “ – Keith
“On paper, the pastor and musician are a great partnership, because one has a bent towards theology and message, and the other is creative and has a bent towards the arts. When the two work well together, like the Wesley brothers or Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham, it’s a one plus one equals three.” – Keith
“Our primary motivation is the need for twenty-first century hymnody that articulates the truths of the faith and builds up the young, vibrant, and increasingly persecuted church worldwide.” – Keith
In February, we will be introducing a new hymn to our congregation from the ”Lutheran Worship” Hymnal Supplement. The hymn is entitled “When Peace Like a River” although the rest of the Christian world knows this hymn as “It is Well.” By way of introduction, we will be using a “Bluefishtv” video that describes the background of the hymn. This is available as a download from bluefishtv for just $1.99. You can view the video here before deciding to purchase, or just watch it for your own edification:
Following this video, our keyboard/guitar duet will sing a new arrangement of this hymn made popular by Jeremy Camp from the soundtrack to the recent movie entitled “Amazing Grace.” Finally, after the video and the singing of the newer arrangement, the congregation will sing the hymnal version, which is song #760 in the supplement. We plan to also accompany this version with keyboard and guitar but it works fine with the organ as well.
“Now Thank We All Our God” was written by a Lutheran Pastor named Martin Rinkart, in Eilenburg, Saxony in the early 17th century. He lived during a time of great political strife. During the Thirty Years War his city was under siege by Swedish and Austrian armies. In addition, in 1637 a plague swept through the area and during one period of time, since he was the only surviving pastor, he was conducting some 50 funerals a day; including that of his own wife. What unbelievable hardship and strife! And yet, in the face of all this pain and sorrow, this hymn resounds with clarity and confidence in God’s providential care.
We’ve seen this before. A good example would be the Apostle Paul. He was placed in prison, had harrowing escapes, public debates, suffered terrible beatings, had chronic pain and illness, was ship wrecked; and yet wrote these familiar words: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Job, who lost his family, his health and all his earthly possessions, wrote:
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” – Job 1:21b
So this is the story behind the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.” This is the message that you will get if you read books on Hymn History or if you even “google” – Now Thank We All Our God. But I have yet another message for you this morning. One that I just stumbled upon myself while reading the hymn text. You see, Pastor Rinkart had children. And his wife died, a civilian casualty of war, while the children were of a young age. Now Pastor Rinkart has a full church ministry, is conducting 50 funerals a day and is raising several young children. Yet he writes a song about being thankful for God’s blessings in the midst of all this chaos. Guess what Pastor Rinkart included in the very first verse of this hymn as something that he is thankful for? You guessed it – Mothers! Now you’ll see that this hymn is not only suited for a Thanksgiving service but for Mother’s Day as well.
Let’s join in Pastor Rinkart’s memory as we give thanks to our almighty and sovereign Lord this morning as we sing hymn number 610 (Now Thank We All Our God).
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices;
Who, from our mother’s arms, hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be ever more.
Note – all scripture text is NIV (Zondervan Publishing)
A supplement to our Hymnal (Christian Worship) was introduced at the recent “National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts” in July 2008. Included in the Hymnal Supplement will be several contemporary songs by the songwriting duo of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.
Keith Getty and Staurt Townend are modern day hymn writers living in Ireland. They are indeed on a mission—to revive the art of hymnody.
They have written many popular songs which we have used for worship at our church (Messiah Lutheran) including:
The Power of the Cross
How Deep the Father’s Love For Us
In Christ Alone
“In Christ Alone” is by far their most popular piece and was in fact played at the Synod’s Worship Conference by the Hand Bell Choir.
The anthemic hymn has been recorded more than 200 times. Getty has been quoted as saying: “A pastor in Belfast challenged me to bring to the contemporary church some of what the old hymns of the faith brought to congregations through the centuries,” he says. “I didn’t set out to create the modern hymn. I wanted to write songs that contemporary, traditional, and liturgical churches could all use.”
“The song came about in an unusual way,” Townend explains. “Keith and I met in the autumn of 2000 at a worship event, and we resolved to try to work together on some songs. A few weeks later Keith sent some melody ideas, and the first one on the CD was a magnificent, haunting melody that I loved, and immediately started writing down some lyrical ideas on what I felt should be a timeless theme commensurate with the melody. So the theme of the life, death, resurrection of Christ, and the implications of that for us just began to tumble out, and when we got together later on to fine tune it, we felt we had encapsulated what we wanted to say.”
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…
Townend and Getty both admit they are motivated by the idea of capturing biblical truth in songs and hymns that will not only cause people to express their worship in church, but will build them up in their Christian lives.
“It seems like this song is timely,” Townend says. “We in the West have had our sense of safety and security brutally torn apart by recent world events, and it’s caused many to re-evaluate the foundations of their life. I feel that the song has helped to stir faith in many believers that God really is our protector; that our lives are in His unshakable hands.”
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
Says Townend: “I had a strong very Irish melody that I could imagine a large crowd singing. I wanted it to become a hymn that would declare the whole life of Christ and what it meant. Something that could teach people the foundations of what we believed in Christ – the God who changed all of history and who wants a relationship with each us.”
The uniqueness of Townend’s writing lies partly in its lyrical content . There is both a theological depth and poetic expression that some say is rare in today’s worship writing. And not surprisingly, it’s an emphasis that Townend and Getty both maintained within the composition of this song in particular.
“I think content is vitally important to our corporate worship,” Townend shares. “Sometimes great melodies are let down by indifferent or clichéd words. It’s the writer’s job to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture and express in poetic and memorable ways the truth he or she finds there. Knowing the truth about God and who we are in Him is central to our lives as believers. Songs remain in the mind in a way sermons do not, so songwriters have an important role and a huge responsibility.”
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…
As well as being a credal song, it fires people with hope – that here is the God who even death cannot hold – “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me”.
He continues, “The lyric [of this song] excites me because it places our hope, our assurance, our eternal destiny in the right place—on the solid foundation of Christ. I know in my own life I need reminding continually not to live by my feelings or my circumstances, but by the unchanging truth of the gospel.”
“In Christ Alone” was the very first collaboration between Townend and Getty. In fact, it was Townend’s first collaboration with any other songwriter. But it was an experience he found to be very fruitful and well worth the effort. So much so that the two have continued their musical partnership on other songs, and are currently working on a series of songs based around the Apostles’ Creed. They are hoping to have a recording available next year, and are excited about the possibility of making it into a live presentation.
You can find out more information on these modern-day hymn writers at their websites: