A Sermon About Hymn Books…

After a summer break from sermons, this sermon was preached by Rev Kate on Sunday 25th August as we dedicated our new hymn books. The readings were Isaiah 58 and Luke 13:10-17.

How many of you learned Latin at school?  Has it come in useful?

Amo amas, I love a lass…

In picture est puella nominee Cornelia.  First page of Ecce Romani in my first Latin class thirty years ago. I have to admit that I didn’t learn an awful lot more. My teacher was somewhat eccentric and I soon found that my Latin class was a great place to do my Maths homework!

We find bits of Latin in the liturgy we use each week: Agnus Dei, Gloria etc. Ha – did you see what I did there? Et cetera…

And of course, Latin has had a bit of a resurgence in recent years informing many of the names and spells in JK Rowling’s world of Harry Potter.

Nox, Accio, Expecto patronum – many phrases are either Latin phrases or plays on them.

Well, today, we are going to learn some Latin together:

Lex orandi

Lex credendi

Lex vivendi

Translated they mean the law of worship, the law of faith, the law of life.

This was a saying the emerged in the early church.  It started with just the two first phrases and you could put them in any order lex orandi lex credendi or lex credendi les orandi.  Because the two were like a constant circle of one leading to the other.  And what they meant was Lex orandi – how we worship, what we regard as being right worship – influences Lex credendi – what we believe, what we regard as true faith – and what we believe – lex credendi – influences how we worship – lex orandi.

Simple.

Well maybe not, but it is true.  How we worship God together week in week out – the prayers we use, the songs we sing and the way we read and think about the Bible – do a lot to shape how we think about God.  They influence how we think about following Jesus and what life well lived may look like.

But in the same way, how we think about God and our experiences in life influence how we come to worship.  It is a two-way process.

Later, a third phrase was added: lex vivendi – the law of living.  How we worship God influences how we think about God and life and in turn that influences the choices we make, how we treat ourselves and others and the lives we lead.

It struck me as I was preparing that these three phrases are not a million miles away from the three-part Diocesan Vision Statement which we have here in Coventry.  As a diocesan family, we say we are here to worship God – lex orandi – make new disciples – lex credenda – help people have faith, and transform communities – lex vivendi, help people live their lives well as part of healthy happy communities!

Now, today’s Bible readings might not seem like the most helpful readings to have at a service where we dedicate our new hymns books. In each of them, aspects of the worshipping life of the community at the time are criticized.  In Isaiah, God lambasts the people for fasting – not eating for spiritual reasons – and thinking they were doing what pleased God, while doing nothing to help people who were mistreated in their midst.  In Luke, Jesus challenges the synagogue leader for regarding keeping the sabbath special as being more important than bringing healing to someone who has been ill for many years.

Reading stories like this in the Bible, people sometimes undervalue worship.  What we do together on a Sunday doesn’t matter, they say, so long as we are helping the hungry and working for justice.  This can go further into criticisms of churches for spending resources on worship when they could be used for social action instead.

But the Bible never says that worship is unimportant or unnecessary. Worship is hugely important in the Bible.  There are entire chapters and  books of the Old Testament devoted to it – whether it is decided who will take responsibility for worshipping life, deciding how to create a worship space, deciding how and when the people will worship or even in the book of Psalms providing a song book for the people of God which still brings inspiration and comfort three thousand years later.  Jesus regularly went to worship. One of the last things he did before he died was give us the liturgy of breaking bread and sharing wine which we do in worship to this day. Before he went out to Gethsemane, he sang a hymn. In the Book of Revelation, we are told that worshipping God will be central to our shared life together in eternity.  Worship is vital to Christian community. Worship itself is not the problem.

The problem is worship which becomes an end in itself; which has become detached from the law of faith and the law of life.  Worship is vitally important, but it has to be worship which shapes our faith and how we think about God and which shapes our lives and how we live them with God and neighbour.  Worship of God is only right worship if it inspires a right faith in God and helps us live our lives right.

Lex orandi

Lex credendi

Lex vivendi

And that is why these hymn books matter.  Songs are a vital part of our worshipping life together.  If I ask you to tell me about sermons you heard in your childhood, you might be able to recall a couple of particularly good or bad ones.  If I ask you to sing the songs – many of you will be able to sing them still.  Words and phrases from hymns will stick with you in ways that my carefully crafted sermons won’t.  If you are going to remember the songs, it is important that they are good ones.  Ones that reflect what we believe about God.  Ones that we can understand. Ones that capture what we believe following Jesus is all about.  Because hopefully as those songs shape how we see God and they world, they will help us to live more and more as God wants us to.  That, in being worship that helps us grow in faith and live well with God and neighbour, it will truly be worship pleasing to God.

After twenty years of regular use, our old hymn books were falling apart; some of the hymns were in such old-fashioned language people – well, to be honest, I – would struggle to understand what was being sung and they didn’t include some of the newer hymns we have enjoyed together.  And so it was time for some new ones.  It wasn’t a light decision – we were picking the hymn book that would accompany us hopefully for another twenty years.  A new set of hymn books for a church this size doesn’t come cheap. But this is a sign that we are taking our worshipping life seriously. And at this point, I do want to thank everyone who contributed to the cost of the books – the congregation have paid over half of the total costs in donations alone and that is quite remarkable.

We have chosen these hymn books in the hope that the songs within will inspire us and help us and guide us and challenge us in our shared worshipping life.  We receive them as a gift from God and from the wider church who have written and shared these songs.  We use them however knowing that they will only have done their job if we grow deeper in faith and more committed to living well in God’s world.

Lex orandi, lex credeni, lex vivendi.

Right worship, right faith, right living.

Help us Lord, we pray and to you, always be the glory. Amen

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