Sunday, November 12, 2006

I Haven't Sung Praise Songs at my Home Church for Months!

It's true. I haven't sung during the worship time at my home church, College Hts. Christian Church, for a long time. For the past several months, I have located myself in the upper area of the bleachers, donning a headset with microphone and all, and have translated the service into Spanish. On a given Sunday, there may be a single person with a headset, or as many as 5 or 6, listening to my translation of the service into Spanish. One woman in particular has been the most constant. Her name is Jacqueline, and I translated for her weeks before I met her personally. She comes from a lower-class neighborhood in Joplin, that our church has adopted, and has refurbished a house in the neighborhood as a community center. A couple weeks ago, that community center, known as "God's Resort" was dedicated. They had a huge block party, with carnival type games, food, and fun. I met Jacqueline there, and looked at her and said, "Yo soy la voz." (I am the voice.) Of course, she recognized it, since she has heard it on Sunday mornings for months.

But let me tell you about my non-singing worship. Though I haven't sung, I have worshiped. And I worshiped this morning.
The service I usually attend has the label contemporary. It's just a label, because it is not contemporary. If it were truly contemporary, I probably wouldn't like it, since I'm rapidly becoming an old fogy, and am clearly from the Baby Boomer generation. Though I love old hymns, and cited one in my Bible School class this morning, I also enjoy worship songs and choruses--those commonly sung in the service labeled contemporary. Our service uses PowerPoint or EasyWorship, which is so common in churches today. I must confess, however, that it is easy for me to go through the motions, and sing the words projected on the screen without much rational thought (something that seems to me to be an essential component of true worship). I'm sorry to have to make that confession. I wish that it were not true, but, alas, it is.

Translating the lyrics for worship songs for others, however, aids me in concentrating on the words, and the result, not just today but frequently, is true worship. God is an amazing God, and His grace is incredible, and how in the world can we contemplate what He has done for us without being overwhelmed by the vastness of His power, love, greatness, wisdom, holiness, etc.? Today, the one that got to me was a song penned by Michael W. Smith:

Jesus, I've forgotten the words that you have spoken
Promises that burned within my heart have now grown dim
With a doubting heart I follow the paths of earthly wisdom
Forgive me for my unbelief
Renew the fire again.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us.

I have built an altar where I worship things of men.
I have taken journeys that have drawn me far from you.
Now I am returning to your mercies every flowing.
Pardon my transgressions. Help me love you again.

Lord, Have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us.

I have longed to know you & your tender mercies,
Like a river of forgiveness ever flowing without end.
I bow my heart before you, in the goodness of your presence.
Your grace forever shining like a beacon in the night.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us.

The words of the chorus, "Lord, have mercy" have been a constant in church fellowships that have a higher liturgy than ours. The phrase is found in two texts in the gospel of Matthew where people are asking the Lord to have mercy on themselves (Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30-31), and in one other instance, a man asked Jesus to have mercy on his son (Matthew 17:15). In each one of those texts, the phrase "Lord, have mercy" is the translation two Greek words:
κύριε, ἐλέησον.
The transliteration of those Greek words is Kyrie Eleison, and though in the gospel accounts where the two words appear together, eleison always appears in the text before (and with other words intervening) the word Kyrie, the phrase Kyrie Eleison has been oft used in liturgies. Several years ago, when I was singing with the College Hts. Adult Choir, we sang a song with those words. Some time back, I remember hearing a colleague of mine (and I am thankful that my memory does not allow me to remember which of my colleagues) criticizing the use of such a phrase in a Christian worship service, because Christ has had mercy on us, and he/she reasoned that to ask continually for Christ to have mercy on us is evidence that we do not have proper faith in what the Scripture tells us that Christ has already done!

I understand that reasoning, and it is true that this construct appears only in the gospels (before Christ's merciful work on the cross). In the epistles we see a focus that looks back at the mercy event that has already taken place. Indeed, God has bestowed His mercy upon His people! And yet, not all uses of the word "mercy" in the New Testament epistles focuses toward the past. There is the use of "grace, mercy and peace" as a petition/greeting used several times (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 John 3). Such uses may presuppose the prior existence of grace, mercy, and peace, but they are still offered as a wish/prayer of the writer, for his reader(s). A text that is written to Christians, but encourages them to approach the throne of grace, so that they might receive mercy, is found in Hebrews 4:16:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
English standard version.
2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Clearly, that verse is written to people who have already received mercy and have found grace, and yet, the commandment (a hortatory subjunctive) is for them to approach the throne of grace, so that they might receive that which, based on the finished work of Christ, they had already received.

So, is it wrong for Christians who have already received mercy, to ask the Lord for mercy? I suppose that the answer to the question could be maybe. If a Christian who approaches the throne is begging for mercy and is totally unaware of what Christ has already done for him or for her on the cross, then maybe the prescription is to emphasize Christ's finished work. I am aware, however, of that finished work already. And yet, when I compare myself, not with others, but with the Holy Son of God, I realize how much in need of a savior I myself am, and find myself throwing myself at His feet, reiterating the words Lord, have mercy. I find that, rather than being an admission of my lack of faith in the finished work of Christ, a means of drawing near to a throne before which I must never deem to deserve to approach, lest I be given the reward that I deserve. When it comes to Christ's judgment, I don't want to get what I (in and of myself) deserve. I'll gladly receive mercy and find grace!

I am convinced, however, that the above-mentioned colleague (whose name I cannot remember), was not Dr. Tom Lawson. Tom is also a blogger. He is given to studying (and teaching!) worship, and could tell you so much about this phrase than I. In some of his blog entries (and also entries of his son Stephen), the phrase Kyrie eleison is used at the end of the message.

I was immensely moved, as I translated the lyrics from Michael W. Smith's song into Spanish for Jacqueline:
Señor, ten misericordia.
Cristo, ten misericordia.
Señor, ten misericordia de nosotros.
I thought that my random thoughts about our need for His mercy and grace might bless you too.



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