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Sunday, October 30, 2016
For her my tears shall fall;
for her my prayers ascend;
to her my cares and toils be given,
till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways:
her sweet communion, solemn vows,
her hymns of love and praise.
Sure as thy truth shall last,
to Zion shall be given
the brightest glories earth can yield,
and brighter bliss of heaven.
Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” (tune: St. Thomas)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
The theology presented in this hymn is different than mine. It reflects an “I/me/my” vision of faith, whereas I am attracted to images of the kingdom of God as communal activities such as feasts and weddings.
I don’t like this hymn much.
But I’ve been doing theological reflection long enough to know that I need to pay attention to what rubs me the wrong way, what I resist. And so it is here. Once I get past the individualism in the hymn and let the text work on me, it presents quite an examination of conscience.
I have been going to church all my life and have spent the bulk of my career working for religious institutions. How often, though, have I cried for the church? Have I been wholeheartedly willing to give my best work to the church until I die? Have I valued “beyond my highest joys” the songs, unity, and pledges of fidelity and charity that I have found in church? This hymn equates the church with the kingdom of God. Is that how I think about it? Treat it? Behave in it? Speak of it? Do I, in fact, love the church as an expression of the kingdom of God present right here? Not always.
This hymn invites me to wonder about all these questions and challenges some habits of mind and heart. That’s a good thing, and a valuable reminder to pay attention to what I would rather dismiss.
Gracious God of the gathering, you who call us out of our little lives into life with you, help us to be good stewards of church. Enable us to see it as a foretaste of heaven and treat it so. We ask this through Jesus, who showed us what the kingdom looks, feels, and sounds like. Amen.
Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning
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