Life is best when we follow the first commandment: "You are to have no other gods before me."
Evening and Morning
When Earth Turns Round
Lesson One: First Commandment
"Evening and Morning"
Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) is known as the Sweet Singer of Lutheranism. A Lutheran pastor in Germany during the violence of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Gerhardt suffered almost as much from the theological debates of the day as from the Swedish armies who ravished the cities of his youth. During his pastorate at St. Moritz church in Mittenwald, now a suburb of Berlin, and then the Nikolai church in Berlin, he worked closely with cantors Johann Cruger, and later George Ebeling, who wrote this tune. Together they produced some of the greatest hymns of their day, hymns that are still treasured around the world. This hymn, in the form of the typical Evening or Morning hymn describes the important of keeping one's relationships straight so that life can flourish.
The first three stanzas have not been translated into English before. Here is my version of the first stanza:
Dawn's golden morning
All of creation
Fills all our hearts with its glorious sight.
Though I was sleeping
No watch was keeping,
Now I am waking
And morning is breaking--
There in the heavens appears a great light.
Notice how the hymn moves from an ascription of God's greatness and works to a cry for forgiveness and a plea for the right "ordering" of one's life.
Questions for Discussion
1) Why does Gerhardt move from the greatness of God to our need for forgiveness?
2) What are the "treasures" of life that the singer will remember in heaven?
3) Does belief in God result only in joy?
4) What does God want from us?
5) Where in this hymn might you suppose the neighbor fits?
6) How does setting things right with God change our lives?
Sing the hymn again. Discuss your insights.
When Earth Turns Round
88 88 8 8
1. When earth turns round, the morning sun
Arises in the east, and dawn
Awakens me to each new day
Where fam'ly, cares and work hold sway,
Lord, call me from my other loves
Be first in all I do and say
2. Come, cleanse my cluttered heart so you
Are first in all I think and do
Come, be the source of life for me
The doorway to eternity.
Lord, put in place my other loves,
So I can serve you faithfully
3. Lord, help me do my daily tasks
With you in mind, and Lord, I ask
Forgive my own most grievous faults.
And help me be more salty salt.
Lord, be the Love of all my loves,
The God above all other gods.
Wayne Leupold Editions, 2008
(This hymn, which can be sung to several tunes, probably the easiest would be Melita.)
Written with Luke 14:25-33 in mind, where Jesus makes the shocking suggestion that anyone who does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, even his own life, cannot be a disciple. While some might call it hyperbole (a vastly exaggerated figure of speech), Jesus does make clear how fundamental it is that God comes first in our lives. The right ordering of our lives allows us to live faithfully and generously. I have tried to write a prayer/hymn on that text in such a way that it uses the conventions of the morning hymn, with its focus on vocation.
Read the Luke text. Then read the hymn aloud together. Sing it to a tune of your choosing.
1) Is it possible that one's love for the family can become dysfunctional because one "idolizes" it, or a member of it? Do you know of instances where that has happened?
2) How does this prayer help us think about our daily work?
3) Describe your daily vocation as being like the salt Jesus speaks of at the end of this lesson? Think together about your callings to serve the neighbor, anyone around you who needs your help. How do you gain strength to do what needs to be done?
4) How does serving the neighbor fit with the notion of generous living, or good stewardship?
Hymns of Stewards: Leader's Guide
Lesson Two: Vocation
Gracia M. Grindal is professor of Rhetoric at Luther Seminary.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.