The guide for those who will lead the three sessions, "Hymns on Stewardship."
Hymns on Stewardship: Leader's Guide
These three lessons focus on the rich treasury of Morning hymns where we find the themes of daily life in Christ, and the stewardship of our lives. We do not sing them as frequently as we used to when it was the duty of the Christian father and mother to lead families in morning and evening prayer and teach the faith through the reading of Scripture, catechetical instruction, singing of hymns, and prayer.
Each lesson will consider one aspect of generous living. The first lesson will focus on the First Commandment, the second on Christian vocation, the third on our relationship with the gifts we have been given by God. Each lesson includes two hymns.
Begin each session by singing a hymn from this collection that could become your theme hymn. Follow it with a brief prayer that your discussion will be fruitful, informative and to the glory of God. You should have someone in the group who can lead the singing. Since repetition helps people sing better, you might think of using the same hymn as a theme song for the three lessons. The group can pick one from among those presented here that it would like to learn. After you have sung each hymn, make the words come alive by reading it aloud together, slowly, stanza by stanza, preparing to discuss its imagery, theology and message. (People tend to listen differently to poetic texts if they have first listened to music. It prepares their ears in a way that is mysterious and wonderful.)
Conclude the study of the one hymn by singing it again. After about twenty minutes on each hymn, move on to the next one.
One can find more information on most of these hymns on the worldwide web. A couple are so new they have not been documented, but the lesson will provide as much as should be necessary on each hymn. See the PowerPoint slides for more information on the hymn and to see the texts written out one stanza at a time..
Jesus makes clear in his Sermon on the Mount that the things of this world, while beautiful and to be enjoyed as gifts from God, are not the first or most important thing "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). Jesus teaches us that life flourishes when our daily lives are organized rightly--with God at the center. In other words, life is best when we follow the first commandment: "You are to have no other gods before me."
For Martin Luther everything started with the First Commandment. His explanation of it in his Small Catechism puts it this way: "We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things." Because we have been justified by God's gracious act of redemption in Jesus Christ it is possible for us to live, confident of God's saving action in Christ, free to serve their neighbor. From that discovery flowed Luther's notion of Christian vocation--that all Christians are called to serve God in their daily lives and witness, showing good stewardship of their gifts. The three lessons focus on these theological themes as found in the texts of several hymns, old and new, that will teach us about generous living in our Christian lives.
From the beginning of the church, Christians have written hymns about the rhythm of the daily life of prayer and work. When the monastic movement began in Europe, about the fourth century, this daily round of devotions was refined and further developed into what were called the "hours" of the day--some of which Protestants know as Matins, Vespers, and Compline. The most rigorous communities met seven times a day, or every three hours, arising even in the middle of the night for the reading of Scripture, hymns and prayers. Martin and Katie Luther, who had lived in such communities, were shaped by these practices. As their family began to grow they adapted the hours for family worship built around Scripture, Catechism and the singing of hymns. One can see in the following hymns that the two great themes of Luther's reformation--justification and vocation--came to be expressed in a fairly recognizable form. The hymns for morning prayer are especially relevant to these lessons because their form generally includes the following topics: Thanks to God for the morning light, which is also found in Jesus, thanks for keeping one safely through the night, prayer for the forgiveness of one's sins, a request that one will do one's tasks in this world faithfully, concluding with imagery from Luther's morning prayer, that the Holy Angel would have charge over us during our work, curbing the work of the evil foe and keeping us safe through the day.
Lesson One: First Commandment
Lesson Two: Vocation
Lesson Three: Giving
Gracia M. Grindal is professor of Rhetoric at Luther Seminary.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.