St John Lutheran Church,
Champaign, IL


When Morning Gilds the Skies, Hymn 460”

Psalm 65:8, Psalm 113:3

Joshua 24:1-2,14-18 Ephesians 5:21-31, John 6:60-69



Rev. Dr. James Wright

It’s Sunday morning again, and we’re here again at Saint John Church. You may be wondering why I’m up here giving the sermon now before the sermon hymn is sung.

The reason is our sermon today is the hymn. Turn to hymn 460 and let’s mediate together on the words.

This hymn has been around for a long time. It’s been popular in churches of many denominations, especially the church of England.

Verse 1. “When morning Guilds the skies, My heart awakening cries. May Jesus Christ be praised!”

When morning comes, we shouldn’t hide under the covers, but rejoice! Our heart cries out, Praise the Lord! Another day I live as his servant.

Then when evening comes and it’s time to go to bed, we should rejoice again. Praise the Lord. We’ve got so much to be thankful for . I think the inspiration for this hymn comes from Psalm 65:8, “Where morning dawns and evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”

Psalm 65 says there are a lot of reasons for praise. More than repeating words as mantra, we name them.

He sits in heaven, but looks down to the earth. Sees the poor, lifts them from the dust. He sees us when we’re having problems. He helps us. Sometimes he solves the problem for us. Other times he doesn’t, but gives us strength to endure. Either way, He’s with us. That’s reason for praise.

He formed the mountains. You may have noticed the bumper sticker on my wife’s car? I put it there. “Real women don’t need guard rails.” That’s our car. Story: Last summer driving up Pike’s peak. Wife’s holding my arm so tightly I can hardly drive. Kid’s on the floor praying.

Mountains show God’s power and majesty. How can we help but praise the Lord?

Verse 2
Something greater: Our Sins against God. No only were we born sinners. We add to the pile daily, until it’s a mountain. Psalm 65: When we were overwhelmed by our sins, God forgave our transgressions. This is his greatest Act of all. At the right time, God entered human history and became one of us. Jesus took on himself all our sins, and carried them away. We are free. So our lips want to speak his name. Our lungs want to shout for joy. Our hearts want to utter praise for this wonderful gift of freedom. Music is best when it praises God.

Sing verses 1 and 2

When you love someone, there’s nothing you won’t do for them. You husbands, do you love your wives? You say “yes.” Is there anything you wouldn’t do for them? Sometimes the most important thing is just to really listen to them. Most of us men have that selective hearing problem.

And wives, do you love your husbands? You show that when you honor them. Yes, they leave messes everywhere and they forget to pick up the kids. But they are worthy of your honor, because God gave them to you in marriage.

Our hymn takes up the theme of love, and the works of love. “To him, my highest and best, I sing when love possessed, May Jesus Christ be praised."

The fact that we’re here today in God’s house to hear his words, and sing praise to him, all this says that He’s the number one thing in our lives. What an honor, a privileged to be here today. So we offer him the best we have.

Ever notice why we have real flowers every Sunday? The Best.
Why we don’t use recorded music, the ever popular Karaoke? We’ve got that guy up in the balcony playing the organ. Today we are having a music celebration. In weeks to come the church will be full with choirs of voices, hand bells and instruments? Why all this? Because it’s the best we have. I hope you will consider being a part of that, by singing or ringing. Sign up.

Today the experts tell us that this is not going to draw most people in. We’re supposed to have a rock band up here playing music that sounds more like the top 40 hits. That may work for some people, but if that’s what everyone’s doing, it’s not the best we have to offer. We’re different from the rest of the world.

We’ve got a treasury of hymns and liturgy before us, every Sunday. Songs like this one, that have blessed thousands of congregations for hundreds of years. Are we just going to close the book and throw all that away, just doing what the average Joe expects to find in every church, like at a McDonald’s? Same thing in every store?

It’s not that our worship is better. God accepts praise from everyone who claims Jesus as their only savior. But our kind of worship is not centered on ourselves. It begins in Jesus Christ and his work for us. It begins and ends not with what we want to do for God, but recounts what He has done for us.

As verse 4 says, “There’s no higher antiphon in all high heaven than “Jesus Christ be praised.”
There to the eternal word, the eternal psalm is heard. This says to me that the writer of this hymn, whoever it was, recognized something very important. God speaks to us in his word. And there’s nothing better we can say than to repeat back to God, in our own way, what He has first said to us.

Let’s sing verses 3-4

Wouldn’t it be great if the Christian Church was one? I mean, no denominations, divisions, fellowships. It’s sad to see how divided Christianity has become over the past 2000 years. It started even as the Bible was being written. The disagreements between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Is it okay to eat pork, or do we have to become Jewish before we can become a Christian, because Jesus and the disciples were Jewish?

Well, we’ve overcome that one, but there are plenty of other divisions that came later. Jesus is God, but is he really equal to God the Father? Should we baptize babies, or wait until they’re older? Do we need a bishop or a pope to be an authentic Christian? How will the end of the world come? Should only men be ordained as pastors, or women also? And now some of the church struggles with the question of homosexual clergy.

Our hymn holds out to us a vision of a church united. Verse 5: “Let all of humankind, In this their concord find: May Jesus Christ be praised.”

Now these divisions won’t go away if we ignore them. We have to address each question, search for an answer in scripture, and come to a conclusion. We continue to do that today. It’s long and painstaking, but it must be done. We must teach the right way to our children so they can carry on.

One of the most divisive things I see in churches today is the question of music. Some people want a more modern approach to music, they start a new service, and conflict erupts. This is tearing some of our churches apart. People are used to controlling the music they listen too, in the car, in their headphones, at the concerts they go to. There’s so many choices today with radio, cd’s and mp3’s.

You can’t do that when you come to worship together in church. You’re worshipping not only as individuals, but as a spiritual family. A BIG one!

I see churches separating themselves over music. Grandparents go to the traditional service, Baby boomers go to the blended and contemporary service, and kids go to the youth service. We compartmentalize ourselves when we don’t have to.

The problem is we put too much emphasis on the style of music, and not enough on what the music is saying!

Our hymn calls our attention to the worship of heaven. Where the sun and stars, all the planets declare the glory of God. All creation praises God.

When you’re in heaven, do you think they’re going to take a survey of what kind of music we want to sing up there? I’ve got news for you. The angels have their own song. They’re singing it right now. Isaiah heard it. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth is full of your glory.”

The shepherds heard the heavenly music when Jesus was born. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

We’ve been singing these songs with them for a very long time. What could be better that to sing the words that the angels sing around the throne of God’s grace? The best music we have is that which reminds us of our broken condition, the law, that we are poor sinners before a holy God. Then it pictures the mercy of God in giving us Jesus as a savior, and tells us to depend on him in every situation. This is the highest praise of God, to receive the gifts He gives us.

As we sing stanzas 5 and 6, set you mind’s eye on that picture of heaven, all creation praising God. And, because of what Jesus did for un on the cross, we get to join in with them. Whenever we join together here, May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

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