Thursday, 31 March 2011

O Lord, How Great You Are!

Nearly 50 people gathered at St Paul's on Sunday evening 27 March for our second "Songs of Praise." It was an enjoyable opportunity to worship God, but also to learn why particular Christian Songs and Hymns had become especially memorable to different members of the church during their walk with Christ. Several of the hymns were based on the oldest Christian/Jewish songs, the Psalms. This included the very popular hymn: "O Lord my God! when I in awesome wonder..." For some reason the hymnbook we use, like many others, record this as a Russian hymn. In fact, we discovered that it was written by the Swede Carl Boberg in 1885 after a walk in which he had seen many of the wonders of God manifest in nature – sunshine, storm, lightning, rainbow, birdsong and many others. On his return home, he was reminded of Psalm 8 which begins: "O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." Boberg's hymn was sung to a traditional Swedish tune and rapidly became popular in Swedish nonconformist churches.

From Swedish, it was translated into German and Russian and then, in the 1920s into English, in a translation which never became popular. The translation we know is by Stuart Hine and dates from 1953. It was used at the Billy Graham Rallies, which made it well known.

Stuart Hine also composed two additional verses, which we sang as well.

O when I see ungrateful man defiling

This bounteous earth, God's gifts so good and great;

In foolish pride, God's holy Name reviling,

And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.

When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance,

Bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face;

And then in love He brings me sweet assurance:

'My child! for thee sufficient is my grace'.

Many of the other seven songs and hymns that we sang would also merit discussion in detail, as this is just one example. Sunday evening was a great time, worshipping a Great God.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Brothers and Sisters Under Threat

On Wednesday 2 March, Pakistan's Government Minister for minority religions, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed by gunmen who shot him on his way to work in Islamabad. That is obviously a tragedy for his family, but why should the death of one man in notoriously unstable Pakistan matter to St Paul's Church in Oadby? I believe that there are at least four reasons.

1. Mr Bhatti, a Christian, was almost certainly killed because of his opposition to the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan. This law, designed to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammed, has frequently been mischievously used to settle grudges between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbours. The law is framed in such a way that it is extremely difficult for a non-Muslim to defend themself and the penalty is extreme, even death. As a minister for minority religions it was obviously appropriate that Mr Bhatti should be seeking to amend it. So any Democrat should be concerned at this case where a man was killed in the course of his duty.

2. This is the second such killing of a high level politician who opposed this law (the other being a Provincial Governor, Salman Taseer). It reflects the atmosphere in which all Christians in Pakistan must live – the fear of being denounced under this law and the threat of death itself. As Christians, these are our brothers and sisters and we must seek to make their plight known and hold them before God in prayer.

3. We are privileged to have a Pakistani, Revd Paskal Clement, as an Associate Minister in our parish and St Paul's frequently benefits from his services. These threats to the Christian minority in Pakistan are threats to Paskal's friends and family as well. Our prayers and thoughts are with both Paskal and them.

4. The parish has a link with Jane Gerrard who works with the church in Pakistan. Those threats for Christians are also a threat for Jane and her co-workers.

So, our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr Bhatti's family and to the whole Christian community in Pakistan. Our prayer is that the Blasphemy Law may indeed be amended.