Called into the realm of God

*** This hymn is based on a passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. In that passage Paul is addressing his readers, but in the hymn those readers (us?) become the singers.

The letter is famous for its warm and affectionate tone, and the hymn aims to produce the same feeling. 


Called into the realm of God.midi


This lyric closely follows the Scripture text, but with two significant differences. One is that, instead of ‘speaking’ with Paul’s voice, the hymn takes the congregation at Thessalonica as a model for all who respond gratefully to the exercise of Christian ministry in their midst; so it is ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ who ‘must live for all we’re worth in glory. The other noticeable difference is that the hymn is constructed in the opposite order to Paul’s writing: the hymn’s first stanza is Paul’s verse 12b, stanza 2 is verses 11 and 12a, 3 is verse 10, 4 verse 9. Only with stanza 5 do we come to verse 13.

The lyric presents the singers – all who identify with the Thessalonians – as uncomplicated, almost naïve, in their acceptance of the calling to live worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory[1]. They try to speak colloquially (though, being simultaneously citizens of heaven and of earth, that’s not always easy to do), and have no more pretensions than parents who ‘urge their young, encourage, and console… (who) help each one to choose life’s riches whole’. With God, they recognise all whose conduct is pure, upright, and blameless[2], and acknowledge Paul’s ministry, and that of other pastors, as leading ‘to life for sure’. They remember and give thanks for those who minister among them by night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God[3]. Most of all, they give thanks that they have been able to receive the gospel, and that they received it not as a human word, but what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers[4]. In what some might consider daring humility, they acknowledge that ‘your self through us is heard’ – not, be it noted, ‘is to be heard’, but ‘is heard’.

That the gospel of God is not a human word is underlined by Colin J.D.Greene, whose comment makes clear the contemporary relevance of Paul’s emphasis:

‘For those who teach or are involved in pastoral practice and spiritual direction these verses are an important reminder of the biblical virtues and practices which underlie such endeavour. So often we resort to a therapeutic model of pastoral practice borrowed from the human sciences, or to a form of evangelistic moralizing which has little or no relation to the morality of public ministry and pastoral care Paul outlines for us here.’[5]

The final stanza is a prayer derived from Jesus’ strictures against status-seeking (be it the status of teacher, as in the Gospel set for today, or that of celebrity, according to which everyone in these times may expect the right to at least – as Andy Warhol estimated – fifteen minutes of fame). According to Jesus, the greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.[6]. Such ‘least’ people are sometimes called losers by the foolish, needing to get a life, and are thus seen as ‘lost’.

The prayer has an unabashed eschatological trajectory, for praising God’s love ‘today’ is an urgent matter. The hymn presumes by slightly altering the dying prayer of St Dismas, the penitent thief: confident that the Lord entering his kingdom remembers us, one and all, we pray that ‘earth’s least and lost (may) be first to praise your love today’.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 2.12b

[2] 2.10

[3] 2.9

[4] 2.13

[5] In The Lectionary Commentary: Second Readings (2001) pp405-6

[6] Matthew 23.11-12