You who love and serve creation

* This hymn is written in conscious imitation of and in homage to Erik Routley’s ‘All who love and serve your city’, with Peter Cutts’ music in mind.


You who love and serve creation.midi


This hymn is based in 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8. Colin J.D.Greene characterises these verses as affording ‘a rare glimpse into the soul of an apostle who knows only too well the fragility of the human earthly vessels and the significance of the divine treasures they contain’[1]. He draws three themes from the passage:

  • The morality of public preaching, in which Paul distances himself from those whose public speaking is for fame or gain;
  • The morality of apostolic motivation, in which Paul highlights integrity before God as the only motivation that matters. Pleasing God, concern for the integrity of others, and proclamation in the power of the Spirit are the important elements motivating the apostle;
  • The morality of missionary strategy, in which Paul makes clear that, ‘while he was prepared to be bold, frank and robust in his spirited public proclamation of the gospel … he was not prepared to resort to authoritarian or coercive missionary strategies …’

With these themes in mind, this hymn is constructed around verses 7 and 8 of the set scripture:

… we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. The image of a nurse recalls missionary longings expressed by Jesus in a similar way: Jerusalem, Jerusalem …! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …![2] But, lest it be thought that only a soft and cuddly gospel is being peddled, these words are counterbalanced by Jesus declaring, also in Matthew’s Gospel, that I came not to bring peace, but a sword[3].

The hymn is written as an act of homage to Erik Routley[4], the doyen of English-speaking hymnologists in the late middle of the twentieth century. The first hymn that he wrote (because he perceived the need for it) was ‘All who love and serve your city’, and this writer was fortunate to encounter it sung to BIRABUS, the fine music Peter Cutts[5] composed for it. Although the hymn ‘You who love and serve creation’ is not an imitation or paraphrase of Routley, it is closely modelled on his text. Where it markedly differs is in choosing to affect the voice, mediated by Colin J.D.Greene, of Paul the apostle instructing Christians in how to preach and give witness in the public arena.

In order to give rationale and theological bite to this instruction, the hymn’s fourth stanza is provided by part of a different Pauline text: the love of Christ controls us …[6]

The last stanza voices the response of all who assent to Paul’s view of things as set out in this passage. The response is a prayer, and it is the prayer that makes it possible to call this lyric a hymn. Incorporating worshippers into God’s mission in Christ, it is reflexive in character, acknowledging the objectivity of God’s love, and focusing at the same time on appropriating that love in order to represent it in the farthest regions of human experience.

The last word ‘here’ is chosen with conscious care. It deliberately breaks the scheme of rhyming second and fourth lines throughout, but only slightly; the break is to mark transcendence in our midst. It invites the thought that, in holy lives, God is indeed perceived to be among us.

[1] In The Lectionary Commentary: Second Readings (2001) pp398-402

[2] Matthew 23.37b

[3] Matthew 10.34

[4] 1917-1982

[5] b.1937

[6] 2 Corinthians 5.14 (Revised Standard Version)