Further to my last post on this thread, we continue chortling at the hymn selection of the "ELW" hymnal (always pronounced with a silent L)... Always with the reservation that what may be in perfectly good taste in a church that has no sacraments, no confessions, and no culturally and doctrinally rich heritage of hymnody of its own, may yet be mortal tackiness in a church that styles itself Lutheran.
Hymn 506 "The Word of God is source and seed" is a Catholic-Protestant crossover, authored by Benedictine Sister Delores Dufner, with a melody by Episcopalian musician David Hurd. The tune takes its title from the hymn's Latin refrain, Gaudeamus Domino, which has the option of being sung in its English translation, "In the Lord let us rejoice." The first line of each stanza promises something better than what the hymn delivers. Stanza 1 says God's Word is "source and seed," referencing Luke 8:11 and suggesting an application of Jesus' sower/soils parable, in which the Word planted in the heart grows into saving faith. But the stanza goes on to misapply that parable (as too many preachers do), calling on hearers of the word to "make [their] dark earth welcome warm; root deep the grain God bent to sow." Stanza 2 identifies God's Word as "breath and life," echoing Jesus' teaching in John 6:63 that His word is life-giving. Yet according to Sr. Delores, it's up to the hearer to "let the Spirit touch and mend and rouse your dry bones from their grave." Stanza 3 says God's Word is "flesh and grace," after John 1:14, in which the birth of Jesus is interpreted as the incarnation of God the Word. With this obvious opportunity to proclaim the redemptive purpose of this divine Person becoming a man for us, the hymn merely says that he "came to live and love and die," while urging us to "dare to be as Jesus was." From such an excellent beginning (or three beginnings), with so much potential to proclaim what God does, we get a slender crust of the gospel, filled with a Dagwood sandwich of law.
512 "Lord, let my heart be good soil" is a Handt Hanson hymn that, again, turns all of the gospel content of the sower/soils parable (what God does to us and for us by the saving power of His Word) into law (worrying whether we have a right heart for receiving the Word implanted). What this brief ditty prays for is all right in its way. But what it ignores, in its anxiety about the state of one's own heart, is the unconditional promise of the gospel—which is more to the point of Jesus' parable.
513 "Listen, God is calling" (Neno lake Mungu) is a Tanzanian folk hymn presented with three stanzas in English and one in the original Swahili—because Swahili as a second language is such a big part of Lutheran education. Thank God Swahili-speaking Lutherans need not rely on this book to supply the place of a hymnal; they now have one of their own, and probably little of the thanks for it is due to the multiculturalist water-carriers who edited this book. Set to music of the "call and response" style characteristic of African music, this hymn says in few words what the previously noted hymns fail to mention in their many. The refrain points out that God gives "forgiveness, comfort, and joy" through His Word. The first two stanzas paraphrase Jesus' "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19-20, identifying the gospel as the message "that he came to save us and set us free" and specifically describing trinitarian baptism. Stanza 3 asks God to keep us faithful in His Word. To the shame of the school of modern hymn-writing that prevails in this book, this hymn—though tacky in an American worship context because of its cultural awkwardness and its sense of being invited in only to stroke our pride in our inclusivity—is actually better than most.
518 "We eat the bread of teaching" (drink wine of wisdom) is a Word of God hymn by Omer Westendorf (1916-97), author of "Sent forth by God's blessing" and "You satisfy the hungry heart" (both of which I previously sprayed with my venom). The tune WISDOM'S FEAST by Jerry Ray Brubaker (b. 1946) sounds like a mash-up of a sentimental CoWo piano ballad and a number from an old-time musical comedy. The tune takes its title from a line in the hymn's refrain, where our worship reaches its goal as we unite in "Wisdom's holy feast." Stanza one depicts Wisdom calling through the city, inviting the hungry to the banquet of salvation. Thus Westendorf takes advantage of Proverbs 1:20 to indulge in a feminine metaphor for Christ. Then, in stanza 2, he depicts Wisdom as preparing "bread and wine," because as we have seen in his other hymns, this is as close as he can come to discussing Jesus' body and blood. Stanza 3 depicts this eating and drinking as a "joyous celebration." Yet without explicitly mentioning Christ, His sacrificial death, or His body and blood, this is only about equally likely to be about the Lord's Supper as Mary Lathbury's "Break now the bread of life" (hymn 515)—which, by the way, most clearly means "hearing the word of truth" when it talks about eating the bread of life.