At the beginning of the summer, I asked for people’s favorite hymns so that I could use them throughout the season. I got a wonderful variety of responses from a number of people, and we have been singing at least one every week. This coming Sunday is no exception. But the hymn that I have chosen for this week might seem a little strange for this time of year.
“I sing a song of the saints of God” is a hymn that we would normally sing on All Saints’ Sunday in November. Lesbia Scott, the wife of an Anglican priest, wrote the text for this hymn in response to one of her children asking, “Mum, what’s a saint?” Scott used specific examples of saints in the first two verses of her hymn. “One was a doctor” refers to St. Luke who wrote two books of the Bible, the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. “One was a priest” was John Donne who was an Anglican priest and poet. “One was slain by a fierce wild beast” refers to Ignatius of Antioch who was an early follower of Jesus who refused to renounce his faith and was thrown to the lions by the Romans. Scott gives us a great history lesson as we sing, but verse three is the reason that I love this hymn.
“They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
in the church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”
In response to the question, “What makes a saint?,” Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor said: “Extravagance. Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection, exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope, inordinate love.” If we are all saints of God that is certainly a lot to live up to, but there is no doubt that this is what our world needs right now.
Each week I try to choose a closing hymn that sends us forth and inspires to make a difference in the world. I’ve placed this hymn in that place this Sunday. As we sing these words at the end of the service, I hope we will all be thinking of ways to show “exorbitant charity and inordinate love” to the people around us.