Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.
Because I have sinned against him,
I will bear the Lord’s wrath,
until he pleads my case
and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see his righteousness.
Then my enemy will see it
and will be covered with shame,
she who said to me,
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her downfall;
even now she will be trampled underfoot
like mire in the streets.
- Micah 7:8-10
“Softly falls the light of day,
While our campfire fades away.
Silently each scout should ask,
“Have I done my daily task?
Have I kept my honor bright?
Can I guiltless sleep tonight?
Have I done and have I dared
In everything to be prepared.”
- Scout Vespers (tune of O Tannenbaum)
A couple of days ago, I mentioned that my wife and I and a team of helpers for Hurricane Katrina Relief attended a vespers service in Gautier, Mississippi. The term was not foreign to me, but it has taken a few days for the clarity to start coming back on distant memories.
When I was growing up, everyone attended church, one church or another, with very few exceptions. Church was not just an hour on Sunday morning either. We had Sunday school. My mother taught the women’s class, nearly all the women who attended. The men’s class rotated from one person to another and once a month, instead of having Sunday school, the elders met during the Sunday school hour to have their session meeting. (Note to all those churches who have 5-6 hour long session meetings, if you bombast less and get down to the real business, it does not take that long. And quit worrying about the finances. God will provide. Have faith. You are elders. Act like it.)
Where was I? Okay, the children would meet in a large room and sing a song or two. Then we would have a Bible verse challenge. The leader would call out a Bible reference and then the first one that found it got to read it. My class dominated for a few years at that. And then we had Sunday school.
This was followed by the worship service. Then on Sunday evening, we had a Sunday night worship service, after an hour or so of a youth group meeting. While the morning service was centered around a sermon, the evening service centered around a Bible study. To the untrained ear, they sounded a lot alike, but in the evening, we might bounce from one book of the Bible to another to tie one thought to another. I think at one point, this might have been called vespers on Sunday evening. Then on Wednesday, we had prayer meeting. It was thirty minutes of singing the old songs in an old hymnal, followed by prayer requests and then a time where any and all could pray out loud with the pastor concluding the prayer meeting. And yes, we prayed for a full thirty minutes in that manner.
Somehow, we went from giving God roughly five to seven hours a week to giving God one hour per week and complaining that the pastor preaches too long of a sermon. And let’s go to a summer schedule because I am NOT giving God the good warm-air time and sunshine at lunch time on Sundays. How did that happen?
But I do clearly remember going to church camp only once. Each night, we had vespers before bed. It was a short worship service to let everyone know that the horseplay and antics would have to stop, and we would all go to bed. For that week, I don’t even think we talked after vespers. Strange, for teen-agers or pre-teens, but then maybe that was just the boy’s bunkhouse.
My other memory of vespers is the song quoted above. Most boys were in Boy Scouts for the outdoor activities and the camaraderie. I joined at thirteen, instead of eleven, and my focus was always on duty, honor, God, country, the Law, the Oath, the Motto, and advancing to the next rank. Since the boys were generally eleven to fourteen, I joined as most of the boys my age were getting their Eagle Scout and leaving or leaving without that rank. I had my Eagle Scout Court of Honor on a Sunday morning when I was fifteen. The other fifteen-year-old in our troop presented the American flag to the front of the morning worship service for the ceremony. I returned the favor at his church when he received his Eagle that night. Our church today does not permit the worship service being interrupted for Eagle Scout Courts of Honor. But in my day, it was something celebrated that a boy had proven his duty to God and country. What does this say about our present values?
But Scout Vespers, the first verse at least, is a song that I can sing any hour of any day. You would have to give me a song book for any of the other songs we used to sing. It is ingrained within me. The song speaks not just of the day ending, but of whether we have shown honor and done our duty. The Scout Slogan is to do a good turn daily. The Scout Motto is to be prepared. Couple that with keeping your honor bright and guiltless sleeping tonight and you are living up to that slogan and that motto and doing so honorably. All of that and a scoutmaster who lived honorably and could sing a capella. I wanted to be just like him.
When I was a scoutmaster, I did not last long. The other adults got rid of me. My moral code and attention to honor and duty were so far removed from the mindset of the next generation that the other adults felt that I did not relate to the children well. But I had boys that age, and some of the other boys clung to what I was teaching them. I think that the other parents could not relate to what I was teaching. Is that how we have gotten to where we are?
Now, you must fast-forward from my teen-aged years to 2006 in January, in a church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before I hear the word “vespers” again.
The internet says that vespers is done at either 6:00pm or 7:00pm with the idea that everyone goes to bed immediately afterward. Who does that anymore? Okay, with my wife’s early morning dialysis schedule, I would love going to bed that early, but the sun has not set yet. And the very few television shows that I still watch happen to be on the nights before dialysis. When it is rerun night, I go to bed near sunset.
But, in deciding when to have this vespers series to examine catechism questions and answers, it dawned on me that people read these posts when they read them. It will be near vespers time for some people, and for other people, they may read the post with their first cup of coffee in the morning.
I also prayed about it, and God let me know that going to eleven scheduled posts per week was a bad idea. Thus, I settled on the Wednesday evening posts. With 82 questions in the Spurgeon’s Catechism and even more in the Shorter and a lot more in the Larger and the Heidelberg Catechism going a completely different direction, this might mean years of vespers at 3:30pm on Wednesday, Eastern Time (Daylight or Standard), but really, whenever it is read.
Monday, I suggested it might take a couple of weeks to get organized. The next post will be the first, today, but it may take a few weeks to get the discussion portion ironed out and the format might change until I feel comfortable.
In all things, duty and honor. Glory to God in the Highest. Let’s not talk of the world’s strife for a few moments once each week. Let us learn what people of past centuries felt was the important lessons to learn from Scripture, one question at a time. Come back in a few hours, if reading this when it first comes out.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
One of my favorite vespers hymns is, “Now the Light Has Gone Away.”
1 Now the light has gone away;
Father, listen while I pray,
Asking Thee to watch and keep
And to send me quiet sleep.
2 Jesus, Savior, wash away
All that has been wrong today.
Help me ev’ry day to be
Good and gentle, more like Thee.
3 Let my near and dear ones be
Always near and dear to Thee;
Oh, bring me and all I love
To Thy happy home above.
4 Now my evening praise I give;
Thou didst die that I might live.
All my blessings come from Thee;
Oh, how good Thou art to me!
5 Thou, my best and kindest Friend,
Thou wilt love me to the end.
Let me love Thee more and more
Always better than before.
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Thanks. Since I use a hymn or song, I can use it.
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