Maa Maa, Black Goat

It’s all about the sheep and the goats this week in Lectionary Land, but before I go there, I would like to talk for a moment–okay, that’s a joke. What preacher likes to talk for “a moment?” The moment has gone by as soon as you’ve said it. Sheesh.

But seriously, folks…

I was working on Sunday’s bulletin yesterday, with a plan of using Psalm 100 as the Call to Worship. If, like me, you were raised in church, you may yet remember the King James’ Version of that short and famous psalm:

1Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

2Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

3Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

5For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

You know why we don’t like that anymore in Liberal Christan land, right? No? Well, it’s not just that we worry about referring to God as “He” with a capital “H.” We also worry that people will feel excluded by the archaic word usage, ye and endureth, stuff like that. These words are not, of course, problematic for members of the Professional Organization of English Majors. We faileth to understandeth whyeth this might be troubling to thee and thine.

Some fifteen years ago or so, along came the New Revised Standard Version, as balm to the souls of good Liberal Christians everywhere, for wherever the Bible refers to “sons,” the NRSV expands to include women by reading “sons and daughters.” Offended at being included as one among “brothers?” No worries. Now we are “brothers and sisters.” Herewith the NRSV rendering of Psalm 100:

1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

See how much better that is? We’ve done away with that old-fashioned sounding “all ye lands” thing, and apparently God’s truth was all finished endurething.

But we’ve still got trouble my friends, right here in our Reflectionary, because we are plagued by the pesky “He.”

Last year on Thanksgiving Sunday I used the Call to Worship provided by Seasons of the Spirit, and it went like this:

Leader: Be joyful and sing as you come to worship God!
People: Let the whole world shout praise to God.
Leader: We know that the one who made us is God.
People: We are God’s people, and God is our shepherd.
Leader: Give thanks and praise to God as you gather to worship.
People: For God is good! God’s love and faithfulness last forever!
All: Let the whole world shout praise to God!

When Pure Luck heard this, he asked if we were sending a telegram.

Finally, and as much as I love The Message, read this and weep:

One: On your feet now–applaud GOD!
Many: Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into God’s presence.
One: Know this: GOD is God, and God, GOD. God made us; we didn’t make God.
Many: We’re God’s people, God’s well-tended sheep.
One: Enter with the password: “Thank you!” Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Many: We thank God. We worship God.

And at the sound of those words, Pure Luck made an unpleasant association to Ebonics. I announced that of all of them I preferred the King James, which may mean I have to turn in my resign my post as Guardian of Inclusivity for the RevGalBlogPals in order to keep my membership in P.O.E.M.

Isn’t it possible to have poetry that is also inclusive?

What we need is a 21st century Catherine Winkworth, who brought the German chorale tradition into the awareness of English-speaking Christians, including some of my favorite hymnic poetry ever, a translation of Benjamin Schmolk’s “Thut mir auf die schöne Pforte.” I first heard it when a choir member at Large Church gave it a new setting as an a capella processional for our Easter Vigil. Singing it as we marched from the Cloister into the Sanctuary is easily my favorite musical memory. It is based on Psalm 100:4.

For some real, though archaic and exclusive, beauty, read on:

Open now thy gates of beauty,
Zion, let me enter there,
Where my soul in joyful duty
Waits for Him Who answers prayer.
Oh, how blessèd is this place,
Filled with solace, light and grace!

Lord, my God, I come before Thee,
Come Thou also unto me;
Where we find Thee and adore Thee,
There a heav’n on earth must be.
To my heart, oh, enter Thou,
Let it be Thy temple now!

Here Thy praise is gladly chanted,
Here Thy seed is duly sown;
Let my soul, where it is planted,
Bring forth precious sheaves alone,
So that all I hear may be
Fruitful unto life in me.

Thou my faith increase and quicken,
Let me keep Thy gift divine,
Howsoe’er temptations thicken;
May Thy Word still o’er me shine
As my guiding star through life,
As my comfort in my strife.

Speak, O God, and I will hear Thee,
Let Thy will be done indeed;
May I undisturbed draw near Thee
While Thou dost Thy people feed.
Here of life the fountain flows,
Here is balm for all our woes.

12 thoughts on “Maa Maa, Black Goat”

  1. I’m using a version of Ps. 100 for the call to worship and also the opening hymn.
    And, regarding the KJV–I know, sister, I know.

  2. Although I grew up with it in church, Elizabethan language does not really resonate with me, so the new translations don’t bother me too much.
    But do you know the St. Helena Psalter, a reworking of the psalms by the Order of St. Helena (an Episcopal order?) I think their attempts to remove gendered language are better than the NRSV.
    Here is their rendering of Psalm 100:
    May all lands be joyful before you, O God,
    serve you with gladness,
    and come before your presence with a song.
    For we know that you are God,
    you yourself have made us and we are yours;
    we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.
    We shall enter your gates with thanksgiving,
    go into your courts with praise,
    give thanks to you and call upon your name.
    For you are good;
    your mercy is everlasting,
    and your faithfulness endures from age to age.

  3. One of the things I have appreciated about our UCC church is that we can use our own pronouns. Even in the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, Mother, Creator, etc.

  4. The Message version you quoted was just AWFUL! And I do like some of The Message. But not that.
    Loved the hymn. It’s one of my favorites and has a fabulous descant line for soprano that is so inspiring to sing.

  5. Have you seen the Contemporary English Version? Very nice for a simple translation, but certain verses are just painful. Like “Be still and know that I am God.” That needs no simplification, yet the CEV renders “Be still” as “Be quiet.” There’s entire planets of difference between Be still and Be quiet, IMO.

  6. No kidding, rm.
    R2K, that’s a really nice thing, isn’t it?
    Rev Dr Mom, I think I’m going to use that St. Helena version on Sunday. Thanks again.
    Grace, I wish I could somehow sing you the music that is in my head for those words. Although it’s a contemporary composition, it’s very ancient sounding, built “on a ground” (the bass part). The thrill of singing it was trying to keep 50 choir members in time while turning a corner!! That’s something I miss a lot about Large Church, the choir. Sigh.

  7. I learned to sing those old words when I was in a 6th grade public school choir! Shocking!
    The song came right back to me: “Make a joyful noise unto the lord, all ye lands…”

  8. So after all that angst about Psalm 100, the Stewardship committee brought me a completely different Call to Worship from the (really good, as it happens) denominational materials. No Psalm 100 after all this week. Ah, well.

  9. If I remember correctly {I did the bulletin last Monday and have not really looked at it since} we are starting our worship by singing “Make a Joyful Noise”, a setting of Psalm 100 by UCCan artist Linnea Good ( NIce and upbeat, although our hymn book also includes the old Scottish setting (Old 100th).

  10. Although I don’t like that Message passage in general, I was caught by the line
    “Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into God’s presence.”
    Yeah, I kinda like that.
    But the word of the old 100th are so ingrained in my memory — we sang it as a call to worship every Sunday and I can remember sitting between my mother and father — when I hear it I feel the warmth of their presence with me. When does comfort win over gender-inclusivity?

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