Text: James Rowe (1865-1933) Tune: Howard Smith (1863-1918)
1 I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore, Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more; But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry, From the waters lifted me – Now safe am I. Refrain: Love lifted even me, Love lifted even me, When nothing else could help, Love lifted me; Love lifted even me, Love lifted even me, When nothing else could help, Love lifted me. 2 All my heart to Him I give, Ever to Him I'll cling, In His blessed presence live, Ever His praises sing. Love so mighty and so true Merits my soul's best songs; Faithful, loving service, too, To Him belongs. [Refrain] 3 Souls in danger, look above, Jesus completely saves; He will lift you by His love Out of the angry waves. He's the Master of the sea, Billows His will obey; He your Savior wants to be – Be saved today. [Refrain]
I used this hymn for Epiphany II this year, but it is one of the few exactly on this text, and works especially well for this Sunday. Based on a line in Psalm 40:2, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock,” it also uses very directly the imagery of Peter walking out onto the water and beginning to sink and crying out to the Lord for help. Save me!.
In the translation of what Jesus says in Matthew—It is I—we miss what the Greek says: I AM. Jesus is telling the disciples that he is Jaweh, God. And then, "Be not afraid!" This greeting is always the first sentence in a greeting from heaven. We are right to be shaken to the core by such an encounter. After he has saved Peter, and stilled the storm, the disciples, fearful and astonished, worship Jesus. They, to some extent, answer Jesus proclamation that he is Jahweh, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
It makes me a little nervous that Jesus upbraids Peter for being “of little faith.” I plead guilty to that. And it usually comes when I think I am walking on water on my own. My faith is little when I feel all sufficient. Jesus can say that to all of us, even the rock upon which he builds his church.
While the psalm has more of quicksand in it than sea, the thought of sinking into the waters was well known to everyone. Dante begins his Divine Comedy with a description of himself almost drowning but being lifted up by Lucia, a messenger from Beatrice who brought the love of God to him.
The very physical image of sinking into a mire or deep sea is a great metaphor for our being caught in sin. The hymn writer uses that image very well. Especially in a miry bog. The more one tries to get out, the deeper one sinks. There is no way we can get out on our own. The only salvation is when someone comes along with a rope or board that can bring us to solid ground. We cannot save ourselves. This is true whether our miry bog is just that or our own sins. All of us know how tangled up we can get by trying to extricate ourselves from our own messes. We need help.
Christians learn these lessons over time. We need to look up for help and cry out. The Lord is waiting for that cry and will come at once. He loves to save us. And must be amused at our thrashing around in our own messes as we struggle to free ourselves, waiting for the cry that comes when we realize we cannot save ourselves.
His coming to lift us out of the mire or deep waters shows us his very nature: Love. The God of the universe who made worlds on worlds stooping down to lift insignificant souls like us out of sin. That is love. God's plan of salvation is about love for sinners. God’s whole work is designed to lift us out of the mire, save us and finally bring us into fellowship with him, when we confess that he is God. "He is the master of the sea!"
James Rowe, the writer of the hymn text, was born in 1865 in England.. He worked in the Government Survey Office in Dublin. In 1890 he emigrated to New York and employed by the railroads, until he became superintendent of the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society. Not until 1896 did he begin writing hymns, songs and poems. He died in 1933. Over the years the song has become a favorite of the African American church but remains well known in evangelical circles. Almost nothing is known about the composer Howard Smith.
LA Mass choir
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