HYMN for Week 22 Pentecost 13 We Give Thee But Thine Own
John 6: 51-58
Text: William Walsham How (1823-1897). Tune: Mason and Webb, Cantica Lauda 1850)
1 We give thee but thine own, whate'er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.
2 May we thy bounties thus as stewards true receive, and gladly, as thou blessest us, to thee our first fruits give.
3 To comfort and to bless, to find a balm for woe, to tend the lone and fatherless is angels' work below.
4 The captive to release, to God the lost to bring, to teach the way of life and peace-- it is a Christlike thing.
5 And we believe thy Word, though dim our faith may be; whate'er for thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto thee.
This has been sung, the first stanza especially, millions of times as the ushers carry the offering plates to the front of the church. Just hearing it brings me back to hundreds of worship services in my youth. An old chestnut. It always used to strike me, when I paid attention as we stood to sing it, the outright claim that nothing we had was ours. That we were merely stewards of the good we received from our heavenly father. It put into perspective all the struggles we had about making and keeping money in order to survive. Sometimes it seemed, the less we had the more we understood our dependence on the Lord, and were more thankful.
When I was twelve we moved to the West Coast where my father had been called. As a native of Puget Sound, he loved the West and knew it in his bones. The new parish was a struggling young home mission congregation in 1954. He believed so strongly that this was the call of God that he took a $1000 pay cut to move. That was no small thing--it went from $4000 to $3000. And it was a city parish so the rich gifts of meat and produce, milk and eggs from the farmers in our North Dakota parish were not to be. So it was a double whammy.
Our mother was equal to the challenge. A farm girl of the Depression, she knew how to pinch pennies, but sometimes there wasn’t much there to pinch. In addition, my father firmly believed in tithing, ten percent, the first fruits, at least. Not only was it his joy, but it served as a way to budget for the month. It was a little more difficult for mother, but she came to see its worth. Knowing that all we had was from God, and giving it back first, helped my parents manage to feed the growing family.
The prolific fields of beans and strawberries in the Willamette Valley made it possible for me to pick crops for money, the tradition of the kids in the area. We could make hundreds of dollars every summer, back when the average family income was $3000. At 4:30 in the morning a ramshackle truck would pick us up at a corner and we would join with other kids our age being driven in the early morning light out into the boundless fields to gather in the harvest. How safe the driver was we did not know and there were not many regulations to assure our safety, but our parents trusted them and loaded us on to these trucks which drove us into perils unknown. But we survived and made enough pin money to help with the family budget. My father even would pick crops on Monday, his day off, to keep us solvent.
We managed. My mother, proud of herself, would announce at the end of a meal: this only cost us $.74, or whatever it was that day. So we learned that God would sustain us and keep us. There were always surprises that got us through the month. And we all knew they came from the Lord. We lived in thanksgiving for his providence.
That was the way the people in the congregation lived also. Many farmed in the Midwest, but worked in the canneries through the year. Sacrificial living and giving was how they managed as well. They knew that everything they had came from the Lord. Oddly, those with little tend to be more generous than those with much, something Jesus saw in the woman who gave her two mites in the temple.
Now that we are emerging from the pandemic, to some extent, we are faced with having to support our own congregations and the needs in the world more generously. God calls us to help the widows and orphans, the hungry and naked. He gives us these gifts so we can work for him and share the bounties we have received. “It is a Christlike thing.”
William W. How, like many of the great English hymn writers of the 19th century, was a supporter of the Oxford Society which urged a return to the Catholic heritage of the Church of England. He loved the poor and gained a reputation for his ministry in the crowded neighborhoods of London. He became bishop of Wakefield where he continued his scholarship and working for the improvement of the life of factory workers in west Yorkshire. During his lifetime he wrote several theological works attempting to understand the biblical account of creation in light of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He jointly edited Psalms and Hymns (1854) and Church Hymns (1871). During his time as rector in Whittington, he wrote about sixty hymns, many for children. In 1886 he published his Poems and Hymns. His poetry was not very successful, but this hymn became a must for most Protestant churches in the English speaking world.
The tune is attributed to Robert Schumann and edited by Lowell Mason and Webb for their book Cantica Lauda in 1850. It was a common ploy by Mason, to use old melodies in popular music from the past and make the suitable for congregational singing. This, with its sturdy simple steps, makes it the equal of many English tunes.
From the Christian Reformed Church hymnal
Organ accompaniment to the tune Energy