Asking for what is fair and just for all: It’s time to take a stand
March 17, 2021
The bold vision and invitation of Matthew 25:31-46 to be the hands and feet of Jesus, serving people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor, is awakening compassionate faith to new possibilities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Now that faith has been set to music in a hymn, “Jesus Be With Us,” with text and tune by the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship, with singing and musical arrangement by Phillip Morgan, director of music at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville.
“The idea to write the hymn came from Phillip,” Gambrell said, explaining that Morgan had asked Gambrell if he had considered writing a Matthew 25 hymn. This question prompted Gambrell to write the hymn and send it to Morgan for his feedback. The following day, Gambrell said, “to my surprise and delight, Phillip sent back this beautiful recording.”
The refrain is based on Matthew 1:23, “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us,’” and Jesus’ closing words in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“I wrote the hymn in a ‘gospel’ style because I want Presbyterians to remember that eradicating systemic poverty, dismantling structural racism and building congregational vitality is ‘gospel work’ — how we proclaim and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ,” Gambrell said. “My prayer is that the hymn will help congregations and mid councils keep singing the Matthew 25 vision as they worship and work in the world.”
Morgan recognized the need for a Matthew 25 hymn while he was working on long-range music planning for Central Presbyterian Church. He noticed the November lectionary devotes three weeks to Matthew 25: Nov. 8 (Matthew 25:1-13), Nov. 15 (Matthew 25:14-30) and Nov. 22 (Matthew 25: 31-46). This led to searching for music to incorporate into worship, and then realizing options were few and far between.
“I fired off an email to David and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if …’ and hours later there was this hymn in my inbox covering each of the points of Matthew 25,” Morgan said.
As he sat down to play and record it, Morgan accidentally changed a few of the chords, which Gambrell liked better. “So, we’ll call it the work of the Holy Spirit,” Morgan said, “But actually, some of it was an accident of my sight reading.”
Central Presbyterian, a More Light congregation welcoming all of God’s people, has accepted the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation. It seemed only natural, Morgan said, since the church has been working to dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty for more than 30 years, particularly as these areas relate to equity in education. The church is located in one of the poorest ZIP codes in the nation and is across the street from Simmons College of Kentucky, which is among the nation’s registered Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Presbyterian Church has been feeding an average of 100 people each Wednesday during its socially distanced walk-through lunch line. The church has discovered that working on issues of racism and poverty has given it new vitality, the first focus area of being a Matthew 25 church.
Morgan is a member of Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ executive board. He has served on faculty and planning teams for the Montreat Music and Worship Conference and has led the choir at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. He is also a member of the Louisville Chamber Choir and has performed as a soloist with the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisville Choral Arts Society and the Kentucky Opera.
Gambrell was co-editor (with Kimberly Bracken Long) of the latest edition of “The Book of Common Worship” (WJKP, 2018) and is author of “Breathing Spirit into Dust: Fifty Hymn Texts” (GIA, 2015) and “Presbyterian Worship: Questions and Answers” (WJKP, 2019).
The author/composer and arranger/performer grant permission for use of the hymn and recording in worship, online or otherwise. For other uses, please consult the copyright holders.
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 Invitation
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Almighty God, give us grace that your knowledge may become ours. May we grow in faith and bear fruit worthy of your people, living and growing in the Holy Spirit, both now and forevermore. Amen!