28th October 2018

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Psalm 126
Job 42: 7 – 9
Hebrews 8: 1 – 6

One of the first pieces I learned to play on the cello was called “Hearts of Oak”. I’d quite forgotten about it until preparing this sermon and wondering about the composer of tonight’s anthem, William Boyce. “Hearts of Oak”, written by Boyce and performed first on New Year’s Eve 1760, is the official march of the Royal Navy and was, before being replaced, also the march of the Royal Australian Navy. The lyrics of the poem were written by David Garrick and, at least in part, echo a piece we know well in that great British rah-rah music “Rule Britannia”. But that’s a bit of research you can easily do for yourself.

I was already thinking of saying something tonight about Job and the music of another English composer, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry – best known, I suspect, in this cathedral for his stirring setting of William Blake’s words to the tune “Jerusalem” and of Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said unto me.” Parry also wrote an oratoria called “Job” in which he tells, through four soloists, the basic story of Job which we have been reading over these past few weeks. We’ll be commemorating the work of Parry on Advent Sunday, 2nd December, when we hear the “First Chords” of the restored Cathedral Organ. Parry died on 7 October 1918, just over one hundred years ago, shortly after writing “Jerusalem”.

Like William Boyce 150 years earlier, Parry’s music received a mixed reception. He was, by all accounts, a very fine academic musician, counting among his students Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and John Ireland – all of whose music we sing here from time to time. But I have always been both intrigued and a little disturbed by the enthusiasm of people for singing “Jerusalem”, especially those who have been to private Anglican church schools in the former British colonies I have lived in – South Africa, New Zealand, and now Australia. I could not quite get my head around the desire to sing at weddings and funerals Blake’s words about building “Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.”

The words that Parry set to music to the tune called Jerusalem were written by William Blake at the beginning of the 19th century when England’s green and pleasant land was being turned into the smoky factories of the Industrial Revolution. Almost a hundred years later, in 1917, when it seemed that the Great War, as the First World War was called, would drag on forever, Parry wrote the tune Jerusalem. It was an instant hit and rapidly became very popular among all sorts of different, and differing, groups. Somehow Parry caught the imagination and longing of people for the end of this so-called war to end all wars.

In two weeks’ time, on 11 November, we will mark the centenary of the end of that war with the signing of the Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th month 1918. While it brought to an end the bitter, and some would argue, senseless, long years of trench warfare and the death and injury of millions of young (mostly) men – including some 60,000 Australians – the suffering did not end with the cessation of hostilities. Hundreds of thousands of men would be left with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and left to live out their lives by their own devices. Many of course suffered horrific injuries and the long lasting effects of being gassed. Such was the case with my grandfathers, neither of whom I knew. Then there was the suffering of the widows and their families, and the sweethearts who never had the chance to marry the men they loved.

As if that was not enough, the troops returning from the battle field proved a successful and highly efficient way of spreading what was known as Spanish ‘Flu killing some 50 million people world-wide, far more than died in the War.

To many the Old Testament Book of Job must have been seen as a prophetic writing. Why did people have to suffer so much? Why did it go on and on and on? As you know the story of Job is about an innocent God-fearing man who suffers terribly. It is a remarkable examination of the question of evil and suffering, and the role of faith in the midst of suffering. Part of its remarkableness is that still speaks into our world today. I imagine Job’s questions will be being asked at this moment in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, following the shooting and killing yesterday of worshippers gathered for a naming ceremony (a ‘baptism’ if you like). It is the sort of question being asked by those who continue to languish in places like Nauru, and those parts of the world which flash across our attention when atrocities become so bad that they cannot be overlooked – even by a world grown weary of news reports of famine, war, refugees and the accompanying suffering.

Why? Why does God allow this? Why does God not do something? Why?

There is no answer to these questions in Job – only some of the most beautifully profound writing about the mystery of God and creation and faith found in the Bible. It is the wisdom hidden in the mystery of God that composers and poets continue to explore. As we listen now to the music of William Boyce, and his setting of some words from Job 28, allow yourself to ponder on that most difficult of questions, “Where shall wisdom be found?” And then remember that a number of biblical writers point to Jesus Christ, one who himself suffered terribly and innocently, as the source of wisdom and the unraveling of mystery.

‘And unto man God said, “Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”’ Job 28: 28