WHEN WILL I EVER LEARN TO LIVE IN GOD - Sermon From Van Morrison Sunday in Fitzroy


(The day before Van Morrison celebrated his 70th Birthday (August 30, 2015) with a concert at the end of Cyprus Avenue we built our entire Sunday service around Van Morrison songs... Here is a written version of my sermon!)


When will I ever learn to live in God?

When will I ever learn?

He gives me everything I need and more

When will I ever learn?

In his book Hymns Of Silence Peter Mills writes of Van Morrison’s When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God:

“This song is one of Morrison’s most directly Christian tunes, which would sit unproblematically in the repertoire of any of the acts that use the pop-rock-soul- model to construct modern songs of praise.” 

When it came to a Church service built around Van Morrison hymns and songs this song was the obvious choice to launch the sermon from.

And up on the hillside its quiet

Where the shepherd is tending his sheep

And over the mountains and the valleys

The countryside is so green

Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder

You can see everything is made in God

Head back down the roadside and give thanks for it all

There is indeed, as Mills points out, a praise feel to those last lines. Giving thanks for God’s creation is a recurring theme with the Old Testament Psalmist. For me the line, “He gives me everything I need and more,” echoes Psalm 23: - “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing”. When the Lord is our shepherd we will have “all that we need and more”

When that verse clicked then I caught more similarities. Compare Morrison’s 

“And up on the hillside its quiet

Where the shepherd is tending his sheep

And over the mountains and the valleys

The countryside is so green”


with King David’s 

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

    for his name’s sake.

It is not too contrived to see When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God as a Van Morrison Psalm. What I like about the song is that unlike a lot of the modern praise, that Peter Mills likens it to, When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God is not worship cul-de-sac. I often fear that modern worship goes up to God in some warm and almost feely weely vertical way but doesn’t come back down to make an impact on our horizontal lives. Worship should not be a cul-de-sac for Sunday but an energy that becomes a highway out into Monday and the week ahead. There is no point in singing to God if we are not going to learn to live in God. 

One of the Lectionary readings this week is from the New Testament letter of James (3:19-27). It seems to be all about learning to live in God. James tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”The entire reading is potent but what an ending, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

For those of you who are visitors with us this morning, this is why we meet every Sunday morning to worship. We want to learn to live in God. That it would transfer us and also that we would be transformers of our society.If you are a visitor forgive me if I look for a moment at the Fitzroy flock and ask them a few questions.

Fitzroy we say that Jesus cried out on the cross that “it is finished”. We believe that that redeems us and somehow deals with sin. Yet, have we learned to live in that truth or do we still feel guilty and captive of our past?

We remember that Jesus told us to lay up treasure in heaven and not on earth where it lists away. Yet, have we learned to live in God and not be distracted by the momentary and material in order to invest our gifts and life in more lasting returns?

We remember that Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yet, have we learned to live in that and be those who are striving for peace and reconciliation in the Northern Ireland where we are called to live this out?

In the above passage James tells us that real religion is to “Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” Have we learned to live that out in how we respond to the refugee crisis on our news right now? We believe that Jesus himself was a refugee!

So, Fitzroy, in my preaching let us see where we need to learn to live in God. As Van sings:

“Whatever it takes to fulfill his mission

That is the way we must go

But you've got to do it your own way

Tear down the old, bring up the new”





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