WORDS TO BEGIN THE SERVICE BEFORE THE CALL TO WORSHIP
Some of you will know that when I am leading in prayer I usually like to say a few words about what was on my mind as I was preparing.
So when it is the whole service I seem to want to do the same. A few weeks ago when Dick Dearing was leading the prayer time he began by asking what we thought it meant to think of the holy. I have been wondering about that ever since. We use words like the holy book, holy space, the holy land, holy god—and it seems to me most of the time we are associating that word with a very special location—or with the god we talk about when we are in this space—or perhaps in our private prayers.
But since I was a kid in CGIT and even tho the two small churches I grew up in were very special—my sense of the holy one, sacred space, word of the lord, hymns of praise—was always much more than the confines of “church” rituals and language. I still found much wisdom in bible studies. I still love most of the old hymns. I still feel something special when i come into this space—or when I am a tourist in an ancient cathedral.
But—maybe because I was farm kid—I sensed and still sense the creator in a sunset—in shoots of grain popping through the dry earth, or in the strawberry bushes that are “dead” all winter but come back to life. Maybe a year in California hanging out with some slightly hippie families taught me to hear god’s voice in the folk songs of Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary. Maybe after a bible study class focused on prophets I started to hear prophetic words not just from our biblical prophets but in so many men and women of faith who spoke up—often at the cost of their lives-to proclaim the holy cries for peace and justice. So today I am inviting you to join in a time of reflection on the word of god as we share prayer and hymns, and as we share the words and lives of three of our more modern people of faith.
Let us join in a time of worship.
WORDS TO BEGIN A TIME OF READINGS AND REFLECTIONS
Today we are holding up the lives and work of three people who in very different ways point us—if we can see it—to so many of the teachings from the bible. We have been taught “god so loved the world”. If so we need to look at the world and all that is happening if we are to see the sacred work of god’s love and care.
One of the many ways we might sense the presence of the holy is through the lives of so many who have and still do work for peace and for justice. Their spirits can touch our spirits and stir us.
One of those people—familiar to all of us—is Dr. Martin Luther King. It is perhaps easier to see and hear god in Dr. King’s life and work because he was a Christian preacher. We know that his issues were racism— and poverty—and violence—including the violence of wars. Whether leading worship or marches or rallies—he spoke always of the responsibilities of people of faith to act out their beliefs. Even when—or especially –when their societies taught something different.
He used the bible—and the American constitution to proclaim his beliefs. Even as negroes were blocked from voting, blocked from theatres and restaurants, blocked from living in certain areas, blocked from decent jobs—Dr. King thundered that god loved all children equally and that the American constitution said: all men are created equal.
Even as thousands of Americans—mainly people of colour—lived in grinding poverty—he proclaimed the promise of the gospel. Even as the Vietnam War raged he spoke out against the violence of wars. And he challenged everyone to pray and speak and march and protest and never stop until the mountain top was reached and god’s justice was shared by every child. His messages were based on the teachings of so many of the prophets of ancient Israel. Listen to these few examples of his words.
1. I have dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people are created equal.
2. I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the colour of their skin—but by the content of their character.
3. World peace through nonviolence is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be the voices of reason, sanity, and understanding, amid voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.
Please take a few quiet moments to think of those whose example of peace and justice work has shown you the way to care for others.
And let us sing: “Let There Be Peace on Earth”
OUR SECOND ROLE MODEL/TEACHER WAS RACHEL CARSON. She was an American biologist who became an early and a powerful voice of the global environmental movement. In the 1930s and 40s she worked for the US Dept of Fisheries and did extensive research on the health of the oceans. For many of us that now seems urgent as we hear the stories of the plastics now clogging our oceans and even killing whales. I know when I took a look around my house I was shocked at how much plastic I had and bewildered to see how to significantly reduce it. By 1945, Rachel Carson was noticing the terrible side effects of DDT. At the time DDT was being widely promoted as the most effective ever “insect bomb”. There was no testing for safety or environmental concerns and chemical companies in harmony with the US Dept of Agriculture were urging massive spraying programs.
For many many years as she tested water quality and resulting danger to humans living near them and became ever more alarmed. Her fierce warnings about the dangers of this “miracle” chemical were ignored and no one would publish her concerns. Eventually (1962) her book, The Silent Spring, was published. She was attacked as a communist and fear monger. Fortunately, the Kennedy government listened and began to make the issue of pesticides a major public issue. Her basic storytelling and all her comments were based on her premise that if we immerse ourselves in the wonders of nature—and learn to enjoy and love creation—we will be moved to protect it. Her language is not xtian language but her content surely is.
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder—so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth, and in contemplation of her beauty, to know of wonder and humility.”
We are a people who often speak of god as creator. I suspect each of us has some deeply felt sense of wonder about the mystery of creation, some precious reminder that not everything is in the control of human activity. Maybe something as small as a butterfly or as massive as the Rocky Mountains.
Please take a moment to think of some place or spot or experience in creation that is meaningful to you and makes you feel a nearness to something sacred. And if you feel like it share with someone near you.
And now please remember those gifts of the creator and hold onto your sense of gratitude as we sing “This Is God’s Wondrous World.”
Perhaps it is justice and peace dreams and works that lead us to sense the presence of the holy. Or maybe it is the appreciation and protection of the magnificence of creation that reminds us of the sacred.
Or maybe at times it is in the arts—in paintings—sculpture—pottery – music—dances – or in the many other art forms. In some mysterious way they leave us with full hearts, with holy laughter or holy tears, or even a sense of awe. We can see so clearly the amazing gifts that some among us have been given, and can be so thankful to those who share them with such generosity. Surely the holy one shines through them.
OUR THIRD ROLE MODEL: One splendid example of that kind of artist for me has always been DOREEN SHANKS—a long time member of FGUC. For those who did not know her she was a fabric artist who gifted this place with so many works of art. Some she just helped sew but most were her own design and crafting. We have these huge banners and these much smaller ones that usually hang in our walkway. Our main entrance is blessed with one of her gorgeous works.
For those who did know DOREEN her gifts of patience and persistence, her eye for beauty and colour, her respect for others and her amazing generosity shone through her pieces of work that still bless our space. Her works help us see the creator and creation.
In homage to artists and what they stir in us, a few art items are set up at the front. I expect you all have some items in the places you live that are special to you for many reasons. Maybe the painting of the sunset or the stained glass work of daisies or even the rainbow represented on our candle–maybe these remind us of the spirit we call creator. Let us also remember that not all that touches us and teaches us is visual. Whether you go to the symphony or crank up country music you can hear artists. Even here-or especially here- every week here we are blessed with the gift of music and the talent of composers, singers and instrumentalists.
Please take a few quiet moments to think of artists or works of art that have touched you deeply—and made you grateful.
Many years ago I was taught that when we sing “Be Thou My Vision” I should think of the fact that the writer means not only vision as something out there and far away that pulls me forward but also as the vision behind my eyes. Can I see the world as sacred space? See with the heart of a lover of creation? See with the imagination of the prophet?
And let us sing “Be Thou My Vision”.