Friends, we are living through a remarkable time right now. A time ripe for change in a way beyond anything I’ve experienced in my half-century. When I started writing this message, several days ago, I was feeling overwhelmed and sad, tempted to despair. As I finish this message just now, I have hope. I agree with something I saw the actor Alan Alda post on social media this morning. He wrote,
“This is the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times, if the best in us can rise to the top. Now is the time.”
My belief is that we will rise to the best in us—and be led by it—if we take the time and make the effort to discern God’s leading within us right now. We know our reliable guide, Christ is come to teach his people himself, and we trust that even in times of social upheaval, with heartache all around and within us, the Light leads on.
So our message for this week is something different. We Friends have a wonderful tradition of making space for Spirit to speak into the quiet of our hearts. My message has been composed of quotes and queries, designed to help you hear a truth that illuminates the places in our own lives where we can be more and invite more of God’s light.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates their brother or sister, they are liars; for they who do not love their brothers and sisters whom they have seen, cannot love God who they have not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
- Do I carry hatred in my heart for any person or group of persons? If so, am I willing to allow God to heal my hatred and teach me how to love?
- Do I harbor a grudge toward any who have hurt me? For the bettering of all, am I willing to forgive?
- Do I believe I am obeying God when I treat all people with the respect and dignity a child of God deserves?
The Beauty of Diversity
“And oh, how sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye to see several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices (Rom 14:4). For this is the true ground of love and unity, not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and life in him, and that he walks in his rank, in his own order, in his proper way and place of subjection to that; and this is far more pleasing to me than if he walked just in that track wherein I walk.” – Isaac Penington, 1660
- Do I feel at ease, can I see God’s beauty when I am in a place with a great diversity of people? If not, am I willing to let Spirit help me feel more comfortable and build trust in the name of Love?
- Do I have old ideas that place one group of people (race, gender, class, education, age, or religion) above another? If so, can I allow spirit to dissolve my bias and help me accept all in love?
- Do I listen for truth and love in those whose experiences and lifestyles are much different from my own?
Changing for the Better
“… when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up;” – Robert Barclay
- Robert Barclay describes here his experience in finding a living truth among Friends and realizing that it was an active principle that continues to make him a better man. Do I trust Spirit’s leading within me to reveal the board in my eye and open my heart to more Light and Love?
- Do my words, actions, and ideas about equality create an environment in which the good is raised up?
What Canst Thou Say?
“And I stood up in my pew, and I wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the Scriptures, and said, ‘The Scriptures were the prophets’ words and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed and had it from the Lord’. And said, ‘Then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’” – Margaret Fell, 1694
- What is God speaking into my heart right now, as I read or hear these words?
- What might I share with a trusted Friend about the way in which God is leading me through this time of uncertainty and change?
- What can I say, about God’s presence with me and the value of every human life?
- How might God be leading me to work, pray, think, or act in a way that honors the divine breath in every person?
Transforming Love of God
“New Jersey Quaker tailor, minister and proto-abolitionist John Woolman (1720-1772) began a nine-day trek westward to speak with the Native Americans at Wyalusing in June of 1763. En route, Woolman considered his motivations: “Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in…” Woolman believed God’s purposes and love intervened in historical time and human affairs for the transformation of society. The “motion” of love was not, for Woolman, an abstract concept of the divine but the immediate revelation of God that inspired concrete action and made specific claims on society.” – Jon Kershner
- Do I believe that God intervenes purposefully in human affairs to bring healing and transformation? Where have I seen evidence of this during the last several weeks?
- Can I cultivate in myself a desire to understand the life and spirit of those who are different from me?
- Do I have a personal, felt experience of “love was the first motion,” inspiring me to do something kind, good, helpful, or encouraging for another?
- How might I make more room for love to be the first motion in my life, my meeting, and our world?
A Vision of God’s Kingdom
“It occurs to me that what is needed is an IDEA of how we want the world to look. Great changes are born in the minds of humans, and require that at least a certain number of human beings share a common idea of where we want to go.” -Robert Wolff, The Wonder of Being, 1998
- Do I have a vision of harmony for this world? What would it look and feel like, to live with people of all races, genders, ages, and religions in peace and love?
- Is God stirring in my heart any first step I can take to help create that vision in my lived experience?
- Am I willing to commit to spending time in the silence regularly so that I can glimpse and grasp God’s vision of peace and wholeness for all his children?
And finally, I’d like to end with another quote from Robert Wolff, which echoes the idea we started with:
“I feel so strongly, in the deepest part of my being, that we humans are not born to be mean and greedy and paranoid and violent. We were born to support each other, to work together to make our lives full and wonderful. We are a part of this whole earth.”
Dear God, we turn to you in trust and quiet, humbly coming before you to recognize our great need for your Light and Love. Help us to be honest with ourselves in this time of heartbreak and conflict and unease. Enable us to see clearly in ourselves the places where we need healing—in our attitudes and ideas, actions and beliefs. Teach us to love one another without judgment, to ask for and accept forgiveness when it’s needed and to release and extend forgiveness when it is asked. Knit from our still and contrite hearts a new world that is truly a reflection of Your love for each and all of us. Lead us on in truth and grace we pray, and bring healing and peace to all your beloved children here and around the globe. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
- NT: 1 John 4:22
- Kershner, Jon. The Co(Motion) of Love: Theological Formation in John Woolman: https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=qrt
- Wolff, Robert. The Wonder of Being: https://uploads.strikinglycdn.com/files/b58dcdaf-36fd-4d4f-8fdb-d54ea74cd43f/robert%20wolff%202012%20-%20The%20Wonder%20of%20Being.pdf