Message for 09-21-14: “Meeting for Worship” scripture–Matthew 18: 18-20

Let’s start this morning by giving some definitions for words we use regularly, often without thinking about their meaning…What about “worship”?

“Worship” means the giving of reverence and honor to the divine; it’s an act of devotion. The word has its origins in being used to express the idea of “worthship”; or to give, at its simplest, worth to something. Worship for Quakers happens as our scripture from Matthew describes whenever 2 or more are gathered who have an awareness of and desire for God, and God’s presence and impact and WORTH in their lives. It does not require anything but that awareness and desire to make it happen; not a specific building, or certain tools, or special people. As we can begin to comprehend, Quaker worship can happen anywhere under any number of circumstances: while we’re eating, working, playing, resting. Key here is that Friends understand that worship is an integral piece of a life of faith, and should happen often. That said; we can also state that Quakers obviously do focus specific times and places for corporate worship.

Let’s define what we mean when we say “meeting” or meeting for worship” or “meetinghouse”… Early Quakers viewed “the church” as the universal body of believers—the whole of all those who claim faith in the divine everywhere. This is, of course, different from the common usage where church primarily defines the building used by a faith community, or the worship that happens within a building ie. “I go to church every Sunday”. For Quakers, or Friends, “Meeting” signifies the gathering of a body of believers for worship together. We here together in this room are a “meeting”. The term meeting is used because of the expected participation of all; meeting or encountering God together. “Meeting for Worship” specifically alludes to a gathering that is under the leadership of the Spirit. Quakers most definitely place great emphasis on the understanding that our worship is guided and directed by Spirit, rather than human leadership.

The building we use then becomes the “meetinghouse”. Our founder George Fox was known for derogatorily referring to conventional church buildings as “Steeple houses”, in condemnation for what he viewed as an ostentatious display of wealth or power.

So here we are: Adirondack Friends Meeting, in the meetinghouse, for meeting for worship!

The WAY Friends worship, as defined by Wilmer Cooper, should be composed of four common elements: silence, communion, ministry, and fellowship. There are differences among the varieties of Quakers regarding the emphasis each one gives to these four. Of course, Unprogrammed Quakers or Friends are those who meet for worship with no previously arranged order, out of which any person may give ministry if led by the Lord. We will be focusing on silence more specifically next week. But since this is probably THE most noticeable distinction of Quakers, let me offer this quote by a New England Friend who says that unprogrammed meeting for worship is “the only radical alternative form of Christian worship where each is personally responsible for one’s own spiritual journey and which can only be grown and nourished in corporate gathering.” I think this highlights the importance of BOTH individual and group silence among Friends. Let me also say that this component—SILENCE– is also a vital, albeit smaller portion of programmed worship—which DOES follow an order of worship. More next week!

Communion is comprehended by Quakers in a way that separates us from virtually all other Christians. Friends do not observe communion through physical elements of bread and wine. Instead, we believe that the true communion that Christ enjoined to His followers is spiritual; it is when they gather and share and worship in harmony and love. While we also understand that this can happen anywhere folks gather corporately; for example, during any meal, it specifically is understood as being enacted as we gather in worship.

Ministry is the response of a participant in worship to the leading of the Divine. ALL Friends are called on to be ministers. Ministry at it’s most foundational, is the response or witness by a person to the action of God in the world. Early Quaker Robert Barclay understood ministry as the work of “exhorting, instructing, admonishing, overseeing, and watching over one another.” As programmed meetings grew out of the revival movement of the late 19th century, they emphasized the need to have someone designated to preach regularly and give care to converts. Today, pastoral ministers, who are often credentialed and named, continue to be one of a number of ministers in any given congregation. The calling of a minister by any meeting entails the designation of one who is released for study, outreach, visitation, preaching and leadership. Among Friends, there are NO acts or roles that only a pastor can do or fulfill. All members of a meeting can be seen to have unique and individual gifts in ministry that support the entire meeting.

Finally, fellowship in meetings is an integral facet of our life together. Care and support of individuals and families from the initial welcome they receive the first time they attend, through the all the joys and concerns of human life, are offered and received in a variety of ways, by all people in the meeting. The meeting understands one of its duties as being the respect for and nurturing of all individuals who participate in the life of the faith community. Quakers understand that a life of faith is one that extends to all parts and aspects of daily life, no matter how young or old a person is; the fellowship found among folks who are connected in spiritual ways accompanies and strengthens each individual’s faithful and faith-filled lives. Our fellowship is also guided and directed by the testimonies, which speak to ways we have found to live and act based on our beliefs. A meeting should be a focal point for where folks can live into simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality corporately.

Thus, as a distinct Quaker community worshipping through silence, communion, ministry and fellowship, we here at Adirondack Friends Meeting are a programmed meeting that finds great value in our meeting time, which includes crucial times of silence throughout our order of worship. We encourage folks to understand that physical attendance at meeting is not enough; one must arrive prepared to worship to reap the maximum benefits. We also understand that anyone is welcome to participate in worship in ways that are meaningful to them and to the whole meeting. Singing, speaking—either from the silence or by giving the day’s message, sharing a children’s message, or reading scripture can be offered by anyone as we experience communion with the Divine.

Another unique aspect of our worship here that is rooted in our Quaker tradition is the ministry of the facing bench. Under the care of our Ministry and Counsel, this important aspect of our time together gives support to the spiritual depth and quality of the gathered meeting. Specifically, folks who sit on the bench are holding and grounding our worship in the light and love of God, praying for the pastor or whoever is leading worship, and responding to nudges to pray for the faces they see as they look our on those gathered. While mainly Ministry and Counsel members fulfill this role, it is open to anyone who feels led to it and who is willing to be used by God to immerse our meeting time in the Spirit. This is a key way we at Adirondack live into the idea that EVERYONE is a minister, equipped with unique and important gifts to be shared.

Finally, most important to the identity of Quaker meeting is the end result. One has not truly worshipped until there is a distinct response to it. Friends have always understood their faith to be manifested in the actions or understandings or perspectives that are derived from meeting for worship. As William Penn said, “True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” If one cannot identify a thought or activity or decision that has been the result of worship, I would suggest that the worship has been ineffective and unsatisfactory for both for the individual and the meeting. An important query to consider as one concludes their worship experience might be “have I or we been moved to experience the presence of the divine in a way that impacts or changes our daily life for the better?”

Again Friends, I can end with that question from last week: “what canst THOU say?” –what can YOU say? …About worship here or worship among Friends in General? Are there things that I haven’t mentioned that are important to you? Why does Quaker worship work or not work for you?

As we conclude, I offer this week’s QuakerSpeak video…

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“What is a Quaker?” Scripture: John 14: 1-7

So what are some things you hear when you mention the word Quaker? Quaker Oats…Aren’t you like the Shakers?…Aren’t Quakers all dead? One reaction to our being identified as Quakers I remember in particular, was when we dairy farmed, and our neighbors and we were working together to trim cattle hooves on our respective farms. Part of that included eating lunch at whatever farm we were working on that day. When we ate at their place, our neighbors wanted to know if their assumption was correct that we couldn’t drink iced tea because we were Quakers…

Well, the truth is that most of those assumptions or reactions are misinformation. William Penn is NOT on the Quaker Oats box, we are NOT Shakers, and we are NOT dead. In fact; HERE WE ARE…SO what IS the reality behind all these myths?!

The Quaker slant on faith and life began way back (when?) In the mid-1600’s in England, during their civil war when there were a variety of movements that addressed the disparities in life with regard to religion, politics and economic inequalities. Out of that time there were those who tried to reform from within the established church and some who saw the church as a lost cause. George Fox was a young man who had grown frustrated with clergy and the institution as he sought a direct spiritual experience for himself. In 1647, he had a Divine revelation that spurred the creation and development of what has evolved through the past 350 plus years into what has come to be the Religious Society of Friends or more informally as Quakers. The core of that experience is described in the quote that you can find in your bulletin…

Our history is a long, amazing, and distinguished story of how we got to where we are now. Rather than spend a lot of time on it now, I want to let you know that we will deal some with historical specifics as they relate to the topic at hand each week. I also want to remind you that there are both books out back and videos online that offer great perspectives on our historical details. There are several important distinctives that persist today which originated with George Fox and his fellow seekers that continue to give life to our Quaker faith.

Quakers are a simple, contemplative denomination. Because we view being guided by the Divine as central to our faith and practice, we work to limit the complexity of our lives in order to be able to hear and respond to the leadings we receive.

Quakerism is based on silence as being the main way we as individuals and as a corporate group connect and interact with the Divine. We understand that there are no necessary intermediaries or rituals that enable or allow the conversation to begin or continue between God and humans. Some of us enjoy having the guidance of music and message and scripture; some of us are just as easy with sitting together in a given space in complete silence. As must be obvious to you, we here at Adirondack Meeting especially appreciate some external prompts and preparations for our experience of the Divine. Nonetheless, the core of any Quaker worship is the ability to encounter the living presence of God directly as we are; while we are silent and still. The one-to one direct relationship that each one of us has (that is discovered and experienced in the silence) with God is the foundation of our faith. We each are responsible for participating in and contributing to that relationship; in taking the initiative and living into the opportunities we each are given for following our divine guide.

Another one of Fox’s revelations that continues to shape the Quaker faith is the realization that there is that of God in everyone. This divine spark is the source of and the conduit for our relationship with the Divine. This shared understanding leads Quakers to value all people; we are all equal– and to oppose anything that harms or threatens ANY of them. There is no hierarchal authority among Friends faith communities or organizations, where certain individuals have special knowledge or qualifications that set them higher or closer to God than anyone else. EVERYONE can know or live out Truth, which is the reality and activity of the Divine in our lives, our world, our existence.

It is important to Friends that we live out our faith day by day. Each individual; every community or meeting has activities or ways of being in the world that share our understanding of God, as well as impacting our world positively. We WITNESS to what we experience and see, as we find and live out our callings.

Quakerism originated as a Christian faith. The words of George Fox’s revelation make that very clear. I chose the scripture because of the similarity to Fox’s statement (which is found in our bulletin) I find in these words of Jesus; “…I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus spoke these words in the book of John near the end of his human life. He was preparing his followers to continue on after his departure by reminding them about what he has shown and taught them. He equips them to carry on with the knowledge that he would continue to be with them and guide them into the Divine presence.

Many people of faith interpret these words as being the secret or crucial phrase that unlocks a Christian life when a person recites them and declares belief in them. For me, the Quaker distinctive is our understanding that it isn’t the words or their rote quoting of them that initiates a legitimate faith. We understand that the words themselves describe a journey; a process or progression where we as humans discover for ourselves, as we live through our relationship with Christ, what IS the way, truth, and life for our specific life; our specific gifts and personality and the particular relationships we have with others. As an evolving adventure—a continuing revelation, our lives culminate in the times and spaces where we know experientially what the way, and truth and life are about in faith. We are informed as we journey by the stories from scripture, which describe other faith journeys and the circumstances of Divine revelation, as well as through our relationships with others, and the places, situations, and issues that give shape to our days.

Quakers have a whole vocabulary that reflects our understanding of the presence and activity of Christ in our lives. The Light, the inner Christ, the seed, the inner Light are all phrases or names that attest to that quality of continuing revelation that occurs as Quaker people of faith engage in an ongoing journey in response to how we feel Christ is leading us at any given time in any given place.

And so Friends, in the words of a prominent Quaker Margaret Fell, who was a contemporary of George Fox; “What canst thou say?” How do you feel about anything you’ve heard or re-heard this morning? How do you feel led to respond? Those leadings or inclinations are the crux of the Quaker experience…

Maybe I’d better use the full quote, as it very appropriately puts in perspective the whole idea of life and faith according to the Religious Society of Friends: “You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

Again, please bring your questions and concerns to the time of discussion at the rise of worship. I look forward to being in conversation with you as we continue to explore the faith and practice of Quakers; both as individuals and as a faith community.

Let’s return to silence in order to commune with God and reflect on what we’ve explored this morning.

“What’s Next ?” message on 09-07-14

scripture: Romans 12:9-21

“What’s next?” was the question I asked myself on Tuesday August 26, 2014 as I sat at my desk at the beginning of the day. The question was prompted by several events and incidents in my life both behind and before me. We were just back from our vacation week, where we launched Andy into his academic year at Wilmington College. As I looked at the calendar, I anticipated a couple of dates in the early part of September; Dennis’ birthday is the 7th and our anniversary is the 10th. I also noticed a number of meetings, events and appointments that relate to the seasonal resumption of things here at Adirondack Friends. Sometimes it seems like autumn is more of a significant transition time for me, when things start up or begin again, than the start of our calendar year in January.

So anyway, as I considered the “what next” query, I began to clean my desk and plan for the days and weeks ahead, I came across the scripture we read this morning from Romans 12. While that is not necessarily especially coincidental because Romans IS one of the texts that the lectionary covers this fall, I DID think that it was at least a bit serendipitous, because the words in this passage seemed to directly answer my question. Just for fun… ask yourself that question “What’s next?” and then hear that passage again in response to it.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 2No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Pretty thought provoking, isn’t it? Well, as I’ve continued to ponder this as God’s response to my somewhat glib and careless question, it has become more and more meaningful. It has also become quite pertinent to the responses I think we might give as a faith community; as WE consider what’s next for us…

As I dug a little deeper, I discovered 3 more questions that would help reveal the nuts and bolts of any specific answer to “What Next?” They are “Who am I?”, “What am I to be doing?”, “Where should I be doing it?” And, I could see or discern parts of this Romans text that articulated a Divine, pragmatic plan or direction that led to replies for these 3 pieces of the “what next?” puzzle.

First; who am I? Well, That can be answered in any number of ways; I am a family member, a spouse, a pastor, –but most primarily I am a person of CHRISTIAN FAITH. Thus, my life should be about living into the life I have in Christ; in following his teachings, in being redeemed by his sacrifice.

Who are we as a faith community? Again a number of answers that identify our particular perspective—we are Quakers, we are a part of South Glens Falls, and so on…But again most primarily we are a group that has been given life as a result of our faith. This part of Paul’s letter to the Romans is primarily concerned with the establishment of a community that lives out Christ’s way OVER AGAINST the secular powers that be. A community that is to be counter-cultural, not conforming to the status quo; a witness to the world—a showcase of ethics that are anchored in grace, rather than wealth, success or power. I think it is a wake up call to us to remember that as we become more accepting of or conformed by present day social conventions, conveniences, and practices that we place ourselves in, that we lose our identity as an radical alternative community, with important, vital practices that can transform us and those with whom we have relationships.

Next; “what are we to be doing?” The bulk of this Romans passage offers specific practices and perspectives that apply directly to both individuals and communities.

From the very start, it’s clear that ALL actions are to be based in LOVE. This isn’t the hearts and roses of romance, but rather Agape love. As one commentator explains “ to love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being… One translation of this text makes the verb in the first verse to be indicative rather than an imperative. This makes all the clauses that follow to define what genuine love means. It would then read like this: “Genuine love is: abhorring the evil; clinging to the good. being affectionate to one another in brotherly love. outdoing one another in honor not lagging in diligence, being afire in the Spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in affliction, being devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality.”  

As an individual who is celebrating 32 years with my spouse, I can say that this kind of love more accurately reflects the hard work of meaningful relationship. As a member of this faith community here, it reminds me that love is hard, important work that honors all others all the time, preserving, weeping, rejoicing, blessing even those who persecute us, praying, and showing hospitality.

“Hospitality” specifically caught my eye as we start a multi-week period when we are intentionally inviting people into our worship services. From one commentator, I learned that, “Hospitality does not mean simply welcoming newcomers into our congregations and doing charitable acts, important as they are. We must move beyond hospitality as charity to hospitality as an act of justice. Hospitality as charity offers crumbs from our tables; hospitality as justice offers a place at the table. In the context of our predatory global market, hospitality involves transformation of the system that is inhospitable to many.”

Perhaps sometime in the future I will follow the advice of several commentators and do a series on each phrase of this particular scripture. Each one is important and exhibits a vital activity–a vital part of a faith community who is living in God’s love.

Finally, where should I be doing all this faith based loving? In one of the articles I studied on this passage, the author understood Paul’s advice to relate to 4 different circles of relationships in an individual’s or community’s life. It is important that we understand that these to continue to be the primary arenas for the life and work of believers—in other words, US. The first circle of Paul’s relationship model is drawn around those who we are in closest contact—our own Christian community. Just beyond this core, are those who are connected in faith and are unknown to us—fellow believers; saints Paul calls them. Next are our enemies and finally the circle extends to include the rest of the world. It is clear that Paul expects believers then and now to live peaceably with ALL, EVERYWHERE. It is also clear that Paul is aware that this is NOT EASY work. Extending love constantly and consistently to those whom we do or don’t know, who might well be our enemies, without judgment is difficult but vital for allowing God to expose and deal with evil; for enabling God to transform the world THROUGH US. Even as I say that, I shudder. This is SO big, SO important. Again, I find myself asking WHAT NEXT?!

However, each time I read through this passage, I can see places where I or we can BE INVOLVED in this divine transformation…a little at a time. By inviting a person to worship, or by working with someone with whom we don’t normally get along. By visiting with those who grieve, who are ill or who are troubled in our neighborhood or community. By visiting with or making friends with a person of another faith. By advocating for safety and justice in our neighborhoods. By speaking out as a person of faith who will not tolerate racism or poverty or violence. By meeting face to face with someone who you identify as your enemy. Each and every little bit—tiny steps– MATTER. If you listen to Paul here closely and long enough, you realize that this is the way God wants to work in our world. Slowly and steadily transformation inches into our reality.

And so, I challenge us all: read this passage EVERY DAY THIS WEEK. Let its message be planted inside yourself, and in this faith community. Let love grow a little each day through our daily actions and activities. Let evil be replaced by peace in those dark places we know of.

Let us transform our homes and neighborhoods; our meetings and our lives by asking and living into the answers of WHAT NEXT?!