Home Worship Service August 16

Union Church
Biddeford Pool
…a place of peace and Presence by the sea

August 16, 2020 Home Service

Venezuela, Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
August 16, 2020
Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion
From Beauty to Compassion and Justice

 

Focus: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

Welcome:

Threshold Moment: (Video)

Music: Come! Live In the Light! (by David Haas) -Michelle Currie

Call To Worship:
L: Friends, we know what God desires of us:
All: That we do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
L: We gather this morning to remind each other about that, To remember that now is always the right time to do these things.
All: So with thanks in our hearts, let us worship God.

Opening Prayer:
Divine Goodness, Holy One,
Pause us for this moment,
bear us up in this time,
hold us for eternity.
We open to your warming presence.
We remember we came from you.
We affirm all beings are your beloveds.
And all the people say, “Amen.”

Lord’s Prayer

Scripture: Isaiah 52:7-10 (video)

Sermon: “We are called…” – Rev. Paula Norbert

Contemplative Reflection: (Video)

Music: Song For the Nations (by Chris Christensen) -Michelle Currie

Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.

Prayers of the People:

Closing Music: Go Light Your World (by Chris Rice) -Michelle Currie

Benediction:
The world is so varied and beautiful.
Seek wisdom wherever it is to be found.
And may the goodness of the Creator,
the companionship of the Christ,
and the insight of the Spirit,
infuse your life now and always.
Amen.

Postlude: Go In Peace

For the Days Ahead:
Throughout our time contemplating the theology of beauty and Divine Goodness, we have been making the connections between the well-being of our souls to the well-being of the whole of earth and all beings. My prayer is that you will continue to use the contemplative practices experienced in this time to cultivate your life of compassion. A thought from Dr. Farley: “A contemplative life can empty us and ready us to become instruments of the Good.… for the beauty of the earth.” May it continue to be so.

Isaiah 52: 7-10

How [beautiful] upon the mountains (a)

are the feet of one who brings good news—

who announces peace,

and brings news of happy things,

and proclaims deliverance,

saying to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Those who keep watch raise a cry,

together they shout for joy—

for they see with their own eyes

YHWH’s restoration of Zion!

Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem!

For YHWH comforts the people,

and redeems Jerusalem.

YHWH bares a holy arm

in the sight of all the nations;

all the ends of the earth will behold

the salvation of our God!

(a)     Ref: CEB

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Sermon

“We Are Called…”

August 16, 2020

Over these past few weeks, we’ve been exploring a call to contemplation and action in the world. We’ve spoken about the innate beauty, the intrinsic worth of all of creation and as we recognize that beauty in another, we are called to a life of compassion and of justice. When we look into the eyes of our neighbors, when we hear their story of suffering or struggle, we are invited to open our hearts, to open our spirits to them and to reach out in love. When we make time to grow spiritually and to be open to a contemplative life, this can help to empty us and ready us to become instruments of the Good. Our Worship has invited us into practicing “a way of beauty” that makes life “rich, courageous, generous, and joyful.” Let us pray, O Creator of every good thing, bless us this morning at this time in our lives. Heal us, encourage us, inspire us and instill in us a deep compassion for our brothers and sisters. Amen.

We often hear today’s reading from Isaiah at Christmas time, as we celebrate the birth of the one called the “Prince of Peace.” The people to whom Isaiah writes are oppressed and exiled by their captors. They have known much suffering. When Isaiah writes “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,” it is not the feet, specifically, that are beautiful, it is the whole message of release from suffering that creates a beautiful peace. It is like hearing the saying, “you are a sight for sore eyes!” The image of a messenger that brings good news is a welcome sight and cause for joy. To be part of the restoration of love and peace and hope is our call as people of faith, our call as members of this world community.

Many of you have probably read the book, The Help by Kathyn Stockett, or perhaps you have seen the film by the same name. It was a powerful story of a young white woman who grows in her understanding of racism through her love for the black woman who raised her and in work as a reporter, coming to hear the stories of the black women who serve as maids in the homes of many of the families she knows. She changes her world view as her heart is opened to their stories and their suffering. The story revolves around a deeply compassionate woman, Aibileen, an African-American maid living in Jackson, Mississippi. She cares for the daughter of a woman named Elizabeth who has little time for her own daughter, Mae Mobley, and does not treat her with the love and care that a child needs. And, she treats Aibileen with contempt and condescension.

Aibileen, who witnesses all of this quietly and whose heart is moved by this child would often say to the little girl these important words: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” She is the one who seeks to teach this child her inherent value, and in so doing, the hope is that the child will also come to see Aibileen in the fullness of who she is, a woman with gifts and value and compassion, worthy of respect. And, in some ways, we imagine that Aibileen, who is treated shabbily by the mother, needs to repeat these words to herself as well; she needs to remind herself that she indeed is a person of great beauty in the depths of her spirit and that she is important and smart and kind.

Do you think that we need to be taught to be compassionate or is it something that we each possess within ourselves? I have observed the effect that suffering can have on a person. I have spoken with people who have encountered something deeply traumatic in their lives-whether it be job loss, loss of economic security, the loss of a family member, public embarrassment, mental or physical illness …and emerging from that, I have witnessed again and again the profound compassion the person then may feel for others, especially those who suffer in similar ways. Suffering is a great teacher if we are open to the learning that may come.

Siobhan Kukolic, a Canadian author, shared a story of compassion as she wrote, “A teacher friend of mine was teaching math to a class of six-year-olds, a number of whom were recently-arrived refugees from other countries. The topic was fractions. My friend defined what a half and a quarter were, and then asked the children to write down whether they would prefer a half or a quarter of a chocolate bar. As she walked around the room, she noticed that some of the new students wrote they would prefer a quarter of the chocolate bar. My friend thought she would have to re-teach the lesson, as they didn’t appear to understand that a half was bigger than a quarter. She asked the students why they would prefer a quarter of the chocolate bar and one little girl replied, ‘So that more people could have a piece of chocolate.’ I cried when I heard that story. It reminded me how beautiful humanity is if we take a moment to notice it.”

Over these recent months as the covid pandemic and economic hardship have swept our nation, the comedian John Krasinksy, who starred in the Office, started a web-series called, “Some Good News.” His show has millions of viewers and was quickly picked up by network television. It may seem obvious that hearing good news is always a good thing, but in these difficult times there are those for whom good news is just a reminder of their own pain. We might think of a time when we were struggling and needed to share our pain, but instead the person in whom we were trying to confide, sought to cheer us up somehow by pointing out the silver lining. Or we can think about the stories that make us feel good but also highlight the great inequalities in America—some people are so wealthy that they can pay an entire class’ student debt or an entire building’s rent while far too many don’t even know whether they can pay their next rent or buy a small bag of groceries.

The book of the prophet Isaiah is richer and deeper than any of these things. The author speaks about the restoration of God’s people which will bring a deep and lasting peace, reconciliation, and salvation. The contemplative life is meant to console us but also to challenge us and that is not always comfortable. What does Isaiah offer that may provide deep and abiding good news for us today? We know that we are called to help create a world where justice prevails; the language of justice is found throughout Scripture and it is an essential part of many of the readings we hear during the Advent Season especially. Practices of contemplation help nurture our spiritual lives and opening our hearts leads to compassion…and ultimately, we are called to be part of that important story of justice in our communities and in our world.

A contemplative way of life concerns what we think and do. But it is more fundamentally how we are disposed toward reality. We are created with a capacity to recognize the profound beauty of all of creation. This is our essential nature, our inheritance and destiny. When we allow ourselves to take in the humanity of one another, when we realize that something other than ourselves is really real, that it suffers like we do and sings out its name like we do, compassion and justice naturally arise. Simone Weil once wrote, “The poet produces beauty by fixing his (or her) [sic] attention on something real. The act of love is produced in the same way. To know that this man, who is cold and hungry, really exists as much as I do myself, and is really cold and hungry -that is enough. The rest follows of itself.” (Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills, Routledge (New York: Routledge, 2004), 449)

Rev. Howard Thurman, a spiritual father of the civil rights movement, Howard Thurman, once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman quoted in Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroads, 1997).

In her memoir, civil rights worker Rosemarie Freeney Harding wrote about the significance of beauty and joy in her commitment to civil rights. An appreciation of true beauty was instilled in her from her childhood, she remembers, “As I think about my family I ask myself, ‘What helped them survive? What was it that gave them the capacity to navigate their way through so many obstacles?’ It had something to do, I’m sure, with knowing they were of great value. No matter what messages we got from the outside world, someone at home was always telling us how beautiful we were, how intelligent, how talented.” (Rosemarie Freeney Harding and Rachel Harding, Remnants: Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 69.)

A contemplative way of life is one in which our capacity to care for others is broadened and deepened, even as it embraces with gentleness and patience the fullness of life, the joy and pain of being fully alive, and the desire to work for justice and change. What the world needs is people who are fully alive. What may help you feel more fully alive and hopeful in the days ahead? Ask yourself this question, how might you discover, in the this time of overwhelming grief and loss and despair, the way in which you might best nurture the seeds of compassion and hope that we all need, that our community needs, and that our Creator desires for our world? This is our Call now and in our lives. May we listen well…

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Searching for Beauty: A Time for Children

Create a home-made megaphone and put it somewhere at home.

Well this has been fun searching for beauty for the last six weeks. Think for a moment about what was the most amazing, favorite thing you noticed since we’ve been looking closely and loving the beauty of creation. Maybe it was one of the animals you saw on explore.org. I hope you will talk about some things you remember and loved with someone this week.

Our scripture this week is from a book called Isaiah in the Bible. In Isaiah’s time the people were waiting for some good news. Sound familiar? We love it when we get good news, right? Well, they were really needing some and Isaiah gives them a beautiful vision. The people see a messenger coming over the mountains and they begin to hear the message… peace has come! No more tears! What do you do when you get good news? Jump up and down with joy? Yep, that’s what the people do. Let’s do a happy dance [dance for joy]!

So the last things we are going to look for is something to help US be the messengers of good news. Wouldn’t that be fun to be the one who causes people to dancing a happy dance of joy? Put your hands up to your mouth and say “good news is coming!” Let’s do it together… “Good news is coming!” You now what would help us say it even louder? A megaphone! Can you find one?
[give children a moment to find it at their house]
Now that we have some help… let’s say “good news is coming” again.
“Good news is coming!”
That was great. I’ll bet the neighbors could hear that. Actually, that’s the point. Good news can be as simple as saying “hello” to a neighbor or taking care of something someone needs. When we love the beauty of the earth, we want to help make everyone’s life more beautiful. This is the good news we share. Let’s pray a repeat-after-me prayer:

God of Goodness [repeat, etc]
Thank you for beauty…
thank you for good news…
Help me…
help you…
bring beauty to someone else…
and be a messenger of good news…
for the beauty of the earth…
Amen…

Worship Materials: “Beguiled by Beauty,” Worship Design Studios, Dr. Marcia McPhee.

 

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