…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
July 12th, 2020
“Beauty, Contemplation, and Radical Compassion”
Focus: One thing I ask of you, one thing I seek: that I may dwell
in your house all the days of my life, to gaze on your beauty
and to meditate in your Temple. – Psalm 27:4
Call To Worship:
L: God has called us to this place of peace and quiet.
P: We come, eager for rest and hope.
L: Our God is always with us, offering us refreshment for our souls.
P: Let us partake of this wondrous gift.
L: It is the gift of the Lord’s love for us. Come and rest.
P: Praise God for the absolute compassion of God’s love. Amen.
Divine Goodness, Holy One,
Pause us for this moment, bear us up in this time,
hold us for eternity. We offer ourselves in connection with you.
We allow ourselves this love from you.
We release ourselves into your presence.
And all the people say, “Amen.”
Hymn: For the Beauty of the Earth
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.
For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light:
For the joy of human love, brother , sister, parent child,
Friends on earth, and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild:
Scripture: Ezekiel 31: 3-7
Sermon: Planting Our Roots Rev. Paula Norbert
Music: Beautiful Things (by Gungor) -Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: 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: Beautiful (by Covenant Worship) -Michelle Currie
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.
Postlude: “Go In Peace”
For the Week Ahead:
Our Summer Worship invites us to integrate contemplative practices into our daily lives as a way of opening to the Divine in deeper ways, thereby training our spirits for compassion in all things. This week’s ritual action is a time of meditative “watering.” Set a reminder to pour yourself and drink a glass of water and then refill that same glass and water some other living thing… offering a glass of water to someone else or to a plant, tree, garden, etc. As you do so, allow your mind to slow, your heart to open, your eyes to drink in your surroundings. You may want to put a note nearby, “Water is life. Water your life so you can water other life… for the beauty of the earth.”
Consider Assyria, a cedar of Lebanon,
with fair branches and forest shade,
and of great height,
its top among the clouds.[a]
The waters nourished it,
the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow[b]
around the place it was planted,
sending forth its streams
to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long,
from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the air
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the animals of the field
gave birth to their young;
and in its shade
all great nations lived.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant water.
Searching for Beauty: A Time for Children
Invite children to get a cup of water at home if this is online worship
For the next few weeks, we will be talking about how beautiful the world is and everything and everyone in it! We will be on a “search for beauty”–seeing what we can find every week to help us notice more beauty and make more beauty.
This week the Bible tells us of a beautiful tree. It is taller than all the other trees and the Bible tells us why it grew to be so tall. Can you see a living plant around you somewhere? I love a game of “I spy.” Let’s find something green and growing right now. Do you see something?
The tree in the Bible is called a “Cedar of Lebanon.” Many faiths use a tree as a symbol of life. We hear how the cedar tree was well-watered by a spring that ran near it. It always had what it needed to grow. So it grew so tall and its branches so wide that birds were able to make their homes in its branches and, under the tree, many animals could make their homes and grow their families. Because the tree was taken care of, it could take care of many other things. It could create and protect the beauty of the earth.
Do you ever get thirsty? How do you feel after you get something to drink when you are thirsty? I’ll bet that’s the way plants feel when the rains come. Ahhhhh….. It is so good to be able to get what we need to feel good and to give what we can so that others have what they need. This is the beauty of life.
God of Goodness
Thank you for water…thank you for life…
Help me…help you…
to give life to all…for the beauty of the earth…
Planting Our Roots
Sermon, July 12, 2020
Scripture: Ezekiel 31: 3-7
How good it is to praise our God! [It is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!] (a)
Look to Assyria, once a Lebanon cedar [beautiful branches, dense shade, towering height;] (a) it is top among the clouds. Springs nourished it, and deep waters made it grow tall; their streams flowed around its base, sending their channels to all the trees in the countryside. So it towered high above every other tree of the field. Its boughs grew larger and its branches extended out, nourished by an abundance of water. All the birds of the air nested in its boughs;
under its branches wild animals gave birth to their young. All the great nations thrived in its shade. It was majestic in its beauty with is spreading boughs,
its roots reaching deeply into an abundance of water.
Worship: One thing I ask of you, one thing I
seek: that I may dwell in your house all the
days of my life, to gaze on your beauty
and to meditate in your Temple.
– Psalm 27:4
Over the coming weeks, we will explore the connections between the beauty of all of God’s Creation, including deep within each of us, the importance of contemplation and the invitation to develop deeper levels of compassion for one another. When we allow ourselves to be Present with our God of Divine Goodness, whom we believe loves us beyond measure, and we practice ways to return that love, we fall more deeply in love with creation and with one another. Let us pray, May this time of reflection bring us a deeper understanding of Your love for us and for the world. Bless us as we open our hearts and minds to deeper truths of love and compassion. Amen.
We are living in a difficult time that may feel overwhelming some days. I’m sure each of you has tried to use the coping skills you have discovered in your lives, and especially at times of pain or challenge. I think it is nearly impossible to bear it all without deeper resources of prayer and faith, without embracing the sense of our Oneness with each other and with our God. When we pray, whatever form that takes for each of us, it is not meant to be an escape from life but rather to invites to a deeper experience of all that is part of this life. A contemplative life helps us to expand our spiritual capacities so that we might live as Beloved of God who share God’s Goodness with the world.
The book of Ezekiel in Hebrew Scriptures was written during a time of destruction, theological crisis, and exile. The prophet tells of God’s judgment against Israel, God’s judgement on the nations, and at last, of God’s rebuilding of Israel. If you’ve ever read Ezekiel, it might strike you as strange. We read of fiery creatures with human/lion/eagle faces and dry bones come alive. It’s a bit beyond comprehension at times. But maybe this is intentional? Biblical scholar Jacqueline Lapsley writes, “Ezekiel’s language moves at the boundaries of meaning, because the situation he describes moves at the boundaries of what is expressible, even thinkable.” 1
We have surely all been faced with situations that move us to the boundaries of meaning. We try to find the words to explain our response to struggle or pain in our own lives. Perhaps you have been feeling that over these recent months as we all grapple with this virus and the overwhelming suffering and loss that has swept across the world in just a few short months. Additionally, we have been reminded of the unhealed scars of racism and the ongoing challenges that many people of color face in our country. It’s enough to make us want to pull the covers over our heads and just hide. There are situations we encounter that touch us at the deepest level, a soul level. One of the things the contemplative life invites us to do is to rest in that feeling and unknowing—to stay and notice what comes up.
The text for today is beautiful and invites us to meditate on the majesty of nature. The tree of Lebanon did what trees do. Nourished by streams, it grew tall and strong and deep. In return, out of its very being, it provided for the birds and animals. This amazing Cedar is compared to the Pharaoh king of Egypt, and in later verses, the tree will come down. We understand the cycles of nature and understand that all of life one day comes to an end, sometimes too soon, and not in ways that we had hoped for or expected. In such moments, we don’t always allow ourselves time to reflect on the larger meanings at play; we may not reflect on life until the pain or struggle has passed. Living a contemplative life provides space and time for deeper meaning making.
Dr. Wendy Farley, in her book Beguiled by Beauty, published earlier this year, writes “In the early sixth century, Pseudo Dionysius described God as “beguiled by beauty.” Divine goodness fell in love with creation and so was compelled to bring it into being.” We are inherently loved and worthy, not for what we do, but for who we are as children of God. She says that the love of God for creation is manifest in the beauty of beings, who are themselves expressions of the divine beauty. “Beauty is a link between the human spirit and the divine goodness.
“Through the doorway of beauty, she says, “we walk into the divine realm and begin to perceive creation –to speak poetically – more the way the Beloved perceives it. The smallest patch of land is home to countless beings – plants, animals, and those strange creatures that are neither or both. If we pause and calm our minds for a moment, the natural world can appear to us not merely in its aesthetic wonder – though this is important. It appears to us as if a layer has been removed and the inner light of the trees, moss, ocean tides, stars, flowing waterfall shine forth. This light reveals the truth of creation – we are beautiful and for this we were made.”
She says that Contemplating the beauty of others opens our eyes to the truth of who we are. In the perception of the beauty of beings we begin to dwell in the divine kingdom promised us when we see as Jesus did: seeing Christ in all beings, especially the “least of these” (Matthew 25).
When we talk about contemplation, we know that as important as self-improvement, relaxation, and the spiritual benefits are, they are not the purpose of a contemplative way of life. Regardless of the words we use, the primary sign that one loves God is that one loves other people and the world itself. Julian of Norwich once said that religious experiences are only authentic if they “profit her fellow Christians.” Many spiritual writers have emphasized that the core practice of a contemplative way of life is radical compassion. We are each invited to develop time to be in the Presence of our Creator; that’s the essential point, whatever form that may take. Our roots need to be fed and watered too, much like the Cedar and time for contemplation is a way of setting our roots more deeply into the soil. A contemplative way of life is ultimately motivated by a devotion to the welfare of others.
The feeling of tenderness toward others is rooted in our Creator, who is the source of compassion. Love of God and love of neighbor will forever be the essence of what Jesus called for among his followers and at the heart of what we are invited to practice in our lives as people of faith, as a community of faith.
In the fall of 2018, a reporter for CBS, Steve Hartman, shared a story of love of neighbor that provides an example of how one community responded to the needs of their neighbor in need. He reported, “For most of us, being a good neighbor means loaning a stick of butter, maybe the occasional social visit.
But Kathy Felt, of Sandy, Utah, says whatever your standard, it pales compared to what her neighbors did for her. Her reaction? “I cried, just like now. I was so moved. This is my miracle.” Kathy’s miracle began about 10 years ago. Her multiple sclerosis had progressed to the point where she couldn’t even get into bed. And since she lived alone, the only logical, long-term solution seemed to be a nursing home. Until, one day, the guy next door came over and presented Kathy with a list of about 60 men from the neighborhood who were willing to come over, in teams of two, to put Kathy to bed. A cross-section of Kathy’s aides described the process:
“Take off her slippers, take off her socks.”
“One guy gets on one side and one guy gets on the other side. Lift her up, put her on the bed.”
“You’ve got to have a pillow under this foot; it’s got to be over that way.”
“Things need to be just so.” “She finally says, ‘I feel good.'”
“Pull the covers up and she’s tucked in for the night.” “We leave the kiss out.”
This has been going on seven days a week for 10 years. “We’re going to be here as long as she needs us,” said Keith Pugmire, the main organizer. “Our challenge is to get everybody a time. They actually have more volunteers than they can use.
When Keith first started soliciting volunteers, he says not everyone was open to this. “I can’t say that I was excited, I’ll tell you that,” said one volunteer.
“Coming into someone’s home: I have no healthcare background at all, and I’m here to lift you up and put you into bed?”
There was definitely an evolution, and it was most evident in John Keller, who did not want to do this. He told Hartman the only reason he agreed to help Kathy was because he knew he would look bad if he didn’t. “That’s hard for me to say,” Keller said, getting emotional. “I had always considered myself as a good person, Christian. Then I realized maybe I’m not. I just wanted to change. I wanted to be a better person.”
Today, John says the simple act of lifting Kathy, week after week, has made him a profoundly better person … a good reminder that burdens are sometimes blessings in disguise.” (CBS News, September 14, 2018)
And so, the invitation to us in this summer of 2020 is to focus our hearts on radical compassion, to live in the hope that the suffering of others, no matter who they are, may be alleviated. I invite you in the days ahead to refocus your attention, to develop practices of contemplation or return to those you have, and to keep your eyes open to Beauty, your own beautiful Spirits, the beauty of our neighbors, and the beauty of our Loving Creator for us and for the World. May that sense of worthiness within each of us bubble up and give us comfort and may it lead us to deeper levels of understanding and compassion for our world. Amen.
(Lapsley, Jacqueline E., “Ezekiel,” in Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. 1Lapsley, Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 285.)