1-14-18 Is Your Heart Right?

Is Your Heart Right?

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 14, 2018

Back in Oregon, Howard Macy, a good friend and former professor at George Fox University, and I did some digging to find the background to the photos that are on the cover of our bulletin this morning. Since then, American Friends Service Committee has dedicated a page to King on their website with a couple of these photos.


What you see on the cover of our bulletin is Martin Luther King Jr. with Quaker Center president Jim Bristol an affiliate of the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC sponsored King on his trip to India to explore the impact of Mahatma Gandhi's message of nonviolent social action, which would have a monumental impact on the civil rights movement in our country. As well, It would be this work and support of the Quakers that would help pave the way for King to receive the Nobel Peace Prize 5 years later.


You could say Quakers were on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights Movement. King met with Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood at Earlham College and even spoke in their meetinghouse - when most churches in our country would not have him.


This morning, it would be wrong of me not to allow the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be heard.  His legacy in the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolence, and speaking and writing are not only a part of our history -- they are a part of who we are as a country and as a people.


Back in 1997, I traveled with a group of leaders to Atlanta, GA to begin preparations for a National Youth Gathering of forty thousand youth. At the time, I was one of the Illinois representatives for the Lutheran Church.  On my visit, one afternoon, I boarded a bus by myself and headed to Atlanta’s northeast side to the King Center.  I was young, married for a couple of years, and our first son, Alex was on the way.  As I stepped foot on the King Center property, I knew this was not going to be any ordinary experience.


I was one of about five people in the entire place. There was a sense of reverence - almost like I had entered a sacred space.  Soon, that moment was broken as I was greeted hospitably by a southern black women who informed me that I came on a “good day’ - that I would have time to “fully experience” the journey.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure what she meant.  What was she talking about “a journey and an experience”? I didn’t ask any questions...I simply began the journey…


Nearly two hours I journeyed through the King Center by myself.  Gaps in my understanding of history were filled in.  Emotions were flowing often through tears.  At one moment I sat on a bench looking at the statues of men and women and children marching in solidarity and I was overwhelmed.


In the last cubical before exiting was a color video recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis the night before he would be assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  The video was playing on a loop but it had just started as I entered the area.  I stood in complete silence...mesmerized by the words of what I realized at that moment was a modern-day prophet of our time.  As he announced, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”, I simply wept.  I could not control the tears.  Standing there I was joined by three other people (2 black brothers and a black sister) and we all wept together.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such a moment.  


After King finished his speech, in silence we all walked together over to the plaza next to Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Where in the middle of a body of water King’s body (and later his wife, Coretta) were entombed. I sat in that plaza in silence until our bus came.  


Since that day, Martin Luther King Jr. has had a profound impact on my life, my faith, my art, and even my doctoral dissertation.  Most of us are familiar with his famous speeches and writings, but today I want to share with you parts of two sermons he gave just months before dying.


This morning, I am going to read from “Unfulfilled Dreams” and “The Drum Major Instinct” both were preached in Ebenezer Baptist Church - the church next to his last resting place and where he served alongside his father as a minister.  


The pieces I am reading are recorded in the book, “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson - which I would highly recommend if you do not know much about King and his life.  


From “Unfulfilled Dreams” Kings final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis.


I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.


Now let us notice first that life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. And through a powerful nonviolent revolution he was able to win that independence. For years the Indian people had been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, and Gandhi struggled against it. He struggled to unite his own people, and nothing was greater in his mind than to have India’s one great, united country moving toward a higher destiny. This was his dream.

But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems.

Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build a great temple and not being able to finish it.


Woodrow Wilson dreamed a dream of a League of Nations, but he died before the promise was delivered. The Apostle Paul talked one day about wanting to go to Spain. It was Paul’s greatest dream to go to Spain, to carry the gospel there. Paul never got to Spain. He ended up in a prison cell in Rome. This is the story of life.


So many of our forebears used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. And they used to sing little songs: "Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus." They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And they would say, "I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always. By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load." And they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. But so many died without having the dream fulfilled.


And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.


Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: "It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying." You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.


Thank God this morning that we do have hearts to put something meaningful in. Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.


Now let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil.


Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.


Now not only is that struggle structured out somewhere in the external forces of the universe, it’s structured in our own lives. Psychologists have tried to grapple with it in their way, and so they say various things. Sigmund Freud used to say that this tension is a tension between what he called the id and the superego.


But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them.  There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do." We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, "Lord, make me pure, but not yet." We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul,  "The good that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do." Or we end up having to say with Goethe that "there’s enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue." There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.


And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right.    


And the question I want to raise this morning with you: is your heart right? If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today; get God to fix it up. Get somebody to be able to say about you, "He may not have reached the highest height, he may not have realized all of his dreams, but he tried." Isn’t that a wonderful thing for somebody to say about you? "He tried to be a good man. He tried to be a just man. He tried to be an honest man. His heart was in the right place." And I can hear a voice saying, crying out through the eternities, "I accept you. You are a recipient of my grace because it was in your heart. And it is so well that it was within thine heart."


I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony. You don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint. Oh, no. I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. And I want to hear a voice saying to me one day, "I take you in and I bless you, because you try. It is well that it was within thine heart."


And from “The Drum Major Instinct” where King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right.


If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.


I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.


I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.


I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.


I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.


I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.


I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.  And that's all I want to say.


If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.


There is so much to consider in King’s words, but I want us this morning to ponder his query, “Is your heart right?”


Just a few years after I had my King Center experience, I had a mentor who taught me about King’s personal spirituality.  King understood the need to be aware of the condition of his heart. My mentor taught me King utitilzed Psalm 139 to process that query.  So this morning, instead of beginning with the scriptures.  I want us to hear Psalm 139 and utilize it to lead us into our time of waiting worship.  Ponder the words of Psalm 139 and King’s query, “Is your heart right?” and see what God is saying to you this morning.  


Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

   you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down,

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

   O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

   and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

   Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

   and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

   the night is as bright as the day,

   for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

   Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15     My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

   all the days that were formed for me,

   when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

   I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

20 those who speak of you maliciously,

   and lift themselves up against you for evil![

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22 I hate them with perfect hatred;

   I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.





1-7-18 A Fire That Lights, Kindles, and Burns

A Fire that Lights, Kindles, and Burns

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 7, 2018


Matthew 3:10-17 (VOICE)

Even now there is an ax poised at the root of every tree, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and tossed into the fire. I ritually cleanse you through baptism as a mark of turning your life around. But someone is coming after me, someone whose sandals I am not fit to carry, someone who is more powerful than I. He will wash you not in water but in fire and with the Holy Spirit. He carries a winnowing fork in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor; He will gather up the good wheat in His barn, and He will burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out.

And then, the One of whom John spoke—the all-powerful Jesus—came to the Jordan from Galilee to be washed by John. At first, John demurred.


John: I need to be cleansed by You. Why do You come to me?


Jesus: It will be right, true, and faithful to God’s chosen path for you to cleanse Me with your hands in the Jordan River.


John agreed, and he ritually cleansed Jesus, dousing Him in the waters of the Jordan. Jesus emerged from His baptism; and at that moment heaven was opened, and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him, alighting on His very body.


Voice from Heaven: This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.


Most of us could not read our text for this morning without thinking a little bit about FIRE. And with all the cold we have had - a little fire would actually be nice.     


Ironically, there are several references to fire in this text about Jesus’ water baptism,  if you did not notice we heard about…

  • cutting down and tossing into the fire

  • washing not in water but in fire, and...

  • burning the chaff with a fire


Too often we simply jump to hell or eternal damnation when thinking about fire in the scriptures and often truly miss what I believe John had been preparing the people in the wilderness for – that being the coming of the Light (the Fire) into their lives.


I sense the reason we move quickly to hell is that the word pictures John paints for us are messages that, as William Barclay in his commentary notes, seem to combine both “promise and threat.”


Before anyone get’s cut down and thrown into the fire, I think we first must remember what John says,


John says that the baptism of the one who is to come will be with fire.


William Barclay helped shed some important light on his ideas of what this coming fire would entail – and with many things in scripture it is three-fold.  He sees the fire in three ways – 1. Illumination, 2. Warmth, and 3. Purification.  


Let’s explore what Barclay said in his own words on this subject.


  1. There is the idea of illumination. The blaze of a flame sends a light through the night and illuminates the darkest corners. The flame of the beacon guides the sailor to the harbor and the traveller to their goal. In fire there is light and guidance.


  1. There is the idea of warmth. A great and a kindly person was described as one who lit fires in cold rooms...God kindles within our hearts the warmth of love towards God and towards our neighbor.  


And finally…


  1. There is the idea of purification. In this sense purification involves destruction; for the purifying flame burns away the false and leaves the true. The flame tempers and strengthens and purifies the metal.


For you and me, this often happens through painful experiences, but, if a person throughout all the experiences of life believes that God is working together all things for good, she will emerge from them with a character which is cleansed and purified, until, being pure in heart, she can see God within her.


We must remember that for us, what John the Baptist has described is a present reality.  When you and I realize the Light of God is in our present lives – as John realized on the shore that day when Jesus came and dipped into the water – our eyes and hearts are not only open, but even more our entire lives (physically, mentally, spiritually) are opened up to God’s fire and light to enter into our very souls.  


Thus becoming, as Quakers have always professed and testified, “THE LIGHT WITHIN”


A fire in our souls           

  • that lights and guides our journey.

  • that kindles in our hearts the warmth of love towards God and towards our neighbor.

  • that burns away the false and leaves the true


In the original Greek the word for cleansed, washed, or even baptized meant to be literally immersed - which meant...

  • To be thrust, plunged, or thrown into

  • To be consumed by – surrounded by or overwhelmed with.


John’s Baptismal cleansing was for repentance and people were immersed in the water of the Jordan river as a symbol of that cleansing.


But when Jesus comes, the immersion that takes places is one of being thrust, plunged into, consumed, surrounded and overwhelmed by the Spirit or refining fire of God.


When you and I truly experience the Light Within – that Refiner’s Fire – the simple truth is that we cannot stay the same.


Folks, I think one of the greatest things I have learned over the last several years is that fire is not always bad but rather transformational, and it doesn’t always mean hell.


A few years ago, when we were at Yosemite National Park and taking a tour over the valley floor, they told us how descendants of the Ahwahneechee people (the first settlers of the area) taught park rangers the importance of burning parts of the valley floor each year.  Doing this brings about new life - seeds that could not open without the intense heat of the fires would instead lay dormant.  The dry brush and overgrowth would naturally overtake the forest without the cleansing quality of the fires.  And if there were no little fires, an all consuming fire could take the entire park.


I was also listening to an interesting discussion on NPR awhile back, about how we view forest fire prevention today compared to just a few years ago.  I found out that what my family learned about at Yosemite is now called, “The Smokey the Bear Effect.”  


One of the reasons we have so many huge, all consuming forest fires in our country (often at or around our protected lands such as National Parks) is due to trying to prevent all fires in these landmarks. Most of us grew up with commercials or advertisements where Smokey the Bear taught that we need to prevent all forest fires from happening. Yet not only was that impossible, it was not true.  (How The Smokey Bear Effect Led To Raging Wildfires, OPB)


If we would have done what the Ahwahneechee people had learned by living close to the earth and learning from it, instead of abusing, distressing, and overworking it as we too often do, we may have been doing what they have just begun doing in Yosemite – lighting small controllable fires on a rotating cycle for the benefit of the forest and wildlife.    


I think this may be closer to what John was trying to teach us about Jesus’ baptism of fire.  We need more than immersion in water.  We need more than repentance (even though I believe that is part of it).  We need transformation.


It reminds me of the words of Martin Luther King Jr (a man who understood the need for transformation and who we will be focusing on next Sunday).


"By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists ... Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit."  Martin Luther King Jr.


We need to be thrust, plunged, thrown into, consumed, surrounded, and overwhelmed by the Light/Fire of God on a regular basis. Not just a once-and-done kind of thing, but a daily refining so that new life can come forth. So that cleansing can take place. So that we can prevent our own bad choices, destructive desires, and offensive ways from destroying those around us and making us useless chaff or non-fruit bearing trees.


As we enter our time of waiting worship - take some time to ponder how your Inner Light radiates the Love of God. Ask yourself...


How is my Light illuminating my path and directing me in the darkness?

How is my Light kindling the warmth of God’s love to my neighbors?

How is my Light purifying my world and speaking Truth to power?




12-31-17 Life That is Truly Life in 2018

Life That is Truly Life in 2018

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 31, 2017


1 Timothy 6:6-19 (MSG)

6-8 A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.


9-10 But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.


11-12 But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.


13-16 I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes.


17-19 Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.




With all that is happening in our world and in the news on the cusp of a New Year, I continue to ask myself some difficult questions.  Some are “why?” - others I am unable to even vocalize or develop as the atrocities of our world continue to unfold.  As I continue to try and ponder this, I ask myself, “What can I do? What can we do? What can Quakers do?”  This may be the same for you as well – and I am beginning to realize that this is a global issue.

Leadership and Organizational expert, Margaret Wheatley in the beginning of her book, “Turning to One Another” says the following…


“As I listen to many people, in many countries, I’m convinced we are disturbed by similar things, I’ve listened carefully to many comments, and included some of them here.  Taken as a whole, they paint a picture of people everywhere troubled by these times, questioning, what the future holds. Here are some of the comments and feelings I’ve heard expressed:”


See if what she has heard resonates with your own feelings deep down…

●     Problems keep getting bigger; they’re never solved. We solve one and it only creates more.

●     I never learn why something happened.  Maybe nobody knows, maybe it’s a conspiracy to keep us from knowing.

●     There’s more violence now, and it’s affecting people I love.

●     Who can I believe? Who will tell me what’s really going on?

●     Things are out of control and only getting worse.

●     I have no time for my family anymore. I’m living a life I don’t like.

●     I worry about my children. What will the world be like for them?


“Confronted with so much uncertainty and irrationality, how can we feel hopeful about the future? And this degree of uncertainty is affecting us personally.  It’s changing how we act and feel.  I notice in myself and others. We’re more cynical, impatient, fearful, angry, defensive, anxious; more likely to hurt those we love.”


If this is true and resonates with how the world is feeling, our text may get down to the fundamentals of how to begin making a shift.  Something I want us to consider as we head into 2018.


In our text…we find Paul writing to Timothy to advise and counsel him on ministry.  Most of Paul's epistles were written to churches (thus the names Corinthians Ephesians, Philippians, etc..), but 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon were written to individuals.

In this first letter to Timothy, Paul focuses his attention on several main subjects.

●     Law

●     Prayer

●     Bishops and Deacons

●     Advice to young pastors

●     And finally…Faithful Living.


Paul was often more radical than we allow him to be.  And often his writing has been more studied and even followed than the actual life and ministry of Jesus.  I think for this morning, we need to take a look at what Paul is presenting us from three different vantage points.


  1. What is Paul telling Timothy about how he should live?
  2. What is Paul telling Timothy about God/Jesus?
  3. What are we to glean from this last part of Paul’s letter for our questioning condition?


Before we break this down, I want to share something with you that may help put this in perspective.  About a year ago, Sue and I had the opportunity to hear author and speaker, Brian McLaren at Trinity Cathedral in Portland where he was  talking about his latest book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”  In one part of his talk he shared the following…


“Founders are typically generous, visionary, bold, and creative, but the religions that ostensibly carry on their work often become the opposite: constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and money. Instead of greeting the world with open arms as their founders did, their successors stand guard with clenched fists.  Instead of empowering others as their founder did, they hoard power. Instead of defying tradition and unleashing moral imagination as their founders did, they impose tradition and refuse to think outside the lines.  A religion that cuts itself off from the example of its founder while still bearing the founder’s name often becomes little more than a chaplaincy for other ideologies, offering its services to the highest bidder. No wonder so many religious folks today wear down, burn out, and opt out.“


As Brian shared those words, I was immediately taken to our text for this morning.  Much like Jesus and the disciples, Paul (also considered a founder of our faith) was bestowing on his apprentice, Timothy, the fundamentals of pastoral ministry, but even more a warning on how one is to live the faithful  life with integrity and impact.


Paul told Timothy…


Remember to be yourself (who God created you to be!)  – something we all have a problem with in our world.  Too often we want to be anyone but ourselves.  And when we are not living our life out of the Imago Dei or the image of God inside us – we live a life that creates anything but what Paul describes as a “Righteous life.”


Instead we become what Brian described, “constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and [yes] money.”  Paul warned Timothy of this and many pastors and followers of Christ in general need to head his warning…


“Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”

Money as well as its partners…power and control are far from the life that Jesus modeled…and Paul wants Timothy to know that going down that path leads to destruction.


Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to “Run for your life from all of this.”

This is coming from a man who was a living example of this very phrase.  Paul himself had to turn from the money, power, control, manipulation and law-oriented nature of being a leader in the Sanhedrin.  Paul understood the sacrificial nature of becoming a leader in the birthing church. And his example was Jesus Christ himself.  And so he gives a charge to Timothy…


13-16 I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes. Only a man who has stood his ground on what he believes.  A man who embraced the wonder, was faithful, who loved beyond explanation, who set a steady course and did it all with honor and courtesy – this was a Righteous and Holy Man – this was Jesus folks! 


And what Paul is saying is that when we live like Jesus - what Paul calls the eternal life, it brings the eternal into the NOW.


Paul’s warning seems rather simple.

●     Don’t be full of yourself.

●     Don’t be obsessed with money or __________ (fill in the blank).


Rather be like Jesus…live with

●     Wonder

●     Faith

●     Love

●     Steadiness

●     Courtesy


And as Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, he says…


“Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”


Margaret Wheatley realized that life comes from us making a change in how we act and feel and how we respond to those around us.  After she asked “What can we do now to restore hope to the future?” she said this…


“I’ve found that I can only change how I act if I stay aware of my beliefs and assumptions. Thoughts always reveal themselves in behavior.  As humans, we often contradict ourselves – we say one thing and do another.  We state who we are, but then act contrary to that.  We say we’re open minded, but then judge someone for their appearance. We say we’re a team, but then gossip about a colleague. If we want to change our behavior, we need to notice our actions, and see if we can uncover the belief that led to that response.”


I think as Quakers in our world today, we need to get honest and ask ourselves some tough queries:


●     Are we contradicting ourselves? Do we act contrary to that in which we are called by God?

●     Are we truly being ourselves?

●     Are we trying to do good?

●     Are we being rich in helping others?

●     Are we extravagantly generous?


These are the queries I want us to ponder as we head into 2018.


Just maybe if we were doing those things well, we would not have so much worry in our lives.  Maybe those problems wouldn’t seem so difficult.  Maybe there would be less violence and more love and people would be valued above the color of their skin, their political power, or marketable influence in our world. Maybe there would be less conspiracy and more trust among us.  And just maybe we would find more time for what really matters – like our family, friends, and community.


Or better yet, as Paul (through the eyes of Eugene Peterson) put it,


Just maybe we will gain a “life that is truly life.” 




12-10-17 The Love We Are Made For

The Love We Are Made For

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 5, 2017

Luke 1:39-55  (p. 831 in the pew Bibles)

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[e] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”


46 And Mary[f] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.



Our text for this morning includes this beautiful song, or what I consider more of a “spoken word” thrown down (as they say) by Mary as she declares a subversive and revolutionary message.


I think too often we “nice-it-over” and soften the edges of this rather gritty message from Mary.  Over the years we have put Mary’s words to classical music or a specific tune and kind of taken the bite away from the message.


Rev. Carolyn Sharp put it so well when she said,


“Don’t envision Mary as the radiant woman peacefully composing the Magnificat.”  Instead see her as “a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future… Mary’s courageous song of praise [becomes] a radical resource for those seeking to honor the holy amid the suffering and conflicts of real life.”


Over the years, I have come to hear Mary’s Magnificat not in classical tunes or peaceful soft voices, but rather in the voice and soul of my black sisters of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the inner city of Chicago where I used to teach the Bible.


In my mind, I envision Mary as a young black woman declaring justice, freedom, and hope for her world, instead of the pale white Mary wrapped in baby blue quietly singing in the corner that we are used to seeing depicted on Christmas cards. I see a strong woman with arms flaring, fists raised, wild bodily movements, beads of sweat forming on her brow, and a strong voice throwing down those magnificent words from Luke 1:46-55.


The main reason I hear Mary in this way, is because these words are rather loaded words from Mary.  Actually, these words have had a rather big impact on the church and even our modern world. Did you know that:



●     Mary’s Song (The Magnificat) has been part of the Church’s liturgy or program since its earliest days of Christianity.  [It was that important.]


●     For centuries, members of religious orders have recited or sung these words on a daily basis. Along with the Song of Creation, The Song of Praise, The Song of Zechariah, the Song of Simeon, the Glory in Excelsis, and the Te Deum – the Magnificat is the only song used by the universal church which was written by a women.


●     It is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.


●     It is also the first Christmas carol ever composed.


●     Parts of Mary’s Magnificat echo the song of Hannah (found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and are also reminiscent of the anguish of the prophets of the Old Testament.


●     And get this - are you listening...In the past century, there were at least three separate instances of governments banning the public recitation of the Magnificat.  Its message, they feared, was too subversive.

1.   During the British rule of India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in church.

2.   In the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be too dangerous and revolutionary. The song had been creating quite the stirring amongst Guatemala’s impoverished masses.  Mary’s words were inspiring the Guatemalan poor to believe that change was indeed possible.  Thus their government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.

3.    Similarly, after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.


Even the German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song.  Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonheoffer spoke the following words in a sermon during Advent 1933:


“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

From “The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected

The Messiah To Be Like” on the Website


Now, it is important for us to understand the context of Mary’s song.  We heard in our scripture reading that Mary was visiting her relative Elizabeth. Yet the reality was she was escaping the ridicule and possible retribution of her neighbors, family, and community for being an unwed pregnant teenage girl.


Scripture even tells us that the situation was grim enough that Joseph had planned to call the wedding off quietly. He did not want Mary humiliated or become a social outcast.


And to take the story up a serious notch, the reality was that according to Jewish Law Mary could have actually been stoned for adultery.


Mary is humbled by the realization that the God of the Universe is up to something and that she has been chosen to be his vessel. She senses things changing, literally being turned upside down. Her difficult life of growing up as a vulnerable woman, economically poor, and living in an oppressive world under Herod and the Roman Empire was being turned around. 


I believe her Magnificat was a cry of freedom and hope for a new world.   This was the cry of…


●     Mary who grew up economically poor.

●     Mary who was a teenage bride-to-be that was pregnant making her a social outcast.

●     Mary who gave birth to Jesus in a homeless situation.

●     Mary who fled with her family as refugees to a strange land because a religious and military power were threatening them.


And this is about a God who knows her condition. Who wants to meet her in her humanity.  Who wants her to identity with Him.


And the same is true for us. God wants us to listen to Mary’s Song – and proclaim it today.


As Reverend Anne Emry wrote in on her blog, Sacred Story,


“Mary’s song rings in our ears, and calls us to disrupt the hold violence has on our world. She sings of a future where all children are safe from violence. She sings of a future where people have homes and food and jobs. Her words are in solidarity with us. She sees to the far horizon and sings of the coming reign of God. We will be fed, and we will feed others. We will be blessed and we will bless others. We will receive justice, and we will do justice to others. All things are possible with God.”

Mary’s Song is timely for us in our day and age – as much as it was in her day.  The beauty of Mary’s Magnificat is that it is our song as well.  Her passion and words, should flow from us as a hopeful message to our world, today.  The queries I continue to ponder are…


Are we bold enough to proclaim Mary’s Song today?

…in our political climate?

…with the troubles in our world with race, gender, and economic inequalities?

…with a religious fervor that is focused on being right and creating “us vs. them” mentalities?  


If so, it is going to have to be done in Love. 


This week as I was researching the text, I came across a modern rendition of the Magnificat by Joy Cowley.  I would like to close our time with sharing this version (it is actually part of the art on the front of our bulletins this morning).  There is one line in it that I believe sums up Mary’s intent and ours… Joy Cowley writes...

"It’s the Love that we are made for…"


Mary knew this truth and so must we as we proclaim this important message again to our world. It’s being the Love of God to our world that we are made for this Season of Awakening.  Listen to this beautiful modernized version of the Magnificat.




Modern Magnificat  by Joy Cowley


My soul sings in gratitude.

I’m dancing in the mystery of God.

The light of the Holy One is within me

and I am blessed, so truly blessed.


This goes deeper than human thinking.

I am filled with awe

at Love whose only condition

is to be received.


The gift is not for the proud,

for they have no room for it.

The strong and self-sufficient ones

don’t have this awareness.


But those who know their emptiness

can rejoice in Love’s fullness.

It’s the Love that we are made for,

the reason for our being.


It fills our inmost heart space

and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.



Ask yourself, this morning:


How will I share the important message of Mary’s Song this Advent?

Who needs to hear it, today?




12-3-17 A Season of Awakening

A Season of Awakening

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 3, 2017

Ephesians 5:14-16 (VOICE)

13-14 When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing,


Awake, you sleeper!

    Rise from your grave,

And the Anointed One will shine on you.


15 So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around like idiots as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! 16 Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times.



If you grew up in a different faith tradition than among Friends or Quakers, you may have been introduced to the season of Advent. The actual word, “Advent,” comes from the Latin and means “coming.” I grew up in liturgical churches which all celebrated these four weeks leading up to Christmas day as a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus and his birth - with churches arrayed in royal purples or blue for the Coming King and an Advent Wreath with four candles to count down the Sundays until the big celebration. 


If you did not know, Advent is observed by many Christian churches including some Quakers. I personally have considered it one of the most Quakerly seasons in the more formal church year because it is known to focus on expectant waiting and preparation - two things that Quakers consider very important to their faith.


As I have been pondering this time of expectant waiting and preparation this year, I have had a different word that begins with the letter “A” on my mind. 


That word is “awakening.” 


A word that has become popular in several circles over the last couple of years. If you are a Star Wars fan like me, you will obviously remember it’s use in the title of the 7th installment of the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” and then all the subsequent trailers stating that “There has been an awakening.”   


Yet, if you take some time and look into the definition of “awakening” you will come across this important definition, which I believe may describe this time leading up to Christmas even more appropriately.


The definition says that awakening is coming into existence or awareness.”


What if we looked at the next couple weeks as a Season of Awakening?  While others celebrate Advent - First Friends will celebrate a Season of Awakening.


Doesn’t it seem appropriate when thinking about Jesus being born into this world? And wasn’t Jesus coming into existence and bringing a new awareness to our world? 


The incarnation of Jesus was awaking the world to a new way of seeing. It says in scripture that he was reconciling the people to God and to their neighbors and making them aware of the importance of unconditional love.


As well, this coming of Jesus was shedding a new light on things. We often refer to Jesus as the Light of the World. Jesus was born into this world to shed light on our dark places and to awaken the light within each of us.


What if each Christmas Light that we decorate our homes and trees with and each candle that is lit was a reminder of Jesus’ life and ministry and how we too are called to live that awakened life in this world. It just might have us seeing our lives, and especially, our neighbors in a different light (pun intended).   


This was exactly what Jesus spoke of in his first sermon in his hometown synagogue.  Listen to his words as he quoted from Isaiah.


God’s Spirit is on me;

    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

    recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”


Jesus was announcing an awakening!


He awoke the people of his day not only to see just the prisoners, the blind, the burdened and battered (no, that was only the beginning). Jesus would go on to awaken us to the poor, the widows, the orphans, the women, the outcasts, the neglected, and the people from other cultures and races - even the despised Samaritans or what soon he would categorize as all the gentiles (non-Jews).  


Folks, Jesus was awakening a world to God’s Kingdom where ALL people were included and respected, and loved. The veil would be torn and the table set for us to commune together.  This would have been amazingly good news to a world that was suffering from oppressive militant governments, who thought women were possessions, who swept the sick, the diseased, the crippled, and the unclean outside the city gates.


Hmmm...sadly that sounds an awful lot like our world, still today.


Yet, I am optimistic. I sense an awakening happening in our world. God is shedding again his light on our darkness. His ways are coming into existence again and we are becoming aware of the hurt we have caused by not being able to see our neighbors as ourselves. God is awakening our inner lights, he is fanning our flames, and calling us to be his ambassadors to a hurting world. 


This morning as we head into waiting worship, ask yourselves,     


How am I preparing for the awakening that is happening in this world? Who around me is being neglected or treated poorly? Who is in need of a little respect or a blessing of love this Christmas? Who needs an awakening?  


May these be our gifts this Awakening Season and throughout this year!    




11-19-17 Becoming the One Who Was Grateful

Becoming the One Who Was Grateful

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

November 19, 2017


Let us begin this morning by taking a moment to “Center Down” – to calm our hearts, our minds, our lives.  To help you focus on more “happy thoughts” – what I would like for you to do is think about the following query.

Who are you the most grateful/thankful for, today? Why?

So take some time to allow your mind and life to settle, then ask yourself this query.  We will close this centering time by having Dan Rains read our scripture for this morning.


Luke 17:11-19 (VOICE)

11 Jesus was still pressing toward Jerusalem, taking a road that went along the border between Samaria (considered undesirable territory) and Galilee. 12 On the outskirts of a border town along this road, He was greeted from a distance by a group of 10 people who were under quarantine because of an ugly and disgusting skin disease known as leprosy.

Lepers (shouting across the distance): 13 Jesus, Master, show mercy to us!

Jesus: 14 Go now and present yourselves to the priests for inspection of your disease.

They went, and before they reached the priests, their skin disease was healed, leaving no trace of the disease that scarred them and separated them from the community.

15 One of them, the instant he realized he had been healed, turned and ran back to Jesus, shouting praises to God. 16 He prostrated himself facedown at Jesus’ feet.

Leper: Thank You! Thank You!

Now this fellow happened to be, not a Jew, but a Samaritan.

Jesus: 17 Didn’t all ten receive the same healing this fellow did? Where are the other nine? 18 Was the only one who came back to give God praise an outsider? 19 (to the Samaritan man) Get up, and go your way. Your faith has made you healthy again.




Our text for this morning is a familiar story from the Gospels. It is often considered the “Healing of the Lepers” but this morning – I would like to focus less on the miraculous healing and more on the gratitude/thankfulness of the one leper – as I believe it has a great lesson for us today – and our world.


First, let me give us some background. Lepers were known to congregate together outside the city gates. They were considered social and religious outcasts because of their disease. Their only company and help was from each other. Thus, they created what we still call “Leper Colonies.” This is important to place Jesus geographically.


When speaking of lepers and the outcast meant immediately that Jesus was probably on a border. Actually, our text says that Jesus was on the border of Galilee and Samaria. This is very important to this story.


Dick Harfield on his blog “Answers” explains this, he says,

The Samaritans, or Samarians, came from the province of Samaria, formerly the Hebrew kingdom of Israel before its destruction in 722 BCE. The Samaritans would have been of mixed race, descendants of the original Israelites and the immigrants whom the Assyrians brought in to replace the Israelites who had been deported. They shared a common Hebrew heritage with the Jews.

Samaritans were related to the Jewish bloodlines. You could call them "cousins," as it were, of the Jews. Geographically, they were neighbors of the Jews. However, they did not follow the Jewish teachings, so they were viewed by the Jews as apostates. That is why the Jews did not associate with Samaritans.


Remember Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. So his family would have raised him with a racist bias against the Samaritans. Just ponder that a moment.

Yet, it is Jesus, who wherever possible, shows us a sensitivity toward racial justice as it relates to the Samaritans – which would have been unheard of and actually problematic for him.


The Jews and the Samaritans were involved in an internal family war – violence, hatred, horrific discrimination, had been dividing factors among these two people groups for quite some time.


And then comes Jesus across the borders from Galilee to Samaria.  Which it says in the Bible he did on several occasions, sometimes to the displeasure of the disciples and those watching him. Folks, it is historically documented that by the time Jesus was on the face of the earth, the Jews and the Samaritans had hated each other for at least 200 years. 


With all we know of this non-existent relationship between the groups, Jesus has the audacity to often mention Samaritans, talk to Samaritans, and even heal Samaritans.


This would be unacceptable by the Jewish leaders of his time.  This might have actually caused Jesus more trouble than blasphemy or healing on the Sabbath.  Because to associate with a Samaritan – was beyond ok – it would mean you too were unclean.


Yet Jesus would tell a parable where the Samaritan was the hero (we title it “The Good Samaratin”) – and the Samaritan is received as a man of good faith. Completely unacceptable to the Religious Leaders.


Jesus would go out of his way to spend time with a Samaritan woman at the city well.  Completely unacceptable on many accounts to the Religious Leaders (a Samaritan, and a woman, and in PUBLIC).


And in our text today, we find out that Jesus heals the lepers – all of those gathered – but it is a Samaritan who would come back overwhelmed with gratitude. Oh no!  What would the Religious Leaders think?


That is what makes this entire story so fascinating.  So much more is going on than just a miraculous healing.


First, the Lepers were desperate.  Most likely they had heard of Jesus and his healing powers.  So when they cry out, “Jesus, Master, show mercy to us.”  I am sure they were hoping for a miracle.


But instead, Jesus had them following the law. He had heard them and already had begun the healing process.  But to re-enter community…they had some rules to follow. Chuck Smith in his Commentary on Luke 11points out that...


1.   The priest had to inspect the skin to determine if the leprosy was truly gone.

2.   There were then certain prescribed sacrifices that had to be made.

3.   They had to perform certain rituals such as shaving off all their hair, and ceremonial bathings.

4.   After all of this, they could then return to their tent within the camp.


The only way the Religious Leaders would believe Jesus was for Jesus to follow their laws and do the healing within their world and beliefs.


The interesting thing about the story is that we don’t even know if the other 9 made it to the priests.  All that scripture decides to tell us is about the one who stopped in his tracks, and ran back to Jesus with gratitude and thanks.


●     No priest needed to tell him he was healed.

●     No religious body that had rejected him and made him an outcast needed to approve.

●     No ceremony was necessary, accept laying prostrate at Jesus’ feet and thanking Jesus profusely.


And then Luke tells us, “oh, and by the way, this man happened to not be a Jew, but a Samaritan.”


Yet again! The Samaritan!

Just listen again to the rest of what Jesus says…


17 Didn’t all ten receive the same healing this fellow did? Where are the other nine? 18 Was the only one who came back to give God praise an outsider? 19 (to the Samaritan man) Get up, and go your way. Your faith has made you healthy again.


It was the outsider…hmmm… Jesus points out once again the racial injustice of his own people toward the Samaritans.


Now, we could take away some great nuggets from this teaching already, but I want to take it one step further.  As I was preparing for this sermon, I came across the following on a blog called, “Nothing for Granted” – the post was titled, “Am I the Samaritan Leper or One of the Nine?” 


To close this sermon this morning, I would like to read the final part of this blog to you, I hope we will be able to identify with the Samaritan even more.


And so we hear this Gospel proclaimed and we sit back and complacently reflect upon the conviction that we are part of a relatively new and enlightened tradition that recognizes every single person as being a child of God. Apparently there is not much here of interest to us.

Perhaps but let's take a closer look. This is, after all, a story of God’s mercy but it is also about us, at our best and at our worst.


It is the story of nine people who failed to thank Jesus for his intercession and of one person who did thank him knowing that he had nowhere else to go but back to Jesus. He had nowhere else to go because the nine, in the name of God, of society and of propriety would have nothing further to do with him. Associating with him was o.k. for as long as they were all fellow outcasts but now things had changed.


Think about it. Jesus had cured them all...a cure that became very evident after they had set out, in accordance with his instructions to find a priest whose role was to attest to their lack of infection. The nine Jews continued on to complete the ritual...a ritual from which the Samaritan was automatically barred.


Did Jesus then set him up for this process of rejection? First by his former fellow sufferers and then by the priest?


I suppose you could say that he did. Jesus certainly knew that once re- integrated into society, the nine would reject the Samaritan simply because that is what society would demand...and he also knew that for the Samaritan to present himself to a Jewish priest would invite further rejection.


But, as always, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The Samaritan, in his humility, wanted to express his thanks but, at the same time, he knew that in returning to the Jewish holy man and identifying himself he was risking an even more painful rejection. He probably anticipated Jesus saying something like, "Hold it right there! I didn't know that you were one of those damned Samaritans...I'm not so sure that I want you to be healed!"

But what he said was, "You are welcome, I accept your is your faith, a faith of which you are barely aware, that has saved you….continue on your way with my blessing."


And so the Samaritan and now former leper healed and filled with new hope continued to make his way in a society wherein the majority would still look upon him with disdain. He would go on living in a world where clean and unclean...liberal and and uncool...would continue to be operative distinctions.


Down through the centuries he would go, the son of many parents, loved by God and yet frequently dismissed or worse by proud, ungrateful people who had, in their complacency, forgotten that in the final analysis all they are, all that they have and all they can hope for is the undeserved gift of God.


He would become the patient victim of overly officious officials, condescending professionals, bigoted landlords, arrogant employers, contemptuous employees and woefully insecure neighbours.


Do you know him, this ex-leper, this Samaritan?


I do. Sometimes he is me...sometimes you or your child or the person next to you. But she is most often the marginal, the disenfranchised. The easiest of whom to take advantage and the least likely to fight back.


The Samaritan is the next person that you or I avoid in a crowded room...disregard at a meeting or ignore as we hurriedly leave this church.


Yes, thanks be to God, I am the Samaritan...but God forgive me, I am also one of the nine.



11-12-17 Where Are the Peacemakers?

Where Are All The Peacemakers?

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

November 12, 2017



Philemon 1:3-9a                                             

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.



[Let us pray]


With all that has transpired since the last time we gathered in this Meetinghouse, I have done a lot of reflecting on the concept of being a peacemaker in our world, today.  I know I am not personally going to change what happened at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas last week, yet it causes me to ask some deeper questions of how I am personally being a peacemaker in my area of influence.  


What has become more and more apparent to me as I watch the news, or read social media, or even in conversations in my communities is how not much is being said about peace or peace making – and not much is being done to seek peace -- only after the fact.


Much of what I see or hear being discussed is revenge, gossip, payback, or people looking for groups or individuals to blame, all while often disregarding what others are saying or feeling. One recent example of this would be the NFL football player taking a knee during the national anthem and being told his protest is a disgrace to the flag, the military, and unpatriotic - missing the entire point of why he is kneeling.  


Too often we are simply closing our ears and secluding ourselves from our neighbors. And our lack of listening and understanding is leading to violence in many and various ways.  


I actually started processing these ideas last summer on our way back from dropping our son off at college. On that trip our family visited Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in southeast Montana. There we heard of a vision given to the First Nations Chief Sitting Bull that the white man who was taking their land had “no ears” to hear the desires of natives.


Sadly, I believe our country was founded by many who had “no ears” to see the bigger picture of life together with people different than themselves.  We too often closed our ears and moved forward – not listening, not waiting, and not working out of love. And the sins of our past have trickled down to our present time creating immense amounts of violence in our world.


We are constantly looking to pass the blame to specific groups of people - political parties, religions, and yes cultures and races - because, let’s be honest, it is how we control or conquer for our own benefits. This is the opposite of being a peacemaker - actually when this happens peace is lost.


When we don’t listen carefully, don’t seek to really understand, and quickly pass judgements, we perpetuate violence in our world. 


This week, I was shocked as I read a post by Relevant Magazine titled, “Correcting the Misinformation Being Spread About the Texas Shooting.” In the article it explained how internet trolls faked the gunman’s Facebook page (the one we all saw), as well they faked his name, political affiliation, religion, and status with the military.


And why...because they wanted to control who was blamed.    



Now, I have to be honest. I admit and apologize for the many times I have not listened, when I too have had closed ears to people, their views or ideas, and have created more conflict or a communication barrier.


Seeking peace and being a peacemaker has never been easy, but it is a venture I believe our world is craving. We don’t need more trolls or people without ears, we are in need of peacemakers that will actually live out the change!


I believe it is time for us to return to and embrace our Quaker distinctives - especially in the area of peacemaking. 


A few months ago, I had a conversation with a former colleague who recently became part of a Friends Church in Indiana.  As we talked he shared of his frustrations with the meeting he attends. The biggest frustration being their lack of any visible “peace testimony.”  What really hit me though was when he said, “It is like Friends are ashamed of being part of a peace tradition and now more than ever they should be embracing it.


Honestly, the Quaker “Peace Testimony” has been a controversial part of who we are throughout history. I believe this is mainly because it is much easier to close our ears and point a finger than it is to listen. Just maybe, we don’t embrace a peace testimony because it is simply hard work.


Our Christian culture has dumbed down Christianity so much.  We have talked too long about “Peace with God” only to ignore peace with our neighbors (near and far), our families, or colleagues, etc… 


So to start we may need a refresher course – and that means we will need to return to our own historic roots – let me read what it states in our Faith and Practice about our Foundations of Peace:


FRIENDS emphasize the fact that the most effective way to end war is to remove its causes, such as misunderstanding, the desire for revenge, the spirit of aggression, and economic, racial, and territorial rivalries. This calls for the utmost endeavor to demonstrate the working power of fair dealing, universal equity, friendliness, and sympathy. The intricate network of modern life demands that Friends use every legitimate means to influence the attitudes of their government toward other nations, that all may conform to the highest standards of justice and good will as taught by Jesus. They should equip themselves with knowledge of the needs and opportunities for whatever ministries of Christian friendship exist in the world family of nations. They should cultivate the personal skills and abilities that will enable them to become interpreters of the Christian way of life which alone is the sure foundation for enduring peace.


Folks, this is our heritage, this is one of our distinctives, and this is not new for us as Quakers, but it may be new for some of us…or maybe because of the way of American Christianity it has become hard to understand – especially since many Christians in America have embraced, even welcomed a more violent spirit, tied to patriotism or a specific political party’s beliefs.


And that violent spirit is not just in military campaigns or politics, Quaker Parker Palmer shows us that violence is permeating not only our churches, but our culture, our families, our own minds, he says,


“Violence is done when parents insult children, when teachers demean students, when supervisors treat employees as disposable means to economic ends, when physicians treat patients as objects, when people condemn gays and lesbians “in the name of God,” when racists live by the belief that people with a different skin color are less than human.  And just as physical violence may lead to bodily death, spiritual violence causes death in other guises – the death of a sense of self, of trust in others, of risk taking on behalf of creativity, of commitment to the common good.  If obituaries were written for deaths of this kind, every daily newspaper would be a tome.”


Folks, our voices for peace and nonviolence are desperately needed once again. This is supposed to be our nature as Quakers – but we have lost our edge, we are no longer disciplined, we have gotten lazy and fat when it comes to peacemaking. 


We should not be ashamed or reticent of stickers that read “War is not the Answer” or signs that read “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” (in one, three of fifteen languages).     


In the intro to the book “Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk Through of the Quaker Tradition” by Catherine Whitmire she writes,


Quakers have been practicing peace as a spiritual discipline since the 1650’s. Their well-worn path to peace begins in prayer and worship, leads to recognizing God in all people, includes practicing nonviolence, and endeavors to make love the guiding force in all they do. This path which is available to everyone, celebrates life’s highest joys and witnesses life’s deepest tragedies amidst the beauty, uncertainty, and violence surrounding us. While practicing peace is not always easy, it is a spiritual discipline that expands love, generates hope, and satisfies our soul’s deep longing for peace.


That is what I want – and I hope that is the same for you this morning.



Back in October of 2001, Friends in the northwest participated in a Peace Conference held in Newberg, OR. They created a set of 7 queries to help us process how we can be better peacemakers in our world.  Let these be our challenge this week. (You can find them in your bulletin).


1.   Do you find ways to live peacefully in your daily relationships? Do you encourage others to do so by education and example?


2.   Do you recognize, express, and dwell in God as your ultimate source of security?


3.   In a spirit of repentance, confession, and forgiveness, are you willing to leave vengeance to God and pray for your enemies?


4.   Are you active in a community that supports one another in following God’s call to peace?


5.   Are you proactive in praying, speaking, and acting against the injustice that may bring on the occasion for terrorism and war?


6.   Do you find ways to learn about and understand the Friends peace testimony?


7.   Do you act in loving and respectful ways toward those who disagree with the Quaker peace testimony?




10-29-17 Vibrations of God's Love

Vibrations of God’s Love

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 29, 2017

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV)

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”



For many of us, this passage is very familiar. It is considered a summary of all things and a link that connects us to our beginnings.  You may not be aware that these words are a continuation of what our Jewish sisters and brothers refer to as the Great Shema from the Torah, more specifically Deuteronomy 6.  If you are not familiar with the Great Shema from the Jewish faith, it is considered     the centerpiece of the daily morning and evening prayer and is also considered by some the most essential prayer in all of Judaism. So much so, most Jews consider it a command


So to fully understand this text, we must see it through Jewish eyes.


To a Jew of Jesus’ day when hearing the lawyer ask Jesus his question, they would have heard him ask it in the language of their culture, something of this nature:


"Rabbi, what is your yoke?" or "Rabbi, what is your interpretation of Torah?"


Basically, the lawyer wanted to know Jesus' "bottom line," his summary of the Torah.  For us it may be like asking for 25 words or less on the overall theme of the Bible?   


It was kind of a trick question - as a good Jew himself, Jesus would have been expected to answer with the Great Shema. Which as I read it, you will remember hearing it in Jesus’ answer.


Here is how the Great Shema from Deuteronomy 6 reads:


4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem[b] on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.



But Jesus didn’t leave well enough alone (as we say) - he went a little further and made a modification or actually an addition - he added to the Great Shema.  Not only did he speak the familiar words about loving God but he went on and added a second greatest commandment.


“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


Now, that addition probably came as a shock to the lawyer.  He got what he wanted -- but then got a little bit more.


What Jesus did was not simply expand the Great Shema, but make it more practical - more tangible. Jesus’s answer to how the Torah is summed up is living a life loving God with every part of your being in response to God's grace.  And how is that love for God best loving our neighbor!  


In Sesame Street terms this would be like Jesus saying... you can’t have one without the other.  Loving our neighbor as ourselves is how we live out the love of God in and through our lives - and I would go one step further and say it is also how God loves us - through our neighbors.


Or as writer Ronald Rolheiser put it,


“The God of the incarnation tells us that anyone who says that he or she loves an invisible God in heaven and is unwilling to deal with a visible neighbor on earth is a liar since no one can love a God who cannot be seen if he or she cannot love a neighbor who can be seen. Hence a Christian spirituality is always as much about dealing with each other as it is about dealing with God.”



Now, at this point, I want to go back to the book I referenced a couple weeks ago, “The Rebirthing of God” by John Philip Newell.  In his chapter on “Reconnecting with Love” he introduces the reader to someone he considers one of the greatest prophets of love in the modern world, Simone Weil (said Veil). 


“She was a philosopher, mystic, and a political activist. As a French Jew, she saw the Nazi occupation of her homeland, fleeing Paris...only hours before German forces laid siege to the capital. Eventually, she set sail from the south of France to find exile in the United States and then in Britain.”  


Newell points out that “Weil believed that the universe is essentially a vibration of God. Drawing on her Jewish inheritance, she saw everything as spoken into being by God. At the heart of that divine utterance is the sound or vibration of love.”   


I found this image or metaphor so beautiful in describing what Jesus was trying to do when moving from the Great Shema to a more meaningful and fuller understanding of the importance of love for all. 


This vibration of God, as Weil describes it, allows us to see the universe as an “expression of love” and then everything in the “universe is essentially a means to love.”


Now, stop right there.  Ponder that for a moment...The entire universe is a means to love - a sounding board vibrating God’s love to us at every moment.   


Now, some of you are saying...that is not my experience? The universe is vibrating all kinds of things back at me on a daily basis. 


But take a moment and think of it as Newell describes Weil’s understanding,


“The rising sun is a means to love, as is the whiteness of the moon at night. Every life-form, the shape of the weeping willow by the distant pond, the song of the robin in the hedgerow, the light in the eyes of every creature -- all these are means to love. I am a means to love, as are you, your children, and your nation.”


It may take some adjusting in our minds, but it was a Buddhist writer that helped me see my neighbor as not just the people who live around me or for that matter just people, rather our neighbors are all kinds of living beings - animals (domestic and wild), trees and plants, the food and animals we eat, our earth and atmosphere and ozone….etc…  Boy, did that change and expand how I saw my neighbor being a means of love.


I have to ask myself, am I treating animals, my gardens, the spaces I occupy on this earth in a loving manner and I allowing them to be a means of love? Do I love them as I would want to be loved?  


We often talk about being stewards of the earth - but how are we really treating ALL of our neighbors.  Maybe the reason we are not experiencing the vibration of God in the world is because we are not loving God and his creation fully and especially not the way we, ourselves, want to be treated.  


And if we are only talking about our neighbor as people, maybe we are getting in the way of loving our neighbor.  I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s famous quote.


“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”


Love was Jesus’ bottom line, because God’s bottom line is love, and as Nelson Mandela’s seems to imply so is our bottom line. 


Just imagine...instead of the things we so easily get focused on, what if we were looking for the love of God vibrating in our universe? What if instead of focusing on the...


...the political party one aligns with,

…the sexuality one is orientated toward,

...the education one has achieved,

...the monetary depth one has accrued,

...the religion one professes to follow,  

…the race or culture in which one was born.

...the obstacles one has overcome or continues to wrestle with…


...what if we first looked to see where God’s love was vibrating back to us in this universe?


I know for me, I often choose not to see or sense those “vibrations” in our universe. Too often I actually choose to focus on those other things and then miss the opportunities all around me to experience or even acknowledge that amazing love vibrating all around me in my daily life.  


This week I began taking an intentional inventory of the places where I sensed these “vibrations” in my universe - where what I experienced was a means of love from God.  


●     I found them in the vibrant colors of the maple trees on my way into work on Allisonville Road just past Conner Prairie.

●     I found them in the smell of the fresh rain in the morning.

●     I found them in my parent’s dog Gracie.   

●     I found them in the smooth vocals of Michael McDonald.

●     I found them in the modernist architecture in Columbus, Indiana.

●     I found them in the smell of fresh ground and then brewed coffee.

●     I found them in the brisk cool breeze. 

●     I found them in difficult conversations as well as fun ones.

●     I found them in the giggles, hugs  and smiles of my sons.

●     I found them in an piece of art I created in High School and in the ideas of new art I want to create.

●     I found them in passionate people who wanted to make a difference in our community.

●     I found them in a place we now call home.

●     I found them in the eyes of my wife which spoke her love without words.


And the list could go on and on.  My hope this morning is that I have awakened you to new ways of thinking and seeing.  Where are you experiencing the vibrations of God’s love in the Universe, today?  



10-22-17 The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

Oct. 22, 2017

1 Thessalonians 1:2-9 (NRSV)

2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters[a] beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions[b] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,




Well it is that season of the year when people dress up as their favorite cartoon characters, heroes or heroines, and take on a new persona all for the benefit of receiving candy from neighbors, family, and friends.


When I was younger, I loved to dress up in costumes. I have never told anyone this, but I remember hiding a fake mustache in my bedroom that I would wear with my only Hawaiian shirt (in my bedroom where no one could see) so I could look like and become Magnum P.I.  I thought he was so cool. 


I also, grew up in the era of Underoos. (Anyone remember those?) Where kids could be one of the characters from Star Wars or the Superfriends underneath their normal clothing - like some alter ego or secret identity hidden beneath the surface.   


Anyway, this time of year has many memories for me.  One of the greatest (and somewhere my mom, I am sure has photos of this) was back when I was in first grade.  From what I can remember, first grade was a great year. I loved my first grade teacher - Miss Deinert - probably because she was the only teacher I knew that drove a yellow Volkswagen Bug. I loved learning the alphabet, art projects, and listening to stories.  But most of all I could not wait for Fall and for our class Halloween Party - put on by the room mothers. My mom was always a volunteer and helped out. From what I rememebr, first grade would offer me my first “official” costume party.  I still remember like it was yesterday going to our local .5 and Dime store (Belmonts) for my costume.  As we arrived in the costume aisle of Belmonts, I quickly took an inventory of all the costumes - everything from Chewbacca from Star Wars to Bo Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard. 


But on that day, I was drawn in by a completely different costume and it all started with a plastic pitch fork. I was enamored with this plastic pitchfork - I believe it was black plastic rod with a set of three red pointed tines. I am not ever sure if I had ever seen a pitchfork before this moment (especially not one like this), because I vaguely remember asking my mom what it was. She said under her breath, “Bobby, that is something that the devil uses.” 


Ooooo...intriguing to my 6 year old mind. I carried that pitchfork up and down the costume aisle of Belmonts because I knew it was going to be mine. Sticking with the theme, I picked out an entire devil costume with a red-faced mask with horns and a pointed tail and all. What better costume was there to go with my pitchfork and to wear to my 1st grade Halloween party at my Christian school….haha...


I have come to realize, it is really hard saying no to a cute little 6 year old. I have had three of them in my life and I am sorry for leading my mother down this path when I was that age. But to this day, I still wonder what my mom thought about that costume. What were the others room mothers thinking (I believe Bobby is going to grow up to be a pastor), or what was my first grade teacher thinking?  At 6 years old - I assumed they would think it was totally cool! 


Luckily for me, we were only allowed to wear our costume for the last period of our day which was designated as the time for our Halloweenparty.  I remember at one point seeing a photo of me in my classroom sitting in a back desk with no one around me…go figure.  Bobby Henry was the devil in 1st grade.



Now, why do I tell that story this morning.  It has to do with the concept of “imitating.”  Throughout scripture (and even in our text for this morning) it speaks of imitating Christ. Usually, the word is translated following or follower, but often it has a much deeper meaning. 


If you were raised in the church like I was, you probably heard at some point that you needed to “follow” Jesus, or you needed to have a personal relationship with him, or on occasion you may have been told to try and imitate him (or at least consider what he would do in certain situations - WWJD?). 


Now let’s stop right here and read the definition of the word imitate - it means: 

●     to mimic; impersonate:

●     to copy or reproduce closely.

●     to have or assume the appearance of; simulate; resemble.


That could describe most children and many adults on Halloween Night, or for that matter, at a Comicon Convention - since Cosplay is one of the fastest growing industries in our world. 


Ironically, much of this mimicking, impersonating, assuming the appearance of someone else has a lot to do with escaping reality, fantasy, and masking who we really are deep down. In a culture that has become more and more isolated, technologically dependent and disconnected with each other - simulating and impersonating is a key to survival. 


But this is where I believe the idea of imitating begins to break down.  The imitating that is talked about in scripture is not simply dressing up as Jesus and playing Jesus to all your friends - which sadly I believe a great deal of the American church does. It is not trying to copy Jesus per se but rather allowing his attributes, characteristics, his ways to be manifest in our lives and through our gifting and abilities for the sake of others.


I think this is where the English language has a hard time understanding the full concept of the word imitate or mimos (where we get the word mimic) in Greek.  The concept was that following the example of someone (like Jesus) meant that it was lived out and evident in more than the surface areas - it went into the depth of their being. It was not simply putting on a mask or the right clothing, or even saying the right words, it was embodying the very nature of God.  As Quakers, we would call this “minding our inner light.”  Seeing that of God in ourselves and looking for that of God in our neighbor. 


For the Thessalonians, it changed how they saw their world and it should change the way we see ours as well. In the text for today, it speaks of how it literally turned them into an example for others to follow.  It reads, “you became the example.” God’s ways were literally “sounding forth” through the lives of the Thessalonians. God had become known in their lives so much that Paul said when he and his team arrived they had no need to talk about who God was - because it was so evident in the lives of the Thessalonians.  It was the transforming power of the Holy Spirit inside those people that brought joy, love, and a welcoming spirit - and it was undeniably a true imitation of God.  Outsiders actually saw God in and through them.    


Now, don’t get me wrong, when I come into this space each week, when I meet with each of you, even when I serve alongside you, I can honestly say that I am sensing God’s presence in this place through your lives. Actually, I could probably speak these words of Paul to the Thessalonians to you the people of First Friends. 


Yet, I wonder, if we asked ourselves honestly how we actually come into this meetinghouse each week, or to serve, or to meet with a committee…

●     How often would we admit that we put on “masks”?

●     How often would we admit being drawn in by the “pitchforks” of religion?

●     How often would we be clueless of who we are really imitating or trying to follow?

●     How often would we be simply running through the motions, lacking authenticity, and representing more of an ideal than God’s true character? 


For a long time now, I have heard people complain about the hypocrisy in the church. How on Sunday mornings all across this nation people “dress up,” even put on their “masks,” and take their families to church. And for the 2 or so hours they fake a good life, take on loving, caring, and even welcoming characteristics, but by Sunday afternoon return to “real life.” 


To change our world, our environment, our communities, even our families, it is going to take more than running through the motions and playing church. It is going to take embodying that of God inside each of us.  So the world doesn’t just see our religious costume, but connect to what is in our depths - a faith that is real - a God who is good - and opportunities for hope and joy and peace and love that last.  


Ask yourself this morning:

What will it take for First Friends to become an even more authentic community and even more genuinely embrace the imitation of God?



10-15-17 Worry, Anxiety, Fear, and Hope!

Worry, Anxiety, Fear, and Hope!

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 15, 2017

Philippians 4:4-9The Message (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.



The text for today is one of my favorite “reality checks” in scripture. Whenever I read it, I find it raising a lot of different feelings and thoughts and causing me to stop and think about the things I worry about, my anxiety, and what all I fill my mind with throughout the week. Wrestling with these thoughts are such important things to help us build self-awareness and understanding. Whenever I do this type of spiritual exercise, I understand better what Eugene Peterson meant when he called the Bible, “a book that reads us even as we read it.”


In one of the classes I used to teach at Huntington University, I began each lesson with some Lectio Divina. If you are not familiar with Lectio Divina, those words are Latin for "divine reading," "spiritual reading," or "holy reading." They represent a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and provide special spiritual insights. I have even heard one person call it Quaker Bible Reading.


Often it takes repetitively reading the scriptures and honing in on specific words or phrases, instead of specific answers, doctrines, or thoughts. This often leads one to see new things or actually ask different questions of scripture. Too often Bible reading is simply about finding answers or proving others wrong. That is not what Lectio Divina is meant to be. 


Part of the class I taught, as well as in my own devotional life, I utilized a book called, “Solo: An Uncommon Devotional” which utilized Lectio Divina and the Message version of scripture.  The process that the book lays out is rather simple:


Read          Think         Pray           Live.


That could easily be described as somewhat of a mantra for my own life - Read, Think, Pray, and Live. 


This morning, for a change of pace, I would like us to experience a similar process with our text from Philippians. 


To begin I am going to read our text through twice.  As I read, take time to listen for specific phrases or words that speak specifically to you and your condition. Don’t get caught up with why the text is being written, or who it is being written for, or what it’s doctrinal intent...but rather let it speak to your heart and condition in the present moment without any of these other limitations.   


As I used to tell my students, “You may need to close your eyes to open up your ears.


Listen to these words from


Philippians 4:4-9 (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.




Now, that we have heard the words of this text a couple of times. Hopefully some things have stood out to you as I have read.  It seems with all that we are bombarded with on the nightly news, or in our families, or even in our work or school situations we are all dealing with some aspect of worry, anxiety, fear, or inability to center ourselves down.


So next, I want to ask you a few queries to help you think a little differently about this text and what maybe running through your minds. Please note: these are just prompts to get you thinking.


Also, for some of you, God may already be saying something to you and you may want to stay with that, but if not, I am going to utilize some queries for this specific scripture from the book, “Solo” to prompt more thoughts - causing us to enter the second part, which we call - THINK. 


●     How do you handle something that worries you?

○     Do you ignore the problem so you can put it off thinking about it for as long as possible? 

○     Do you feel depressed and pessimistic about it, pretty sure of negative results, no matter what?

○     Do you spend a lot of energy identifying a solution and working toward it?

●     (Whatever your answer, pinpoint your primary way of reacting. See if you know why you handle worry the way you do.)


●     Now, consider one worry you have today and how you’ve been dealing (or not dealing) with it.  Name that worry. 


At this point, I want to read again the text for this morning. In leu of what you have just been thinking about regarding worry, allow the text to speak again to your present condition.  

Philippians 4:4-9 (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.


As we move into our the third section - Pray. Sit in silence for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Breath deeply and let your mind quiet down again.  Become aware of God’s presence within and around you. [Pause]


Now, take a moment to express to God your concern. Even though God knows the situation, take time to silently tell God about it. (As you do you may want to ponder how your anxiety has affected other areas of your life, such as relationships, work, school, community, etc…)


Ask yourself: What is the worst-case scenario you’re afraid might happen? 


Whether rational or irrational, share with God what you FEAR.


And finally, as we move into our last step - Live.  To live means to rest, reflect or act as you discover how to take what you have learned in this experience into your day. 


So this morning, take a moment to ponder who God is to you. 


Maybe God is too distant or you aren’t sure what God is saying, or maybe you have a clear sense of who God is and what God is saying. The important thing this morning is that you leave this space believing that God has heard you. God has heard you and your concerns and is working “you into his most excellent harmonies.”


How have these scriptures this morning “read you” and how is God working out his most excellent harmonies through you?


As we move into waiting worship - let it continue this process - maybe go back and ask yourself some new questions, or ponder some of the other thoughts or phrases that were speaking to you.  What is or has God been saying to you this morning?