Sermon 8-17-2014 by Ruthie Tippin

Psalm 46

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God,

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion – the Simplification of Life, Harper and Row, 1941, pps. 116, 117.

 God is beautiful.  God is Beauty.  God is Truth.  God is Goodness.  Where do you see beauty in your life?  Where do you see truth?  Where do you see goodness in your life?  In those places, you see God.  God is good.  God is holy.  God is beautiful. 

 God is love.  God is peace and compassion.  God is healing.  Where do you find love in your life?  Where do you find peace?  Where do you find healing and compassion?  In those places, you find God.  God is love.  God is holy.  God is beautiful.

 God is strength.  God is power.  God is energy.  God is spirit.  Where do you discover strength in your life?  Where do you discover power?  Where do you find energy and spirit?  In those places, you discover God.  God is strength.  God is holy.  God is beautiful.

Our lives move so quickly that we tend to see, hear, taste, touch, and experience very little of God.  Very little of God’s beauty, God’s love, and God’s strength. It’s said that when we breathe we use very little of our lung capacity. We tend to hardly breathe into ourselves the fullness of breath that we have. Might we all just this moment take a deep breath, and then release it... Take another now. A full, deep breath and then release it. Think how few times you breathe that deeply. Think how few times we take in all that God is.

We long for God’s goodness, for God’s peace, for God’s power.  We search for God’s truth, God’s compassion, God’s energy.  And always… always… God is ours.  But.  But we must develop practices in our lives that help us notice God – to welcome God who is within us.  So often, we see the ugly, the lie, the evil.  We find hatred, conflict, cruelty and woundedness.  We discover weakness, apathy, lack.  We find these things in the world around us, in the people around us, in our very selves.

Robert Barclay wrote in 1676, “For when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them [the Quakers], hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed; and indeed, this is the surest way to become a Christian…”  Barclay became the greatest apologist for the faith of the Quakers.

Drawn to God, drawn to God’s presence and power, to the ‘increase of this power and life’; drawn to redemption.  This is what Barclay found by entering into the experience, the breath, of God in waiting worship.  It is transformative.

 Brother Lawrence found it so.  In the preface to the collection of his ‘conversations’ called ‘Practicing the Presence of God’ we read this:  “The experiences of Thomas á Kempis, of Tauler and of Madame Guyon, of John Woolman and Hester Ann Rogers, how marvellously they agree, and how perfectly they harmonize! And Nicholas Herman, of Lorraine, [Brother Lawrence] whose letters and converse are here given, testifies to the same truth! In communion with Rome, a lay brother among the Carmelites, for several years a soldier, in an irreligious age, amid a skeptical people, yet in him the practice of the presence of GOD was as much a reality as the "watch" of the early Friends, and the "holy seed" in him and others was the "stock" (Isa. vi. 16) from which grew the household and evangelistic piety of the eighteenth century…”

 Nicholas was born into poverty, and served in the army because they would feed him and pay him a small stipend.  After an injury, he left the army and worked as a footman or valet, but wasn’t very successful.  He was awkward and clumsy. (You don’t want a clumsy valet!)  His conversion, or as Friends call it, his ‘convincement’ came when he was 18 years old.  During that winter, he saw a tree stripped bare, and wondered that it soon would put on leaves, and then flowers and then fruit.  And in that simple sign, Nicholas saw God’s power and providence.  It changed his life and heart.  He said it ‘set him loose from the world and kindled in him a great love for God.’  He chose to enter a monastery, thinking he would be ‘made too smart for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit’, and sacrifice his life to God.  Instead, and much to his dismay, he found that he was very satisfied with his life there! He took the name ‘Lawrence of the Resurrection’ and lived the rest of his life at the monastery in Paris as a lay brother, working mostly in the kitchen.  He died in 1691.

 Lawrence writes, "Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"  “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

 These ‘conversations’ with Brother Lawrence came well into his life of faith.  He reflects that ‘in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.’ 

 Thomas Kelly, one of my favorite Quaker philosophers and writers:  “If the Society of Friends has anything to say, it lies in this region primarily.  Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center.  Each one of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence and simplified multiplicity, on one condition – that is, if we really want to. There is a divine Abyss with us all, a holy Infinite Center, a Heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world.  We have all heard this holy Whisper at times. At times we have followed the Whisper, and amazing equilibrium of life, amazing effectiveness of living set in.  But too many of us have heeded the Voice only at times… We have not counted this Holy Thing with us to be the most precious thing in the world… John Woolman did.  He resolved so to order his outward affairs as to be, at every moment, attentive to that voice.  He simplified his life on the basis of its relation to the divine Center… And the Quaker discovery lies in just that: the welling-up whispers of divine guidance and love and presence, more precious than heaven or earth…

 I should like to be mercilessly drastic in uncovering any sham pretense of being wholly devoted to the inner holy Presence, in singleness of love to God.. But I must confess that it doesn’t take time, or complicate your program… worship can be breathed all through the day.  One can have a very busy day, outwardly speaking, and yet be steadily in the holy Presence. We do need a half-hour or an hour of quiet reading and relaxation.  But I find that one can carry the recreating silences within oneself, well-nigh all the time… Our real problem, in failing to center down, is not a lack of time; it is, I fear, in too many of us, lack of joyful, enthusiastic delight in God, lack of deep, drawing love directed toward Him at every hour of the day and night… Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives more complex.  The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it.

 There is a way of life so hid with Christ in God that in the midst of the day's business one is inwardly lifting brief prayers, short ejaculations of praise, subdued whispers of adoration and of tender love to the Beyond that is within. No one need know about it. I only speak to you because it is a sacred trust, not mine but to be given to others.

One can live in a well-nigh continuous state of unworded prayer directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, an inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live. Some of you know it and live in it; others of you may wistfully long for it; it can be yours.   Now out from such a holy Center come the commissions of life.”

 How do we begin? I would say, like Brother Lawrence, start with a tree…One of the things that I know about Sara [serving on Facing Bench today] is that she loves to sit in the back corner of the Meeting Room because she can look at that tree.

Find something simple, something meaningful, in those quiet moments in your life when it seems so crowded. So chaotic. So hurtful. So wounded. So busy. Find something simple that speaks to you of God and start there. Stay there. And let God speak.