Sermon 9-14-2014; “Walk In The Light” by Ruthie Tippin
Journal of George Fox; John L. Nickalls - editor, pps. 11, 27.
Quakerism 101 – A Basic Course for Adults; Shirley Dodson, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1998.
The Power of the Lord is Over All – The Pastoral Letters of George Fox; T. Canby Jones – editor, Friends United Press, 1989.
Why are there Quakers? Why are we Quakers? Some of you may have never stepped foot inside a Friends Meetinghouse… at least a Meetinghouse like First Friends. Many meetinghouses have no organ, no ushers, no singing… they begin and end in silence, where we begin and end in song. What has happened since George Fox first understood the cry and call of his spirit, answered in that of God’s spirit? Why does this matter to us?
It is important, I think, for us to understand who we are, and Whose we are. It is important to understand the choice that was made so long ago to see God with the understanding of Friends. And if we are to worship as Friends, it is important to understand at least the beginnings, the rudiments, the first expressions of those choices, and the sacrifices made to ensure others the opportunity to see God as the First Friends once did. Throughout this coming year, we will visit the past, consider it in the present, and imagine where it takes us in faith for our future. What does God ask us to recall? What does God provide for us now? What does God expect of us in the future as a Society of Friends? If you are new to this conversation, I invite you join in… your perspective is as welcome as those Seekers who first spoke, met, prayed, and wondered about these same questions so long ago.
There is much to be shared, and more content than would be reasonable to expect to cover in Meetings for Worship, so for help, I will be using a curriculum throughout this year that was developed by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
Political intrigue, religious coercion by the state, loss of life and property, rejection of authority, corruption in government, and a beheading… does any of this sound familiar? This is what life was like in England, during the 100 years before George Fox was born in 1624. King Henry the 8th declared independence from the papal authority of the Catholic Church and began his own “Church of England”. His nine year old son Edward became King, and the Church became fully Protestant. Bloody Queen Mary reverted it to Catholicism, and five years later, Queen Elizabeth returned the Church of England to a shallow, inclusive form of Protestantism. Some wanted to ‘purify’ the church of its lukewarm theology, corrupt priests, and superstitions. The “Puritan” movement was born. The Bible – not the church – should be the basic authority for religious life.
Soon afterward, King James acceded to the throne, and during his reign a very significant book was published – in English. The King James Bible was printed in 1611. Now it was not only a book for the priests who read and understood Latin… this was a book of the common people. Everyone could read scripture. Everyone could understand scripture. Everyone could read all of scripture – not only the passages that were read to them in worship. The King James Bible became a bestseller.
A little boy was born in the Lake Country of England… a beautiful area with rolling hills, in a little town called Fenny Drayton. His name was George Fox. His parents were Puritans, and were good and righteous people. He, and most others of the first generation of Friends were born during King James’ reign, and grew up during King Charles I succession to the throne.
George Fox turned 18 the year the English Civil War began. King Charles was arrogant and conceited. He ruled arbitrarily without Parliament – the people’s consent. He taxed the nation heavily, and insisted on central authority over the church. War broke out between Parliament under General Oliver Cromwell and the King and Crown. The King not only lost his Crown… he lost his head, and the war ended in 1645.
What happens when the world you know starts spinning out of control? Everything seems uncertain, and you either hold tightly to what you know or you begin asking questions… lots of questions. That’s exactly what people were doing just then. People were seeking answers to deep questions about political life, religious life - life itself. Religion became a ‘hot topic’ and everyone had their own idea about God - what was necessary, what was satisfying, and what was key in discovering God? Was it Puritan life? Was it Catholicism, after all? Or was it something else? Was there something more? People were seeking answers in a world turned upside down, and filled with the sights, smells, and cost of death, war, and confusion.
George Fox had left home in September of 1643 - before the war ended, searching for answers, as so many were. He was in search of relief from inner turmoil, looking for spiritual fulfillment and answers to his deepest questions. He traveled for four years.
From Philadelphia YM’s course of study on Quakerism:
‘Fox spent long periods of time alone. He read the Bible so much that he knew many passages by heart… Fox suffered deep spiritual depression and went through many periods of temptation and inner darkness. He was unable to find help for his spiritual anguish from any of the clergymen – whom he called priests.’ His Journal tells of many experiences along the way, and brings him to a turning point in 1647, when he was 23 years old…
George Fox reads:
“But as I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also and those esteemed the most experienced people, for I saw there was none among them all who could speak to my condition. When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me nor could tell what to do, then oh! then I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory - that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, who enlightens and gives grace and faith and power. Thus when God does work, who shall hinder it? And this I knew by experimentally.” George Fox, 1647
Song: “Life is Beautiful” Eric Baker
Life is beautiful,
All around I see how your voice is speaking into me.
Moved from where I was, You’re the One I want,
And the reason I can say,
Life is beautiful.
Life is beautiful! When you’re moved from where you were into a new experience – a new understanding of God, when God speaks into your life, when you discover Truth, when you are filled with the presence of Christ – life is beautiful!
“Fox came to depend on the Inward Christ directly as his teacher, and found that the Bible was opened up to him by the Spirit. Fox’s message was a strong one; he urged people to recognize the evil within themselves and come to obey the Teacher within themselves who could lead them out of all sin. Fox’s own dark periods of temptation enabled him to understand what was going on with other people, so he could speak to their conditions. Despite the power of evil – what he called the ocean of darkness and death – he saw an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. He saw that good could overcome evil if a person was willing to follow the promptings of Christ within.”
Do you remember what George Fox told us at the opening of Meeting for Worship today? It is one of the central messages of Quakerism. “Keep your habitations in the Light, Life and Power, which you first received and felt in yourselves, that you may be clothed with the blessing of the Lord, which was before the curse was… Unity, before darkness… Life, before death… Truth, before the devil… Power of God, before the power of Satan, before the world began.
We are children of Light. We are born in light, not in darkness. Friends believe we are all born in Original Perfection – not in Original Sin. Yes, there is evil and darkness, the waves of the ocean of darkness pour over us, submerge us, overwhelm us… but there is an ocean of light that draws us up, and as we attend to the promptings of Christ – the Light – our Inward Teacher – we are brought back to that light from which we originally came.
Fox found what he and others were looking for – an experience of God that was True, that was living, that was powerful. No King could administer it. No General could enforce it. This Light and Power came from another Source entirely. And from that Source, that Seeking and that Finding was born the Society of Friends. Do we seek as diligently as George Fox once did? Do we give ourselves over to Truth revealed, and do we allow it to change us? To change others? Do we hold on to outward forms and old understandings or are we willing to learn from the Inward Teacher? Are we obedient to the Light? Are we willing to live in the Life, Light and Power of God, as children of Light, moving up through darkness, returning to Light?
George Fox reads:
“Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus; so that I say that I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell… And the Lord showed me that such as were faithful to him, in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell; in which admirable works of creation and the virtues thereof may be known, through the openings of the divine wisdom and power by which they were made.” George Fox, 1648
*SHIRLEY DODSON graduated from of the Earlham School of Religion and wrote and edited adult curriculum materials for PYM. She has served as director of conferences and retreats at Pendle Hill.