Sermon 8-16-2015;‘Worshipping, Caring, and Witnessing’
Psalm 96 and 100
The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies, Stephen W. Angell, Pink Dandelion, editors;
Oxford University Press, 2013.
Wilmer Cooper, The Nature of the Friends Meeting, No Time But This Present, FWCC, 1965.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
What is it that makes Friends meetings matter? What is the new song that we sing to the Lord that stands out from the songs of other faith communities? How do we declare God’s glory differently than others? What do people find here that they haven’t found in any other place? What is it that holds people in Quaker faith, rather than moving on to other practices of faith? It would be fascinating to hold a forum discussion with all of you about this, if we had time this morning. Perhaps we need to make time for this soon!
Quaker institutions mattered to Wilmer Cooper. He was one of the founders, and the first Dean of Earlham School of Religion, the Friends Seminary in Richmond, IN. He served with Friends Committee on National Legislation. He served Quakers in many, many ways. But the most important place in Quakerism to him was the local Friends Meeting… a place just like First Friends Meeting. He considered local meetings to be the seedbed, where Quakerism must be tended if Friends are to continue to bear fruit.
In a paper he wrote in preparation for the 4th World Conference of Friends in 1967, Cooper wrote “If the Society of Friends is to experience renewal and growth in our day it must begin with the rekindling of the local meeting… It is the business of such a fellowship to nurture a caring community of loving concern for one another, to listen to what God has to say and to respond in obedience to him, and to proclaim a message of hope to a world which is characterized by estrangement and alienation. Such should be the nature and purpose of a Friends meeting.”
To listen and respond in obedience to God, to nurture loving concern for one another, and to proclaim a message of hope to the world. These are the things Cooper advances for our Meetings. I daresay they’re a great rubric for any faith group, and I’d like to explore what they look like especially for us – for First Friends.
In earlier times, when scriptures were not available to those other than the clergy (and most persons were not able to read), Bible stories were told in stained glass. Windows were openings to God… heroes of the Old and New Testaments surrounded us as we gathered to learn of God’s power, love, and intention. By the time Quakers were formed in the 1650’s, the King James Bible had been printed in the language of its people, and most persons knew it well. Professor Stephen Angell writes: “George Fox knew the Bible thoroughly and used it lavishly – its words, phrases, images, and stories flood Fox’s speaking and writing. Those who knew Fox well mused that if all the copies of the Bible were lost, the whole of its text could be recovered from Fox’s memory.”
Friends no longer needed stained glass to speak of God’s stories… they knew God’s stories well. They read them, heard them, told them to each other. And… they listened to Christ teach them, Himself. Their meetinghouses were spare – their windows clear – their hearts open and expectant, as they waited silently, listening for Christ to speak, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Wilmer Cooper writes: “Early Friends made little use of the word worship. There was no lack of a sense of the presence of God in their midst, and a corresponding sense of adoration and praise; but their main preoccupation was with “waiting upon the Lord” in high expectation that he would not only lead them into a deep firsthand experience of his presence, but that in the moment of expectancy he would speak a living word to them. This kind of worship goes deeper than meditation; it rises to the level of prayer in which man humbly abandons himself to God and becomes teachable before him.” Early Friends were not waiting for God – they knew God was with them always. They were waiting on God… waiting until God would speak. They expected God to speak. And they acted on God’s leadings, regardless of the cost.
We celebrate this now, each day in our individual encounters with God’s Spirit. We experience God each Sunday, each Wednesday evening, each Monday noontime at First Friends when groups gather in worship. We don’t talk about God. We don’t wait for God. We talk with, and wait on God. This encounter is what everyone wants... not the description, but the actual experience. We saw this last Sunday with the illustration of an orange... you can’t really understand an orange, unless you taste it. The same is true of God… “O taste and see that the Lord is good…” the Psalmist said. The experience tells you what you need to know of God. To consume God is to commune with God.
The experience of God strengthens and renews us. It delights us. Worship reunites us with our love for God, God’s love for us, and our need to follow God. We are called into loving concern for one another. Catherine Griffith spoke eloquently two weeks ago about our need to extend hospitality – to always be ready to love, no matter the cost. Dan Moseley spent an entire weekend with us sharing about the work and joy of hospitality. Wilmer Cooper writes: “One of the most glaring needs of people in our time is to belong to a redemptive and caring fellowship… the burdens of life are too great to be borne alone. They need to be shared with others who can enter into a redemptive relationship with them, and in so doing bring them into a redemptive relationship with God and man. The disappointments and tragedies of life are unbearable apart from such a community of those who care deeply.” If anything, we all need a caring, redemptive place to belong, more than ever.
“A caring community is both a joyous and a suffering community. If the members are really knit together in a fellowship of the concerned, they are ready to share the joys of those bound together with them, as well as enter into a suffering relationship with them when they are victims of sadness, adversity, sickness, and death. It is only as members of the fellowship have genuine empathy for the needs of others and share their lives at a deep level that the reality of New Testament koinonia – fellowship - comes alive.” [Cooper] For this, I am thankful for each one of you, and the compassion you share with those in our Meeting and beyond, when they are faced with personal and professional struggle. It is stunning to see what happens among us. I’m also inspired by our Circle of Care committee, and the kindly work they do to ensure that Friends’ needs are met – whether they are homebound, just discharged from the hospital, grieving the loss of a loved one, needing help around the house… whatever their needs may be.
Culture has scattered us, individualized us, and set us apart – both inside and outside of the Church. Race. Immigration. Abortion. Sexual Slavery. Graft. Sexuality. War. Violence. These are nothing new. What happens in the world has, and should have a direct effect on what happens in the church. The church needs to be ready to respond – just as Jesus did. The Society of Friends has a greater purpose now than ever before. We need to remember and rely on the seasoned testimonies of our faith as Friends, honed in Spirit, scripture, and experience: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. What a unique and exceptional guiding force for God’s goodness to be make known in our world! How do we bring hope to the world? This is just one of the practical ways we do it. I’m grateful – we all are – for the devotion of our Witness and Service committee toward making change happen in ways that are consistent with Friends testimonies.
Underlying all of this is our understanding of God’s great love and mercy for each person. That all lives matter… black, brown, white… gay, straight, transgenered… working, out-of-work… old, young… disabled, fully able… Friends understand that ‘that of God’ resides in each person. God’s redemptive love inhabits every one. We all swim through the ocean of darkness, and it’s a very scary place… but there is “an ocean of Light which overcomes the ocean of darkness”, and “the power of the Lord” can enable us to overcome meaningless frustration and despair in life.’ These are things Friends have to tell everyone around us. These are things people will find at First Friends.
In a time when Friends meetings are closing for lack of members; when Friends meetings are being cast out because they are too hospitable to people others find unacceptable; in a time when new meetings are being started by those hungry for what Friends have to offer… we have good seeds planted at First Friends. We have fertile ground to tend. We have young trees to prune. We have great oaks to provide us shade. It is our continuing work to matter to God, to each other, and to the world… to listen and respond in obedience to God, to nurture loving concern for one another, and to proclaim a message of hope to the world.