Needing Stability: The Craft of Life

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

September 23, 2018


Romans 12:9-18

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.


Last Sunday, I presented you with several queries about the neighborhoods and “bubbles” in which you live, and also similar queries for our meeting.  It has been fun having all the conversations about the history of our surrounding neighborhood and learning about its unique history.  I am sure as we become more and more aware of the neighborhoods in which we live, work, and worship, we will begin to see more and more.  What we are doing is building in a new awareness of our surroundings.   

As part of this, even though I knew our secretary Rebecca was prepping for vacation, I asked her if she could do me a favor and help me quickly get a visual of where the majority of our people at First Friends live in Greater Indianapolis.  In less than ten minutes she had a program that plotted all of our families on the city map – and I had her put it on the cover of our bulletin for us all to see. If you look carefully, you will find our meeting marked as a white heart.  Do you see the marker that represents your household?

Where we all live and exist is very important to how we communicate, interact and work together. Initially, looking at this map, you will notice that is seems we have a lot of people surrounding the meetinghouse, but if we could back out a little further you would realize that there are just as many (if not more) outside of Indianapolis than in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Now, knowing our place is a start, and I am sure we will continue to learn more about our place over the coming months, but today I want to look at another aspect of this Slow Movement we are within. Again, like last week, it has a lot to do with creating stability.  Last week, I spoke of “The Wisdom of Stability” where Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove encouraged us to:

·        Root ourselves more deliberately in the place where we live and worship.

·        Engage the people we are with and among.

·        Slow down and participate in simpler rhythms of life, and

·        Live in a way that speaks to the deeper meanings of the human heart.


Knowing and rooting ourselves in place is where we start, but when we move on it becomes about our interaction with our neighbors.  The authors of the “Slow Church” call this having a “fidelity to people” – a faithfulness to neighbors that is supported by a continuing loyalty and support.   A fidelity to people is sadly becoming rarer and rarer in our society as we become more alienated, isolated, and individualistic.


Both individually and corporately we are seeing more isolation and less coming together.  Where we live can affect this, but also how we see ourselves as part of where we live affect this.  What’s our purpose?  Is life simply for us, individually – or are we called to something greater, something that entails our neighbors and community?


Our scriptures that Amy read this morning spoke of what in the New Revised Standard Version says are “The Marks of a True Christian” or what we could say are the marks of a true Quaker, a true Friend, a true neighbor…etc.… Let me highlight some of those attributes again.


·        Loving one another with mutual affection.

·        Outdoing one another in showing honor.

·        Not lagging in zeal.

·        Rejoicing in hope.

·        Patient in suffering.

·        Extending hospitality to strangers.

·        Blessing those who persecute you.

·        Rejoicing and weeping with those who rejoice and weep.

·        Living in harmony with one another.

·        Associating with the lowly.

·        Not claiming you are wiser than you are.

·        Not repaying evil for evil – vengeance.

·        Taking thought for what is noble.

·        Living peaceably with all.


These are the attributes of the Christ-life, or what Johnathan Wilson Hartgrove translated

“the craft of life with God.”

We are becoming more and more familiar with the concept of “craft” in our culture today.  Everywhere you frequent these days is offering craft food or craft beverages. Craft is what we consider made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by an individual or a small company.  Another term for this is artisan (artisan chocolate, breads, pastries…you name it.) Craft often entails an activity involving skill in making things by hand.  As an artist, it is easy for me to think in these terms. I see it as a return to craftmanship, to finding an appreciation for, and acknowledging the slow process by which something comes about.

So, what does Johnathan Wilson Hartgrove mean when he says, “the craft of life with God”?

Well, many years ago, when I met my first Quaker, Richard Foster, of Celebration of Discipline fame, at a Renovare conference, he was talking about the spiritual classic, The Rule of St. Benedict.  Ironically, Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove, also was very interested in the Rule of St. Benedict, going as far as to create a contemporary paraphrase of the book.  In Chapter Four, Wilson-Hartgrove begins by translating St. Benedict this way, 

“In the craft of life with God, we need tools to work with.  Most of all keep this tool close at hand: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might…and love your neighbor as yourself.  And never let these get buried too deep in the tool box.”

Johnathon Wilson-Hartgrove says,

“…while the scriptures give us words of instruction [as we heard Amy read and I bullet-pointed] to describe a life with God, we learn that by walking it in the company of others. Like the master carpenter who shows an apprentice his tools and then stands beside him as he learns to use them, Benedict introduces tools for life with God to the disciple who is going to stay put in community, learning the craft from others. Apart from life together, these tools are as useless as a hammer might be to the son of a carpenter who makes his living at a desk job.  But in the context of a community, their relevance is crystal clear.  These are the tools that make it possible for people to live together in the way of Jesus.”

So, what were some of those tools that Benedict said were essential for the craft of life with God. Here are the essentials. 

He starts with some basics from the Ten Commandments and then gets more specific:

·        Do not kill, commit adultery, give false report, don’t even do to someone else what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.

·        Leave your own will behind so you can follow Christ’s example.

·        Love fasting

·        Use your extra time and resources to assist the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick.

·        If someone is in trouble – help them. If sad – comfort them.

·        Don’t lash out in anger or nurse a grudge against someone who’s wronged you.

·        Greet someone with Peace - and mean it!

·        Make promises that you can keep. Tell the truth, be honest with yourself and others.

·        Don’t fight like other people fight – returning evil for evil.

·        Suffer patiently, refusing to pass another’s violence on to someone else.

·        Love your enemies.

·        If you get cussed out, don’t strike back with your own assault of words. Find a way to bless them,  instead.

·        Endure persecution for the sake of justice.

·        Don’t be addicted to your own self-image or to anything else that promises cheap fulfillment or an easy escape from problems.

·        Beware of too much eating or too much sleeping. Watch out for laziness.

·        Don’t spend your time complaining or talking bad about other people.

·        Make amends when you have done harm to others.

·        Never forget you are going to die.

·        Listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before you.

·        Devote yourself to prayer.

·        Confess your sins.

·        Resolve to leave your addictions and protective mechanisms behind.

·        Don’t give into your twisted desires.

·        Listen to the leadership of your community.

·        Work on becoming a saint – so that one day your actions will speak for themselves.

·        Treasure chastity.

·        Don’t harbor hatred or jealousy, and don’t let envy drive a single action.

·        Don’t get into arguing and turn your back on arrogance.

·        Respect the wise and love the inexperienced in community.

·        Never lose hope in God’ mercy.

I find this list rather convicting in the world in which we live currently.  Jonathan says,

“Our twisted desires, selfish impulses, defense mechanisms, and bad habits are not simply failure to “hit the mark” that humans aim for…” rather “It is a sickness that infects communities, destroying the fabric of life itself.

If we are going to bring stability to our lives and those around us.  We must start with building stability through the way we live with the people that we live with on a regular basis. I believe as we rail on the news outlets, as we are disappointed in our leaders, as we struggle to understand our neighbors and the crazy world we live in, we are being called to take up the “craft of life with God.”

Only by changing ourselves, by getting our “hands dirty,” and embracing the needed skills, are we able to utilize the craft of life with God to transform our relationships, our neighborhoods, and ultimately our world.

So, as you look at that map on the front of your bulletin this morning. Think about what your mark on the city represents.  Think about the relationships that need crafted. The neighborhoods that need crafted.  The work places that need crafted. The learning environments that need crafted. And then think about our place right here.  How does First Friends need to craft life with God in our community, among each other, and in our world?

The other night, I was coming out of our Neighborhood Walmart and decided to look at the Redbox to see if there were any movies that we hadn’t seen. I was surprised to find, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” – the documentary on Fred Rogers.  Watching that movie (and if you haven’t seen it – it is a must for understanding our Slow Movement) made me realize that I was raised by watching daily the work of a true saint. 

Here was a man who understood the “craft of life with God” and who understood the need for neighborhoods and communities. Fred Rogers got his “hands dirty” in addressing the problems of our world, he introduced us to the needed skills, and transformed our relationships by not being afraid of or alienating people different than himself.  Mr. Rogers knew in almost a divine way that we desperately need stability in our lives.  And the reality was he connected that stability with associating with the people in your neighborhood. 

This morning, I want to close with a quote from Fred Rogers that came at the end of the documentary.  As he said it, I began to cry, because from very early on I realized Mr. Rogers taught me the “craft of life with God” and offered me stability.  Here is the quote:

“I suppose it’s an invitation, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you. I think everybody longs to be loved and longs to know that he or she is loveable. Consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that their loved and capable of love.”

That is the craft of life with God. That is engaging the people we are with and among. Slowing down and participating in simpler rhythms of life and living in a way that speaks to the deeper meanings of the human heart.  


Won’t you be my neighbor?

In what ways do you need to hone your “craft of life with God” this week?

How does First Friends need to craft life with God in our community, among each other, and in our world?