“Faith Is Being True” 8/20/2017

Prayer
Let us unite in the spirit of contemplation.
Following the prayer, we will enter into a time of silence
which you can use for meditation, reflection, or the prayers of your heart.
We’ll close the silence by singing together “Voice Still and Small.”

I lift up the 13 people killed and more than 100 injured Thursday in the car attack in Barcelona, and the woman killed Friday morning in another car attack in the town of Cambrils, about 30 miles down the Mediterranean coast. A public memorial service was held for them this morning at Barcelona’s beautiful Sagrada Familia church. We, too, hold them and their families in love and prayer. And we remember the family of the 7-year-old boy who at this hour is still missing after the Barcelona attack, and hold them in love and prayer. And we remember all those – some of us and our own neighbors among them – who live with the memory of such violence in their home communities. May all find healing and strength.

I invite you now to speak the names of those in our circles of family and friendship who are in special need of our prayers and ministries:

[WAIT]

Let us hold these beloveds in our hearts
as we contemplate the Spirit together:

Spirit of Life and Love, Justice and Peace,

My colleague Gretchen Haley writes:
“These are the days
When the world seems covered in shadow
Darkness daring to eclipse the light
And we wonder if all the good we have longed for
Has been scattered to the wind
Like dust, or ash

But gathered here in a room such as this
We can only remember
That the seed grows in darkness,
And as the moon’s shadow will surely show
Most everything is a matter of perspective, and time…
Whatever way you find to peer
Into life
It still beckons
To be known,
To be seen as glorious
To be healed
By our witness
By our gratitude
By our praise.”

I was touched and grateful for Gretchen’s words
when I found them.
I reconnected with a sense of hope when I read them.
I remembered the many things I have found to do
to make a difference, if only by showing up.
Life, and we each, beckon to be known, healed, whole.

Come what may, O Spirit of Life,

May we find comfort and courage from one another
in distressing and disturbing times.
May we connect with and create
hope and health in our lives.
May we find a thing to do that brings forth
more wholeness and justice in our world.

In the Spirit, by the Spirit, with the Spirit giving power, so may it be. Amen.

Let us enter into silence together.
[SILENCE]

Meditation Hymn ​#391 Voice Still and Small​

READING: “Inner Culture” & commentary by Nyogen Senzaki

Tatzu said to his monks:
“Brothers, it is better to dig inwardly one foot than to spread Dharma outwardly ten feet. Your inner culture of one inch is better than your preaching of ten inches.”
In order to balance and clarify this statement, [the monk] Tungshan said:
“I preach what I cannot meditate, and I meditate what I cannot preach.”
[And this is the Commentary:]… Before you study Tungshan’s saying, [“I preach what I cannot meditate, and I meditate what I cannot preach”] you must understand Tatzu’s thoroughly. [He] wishes to enlighten all sentient beings who suffer from their own ignorance. … [One who] repeats what he hears from others or reads in books … [i]n the Orient we call … a “three-inch scholar.” He reads or hears, then speaks; and the distance from the eyes to the mouth or the ears to the mouth is about three inches. Those who give lectures or write books on Buddhism with no attainment of inward light are working in vain.
A young Greek once asked his comrade on the battlefield what he would do with his unusually short sword. “I will advance one step quicker than the others,” came the reply. All he has in the world is that one sword; long or short, he must fight with it. [As] the warrior [has no second sword,] the Zen student has no second thought; therefore he preaches while he is meditating and meditates while he is preaching. To reach the state [where one preaches what one cannot meditate, and meditates what one cannot preach], one must walk step by step the path [of inner cultivation that] Tatzu taught.

Sermon​ “Faith Is Being True” The Reverend Paul Beedle ​​

It was Christmastime in 2003, I was serving as the Interim Associate Minister at Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, California, and I had organized a group of carolers to go to sing outside members’ homes – elders, shut-ins, folks we knew would like that kind of visit. I had the help of a Pastoral Care Team who called all the families on our list to make sure they’d be home, figured out the route, and prepared a soup lunch after church so we could all gather and socialize a bit before quickly organizing our carpools and heading out on our Sunday afternoon singing tour. Caroling in southern California is great: you might want a sweater, but there’s no snow and no slop on the roads and the sun is shining! Or at least it was for us that year.

 
One of the people we visited was the mother of one of our middle-aged adult members. Margaret Holmes was in a nursing home. She had just turned 99. She was still as she listened to us – we weren’t sure she knew who we were. But we had to believe our singing did her some good. The familiarity of holiday songs, the marking of the season, the joy of singing together: something in this must have registered and brought some comfort.

 
That visit was my only contact with Margaret. A few months later, I was giving her eulogy at the church.

 
Her son Bob was someone I got to know pretty well during that church year. His wife, Mary, was President of the church Board that year. He was one of the facilitators in the small group ministry program we started that year, and he had a real gift for it. Also, Bob had participated in a worship service we did that year about adoption. We had some families with adopted children, and some of those parents spoke about their experiences; Bob’s contribution was to speak – grey-haired, respected leader as he was – about what it was like to be an adopted child. Many knew how devoted he was to visiting his mother at the nursing home, so his testimony was especially moving. When I met with Bob and Mary to plan the service, he lent me a book of his mother’s poems.

 
Those poems were a big part of her service – all the readings were Margaret’s poems. They conveyed as much about her as the memories that folks shared. One of my favorites is her poem, “Musician’s Song,” which I think sums up why she wrote poetry. It goes:

I will tend my olives and harvest my figs,
I will tune my lute and sing,
I will dance upon the pure white sand
and savor all I can
Of my own life and Earth’s fertility.

The first two lines of that poem, with the olives and figs and the lute, recall biblical imagery, but in the context of southern California – where people have olive and fig trees in their yards – it’s only the lute that clearly signals that connection. And the next line reasserts that context with the image of pure white sand. Southern California is a place where Earth’s fertility – helped by agricultural science – is abundantly clear. The sense that one’s own life, well cultivated, has equal potential for abundance, is palpable.

 
Margaret writes of tending, tuning, dancing, and savoring. She might be saying: “Your inner culture of one inch is better than your preaching of ten inches.” And I feel sure, from my own experience as a composer, that in her poetry, she was living out the saying: “I preach what I cannot meditate, and I meditate what I cannot preach.”

 
We meet powers beyond our own in our inner life. We encounter ourselves sometimes in surprising ways. Our own nature – human nature, the human condition, the “equipment” we have: body and senses, heart and mind, through which we experience and interpret and respond to life – our own nature surprises us from time to time. Our inner lives are a field of self-discovery, self-culture, self-discipline, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness.

 
Our inner lives are also a place where people we love live on in the ways they have touched and shaped us, in our memories, even in dreams and our imaginations. We sometimes think of what a departed loved one would have said or done in a situation we find ourselves in now. Grief counselor Alan Wolfelt speaks of grief as a transition in our relationship with a loved one who has died, from a relationship of presence to a relationship of memory. I find that an accurate description of my own experience, not only with those who have died, but with those who have been part of my life and have moved on in other ways. Old friends, old places I remember that in my life I have loved, some forever and not for better. Loving is sometimes fraught. Love is in some ways a force beyond our control, and in some ways a discipline, a commitment, something within our power to perform. We both suffer it the way we do the weather – emotions, I often think, are the weather of our inner lives – and practice it in disciplined ways.

 
Margaret Holmes wrote another poem she called “Child’s Prayer” – it goes:

When I was a child I used to pray
“Please keep me for another day
But if I die before I wake,
I place my soul within His palm.”
But now I’m grown,
I’m glad I’ve lived those other days,
For if I die before I wake
I know I’ll live in other ways.

One way she lives – even right here and now, touching your life though you’ve never met her – is through her poems. Her children and their memories are another way, and if you should meet them, you will meet Margaret again.

 
Faith is not belief, it is moving and being in the world in ways that are true to the values we affirm and strive to live by. Faith seeks understanding of how life shapes our values and values shape our lives. Faith is about making choices and commitments. It is about both finding truth, and being true. In common usage, the phrase “being true” conjures the thought of loyalty as something fixed and unchanging. But being loyal to faith and values involves both changing and not changing. We are unchanging in our commitment to live by the light of love, for example, and the more we live and learn, the more our understanding of what that means and what it looks like grows and changes. We are always finding out new truths about love – at least, truths new to us, new in our experience – and at the same time staying committed to living it out to our best understanding.

 
At another memorial service I did long ago, the family requested a hymn that has stayed with me over the years, called “I Would Be True.” I’ve often wished it was in our hymnal. In its first verse, the first part of each line names a virtue worth striving toward within the limits of our own power. The second part of each line names the thing beyond our power that makes it worth that striving. It goes:

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

The second verse speaks more directly to the fact of our own human limits:

I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.

 

And the final verse expresses the unity in human diversity:

Who is so hurt I may not know his heartache?
Who sings for joy my heart may never share?
Who is so poor I may not feel his hunger?
Who in the world has passed beyond my care?
Who in the world has passed beyond my care?

 

I just love that hymn. Maybe we’ll all sing it some time.

Meanwhile, I hope that this sermon, together with last week’s, have given you a way to understand what I mean when I talk about faith and theology. Faith is a way of moving and being in the world that is true to the values we lift up each week in worship. Worship means “to shape worth” – it is a collective spiritual practice of affirming and exploring the values we, in our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, are committed to. And theology is faith seeking understanding of what is true and what it means to be true.

This year I will offer classes for theological reflection in that spirit: one will be a fourth-Saturdays series called “Movies With the Minister” in which each month we will watch a movie together (I have selected the movies, and we’ll watch them here at church) and reflect on it theologically, looking for the truths in them and what they suggest about being true.

 

In a separate first-Tuesdays series – which will follow a covenant group format, so that means you have to register and commit to come – we’ll reflect theologically on the themes offered in the Soul Matters materials that we also use once a month in worship – those services where the title is a question like, “What does it mean to be a people of _________?”

 

My hope for the coming church year is that we’ll venture together more often into realms of reflection and discernment, slow down and go deeper together, and come to know each other more fully and fondly. If we can do that, we will touch lives profoundly when we show up for our neighbors as we are wont to do.

We will tend our olives and harvest our figs,
tune our lutes and sing,
dance upon the swampland mud
and savor all we can.

 

So may it be. Amen.

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