Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. I am currently leading a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy. My thoughts and heart are turned towards this contemplative city and the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Below you will find a slightly shorter worship for this week, inspired by the scripture from this week as well as my travels.
Rebuilding the Church
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to weave me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me,
O Lord, faithful God.
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
let your face shine upon your servant;
safe me in your steadfast love.
— Psalm 31: 1– 5, 15– 16
Scripture: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do known him and have seen him.”
— John 14: 1–7
Message: Rebuilding the Church
Being in Assisi, Italy, is an experience of stone roads, beautiful churches, and a deep sense of layers upon layers of history. Reading the scripture for this week I was reminded of St. Francis’ experience of God talking to him while Francis was kneeling at the foot of the San Damiano Cross. “Rebuild my church,” God told him, and so he did. Francis took this command very literally and spent years working to rebuild the church of San Damiano brick by brick, stone by stone.
In today’s time, there is much talk about the church being the people, being more than the physical buildings that have housed Christian worship for so long. There is a sense that church means community.
So what does this call to “rebuild my church” mean today? For some it means supporting and developing spiritual community. For others it means revitalizing dying churches and saving church buildings. And for others still, it means to save the environment, to rebuild the church of God that is our planet.
Walking the streets of Assisi I see all sorts of attempts to be ecologically friendly, and the city outside the old walls is struggling to balance being part of modern society while also preserving the beauty and ways of the land. Francis, known for writing the Canticle of the Creatures, opened up a new view of monastic theology. Before Francis, everything physical was considered to be fallen. Salvation was oriented in the direction of overcoming the physical—and humanness—in pursuit of the spiritual. Francis preached something new: the incarnation of God, that God is in the flowers and in the birds and in the wolves and in the world.
In John 14, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.” Is not the world God’s house and in such house there are many dwelling places?
Quakers often speak of that of God within, a concept introduced to early Friends by George Fox who is famous for saying that he was called to “walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone.” As a young seeker, Fox held some similarities with Francis, preaching a similar incarnation theology and also preaching simplicity and peace and experiencing the personal presence of God.
Both Fox and Francis believed in church reform and lived radically different lives than was expected at the time. They were both called to rebuild the church, be it very differently—Francis staying within the confines of Roman Catholicism and Fox rebelling against the church traditions at the time—but they had similar fervor to answer the call that God had placed on their hearts and live lives that were faithful, authentic and whole.
As you settle into silent worship, I invite you to consider three questions: How is God calling you to rebuild the church? Where do you find God? How are you called to bring forth that of God in the world around you?
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, open to my eyes to your dwelling places around and within me. Into your hands I commit my sprit as I strive to answer your call to rebuild your church in this hurting world. Grant me the courage of Francis and of George Fox to be different in this world, walking cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone. Amen.”