Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. I am still in Italy and due to internet availability and travel, this worship is coming out a bit late. Similar to last week, below you will find a slightly shorter worship for this week, inspired by the scripture from this week as well as my travels. Next week I will be home again in the United States and expect to resume my practice of posting these worship outlines on Fridays. Blessings to you all.
Where There is Love
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.
Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
— Psalm 66:8-20, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
— John 14:15-21, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Where There Is Love
Yesterday I said goodbye to the nineteen pilgrims whom I accompanied these last eleven days in and around Assisi, Italy. It was a honor and a beautiful experience to hold the container and do the logistics for this group, helping each person to dive deep into their own journeys as well as the historical journeys of Francis and Clare of Assisi.
Friday evening as a group we watched a documentary, called The Sultan and the Saint, named after a book by Paul Moses. It will be coming out on PBS later this year—we received special permission to watch it while we were together in Assisi. The film tells the story of Francis of Assisi and his call to love the world. The story follows him as he travels to appeal to the Christian leaders of the Crusades, pleading with them to preach the message of love and salvation to the Muslim opposition rather than to kill in the name of Christ. While the Christian leaders scoff at Francis’ plea, they do let him try to cross enemy lines to preach to the Sultan of Egypt directly. Francis succeeds in reaching the Sultan and is known to have developed a friendship with the Sultan, exchanging knowledge of each others’ religions, breaking bread together, and even preaching in the Sultan’s court.
When Francis returns to the Christian side of the battle, he implores the leading Cardinal to stop the fighting. Francis’ request is rejected and he is sent back to Assisi with the weight of disappointment and sorrow. The Christian armies eventually reached Cairo, and the Sultan opened the Nile’s flood plain, effectively stranding the Christian forces. The Christian army had killed over 80,000 people at that point and the Sultan’s advisors urged him to retaliate and wipe out the Christian soldiers entirely. Instead, to the stranded, wet, and diseased men, the Sultan sent food. He sent food for the men and for the pack animals. At the opportunity of immense violence, the Sultan offered compassion. The Christian soldiers lost the will to fight and returned home, ending that particular Crusade.
The messages of Jesus, of Francis, and of the Sultan are messages of love and compassion. When in the face of grave opposition, violence, suffering and torture, they preach that choosing love is powerful, subversive and ultimately the right thing to do.
The first scripture of the week, Psalm 66:8-20, invites the readers to praise God. Even in times of great suffering, pain, grief, calamity and violence, praising God and having hope will strengthen you and keep you going. I’ve paired this scripture with the hymn “Jubilate Deo,” a song of praise and one that I’ve been humming as I’ve walked the pilgrim paths in and around Assisi. I have been struck by the way that Clare and Francis of Assisi reveled in their love of God and praised God even when enduring incredible hardship. When Francis spent time with the Sultan of Egypt, he was struck that in the midst of losing a major battle, the Muslim people would still stop five times a day to pray—and central to their prayer was the praising of 99 names of God.
The second scripture of the week, John 14:15-21, is of Jesus’ message to his disciples. “If you love me, keep my commands,” referring to his earlier commandment to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34-35). I paired this scripture with the song “Ubi Caritas,” which in Latin says, “Where there is charity and love, there is God.” The 18th century Quaker John Woolman preached about the presence of God being in our love for one another, starting part of his famous journal, “Love was the first motion.” Francis of Assisi discovered the joy and peace of loving others, including the lepers, those in pain and illness, those in spiritual wilderness, and those who were cast out of society in other ways.
These two scriptural passages show that praise and love are central to the Christian experience. Praise demonstrates our thankfulness, our gratitude and our wonder. Love is the action that we carry out as thankful, gracious and wonder-filled. So looking at each of our lives, we too can be like Christ, like Francis and like the Sultan of Egpyt by praising God, loving others and choosing peace over violence.
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, when faced with hatred, let me choose love. When faced with violence, let me choose peace. When faced with doubt, confusion and anger, let me turn back to praise, finding joy in being thankful, grateful and wonderfilled. Amen."