Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Living into the Promise
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.
Scripture: The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
— Genesis 21:8-21, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
— Romans 6:1-11, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Living into the Promise
I didn’t grow up with the language of sin. My parents raised me with healthy moral constructs of right and wrong, but sin, as most commonly understood through the Catholic tradition, was not part of my vernacular. Sure, I had heard the term. My grandparents were Catholic and so were many of my classmates. I saw people going into confessionals in movies and asked questions about it. Generally what I was told was that sin was something bad that someone did; something so bad that if God didn’t forgive that person, then that person would go to hell.
Okay, but then what is hell? Is hell a fiery pit where you roast like meat on a spit? That’s what the movies said. But I never heard that depiction talked about in my Quaker community. This is because my tradition of liberal Quakerism doesn’t hold fast to any kind of heaven or hell theology. We tend towards what is considered “realized eschatology” which means that instead of striving to be good so that we will go to heaven or if we are bad we are condemned to hell, we strive to be good so that we can live out God’s transformation of this world into the promise of the Kingdom of God. And if we are bad, then simply we aren’t being faithful. That means either we are not contributing to the Kingdom of God or we are actively working against it (there are some other nuances around eschatology and end time theology, but let’s consider these parts right now). So I didn’t grow up with a developed idea of heaven or hell. The focus was on the here and now, not life after death.
So then, what is a Quaker to do with the scripture offered this week from Paul’s letter to the Romans? Paul’s words drip with sin and salvation language. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
First off, we must remember that Paul was speaking to a specific audience. The Romans had done something to merit Paul’s letter and his address of this specific issue. Paul’s words make me think of the dilemma I pondered as a child.
So if you’re Catholic and you do bad things, all you need to do is go to confession, confess those bad things, and then you are clear to do bad things again since its so simple to be forgiven. Hmm… that doesn’t seem morally right.
Of course this line of thinking is not consistent with Catholic theology, but it is similar to what Paul is writing about. Paul is addressing the issue of grace and he is strongly correcting an idea that grace is proportional to the sin committed. Grace, freely and mysteriously give by God, cannot be accumulated by committing more sin. It’s not a transactional relationship.
Stories in scripture can be interpreted to mean that you have to do something wrong in order to experience God’s presence, but I would say that interpretation is not the intention of these stories. Scripture offers examples of people doing things that are wrong to offer us a way to identify with and enter into the stories as examples of humanity, so that we can also experience and hope for God’s presence, despite our wrong action, bad decisions, and broken relationships.
The story of Abraham and Hagar is one such example. Once Sarah gave birth, Hagar and her son Ishmael, who was Abraham’s first born, were threatening to Sarah because they imperiled the inheritance—physically and psychologically—of her son Isaac. Sarah’s feelings were legitimate—she was influenced by her society, her role in the family, and her own heart—but in the end her actions were wrong. She lacked compassion and she lacked the ability to live fully into the vast possibilities of God. Sarah sinned by engaging in systems of oppression against Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah engaged in systems of racism, classism, and internalized sexism, fearing that her own privilege would be compromised by the presence of Hagar and Ishmael.
Abraham also erred in this interaction and in his relationship with Hagar. Scripture writes that Abraham was “troubled.” Abraham saw what was happening between Sarah and Hagar and felt it was wrong but he didn’t step in and do anything. Abraham passively engaged in those same systems of oppression: racism, classism, and sexism, choosing to be conflict-avoidant, choosing to look the other way, and choosing to go along with what was happening. Abraham’s sin was his silence. Abraham’s sin was his participation in further breaking the relationship between Hagar and the family. I can imagine Abraham handing Hagar food and water and saying, “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied,” or “I’m sorry it has to be this way, God be with you.”
It is a deeply complicated situation, full of systematic and imbedded oppressive issues. Sarah and Abraham are victims of these same systems of oppression, just as they are perpetrators, and are examples of humanity with whom many of us can relate. I wanted to do something but I can’t. I should have said something but I didn’t. If I allowed this person to take from me, I won’t have anything left. I can only be generous after I take what I need. These are examples of our sins.
And then the story continues and shows us Hagar wandering in the desert feeling the fullness of despair, of suffering, and of the violence done to her. Her suffering increases and increases as she runs out of water and she is faced with the possibly of seeing her son die. My body can feel her groaning, as she cannot bear to see her son waste away. Filled with the suffering of the injustices she has experienced; filled with the deep grief of losing her love, her body’s extension, her son, she finds her condition unbearable and in desperation cries out to God.
And here is where God answers. The message of this part of the text is that God upholds God’s promises even in the face of great suffering and great injustice. Even with the sins done against Hagar, even with the broken relationships, the rejection, the abandonment, the racism, the classism, and the sexism, even with all that that Hagar has experienced, God still fulfills God’s promises. God promises that Ishmael will be the father of a great nation. God provides water, life, hope, promise for the future. God lifts up Hagar and Ishmael and delivers them from their situation. God provides for Hagar the resources and the ability to overcome injustice and find new life.
Edward L. Wheeler writes in Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A: “If sin is characterized by broken relationships between God and humanity and within the human family, then the absence of sin is characterized by reconciled relationships and the peace, justice, and love that is inherent in such relationships.” (Allen, Andrews, & Wilhelm, 2013, p. 296)
This definition of sin resonates with my understanding within the Quaker tradition. Our sins are when we engage in ways that create broken relationships with each other, with ourselves, and with God. We participate in these ways consciously and unconsciously, actively and passively, and as victims and as perpetrators. We break relationships and sustain broken relationships as we participate in systems of oppression like racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, transphobia, etc.
When those relationships are healing, when those relationships are reconciling, when those relationships are transforming, when those broken relationships are being forgiven, there we enter into the Kingdom of God.
God’s promise to us all is the covenant of creation. God’s promise to us is the Kingdom of God. We are called to live into the promise of right relationship. We are called to carefully look at our conscious and unconscious engagement in systems of oppression; we are called to carefully look at our conscious and unconscious sins. Our sins are not a condemnation or a damnation but rather an invitation out of brokenness, out of violence, out of oppression. We are called into atonement, at oneness; we called into a living, dynamic, community of peace, justice and love that requires us to right our relationships with each other, right our relationships with ourselves, and right our relationships with God.
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, lead us into right relationship with each other. Lead us into right relationships with ourselves. Lead us into right relationship with you O God. Reveal to us your promise of the Kingdom of God, reveal to us your promise as we are invited out of our engagement in oppression and into right relationship with all of creation. Amen.”