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.
God the Farmer
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.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.
— Isaiah 55:10-13, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
— Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 New International Version (NIV)
Message: God the Farmer
It’s that time again—ordinary time by the liturgical calendar, but anything but ordinary with high summer temperatures, clear sunny skies, and the occasional steamy thunderstorm. It’s almost mid-July and the corn is past our knees, strawberry season has come and gone, and now the blueberries have started ripening. While mornings here in Vermont are still cool and crisp, our gardens are bearing fruit and their neighbors, the weeds, are alive and thriving.
The story of the mustard seed comes to us during this time of agricultural busyness. Perhaps it is some Western Hemisphere liturgical leftover from bygone days of everyday farming. Or perhaps the story is placed in our scriptural cycle to help us pause and take notice of the miracles all around us: miracles of seeds growing into plants, bearing our food, connecting us back to the earth and back to the presence of God all around us.
As an herbalist as well as a pastor, the Biblical references to nature—particularly plants—have captured my religious imagination again and again. I first heard of hyssop while reading the Hebrew Scriptures and then it showed up in my Community Supported Agriculture share and my herbalism studies. The passage this week from Isaiah speaks of two other plants, juniper and myrtle. There is something heartening to feel connected through time with the people of these Biblical writings—connected by the plants we see, smell and taste, connected by the land and waters, and connected by this universe.
The passage from Isaiah gushes with the beauty that spring and summer bring to the land. “The mountains and the hills will burst into song before you.” (I wonder how many of you knew that the song lyrics “the hills are alive with the sound of music” is actually a Biblical reference!) There is mention of seeds, plants, and fruits, the life cycle of the world of flora. The passage depicts the joyful, awe-filled feeling of fullness that we get when we stand out on a vista, lift our hands to sky, and breathe deep. And at the same time the passage invokes that sense of abundance and peace that we get when at the end of a hard day, we look at over our gardens—bursting with produce or the potential of produce—and we watch the sun set and the fireflies come out to dance.
God as Farmer. It’s a simile that has been used before, but one that most often gets characterized as a cartoon Ole McDonald in some children’s skit. God comes along and plants the mustard seed various places with various results is used to teach us about being better soil to nurture God’s will in the world. What is missing from this cartoon is the unending hours of work that the farmer spends tilling the ground, preparing the ground, watering and planting and nurturing the seed. The cartoon version misses the deep weathered face of God, the sunburnt skin, and the dirt under God’s nails. The cartoon misses God’s disappointment in seeing plants die or wither, God’s work to bring plants back to life, and God’s delight in seeing plants thrive. It misses God’s honoring of the life cycle of the seasons and God’s own faithfulness that in the winter months potential for new life is snug in the seed, in the soil, and in the soul.
Many years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I spent several months on my cousin’s farm. I would spend hours weeding and watering the garden, crying into the pea stalks, and discussing my problems with the tomatoes. There were times when a bed needed to be thinned so that some plants could thrive. There were other times when a plant needed to be cut back to give room for something else. I remember the joy of harvesting asparagus and zucchini, acorn squash and pumpkins, basil and tomatoes, and so on. Seeing everything grow was amazing. It was healing and it was life-giving. And at the end of the harvest season, we put the garden to bed, planting winter cover crops and covering the beds with straw. The garden was a macrocosm of life, system upon system interacting with each other and yet also a microcosm, watch the potential of life from the smallest seed grow into a beautiful plant and bear fruit.
Early Friends found much inspiration from the metaphor of the seed. While Isaac Pennington is the most famous for using the seed to represent that of God within, many other Friends also spoke in terms of the seed and its miraculous ability to spring forth and transform our lives. The quotes below come from Ben Lomond Quaker Center's Quaker Quote Archive.
The Seed, or Grace of God, is small in its first Appearance, even as the Morning Light; but as it is given Heed to, and obeyed, it will increase in Brightness, till it shine in the Soul, like the Sun in the Firmament at its Noon-day Height.
— Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655-1685
Sing and rejoice,
you children of the day and of the light;
for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt.
And truth flourishes as the rose,
and the lilies do grow among the thorns,
and the plants atop of the hills,
and upon them the lambs do skip and play.
And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains,
for the seed Christ is over all, and reigns.
— George Fox, 1624-1691
Only wait to know that wherein God appears in thy heart, even the holy seed, the immortal seed of life; that that may be discerned, distinguished, and have scope in thee; that it may spring up in thy heart, and live in thee, and gather thee into itself, and leaven thee all over with its nature; that thou mayst be a new lump, and mayst walk before God, not in the oldness of thy own literal knowledge or apprehensions of things, but in the newness of his Spirit.
— Isaac Pennington, 1616-1679
Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing, and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.
— Isaac Pennington, 1616-1679
There is but a little thing (like a grain of mustard-seed), a weak thing, a foolish thing, even that which is not (to man’s eye), to overcome all this; and yet in this is the power. And here is the great deceit of man; he looks for a great, manifest power in or upon him to begin with, and doth not see how the power is in the little weak stirrings of life in the heart…
— Isaac Pennington, 1616-1679
So I encourage you, as you settle down into waiting worship, to draw your attention to the seed within you. Seeds contain inside them everything they need to grow, everything, that, is except good soil, water, and sunshine. How can you nurture that seed within you and help it grow and flourish? What role does God the Farmer have in the preparing, tending, fertilizing, and nurturing of the soil (aka you!)? Imagine that seed sending off its first shoot—two little leaves that look like every other plant—and then feel it growing into something unique and beautiful. What does that seed need to thrive? What are the water and the sunshine that accompanies the soil that is you? Slowly expand the metaphor and think about the other plants, the other biological and natural systems that your seed will interact with. Imagine the effect of weather, animals, and human construction. What does that seed need to bloom and fruit? Then, after a while still, imagine the seed being laid to bed for the winter, storing up energy for another year. What does it feel like to rest? What does the soil need and what does the seed need to honor all of its cycle?
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, help me draw closer to the Seed within. Through me water that Seed with love, with grace, with forgiveness and with compassion. Help the Seed within me grow strong and faithful. Help me bear fruit worthy of your presence and Help me honor the time when the seed must rest to await the next season. Lord help me weather the storms and the changes that the life cycle brings, burst your life into me so that I may be resilient, tenacious and faithful. Amen.”