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, if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
The Theology of Multiplication
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: That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
— Genesis 32:22-31, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
— Matthew 14:13-21, New International Version (NIV)
Message: The Theology of Multiplication
I’m a planner. It’s a gift and a curse most of the time, but I walk through life carefully calculating what I need to have, do, and be. I get a lot done this way, more than what is usually expected of me in a particular amount of time. But my planning behaviors can trap me in my own limited sense of what is possible.
The miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 is a story about limits and possibilities being blown open. It is a story where the planning and expectations of the disciples does not equal the vast resources of people’s hearts and of God. It is a stone soup story, where it seems like there is a limited amount of food and that there just isn’t enough for everyone, but then there is. Something amazing happens when we put our faith in other people and we put our faith in God. It’s a kind of divine multiplication.
While some people may call me heretical, I don’t believe that the miracle was Jesus actually feeding the 5000. I don’t believe that food and water magically appeared out of the area or that God touched the bread and made it multiply before everyone’s eyes. Rather, I believe that the miracle was people turning away from a feeling of scarcity into a feeling of abundance. It was a miracle of that little spark of the divine in each person asking, “What can I offer? What can I contribute?” When everyone shared what they had there was enough. In fact, there was more than enough. There was abundance.
And that’s the way with spiritual gifts too. When we think of spiritual gifts some of us limit those to wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, reverence and wonder—a list which comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Others of us think Paul’s writings in Romans 12:6-8 where he lists: prophecy, serving, teaching, praising, giving, leadership, mercy. In Quakerism we talk about the discernment of gifts and the naming of gifts, both processes that are likely to name a wide range of spiritual gifts that include these two lists and more.
And yet, on the eve of attending the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, I’m reminded that so many of us live from and in a place of scarcity. It can feel threatening to offer our gifts of the Spirit to our communities because sometimes that means we are not seen or heard. In the feeding of the 5000 we don’t know if some people contributed more and we don’t know if some people contributed less because the attribution of the gift of food was given to God.
I for one am someone who relishes affirmation. When I feel seen and heard and when I feel appreciated my anxiety relaxes and I feel more like my whole self. I’ve tried getting away from that. I’m in the profession of chaplaincy that preaches, “It’s not about me,” over and over. But at the end of the day I feel better when I have experienced affirmation that I have done a good job. I feel better when my child smiles at me when I walk into the room. I feel better when someone says thank you. So I am someone who struggles with offering gifts and services to a community without recognition.
When I was in high school, I became clerk of my high school Young Friends group. A camp counselor of mine, from Quaker summer camp, had been clerk of his high school Young Friends group several years before and felt moved to offer some sage advice. He gave me the quote from Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists...When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say: ‘We did this ourselves.’” (Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, translated by Witter Bynner)
Like Jacob who wrestled with God by river, I’ve wrestled with this quote for most of my life. As a young woman who has experienced sexism acutely, I’ve rebelled against this kind of back-seat leadership. I’ve wrestled with my pride and my privilege while also wrestling with the truth and beauty of this quote’s message. It’s hard for me to live into a sense that there is enough—there is enough credit, attention, affirmation, reward, opportunity and possibility. It’s hard for me to live into a sense that there is enough because so often it feels like there isn’t. For people experiencing racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ablism and other systems of oppression, the infinite abundance of God so often kept at an arm’s length. We the privileged also find it hard to access the infinite abundance of God because—among other things—we are so scared that if we share the privilege that we have, there won’t be enough for all.
So as each of us wrestles with our pride, with our anxiety, with our uncertainty. As each of us wrestles with our past and our guilt and our shame; as each of us wrestles with God, may we be transformed by our struggles. Some of us, like Jacob, may even limp away from such a redemptive transformation. Still, I pray that we enter into that process of wrestling with God. I pray that we do not give into the despair or the fear that may emerge. And I pray that we walk away changed—transformed. May we be reoriented away from a sense of scarcity and towards the full experience of abundance. So that when Jesus comes to us and asks, “What can you offer? What can you contribute?” we give our gifts of the Spirit freely and praise God’s work in our lives.
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 wrestle with my pride and my privilege. Bless me, O God, as you transform me, as you mold me, and as you use me. Turn me, Lord, away from the fierce grasp of scarcity towards the realization and experience of your infinite abundance. Help me use the gifts you have given me. Open me up, O Lord, to your infinite and abundant love. Amen.”