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.
Are You There, God?
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: From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
— Exodus 17:1-7, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Scripture: When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
— Matthew 21:23-32, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Message: Are You There, God?
As a child, I had a copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. It was years before I actually read the book, but growing up seeing its title on my book shelf prompted me at an young age to ask that question, “Are you there, God?” It’s a young adult novel about puberty and coming of age. And to this day, when I hear that question “Are you there, God?” I can’t help but think of the book.
Our scripture this week from Exodus describes for us the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert wilderness asking just that question: “Are you there, God?” Moses is frustrated because his people keep asking that question. They’ve asked it over and over and over again. Even after the plagues, even after the seas part for them to walk through, and even after manna is sent from heaven, the people keep asking, “Are you there, God?”
The Israelites are reacting to their most basic needs. They have been led out of an oppressive system, but it was a system that fed them, clothed them, and housed them. Their basic needs were met, even though they did not have freedom. Now, in the desert, their basic needs are no longer satisfied. They don’t have enough food and water and they are constantly traveling. For the first time in most of their lives they feel that they have to think of the future, even though God is encouraging them to have faith that God will provide. It’s not all that different from people who get out of prison and have to rebuild their lives. Finding work, preparing food, and the like are often very difficult for those who have been incarcerated for decades.
But we are more like the Israelites than we might first think. For even those of us that experienced a relatively high amount of freedom and privilege, how often do we lose faith? I’ve seen miracles happen for sure, and yet there are times when I wonder, “Where are you, God?” My faith fortunately gives me a sense that God is always present, but that doesn’t stop my inclination to doubt. I feel privileged that I have not often felt the absence of God, but in these days of catastrophe, natural disaster, oppressive political power, and imbedded systems of racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism, I do sometimes wonder. I find that I do need consistent reminders of God’s presence.
However, does that need for consistent reminders of God’s presence make me less of a person of faith? The scriptures do not give us a straight answer. The scripture this week from Matthew describes a scene where Jesus is correcting the people in power. He’s rebuking them, saying that they are talking the talk but not walking the walk. The chief priests and elders assume sanctity but don’t actually seek out the presence of the transformational God that will change their lives. Jesus preaches that the tax collectors and the prostitutes who have had their hearts changed are more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven than the priests and elders. While there is a suggestion in this passage that those who keep questioning God are less likely to enter heaven, it is specifically those who continually keep questioning the authority of God. Those who consistent seek God, and God’s transformational love, they are entering into the Kingdom.
This story from Matthew also makes me think of the story of Samuel Bownas’ conversion experience. As a child he would go to meeting for worship and spend the time fidgeting and daydreaming. One week, a traveling minister named Anne Wilson rose from the front benches and looked straight at him. She said, “Thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming.” In other words, do we allow the presence of God to transform us both during worship and throughout lives? Do we seek out the presence of God in our lives and in worship? Do we keep asking that question, “Are you there, God?”
As you settle into waiting worship, Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice offers the following advices and queries:
2. Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open to the healing power of God’s love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.
7. Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?
8. Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.
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 by praying out loud, either a prayer of your own creation or the following: “O Holy One, instill in us a longing for your presence. Show us your work in the world, your work in our lives, and your work in ourselves. Appear to us in miracles and ordinary moments. Forgive us for our doubts. Please, God, hear in our question our love and longing for you. Amen.”