Rev. Ellen Jennings
~ Psalm 46 (from Psalms for Praying)~
Who can name the “three Rs?” [reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic]
I know. It’s a little weird that we refer to a well-rounded education with two misspelled words! But, that’s not what this sermon is about. This sermon is about three other words I believe should be central to our lives: and each of them actually does begin with “c!”
The words are: compassion, communication and contemplation. And I think that now, more than ever, we need each one.
Allow me to backtrack: this winter and spring, I, like many of you, have struggled with the chaotic, hate-filled rhetoric, policies and actions of our political landscape. Living in DC doesn’t help, since I think those of us who live here are even more affected than others by the negative energy of this moment in time. I’ve wanted to remain positive, but I’ve also wanted to speak out in support of that which I believe to be important and right and real and true (which often means speaking out against that which is not).
So, each Sunday, as I’ve guided us through the Time for Silent Reflection, I’ve stumbled on the questions:
- As we look forward to the week ahead, what help will we need from God or neighbor?
- And, what can we do to nurture love of God and love of neighbor in the world?
Because, honestly, the list of possible answers is overwhelming! What help will I need? Well, geez, where do I begin? And, what can I do? Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start!
But, as the weeks went on (and friends, this is why it’s helpful to repeat a spiritual practice), my answers to these questions began to emerge.
What came first was “communication.” In other words, the importance of talking with people about real issues, of being honest, vulnerable, raw. Neither glossing over our differences nor digging into entrenched positions, but really listening and sharing from the heart: in church, with friends, with family, on Facebook…
So, I’ve tried to do this, and every week it answers both questions: what do I need help with? And, what can I do?
What came next was “contemplation.” Because unless we can sit quietly with our Selves and God, we aren’t going to have a clue what needs to be communicated (or how to listen) anyway! I realized that sitting in silence, whether under the trees as I described in a recent Pastor’s Page, or on my couch, or even driving the car with NPR turned off, is both restorative and essential. I can’t repeat this often enough to myself, to you, to the world: if we don’t “turn off” now and then, if we don’t stop and sit and listen and reflect (no TV, no reading material, no do-ing), then our very be-ing will be impaired, and we will have nothing of any worth to give.
Finally, a few weeks ago, came the word “compassion.” Now, you may be surprised that this wasn’t the first to emerge. And, honestly, if I’d been the one choosing, it might have been. Fortunately, during our periods of Silent Reflection, Spirit is present and operative, and Spirit had a different order in mind! So, compassion came third. I think this is because compassion depends on honest communication and regular contemplation to be shared whole heartedly— not forced, not should-ed, but shared, with an open and loving heart.
It seems to me that this is what today’s Psalm is about. We’ve heard it twice now: once as the Call to Worship and once as our scripture reading. So, you already know it proclaims the importance of God as Love. It reminds me that, even in the face of hate, disdain, disregard, ignorance and cruelty, the only and ultimate response is Love.
Listen to these words again:
Our Beloved [God!] is our refuge and our strength, a Loving Presence in times of trouble.
And these are “times of trouble,” my friends!
… yet is the voice of the Almighty heard, slowly breaking through hearts of stone.
It is the “voice of Love,” that ultimately breaks through!
Come, behold the works of the Beloved, how love does reign even in humanity’s desolation.
Love is always present. Even when we’re not present to it.
… the Beloved, shining light into fearful hearts; loving even those who oppress the weak, refining hearts of steel!
Yes, because this is what Love does! This is what God does. Love softens, makes malleable that which was formerly brittle and bitter. God knows it’s fearful hearts who oppress, fearful hearts that harden and congeal. God, Who is Love, knows Love is the Way. The only Way.
I’m so happy that, this morning, six more people joined our beloved community (one small part of the Beloved Community). It’s a perfect time with our bi-annual UCC General Synod coming up in a little over a week. For at that event many thousand members of the Beloved Community or Body will be present. And we will, most definitely, “make glad,” the theme of this year’s Synod and another line from this morning’s psalm: There is a river whose streams make glad the Holy City, the holy habitation of the Most High.
“Make glad” is a beautiful message, but I think the theme of Psalm 46 is best summed up in the phrase: The Beloved is ever with us, the Infinite Heart of Love. For Love is always here, present, ready, waiting for us to return to it— again and again. Because we will stray! Of course, we will. We will, at times, have hearts of stone, oppress the weak, be fearful and act from our lesser selves.
And yet, Love does not stray. Love is at the center, always. We need only come back. And one way of returning to Center is by centering ourselves. Thus, I’m going to lead us in a meditation that can help us both find the Love Center and, from this center, practice the three Cs: compassion, communication and contemplation. The form of meditation is lectio divina or “divine reading,” and it’s done by focusing on a passage of scripture or other sacred text. You need only listen to the words, focus on them, and, when your mind wanders (as it will) gently bring it back.
I invite you to get in a comfortable sitting position, plant your feet firmly on the floor, relax your neck and shoulders, face and mouth… Take a deep breath and, if you’d like, close your eyes.
Our passage is: Be still and know that I am Love, from Psalm 46.
Be still and know that I am Love. (silence)
Be still and know that I am. (silence)
Be still and know. (silence)
Be still. (silence)