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The Call to Worship based on Psalm 118
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“Our God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
ALL: Out of my distress I called out, the Eternal One
answered me and set me free.
God is my strength and my song and my salvation.
ALL: I shall not die but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.
Our God’s steadfast love endures forever.
ALL: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen
The Wisdom of Marianne Williamson
“…what I place on the altar of my mind is then altered in my life. When I do not know what to say or do, [God] who is alive within me will illumine my thinking and guide my words. When a possible outcome makes me weak with fear, I will feel [divine] arms around me. And when the road seems lonely and long before me, I will know I am not alone.”
The Wisdom of the Book of Ephesians (1.3)
Blessed be the God of Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
The Wisdom of the Psalter (85.6-12)
6Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you? 7Show us your steadfast love, O God, and grant us your salvation. 8…God will speak peace to the people, to the faithful, to those who seek Truth in their hearts. 9Surely divine help is at hand…that God’s glory may dwell in our land. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12God will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
The events of the past few weeks continue to reverberate through me as I considered our readings this week. The deaths of nine good people at a bible study on a Wednesday night at Mother Emanuel in Charleston still weigh heavily on my mind. I think of their families and the grief they undoubtedly feel. I think of what might have been had their lives not been cut short.
I remember exactly where I was on my drive home from New York as I listened to the families of the dead speaking words of forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones only 36 hours earlier. I wept as I listened to them. They were not filled with hate and malice. They were absolutely sincere.
Those family members knew the principles that are expressed in our readings today. Their faith gave them the strength to imagine a different reality and claim the blessings that constantly flow from God’s steadfast love. Imagination, expectation, and willingness to receive blessings are the ingredients for a happy life no matter what trials may come our way
Marianne Williamson reminds us in our first reading today that we have the power to alter our lives by having the courage to imagine the life we want for ourselves. This is a spiritual principle that I have experienced in my own life. That is not to say that everything will be perfect. Living life means that there will be some measure of suffering. But as I have heard it said many times in twelve step rooms, suffering is inevitable, misery is optional.
We have the power to lay our pain, grief, disappointments, fear, illness, on the altar of God’s grace and allow ourselves to imagine a better day, a better way. When we open our hearts to the knowledge that we are not alone, we are able to share our burdens. The first step is to alter our own thinking and allow our imagination to soar.
Once we have the image in our minds of positive motion our faith requires that we expect goodness to follow us. Our second reading assures us that we are already blessed. Whether we can imagine it or not, God has good things in store for us even in the midst of our suffering. God does not cause our suffering, but blessings flow toward us even when we least expect it.
That brings us to perhaps the most important principle in our readings today, cultivating within ourselves a willingness to receive the good things that come our way in life. If we are not prepared by our imagination and expectation we will likely not even notice the blessings that come our way. We will continue to concentrate on the inevitable suffering of life and completely miss the wonderful things that come our way.
Now again I’m not suggesting that we live in some kind of denial and become such a “polly anna” that we have no capacity to empathize with the suffering of others. What I am saying is that imagination, expectation, and a willingness to receive blessings and good things is the point of our faith.
Those family members in Charleston embodied these three principles in a rare and wonderful way. In the depths of their despair and grief they could still imagine a better world. They expected that something good would come from the death of their loved ones. And last week they and all of us received the blessing of their forgiveness, the confederate flag came down and the flagpole was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina state house.
There is still more to do, more to imagine, more to expect and many, many more blessings to receive. Will we be ready? Will we be able to receive the good things that come to us in life, perhaps at the most unexpected time? May it be so for all of us. Amen.