We begin with words from Miller Williams who reminds us about that aspect of life we call compassion, which some suggest is a synonym for God, or for the aspect of God about which we actually know something, or as much as we need to know in this life:
Miller Williams wrote:
Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What appears cynicism, conceit or bad manners is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.
We’re here to be reminded to have compassion for everyone we meeteven the person we meet in the mirror in the morning, the person behind the face, the person who has failed…the person who feels guilty or inadequate; the person who sometimes might feel like a fraud…the place in that person ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’
Sermon: In Times of Trouble
I want to give you a little background about the project Ed and I have just completed which we called, “In Times of Trouble.”
Last spring, when I visited one of our members when she was in a nursing home recovering from surgery, she asked me to visit with her roommate, an older woman who was recovering from one of several surgeries she’s had for cancer.
The roommate had told her that she needed some help with her inner life to help her deal with her physical problems. We talked for quite awhile. She told me that she found help in the Psalms, so I recited a few and I told her that I would look for a book of Psalms to give to her.
I looked in three or four bookstores but couldn’t find just what I was looking for. Since I knew what I was looking for, I decided to create itnot just the Psalms, but a variety of readings that might provide some comfort to folks in times of trouble.
I chose 40 readings and boiled the list down to 30. Ed composed music to weave the readings together in a way that suggests meditation more than instruction. Each of the readings is brief, averaging a little more than a minute or so. The music that connects them is called the interstitials, the places between the readings. The CD is an hour long and it will be out in time for your Christmas stocking gifts.
We’re going to give you a sample of what’s on the CD. But before we do I want to say a couple of things about the spirit behind this CD and what we try to do in this sanctuary on Sunday mornings.
We gather on Sunday mornings for worship, which is to say, to consider what’s important in our lives, both individually and collectively. How do we do that?
We use music, drama, poetry, meditation, shared candle lighting, and readings from the ancient religious traditions; we hope to provide inspiration and encouragement to help heal the wounds and brokenness each of us carriesto sink down to that place ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’
Our service of worship follows a basic format, but we deviate from that from time to timewe’re not rigid, but we do want a certain consistency. We want you to know what to expect, and one of the things you can expect is a surprise here and there.
That leads me to the point I want to make: it is necessary, from time to time, to speak from this pulpit about things that are going on in the world: natural disasters and man-made disasters–the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon for example, and most recently the concern about a war with Iraq with all of its implications for our nation and for the world.
It’s important for me that you realize how difficult it is for me to address these things in the context of our Sunday worship, knowing as I do, that there are members of our congregation who are living with recent deaths or the threat of terminal illnessestheir own or a loved ones’. When I look out from this pulpit every Sunday I see behind the faces of folks who are dealing with the tragedies, recent and long-term tragediesdeaths, divorces, illnesses, accidents, job losses or changes, difficulties around retirement and aging issues, and so forth.
I also look at the faces of folks who are celebrating the birth of a child or grandchild, engagements and weddings, a college graduation or the landing of that special job, and so forth.
Ministry, more than anything else, deals with all of those joys and sorrows, and I know they need a place where they can be filtered through the surface stuff of everyday life and sink down into that place ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’
It’s very difficult, then, for me to enter that political arena ‘where angels fear to tread.’ Some thoughtful people who I love and respect think I should stay away from subjects that are sure to be upsetting and divisive.
The point is that I do not make the decision to address political issues lightly, and there are times when I do it in a clumsy way, by my own standards.
I’ve been trying to keep a balance between things that feeds the spirit or the soul, if you will, and that which helps us deal with the down-to-earth everyday world we live in.
It’s not easy. It’s as challenging now as anytime in the 32 years I’ve been at it.
I won’t stop dealing with issues of war and peace in the world, but I’ll work at providing help for the wars that are ‘going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.’
One more thing before the sample of our new CD: worship requires respectful silence. There are exceptions, when spontaneous applause follows some effort made by the children, like the musical presentation of Jonah last week. But we respectfully ask that you not applaud the choir or soloists, the sermon or candle lighting.
Applause makes us feel like we’re providing entertainment rather than a worshipful experience, by whatever definition of worship you choose.
Ed and I have chosen six selections from our CD, In Times of Trouble. We will do these as they are on the recording, beginning with Psalm 139, where the Psalmist talks about that place deep inside, ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’ That will be followed by Neibuhr’s well-known serenity prayer; a less well-known piece by a 14th century Chinese poet; a piece from the Native American writer Nancy Wood, the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, and finally a prayer by Albert Schweitzer.
We invite you to be in the spirit of meditation and reflection.
1] O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest my sitting down and my rising up; thou knowest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, (you are) acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,”  even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee.  For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well;  my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.  Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them, they are more than the sand. When I awake, I am still with thee…  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that things (will be all) right
if I (let go of my need to control)…
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
Meng Shu Ch’ing
Chinese, Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1643
On the low wall of my garden
There stands a tiny shrine,
In the shadow of the trees.
When I am weary of this sad world,
And of man’s turmoil and strife,
I steal off to my shrine among the trees.
There, with silent prayer and incense,
I find my soul again –
And thank Heaven for my shrine among the trees.
In The Hundred Names
Nancy Wood, My Help is in the Mountain
My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from on tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.
Earth cure me. Earth receive my woe. Rock strengthen me. Rock receive my weakness. Rain wash my sadness away. Rain receive my doubt. Sun make sweet my song. Sun receive the anger from my heart.
Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle.
The miracle is not to walk on water.
The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,
to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
Peace is all around usin the world and in nature, and within us;
It is in our bodies and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of practice.
Albert Schweitzer, Prayer for Animals
Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so o share the blessings of the merciful.
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of His hand.