Water Communion – Rev. Eva Cameron

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I want to read a very special prayer for you today. This prayer is usually called the Prayer of St. Francis. St. Francis didn’t actually write this prayer, but it was often printed on a bookmark with a picture of St. Francis on the other side, so people got to thinking it was his prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I have some questions:
∑ Why is the prayer addressed to “Lord”?
∑ What is a ‘lord’?
∑ Why might God be called “Lord”?
∑ What does it mean to be an instrument of God’s peace? What is an instrument? Musical? surgical? Looking to the dictionary:

in·stru·ment P Pronunciation Key (nstr-mnt)
n.
1 A means by which something is done; an agency.
2 One used by another to accomplish a purpose; a dupe.
3 An implement used to facilitate work. See Synonyms at tool.
4 A device for recording, measuring, or controlling, especially such a device functioning as part of a control system.
5 Music. A device for playing or producing music: a keyboard instrument
6 A legal document, such as a deed, will, mortgage, or insurance policy.

So, in this case, it’s being someone who can get things done, or being used for God’s purpose.

The prayer tells us a little bit about this purpose, doesn’t it? It doesn’t just say: “Make us an instrument”. It says: “Make me an instrument of your peace.” So, in this case the purpose, God’s purpose, is peace. And the prayer doesn’t just say “Peace,” it says “God’s Peace”—so this is a special kind of peace.

What kind of peace do you think that is? Sometimes peace means the good guys (that’s us) win, and the bad guys lose. Sometimes peace means “I get what I want and everyone else has to sit down and be quiet.” Do you think that this is what God’s peace means?

The rest of the prayer gives us an idea, doesn’t it? It asks us to seek to understand others more than to have others understand us. It asks us to seek to forgive more than to be forgiven, it asks us to love more than to seek to be loved. What if the whole world followed this plan? It would be a much more kind and loving place wouldn’t it?

Learn the prayer, talk about it with parents and friends. Seek to me an instrument of the divine peace.

Sermon

It’s New Member Sunday today, and so I want to talk with you a bit about this prayer of St. Francis. St. Francis of Assisi, lover of all creation, champion of justice, patron saint of animals and the environment: he founded the Franciscan Order in 1210.

Through his example, St. Francis reminds us that we are called to bring about justice and peace in our world, to end violence and war, poverty and oppression, and to protect our fragile planet. Convinced that violence and war were wrong, St. Francis believed in peaceful dialogue with all our brothers and sisters. He calls us to be instruments of peace and healing by turning from weapons of violence to acts of love. “Happy are those who endure in peace.” St. Francis of Assisi experienced all of God’s creation as sacred. He saw God in “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” He preached to the birds and animals. He gave up an upper middle class life to wear sack cloth, sleep on the ground, and encourage people to find God around them.

The exact origin of the beautiful prayer attributed to him remains unknown. The prayer was apparently written in France during World War I, perhaps by
a Catholic Priest, Father Bouquerel. This prayer does not appear in any known writings of St. Francis. It is commonly known as the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis only because it was often seen printed on a small card that had a picture of Saint Francis on the other side, but the card did not make any claim that the prayer was written by Saint Francis. The first known appearance of this inspiring prayer was in 1912 AD when it was published in the French magazine La Clochette.

What attracts me to this prayer is that it speaks clearly about what many of the world religions asks of us to do. It asks us to seek to become something greater than ourselves, “Make me an instrument of your peace.” Greater than ourselves in that we are asking to work for God, for the human cause beyond ourselves. And greater than us, in that we are asking to work for God’s peace, for creating justice and harmony here in the world.

The Hindu Vendantist scholar and teacher Ramakrishna says it slightly differently. He writes, “I am not asking you to give up all of the I. You should give up only the “unripe I.” The “unripe I” makes one feel: “I am the doer. These are my wife and children. I am a teacher.” Renounce this “unripe I” and keep the “ripe I” which will make you feel that you are God’s servant, His devotee, and that God is the Doer and you are His instrument.

Having been raised UU, I have some idea about what it is to live with this as your faith, your religion. One of the challenging questions is when someone asks you, “What is Unitarian Universalism?” My thoughts are that you may answer “Unitarian Universalism is the religion of the heart and the head, the religion in which the most important thing is to seek God or what is great than the self in the heart of humankind, and in the heart of the universe.”

I want to tell you the three ways of seeking the divine in the human heart, and in the universe. I think these three practices make up the core of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

The first way is to recognize the divine in every person, and to care for every person with whom we come in contact in our thought, speech, and action. Human personality is very delicate. The more living the heart, the more sensitive it is; that which causes sensitivity is the love element in the heart, and love is God. The person whose heart is not sensitive is without feeling; their heart is not living, but dead. In that case the divine spirit is buried in his heart, but it is still there. And they still merit our love.

You can practice this religion by stretching beyond yourself. A person who is always concerned with their own feelings is so absorbed in themselves that they have no time to think of another. Their whole attention is taken up with their own feelings: they pity themselves, worry about their own pain, and are never open to sympathize with others. When we take notice of the feelings of another person we come in contact with, we practice living love. We practice being an instrument of God’s peace.

Now, sometimes, we mean to be mean, like the woman in this story: Two friends went on a shopping trip downtown. While riding the bus on their way back home, it stopped and let a drunken man get on. Everyone knew he was drunk because he could hardly walk up the aisle, he was staggering so much. Guess where he sat down? Right next to one of the friends. Unfortunately, that friend is not very tactful.
“I’ve got news for you,” she said as she looked him up and down. “You’re going straight to hell!” All of a sudden the man started, then jumped up out of his seat shouting, “I’m on the wrong bus!”

Now, usually we aren’t deliberately so mean. It’s much more common that we get wrapped up in our own affairs, our own worries, our own lives, and forget how others may feel about things. I want to tell you a story called The Wooden Bowl, to help illustrate this point.

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about Grandfather,” said the son. I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor. So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.

Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometime he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work. The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days, he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

Our way of feeling the world, feeling only for ourselves, or opening up to the divine love that is in our hearts, allowing us to feel for others. When we do this, we set echoes in the world—echoes which are greater than ourselves.

Now along with the first way to seek for feeling in humans beyond the self, is the first way to seek that which is greater than the self in the universe. This invites you to take some time each day an appreciate all that is given to you. It is easy to live in the fallacy that you are able to be independent, and don’t need anyone or anything. Try being mindful of the air you breathe, the food you eat, the warmth of your house on a cold day, the miracle of electric lights in the dark of night. You belong to a vast inter-connected network of people and other living things, combined with the workings of this planet that sustain you. Try and experience this as divine love.

Sometimes we are really slow to learn what the universe is trying to tell us, we just get so trapped by our own ways of thinking about the world, with us at the center. I think this story tells it so well:

A farmer was taking a pig with one wooden leg on a walk in town one day —on a leash. A man stopped the farmer on the sidewalk and tried to satisfy his understandable curiosity by asking, “Why does your pig have one wooden leg?” “Let me tell you about this pig. This is ONE SPECIAL PIG! About two months ago I spent all day Saturday cleaning out the underbrush in the woods behind my cabin. When I finished at the end of the day, I went back to the cabin, ate dinner, and went to bed. I was so tired that I slept incredibly soundly. The cabin caught fire during the night. I didn’t know it, but the pig did! Just before my cabin crashed down upon me in a pile of burning embers, this pig grabbed me and dragged me out of the cabin, saving my life. This is one special pig!!”

“Yes, I can see he’s special, but why does he have one wooden leg?” asked the man again. “Let me tell you something else about this pig. About a month ago, the pig and I were taking a relaxing Sunday drive in my pickup truck. The pig was sitting in the front seat with me. All of a sudden, something made me sneeze violently. I lost control of the truck, ran off the road, and hit a tree head-on. The crash knocked me out cold. The truck caught fire. Just before the pickup exploded in a big ball of fire, the pig once again came to my rescue. He grabbed me and dragged me to safety. This is REALLY a special pig!!!”

Now obviously agitated at not receiving an answer to his seemingly simple question, the man yelled, “OK, so he’s special! Why does he have ONE WOODEN LEG?!?!?!” “Well, good grief, man. A pig that good, you can’t eat him all at once!”

Sometimes, we humans just don’t get the simplest, the most direct messages. We need to stop and appreciate the world, so that perhaps our hearts will be open.

Now I want to talk with you about the second way of practicing this religion. This is to think of the feelings of the person who is not at the moment before us. It’s easier to feel for a person who is present, but often easy to neglect what someone who is out of sight is feeling. Speaking well of someone to his or her face is good, but speaking well of someone when they are absent, that is being an instrument of God’s peace.

We can expand this second practice, by learning about and protecting the complex systems that allow us to live on this plant. Many of these we cannot even see, touch or easily comprehend—from most of our oxygen coming from vast beds of single cell plankton floating on the ocean, to the effects of NAFTA, from Quantum Physics to Evolutionary Biology, we exist in a complex and intricate web of mutual relationship. These systems are so complex they are often hard to comprehend, but we need to support learning about them, encourage our children to use their minds to comprehend things we can barely manage. Reach out learn and love this place we call home—people, plants, animals, ecosystems, politics and social systems, planet, universe.

Recently I heard a story of someone who went to see two candidates who had somehow scheduled simultaneous campaign rallies in the same park of my city. After a lengthy round of speeches, the candidates worked their way through the crowd—shaking hands, kissing babies, and beaming mightily. However, when without warning the skies opened and it began to rain, one of the candidates fled to take shelter in a nearby restaurant along with half a dozen regulars. But the other candidate continued to move through the crowd-shaking hands, kissing babies, etc.

“That man’s persistent,” I said to someone standing nearby. “Sure makes it easy to know who to vote for.” “Yep,” he agreed. “Sure can’t see myself casting a vote for a man who hasn’t the good sense to come in out of the rain.”

We often see the world in different ways, and with different perspectives. We are instruments of divine peace when we embrace the complexity and diversity of life.

The third way of practicing what it is to be a Unitarian Universalist is to recognize in one’s own feelings the feeling of God. This is to respect and value the journey that each of us is on, in the most intimate of ways. For if my feelings contain the feelings of God, than surely yours must, too.

Holding onto this universal truth, we then must return to the personal. Realizing that love is a divine spark in one’s heart, when we choose to be on this path, we know it is our job to blow that spark until a flame may rise to illuminate the path of one’s life. There is a mandate here, when you choose to be UU. Its not that get to believe whatever you want. It’s that you must seize the reins of your spiritual journey, understand that it is your duty, and privilege to blow on that spark, to find your way, to illumine your life with all that is good and true and right.

At the same time, with Unitarian Universalism, there are many dangers to being so self-reliant, being so attached to knowledge and understanding based on personal experience, and wisdom—one can get trapped into forgetting the greater world, the world of the divine, or call it the greater human good, the greater common good, the complex and multi-various ecosystem we are embedded in—if we are to seek love, we must seek the right kind of love.

Sufi teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan, said, “In man’s search for truth, the first lesson and the last is love. There must be no separation, no ‘I am’ and ‘thou art not.’ Until man has arrived at that selfless consciousness, he cannot know life and truth.”

And in a commentary on this text, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan says: “When we look at this subject from a mystic’s point of view, we see that love has two aspects. Love in itself, and the shadow of love fallen on the earth. The former is heavenly; the latter is earthly. The former develops self-abnegation in a person; the latter makes him more selfish then he was before. Virtues such as tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion rise of themselves in the heart which is awakened to love. The infirmities such as jealousy, hatred, and all manner of prejudice begin to spring up when the shadow of love has fallen on the heart of the mortal.”

It is so important that you treasure yourself. I was reading something by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, which illustrates this so well. After his book Toward a Meaningful Life was published, he received a moving letter from a woman in the Midwest, who wrote:

“I am a 47-year-old executive—very successful and accomplished; admired, and respected. Yet beneath this fine veneer lies a woman in shreds. You see, my soul was murdered as a young child when my parents abused me physically, emotionally, sexually. Every day of my life is essentially a struggle against suicide. I feel no self value, actually no self at all. I am a sum of my parts, and my value is based on how others value me. I have tried many therapies but essentially have remained the same. Intimacy doesn’t work in my life; relationships are either unhealthy or nonexistent.

“In order to compensate for this deep void and lack, what I have done, as do people in this situation, I have become super-ambitious and hyper-productive in order to create some semblance of outer control in place of no inner control. It helps distract me somewhat and helps get me through the day, but it doesn’t really change anything. Inside I am a wreck, and every day, sometimes every moment, is another struggle.

“I had long given up hope and resigned myself to this life of misery. But then a miracle happened. Someone gave me the book Toward a Meaningful Life as a gift. I am Jewish but non-observant, and I was glancing through the book with a measure of skepticism until a line jumped out at me and struck me like a thunderbolt, like a silver bullet between the eyes: “The line said: ‘BIRTH IS G-D SAYING THAT YOU MATTER.’ I read it again. ‘BIRTH IS G-D SAYING YOU MATTER.’ I read it over and over at least 500 times. And I will continue to read it every day of my entire life.

“I suddenly realized, after 47 years, that no matter what my parents told me, no matter how they said I was an accident and a source of misery in their lives, that no matter how society tells us that we are just a statistic in someone’s balance sheet, that our value is measured in buying power, productivity, looks, youth, contacts, and money: none of matters because I matter to the One who matters most. To G-d, who created me and said, ‘I want you on this Earth. I need you.’

“The mere fact that I was born, that I exist, regardless of my mood, my performance level, my looks that day. The mere fact that I am here is a vote of confidence from G-d that I am indispensable, absolutely necessary, irreplaceable. No one can replace me. I matter. I truly matter.

“Do you know how that made me feel? That I have permission to matter. I am commanded to matter.

“So, though I still have many years to heal, now, for the first time in my life, I have hope. And I know what I need to do. I need to create bypass surgery to bypass the infected arteries that my parents gave me when they touched me, criticized me, hit me, for the first time, and reconnect to that first, pure, innocent moment of birth, when G-d said YOU MATTER, you are indispensable.

“So thank you for giving me back my life.”

Rabbi Jacobson writes: “This letter left me in tears for some time. After all the work you invest in writing a book, it is worth it if just one person like this reads it. But it also showed me the power of Torah—its resonating truth—because these words “Birth is G-d saying you matter” are not my own. They are essentially taken from a verse in the Torah: “. . .and your people are all righteous. . .they are the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, in which I take pride.”

“Then I began questioning myself, ‘Do I really think that I matter?’ And I began to address this question to others about themselves, in audiences across the country. If you were never born, would it make a difference?

“And people squirmed and shifted in their chairs as they admitted that deep down there is a gnawing doubt about whether their existence makes any difference at all.

“But then I saw the power of the message that birth is G-d saying that you matter, that we’re here in this world for a purpose, and we’re needed. I saw them wake up and resonate with the idea that by being born, G-d gave us a vote of confidence that we can handle every challenge in your life.

“There is preventive medicine for much of the tragedy and suffering that plague our world today—the shootings, the hatred, the suicides, the wars. We need to reach to every person, to every child, every parent, every educator, every leader, with the message: Life is sacred. Your life and what you do with it matters. You are indispensable to G-d and to this world. You matter.”

Now, some UUs may wrestle with this Jewish language of Rabbi Jacobson, because the centrality of God. But our faith comes out of this tradition, and it is a part of our heritage. I believe that it is a message that holds together whether or not you believe in an over-arching creator figure. We all do see that each and every person has inherent worth and dignity. Each and every person matters. And I want you to take that home with you—you matter.

The symbol of Unitarian Universalism is the Flaming Chalice. The chalice, a sacred vessel from many religious traditions, invites us to drink from the goodness that is this universe, to drink deeply from the divine love that pervades this place. And it reminds us of our Christian heritage. A proud heritage of people who chose to be heretics, to live and think for themselves, and often paid the highest price—people who have mattered.

The flame too, is a sacred symbol to many people in many places in the world. Fire has the potential to completely transform something, sometimes productively—like the fire in your car that got you here to church this morning, or the fire in your toaster that made your breakfast warm. And it can also be completely destructive. It is an awesome power, and one that we might use—but which we cannot completely control. We become Unitarian Universalists because we seek powerful transformation in our lives; we seek powerful transformation for the world. The fire reminds us week after week to seek the transformations that allow us to be an instrument of divine peace.

Our faith is a religion of promise. Promise, in that it holds out hope for all people of the world, and for THE whole world. Promise also, because we are held together as a people because of the promises we make each other. A sacred promise is called a Covenant. Unitarian Universalist communities are bound together in a sacred promise between each member—a promise of love, of service, of caring community, of tolerance, of prophetic vision, and of institutional care. Each week we speak some words to remind us of this covenant. They’ve been changing each week. But the most common covenant reads:

Love is the spirit of this church
And service is our law
This is our covenant
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.

Ours is the promise of the history of being believers in the radical message of Jesus that God is love, and to know God is to live love. Believing in God or not, if God is a unity or a trinity, has not become the issue anymore to modern Unitarian Universalists—what is most important, is that you become part of this living stream of people trying to consciously live this message, trying to be instruments of peace.

The Unitarian Universalist message is the message of the day. What the world needs today is the message of love, harmony, and beauty, the absence of which is the only tragedy of life. Our faith asks of us to join with others in the practice of wakening humanity the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, with tolerance on the part of each for the religion of the other, and with forgiveness from each for the fault of the other. It teaches thoughtfulness and consideration, so as to create and maintain harmony in life; it teaches service and usefulness, which alone can make life in the world fruitful and in which lies the satisfaction of every soul. It compels us beyond simple thoughts to those outside and beyond ourselves. Make me an instrument of your peace.

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