by Rev. Duncan Voice
“For one swallow does not a summer make, neither does one fine day; similarly, one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.” Aristotle (350 BCE)
Welcome to this morning’s service, wherever you are, and whenever you are reading this. On this first Sunday in August we gather in a spirit of friendship, which we extend to all who would join us.
You are invited to light a candle, or chalice, where you are, if it is safe to do so. You might like to say the following words.
We light our chalice as a symbol
of our faith and hope.
In lighting it and seeing it,
we know that we are gathered
at a special time;
in a spirit of oneness and love.
Spirit of Love and Life,
We gather together
to be in gentle and loving community.
We sit at home with awareness,
each with our own thoughts and feelings;
but bonded through our common humanity
and your spirit among us.
We each bring the burdens of our heart,
to the love of this moment,
our worries, cares and concerns,
which even in silence are shared by us all.
We each bring the busyness of our minds
into the peace of this moment,
where we let go of the everyday for a time
and become quiet together.
We each bring our feelings and emotions,
to the understanding of this moment,
joy and sadness, peace and anger,
they belong to us all.
May we recognise and respect
our differences and our commonalities.
May all find freedom
May all find truth
May all find happiness
May all find peace.
Reading: Matthew 12:1-7
Parallel verses can be found in Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5
Near to where I live the fields of crops have become golden and look as though they are ready to harvest soon. So, for our first reading I turn to piece from the New Testament which places Jesus and his disciples walking through cornfields on the day of the sabbath. As they do so they are accused of breaking the sabbath fast by representatives of the religious authorities, the Pharisees.
“At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.””
Jesus answers them concluding with a quote from the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6.6) “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, placing one Divine imperative over another in order to deal with the pressing issue of the moment, that of hunger. For mercy we might today say compassion. Jesus is therefore offering a fresh spiritual perspective as well as dealing with human suffering, in the form of hunger this time.
This reminds me of the Buddhist story of “The Monk and the Woman” as re-told by Bill Darlison,
“Two Buddhist monks were journeying from one monastery to another when they came across a beautiful, but timid, young woman standing by a river bank, rather frightened to cross the swift flowing river. The elder of the two monks offered to carry her across and she readily agreed. She climbed onto his shoulders and he waded across, leaving the woman, dry and thankful, on the other side.
The two monks then continued on their way, but the younger of the two was very disappointed with the older monk’s behaviour and he berated him. Had he forgotten that he was a monk, and that he shouldn’t touch any woman? What would people say?
Did he not know the rules of the order to which they both belonged? And so on. The young monks lecture lasted for a good few miles.
Finally, the older monk interrupted the flow of criticism and said to his companion, “Brother, I left the girl by the river bank. Are you still carrying her?”
There are probably lot of interpretations of these stories, but there is one important spiritual message that seems to be the same, in both, to me. Namely that when faced with a choice in life, we choose the compassionate or kind option, rather than turn to scripture or rules. How do these stories speak to you?
Music – Morning has Broken
Extract from “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Mind” by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine, published by New Harbinger Publications
“Everything in this life depends on conditions and elements in order to exist. For example, a rainbow forms in front of you while you water your garden. For this to happen, the necessary elements – light, water, you holding the hose, and other factors – assemble in the present moment. If any of these elements (each of which is formed by other elements) is missing, the rainbow does not appear. For the rainbow to come into existence, different elements that are not rainbows must come together in a particular combination to create it. The rainbow only exists when all of these elements are present and join together. The rainbow is dependent on and connected to each of the elements, which are necessary for the rainbow to come in to being. In this view, you can see that the rainbow is made of non-rainbow elements and deeply interconnected with them.”
You may wish to pause for time of quite reflection or prayer.
“Find a place of stillness within yourself” – The Gospel of
“With a quiet mind seek harmony within yourself” – The Bhagavad Gita
I love the idea, expressed in our second reading, that the elements that come together to create a rainbow are non-rainbow elements. You cannot see a rainbow in any of them, but in coming together they have the potential to create something new and, in this case, beautiful and of the moment. The rainbow potential is there waiting to be discovered, experienced and enjoyed in the non-rainbow elements.
Think for a moment about all the elements that have brought you to the place where you are, and look at all the objects around you, or the trees or clouds outside your window. Somehow you are here at this time and place. In part due to choices you made, in part due to circumstances. The wretched virus, for example, has played its part in where we are today. And as we share this time, listen to words and music, new thoughts and feelings emerge. Unique to us all and yet shared in some way.
This emergence of new of new thoughts, things, objects even life itself is happening all the time, in ways beyond our plans and calculations and often beyond our understanding. To give you another perhaps obscure example, I read recently about scientists at Warwick University who were researching medieval remedies. Acientbiotics they call it! One mixture known as “Bald’s eyesalve” and containing onion, garlic, wine and bile salts (yuk!) showed promising antibacterial qualities, and low levels of damage to human cells.
Of the ingredients, only garlic is known to have properties against single-cell bacteria, but none against multi-cell bacteria. The effectiveness of the mixture is not attributable to any single ingredient, but requires that unique combination. Something new and unpredictable emerging from, at first glance, unpromising elements.
The passage quoted in our reading is an extract from a piece introducing the reader to the idea of mutual interdependence and connectedness. Which I think is another important idea for us to consider. The rainbow in the garden is simply a small but beautiful illustration of the idea that “everything in this life depends on other conditions and elements in order to exist.” Nothing exists in isolation. The meditation practice, in this case, is a way to help us see this, to have a new perspective and understanding. A new understanding that may have profound effects on the choices we make, and the way we act in the world.
Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn, explores this idea from a different perspective, he says,
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”
Understanding is the key says Thich Nhat Hahn, but it can be hard for us to develop this when we are in the middle of an emotional tangle.
It may be difficult for us to appreciate all the elements that have come together to create a difficulty or an issue, especially in our personal relationships. Anger, blame, retribution are some of the thoughts can dominate our minds and lead us into a tunnel of conflict with others and ourselves if we are not careful. When these elements come together something dark, discordant and hateful maybe created. Suffering may be perpetuated.
Whilst none of us controls all the elements of our lives, some of us can exercise some kind of choice. Indeed, we must as different circumstances present themselves. It seems to me that there is great hidden potential within each human being which can be expressed through our choices. A potential to do good. But perhaps it is in our coming together that the greatest hidden potential can be realised. A potential to realise a world where love and compassion and beauty can flourish.
This I think is what we work towards in our Unitarian communities, although we may not always explicitly say so. In fact, as traditional religious language becomes less acceptable, we struggle to find the right words. In the Bible it is referred to as the Kingdom of God, some call it the kindom of God, some beloved community, my colleague Stephen Lingwood suggests it is paradise that we seek. A more loving and peaceful world. How would you express such an ideal in your own words?
It is perhaps worth recalling the words in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 17:20-21),
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Although we struggle in our expression, I think many of us agree that the human world is broken in many ways. Are we in a position to fix it? What would a “fix” even look like? Of course, we don’t know because none of us as individuals is the complete rainbow, to refer back to our earlier reading. But the fact that love and compassion exist, and that new life, new joy, new beauty can emerge from unpromising circumstances gives us new hope. Maybe new faith, and energy to keep walking towards that far off promised land.
We struggle, as previous generations have done, but take comfort in our friendship and our togetherness. So together, let’s take another step. Let’s create beauty and laughter wherever we can. Let’s live in peace. Let’s use our imaginations. Let’s share the wisdom of the past, have awareness of the present and have a dream of better future for all. Let’s be guided by love.
Let’s go chasing rainbows!
May it be so.
Music: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (It had to be really!)
All human beings are members of one frame,
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When time afflicts a limb with pain
The other limbs at rest cannot remain.
If thou feel not for other’s misery
A human being is no name for thee.
Saadi of Shiraz (1210 – 1292)
Persian poet and prose writer.
Let us go now in faith and hope and peace, and may the God of our hearts be with us now and always. Amen