Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of insecurity and social upheaval,
When we are unable to meet in person,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short space of time,
Let us put our worldly cares aside,
Close our eyes and imagine ourselves
To be in our places of worship,
Surrounded by members of our beloved community,
And be together, if only virtually,
At this one time.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) (words by Albert Schweitzer)
At times, our own light goes out
and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this difficult time,
Keeping in touch however we can,
And helping each other,
However we may.
We hold in our hearts all those
Whose lives have been touched,
In whatever way,
By painful events, in their lives,
And in the wider world,
Of which we are all a part.
Story Bridge-building story (source: Gillian Peel)
Old Joe lived way out in the countryside all by himself. His best friend Jim was also his closest neighbour. It seemed that they had grown old together. Now that their wives had passed on, and their children were grown up and living lives of their own, all they had left were their farms—and each other.
But for the first time in their long friendship, they’d had a serious disagreement. It was a silly argument over a stray calf that neither one of them really needed. The calf was found on Jim’s land and he claimed it as his own. Old Joe said, “No, no, no, that calf has the same markings as one of my cows, and I say it belongs to me!”
They were stubborn men, and neither would give in. Rather than hit each other, they just stopped talking and stomped off to their respective doors and slammed them shut! Two weeks went by without a word between them.
Come Saturday morning, Old Joe heard a knock on his front door. He wasn’t expecting anyone and was surprised to find a young man who called himself a “travelling carpenter” standing on his porch. He had a wooden toolbox at his feet, and there was kindness in his eyes.
“I’m looking for work,” he explained. “I’m good with my hands, and if you have a project or two, I’d like to help you out.”
Old Joe replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have a job for you. See that house way over yonder? That’s my neighbour’s house. You see that stream running along our property line? That stream wasn’t there last week. He did that to spite me! He hitched a plough to his tractor and dug that streambed from the upper pond right down the property line. Then he flooded it!
Now we’ve got this stream to separate us. I’m so darn mad at him! I’ve got wood in my barn, boards, posts, everything you’ll need to build me a fence—a tall fence—all along that stream. Then I won’t have to see his place no more. That’ll teach him!”
The carpenter smiled and said, “I’ll do a good job for you.”
The old man had to go to town for supplies, so he hitched up his wagon and left for the day. The young carpenter carried the wood from barn to streamside and started to work. He worked hard and he worked fast. He measured, sawed, and nailed those boards into place all day long without stopping for lunch. With the setting of the sun, he started to put his tools away. He had finished his project.
Old Joe pulled up, his wagon full of supplies. When he saw what the carpenter had built, he couldn’t speak. It wasn’t a fence. Instead, a beautiful footbridge, with handrails and all, reached from one side of the stream to the other.
Just then, Old Joe’s neighbour Jim crossed the bridge, his hand stuck out, and said, “I’m right sorry about our misunderstanding, Joe. The calf is yours. I just want us to go on being good friends.”
“You keep the calf, Jim,” said Old Joe. “I want us to be friends, too. The bridge was this young fellow’s idea. And I’m glad he did it.
The carpenter hoisted his toolbox onto his shoulder and started to leave.
“Wait!” said Joe. “You’re a good man. Jim and I can keep you busy for weeks.”
The carpenter smiled and said,” I’d like to stay, but I can’t. I have more bridges to build.”
And he walked on down the road, whistling a happy tune as he went.
Prayer by Celia Cartwright
O God of All Creation, God of Love,
We pray that the walls that divide us shall be taken down,
And with the bricks and stones let us build bridges between us,
That we may learn from each other not to fear each other,
And so may more easily come to keep faith
With the Greatest Commandment,
That is: To love our God, with all our heart and mind and strength,
And each other as ourselves.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
And he answered, saying:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind, you fear not the ‘nay’ in your own mind, nor do you withhold the ‘ay’.
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart,
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations, are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not,
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love, but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading Why we are here by Cliff Reed
We are not here to judge, but to live as best we can,
in peace and harmony with our neighbours,
always aware of our own shortcomings.
We are not here to condemn, but to give
such encouragement and assistance as we can
to those we meet along the road.
We are not here to lecture others on goodness,
but to ask how well we match up
to the best that we know, the vision
in our souls, and then try harder.
We are not here to claim a place with the ‘elect’,
a place in heaven, but to live on this earth
with love in our hearts and kindness in our deeds,
just like everyone else.
We are not here to speak for God,
but to heed the divine voice within ourselves
and to be the divine presence in this
glorious, complex and suffering world.
We are here to love our neighbour
as we love ourselves; to be human
to the best of our ability.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Sue Woolley)
Spirit of Life and Love,
All of us have friends.
All of us are friends.
May we understand the huge importance
of these connections in our lives.
May we appreciate our friends:
Their kindness, their loyalty,
Their ongoing, unchanging love for us,
Warts and all.
And may we be such friends –
Not falling away when the going gets rough,
But always there for each other,
Steadfast in our love,
Ready to celebrate each other’s joys,
Empathise with each other’s concerns,
And treating one another
As we would like to be treated ourselves,
Knowing that the ripples of our compassion
Will flow out into the world,
Making it a gentler, happier place.
May we be such friends and appreciate such friends.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address On Friendship
As this time of COVID 19 uncertainty goes on, many of us will have times when we feel “down” and wonder why we bother to get up in the morning, as there seems to be nothing to look forward to, and we wonder when life will get back to normal, and what the new ‘normal’ might look like…
At times such as these, friends are vital. If we can share our troubles with someone who loves us “just the way we are”, the chances are that we will be able to get over the bad patch and realise that yes, life is worth living, and that yes, we do have the courage to face whatever comes our way. Such friendship is beyond price – it can make the difference between surviving and living, between hurt and wholeness. It involves compassion and love, and, practiced purely, it is one of the most healing influences in the world. It may not involve laying down our lives for someone else, as John said that Jesus did, but it means putting that person’s happiness before our own, because we cannot be truly happy if they are sad.
So this morning, I would like to reflect on friendship, and the different values that it has in our lives.
One of the most important of these is: a friend is someone you can be yourself with, warts and all. The great American President Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” I have used that quotation as the opening words of a service about integrity, but even at the time, I worried about the last bit “I must stand with anybody that stands right … and part with him when he goes wrong.”
Because that’s not what friendship is about. To my mind, true friendship is about standing by your friends precisely when they do go wrong. As American author Mark Twain says: ” The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.” Hmmm.
As C. Raymond Beran wrote, “You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities and, in opening them up to him, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of his loyalty.” Your friend is one who knows all about you, and still likes you. Your friend is someone you can be yourself with, warts and all.
Another important value of friendship for me is that friends can be the angels in our lives, like the mysterious carpenter in Gillian Peel’s lovely story, which I shared earlier. Some years ago, I did a service about guardian angels, and I would like to repeat a story from that service now, about how a friend of mine definitely became my guardian angel:
When I was a ministry student, I was asked to do a naming ceremony for her infant son by the daughter of a friend in my village. I was delighted to be asked and spent quite a while putting an appropriate service together, which I hoped she and her partner would find both suitable and inspirational. At first, my friend’s daughter was very enthusiastic; but a couple of weeks later, I got an e-mail explaining that they wanted him “to be done properly” in the local parish church. As you might imagine, I was a bit upset, feeling both hurt and rejected. The next time I saw the girl was on the following Friday, down at our local, and I found it quite difficult not to let my hurt show.
Then the guardian angel moment happened. A dear friend of mine, who was well aware how upset I had been, took me quietly to one side, and gave me some wise advice, which enabled me to rise above my petty injured pride, and speak to the girl normally, and to accept an invitation to read one prayer at the Anglican ceremony, and, more importantly, to do so without grudging.
For me, my friend that night was a true guardian angel. She intervened in my life at that crucial moment and showed me that I could make a better choice than that of showing my feelings. I believe with Rev. Lindy Latham, former minister of our Bristol congregations, that people can be angels, messengers of God, to each other, by giving good advice, as my friend did that evening, or through small acts of kindness. Each one of us has the potential to be an angel to somebody else, by being a beneficent presence in their lives, enabling them to move beyond their limitations and grow. Friends can be the angels in our lives.
It is a truism that in order to have a good friend, you have to be one. In my readings this morning, I shared the wisdom of various writers about the qualities that a good friend has: she is someone with whom you can be yourself; he is someone who understands you; she is someone who lights the flame within you; and he is someone who believes in you and trusts you. This involves showing compassion, love, kindness and loyalty, the four most important qualities of friendship.
So what might compassion look like in the context of friendship? It means trying to put yourself into your friend’s shoes, to really understand how they are feeling, so that you can respond appropriately to their joys and concerns. It doesn’t mean feeling sorry for them, or trying to “make it all better”. It means truly being there for them when they need you, whether it is to celebrate or commiserate.
Love in friendship is the same as it is in any other relationship. Love is an amazing thing. I very much like science fiction author Raymond Feist’s definition: “Love is a recognition, an opportunity to say ‘There is something about you I cherish.’ It doesn’t entail marriage, or even physical love. There’s love of parents (to which I would add love of family), love of city or nation, love of life, and love of people. All different, all love.”
And love is fundamental to human well-being. I would go so far as to say that we can only become fully rounded people if we love and are loved in return. Jesus recognised this when he described “Love your neighbour as yourself” as one of the two greatest commandments.
Building loving relationships with all the people we come into contact with may sound like an unrealistic proposition but stick with it; the rewards are beyond compare. Starting from where we are is the important thing and building up slowly. Resolving to live our lives in a spirit of love means recognising that there is “that of God in everyone”, to use a Quakerly phrase. The Quakers also ask us, “Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy.”
Kindness in friendships is closely related to compassion. It means responding to the best in another person and forgiving the worst. It means making a positive difference to their lives, by small acts of kindness – remembering to send a birthday card, giving them a ring “just because”, listening with the ear of your heart, and knowing them well enough to tiptoe round their tender spots and rejoice with them when they are happy.
And kindness need not be limited to friends. Let me tell you a true story, about the effect of a random act of kindness, because it is amazing how little it takes to make a difference to the feel and shape of someone’s day.
A while ago I went to visit a friend in hospital, and, as is customary (or so I thought) I took her a bunch of flowers. Only to learn that flowers on wards were now strictly forbidden because of “water contamination”. So I had to take them away again. But at least my friend realised that I had been thinking of her.
My original thought had been to stick them back on the back seat of my car and take them back home with me. But then, at the main entrance to the hospital, I walked past two women (I guess mother and grown-up daughter) who were obviously waiting for a taxi or something. On impulse, I presented the older lady with the flowers. And her whole face lit up: “It’s my birthday on Monday!” she said. So I wished her a happy birthday and went on my way.
I love the words of Frederick Buechner about how we act towards strangers can have a real knock-on effect. He writes, “As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
It is lovely to think that perhaps my gift of flowers to that woman might have had that sort of impact on her day, and hence on those around her. It also made my day – her happiness made me feel good! It is amazing how little it takes to make a difference – to our lives, and to that of others.
Loyalty in friendships is such an important thing. The sticking point of any friendship will come when your friend does or says something you cannot be happy about. If your friendship is true, you may be disappointed in them, but will still try to understand where they are coming from and stand by them. A friend who deserts their friend at a time when things go wrong is a weak and feeble friend at best. And as I said earlier, the loyalty of one true friend can make an enormous difference to how one copes in a crisis. If just one person stands by you through thick and thin, it can make life bearable. To take an example from the Harry Potter books, Harry is gutted when his best friend Ron turns against him in The Goblet of Fire, because he (Ron) believes that Harry put his name into the goblet and didn’t share how to do this. It is only because his other best friend, Hermione, stands by him, that he gets through the next difficult weeks.
I would like to finish with the wisdom of the Prophet, “Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside. For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace…. let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him with hours to live.”
May we all strive to be such friends, one to another.
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley