Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,
When most of us 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)
Come into this house of virtual worship.
May we enter this hour with joy,
May we rejoice in our fellowship,
Even if we cannot share the same space,
May we hold each other in love,
May we listen with the ears of our hearts.
Come! Let us worship.
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. Amen
Story Animals in the House from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison.
Many years ago, a man, his wife, and six children lived together in a one-room house. Can you imagine what it was like? They had to sleep, work, play, cook and eat in just one room. It was terrible! The children seemed to be fighting and arguing all the time; there was no privacy, no peace and quiet, and as the days wore on, the situation was becoming more and more intolerable.
‘We can’t go on like this,’ said the man to his wife. ‘We’re driving each other mad. But we haven’t enough money to buy a bigger house. What can we do?’
‘Go to see the rabbi,’ she replied. ‘He is a wise man. He must surely be able to offer some advice.’
So, off he went to see the rabbi. ‘You have a real problem there,’ said the rabbi, after he’d listened carefully to the man’s tale of woe. ‘There is a remedy, but you’ll have to promise me that you’ll do exactly what I say. Do you promise?’
‘I promise,’ said the man, excited at the prospect of hearing a solution to his problem.
‘Do you own any animals?’ asked the rabbi.
‘Yes, I have a few chickens, a goat, and a cow.’
‘Right,’ said the rabbi. ‘This is what you must do. Take all the animals into the house to live with you.’
The poor man couldn’t understand how this would help. In fact, he thought it would make matters much worse, but he had promised to do what the rabbi suggested, so when he got home he took the chickens, the goat, and the cow into his little one-room house.
It was chaos. Smelly chaos! Noisy chaos! Messy chaos! The next day the man rushed back to the rabbi, and said ‘What have you done to me? The animals are creating havoc! The squawking of the chickens is driving me insane! Your idea is crazy!’
The rabbi smiled. ‘Things are going according to plan. When you go home, take the chickens back into the yard,’ he said.
The man went home and took the chickens outside, but the next day he went back to see the rabbi. ‘I got rid of the chickens, but the goat is eating everything in sight! He’s chewing the furniture, knocking over the ornaments, ransacking the cupboards. What can I do?’
‘Good,’ said the rabbi. ‘Now go home and take the goat out.’
So, out went the goat, but the next day the man hurried to see the rabbi again. ‘I took out the goat, but the cow is still there and it’s disgusting. It’s leaving great big cow-pats all over the place and its mooing is keeping everyone awake. We can’t possibly go on living like this!’ he said.
‘Right’, said the rabbi. ‘Take the cow back into the field.’ So the poor man rushed back home and, with a huge sigh of relief, took the cow out of the house.
The next day he took a leisurely stroll to the rabbi’s house. ‘Rabbi, thank you! We have such a good life now! The house is peaceful, the smells are gone, and we have plenty of room. It’s wonderful.’
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 Let us give thanks and praise by Peter Sampson (hymn 90 in Sing Your Faith)
Let us give thanks and praise for the gifts we share,
for our food and our friendship, for water and air,
for the earth and the sky and the stars and the sea,
and the trust we all have in God’s love flowing free.
Give a shout of amazement at what life can bring,
put your heart into raising the song all can sing.
What a world we could build with our minds and our hands
where the people live freely and God understands.
Let us give of our best with the tools we shall need,
use our eyes, hands and brains so that we may succeed.
Inspire us to cultivate what we have sown
so that nature and nurture make a world we may own.
We adore you, great Mother, O help us to live
with a love for each other that each one can give
let the pain of our brothers and sisters be faced
and the healing of all souls on earth be embraced.
Prayer Litany on Life’s Good Gifts, adapted from Dorothy S. Wilson, from Songs for Living
For the glory of the sunshine and the clear air of the out-of-doors,
For these, and the health to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the shapes of the hills and the trees, and for the colour of flowers and the sea,
For these, and the sight to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the songs of the birds and the streams, for the music of human laughing voices,
For these, and for hearing to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the stories and books of all ages, for the arts and songs of all peoples,
For these, and a mind to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For all who have loved us and cared for us, asking only our love in return,
For these, and a heart to love them, we are thankful.
For all who have made the world better, for their hope and courage,
For these, and the power to do good, we are thankful
Reading Gratitude by Nicky Jenkins, from With Heart and Mind 2
It is often difficult to be thankful. I sometimes wonder if it is part of the English habit of modesty and reserve that encourages this. ‘You have a lovely house,’ says the visitor. ‘No, no,’ we demur. ‘It has all sorts of things wrong with it.’ Well, to agree that we have a lovely house would not be modest, and we don’t want anybody to think we might be stuck-up, or to envy us for our wealth and nice things.
But do we carry this over into other areas of our life? To accept and be thankful for our blessings requires a proper humility, not a false one, which is in any case a form of arrogance. By acknowledging the many good things already in our lives, we are better able to let go of that striving for even better, even more possessions, which seems to have become a part of our Western society. When we are able to acknowledge that we do indeed have an abundance of material wealth, perhaps we will be able to give more away, and to share our resources.
And it is not only our material possessions that we should be aware of, but also the rewards of the spirit. If we set aside time daily to be thankful for our material possessions and spiritual growth, then we start to change.
I have found that remembering with gratitude the gifts of the day, before I sleep, counteracts my anxiety and concerns, and keeps me in touch with the truth that I am loved, and helps me to trust in life. There is nothing very new or profound in this idea, but I believe, if practised regularly, it could transform our outlook on, and attitude to, life; and make the world a better place.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Nicky Jenkins, adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Too often we focus on what is wrong.
Teach us to focus on what is right,
and to finish each day in gratitude.
Too often we look to the future in fear.
Teach us to expect joy,
and to look forward to what may come.
Too often we try to control our lives.
Teach us to trust in life,
and to welcome the gifts without fear.
Too often we close down the doors of our hearts.
Teach us to risk opening them,
and to receive love.
May our hearts and minds and spirits be open to all that is good in our lives. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Giving Thanks
I’ve just got back from an early morning walk in Salcey Forest, and the sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and the Autumn colours of gold, copper, bronze, brown and red, were glorious. I could hear the birds singing and saw a squirrel leap athletically from one tree to another right in front of me. It was just gorgeous.
At one point on the walk, I stopped and gave thanks for the beauty around me. As Meister Eckhart advised, if thank you is the only prayer you put up, it is enough. It seems to me that there are so many things to be grateful for in our lives.
I know that not everyone will agree, but I firmly believe that gratitude, which is another way of saying ‘giving thanks’, is a spiritual practice which can transform our lives, if we let it. It is only too easy to focus on the things that are going wrong for us at any time – particularly as we get older. Parts of our bodies ache or give us more severe pain; we are perhaps not sleeping as well as we used to; and some days, just getting up and facing the day can be an effort.
I wonder how many of you have read Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter? I used to love it as a little girl and found her ‘just being glad’ approach to life inspirational. The book’s heroine, Pollyanna, played a special game, which helped her to be cheerful and happy in her life. As she explains, “The game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas.” One of my favourite passages is when she tells the story of her parson father, who was feeling depressed one day about his ministry, and went through the Bible and counted how many times God had instructed his people to be glad. She says, “He said he felt better right away, that first day he thought to count ’em. He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it – SOME.”
This starts a process of transformation in the town where Pollyanna is living with her stern Aunt Polly, who doesn’t know about the Game – she goes around making friends with everyone and explaining how to play it. Some of her suggestions border on genius – she persuades her Aunt’s gardener, Old Tom, who is bent over with arthritis, that he can be glad that he doesn’t have to stoop so far to do his weeding, and her Aunt’s maid, Nancy, who hates Monday mornings, that at least she can be glad she won’t have another one for a whole seven days.
Then, when she is run down by a car, and cannot walk, she cannot find anything to be glad about. When they hear about this, all the friends she has made (mostly without her Aunt’s knowledge) start to pay calls and send messages about how the Game has changed their lives for the better, to try to make Pollyanna glad again. Of course, this being a children’s story, Pollyanna eventually recovers, her Aunt Polly joins in the Game, and all ends happily.
But my favourite quote from the whole book is the following: “What men and women need is encouragement. Their natural resisting powers should be strengthened, not weakened…. Instead of always harping on a man’s faults, tell him of his virtues. Try to pull him out of his rut of bad habits. Hold up to him his better self, his REAL self that can dare and do and win out! … The influence of a beautiful, helpful, hopeful character is contagious, and may revolutionize a whole town…. People radiate what is in their minds and in their hearts. If a man feels kindly and obliging, his neighbours will feel that way, too, before long. But if he scolds and scowls and criticizes—his neighbours will return scowl for scowl, and add interest! … When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good—you will get that…”
“When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good – you will get that.” This is beautifully illustrated in the traditional Jewish story, retold so ably by Bill Darlison, which formed this morning’s story. It is only when the man realises just how bad things could be if he had to share his house with his animals, that he appreciates what he had all along, but didn’t value.
Being thankful is about being alert for things to be thankful about, rather than dwelling on the things which are going wrong in our lives. For the last few years, I have had a writing practice, called ‘Recognitions of God’, which is about being awake to the movement of the Spirit in and through my life. Every evening, I think about the day that has just ended, and try to find something to be grateful for. I can always find something, even if it is only that I am grateful that the day is over! Today’s might be the beauty of my walk in Salcey Forest, that I was healthy enough and aware enough to enjoy it, or the fact that I remembered Pollyanna to mention in this address. I find that there is always something to be grateful for, each and every day..
As Nicky Jenkins wrote, in the words that formed our Time of Stillness and Reflection,
“Too often we focus on what is wrong. Teach us to focus on what is right, and to finish each day in gratitude.” There are many ways we can put this wisdom into practice in our daily lives. For example, if I’ve sent someone an e-mail, asking for some information, and they don’t get back to me straight away, I’m in a fever of impatience and fed-upness, waiting for the response. Whereas, I should actually be grateful for the wonder that is e-mail, which makes instant communication with multiple people possible. And for computers in general, which make my life as a minister, even in lockdown, so easy (comparatively speaking)! I cannot imagine how much more difficult my life would have been in pre-computer days (or rather, I can – every letter would have had to be typed laboriously by hand, stuck in an envelope, and posted, with no surety as to how long it would take to get there). Whereas with e-mail, to give just one example, I can send out a communication to lots of people at the same time, just by clicking on the Send icon. Or if I want to juggle around the order of ideas in this address, I just need to cut a paragraph, and paste it in elsewhere, rather than having to tear it up and re-write it. It really is marvellous, in the best sense of that word – full of marvel.
So why not give it a go? Make a conscious effort to look around your life every day and find something to be grateful for. If it is something that someone has done for you, thank them for it, and give them a smile, or send them a card. If it is something less tangible, thank God for it. Because what Eleanor H. Porter wrote all those years ago is true: “When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good—you will get that…” And even in these days of Covid lockdown, there is still so much good in the world.
It really does work – our lives can be made happier by practicing gratitude. There are many ways we can do it – we might have a writing practice, of recording what we feel grateful for. Or we might decide to put aside a few minutes every day to remember what has gone right in our lives, that day. Some people do this at the start of their evening meal. Others have a ‘Blessings Jar’, and every day they write something they are grateful for on a little slip of paper, put it in, and then go through them at the end of the year, or whenever they are feeling down. Give it a go – because in Pollyanna’s words: “there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”
May it be so for you, now, and in the days and weeks to come.
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
Perhaps even challenged…
May we appreciate the people around us,
May we share the love we feel,
May we look out for each other,
Sharing our joys and our sorrows,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Being grateful for the many blessings in our lives,
Now and in the days to come, Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley