Sunday Service 2.28.2021

GATHERING MUSIC                   Nimrod                              Elgar

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE            Barbara Donahue, liturgist

Hate It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet

Maya Angelou, poet, 1928-2014

PRELUDE             All Things Bright and Beautiful         Shaw & Monk

OPENING PRAYER                 Julian of Norwich, 1343 – after 1416

This is the reason why we do not feel complete ease in our hearts and souls: we look here for satisfaction in things which are so trivial, where there is no rest to be found, and do not know our God who is almighty, all wise, all good, God is rest itself. 

MUSIC                             I’ll Fly Away                              trad/HKJ

SCRIPTURE READINGS

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

Deuteronomy 30: 11-14 and Matthew 22: 34-40

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING                                              Julian of Norwich

From Revelations of Divine Love, also known as Showings

REFLECTION                  Julian of Norwich     Rev. Dr. Sally B. Purvis

Julian of Norwich. Reading Julian, thinking about Julian is like visiting a foreign country, a very foreign country where everything is different, sights, smells, tastes, customs, assumptions. In many ways you’re in a different world. And like foreign travel, the only way remotely to understand even a bit of Julian is to let go of expectations based on our experiences and culture. We’re going to a different place.

Who was Julian? We know very little about her. Unlike the very public figure of Teresa of Avila whom Kim talked about last week, Julian’s biographical details are very sparse. We’re not even sure her name was Julian! Here’s what we do know.

In 1373, a 30 year old woman lay on what she thought was her death bed. A priest was called to give her the last rites. As part of that sacrament, he held a crucifix so she could see it, and the crucifix came to life with blood pouring down Jesus’ face from the crown of thorns, and he spoke to her. That was the first of 16 revelations, or showings, as she called them, that she experienced lying on that bed.

Julian probably wasn’t a nun, but after she recovered her health she became an anchorite at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. That means that a room was built onto the church, with a window into the sanctuary so that she could see the services and another to the outside so that her physical needs could be attended to by servants and others who helped her, but there was no door. No door. She entered the room and was enclosed, and she stayed in that room for the rest of her life. I invite you to spend some time imagining that later this week-maybe while you’re outside.

Shortly after she was enclosed, she wrote down her revelations and some commentary on them, and she called them “Revelations of Divine Love” in sixteen showings. We now refer to that account as the short text. Then twenty years later, she wrote another account of the revelations and added interpretations and insights that she’d gained over those twenty years of contemplation and prayer, and that became the long text.

She referred to herself as a “simple, uneducated creature,” and perhaps she didn’t have the classical education in Latin and Greek that was the standard at the time, but she was clearly an amazing thinker. And, she was the first person ever to publish in the English language. She wanted her experiences and her reflections to be available to everyone. She says at one point that she doesn’t want attention drawn to herself but to the revelations from God that she was given but that were given for everyone.

As the years went by, Julian wasn’t entirely a recluse. She had interactions with church officials and other contemplatives, and as her reputation for wisdom grew, she had many people come to her for spiritual guidance. But most of her time was spent in prayer and contemplation.

So what did God show her and tell her? LOVE and more love. Endless, all encompassing, intimate love of God for God’s creatures. Jesus was happy to die for us, but not in order to pay a debt to God that humanity couldn’t pay, which is the classical doctrine of atonement. No, Christ’s suffering was an expression of his love, to join us in our suffering, so that there is no distance between us. God is ALL love. Unlike the God of the 14th century church, and unlike the God some of us were raised with, there is no wrath in God, no anger. In the longer text, she even claims that God doesn’t offer forgiveness because there is no anger in God, so nothing to forgive. Humans need to forgive themselves and one another, but God doesn’t forgive. LOVE. Everywhere. All the way down.

Julian likens our relationship to God to clothing we put on. Touching our bodies, our most private selves. Intimate. Elsewhere she writes, “At one moment my consciousness was taken down on to the sea bed, and there I saw green hills and valleys, looking as though they were covered in moss, with seaweed and sand. Then I understood this: that if a man or a woman were under the wide waters, if he could see God (and God is constantly with us) she would be safe, body and soul, and be unharmed, and furthermore, he would have more joy and comfort than words can say.” Even at the bottom of the sea, we are held by, safe with God.

I hope you aren’t starting to imagine that the world of 14th century England must have been a wonderful place, peaceful, calm for Julian to receive such visions. On the contrary – the 100 Years’ War was raging, and the Black Plague killed 3/4 of the population of England at its height in the 1340’s when Julian was a child. 3/4 of the population. And the plague didn’t end then though it receded. With those numbers, everyone lost someone or someones, so grief filled every heart. The church was was very powerful, and like all powerful institutions, it was also corrupt. Poverty was extensive with power and wealth in the hands of a few. Like now. Very much like now. Maybe not entirely foreign. And yet out of this turmoil and injustice came revelations of love so profound, so encompassing, so universal that they seem, well, otherworldly.

Let’s try to move a little closer to the visions. God manifests as every loving relationship we know, sister, brother, friend, spouse as well as parent. Julian has a long exposition about God as mother, feeding us with her very self, holding us close, comforting us, protecting us. And God is our father, love through and through. Imagine that everywhere we turn, in every circumstance and situation, we are entirely surrounded by love, clothed in love, called by love. There would be no need for fear. All would be well.

As intimate as many of Julian’s interactions with God were, she was always mindful that it was GOD speaking to her, revealing truths to her. In one vision, God showed her a small round thing, the size of a hazelnut, resting in the palm of her hand. She realized that that nut, that small round object, was “all that is made.” God was all the rest. And the nut continued to exist because God loved it. It was held in being by God’s love, vast, unimaginable. Perhaps you’ve had a glimpse of that vision at the sea shore or in the mountains or the desert, the small scale of human existence. Julian was clearly aware of it.

With the powerful messages of her revelations, Julian wrestled during those 20 years of contemplation over the question of sin. She wasn’t delusional – she knew that there were very bad things happening. She ends up telling a parable about a lord and a servant. It goes like this: A lord is seated and a servant is standing nearby. The lord looks at the servant with love and the servant shows reverence to the lord. The lord sends the servant on an errand and the servant, and I quote, “leaps forward and runs in great haste, in loving anxiety to do his lord’s will.” But the servant falls into a hole he didn’t see and is badly hurt. He groans, and moans and tries to find a way out, not noticing that the lord is very near and could help if he but asked.

In this parable, sin is an accident that happens in the exuberance of doing something good and not noticing where we’re going. And then we forget that what we need to be healed is near us if we’d but look. All we need to do is notice that help is at hand. Julian even claims that there’s a part of every soul that’s impervious to sin, a part of every one of us that sin can’t reach.

God is also our source of prayer. AND, according to Julian, our prayers bring God pleasure. She says to pray even when you don’t feel like it, even if you think prayer won’t come, because you’re bringing God pleasure. Our prayers bring God pleasure. Wow. The loving relationship is always there, always holding us, always delighting in us, even when we’re totally unaware of it.

In Julian’s revelations, it’s as though we are always and everywhere swimming in a sea of love, walking in a cloud of love, We are immersed, embedded, soaked by God’s love. It’s the truest thing about us.

The revelations are amazing. Pure love, all the way down. Can we claim her revelations as a truth we can access, even believe? Maybe not, but there are some clues for us along the way.

First, we need to remember that Julian thought she was on her death bed when the revelations occurred. Her insights were born in suffering. I would never suggest that anyone seek out suffering or that we wouldn’t alleviate suffering whenever we can. But there’s a sense in which our culture sometimes almost seems embarrassed by suffering, as though it ’s somehow unseemly. I’m so glad that our president is acknowledging the loss and grief that Covid-19 has caused and is causing us as a nation and doing so in such a personal way. Rather than turning away from suffering, we can honor it, even as we work to diminish it. And suffering can be , often is, an occasion for reflection, not shameful at all but a part of life. For Julian, God is always with us there.

Second, it’s not an accident that after she recovered physically she chose to lock herself away. She needed to be alone with these revelations, with the God who had offered her such intimacy, to give herself every chance to be present to God. Like St. Augustine, Julian talked about how much trouble we cause ourselves by trying to fill the God-shaped hole within us with other things. Power, money, too much food, too much alcohol or drugs, even being busy with too many good deeds – you can add to the list. My teacher, Henri Nouwen, talked, wrote, preached about the toxicity of distractions, and that was back in the early 1980’s before there were smart phones and tablets. But distractions have always been with us. We humans are masters at creating them and just terrible of getting rid of them. Yes?

It’s as though we are afraid of what we’ll find if we focus too hard, if we truly do nothing for too long, if we become still. What will we do with the tattered remnants of our dreams that appear in the silence, or the regrets that buffet us like a strong wind? What will we make of the broken relationships with the sharp edges that still threaten to wound us? What about the ghosts of guilt that dance around us and through us?

Listen to Mary Oliver’s poem “A Visitor”:

“My father, for example, who was young once and blue-eyed, returns on the darkest of nights to the porch and knocks wildly at the door, and if I answer I must be prepared for his waxy face, for his lower lip swollen with bitterness. And so, for a long time, I did not answer but slept fitfully between his hours of rapping. But finally there came the night when I rose out of my sheets and stumbled down the hall. The door fell open and I knew I was saved and could bear him, pathetic and hollow, with even the least of his dreams frozen inside him, and the meanness gone. And I greeted him and asked him into the house, and lit the lamp, and looked into his blank eyes in which at last I saw what a child must love, I saw what love might have done, had we loved in time.”

Isn’t this part of what we’re afraid of? Some version of this poem? Too little love, too late, or not at all? That the love we really need will never find us? Love that we can’t quite reach or that can’t quite reach us?

What if, instead of staring at each other, looking for something that can’t be there, what if Mary and her father had turned and together looked for God. Perhaps even that would have been too late, but perhaps not. And in that turning, even the past might be reinterpreted, and love, love that may have been there all along, would emerge.

Sin is an accident, not the core of who we are, not our guiding motivation. And help is nearby. Love is nearby. All we need to do is notice and reach out. Wherever you go, Love is there. Whatever you do, Love is right beside you, clothing you, holding you.

As when we visit a foreign country, Julian’s revelations offer us another vision, another way to see the world and others and ourselves. They tell us not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of God. Not to be afraid of ourselves. Not to be afraid of the silence that is a destination filled with beauty and hope. Not to be afraid of life or suffering or the depths of the sea because God is always with us, in us, around us.

If we can’t manage all that, then at least we can speak to ourselves and one another, gently and with conviction, the words that Jesus spoke to Julian: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

AMEN

UNISON READING                                                Julian of Norwich

At the same time, our Lord showed me a spiritual vision of his familiar love.  I saw that for us he is everything that we find good and comforting.  He is our clothing, wrapping us for love, embracing and enclosing us for tender love, so that he can never leave us, being himself everything that is good for us, as I understand it.

MUSIC                     I Will Give My Love an Apple               trad/HKJ

MISSION STATEMENT The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                    As a Doe Longs                             HKJ

    USF Chamber Singers, Dr. John Richmond, dir. recorded 1980s

        Prayer of Dedication                                Julian of Norwich

And thanksgiving is also part of prayer.  Thanksgiving is a new inward awareness, accompanied by great reverence and loving fear, when we apply ourselves with all our might to whatever action our good Lord inspires, rejoicing and giving inward thanks.  And sometimes thanksgiving is so abundant that it breaks out into words and says, “Good Lord, thank you, blessed may you be.” Amen.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER      The Turtle Dove             trad/HKJ

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Our Creator in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                

Jesus said to her, “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  May you embrace and express the love that you are, that created you, that you are created to be and do, trusting in that love, that all shall be well. Amen.

*POSTLUDE                       Sine Nomine     Vaughan Williams/ (descants)HKJ

*All Julian of Norwich quotes are from Mary C. Earle, Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love – Annotated and Explained

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