Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 6, 2022
In discerning today’s message, an earlier expectation requires broadening. While writing is an option for some, it is not an option for all. So what I thought would be us writing a letter to the Divine – the heart of our own hearts – will become a prayer to the Divine. The prayer will be invited at the message closing. Here’s a query for today, and to which we’ll come back
●from a Quaker named William – Is thy heart right?
●and from today’s closing hymn – Who in God’s heav’n has passed beyond [our] vision?
Since November, I’ve been reading and re-reading Chapter 12 of II Corinthians, all the while navigating life at a strong current. This letter is attributed to Apostle Paul and addresses a young, fractious, floundering church.
Ch. 12 is pretty intense: from visions beyond words gifted by the Divine, to unavoidable and relentless pain, to divine grace. Paradoxically, weakness can open a path to strength; indeed, herein is the power of Christ, which shapes my life as the power of Love.
Paul gives this story: Three times I appealed to the Lord about the thorn in my flesh, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
So – claims Paul – I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me – which for today’s message, let’s hold as ‘the power of Love’.
Paul continues – Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
A friend of my late stepmother has become a pen pal, and it was she who sent me the reference to this scripture. Her card arrived after I finished a series of major medical tests, which began due to a diagnosis of a chronic benign condition. Yet tests evolved to eliminate concerns about cancer. Indeed, the passage came at an opportune time.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me – remember, we’re holding ‘the power of Christ’ as ‘the power of Love’.
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul and the other apostles were traveling ministers, as was William Savery circa the late 18th century. His national home was the newly-formed United States, mired in partisanship and conquest. William’s ministry led him to England, and his sermon drawn upon today is titled “An Age of Uncommon Events”*; it’s from 1796.
He reminds Friends, [W]hile we are endeavouring to seek after truth, do not let us be afraid of coming to the knowledge of it.
Recognizing the budding natural science of the age, William commends one science worth them all. He goes on to explain how this is to know God and one’s self, an inquiry of thought as well as feeling.
The impact of such knowing, explains William, enlarges the love of professors of Christianity – so, those who claim to be Christian.
He calls upon the standard of Christ’s prayer amid agony, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
And he calls Friends to a prayer, Forgive us our trespasses, only as we forgive them that trespass against us. Yes, William includes only intentionally.
I am new to William Savery, and found “An Age of Uncommon Events” in search of Quaker references to II Corinthians.
What arises clearly for today’s message from William’s sermon and Chapter 12 of II Cor. is to honor the heart ache expressed in both – the type of heart ache from being broken open by the Light, by Christ who is the living path of Love.
Also, to face the paradox of heart ache and hardship with the presence of Christ – that is knowing that Christ’s presence is powerful, gifting inner strength through Love.
Friends, it is time now to prepare for our prayer to the Divine. For those of you who are able and wish to write this down, feel free. Most importantly, follow whatever form to which you feel called.
May we be faithful in listening to Spirit, and to welcome continuing revelation. May our worship inspire us to a vision of expansive Love, beginning right here where we are – among one another – even in heart ache, even amid hardship, and always in the presence of Christ.
Transitioning to prayer, I return to the query, and share excerpts from today’s texts:
●from Friend William, Is thy heart right?
●from today’s closing hymn, Who in God’s heav’n has passed beyond [our] vision?
EXCERPT from Ch. 12 of II Cor.
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish…
EXCERPT from “An Age of Uncommon Events”
Oh may the God of all mercy, wisdom, and power, hasten this day; enlarge the love of professors of Christianity one towards another, throw down all the walls of opposition, which were built up in the day of departure from the fountain of living water, and bring us again to drink at Shiloh’s stream; that all the heritage may drink at the fountain itself, and the world once more rejoice in knowing him to reign and to rule over all, whose right it is, and ever will remain.
*“An Age of Uncommon Events” is available online through the Quaker Heritage Press web site.