Sunday, September 17, 2017

Upper Room Liturgy - September 17, 2017 - Divine Compassion

Jim Marsh, ARCWP and Mary Theresa Streck, ARCWP, led the Upper Room liturgy with the theme: Divine Compassion.

Psalm 103 adapted by Nan Merrill and a reading from Abounding in Kindness by Elizabeth Johnson about Psalm 103 are printed below Jim's homily starter.

Homily Starter by Jim Marsh: Recently, I read The Book of Joy” which is about the meeting and ensuing dialogues of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu over the course of a week in 2015two great elder spiritual leaders of our time discussing how to live with joy in the midst of all the suffering in our world. They note that “nothing is more joyous than birth ….. in fact, joy is our birthright!  Did you know that in Buddhism, there are eight pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance that reside in our mind, and the four pillars of forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity that reside in our heart.

Today’s Gospel speaks of forgiveness and compassiontwo of the pillars of our hearts

Notice that Peter asks his question and immediately proposes an answer before Jesus responds.  No doubt, Peter probably thought his suggestion of seven was most generous since the rabbinical standard was three (Amos); yet he had now been following this Jewish Teacher for some time and perhaps sensed that Jesus would stretch’ the bounds of law once againOr maybe, he was remembering Jesus’ earlier admonition to “be perfect even as your Abba in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48) and seven was a sacred number to Jews, representing perfection.  

Nevertheless, Jesus responds with seventy times seven; in other words, don’t keep track! And then he follows with the parable of a ruler who had compassion and forgave the debt of a servant who owed tens of millions of dollars.  In turn, the ‘freed’ debtor did not have compassion for a colleague who owed him a much more modest sum of twenty dollars.  The story ends with the ruler revoking his forgiveness and having the ‘forgiven, but unforgiving debtor tortured, no doubt for all eternity since it was a debt that could never be repaid.  And then the gospel writer states that this is how Abba, the Holy One, will deal with us if we don’t forgive

So we have a story that contrasts large and small debts, and compassion versus a lack of compassion.  As humans, we have both the capacity for revenge and forgiveness.  To ask for forgiveness and to grant forgiveness are both challenging for many.  Think of people who have forgiven greatly e.g., the Amish parents who publicly forgave those who had murdered their children in a schoolhouse several years ago.  

My friends, let us remember the power we have “to loose and to bind.” When we seek forgiveness or to forgive, we heal and set free. Without forgiveness, we remain tethered, bound, trapped. The retributive/vengeful “eye for an eye” response will only create a world of blind people. 

Outside of natural disasters that are beyond our control, we create most of the suffering we experience in our world. But we can also determine the future, each day and each moment when we use our power to create and re-create joy, our birthright. Every day is a new opportunity to begin again… and forgiveness is necessary.  “No one is incapable of forgiving, and no one is unforgivable."

What did you hear?

A Reading from Psalm 103, adapted by Nan Merrill

Bless the Beloved, O my soul, and all that is within me;
I bless your Holy Name!
Bless the Beloved, O my soul, and remember the goodness of Love.

You forgive our stubbornness; you heal our disease,
You save us from the snares of fear,
You crown us with steadfast love and mercy,
You satisfy our every need and renew our spirit like the Eagle's.

Through You comes peace and justice for all who are oppressed.
You make known the pathway of truth, and guide us on the way.
You are merciful and gracious, quelling our anger with Your patient Love.

You love us more than we can ask or imagine; in truth, we belong to You.
For You understand us, requiting us not according to our ignorance and error.
As far as the heavens are higher above the earth,
so great is Your loving response toward those who are humble;

So far does your enduring strength uphold those who face the darkness within.
As parents are concerned for the children,
so you come to those who reach out in faith.
For our ways are known, our weaknesses seen with compassion.

As for humanity, our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; when the wind passes over, it is gone, and that place knows it no more.

Yet the steadfast love of the beloved is from everlasting to everlasting
to those who awaken, and justice to all generations,
to those who remember your promises, and follow your voice.

The Beloved's home is in our hearts, as we discover in the silence.
Bless the Beloved, O you angels, your faith-filled ones who hear the word, following the voice of love!

Bless the Beloved, all you people,
those who abandon themselves into Love's hands!

Praise the Beloved, praise all of creation!
Praise the Beloved, O my soul!

A Reading from Abounding in Kindness by Elizabeth Johnson

Psalm 103 praises God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness” (v. 8). In picturesque language the psalm goes on to say that God knows how fragile we are, like dust, like the wildflowers that wither when the dry wind blows. Yes, we are mortal, but God surrounds the world with steadfast love greater than the height of the sky above the earth; in a culture prior to airplanes and space travel, this was a significant comparison. Yes, we transgress, but instead of dealing with us as we deserve, God removes our sins farther away than the east is from the west. This psalmist had a good geographical imagination. Greater than earth's measurable height and depth, length and width, divine compassion abides through thick and thin, from everlasting to everlasting. Remembering this, people need to keep the covenant, which the prophet Micah elsewhere describes as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God (6: 8). No wonder the psalm ends with an outburst of praise, summoning all creation to bless such mighty goodness.

Abounding in kindness, the holy mystery of God is love beyond imagining. Not enough people seem to know this, even those who practice the Christian religion. But the drumbeat of this good news resounds throughout the history of ancient Israel where, from the start of their liberation from slavery, people encountered “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34: 6). The drumbeat becomes unmistakably intense in Jesus Christ who preached and enacted divine compassion in startling ways, all the way to the cross and beyond. Its volume ramps up in the church wherever this word is heard and practiced amid the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of people of this age.

These are the inspired words of Elizabeth Johnson, theologian, and we affirm these words by saying, Amen.

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