|June 20, 1999|
|First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct 06776|
|Rev. Michael Moran|
|Write to Rev. Moran|
Proverbs 2:1-11 My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures --
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 prudence will watch over you;
and understanding will guard you. (NRSV)
Psalm 25:1-22 Of David.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness' sake, O LORD!
8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 For your name's sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the LORD?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13 They will abide in prosperity,
and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all its troubles. (NRSV)
Its a great pleasure to welcome all the fathers here today - Happy Fathers Day! And also to welcome our graduates and the recipients of the A. Russell Ayre Scholarships - Congratulations.
A Sunday like this brings a number of guests into our church who are not familiar with the traditions of Congregational worship, and who may, about now, be wondering how they will make it through the sermon. After all, it is an exercise of unspecified length with a reputation for tediousness that is unparalleled except perhaps by the Golf Channel or an infomercial for George Formans Lean Mean Grilling Machine.
So let me set out my goal from the start. I want to honor fatherhood and acknowledge commencement by offering a little piece of paternal advice. It is actually not my own advice, but advice that has been passed from generation to generation and in different shapes and guises, from religion to religion.
If any of you think it is bad form for a minister to give advice from the pulpit to people he hardly knows, let me suggest you not think of it as advice; think of it as proverbial wisdom.
Now proverbial wisdom sounds very old fashioned, but let me assure you that this is cutting edge stuff. I know its cutting edge because Ive heard the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman describe the new world order, and this fits right in.
Friedman has been all over the networks promoting his latest book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Its a book about the emerging order of international relationships as we are drawn into globalization, and the tension that exists between a world that is being recreated as a global village and a world that is still dominated by tribal loyalties.
Friedman says the best image of the old world is the Berlin Wall. The wall showed a boundary; it separated whats mine from whats yours; it was maintained by brutal hierarchy and the concentration of power. The best image of the new world is the Internet. It connects what is mine to what is yours; it is maintained by a democratic sharing of power and a decentralized community.
In the old world what mattered was the barriers - the things that distinguish between us. In the new world what matters is the connections - the things that bind us together.
In the old world order Id see the world as "Congregational" and "non-Congregational." The preacher in front of an interfaith audience would seize the opportunity to make converts, highlighting what distinguishes his or her point of view from all others. In the new world order the preacher would look for common ground.
Proverbial wisdom belongs to the new world order. Proverbial wisdom, like prayer, binds religions together. Its one of those areas where you can read a Hindu text, a Muslim text, a Jewish Text, a secular humanist text, or a Christian text and come away with the same insight. I have tried to weave the Jewish and Christian expression of this wisdom into the readings of this service, but now Id like to share with you an example of how it is stated in Taoist writing - and there it is stated as a question to ponder. And the question is: Who can wait while the mud settles?
Who can wait while the mud settles?
Like most proverbial wisdom, this can be taken as a brilliant insight or an over chewed cliché. I guess it depends on your circumstances, but I have found it a most useful question to ask myself at some difficult times.
Maybe the reason this simple question hits home for me is because of one of the surrogate fathers that came into my life. I had a wonderful father, but my relationship with him often participated more in the old world order than in the new. That is, I put up barriers between us so that I would know where he ended and I began. Im sure this had some psychological necessity, but it kept me from learning many things he could have taught me. Even simple things like golf.
I kidded before about the Golf channel, but I have to admit to watching it on occasion. Id like, after 40 years, to learn how to play the game. Now my father was a very good golfer. And when I was young we used to go and hit em out at a local driving range. Hed try to give me tips, but I just couldnt take them. My typical answer was, "Im doing that!" So hed back off and let me chop away.
But I was lucky, in my obstinate stupidity, to meet a number of older men who could tell me things and teach me lessons I would never accept from my father. One of these surrogate fathers was my boss in the summertime, a man named Tom Allen.
Tom Allen ran the waterfront at the lake where I worked summers in high school and college. Tom was one of the old guard - I believe a member of the class of 1922 from Lafayette College. Hed held the world record in the high jump for about two weeks in the early 1920s, hed played basketball in the days when the court was surrounded by a net and there were no backboards; he was friends with the man who coached Johnny Weissmuller, star of the early Tarzan movies, to his Olympic gold medal in swimming. Toms favorite story was how this famous swimming coach couldnt swim himself - how hed walk up and down the side of the pool in his suit and tie smoking a cigar, barking orders at his swimmers as they came up for a breath.
Tom Allen had been a coach and Athletic Director at Glens Falls High School for 40 plus years and then, in retirement, had houses in Florida and on Lake George. He knew who he was and what made him happy. He followed the horses from Hialeah to Saratoga. He enjoyed life and was a patient, kind teacher and boss and a wonderful influence.
Anyway, two stories about Tom and proverbial wisdom. One summer the Rolling Stones came out with a song, Mothers Little Helper. Theres a line in that song, "What a drag it is getting old." I was singing that line as I happened to turn a corner and bump into Tom one day. I was immediately flustered, thinking that this was surely an insult to him. I dont know whether it bothered him more that I was singing such a line or that I identified it with him, but he sat me down and gave me a little talk about the value of time and patience and opportunity. He convinced me that there was another side to growing old - and that was called being alive. And being alive was not a drag.
Another time I dropped my high school ring into the lake by accident. I jumped in and began to frantically search for it, but all I did was stir up the silt on the bottom. I couldnt see a thing. Tom asked me what I was doing, and I explained the situation. He told me to get out and wait. I didnt want to wait, I wanted to dive back down and look. But I did what I was told. About 15 minutes later Tom told me to go to the other end of the swimming area and slip into the water and as quietly as I knew how to float on the surface to where the ring went down. As I came over the spot the water had cleared up and I could see a little reflection of light shining brightly off the bottom. I went down and sure enough, there was the ring. All I had to do was wait for the mud to settle and I retrieved what Id lost.
Who can wait while the mud settles?
Life is sometimes dark like muddy water, and were in such a big hurry that we just stir it up and make it worse. Do you see the flowers in that window over there. Thats the Easter window in this church and those are lilies. In the western religious tradition the lily is a symbol of renew, rebirth, and resurrection because out of a very ugly and dried up bulb comes this gorgeous and vibrant flower. In the Eastern tradition it is the water lily or lotus that takes on this symbolic role. Out of the darkest, muddiest water comes a beautiful bright flower - a symbol of wisdom, of enlightenment - for those who are patient and dont give up.
The late great psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that most of his patients came to him because they suffered from not knowing what life meant for them. They came to the doctor, he said, looking for something that would give meaning and form to the confusion of their minds. What they really sought was what no one could give them, that is, faith, hope, love, and insight.
And then Jung wrote something which sounds very familiar to students of religion. He wrote: These four highest achievements of human effort (that is, faith, hope, love, and insight) are so many gifts of grace, which are neither to be taught nor learned, neither given nor taken, neither withheld nor earned, since they come through experience, which is something given, and therefore beyond the reach of our plans and accomplishment.
We cannot earn experience. We can only draw close to it and be open to the lessons it teaches. But that takes time and patience.
Who can wait while the mud settles?
My wife has a little poem she likes to say to me:
Patience is a virtue, find it if you can.
Sometimes in a man, but never in a woman.
Wait, that doesnt rhyme. Maybe I got that last line backwards. Find it if you can Sometimes in a woman, but never in a man. Ah, yes, thats it.
But thats a whole other subject, and Im sure it will only further muddy the water to go there.
So let me end by honoring my father, who was a patient man about all things but one,
sermons that didnt end on time.
Let us pray:
God in heaven, who in wisdom created earth and sky, life and death, time and eternity, who brought forth beautiful diversity in biology and culture, in race and creed, in the midst of your presence we join our hearts in prayer. We gather to give thanks for the love we celebrate on Fathers Day and the hopes we cherish in this season of graduations and new beginnings. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Teach us to count our blessings that our lives may be filled with thanksgiving and praise. Teach us to be patient, that we may persevere in the hours of darkness.
The shadow of darkness does fall upon many hearts this day, O Lord, as friends and family struggle with illness, with loss, with broken relationships and shattered hopes. And so our prayers reach out to those in need, an act of love and commitment to be servants of your love in their lives.
We offer you our prayers for the family of Angie DAquila and for all those who have stood by the graves of their children and suffered more than we can know or imagine.
We pray also for the families of Helen Lyon, Keith Mayo, Pearl Reynolds and Ronnie, your servants who have now departed this life.
We ask your healing power to be present to Doris Blackman, Mary Ellen Lanigan, Blair Arnold, Robert Wojda, Veronica McGuire,
and those we name in the quiet of our hearts.
When we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we experience the presence of your Holy Spirit with us, interceding on our behalf and bringing us your peace.
Fill our hearts with your compassion, and give us strength to serve those we pray for in their need. Amen
Isaiah 40:28-31 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (NRSV)
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