Wonder Opens Us to… Gratitude

Worship Script (4 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

From Lost Wonder by Esther de Waal

When we fail in wonder we fail in gratitude. The response to wonder is calling attention to the world in order to praise it.

HYMN #361 "Enter, Rejoice, and Come In"

 

FIRST READING

From The Heart of Christianity by Marcus J. Borg

Blindness and limited vision go with a closed heart. We do not see clearly when our hearts are closed. A shut heart and shut eyes go together; we have eyes but do not see. So also we have ears and do not hear. Enclosed in our own world, we neither see nor hear very well…

A closed heart lacks gratitude. If successful in life, a person with a closed heart often feels self-made and entitled; or if life has gone badly, bitter and cheated. But gratitude is far from it.

A closed heart is insensitive to wonder and awe. The world looks ordinary when our hearts are closed.

SECOND READING

From God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel

 The profound and perpetual awareness of the wonder of being has become a part of the religious consciousness of the Jew. Three times a day we pray:

We thank Thee…

For Thy miracles which are daily with us,

For Thy continual marvels…

We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food.  Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation, “Blessed be Thou…by Whose word all things come into being.”  A trivial act and a reference to the supreme miracle…. This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom of all things.

 

HYMN #322 "Thanks Be For These"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

“Gratitude and Wonder” by Jack Kornfield

 Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small. Buddhist monks begin each day with chants of gratitude for the blessings of their lives. In the same way, Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to Mother Earth and Father Sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life.

 Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life. In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given: “Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in me the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.”

 Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude is not dependent on what you have. It depends on your heart. You can even find gratitude for your measure of sorrows, the hand you’ve been dealt. There is mystery surrounding even your difficulties and suffering. Sometimes it’s through the hardest things that your heart learns its most important lessons.

 As gratitude grows it gives rise to joy. We experience the courage to rejoice in our own good fortune and in the good fortune of others. In joy, we are not afraid of pleasure. We do not mistakenly believe it is disloyal to the suffering of the world to honor the happiness we have been given. Joy gladdens the heart. We can be joyful for people we love, for moments of goodness, for sunlight and trees, and for the very breath within our lungs. Like an innocent child, we can rejoice in life itself, in being alive.

 

MEDITATION

From Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.

I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life;
for having twenty-four brand-new hours before me.

 (Pause) Blessed be.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and that they speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

“God Crashes the Wedding”

by Jake Morrill, minister, Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, Tennessee

Was it only dumb luck in that wedding, out at the state park, when I happened to call thunder and lightning down out of the sky? Or was it a sign from God? If so, what on earth was it a sign of?

Things had started to fall apart the night prior, at the rehearsal. The bride arrived with the late-breaking idea that what the ceremony needed was some open flame.  She wanted to walk with her groom in a circle around what sounded to me like a barbeque grill. The internet, she informed me, said ancient people did this kind of thing all the time. When it comes to wedding officiants, I’m of the school known as “not-so-finicky.” As long as they promise to hang in there? And seem to mean what they say? I can live with a lot. Heck, it’s their marriage. Still, the introduction of fire at this stage of the game did give me pause. It was hard to hold at bay visions of flaming tuxedos. 

The groom, for his part, had arrived at the rehearsal already in some kind of a mood. So, when I accidentally lined up the groomsmen to my right, instead of my left, it did not go over well. You know how some people like to do their tantrums very quietly? And it’s kind of unnerving? Well, that was the groom. He muttered something about tradition. How groomsmen may not matter to some people, but for other people, groomsmen were important. Really important. The groomsmen all sheepishly shuffled to my other side. 

In the ministry, I have found, authority comes when people have the vague sense that you know what you’re doing. This was not the case here. The bride couldn’t fathom that I hadn’t heard of the fire ritual that the ancients had delivered unto the internet. The groom eyed me with suspicion: if I didn’t know where groomsmen were supposed to stand, what else would I fumble? My feelings toward them were of equal good cheer.

The next day was overcast. This was Norris State Park, near where I live, north of Knoxville. The park is built alongside Norris Lake, which itself is stopped up by Norris Dam, built in the ‘30s, when the Tennessee Valley Authority brought power to the region. The park has an outdoor amphitheater: a half-acre bowl in the earth, with stone benches stuck in it, leading down to a small stage. And so it began. The tinny boom-box prelude. I stepped onto the stage. Then, the groomsmen and the groom, standing where grooms and groomsmen should stand. Then, the bridesmaids, and then, at last, the bride. Behind us, the steady warmth of the sacred barbeque grill. I opened my book.

“Friends,” I began. “We gather this day in the presence of God.” 

What happened next sounds like it’s out of the Bible, or else a cartoon. With the timing of an old stand-up comedian, right as I said, “in the presence of God,” the whole sky flickered white, like a black-and-white movie. There was a vast crack of thunder, which rumbled out into nothing, leaving us standing there. 

“Be still,” says the forty-sixth Psalm, “And know that I am God.” Which is what happened. We were still. Something shifted. The groom looked at me with new regard. I held myself back from shouting, “Ta da!” When things go your way, it helps if you don’t look too pleased or surprised.

And yes, I will tell you it was a sign from God. To which you might say, “Whoa.” By which you might actually mean, “Are you nuts?” Because you’d want to tell me about the water droplets and ice chips up there in the clouds that bang around, building up static electricity. You’d want to say that, at some point, the charge gets too much to be contained, and so is released as lightning and thunder. Which might be loud, or majestic, or all sorts of things. But is not, even when it coincides with the words of a preacher, any old sign from God.

There are those, after every earthquake and hurricane, who scuttle out into the light to say that the victims deserved it. The way they figure, God controls everything, so if your house has been flattened, you probably had it coming. And I don’t mean that, either.

What I mean is this life leaves us open and fragile. Hang around long enough, and we’re going to get hurt. So, we arrange things to fake a degree of control. We build dams to hold back the water, and we call this power. We use certain words, certain ways, to hold back the icy torrent always rising within us. This is why it matters where the groomsmen will stand, or why we want our wedding day to have fire. It’s why we hold up a view of the universe that makes perfect sense: a God who controls everything, or no God at all. But then comes the heartbreak, the hurricane, or the moment of grace that defies explanation. And our ideas all fail, and our words fall to dust.

Maybe a sign is not the same as a message. Maybe it only comes as a simple reminder. That, no matter the weather, we gather this day in the presence of God. That we’re sustained by forces we did not create. That, ultimately, we come together for the express purpose of making a covenant of love.

 

HYMN #118 "This Little Light of Mine"

 

BENEDICTION

Let us give thanks with each breath

Let our service and care

Be a form of giving thanks

And let them provoke gratitude in others

So that the whole world might one day

Be a chorus of praise and thanksgiving

Go in peace.