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May I Suggest

May I Suggest…

Rev. Paul Sprecher

Second Parish in Hingham, www.secondparish.org  

June 2, 2013

 

Centering Thought: “This is the day that the Lord has made;

                               let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  -Psalm 118:24

 

Reading:  “May I Suggest” Susan Werner                 -Sung by Red Molly

[ You may listen to the song here ]

 

May I Suggest, Susan Werner – Sung by Red Molly

May I suggest

May I suggest to you

May I suggest this is the best part of your life

May I suggest

This time is blessed for you

This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright

Just turn your head

And you'll begin to see

The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight

The reasons why

Why I suggest to you

Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

 

There is a world

That's been addressed to you

Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes

A secret world

Like a treasure chest to you

Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerise

A lover's trusting smile

A tiny baby's hands

The million stars that fill the turning sky at night

Oh I suggest

Oh I suggest to you

Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

 

There is a hope

That's been expressed in you

The hope of seven generations, maybe more

And this is the faith

That they invest in you

It's that you'll do one better than was done before

Inside you know

Inside you understand

Inside you know what's yours to finally set right

And I suggest

And I suggest to you

And I suggest this is the best part of your life

 

This is a song

Comes from the west to you

Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun

With a request

With a request of you

To see how very short the endless days will run

And when they're gone

And when the dark descends

Oh we'd give anything for one more hour of light

 

And I suggest this is the best part of your life.[i]

 

Sermon:   “May I Suggest…                                            -Rev. Paul Sprecher

“May I suggest this is the best part of your life?”

I can’t prove it – only you can prove it.  But I suggest….

I find here some ancient wisdom, passed down from tradition, from stories told around campfires, from sacred scripture. We too readily discard ancient wisdom. We suffer from what we might call “presentism,” a belief that all is new, that everything is different today, that parents (in particular) have nothing to teach their children anyone because they grew up in the stone age.

I’m reminded of a comment by Mark Twain: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years" – and how much humankind has learned in the last 10,000 years or so.

May I suggest that you consider your life and how you will live it, remembering your highest aspirations and being kind to yourself and to others.

     May I suggest that we – each of us – are blessed, that we are surrounded by miracles, that we are the fruit of generations who are  empowered and expected to pass on a slightly better heritage than we received, and that the days we have on this sacred earth will come to an end.

 

May I suggest

This time is blessed for you

This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright

Just turn your head

And you'll begin to see

The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight

The reasons why

this is the best part of your life.[ii]

You have only the present moment in which to live.  It’s all too easy to become distracted, distanced from this moment.  We all experience regrets, fears; guilt, worry; disappointments, anxiety – holding the past but remembering the bad side, and facing the future with dread rather than with hope.

But you are blessed with this moment.  And in this moment you are alive; you have come safe to this place in your life.

Jesus says, [Matt 6:25-30, passim]

“… I tell you, do not worry about your life ….  Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life….  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” 

 

To live in this moment, you can look around and see the thousand reasons just beyond your sight by which you are blessed.

There’s an old gospel hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” and that’s a pretty good idea.  It’s not about ignoring “reality;” it’s about seeing reality; remembering how you have been blessed, how fortunate it is that you are here, in this moment.

I mean that we can and should actively consider how fortunate we have been in our lives.  So take a minute here, now, and bring to mind what you have been given.

[Silence]

And then say “Thank you.”

This is a practice you could undertake regularly.  Step back, remember what you have been blessed with, and say “Thanks.”

This is faith; a faith that no matter what may befall us, what ill fortune may come upon us, we will be able to face it in that moment.

Think of Nathan’s “Summer Camp Blues,”[iii] our story for all ages this morning.  Nothing is going right for Nathan; but even there, even in that misery, he stumbles across a reason to be grateful, to know his place, and to recognize that he is blessed – a little bunny whose life he can save.

And so we return to gratitude.  We orient toward thanksgiving rather than complaining.  We acknowledge that we must forgive and in that way be forgiven, so that we are freed from resentments and anger and regret.

We sang earlier the words of Paul Gaugin from our teal hymnal:

Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going?

What we are is blessed.

This moment, this moment we are given, this we are given, this time in our lives, the only time we have – may I suggest this is the best part of your life.

 

And all around us is wonder:

There is a world

That's been addressed to you

Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes

A secret world

Like a treasure chest to you

Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize.[iv]

We are surrounded by miracles.

Walt Whitman was asked, “Do you believe in miracles” and he replied:  “is there anything else?”  Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have worked many miracles; we sometimes try to explain them away, to find natural causes – and that is appropriate.  We have learned to use science to heal in body and in spirit and these are great achievements.  But we also recognize that our bodies and our lives are not just machines, that we are whole persons, and that our own attitudes, effort and expectations are also bound up in being whole.  It’s noteworthy that Jesus often said – when thanked by someone who was healed – “Your faith has made you whole.”  Your faith.

Some colleagues and I were discussing the story of the feeding of the 5,000 from the Gospel of Mark  [6:30-44].  I read the story as an invitation to generosity. 

All of those who wanted to learn from Jesus were gathered in a deserted place.  No doubt some had brought provisions, while others had not.  A little boy offered to share what he had; everyone was invited to share in the blessing of the loaves and fishes, and – a miracle – there was enough.  It was in fact an embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus preached about, a kingdom in which all would have enough for their needs.

In our children’s story, Nathan –in the middle of the friendless misery of summer camp – experiences a miracle, a sudden possibility open in front of him, a life he can save.  And that miracle awakens him out of outrage and bitterness and into wonder.

If we look and see the miracles all around us, the secret world addressed to us, we will also do what we can to defend against the degradation of this world.  Learn what is enough for ourselves.  Learn to live lightly on the earth.  AND work to protect the earth that feeds us, the water that sustains us, and the atmosphere that we breathe. 

What are we? We are human beings surrounded by miracles.

We can recognize miracles, and we can help to preserve and protect them.

 

May I suggest that you have a purpose here, that the hopes and dreams and expectations of generations are expressed in you.

There is a hope

That's been expressed in you

The hope of seven generations, maybe more

And this is the faith

That they invest in you

It's that you'll do one better than was done before

Inside you know

Inside you understand

Inside you know what's yours to finally set right.[v]

You come from ancestors, from parents and grandparents and generations before you.

You come from people who had great hopes for you, who wanted something better for you – maybe just a little, maybe a lot; and you have been given the means to do a little more, and to hand on the hopes and dreams, and to do one better than was done before.

Sometimes children are dealt a bad hand; they come from families of abuse, neglect, despair.

Sometimes doing one better is about NOT succumbing to a generations-long pattern of alcoholism, of addiction, or of abuse.  Some of us are born into narrow worlds, and doing one better is to live and pass on a wider vision, a vision of a world less riven by separation within and between families; among tribes; between nations.

And some of us are dealt a good hand.  From those born to good fortune, more is expected. As Jesus put it, [Luke 12:48] “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

It’s often difficult to figure out what is expected of us, what purposes are ours to fulfill.  It takes discernment, and sometimes we can only figure it out by in looking back.

We know we can’t change the world all by ourselves.  But always there is the question, “what can you do better than was done before?”  What is yours to finally set right?

Nathan, in the midst of the misery of summer camp, finds a frightened bunny to free and restore to the possibility of life, his tiny but significant thing to set right.

Let me say a word about my own journey.  About fifteen years ago, I began having a feeling of discontent with my job in business.  I imagined myself retiring from that job when I became 65, and I found myself realizing that doing that would not be enough.  Reflecting back on my life, where I come from, my interests and the skills I had developed in the course of my careers to that point, I realized that becoming a minister was beckoning to me; it felt like a calling.  And so I have arrived at this place.

Again I’m experiencing a sense that something more is expected of me.

I’m not sure what it will be – probably some more direct role in fulfilling the charge Jesus left his disciples when he said [Matt 25:35-36, 45]:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….  Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 

But I don’t yet know where that will lead.  One of my colleagues said, “Have you asked the universe?”  I’m still waiting for a reply.

So I’m content to live in the moment, notice the miracles, and wait to see what will unfold.

And it has not been easy to open myself again to uncertainty.  I have loved this congregation, each of you, and I have loved this place.  As we’ve been cleaning out my office and various closets – there are some things I still need to set right here – as I’ve been preparing to pass this ministry on to Stephanie, I’ve been revisiting and appreciating the places and people.  But I feel something else calling, even though I’m not sure what it is.  I have faith that I will know, that it will become apparent in due course.

Where do we come from?  We come from ancestors going back many generations.  We come from love.  What are we?  We are human beings who are set to purposes; we are here to do one better than before , to find and fix what is ours to finally set right.

 

And our lives will end.

This is a song

Comes from the west to you

Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun

With a request

With a request of you

To see how very short the endless days will run.[vi]

 One of the sad and difficult but also rewarding parts of being a minister is to give reminders that death comes to us all, and to give reminders that each moment, each day is precious.

Some of you have recovered from grave illnesses or known others who have; you will have noticed how much more precious being alive is when the prospect of the end has been so present.

And it is the minister who is present when death comes, and when mourning happens, and when comfort is most needed.  It is the minister who reminds you that we are all subject to that ancient truth, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  Let me say that sharing those time with families has been among the most difficult but also the most moving responsibilities I have had during the time I have served here at Second Parish.

During my business career, I went to training program in which the first assignment was to write my obituary.  This was not a morbid exercise (though it might seem like it!); it was a way of bringing into focus what really matters for my life, a way of remembering and recommitting to my own highest aspirations.

Thinking of our own end reminds us to live each day to the full; to say “I love you” often to those we cherish; and to forgive.

The Buddha says, “The world does not know that we must all come to an end here;--but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.”

What are we?   We are mortal creatures.  Where are we going?  No one truly knows, because no one has returned to tell us; and even if they did, we would be unlikely to believe them.

My friend Rabbi Shira Joseph and I were part of our Interfaith group’s presentations to the community that we called “Hot Topics,” and in one of our sessions we got onto the subject of what happens after we die.  Father Jim Rafferty of St. Paul’s expressed the sure and certain hope of resurrection and of heaven as taught by his faith.  Shira said “Jews are not so sure about whether we’ll go to heaven when we die, but we’re pretty sure that if anyone gets there, everyone will.  And we also know that the best way to prepare for that possibility is by living our lives in a way that will make us ready for and worthy of being there.”  As a Unitarian Universalist, I couldn’t put it better.

And so we would live in gratitude, in wonder, with purpose, and with the knowledge that we will end, and that we must live fully in each moment.

[Play first verse of “May I Suggest”]

May you find the blessing and the amazing grace in each moment;

May you have the eyes of a child to see the miracles all around;

May you find your ways to do one better than was done before.

May you make each precious minute of life count.

For this is the day that we are given; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Blessed be, and Amen.



[ii] Susan Werner, “May I Suggest”

You can also see the song performed by Red Molly here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNqywS4TPw0

[iii] “Summer Camp Blues,” from Aaron McEmrys, After Aesop:  Stories for All Ages, Santa Barbara, CA:  Rose Window Media, 2011, pp. 164-169.

[iv] Susan Werner, “May I Suggest”

[v] Susan Werner, “May I Suggest”

[vi] Susan Werner, “May I Suggest”