Morning Worship: Do what you can in small ways to change the world

“Love is patient, love is kind, love never fails,” said the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton as he began his fifth and final meditation at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His title was “Love Never Fails,” and his Scripture was 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

“ ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more warnings, the fire next time,’ ” Braxton said. “I have ended all my previous meditations with this song fragment. Several of you have asked, “What does it mean?” These are words of poetry with multiple meanings. Some versions say no more warnings. Others say no more water.”

These work songs were secret code, he said.

“Steal away, steal away home to Jesus” was code that a slave had escaped and that he or she was “going home to Jesus” was code for freedom. The slave master thought it meant the slave was singing about heaven.

“ ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign’ means the slaves were singing about justice and the God of justice. The God of justice would not be mocked; injustice has consequences,” Braxton said. “I know that [The Fire Next Time] is the title of a book of essays by James Baldwin. I know it, and I know its content. I intended these words to be a poetic expression for us to ponder.

“People came to Beethoven after hearing the first notes of the Fifth Symphony and asked what they meant. He just played them again and said ‘They mean what you hear.’ Like Jesus said of his parables, let those who have ears to hear, hear.”

Braxton said his intention for his meditations this week was to give people a few points to ponder every day.

“I intended this [time] to be a prayerful conversation by a fellow traveler into the mystery of being,” he said. “Reflecting on the racial divide is a sensitive topic, and it could be approached in a judgmental fashion, but I wanted to initiate a spiritual conversation, a dialogue of the soul in an ironic manner to build some bridges.

“I have been heartened by your response,” he continued. “You have told me it has been helpful and enriching spiritually.”

Some people seek to avoid discussion of the racial divide, he said. They feel it is too volatile and complex to talk about and they don’t want to get involved.

“St. Paul challenges us to not take the easy road, to get more involved,” Braxton said. “Love necessarily involves the world.”

He cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called on Christians to reject cheap grace, just going through the motions of religious observance.

“Only real grace is obedient to the law of love,” Braxton said. “Grace through the God of mystery and love requires concrete deeds in specific situations. Love never fails.”

What, then, should you do? he asked the congregation.

“Pray, listen, learn, think and act,” he said twice: Find time for silence to pray about the cultural and racial divide. Listen to the Spirit and to the voices of people around you, especially those with a different point of view. Learn new things and look to new horizons.

“Think, turning over in your mind what you have gleaned from prayer, listening and learning,” Braxton said. “From thinking, maybe you will be moved to act, to do something. Nothing is too small to do. You might think you can’t affect global warming, but each of you can do something that is worth more than you think.”

“Do what you can” was the guiding principle of Mother Teresa’s work, he said. He visited with her for two weeks and worked alongside her.

“She and her sisters did nothing more than clean the wounds, give water to and feed those who were dying, one at a time,” Braxton said. “People often mocked her because she was not changing social structures.”

She said to him, “But Father, critics could use that time [they took in criticizing] to do what they can.”

He added, “The situation has not changed, but she did what she could.”

“My parting words to you are to urge you to open your minds, hearts and spirit,” Braxton said. “Spend time each day to listen, learn, think and then, because of prayer, act with hearts full of love. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippos, wrote, ‘Oh God, how late have I loved thee … kindle in me the fire of divine love.’ So abide these three, faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. Praise be to Jesus Christ, both now and forever. Amen.”

Deacon Ed McCarthy presided. Gabor Balla, a student of general medicine at the University of Debrecen in Hungary and a scholarship student at Chautauqua with the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, led the Chautauqua Choir in singing “Peace Like a River,” an African-American spiritual arranged by Mack Wilberg. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services.