At the last stop along my religious journey, I was summoned to meet with the clerk of the Meeting and the alternate clerk. The reason was never expressed until I arrived, and I have to admit that it felt a little like I was being sent to the principal’s office. After I sat down and listened to the argument presented me, I was instructed to not make written mention of the vocal ministry shared during Meeting for Worship. This was news to me, since preserving anonymity in this public a forum made no logical sense.

Should we treat vocal ministry like a sermon, to be discussed and diffused, or like a support group? I would argue for the former. Sermons are meant to invite criticism and retelling. Hiding behind anonymity implies that we can’t tolerate internal criticism. The sermons preached by programmed Quaker ministers (or other Christian denominations) are certainly not given in strictest secrecy. They are meant to be heard. We as Friends ought to determine whether they speak to our condition or not, but they must be thoughtfully considered before we toss them aside.

Browse the internet today and one will come across a treasure trove of regular talks given by multiple ministers. The words, and sometimes the audio recordings have the power to invoke many different emotions. Many are extremely inspiring. A few have become greats of rhetoric, shared and reshared over the years. We are enriched by having them close at hand.

In my eleventh grade American Literature class, I read Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards’ famous hellfire and brimstone sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, which I have recently alluded to in passing. A liberal Quaker audience likely dismisses it out of hand as an archaic tract, but it retains its ability to shock even today, two-hundred and seventy five years after it was first presented to its audience.

To Edwards, hell is a very real place that awaits us if we do not make necessary and immediate reform within ourselves. I can’t say that I agree with his ten considerations, but he makes a very compelling case. A Friend in both senses of the term believes, as I do, that Edwards held great love for his people. He wanted to spare them from eternal damnation, as he believed it to be.

By contrast, the sermons preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. have become equally memorable and very popular to the current day. And yet, upon closer examination, King does not go lightly on anyone. His preaching pulls no punches and doesn’t let anyone off the hook, foe or friend equally. We would like to reduce King down to a base alloy, claiming him as our very own, but his words can be tough medicine.

Dig deep enough into any sermon and one will find specific remonstrances that can make us feel uneasy, but ideally spur us onward to greatness. King himself observed, "In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher."

On March 31, 1968, King spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, a mere five minute walk from my residence.

And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.

Worship, then, is not designed purely to make us feel good about ourselves. That is a mistake that befell the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day. It is a mistake that led the fickle masses to worship the Golden Calf in place of Jehovah. Life can often be good, but it is never easy. When we try to avoid and dodge the need for sacrifice, we become complacent to the status quo.

I’ve returned to this topic again for the same reason. In a perfect world, with perfect people, I would not have to constantly emphasize these identical points. Unlike Jonathan Edwards, I don’t intend to shame or frighten those who would hear or read my words, but I do write very intentionally. What we say in Meeting for Worship has a tremendous amount of power, but to treat every First Day as though what came before is unimportant, or at best inconsequential, is the failing of unprogrammed worship.

Programmed ministers often present their talks in the form of series on a particular idea, both for their own benefit and to keep their audience listening. Every Worship is not full of ghostly disembodied voices, nor is it a slate wiped clean from weeks prior. In seeking to disengage from liturgy and ritual, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is why intense waiting for the Holy Spirit is key and entirely indispensable.

We cannot be the children of George Fox if we forget his own revolutionary intentions. If we are the very portrait of complacency and avoidance, we will slip further and further behind. Until we become perfect, we need to be aware of our role in pushing others towards action, not being content to rest upon our laurels.

King concluded his talk with a mention of the New Testament book of Revelation.

Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."

We can’t wait. We must listen and respond. What we share must be public domain. Our Light is diminished otherwise. Many cracks and crevices that have seen no hope, nor any illumination remain untouched by human kindness and intention. Let us try again.

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