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Sermon Archives

The Righteous Mind

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Apr 21

This is what we do when we don’t know what else to do….

We come together, voice our grief, and offer up our prayers to God. We come into our sanctuary. We turn to words of solace and comfort in scripture and song. Our hearts find compass and companionship there in what is familiar, in what has been and can be trusted – what has been trusted for millennia. Sometimes, the words need no interpretation, no sermon, no added opinions, just the gifts of time, and silence and togetherness. This is what we do when our hearts need healing, when our hope needs shoring up, when our faith needs to remember that God is love and that all manner of things will be made well.

Now that the kids have left the service, we invite you to settle in for a time, here in this sanctuary, away from the media, safe from judgment or advice of others, here where the Spirit meets us wherever we are. Settle in and let yourselves be held by our gracious God that is our rock and our strength – a very present help in trouble.

Before we turn to this time of readings and silence and song, and before we share with in our litany of lamentation and hope, I invite us to pray during our silences and in the days ahead for those in our community who have been especially touched by the week’s events. I invite us each to lift up Sally O’Brien and her niece who were safely reunited at the finish line, Emi Fujiwara Larsen who was volunteering in the medical tent in Copley Square, and Ada Grace LaMaster who’s connected through her choir with the severely wounded sister of Martin Richard, the 8 year old who died. We pray also for all the LaMasters, the Blancs and Ann Curby who live in the Norfolk St. neighborhood, and for the Wilson Brauns who were blocks away from the house with the boat, and for Alicia Pritt who rode out those last hours just 300 yards away from that boat. I invite your prayers for all those we know, and those we don’t, who live in Watertown and Cambridge and whose houses and backyards were entered by armed officers, whose skies were patrolled by Blackhawk helicopters. The tragedy and trauma of all these experience will impact people in different ways but let us ask God to touch these sisters and brothers with whatever each may need.

I invite us also during this time to pray for Trinity Church and for Old South Church, for its ministry to athletes, for their wounded, and for their leaders. And, I invite us to pray for my colleagues Imam Webb and Yusufi Vali who lead the Islamic Society Boston Cultural Center. I’ve been talking several times a day with Yusufi and when I texted him last night to ask how he was doing, he wrote: “Need God. Need his angels. And need his saints.” For those of you who know him, and many of you do through our connections with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, this is not the way this guy usually speaks. I promised I would have us pray for just these things for him and for his community, braced for what may be to come.

These are hard things to hear about and from our close friends, and there are surely many, many more stories for us to share in the hours and days ahead. But there’s one more thing I need to share now, courtesy of our organist, Peter Sykes. It came to me as a gift since it offers a broader perspective and places the historic events of this week in an even wider context of our American history. It’s a stunning echo of an earlier time when violence rocked the streets of Boston and surrounding towns. It’s the words of an over 200 year-old hymn that fits our time and place in a most amazing way. The American composer William Billings penned these words just a few years into the Revolutionary War which began when the “shot heard round the world” was fired on April 19th, 1775. In it, he references and rephrases another old hymn, Psalm 137. Billings’ words are as follows:

By the rivers of Watertown, where we sat down, and there we wept,
when we remembered Boston.
Lord God of Heaven, preserve them, defend them,
Deliver and restore them unto us again.

A voice was heard in Roxbury which echo’d thro’ the Continent
Weeping for Boston because of their danger.

Sisters and brothers, this is what we do when we need healing. By the rivers of Watertown, by the Charles, in Cambridge and in Boston, we gather together, we weep together, we read and sing our scripture and we turn our hearts to God whose peace surpasses all understanding.

Let us pray… Holy God, our hearts long
for an encouraging and assuring word,
After a week of tragedy, we are hungry
for some good news.
Our hearts long for quiet, too.
Help us hear your still and steady voice
in these precious moments.
Bring us your solace, comfort and healing.


From Psalm 61: 1-2
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I;

From Psalm 42
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help

From Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

Psalm 30: 4-5
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Isaiah 40:29-31
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Jeremiah 33 (excerpted)
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still confined in the court of the guard: 2Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: 3Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. 4For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege-ramps and before the sword….6I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. 7I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. 9And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth….

Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.

And from the wider New Testament, from the Book of Hebrews 11-12 (excerpted)
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his


L: This is what we do when we don’t know what else to do. We cling to one another, voice our grief, and offer up our prayers to God. Please join in the response based on our earlier reading from Jeremiah. Let us pray. Gracious God, heal us, and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.
L:  We pray for the dead, remembering Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Sean Collier. May the God of Life welcome them into that place where there is no pain or grief.  In this hour of darkness, surround their families and loved ones with a peace that passes all understanding.  Gracious God, 
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray for the wounded. Bodies trained for running, hands trained for clapping have been forever damaged. Our eyes have seen more than they ever should. Our ears still ring with the blasts and shots in the streets. We pray for runners who never finished the race, and for bystanders. We pray for wounded officers. Attend to the bodies and spirits of all survivors. Gracious God, 
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray for the EMTs, doctors, nurses and staff who tend to brokenness. Soothe those whose feet ache after hours and hours of attending to broken bodies. Bind up their unseen wounds. Make steady shaky hands, mend broken hearts and wipe away every tear. Gracious God, 
 C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray in deep gratitude for the police, fire and emergency personnel who risk their own safety to preserve ours.  We pray for our neighbors who serve in the National Guard.  We pray for investigators and law enforcement agents from around the Commonwealth and nation. We pray for the lawyers and all who guide our justice system. Help us not seek vengeance but your truth and justice.  O God, continue to steady those who protect us. Surround them with our love and with our highest gratitude.  Gracious God, 
 C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray also for President Obama, for Governor Patrick, for Mayor Menino and all our elected officials. Continue to grant them wisdom and courage.  Help them to know our gratitude and guide them as they continue to lead us.  Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray for the media, our journalists, reporters and photographers. We give thanks for those who kept us informed with poise and compassion. We remember all who work to share stories of truth and beauty. Flush their eyes. Renew their passion. Gracious God, 
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray for our counselors, faith leaders, hospital chaplains and mental health professionals. May they guide troubled minds and broken spirits through trauma and loss. Bless those who devote themselves to the care of others. Give them strength for the days ahead. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We also pray for our members and neighbors in Watertown and near Norfolk St. whose roads and skies and backyards and attics were eerily occupied by law enforcement. Bless their homes and restore their streets to peace. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:   We pray for our children startled by such chaos and anguish. Give us wisdom to raise them up in the paths of peace. Be with our city’s parents, teachers and child care providers who try to answer the questions of anxious children. We pray especially for all those at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and at UMass-Dartmoth, for continued pride in their communities and ours.  Gracious God, 
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray, if we are able, for the perpetrators of violence, for two brothers who lived in our neighborhood. We pray for their families. Give us a love stronger than hate, a light that can drive out the darkness, a peace stronger than violence. May a spirit of forgiveness and peace flow through our city like the Charles River. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  We pray for people of all faiths, and people of no faith tradition, that this may be a time of unity, and not of division.  We pray especially for our Muslim sisters and brothers that they may be spared the indignities and ill will of hate and fear filled backlash. Bind us together as a city on a hill. Knit us together as a Commonwealth. Draw near to us in this time of sorrow and love. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  As we look ahead, train our eyes to see acts of kindness in our city. Prod our hands to reach out to strangers. Restrain our tongues if we are tempted to lash out in judgment or careless remarks. Give us all words of comfort and love. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.
L:  And even as we grieve, keep us steadfast in charity, defiant in hope, and constant in prayer. Though the race before us is hard, remind us again and again, that we do not take a single step alone. Gracious God,
C: Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of your peace and truth.

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