Sunday, January 15, 2017: Standing Together

 

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

First they came for the Jews,

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists,

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

(Pastor Martin Niemöller)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Chuck F.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Come in.

Come in to this place

Of warmth and its comfort.

Of companionship, encouragement and compassion.

Know that here, whoever you are, and from whatever you have come, you have a place.

Feel the welcome. Be home.

(Anita Farber-Robertson)

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Clio and Elsa M.

We light this chalice for the light of hope

The warmth of love

And the power of action.

(Anita Farber-Robertson)

INTRODUCTION OF HYMN:

In 1912, the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike, which became known as the Bread and Roses strike, was a strike of immigrant workers prompted by a two hour pay cut corresponding to a new law that shortened the work week. Originally led by the International Workers of the World (IWW) the strike spread through the mill town of Lawrence, growing to more than twenty thousand workers, including nearly every mill in Lawrence.

The strike managed to pull together in common cause workers from more than 40 nationalities. It carried on for more than two months through the bitter cold winter, defying the predictions and assumptions of the established trade unions that immigrant, mostly female, ethnically divided workers could not be organized. [1]

OPENING HYMN: “As We Come Marching, Marching” (#109)

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

THIS I BELIEVE: Michael J. O.

When Rev. Anita asked me to speak about what I believe, my gut reaction was to say no, “no” in large part because I am reluctant to talk about myself and secondly because I like many people have a difficult time putting into words what I believe. So to start, I thought it might be helpful to set a context for my remarks.

I grew up in central Illinois. My grandfather made his living by delivering coal in the winter and growing vegetables in the summer to sell to local markets. My father was a regional salesman but always wanted to be a mechanical engineer. It was assumed that I would complete college and, as it turned out, I was the first grandchild to graduate college. I was raised in a family that had their feet on the ground and their heads thinking about the future. Having lived through the Great Depression, their focus was on making the next generation better off than they were. Growing up, I remember being taught a set of life principle that were reinforced on every appropriate occasion: 

  1. that a man’s worth was based on honoring his word, not the money in his pocket;
  2. being a responsible person meant not only doing the right thing, you need to do the right thing the right way;
  3. treat people that way you want to be treated;
  4. do not waste your time complaining, roll up your sleeves and fix it;
  5. there are few opportunities to help others, so do so when you can; and
  6. once you commit to something, give it your all.

I was also taught that this world does not owe me anything. I need to work for what I get and sweating a little is not a bad thing. The old adage of “you will reap what you sow” resonates with me even today.

I do not have the time to list the many changes I have experienced in technology, politics and business during my life time. But these principles have helped me to keep my moral compass through all these changes and have proven pivotal in developing my beliefs.

I gave up the concept of the guy with the white beard sitting in the clouds on a golden chair a long time ago. But I do believe that there has to be something greater than me to have made all the universe possible. I just cannot label it. I see it in the sun rise, in a seed growing into a plant and bearing fruit and in the face of a new born. I know it is there and, if I look, it reveals itself to me daily.

I believe that when this life ends, I or some part of me lives on. Maybe in heaven but more than likely somewhere else. Where exactly that is, is a mystery to me. I hope that one day I will know that I have arrived in that place and that that place is at least as good as my life is today.

I believe that bad things happen and I have difficulty in reconciling the “why do bad things happen to good people”. I am bewildered by the violence and anger that I see daily from all facets of life. I ask myself constantly: “WHY oh why can we not all just get along?”

Even though bad things happen, I believe in the basic goodness of the human spirit. I believe that every morning we rise from our sleep with every intention of doing our very best, whether that is to be a good spouse, parent, employee, or citizen. But life happens and events occur during the day that derail us from our best of intentions. Since a higher power exists, we are given the chance tomorrow to do better than we did today. Think about it: What a great cosmic do-over.

I believe that I have some responsibility to help others along my life path. As Laurie McKenna said in her song “Humble and Kind”: “When you get to where you are going turn back around and help the next one in line”.

And finally, the question each of us asks ourselves is “What gets us up every day? Why continue the search for truth?” For me it boils down to simply “I believe that life is a gift”. With all its twists and turns, highs and lows, happiness and sadness, I look forward every day to see what this experiment called life will bring today, tomorrow and into the future. As did my grandfather and father, I continue to work at keeping my feet on the ground while having my head looking forward to the future and hopefully helping to make things better for the next one “in line”.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Telling the story of the “Christmas Menorah” (Rev. Anita)

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace,

go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

OFFERTORY

READING: selections from Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote these selections in an article for the North American Review and in her Introduction to The Woman’s Bible:

When those who are opposed to all reforms can find no other argument, their last resort is the Bible. It has been interpreted to favor intemperance, slavery, capital punishment and the subjection of women.

…;

Clerical appeals were circulated from time to time conjuring members of their churches to take no part in the anti-slavery or woman suffrage movements, as they were infidel in their tendencies, undermining the very foundations of society. …

Others say it is not politic to rouse religious opposition. This much-lauded policy is but another word for cowardice. (Emphasis the author’s) How can a woman’s position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable….

Let us remember that all reforms are interdependent, and that whatever is done to establish one principle on a solid basis, strengthens all. Reformers who are always compromising, have not yet grasped the idea that truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.

HYMN: “If Every Woman in the World” (#1026)

ANTIPHONAL READING: “A Network of Mutuality” (MLK, Jr.) (#584)

ANTHEM

SERMON

Standing Together

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson

Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church

January 15, 2017

They are calling it a Women’s March, and in some ways that is right. It was women who started it, women who named that it needed to happen, women who organized it, and for the most part, it is women who are going to Washington D.C. on Saturday as part of the Women’s March; Saturday, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I am one of them. Our Director of Religious Education, Anne Principe is going too. And many of you in the congregation are going to Boston as part of the nationwide Women’s March held in cities across the country. Some of you aren’t even women, but you are going, or considering going, because you understand. You understand the intersectionality of the issues this country is facing. Gender. Race. Class. Ability. Sexual identity. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Islamophobia. Access to economic opportunity. Access to health care. Reproductive rights. Climate change.

Wow. It is a hard one to understand, this intersectionality. It is so much easier to get stuck on one point, one issue, one problem, and see it as the whole of things, or to consider other issues as being other people’s problems, or just not your focus. It is an old strategy that nudges or shoves us in that direction – called divide and conquer. Not new, but we fall for it, over and over again.

And yet, there have been wise voices through the millennia of human history that have seen through to the truth of intersectionality, that until all are free, none are free, until all are respected for their inherent worth and dignity, all of us are threatened and at risk. And, although the arena in which the battles are often played out appear secular and political, we have consistently looked to our religious convictions, our faith values to challenge the injustices of the world. To speak truth to power. It was the Prophet Amos who said, using God’s voice:

I hate, I despise your festivals,

And I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

And righteousness like an everflowing stream.[2]

Or the prophet Micah who said:

What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [3]

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly. The prophet Micah of old. Yet, deeply familiar.

Love is the doctrine of this church

The quest of truth is its sacrament

And service is its prayer…

The covenant we make with one another, renewed together each Sunday as we gather. Echoes of Micah.

Do we hold that covenant as precious and compelling? Have we truly entered into a promise, one with another and with the Divine to live into that covenant? A covenant beautiful and terrifying, for what it demands. Love…Love, even of the unlovable. Truth, even when it is unpleasant, challenging or just plain hard to absorb. Service, even when it is inconvenient, or downright difficult…Ouch.

Oh, I hate that…hate facing the truth or the demands that my values and my promises insist belong to me. Maybe that happens to you. If it does, as difficult as it might be, know that you are in a great company of the faithful, who belong to this beautiful and flawed human family who find that sometimes our values impinge on our life style.

We went back to the ancients, the prophets of old to be reminded that the intersections of justice are real and compelling. But we have more contemporary history to remind us of the truth and of how hard it is to hang on to it.

It was Elizabeth Cady Stanton who said clearly:

Let us remember that all reforms are interdependent, and that whatever is done to establish one principle on a solid basis, strengthens all. [4]

And so it is that the Women’s March, recognizing that all reforms are interdependent, has accrued such diverse sponsors as Black Lives Matter, Amnesty International, the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation, Council on American Islamic Relations, and Planned Parenthood to name a few.

Today in 2017, the words of the nineteenth century poet that we sang this morning still ring true:

The rising of the women

means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler,

ten that toil while one reposes, but a sharing of life’s glories- bread and roses, bread and roses![5]

Sounds like the Occupy Movement, doesn’t it? But it was written about a movement that changed a city, and eventually a nation, back in 1912.

We could be tempted to be disheartened, that the work goes on, that the threat of tyrants is always with us, and we must be ever vigilant to protect the rights of those whose rights might be compromised if we did not.

But I am not. I am not disheartened. I am not disheartened because just as there have always been tyrants who would compromise our rights, who would disregard the dignity of other people, who would dispense with the democratic process or disregard compassion in search of expediency or power, there have always been those who said “No!”

There have always been those who stood with them, together. White women who stood with slaves, working as abolitionists. Men who stood with women who died for the right to vote. People who stood up for Japanese Americans when the government was putting them in internment camps during World War II. Men and women of differing social locations who stood with a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, whether it be the decision to engage in sex, or say no, or the decision to terminate a pregnancy, hard as that decision was. Straight people who stood and still stand with lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and questioning folk.

As unending as the struggle may seem, the good news is, that it goes on, that we haven’t stopped.

Martin Luther King, Jr once said:

Almost always the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.[6]

I believe he is right. And I believe it is so because always there is a contingent who stand with them.

I call us the faithful. The faithful who chose to live into our covenant. The faithful who not only refer to our seven Unitarian Universalist principles, but who struggle to put them into practice. The faithful of all the traditions who seek to live out what in our tradition we call the Golden Rule:

“Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”

To be treated with respect and dignity. To be accorded agency and opportunity. To be held in esteem. To be embraced in love…the love that recognizes we are all kin, and we all live in this beautiful, fractured, amazing and miraculous world together. Together. Together.

It was Rebecca Parker, retired President of our Unitarian Universalist Starr King Seminary reminded us:

In the midst of a world

Marked by tragedy and beauty

There must be those

Who bear witness

Against unnecessary destruction

And who, with faith,

Stand and lead

In freedom,

With grace and power.

And,

There must be communities of people

Who seek to do justice

Love kindness

And walk humbly with God,

Who call on the strength or

Soul force

To heal,

transform, and bless life.

 

There must be religious witness.

May it be us.

May it be so.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “We Are a Gentle Angry People” (#170)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION: (by Marianne Williamson)

“In every community, there is work to be done.

In every nation, there are wounds to heal.

In every heart, there is the power to do it.”

Go then, in peace, with love, and with fresh courage.

Amen.

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

[1] A consolidation of material from Wikipedia, as it also corresponded with my memories of the story as told to me by my father, a devoted union member and shop steward for his local 32B.

[2] Amos 5:21-22a, 23-24.

[3] Micah 6:8

[4] Op cit

[5] James Oppenheim, Singing the Living Tradition #109

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr.,” A Knock at Midnight,” included in Strength to Love.