Sunday, March 5, 2017: With Our Faith to Guide Us

(photo: UUA’s “Standing On The Side of Love” logo)

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

(by Deb Sofield)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Gretchen L.

CALL TO WORSHIP: (by Rev. Mark DeWolfe)

I’d like to ask you now to reach inside yourself and touch that special place in your heart where love blooms and grows. Know that it is love which brought you here…and love which keeps you alive. Know that you are not alone, that the love which blooms inside you is shared by the sisters and brothers who surround you, who, like you, have known not only loss, not only fear, but also the joy of saying “Yes” to the beauty of life….

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Elsa and Clio M.

In the chill of the morning

We light the chalice of warmth

That its glow might spread across our days,

the light and love and hope of this our time together.

(by Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN:Just As Long as I Have Breath” (#6)

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: Brian J.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita

Rev. Anita talks to the children about understanding something from a different point of view

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

HYMN:All Things Dull and Ugly” (from Monty Python)

All things dull and ugly,

All creatures short and squat,

All things rude and nasty,

The Lord God made the lot.

 

Each little snake that poisons,

Each little wasp that stings,

He made their brutish venom.

He made their horrid wings.

 

All things sick and cancerous,

All evil great and small,

All things foul and dangerous,

The Lord God made them all.

 

Each nasty little hornet,

Each beastly little squid,

Who made the spikey urchin?

Who made the sharks? He did!

 

All things scabbed and ulcerous,

All pox both great and small,

Putrid, foul and gangrenous,

The Lord God made them all.

Amen.

SERMON:

With Our Faith to Guide Us

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

MELROSE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH

March 5, 2017

On Tuesday night I went to a Diversity Workshop. Well, actually it was a mini workshop, only two hours long, but you have to begin somewhere. The gathering was a small group of about a dozen Swampscott folks who had gotten together to try to grapple with issues of diversity and the outcroppings of hate surfacing – much like the group “Melrose Organizes for Real Equality” here.

I have been to weekend diversity training and week-long multi-cultural competence training and been the trainer for anti-racism workshops. So you might have thought it a waste of time to go to this little two hour workshop. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. It was an incredibly valuable use of my time.

First, because I got to share the experience with some people who had a variety of experiences with diversity, some of them immigrants, some with disabilities and some who had never really thought about or grappled with the challenges or implications before. It was a powerful reminder that we are all on a continuum of learning, and as soon as we lose our humility and think we have got it, we are, I am sure, lost.

Secondly, I learned some things. I love that. Learning. I hope you do too, because that is the essence of this interim ministry, and because I believe it is the essence of life. To stop learning is to give up, give up hope, give up engagement, maybe even, give up love, because to love another, is to be open to learning and understanding who they are as they unfold before us.

One of the things we did in this workshop was watch a short video that explored one small scene in a convenience store. There were four characters, the store manager, and three shoppers. One shopper was an Asian woman, one a white older woman and one a black teenager. As each moved through the store doing their shopping, the camera focused on them, showing what they were thinking – in terms of their presence and shopping, and what they were thinking about the others in the store. Not surprisingly, what each of the characters did was not what the others were expecting or projecting on them. For example, they had not expected the black teen to be buying Band-Aids, water and an apple, nor had they expected the elderly white woman to shoplift a candy bar. It was a silent video, which made it that much easier for me to put myself into the story…and recognize that I too make things up about the people I see in the store, on the street, in the airport. Of course I knew I did that on some level already – that is part of the fun of people watching, but feeling the discomfort of recognizing that I spontaneously generate, often unawares, feelings about people based on their appearance, that obscure my perceptions of who this is, the real person standing before me in line at the supermarket, or sitting beside me on a park bench. It helped me to not be so angry at those who hate or fear the people they don’t know, the people who are not like them, the people they imagine are out to do them harm. I was reminded, over and over again by our trainer, that each person before us, despite all of the ways in which they are different, are first and foremost, a human being. First and foremost a human being.

Oh, you knew that. I knew it too. The idea of it. The reality of it too, when I am reminded. But when I am feeling angry or hateful or scared, as I sometimes am, it is easy to forget that those people who I perceive for example, as wrecking my country, are human beings first, and only second, possibly adversaries. Remembering that, means I might listen to them. And if I listen, I might understand them. And if I understand the source of their fear, maybe I can help address the danger, rather than attacking those who are afraid.

I think this is important to remember, even as we do the work of loving our neighbors, and making Melrose and surrounding towns safe and welcoming places for all. Talk of sanctuary is in our land and in this town. I remember way back in the 1980’s when there were refugees from the horrible wars in Central America, who were not being granted refugee status. Churches of many denominations including Unitarian Universalist congregations, became sanctuary churches to protect these people who were terrified that they would be killed, were they to be returned to their home countries. And now we are talking about Melrose becoming a sanctuary city. Maybe someday we will talk about becoming a sanctuary church. But what does sanctuary mean? From where does it come?

The root… comes from the reference in (the Book of Numbers, in the Hebrew Bible), Numbers 35, to cities of refuge. Numbers 35 concerns a prescription for dealing with a situation in which someone violated the law but where the punishment for the violation was not just.

…In Numbers 35, the crime was manslaughter. For that society, the natural punishment was a blood feud. The relative of the slain person would come and kill the person who had done the slaying. Numbers 35 sets aside certain cities that are to be places of refuge. Someone who has committed manslaughter can go to that city and be protected until that person can get a fair hearing.

That tradition has been carried forward this way: if someone has broken a law, either an unjust law, or a law for which the typical punishment is unjust, the people of God have said, “We will shelter you until you can get a fair hearing.” That’s the core meaning of sanctuary.”[1]

That is important to recognize, when we listen to or engage in conversations about sanctuary, be they sanctuary congregations, cities, states, or nations. It is a religious concept, a religious principle that is grounded in justice, a commitment to fairness. Not to protecting lawbreakers from reasonable consequences, but for the protection of the vulnerable to insure they are treated with fairness and respect.

Our first Unitarian Universalist principle is the respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. That is a bedrock value to which we hold, and which we will act to protect. We have done so over and over again, from our work for abolition in the nineteenth century, to our fight for marriage equality and now for humane immigration reform.

And what do we embrace as people of the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church? What promises have we made to one another? You know. You say it every Sunday.

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.

Oh, that. Love. Truth. Service.

To dwell together- together-in peace

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.

What does that mean? What have we promised? What does it require of us?

Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association says:

Our congregations need to be places of safety. First, we must be a place of safety for one another. The deep divisions in our society, the hatred that is being unleashed, take an emotional and spiritual toll. We must be a place of peace and healing for all who come seeking spiritual refuge. We must be gentle with one another.

But the sanctuary we offer must go far beyond taking care of one another. ….We cannot offer sanctuary to hundreds of thousands by protecting a few families…We must join hands with other religious organizations to offer resistance.

…We have good news (Peter says)….It doesn’t have to be like this; our present divisions, inequality, and conflicts are not inevitable. We can shape the future.[2]

I believe this. I believe it because it restores my soul and my courage to believe that we can make a difference, and that our faith is a wellspring of strength and renewal.

I believe this, that we have good news, and that we can make a difference because history has confirmed what our Theodore Parker said two hundred years ago.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

He said it as an affirmation of his Unitarian faith. The arc of the moral universe is still bending, my friends, with our love, and with our help and with the grace of God to guide us… to guide us toward justice, and wholeness, with love.

May it be so. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN:Love Will Guide Us” (#131)

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

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] Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, quoted in the Christian Century, March 1, 2017

[2] Peter Morales, spring 2017 issue of the UU World