Sunday, September 17, 2017: Path to Understanding

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

(Leonard Cohen)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Chuck F.

INTRODUCTION TO: DIVERSITY: On the Path to Understanding Mike Aldrich

CALL TO WORSHIP:

What a day is today!

Miracle of miracles.

From all our lives we have gathered

Here, to be together.

From homes of peace and comfort

From homes of strife and struggle,

From homes where hearts are filled with joy and those where hearts have known deep sorrow,

From places of wonder and of weariness,

Of bubbling hope and anxious worry

We have come to be together.

It is good, so very good.

Welcome.

(©Anita Farber-Robertson)

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Sammy and Luke M.

May this chalice,

Symbol of our faith,

Always remind us

That there is enough love in this world

To hold everyone,

And that we are here to share it.

(Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Now Let Us Sing” (#368)

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.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita Farber-Robertson

It is great to see you all here today for the first day of Sunday School.

Tell me, do any of you know what is the name of our religions?

Yes, Unitarian Universalist.

But we were not the first Unitarians or Universalists. There were Unitarians for example, way before us, hundreds of years before us.

They lived in a country called Transylvania. Ever hear of Transylvania? What did you hear about it?

Yes, there is a story about a Count Dracula from Transylvania.

But there is a real place, Transylvania, and it was once a Unitarian country. Now it is part of Romania.

So it is far away. And it is different from our church, but still it is Unitarian.

They speak Hungarian there, not English. If you went there, you wouldn’t recognize the service and you wouldn’t understand what they were saying, because they do things differently there, and it would be in Hungarian, not English. But even though they do things differently, and they speak a different language, still, they are Unitarians. You don’t need to speak English to be Unitarian. And they decorate their churches, decorate them differently from how we decorate our churches. They have traditional embroidery they hang in their churches (take embroideries out of the suitcase and show the children). They hang them from the pulpit and all around. They are beautiful, so they look very different, the Unitarian churches in Transylvania, and they sound very different, but still they are Unitarian, because you don’t have to speak English, or be an American to be a Unitarian.

We have a sister church there in a place called Ekland. They speak Hungarian in Ekland too. I wrote to the minister of our partner church in Ekland this summer. I am hoping she answers back, even if her English isn’t very good. It’s fun knowing that here are many ways to be Unitarian all over the world.

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:Come As You Are” (J. Donald Johnston), read by Rebecca M.

What you believe, bring with you as you come.

If you have doubts, bring them with you also.

Come as you are, and inescapably must come, if you would be yourself.

Be unashamed, even of your shame, at least within yourself.

Of others, ask no more-or less.

Let us be what we are as best we can.

No one is perfect.

No one is better or worse than another.

For no one has live the life of the other.

All are seekers, no matter how much they have found.

All are in need, no matter how much they resent it.

All are proud, no matter how humble they wish they were.

Let belief, doubt, shame, pride, humility, and the inescapability of self,

Sit side by side in mutual self-respect.

Until there comes the feeling that, in the depth of understanding and of feeling,

We are one.

TESTIMONY OF A TEAM PLAYER: Michelle G.

ANTHEM

READING: “Let the Wrong Ones In” (by Rev. Susan Ritchie), read by Jim T.

We often speak of the mantle of leadership as involving an inheritance rom the past. We sing that “what they dreamed be ours to do,” and speak of torches given to our temporary care as they travel from the past to the future. Yet in progressive religious tradition, this is especially challenging. Most of our personal identities and theologies would shock our religious ancestors. They did not dream us, unless in their worst nightmare. So who did? What legacy can be honestly invoked to sound an authentic note for progressive leadership?

Somewhere along the line someone left this tradition open for me. Someone invited me in, someone made the way for me even though there is no equivalent for me in our forbear’ imagination. And when things have been bad, when I have been bad, this tradition has carried me around in my sorry little basket and given me over and over again the invitation to relationship, the invitation to be human, as human as I dare. When I am privileged to lead, I feel the power of this invitation behind me. But who issued it?

In the early days of American congregationalism, membership in the church was tightly controlled. The covenant of membership was restricted to the saints: those who were destined for heaven and who could prove it before a parsimonious clergy and a small number of pious church members. But many people in the pews refused this narrow view. When the minister preached about how the covenant- the very love of God and the love of the people-was reserved for the elect, the people herd something different. They heard the offer of covenant extended to all who desired its embrace. Eventually, this generosity led to a different church: a church with doors held open wide, our church.

And it is in this spirit that I imagine speaking to our leaders, saying:

Remind us of how for all but five minutes of our history we have been the wrong people. Help us to identify, name, and invite all the wrong people who may, in fact, turn out to be right. Show us those who need our invitations to participate in a whole and holy humanity. May your leadership (and our community) be one of radical hospitality and inclusion.

HYMN:Fire of Commitment” (#1028)

SERMON

On the Path to Understanding

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

Love is the doctrine of this church

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

I have been a Unitarian Universalist for forty-seven years, and still it gives me chills to say it, still it can fill my eyes with tears, still I can feel the aching in my heart that reminds me that making this statement true, is the calling I answered, when I took up my ministry. Those words, those aspirations for us and for our faith have been the fuel for my fire of commitment. Maybe yours too.

Love is the doctrine of this church

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

Can you feel something happen when you say it? Even just saying it silently in your mind? The vibrations that move through you, capturing in word and body the yearning, what our church is about in its deepest intention. And sometimes, in sweet sweet moments, that is what it actually is on a given day or series of days, or weeks, or even months. And we want more of them, more of those days and weeks and months, and even years, when it is the most true thing about us.

Love is the doctrine of this church – the doctrine. What does that mean, here, today in our non-creedal faith? A doctrine is a basic principle. In government it is the fundamental principle underlying policy. In our church, it is the underlying principle that is the foundation for all the rest of who we are and what we do.

It is not trivial. It is the bedrock upon which we have crafted our community and our faith. While so much of what we do and how we carry out our faith is transient, changing with the times and the forces of the day, why we do it, the bedrock, does not change. Love. It is the enduring value in our dynamic, living faith. Constant, the principle to which we are ultimately accountable. Love.

And what does it look like when we do that? Our covenant reminds us of what it looks like to walk the talk of love.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

It sounds good, but folks, we know that it isn’t easy to do those things. But because we are a people in covenant, who hold that aspiration sacred, we are willing to engage in the work it has called us to do. If we want to be the people of Love, the community that is founded on Love, we need to dwell together in peace.

Even in the old days when our congregations were fairly homogeneous, differences existed and sometimes got nasty. But we are no longer in a world that is relatively homogenous. If it was hard to dwell together in peace then, how might we manage to do it now? Well, we could try closing ranks, only letting in people who are just like us. While tempting, we know from our history, that that doesn’t really work.

Or, we could seek to understand those who are different from what we have considered our norm. We could seek to know and understand them so well, that we have grown to love them…love them enough to dwell with them in peace, love them into community.

In Canton, Massachusetts, there is something called the Massachusetts Hospital School. It is a residential school for children with severe disabilities or medical needs, for which they need the support of hospital facilities. One year a family moved into town when their son took up residence at the Mass Hospital School. And every weekend they picked him up from school and brought him home. Sunday mornings they brought him to church, the church I served, First Parish, where he went to Sunday School. Cody was about nine years old. He couldn’t talk, only make sounds – sometimes loud ones. Cody couldn’t walk and he didn’t really have control of his arms and hands. He was secured into a Gerry chair on wheels with a tray in front. The curriculum for the middle trimester of the year in that Sunday School included a play that was for the whole church school. The kids discussed the play, rehearsed the scenes and made the scenery in mixed age groups. But this one year there was a crisis. The children of the church school demanded an audience with the minister.

It appears that when the play was introduced to the children, and the parts were distributed, there was no part written in for Cody. The kids were irate. The Sunday School adults were surprised. After all, Cody couldn’t walk or talk, couldn’t be counted on to be still or quiet, and possibly didn’t understand what a play was.

The children were adamant. They threatened a strike. They would not participate in the play unless a part was found for Cody. And they were right. Absolutely. They had been saying every Sunday morning:

Love is the doctrine of this church

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

And they had believed it. Taken it into their hearts and minds, and they were calling us to account, to walk the talk, to be Unitarian Universalists in practice, as well as in theory.

The children had sought knowledge – the knowledge of Cody, human being, child, person, who happened to be different in many ways, but was still a boy in their community. The adults in the congregation had seen Cody for what he wasn’t, what he wasn’t able to do. The children had seen Cody for what he was. A person. That was the real truth…the important truth.

A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward experience of grace, or the Divine. Surely those children, and we the adults who learned from them, knew in those moments of knowing Cody, an inward experience of grace, and even of the Divine.

Cody was in the play. His parents beamed. I can’t tell you what Cody’s experience was, since he couldn’t tell me. But other people have told me, out of their own life experience, what it meant to them to find a place that was willing to hold them, even when they didn’t fit in. And I think of Kate, whose testimony Jim read this morning.

Somewhere along the line someone left this tradition open for me. Someone invited me in, someone made the way for me even though there is no equivalent for me in our forbear’ imagination. And when things have been bad, when I have been bad, this tradition has carried me around in my sorry little basket and given me over and over again the invitation to relationship, the invitation to be human, as human as I dare.

Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that what we want to create for the Kate’s and the Cody’s and whoever else might wander into our church? To offer with our hands and hearts an authentic and credible invitation to relationship so that we and they can grow into harmony with the Divine? Is it not the deepest, truest call to justice work? To answer the call of relationship? And isn’t it the journey of our own salvation, our own healing, because surely our hearts too need a place of love, a holy place, to call our own.

May it be here; may it so.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “When Our Heart is in a Holy Place” (#1008)

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

(During the Postlude, the ushers will collect forms for “Opportunities to Participate” in our “Diversity: On the Path to Understanding” year-long initiative)

(So that those who choose to stay and listen to the Postlude can hear it well, we ask those who choose to leave to do so quietly.)