Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,
When we are unable to meet in person,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
Let us put our worldly cares aside,
Close our eyes and imagine ourselves
To be in our places of worship,
Surrounded by members of our beloved community,
And be together, if only virtually,
For this short hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed (adapted)
We light a candle against the darkness.
We affirm hope against despair.
We invoke love against indifference.
Come among us,
Enflame our souls,
As we meet in your name.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this time of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
the brave and dedicated staff of the NHS,
and other key workers,
who are carrying on in conditions that are still difficult,
and all those
whose lives have been touched,
in whatever way,
by painful events, in their lives,
and in the wider world,
of which we are all a part. Amen
Story Chopsticks from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison
Once upon a time in Japan, a woman prayed that God would show her the difference between heaven and hell. She wanted to know whether there were fires in hell, and whether the people in heaven sat around on clouds all day playing harps. She didn’t fancy going to either place if that was all they had to offer.
She prayed so hard that God decided to answer her prayer, and he sent an angel to give her a guided tour of both places. First she went to hell. It wasn’t hot at all; in fact it looked quite pleasant. There were long tables laden with food of all kinds – cooked meats, vegetables, fruit, delicious pies, and exotic desserts. ‘This can’t be hell,’ she thought. Then she looked at the people. They were sitting some distance from the tables, and they were all miserable – emaciated, pale, angry. Each of them had chopsticks fastened to their hands, but the chopsticks were about three feet long and, no matter how hard they tried, the people just couldn’t get the food into their own mouths. They were groaning with hunger and frustration and anger. ‘I’ve seen enough of this,’ said the woman. ‘May I see heaven now?’
The angel took the woman to heaven. They didn’t have far to go. It was just next door. It was almost the same as hell. There were the same kind of tables, the same kinds of food and here, too, the people were sitting a little distance away from the tables with three-foot long chopsticks fastened to their hands. But these people were smiling and chatting merrily to each other. They couldn’t put the food into their own mouths either, but they had discovered how to be fed and happy: they were feeding each other.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading The Parable of the Good Samaritan St. Luke Ch.10, v.25-37
Just then, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go, and do likewise.”
Prayer by Malcolm Sadler, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Sixty – Seventy – Eighty – milestones on life’s journey,
the autumn of one’s years.
Friends and acquaintances fall by the wayside,
leaving unfillable gaps.
Living on borrowed time – if the Bible is to be believed.
Inevitability – the march of the seasons.
Shakespeare’s ‘slippered pantaloons’ seem all too real
‘sans teeth, sans everything’
seems just around the corner
as the years take their inevitable toll.
One dreads them having any effect on the mind.
But it is not too late!
there is more time for other people,
there is still time for love,
much more love – hugs of real pleasure.
Don’t delay – now is the time
to change someone’s life for the better.
Love is what life is about.
At the end one can genuinely say:
‘My living has not been in vain.’
May it be so, amen
Reading Uncertain world by Cliff Reed, from Beyond Darkness.
In a world that is uncertain,
where all our plans may be swept away at any moment,
we can put no trust in the structures we erect,
the structures we inherit.
If they are all that we bequeath,
then we are bequeathing nothing that will last.
But we are human beings who have found in each other
a community of values.
It is these that unite us, inspire us, move us.
It is the love which underlies them that gives us
joy in one another, that gives us what strength we have.
As we face the tumults that await us,
that will make our plans as meaningless as any
that human beings have ever made,
we dedicate ourselves to the values
that make us truly human –
humble before the Infinite,
humble before each other’s deepest needs,
humble before the glory
and the terror of Creation.
We draw on our fund of values
and offer one another
what strength we have – and in love,
we offer the world what we have found.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Cliff Reed, adapted)
God of our hearts,
whose Oneness makes us one,
in an unquiet world, let us be quiet.
In an unpeaceful world, let us be peace,
in an unkind world, let us be kind,
in an unjust world, let us be just,
in an unloving world, let us be love.
Make of our speaking the things you want us to say,
make of our deeds the things you want us to do,
make of us what our world needs us to be.
So may our lives be a blessing to all,
and our spirits the channels of your Spirit.
May it be so.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Making a Difference
Let’s start with a story. Once upon a time, a young man was walking along the beach, when he noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up by the tide. The tide was going out, and the starfish were stranded. There was no way that they could get back to the water, and he realised that within an hour or so, they would all be dead.
In the distance, he noticed an elderly woman, who was picking up the starfish from the beach, and throwing them back into the sea. The young man went up to her and asked, “What are you doing?” She replied, “The sun is up and the tide is out, and I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea so that they won’t die.”
“But why are you bothering?” he asked. “There are thousands of them, and what you are doing won’t make any difference. And there will be thousands more on the next tide.”
The old lady stooped, picked up another starfish, and hurled it back into the receding tide. Then she turned to the young man and grinned, “Made a difference to that one!”
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, once wrote, “Hope is not about believing that we can change things; hope is about believing that what we do makes a difference.” And the old lady with the starfish proves that no matter how old or tired or busy we are, we can still make a difference in the world. It may be only a story, but it is true, nonetheless.
My whole service today is about how we, as individual people, and as a loving Unitarian community, can make a difference. Bill Darlison’s story about the people in the afterlife with the three-foot long chopsticks is a case in point – it was only when they helped each other that the people could eat. My other two readings, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Cliff Reed’s reflection on the uncertain world we live in have the same message. As Cliff wrote, “We draw on our fund of values and offer one another what strength we have – and, in love, we offer the world what we have found.”
I was so pleased to re-discover Malcolm Sadler’s wise words in With Heart and Mind, a collection of mini-essays with prayers and meditations on a wide range of subjects, which was published by the Worship Panel of the General Assembly in 2007. The last part of his reflection perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to say: “But it is not too late! There is more time for other people, there is still time for love, much more love – hugs of real pleasure. Don’t delay – now is the time to change someone’s life for the better. Love is what life is about. At the end, one can genuinely say, ‘My living has not been in vain’.
There are certain authors whose words inspire me to strive to become the best person I can be. The Liberal Jewish rabbi Lionel Blue is one, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is another. I have just finished re-reading his inspirational book, God has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for our Time.
It is written from a place of deep faith in a loving, transformative God, and from one of belief in the capacity of human beings to transcend their limitations and meanness, and become members of one human family, working together for the common good. Having faith that we can all make a difference. In his introduction, he states firmly, “there is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. … The most unlikely person, the most improbable situation – these are all ‘transfigurable’ – they can be turned into their glorious opposites. Indeed, God is transforming the world now – through us – because God loves us.”
Each of the short chapters starts with the words, “Dear Child of God”. Dear Child of God – that’s me, you, every human being, from the most saintly to the most wicked. According to Tutu, each and every one can become their best selves, thus making the world a better, happier, and gentler place. It’s a wonderful statement of faith.
It would be easy to write this message off as hopelessly idealistic, until you remember what he, with others, achieved in South Africa. In the mid-1990s, at the downfall of apartheid after many years of brave and dangerous campaigning, the situation could easily have degenerated into a vengeful bloodbath. But somehow, through the influence of Nelson Mandela, through Desmond Tutu himself, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, “to move us beyond the cycles of retribution and violence that had plagued so many other countries during their transitions from oppression to democracy.”
Archbishop Tutu has somehow moved beyond the natural human instinct for revenge (or even retributive justice) to a place where he considers every human being to be a member of God’s family, and hence worthy of respect and caring and compassion. He speaks about the Nguni concept of ubuntu, that each human being is in interdependent relationship with every other human being. He explains, “A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong to a greater whole.” How many of us can truly say that, I wonder?
Working from this place of ubuntu, he has helped me to understand that it should be every person’s duty to behave in a loving way towards others, even when we don’t feel it. One particular paragraph really hit home: “You have very little control over your feelings. That’s why God didn’t say, ‘Like your enemy’. It’s very difficult to like your enemy. But to love your enemies is different. Love is an act of the will, where you act lovingly even if you do not always feel loving. We tend to think love is a feeling, but it is not. Love is an action; love is something we do for others. … You do not have a great deal of control over when you feel resentful or irritable, but you can still choose to be loving, to act lovingly.”
So that’s what Jesus meant. It would have been so easy for the Good Samaritan in the parable to do as the priest and Levite had done, and pass by on the other side, ignoring the injured man. But instead, “when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”
He chose to make a difference in that man’s life, through his good actions.
Desmond Tutu’s words really hit home. I had never heard or seen the act of love described so clearly, in a way that makes so much sense. “Love is an act of the will, where you act lovingly even if you do not always feel loving.” This is such a challenge, such a call to action. Which is why he can still talk of hope, after all that he has seen, all that he has suffered. His faith in a loving God, and in the capacity for humankind to be loving and good and compassionate and caring, is absolute.
The final paragraph of the book articulates a wonderful vision of hope, “All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend His kingdom of shalom – peace and wholeness – of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.”
Each one of us, merely by existing, can make a difference to our world. Each one of us is at the centre of an enormous and complex web of connections and inter-connections. Each action we take, each word we say, can make a difference. Let us live to make it a good one. Amen.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the realisation that
by our actions and words,
we can make a positive difference.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley