Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed (adapted)
As the true prophets of God have always told us,
the Divine will is for mercy and compassion,
love and justice.
May we never suppose that vengeance and cruelty,
hatred and murder, serve the Divine purpose.
In the spirit of human solidarity and oneness,
we join in worship.
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
Jesus told us that we are a light for all the world.
As we light our chalice, let us remember that.
May we be lamps shedding light among our fellows,
humble vessels of divine radiance to our one world.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our 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 world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way,
And once again, we pray for the people of Ukraine, using some words by Wade Miller-Knight
Spirit of love within us, and in all people, We pray for the people of Ukraine,
Especially for those fleeing their homes, and those made homeless.
For those defending their homeland against unprovoked aggression,
including those who engage in active non-violent resistance.
And for all who are able to give humanitarian help.
We thank you, Spirit, for the light of Your love
that shines most brightly in Poland,
whose government has pledged to allow unlimited numbers of Ukrainian refugees in, and provide them with food, medical care, and temporary accommodation,
this light that shines also in Ukraine’s other neighbours willingly receiving refugees: Slovakia, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania; and also Germany.
God bless them all.
We pray with compassion also for the people of Russia, Donetsk and Luhansk,
and for the good of all people who pray under onion domes
and try to love the one God of us all.
We pray that any gains made by the force of coarse and cruel evil be short-lived.
May the pain and sorrow, loss and grief pass.
And may the enduring strength of Good soon prevail, in Ukraine, in Russia, and everywhere.
Reading Eternal Martyr: For Good Friday from Sacred Earth by Cliff Reed
We remember today the eternal martyr: who offends the bigotry of others and threatens their selfish insecurity; who is the repressed conscience and the uncomfortable truth – integrity amidst corruption.
He is crucified, she is shot; he is gassed, she is burned; he is poisoned, she is hanged; she is raped and beaten, he is tortured and broken.
You are with your martyr, O God, in the pain and anguish, giving courage and strength; the peace of death and the triumph of the spirit’s resurrection.
We give thanks for the eternal martyr and what was bought with his death, her blood. But we confess our part in his murder and her torment.
And should we be called to martyrdom, help us to be worthy of our calling.
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 from Expanding Circles of Love by Richard Rohr, 11th April 2022
The God Jesus incarnates and embodies is not a distant God that must be placated. Jesus’ God is not sitting on some throne demanding worship and throwing down thunderbolts like Zeus. Jesus never said, “Worship me”; he said, “Follow me.” He asks us to imitate him in his own journey of full incarnation. To do so, he gives us the two great commandments: (1) Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and (2) Love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–28). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37), Jesus shows us that our “neighbour” even includes our “enemy.”
The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself seek to love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me! “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “If we love one another, God remains in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12). Then we love with God’s infinite love that can always flow through us. We are able to love things for themselves and in themselves—and not for what they do for us. That takes both work and surrender. As we get ourselves out of the way, there is a slow but real expansion of consciousness. We are not the central reference point anymore. We love in greater and greater circles until we can finally do what Jesus did: love and forgive even our enemies.
Prayer by Cliff Reed (with thanks to James Martineau)
In humility, but not in shame
we bow before you,
One whom we cannot name,
lest names divide.
In humility, because we wonder
at your transcendent immensity,
at your loving ideal immanent in ourselves.
But not in shame,
for it is no disgrace to be human,
whatever the follies and failings of each of us.
You have bent into our humanity
to dwell here.
Not just into one of us – once upon a time –
but always, eternally, into all of us.
May we live with the knowledge
of who we are –
frail, imperfect, transient –
incarnate for a moment in us.
Let us use that moment well.
Reading The Risen Christ from Carnival of Lamps by Cliff Reed
Jesus didn’t want to be worshipped, he wanted to be listened to.
He called men and women to follow on the path he trod, not to build shrines and idols wherever his feet fell.
Jesus didn’t work miracles to prove he was divine,
he did works of love to show that we can do them too.
Jesus didn’t say, look at me, he said look to God and help me build the Kingdom
in this world and in the human heart.
Jesus didn’t go to the cross to buy back souls with blood,
he went to the cross because the path of love sometimes leads that way,
and when it does, we must take it, as he did.
The risen Christ was neither corpse revivified nor spectral counterfeit.
He is the community where compassion dwells,
with justice, truth and loving fellowship.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Easter 2020 from Beyond Darkness by Cliff Reed (adapted)
“From midday, a darkness fell over the whole land.” (Matthew 27:45)
“There was another horse, sickly pale; its rider’s name was Death.” (Revelation 6:8)
It was a time of failing hope,
a time of betrayal, despair, and darkness at noon,
a time when fear and death seemed to triumph.
There have been many such times.
Times when it seemed that the pale horse and its
ghastly rider might drive life from the earth.
Maybe we live in such a blighted time,
even though we are surrounded
by springtime flowers and bursting buds.
There is a shadow over the world,
robbing us of the season’s joy,
mocking its beauty.
But though we must not diminish
the dangers we face, let us remember
that death never has the last word.
The faith of Easter is that beyond darkness
there is light, beyond sorrow there is joy,
beyond death there is life.
We are called to be messengers of hope
and compassion to each other,
to our neighbours and to the world.
When the crisis passes, may each of us be able
to reflect that we didn’t altogether fail the test
of love, conscience, and humanity.
We are living through a bitter, fearful spring,
but it will come to an end, and we’ll see
summer come again.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Easter Sunday 2022
I don’t know why it is, but most of the news we read in the papers, hear on the radio, see on the television or the internet, seems to be bad news. Decent behaviour seems less spectacular and is less often reported. Why is that, do you think? Could it be because we instinctively expect such behaviour, and therefore feel it unnecessary to call attention to it? I think that this would be more the Unitarian view of human nature. Let me share a quote from Alfred Hall, author of one of my favourite Unitarian books Beliefs of a Unitarian: “Human nature is indeed prone to corruption, but Unitarians teach that man is constantly being called to respond to those divine influences making for beauty, truth and goodness in his character.” Or take Cliff Reed’s explanation in Unitarian? What’s that?: “Unitarians affirm that all human beings originate in the Divine Unity, all have something of God in them, all are alive with the same divine breath.”
Which is exactly what Richard Rohr was writing about in his Daily Meditation on Monday, parts of which I shared with you as our second reading. Although Rohr is a Catholic Franciscan monk, he is one of the most open-minded Christians I have ever known. He tells us, “Jesus never said, ‘Worship me’; he said, ‘Follow me.’ He asks us to imitate him in his own journey of full incarnation. To do so, he gives us the two great commandments: (1) Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and (2) Love your neighbour as yourself. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us that our ‘neighbour’ even includes our ‘enemy.’”
I have long believed that there is a divine spark within each of us, “that of God” as the Quakers would say. As I see it, our job as Unitarians, as human beings, is to be constantly aware of the divine influences around us, in the world, in our fellow human beings, and to recognise that there is that of God in everyone, and that we are all connected to each other, on a very fundamental level. When we are in loving relationship with others, we can form circles of love. Because being in loving relationship with others is the strongest way I know of influencing the world for good.
Which the world desperately needs at the moment. Although our headlines are filled with news of the war in Ukraine, there are many other places in the world where war and famine and hatred are spreading their toll of misery. Many other places which need our attention, our compassion, our action. We human beings are complex creatures. I think we have to accept that the polarity between what we call good and what we call evil is present in every individual, as well as in humankind generally, but that it is up to each one of us to make a conscious effort to choose the good over the evil, and to make of our lives a greater whole. This might be easier to do if we understand how our human nature works.
I found Philip Hewett’s take on this, in his book The Unitarian Way, fascinating. He wrote, “Human nature, however varied the forms of expression it may take in different individuals and within the same individual, is neither a constant nor an isolated phenomenon. It is not constant because it is continually changing and growing and reflects the level in the evolutionary process that has thus far been reached. It is not isolated because human beings do not live in isolation. We are what we are as a result of continuous interaction with an environment that is not separated from our own essential nature by any impenetrable boundary. We are all of us continually being defined and redefined by the whole constellation of relationships into which we enter. … The living of my life in a spiritual sense is a continuous process of incorporating new relationships into the ever-changing pattern which constitutes my identity. … In a spiritual sense, the quality of living is enhanced by multiplication and exercise of my positive relationships to the cosmos as a whole, to the world of living things, and to other human beings.”
There is a lot of food for thought here. Unless we walk through life with our eyes, minds and hearts shut, we will inevitably be influenced and changed by the actions and words of people with whom we come into contact, whether it is a casual encounter in the street, a member of our family, or of our spiritual community. And, of course, our actions and words influence everyone else. I suppose another way of putting it would be to quote John Donne’s famous meditation, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
So what should we as Unitarians do about this? We are all human beings, we are all members of many communities – our families, our friends, our colleagues, our church – and we are all members of the human race. What difference can we, as individuals, make to those communities? We need to be aware that we are in a living relationship with the rest of the world, and that our words and actions can influence the fate of that world and its inhabitants, our fellow human beings, not to mention all the other living things. Whether our influence is for good or ill is up to us.
Each of us contains that divine spark, which, if we choose to pay attention to it, can prod us into positive action, which might make that difference for good, which our world, our communities, so urgently need. I loved the conclusion of Cliff Reed’s prayer, Easter 2020, which formed our Time of Stillness and Reflection. Although at the time it was written, he was probably thinking about the then new pandemic, his words are just as apposite today, as the wars in Ukraine and other parts of the world rumble on, as the price of fuel doubles and more and more people in this country fall into poverty. Let’s hear them again and take inspiration from them: “The faith of Easter is that beyond darkness there is light, beyond sorrow there is joy, beyond death there is life. We are called to be messengers of hope and compassion to each other, to our neighbours and to the world. When the crisis passes, may each of us be able to reflect that we didn’t altogether fail the test of love, conscience, and humanity.”
It is far from easy to pass this “test of love, conscience, and humanity”. But the teachings of Jesus sum up what we should do:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. … Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. … Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
There are people whose lives have been shining examples of putting this Golden Rule, which is shared by all the major religions, into practice. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was one; Nelson Mandela was another; so was Mother Theresa. I could also mention the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. What all these people have in common is that whatever life threw at them, they somehow managed to rise above the natural human instincts for revenge and hate, and continued to live their lives in a spirit of love.
It’s a big wide world, and we are only little people. But we can resolve to make our little corners of the world more loving places. Let us be like Abou Ben Adhem, in the poem by 19th century poet, Leigh Hunt, with which I will close:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight of his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel, writing in a book of gold;
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” – The vision raised its head,
And with a look made all of sweet accord,
Answer’d “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me down as who loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
It came again, with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had bless’d
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
May we, as incarnations of the Divine, do our best to live our lives out of a place of love, rather than judgement.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we strive to make a positive difference
In our world, and in our communities.
Help us to act in a spirit of compassion,
Putting love and justice before self-interest.
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