Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
We are here to love –
to love each other,
to love our frail, wounded selves,
to love our broken world,
and to love its suffering people.
Let us worship so that
love will flow.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). Words by Laura Dobson
We light our chalice candle as a symbol of hope, peace, joy, and love.
The light reminds us that love is the greatest power in the world,
the love we share and bless each other with,
here in our beloved community;
the love we take out into the world,
bearing and sharing the light,
wherever we are and whoever we are with,
every day of our lives.
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 and climate change hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other, however we may.
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, Amen
Reading Go Givers Thought for Today, 13th October 2023
It’s been said that you cannot give away what you do not have. One of the most spiritually important insights or secrets in life is that you already have, and always have had, what you need to give away! If you impart the message that ‘I am not worthy’ the universe will send it straight back in many shapes, forms and circumstances. When we say ‘give me’, we are imparting this message. We are saying we think we need to get something to complete ourselves or prove our worth.
Most of us are taught to live a life of “gimme, gimme, gimme” – always striving, desiring, wanting, struggling. We do so only because we think that when we get what we want we will be fulfilled and esteemed by others. But it’s an illusion. We are all already complete and worthy but we cannot know it and experience it, until we give it away! Only giving allows us to know what we are and what we have within. Ask the question – how can I serve? The intention to serve will point you towards what you need to give. If the intention is real it also generates the will. The most successful people in life are not go getters, but go givers!
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.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Then said a rich man, speak to us of Giving. And he answered:
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard, for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much that they have – and they give it for recognition, and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor
do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these, God speaks,
and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed, the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours
and not your inheritors.
Prayer by Margaret Kirk (adapted)
Eternal God, we seek through prayer to uplift our minds and hearts and refresh our spirits.
Spirit of love be with us.
We are grateful to share fellowship with each other but we come with haunting images in our minds: images of people in distress, people looking for sanctuary – children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, people from across the world – Gaza, Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Libya, desperate people for whom it feels safer to place a family on a flimsy raft on the sea than to remain on dry land.
Spirit of love be with us in our concern and compassion.
Let us recall the words spoken by Jesus that take us to the heart of our religious truth:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly, I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Spirit of love, we give thanks for the wider fellowship which springs from our common humanity, that transcends all boundaries of race, culture and creed.
For this common humanity, revealed in acts of loving kindness, wherever it may be – the offer of food, an arm across a shoulder, a hand to hold, a smile, a listening ear, we give thanks. For we know there will be those who offer these things, despite the coldness and indifference of others.
We pray that we may live our lives in the ever deepening faith that all men and women are kin.
Be with us in the service of love; in all our effort; in our successes and our failures;
and may something of your peace bless us and those who seek sanctuary.
Reading Poinsettia by John Midgley, from With Heart and Mind
In recent years, a plant, the poinsettia, has become a new symbol of Advent, because of its joyous red colour and the story associated with it. [And although we are still some time from the season of Advent, I’d like to share it with you now].
It originates from Mexico where the associated legend is a miracle story, told to the children as part of the Festival of the Holy Journey, a re-enactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It comes to its climax when the couple arrive in Bethlehem and find no room at the inn. For the Christmas Eve service, the people of the towns and villages attend their church and bring gifts for the Christ-child, as the three Wise Men did…
The story tells of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who wanted to attend, but had no gift to bring. As she walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes,” said Pedro to her consolingly.
Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel. All this was made much worse by the jeering remarks of those who had brought much grander gifts.
As she approached the altar, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.
Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds changed. They were transformed into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle, right before their eyes. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
“Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable.”
Time of Stillness and Reflection The Chalice of our Being by Richard Gilbert, adapted)
Each morning we hold out our chalice of being
To be filled with the graces of life that abound—
Air to breathe, food to eat, companions to love,
Beauty to behold, art to cherish, causes to serve.
They come in ritual procession, these gifts of life.
Whether we deserve them we cannot know or say,
For they are poured out for us.
Our task is to hold steady the chalice of our being.
We carry the chalice with us as we go,
Either meandering aimlessly,
Or with destination in our eye.
We share its abundance if we have any sense,
Reminding others as we remind ourselves
Of the contents of the chalice we don’t deserve.
Water from living streams fills it
If only we hold it out faithfully.
We give back, if we can, something of ourselves—
Some love, some beauty, some grace, some gift.
We give back in gratitude if we can
Something like what is poured into our chalice of being—
For those who abide with us and will follow.
Each morning we hold out the chalice of our being,
To receive, to carry, to give back.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Gift of Service
I’d like to begin this address by sharing some inspirational words by the 19th century American Congregationalist minister, Lyman Abbott, which I have taped above my desk: “Put all your ambition, all your enthusiasm, into the work of service. Make it the aim of your life to leave the world better and happier because you have lived in it, and take without greed or grasping what the world will give you of service in return.”
Our first reading today was from a daily e-mail I subscribe to, called Thought for Today, and it gave me the theme for this week’s service. Let me remind you what it said (in part). “We are all already complete and worthy but we cannot know it and experience it, until we give it away! Only giving allows us to know what we are and what we have within. Ask the question – how can I serve? The intention to serve will point you towards what you need to give.”
I think that both Lyman Abbott and the anonymous author of the Thought for Today are both saying the same thing: that our lives will only be truly blessed when we are able to give as well as receive, when we choose generosity over scarcity, when we are able to release, rather than grasping.
Enjoying the act of being of service to others is not, perhaps, something which comes naturally to many of us. When we were on holiday a few weeks ago, dining out in a gorgeous restaurant which specialised in Austrian food, my husband commented on the enthusiasm of our waiter, who obviously got a huge amount of pleasure from being of service to us. It was very refreshing to us as Brits, who are more used to either grudging or obsequious service.
The work of service can be the most rewarding in the world. It can be hugely satisfying to serve others, knowing that you are making a positive difference to their lives. During the recent years of Covid lockdown, I found it so heartening when someone took the trouble to drop me an e-mail when they had appreciated one of my online services. Because it’s not the same as leading worship in front of a congregation…. And I missed the feedback.
But I have come to understand that it is the very act of service which should be its own reward. We shouldn’t do anything merely to garner acceptance and praise, but purely for the pleasure which comes from being of use to others. Casting our bread on the waters, so to speak, with no thought as to who might be fed by it. As Lyman Abbott said, “Make it the aim of your life to leave the world better and happier because you have lived in it, and take without greed or grasping what the world will give you of service in return.”
Which is, of course, exactly what Khalil Gibran’s Prophet meant, when he said, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard, for fear you may need them tomorrow?”
This is not to say that giving food and other items to your local food bank (for example) is a bad idea. Because it absolutely isn’t. They need our donations more than ever. But he speaks so clearly to those of us who are living in places of scarcity and fear. If we are tempted to hoard anything more than we can actually use, week by week, we could be depriving someone else of essentials which they may desperately need, to feed and look after themselves and their families. So let us try to “give with joy… as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”
Such a beautiful image. Such a beautiful action.
He also reminds us that, “it is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; and to the open-handed, the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.”
Who might we be able to give to, today, next week? Let us search our minds and hearts. It need not be material things which we give. Indeed, the most precious gifts are those which cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. Generosity, love, compassion – we can give of all of these freely, knowing that by our giving, we have not only enriched our own lives, but also those to whom we have given.
Mother Teresa once wrote, “He who gives with joy, gives the most.” This view of the spirit of giving chimes in well with Maimonides’ Ladder of Charity, which I first came across when I did the UK Unitarian Build Your Own Theology course some years ago. Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) was a 12th century Jewish rabbi, physician and philosopher, one of the greatest Hebrew scholars. He compiled a vast mass of Jewish oral law into the Mishna Torah, also called The Strong Hand. One of his best known writings is The Golden Ladder of Charity, in which he ranked the spirit of giving or charity like this:
1 To give reluctantly, the gift of the hand, but not of the heart.
2 To give cheerfully, but not in proportion to need.
3 To give cheerfully and proportionately, but not unsolicited.
4 To give cheerfully, proportionately and unsolicited, but to put the gift into the poor person’s hand, thus creating shame.
5 To give in such a way that the distressed may know their benefactor, without being known to him or her.
6 To know the objects of our bounty, but remain unknown to them.
7 To give so that the benefactor may not know those whom he or she has relieved, and they shall not know him or her.
8 To prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting a man or woman up in business, or in some way preventing the need for charity.
He explains that giving is most blessed and most acceptable when the donor remains completely anonymous. There is a lot of food for thought here. We in the privileged West are very good at giving “aid” to those less fortunate than ourselves, but very often, our motivation is not pure – part of it is to make ourselves feel better.
And the absolute best way of giving is, as Maimonides says, to bring someone out of poverty by setting them up to function independently, so that they no longer need our “charity.”
Our giving may be in the form of physical things – food, drink, clothing etc – or in the form of intangible things – such as any kind of service. What matters, I think, is the spirit in which we offer the donation or service. In the beautiful words of Richard Gilbert, which I shared in our Time of Stillness and Reflection, “Each morning we hold out the chalice of our being, To receive, to carry, to give back.”
In other words, the very act of giving, in whatever form, is worthy of consecration. Especially the giving of selfless service – given without any expectation of recognition or reward. In the words of St Francis of Assisi, let us pray that our lives spent in gifts of service to others will make those of the people and the planet around us happier and more fulfilled. Let us pray:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
May it be so, Amen
Closing Words by Karl Stewart
Loving spirit, of many, many, names.
We invite you into our hearts to guide our giving.
Bless us in our voices, as we pray for those in need.
Bless us in the circle of hands that hold what we shall give.
Speak to us in mind, and see us through your sight,
as we look to the vision in the grace of giving.
May we give unconditionally, so that our little today,
is someone else’s plenty tomorrow,
and their days to come.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley