Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Sylvia L. Howe (adapted)
I bid you welcome on this first Sunday of the New Year.
Like Janus we gather with part of us looking backward
and part of us looking forward.
We gather on the edge of the new year
saddened by our losses,
cherishing our joys,
aware of our failures,
mindful of days gone by.
We gather on the cusp of this new year
eager to begin anew,
hopeful for what lies ahead,
promising to make changes,
anticipating tomorrows and tomorrows.
Let us join in a celebration of life,
knowing that life includes good and bad,
endings and beginnings.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).
words by Cliff Reed
We gather on this first Sunday of the year
to renew our flame of love and fellowship
in hope of better days to come for us
and everyone on earth.
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 overshadow us.
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,
victims of violence and war,
suffering in any way, Amen
Reading A collective response by Barbara Holmes, Part 1, shared by Richard Rohr on 3rd January 2024
It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to survive. For many of us, villages are a thing of the past. We no longer draw our water from the village well or share the chores of barn raising, sowing, and harvesting. We can get … almost everything that we need online. Yet even though our societies are connected by technology, the rule of law, and a global economy, our relationships are deeply rooted in the memory of local spaces.
Villages are organizational spaces that hold our collective beginnings. They’re spaces that we can return to, if only through memory, when we are in need of welcoming and familiar places. What is a village but a local group of folks who share experiences, values, and mutual support in common? I’m using the word “village” to invoke similar spiritual and tribal commitments and obligations.… When there is a crisis, it takes a village to survive.
In each generation, we are tested. Will we love our neighbours as ourselves, or will we measure our responsibilities to one another in accordance with whomever we deem to be in or out of our social circles? And what of those unexpected moments of crisis, those critical events that place an entire village at risk? How do we survive together? How do we resist together? How do we respond to unspeakable brutality and the collective oppression of our neighbours?
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 A collective response by Barbara Holmes, Part 1, shared by Richard Rohr on 3rd January 2024
Our lifelong efforts to map our uniqueness do not defeat our collective connections. Although I’m an individual with a name, family history, and embodiment as an African American woman, I am also inextricably connected to several villages that reflect my social, cultural, national, spiritual, and generational identifications. These connections require that I respond and resist when any village is under assault.…
There’s a way in which we can come together as groups, as collectives, as individuals, and seek the highest good of all of us by using our gifts creatively. There really are alternatives. It’s not one thing or another. We don’t have to have large systems determining the outcome of our lives. We just have to think through creatively how we want to maximize the flourishing of most of us, not just a few of us.…
Where is your community hurting? Where can you be of help to that community? What resources and gifts do you possess that will enhance the healing of your own body and of your community? As a village, we have a sacred duty to respond to the crises of oppression and injustice. We have a responsibility to respond to the suffering of others around us. But first, we have to figure out who we are, how we’re going to show up, and how we’re going to work with others, our neighbours, in a communal response to crisis.
Prayer Journeying in Hope by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
God of our inmost hearts, we turn to you
at the start of another year.
No one knows what it will bring, and we
make our plans in hope, not certainty.
As we set out once more on the journey, we pray
for courage and guidance in the way of love.
Help us to hold to the truth we know, and to
resist the lies and follies that beguile the world.
Open our eyes to see the needs of others,
our ears to hear your call in their unhappiness and discontent.
Make us listen to the Earth and what she has to teach,
for the sake of all your children.
In humility we turn to you, O God. Help us to
make this year a better one than anyone dared hope.
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-45
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Time of Stillness and Reflection Unanswered Prayer by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
O God, who doesn’t seem to answer prayer,
who leaves the hungry to starve, the poor to die,
the oppressed to suffer, and the wars to rage,
why don’t you answer prayer, if you’re there at all?
But maybe that the wrong question.
Rather, why don’t we, humanity, answer prayer?
Why do we leave the hungry to starve
when there is food enough to feed them
and the means to grow more?
Why do we leave the poor to die
when there are resources enough
to heal the sick, clothe the naked,
and shelter the houseless?
Why do we leave the oppressed to suffer
for want of liberation, and wars to rage,
when we could stop them if the will for peace
ruled our counsels?
O God who can only answer prayer
with human hands, human courage,
and human caring, stir us to the love
that feeds the hungry and heals the sick,
strikes down oppression, frees the slaves…
You are the will for peace with justice.
You are the love that reaches out to us
from others in our need.
God of our inmost hearts,
who calls us to seek you there,
may we find you and so become
your loving presence in this
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address New Year 2024
It is a new year; a time which is full of new promise. But it is very much up to us, what we make of it.
In the past year, all of us have fallen short, and been less than the best people we can be. But we have also done some things well and lived up to our potential as human beings. During my past year, I managed to get through the challenge of chairing the GA meetings, and came back to the District at the beginning of April, full of joy. And my grandson was born on 8th November, an embodied reminder of new life and new promise. And for the last month, I have concentrated on making the best of being confined to my chair, only allowed to take a brief walk around once an hour, every hour – it has been an interesting exercise in patience and finding the inner and outer resources to keep myself amused and occupied. It has given me a valuable insight into what it is like to be less than healthy, dependent on others.
Each New Year’s Eve for the past few years, my husband and I have completed a small booklet available as a download from Year Compass. The first part is about the year that has just gone (and what a year it has been!) and the second half is about our hopes and dreams for the year to come. It has made me go a little bit deeper, and to do some of the reflection and self-evaluation practiced by the adherents of other faiths, such as Hinduism and Judaism and Christianity. Being in spiritual direction for the past decade or so has taught me that this process of self-examination is a valuable one, if uncomfortable.
The goal of living a good life is both very simple and very difficult: it is to become the best person you can be, true to the principles you hold dear, that are sanctioned by your reason and conscience. Which means that you have to work out what those principles are, as a starting point, before you can think about how you are going to live your life in accordance with them. It’s a challenge, but such a worthwhile one. The new year is an annual opportunity to re-evaluate where you are on the path, and to make some resolutions in order to move on in your spiritual journey. To discard what is broken, and to be hopeful about the year to come.
The words by Barbara Holmes, which I shared as our first and second readings, landed in my inbox on 3rd January, as a timely reminder that it is very much up to us to try to make a positive difference in the world, especially in the communities of which we are a part – our families, our friends, our neighbours, our church community and the many others which make up the complicated, inter-connected map of our lives. None of us exist in splendid isolation – all of us have the chance to act and speak in ways which will influence the lives of others positively.
Holmes asks some searching questions, which I think it would be good for us all to ponder as we enter this new year of 2024:
- Will we love our neighbours as ourselves, or will we measure our responsibilities to one another in accordance with whomever we deem to be in or out of our social circles?
- What of those unexpected moments of crisis, those critical events that place an entire village at risk? How do we survive together? How do we resist together? How do we respond to unspeakable brutality and the collective oppression of our neighbours?
The point she is making, I think, is that we are all members of many communities, who each have a responsibility towards all the other members of our communities, because each person is our neighbour.
Jesus said that the most important commandment was to “love your neighbour as yourself” and this is underlined in the passage from the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which formed our third reading. Although I do not believe in a final day of judgement, nor in a place of eternal punishment for those who fall short of their best selves, I still consider that particular passage to be at the heart of the message Jesus was trying to get across to his followers. That a good life is a life lived in community, where each member does their best to support each other member.
Barbara Holmes also challenges us to think about our contributions to our own various communities, with these questions:
- Where is your community hurting?
- Where can you be of help to that community?
- What resources and gifts do you possess that will enhance the healing of your own body and of your community?
Sadly, none of our individual congregations, nor the Unitarian movement as a whole, could truthfully be described as, “absolutely fine, needing no help whatsoever.” So I think we need to ponder what we, as individuals, can do to heal the wounds of our Unitarian communities, to help out where we can, using the resources and gifts we have been given. If every single one of us made a resolution to do whatever we could to help, no matter how great or small that contribution might be, imagine the transformation that might be possible! Because as Cliff Reed reminds us in his Unanswered Prayer, which formed our Time of Stillness and Reflection, “God [can] can only answer prayer with human hands, human courage, and human caring,” and asks that we be stirred “to the love that feeds the hungry and heals the sick, strikes down oppression, frees the slaves…”
I hope that you are finding these words encouraging, rather than admonitory. Because that is absolutely not my intention. The very most that any of us can do is our best, and that is enough. I have always found the advice of 19th century Unitarian and Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, both challenging and reassuring:
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly until he knows that every day is doomsday. Today is a king in disguise. Today always looks mean to the thoughtless, in the face of a uniform experience that all good and great and happy actions are made up precisely of these blank todays.
Let us not be so deceived; let us unmask the king as he passes! He only is rich who owns the day, and no-one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with worry, fret and anxiety.
You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
Such good advice.
I hope that 2024 will be a better year for all of us – that Covid 19 will finally be defeated, and that the wars in the Ukraine and in Palestine (and all other conflicts the world over) will come to an end. Another New Year has been welcomed in, full of hints and promises. We have another chance to learn new things, to make new friends, to appreciate old friends, to do what we can in the communities to which we belong and to recognise God everywhere. I would like to finish by sharing the beautiful words of the New Year Blessing Beannacht, by the great Celtic poet and theologian John O’ Donohue, as a blessing to each and every one of you in this new year:
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green,
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
May it be so, Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
another New Year has begun.
May 2024 be a good year,
for all of us and for all those we love,
and for the world.
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