Unitarian Sunday Reflections

(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)

21 November 2021



“Intriguing Prayers”

Stir-up Sunday 2021








“If churches saw their mission in the same way, there is no telling what might happen. What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church’s job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?”                                                                                                                   

~ Barbara Brown Taylor



words by John Carter


We light our chalice, this candle,

          as a sign of our connectedness, our community, and of our journey on this spiritual quest called life….


We take a moment to reflect on our life and living of this week… as we reflect…. explore and ask of yourself….

          What was good? Healthy?

          What was not good? Unhealthy?

          What moments, events, conversations, time alone

          that allowed me to connect to another, to life,

                               to that which may be called Divine.


As we end these reflections, as we move to worship, may we continue to reflect on the things that make life whole and how we may grow ourselves into them.


May the Great Spirit of the Journey walk with us today.




HFL 191 (CD 1/ TK15)

“To Worship Rightly”

words by John Greenleaf Whittier


Now let us sing in loving celebration:

The holier worship, which our God may bless,

Restores the lost, binds up the spirit broken,

And feeds the widowed and the parentless.

Fold to thy heart thy sister and thy brother;

Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;

To worship rightly is to love each other;

Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.


Follow with reverent steps the great example

Of those whose holy work was doing good:

So shall the wide earth seem our daily temple,

Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.

Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour

Of wild war-music o’er the earth shall cease;

Love shall tread out the baleful fire the anger,

And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.





Today is called Stir-up Sunday, because the Collect (a form of prayer) for today, the last Sunday before Advent starts, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. It became culturally connected to making and stirring of the Christmas pudding today.


Now I am not inviting you all to do a pudding, in fact I did mine on Tuesday last, when in London for doctor’s appointments. Stir up Tuesday for my family.


But the prayer, stir up the wills of thy people, intrigues me….


How does it resonate with you, this idea of being stirred up?

Does it inspire you? Challenge you?


What meaning does it call out in you?


Our readings today are my response to this idea of being stirred up.


I must say that I think it is a prayer we Unitarians can subscribe to, as inheritors of the dissenting and non conformist traditions. We do seem to carry a sense of being stirred up about a great many things. Our theological sense is one that stirs up the easy status quo of our society..


*   *   *


Christ of Maryknoll

Icon by Robert Lentz OFM



“In times of relative conformity and acceptance of the status quo, they slip into human history demonstrating the amazing potential of the human spirit and leaving our communal story forever changed. The are the birthers of new ways whose courage and spirit take all of us a little bit further than we ever thought we could go. Because of them we see further and deeper, and we dare togo along paths we never imagined. They open up hither to unknown spaces, expanding the human spirit and enriching all of us….impelled by a fire within them, they create new ways for ordinary humans to become…


Aware of the Christ of Maryknoll who breathes in each of us, making us familiar to be among G_D’s children everywhere.”                                  ~ Edwina Gateley





Robert Lentz invites us to reflect upon this spiritual life…..


“I have named this icon “Christ of Maryknoll” because Maryknoll and Orbis Books mean so much to me. Both endeavour to see the Christ among the least of us, and to serve the Christ who lives in the margins of this world.


Maryknoll missioners — priests, sisters, brothers, and laity — endeavour to see the face of Christ and to be the face of Christ, especially among the poor, on four continents. Maryknollers are known for their commitment to Jesus’ Gospel that  ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.’


I hope this icon will bring inspiration to all those who share in this vision.


The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on.

Is he imprisoned or are we?

Through our cultural institution and personal lives we all place barriers between ourselves and true happiness. We and our institutions also try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals.


The Christ of Maryknoll cannot be tamed.”


“The Call of the Disciples”

a Sonnet by Malcolm Guite


“He calls us all to step aboard his ship,

Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,

Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,

Whatever storms or floods are threatening.

If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,

Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,

For he is always with us and will hear,

And make our peace with his creative Word,

Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set

All his beloved lovers in an ark;

Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float

Above the rising waves, the falling dark,

As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,

Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.


Anabaptist Hymns: revisioned

by Rev John Philip Carter


3 Stanzas: rendering the words of Felix Mantz

(3 out of 18 stanzas)



Love alone is worthy

To the Divine, through the Anointed.

Neither bowing nor inveighing helps,

It can be no other way.

Love alone is divinely pleasing;

Whoever does not show love,

Has no place with the Divine.



Pure love in the Anointed

Spares the enemy.

Whoever would be an heir with the Anointed

Then be also commanded

To show mercy

According to the Anointed’s teaching

And have eternal joy.



The Anointed hated no one,

Nor should those who follow,

To remain on the true path

And to follow the Anointed,

To have with them the light of life,

And be joyful in their hearts

Is the desire of all pious ones.


“A Spiritual Encounter”

by Howard Thurman


(Howard Thurman, 20th century African American, minister, writer, theologian, poet, writes of an encounter that he had….)


“My chief concern while in India was to have some time with Dr. Singh, who was the head of the division of Oriental studies for Shantiniketan University. One glorious morning we sat on the floor in searching conversation about the life of the spirit, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. When lunchtime came, I had to keep an appointment with some students. Getting up from the floor, massaging my usual Charley horse, I looked at him.


He remarked, “I see you are chuckling.”


I replied that he was doing the same, adding “Perhaps we are reacting to the same thing.”


He then remarked, “Suppose you tell me first.”


I said we had spent the entire morning sparring for position…


“you from behind your Hindu breastwork, and I from behind my Christian embattlement. Now and then, we step out from that protection, draw a bead on each other, then retreat.”


“You are right. When we come back this afternoon, let us be wiser than that.”


(Howard, in reflection of the day, goes on to say….)


“That afternoon I had the most primary, naked fusing of total religious experience with another human being of which I have ever been capable. It was as if we had stepped out of social, political, cultural frames of reference, and allowed two human spirits to unite on a ground of reality hat was unmarked by separateness and differences. This was a watershed of experience in my life. We had become a part of each other even as we remained essentially individual. I was able to stand secure in my place and enter into his place without diminishing myself or threatening him.”


On Jesus & Christianity

by Dave Tomlinson, How to Be a Bad Christian


“Jesus never wrote a book, never created a creed, never started a church and never intended to begin a new religion. He simply demonstrated the way of love — the golden rule in any religious tradition — and invited people to join him in that.


Jesus certainly didn’t invent the term ‘Christian’, which actually appears only three times in the entire Bible. It was probably originally devised by critics of his followers, at least a decade after his death, as a term of derision.


But it stuck — for better or worse.


Before the name ‘Christian’, early followers of Jesus were simply known as ‘people of the way’ — people who identified with the way of life Jesus taught and demonstrated.


I like that, ‘people of the way’. It suggests being part of a journey, rather than part of an organisation. And I know lots of people who never turn up at church, who struggle with creeds and doctrines, who shrink from the thought of being religious, yet who are very much in the way of Jesus. They would deny being Christian. But they are people of the way through and through.


Let’s get it clear: Chrisitianity is about faith, not belief. There is a difference. Faith is about having trust, whereas belief is more akin to having opinions. It’s possible to hold beliefs passionately and to argue about them until the cows come home, without them making a acrap of difference to us. But trust is not about beliefs, creeds, opinions, arguments; it is more instinctive, more fundamental. It doesn’t need words.


It’s in your belly.”


“Count Well the Cost”

by Alexander Mack


“Christ Jesus says, “Count well the cost

When you lay the foundation.”

Are you resolved, though all seem lost

To risk your reputation,

Your self, your wealth, for Christ the Lord

As you now give your solemn word?”



“Upside Down Kingdom”

by Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside Down Kingdom


“I prefer the upside down image for several reasons.


1) Social life has vertical dimensions.

Society is not flatlet has a rugged topography. In social geography there are mountains, valleys, ruts, and planing. Some people stand on high social peaks, while others mourn in the valleys. The social clout of individuals and groups varies greatly. The chairperson of a committee musters more power than the average committee member. Lawyers swing more prestige and influence than retail clerks. A central and persistent fact of social life is hierarchy — the raking of people on vertical social ladders. The upside down image reminds us of this vertical dimension of life.


2) We forget to ask why things are the way they are.

The upside down label encourages us to question the way things are. Children quickly learn common cultural values and take them for granted. They learn that feral is the “right” breakfast food in North America. Socialisation — learning the ways of our culture — shapes the assumptions by which we live. We assume the way things are is the way they ought to be. Eating cereal for breakfast, day after day, makes it seem unquestionably right. We internalise the values and norms paraded on screen and billboards as simply ‘the way life is.’ If our economic system sets a minimum wage, we accept it as fair and just without a second thought. If someone trespasses on our property, we happily prosecute. After all, ‘that is what the law provides for.’ We charge an 8 percent commission on a sales traction because ‘that is just the way it is.’ The values and norms of our society become so deeply ingrained in our mind that it’s difficult to imagine alternatives. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus, represents the kingdom as a new order breaking in upon, and overturning old ways, old values, old assumptions. If it does anything, the kingdom of God shatters some of our assumptions. We cannot assume that things are right just because ‘that is the way they are.’ The upside-down lens sharpens the distinction between the way of God, and the way of the world (status quo).

((note: I am changing the word kingdom for way.))


3) The way of God is full of surprises.

Again and again, through parable, sermon, and action, Jesus startles us. Things in the Gospels are ofter upside down. Good People turn out to be Bad People. Those we expect to receive reward get spankings. Those who think they are headed for heaven land up in hell. The least are the greatest. The immoral receive forgiveness and blessing. Adults become like children. The religious miss the heavenly banquet. The pious receive curses. Things are reversed.


Paradox, irony, and surprise permeate the teachings of Jesus.


They flip our expectations upside down and completely upset our predictions.


Things aren’t the way we expect them to be.


We’re baffled and perplexed.


We’re so amazed that we step back.


Should we laugh or should we cry?



HFL 134 (CD3 /TK 8)

“Faith of the Free” words by Vincent Brown-Silliman


Faith of the larger liberty,

Source of the light expanding,

Law of the church that is to be,

Old bondage notwithstanding:

Faith of the free!

By thee we live —

By all thou gives and shalt give

Our loyalty commanding.


Heroes of faith in every age,

far-seeing, self-denying,

Wrought an increasing heritage,

Monarch and priest defying.

Faith of the free!

In thy dear name

The costly heritage we claim:

Their living and their dying.


Faith for the people everywhere,

Whatever their oppression,

Of all who make the world more fair,

Living their faith’s confession:

Faith of the free!

Whate’er our plight,

Thy law, thy liberty, thy light

Shall be our blest possession.



One of the early things that I learned when I moved across was to make the Christmas Pudding, partly due to our not liking some of the traditional ingredients, like cherry glace, candied peel, I suspect you get the idea.


It is a fun tradition, and as I like to bake, gave me a chance to learn and participate in a cultural practice of my new homeland.


As I said earlier, I am intrigued by the import of what stirring up our wills can be mean, and importantly what they can do….


So how are you stirred up in life?

What ways can we as a congregation be stirred up?

In what ways can we Unitarians be stirred?

Equally what are the things that we need to be stirred to?





Twilight People Prayer

by Rabbi Reuben Zellman


“As the sun sinks and the colors of the day turn, we offer a blessing for the twilight,
for twilight is neither day nor night, but in-between.
We are all twilight people. We can never be fully labeled or defined.

We are many identities and loves, many genders and none. We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between place and place.
We are crisscrossed paths of memory and destination, streaks of light swirled together. We are neither day nor night.

We are both, neither, and all.
May the sacred in-between of this evening suspend our certainties, soften our judgments, and
widen our vision.
May this in-between light illuminate our way to the God who transcends all categories and definitions.
May the in-between people who have come to pray be lifted up into this twilight.
We cannot always define; we can always say a blessing.
Blessed are You, God of all,
who brings on the twilight.”






HFL 146 (CD HFL 4/TRACK 11)

“True Simplicity”

Traditional Shaker Song


’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free;

’Tis the gift to know just where we want to be;

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,

To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed;

To turn, turn, will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning, we come round right.


’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free;

’Tis the gift to share our common destiny;

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,

To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed;

To turn, turn, will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning, we come round right.




May our days be filled with saintly and not so saintly purpose,

may we embrace that which makes us different and that which connects us all.


In our desperate world


Being guided by the Good

Sustained by love

Empowered to live


May we live our life


As instruments for compassion, joy, peace, justice, spiritual wholeness for the whole of creation…..



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