Unitarian Sunday Reflections
(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)
09 January 2022
“Worship in a Time of Clay Feet”
WORDS OF WELCOME
A very gracious welcome to this time of reflection, and worship.
“Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.”
~ C. JoyBell C.
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.
What does the word manifest mean to you?
How do you experience manifestation, light, enlightenment in your life?
Can negative experiences also bring enlightenment? Or moments of manifest clarity?
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.
SYF 30 (CD SYF 1/TK 6)
“Each seeking faith is seeking light”
words by Brian Wren
Each seeking faith is seeking light,
and light dawns on our seeking,
when clashing tongues combine
to pray that light will shine,
and guide and gather all on earth
in peaceful greeting.
Each seeking faith is seeking truth,
for truth is lived by seeking,
and though our faiths conflict,
no dogma can restrict
the power of truth set free on earth
in honest meeting.
Each loving faith is seeking peace,
and peace is made by seeking
to spin the strands of trust
in patterns free and just,
till every family on earth
is in safe keeping.
Each living faith is seeking life,
and life flows through our seeking
to treasure, feel and show
the heart of what we know.
In every faith the Light, the Life,
is shining, speaking.
“Looking At You”
poem by William Stafford, from A Scripture of Leaves
Over your shoulder I see it there,
that other faith once part
of your life, gone when wisdom came
and the plan: “Learn to survive.”
In your face now instead of that vanished
look, this look has come: “Wait, find
what is coming and accept it” – no longer
that lifelong lunge for worlds to be found.
But that other faith leaps at night. It glances
aside sometimes; it stares at the fire.
After all the stars in the sky go down
it says, “There is another star.”
by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro,
from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
Epiphany means “to make manifest.”
By the fourth century, Epiphany was a major annual celebration for the church. It is the season when we see Jesus’ divine mission revealed when the magi visit him, and then we remember his baptism, miracles, teaching, ministry, and his call us to follow.
by Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year
The second great feast of the Christmas season that amplifies our awareness of the person of Jesus is the western church’s separate celebration of the ancient Eastern feast of Epiphany. While the Eastern church concentrates on the baptism of Jesus as the divine revelation, the Western church continues to maintain the story of the Magi. These foreign kinds, themselves alerted by the strange manifestations of the stars in the heavens, like the shepherds, find they way to the child and, as Matthew states in his gospel, “to pay him homage.”
The world recognises the heavenly in this tine Child. The Child recognises the people of God in them. This is not a Christian child only; this child belongs to the world.
Daniel 2:29-35: A Vision NIV
“As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.
As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.
The head of the statue was made of pure gold,
its chest and arms of silver,
its belly and thighs of bronze,
its legs of iron,
its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.
While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer.
The wind swept them away without leaving a trace.
And the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”
HYMN (Sung during Hull’s service)
“View the starry realm of heaven”
words by Norbert Capek
View the starry realm of heaven, shining distant empires sing.
Sky song of celestial children turns each winter into spring,
turns each winter into spring.
Great you are, beyond conception, God of gods and God of stars.
My soul soars with your perception, I escape from prison bars,
I escape from prison bars.
You, the one within, all forming in my heart and mind and breath,
you my guide through hate’s fierce storming, courage in both life and death,
courage in both life and death.
Life is yours, in you I prosper, seed will come to fruit I know.
Trust that after winter’s snowfall wall will melt and truth will flow,
walls will melt and truth will flow.
“A Crooked and Perverse Nation”
by Thomas Penny, from Kinder Ground: 2021 Swarthmore Lecture
You don’t have to look very hard to find claims that we are in a ‘post-truth’ world. Growing numbers of people get their news about current affairs from social media and those whose political outlook they share. False narratives are used to distract and persuade, and critical faculties are suspended in favour of tribal loyalities as we hear what we want to hear.
Alternative versions of events are dismissed as ‘fake news’, of the propaganda of some cabal opposed to the views of the person criticising them. Inconvenient facts are explained away as attempts by opponents to manipulate political debate. At the same time, control of information is rapidly slipping from the grasp of regulated news outlets, such as newspapers and radio and television stations. It is being passed to the less governed space of the internet, where there are fewer obligations to offer balance or right of reply.
There are plenty of explanations for how this happened, who’s to blame and why we find ourselves in the situation. But in considering how to tackle the problem, and how to avoid despair, it’s important to remember it is nothing new.
The precise details have been different and the means of spreading information have changed, but there have been many periods in human history when the ways people have been informed and persuaded have taken a disorientating turn.
We’ve been here before.
“Call to Serve, midst a Moment of Crisis”
by Joseph Evans, from Preaching God’s Transforming Justice
For those of us who came to maturity during the 1960s civil rights and post civil rights eras, it may come as a surprise to hear an account told by Taylor Branch about the authentic American global prophet, Martine Luther King, Jr.
I refer to this story as King’s “kitchen table religion.”
After receiving a series of threatening phone calls, King was deeply disturbed and unsettled about his role in the Civil Rights Movement, in particular, his involvement in the Montgomery boycott. According to Branch, “King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength.”
During this time, King experience something that he could only describe as the first transcendent religious experience in his life. According to Branch, for King, “The moment lacked the splendour of a vision or of a voice speaking out loud,” but “the moment awakened and it confirmed his belief that the essence of religion was not a grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience – something that opened up mysteriously beyond the predicaments of human beings in their frailest and noblest moment.”
Inherent in these crisis moments are calls to serve. The call to serve is a prominent theme in many of the texts about Jesus. These suggest that religion is an outward response to God’s spiritual call to discipleship. I define discipleship as receiving a call from God (which is often abstract and mysterious) and then serving in some form of vocation wherever and however this leads us.
SYF 11 (CD SYF 4/TRACK 3)
“Blessed Spirit of my life”
words by Shelley Jackson Denham
Blessed Spirit of my life,
give me strength through stress and strife;
help me live with dignity;
let me know serenity.
Fill me with a vision,
clear my mind of fear and confusion.
When my thoughts flow restlessly,
let peace find a home in me.
Spirit of great mystery,
hear the still, small voice in me.
Help me live my wordless creed
as I comfort those in need.
Fill me with compassion,
be the source of my intuition.
Then when life is done for me,
let love be my legacy.
How do you hear that story of the statue made of precious minerals with feet of clay?
What interpretations do you know of the tale?
Could it mean something else?
How do you experience something being made manifest? And enlightenment?
I am not sure when my brain started to think of today’s theme. Or today’s metaphor.
It could have come during my thoughts about the theme of Unitarians and Inclusivity, for a reflection article I was writing for the Ministerial Fellowship Journal.
It could have started some point last month, as I was working with other ministers on our pre General Assembly Ministers meeting for April.
Or simply listening to two weeks of statistics and apparent relaxed attitude of our government, and their equally mixed messaging of restrictions – not restrictions, while continuing to try and dig their way out of the most recent 24hr news scandal.
I am fairly certain that by the news cycle hit on the situation of Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open, the image of “feet of clay” was embedded in my thoughts and how that image is an apt metaphor for our current political, not in the sense of simply politics, but in the sense of the way our world is currently operating, situation.
It is a story I have heard often growing up. At the same time an application that focus outside the focus of the community I was apart of then, even the nation.
It was always very other-ly in application, not an instrument for self reflection, or self awareness.
Epiphany is one of the older church festivals, which ends the Christmas cycle of the Christian church year. Usually highlighting the visit of the foreign ambassadors to the infant, or probably two year child Jesus. I have felt this was an overemphasis upon the ideas of monarchy and political belief in an upper class right to rule. Pardon my stepping out on the Matthew narrative, but it felt like it was used by the church to negate the more radical or maybe revolutionary elements of Lukes narrative.
Yet the ideal of Epiphany is that light is made manifest, or breaks through the darkness. We understand this more in a sense of the “ah-ha” moment of realisation and or clarity of an idea or a moment of enlightenment. It can be seen in Saul’s Damascene vision and conversion to the way of Jesus and his understanding of the Hebraic Religious tradition.
So I asked myself, how do these fit together?
How do we understand the impermanence of politic identity and thought?
How does life being made manifest speak to us?
In reviewing the story of the king’s vision or dream in Daniel. It is interpreted, even in the narrative, as a warning of the impermanent situation of political power. That no matter how great you see yourself, it will be shattered in this vision by divine force, or we could say the winds of time, things and people change, and not always to the better.
I often heard the uses of “feet of clay” to be a critique of politicians. They may sound good, but they do not have a solid foundation. Or more negative is those feet of clay actually are telling us that they have bodies, skeletons, something closeted in their past that will destroy them.
These interpretations are pointed out ward and toward old empire, and individuals. They do not tend to focus inward into my, or me, or I or us as individuals or as a collective body we.
In exploring this we are dealing with a text produced in the Diaspora, or in exile, by and then remembered by a people who were subjugated to a foreign dictator. They were dealing with how do we live, survive, retain our core identity in this foreign land.
This story is rooted in the human experience of not knowing, shifting situations, life, death, disease. It is all uncertain, and we simply do not know if we will survive.
It is rooted in the fight for survival, more-so the struggle of surviving with integrity. Surviving and holding fast to that which makes us truly US.
This and other Diaspora stories bring to our current celebrations, or calendars a deeper sense of our human, and spiritual endeavours. Enlightenment is not about our knowing more or knowing better than others, it is a point of focus which is located within our personal and collective understandings. It simply is about awareness, mindfulness, and humility.
It is simply learning to fully embrace the unknown.
To say yes to life with all it’s uncertainties.
Our feet of clay remind us of our humanity, our frailty, and our brief time together here on this good earth.
“As Chickens under the Hen”
As chickens under the hen
With floods and storms thus we are tossed,
Awake, divine spirit, to our cries,
Our ship is almost sunk and lost.
In mercy help our misery.
Our strength is weak:
Our wit be dull:
Our reason blind.
These things t’amend,
For the divine had is full of might;
Awake and help us.
Our crookedness make right.
May we grow in trust, in love, peace, and joy.
May we grow in trust, for all humanity, for all creation.
Protect us, we plead, as chickens under your wing, our Mother hen.
SYF 83 (CD SYF 1 / TK 11)
“Just as long as I have breath”
words by Alicia S. Carpenter
Just as long as I have breath,
I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way,
still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well,
tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.
Just as long as vision lasts,
I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark,
always that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well,
tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.
Just as long as my heart beats,
I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through,
still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did well,
tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.
In the third year of pandemic
by Rev John Carter
May we each day embrace what life offers us,
May we look to each other and and see the great gifts of life,
May we open our arms to all we meet…
May we go in peace, and be the peace that is needed in this time of uncertainty.
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