Wandering the edges of the Future – 19 Mar 2023 – Rev John Carter’s Sunday Reflections
Unitarian Sunday Reflections
(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)
09 April 2023
Musician: Jennifer Young
Worship Leader: John Carter
Musician: Andrew Palfreman
Worship Leader: John Carter
“Wandering the edges of Holy Passion”
Reflections on Easter
Hull: improvisations on Easter hymns
“I ought to have gone to Church, but I did not.
I can’t stand the elaborate mourning
which is practised now in all the Churches
for the most triumphant act of pure love
which ever was done in all the history of the world.”
~ Stopford Brooke (Diary: Good Friday, 1899)
WORDS OF WELCOME
Welcome to each and to all:
seekers, journeyers, questing, and content.
May our time of reflection and worship,
fill our desire for wholeness and belonging.
In this time together we are made worthy…..
by John Carter
We light our chalice to open ourselves to a Lenten spiritual journey
to release that which needs to be released.
to incorporate that which we now need for growth.
to transform our lives into avenues of health and hospitality.
We light to become co-creators of a life and of a world
of justice, love and peace.
GATHERING EXAMEN (OPENING PRAYER)
Once again we gather, and we take time to reflect on our lives and living….
May our reflections continue in this time together, as we join to reflect on the deep things of the divine, and so we pray…
“May the spirit of life, guide us today” AMEN
HYMN (BOTH) SYF 44 “Give thanks for life” 3/8
Another Dang Easter Sermon
by Jim Rigby
I usually procrastinate writing Easter sermons. The resurrection story is pivotal to traditional Christianity, but it also exemplifies factors that have driven so many churches into the arms of political and religious charlatans.
Every year, on Easter, I can see the confusion, disappointment and horror of visitors who just want to go to church before their Easter egg hunt. I understand their plight, but I cannot give the kind of Easter sermon they came to hear.
At a time when teachers can be fired based on a complaint by the most ignorant parent in the school, it is important that this Easter sermon be radically honest about what we know, and do NOT know about the resurrection. Even if it disappoints the visitors, it is important that this Easter sermon treat the resurrection as a symbolic revelation of the deeper aspects of nature’s way, not as a one time magic trick performed by a capricious God.
At a time when Americans recognise an inalienable right to the most murderous gun, but not to one’s own womb, it is important that this Easter sermon be about loving our neighbours who have actually gestated, not about the power of a patriarchal God.
At a time when so many Americans cannot see the humanity of immigrants, the working poor, the LGBTQ+ community or People of Color who will not submit to an unjust white hierarchy, this Easter cannot be just about loving Jesus. This sermon must make it clear that, if Christian love does not grow into a passionate justice for everyone, then we must stop pretending it is the kind of love Jesus was talking about.
“Thoughts on Grace & Guilt” (a relational Christian theology)
by Frederick Buechner
“It is as hard to absolve yourself of your own guilt as it is to sit in your own lap. Wrongdoing sparks guilt sparks wrongdoing ad nauseam, and we all try to disguise the grim process from both ourselves and everybody else. In order to break the circuit we need somebody before whom we can put aside the disguise, trusting that when God sees us for what we fully are, God will not run away screaming with, if nothing worse, laughter.
Our trust in God leads us to trust God’s trust in us.
In God’s presence the fact of our guilt no longer makes us feel and act out our guiltiness. For a moment at least the vicious circle stops circling and we can step down onto the firm ground of acceptance, where maybe we will be able to walk a straight line again.”
Lincoln: SYF 193 “We laugh, we cry” 3/20
Hull: SYF 82 “Joyful is the dark”
“The coming of Jesus” & “Crucifixion”
(words adapted from the Iona Community, by Ant Howe)
“When the time was right, God sent Jesus.
Sent him and suckled him,
Reared him and risked him;
Filled him with laughter and tears and compassion,
Filled him with anger and love and devotion.
Unwelcomed child, refugee and runaway:
We remember Jesus of Nazareth.
Skilled carpenter and homeless wayfarer,
Feeder and teacher, healer and antagonist,
Lover of the unlovable, toucher of the untouchable, forgiver of the unforgiveable:
We remember Jesus of Nazareth.
Loved by the least, feared by the leaders;
Befriended by the weak, despised by the strong;
Deserted by his listeners, denied by his friends;
Bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh,
Writing heaven’s pardon over earth’s mistakes,
We remember Jesus of Nazareth…..
He lived among us, he was one of us.”
“When the world could wait no longer,
The carpenters took up their tools,
They made a cross for Jesus,
Fashioned from wood and skill of human hands,
Fashioned from hate and will of human minds.
He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…..
And he was grieved.
He was summoned to the judgement hall,
An enemy of the state, a danger to religion….
And he was judged.
He was nailed to the cross by human hands,
Bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh…..
And he died, declaring God’s forgiveness.”
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT
by Margery Williams
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”
Lincoln: SYF 110 “Now we sing to praise” 1/15
Hull: SYF 109 “Now the green blade riseth”
“Walking the Way of Easter”
So here we are, it is Easter once again.
Doubtless you have your own reactions to the day, you know what you know, or believe and still you are here entering into a conversation we Unitarians have had for years, how do we deal with Easter? or what do we make of it?
Many will focus on the unbelievability of the occasion. Others on why they are not Christian anymore? In the majority of these reflections people miss and lose the power of the metaphor which this season gives us.
For there is much that can inspire and call out within us.
When we get past the theologies and ideologies of this season we find at it’s base the stuff of human drama, passion, strife, betrayal, pain, friendship and all sorts of intrigue which would make the best mystery writer swoon.
In the past I have tended to focus on the idea that the strength of resurrection was seen in the way that the community continued, developed, and lived out it’s Rabbi’s message even in the midst of distrust and animosity. In what is most likely my favourite resurrection story, the road to Emmaus we find the Christ being revealed in the daily simple activity of breaking bread for a common shared meal. An simple act of a family, of a community. Nothing grand or mythic, just a simple meal is the place where the resurrected Christ is seen.
There are other ways of seeing this, Frank Herbert, who wrote the epic Dune series, wrote a smaller, very theological series called “Ship”. In this series we meet the residents of a deep space space ship, carrying the remainder of the human race to somewhere they can begin again. Yet over the millennia the ship becomes self aware, even able to do all the omni’s that some theologies claim are the very nature of God. As the story unfolds we find the ship and one of the humans in continual debate. The basic theological questions of life, the universe and everything. Ship wants her to know what it means to be truly and fully human. She simply doesn’t get it.
So Ship sends her back to witness a defining dramatic and traumatic event, the crucifixion of Jesus. She doesn’t understand but witnesses the whole event and see the passion it evoked. Especially as one disciple (John) explains that the power of the event was in the self sacrificing love that the man on the cross displayed and instead of sorrow the disciple has a new sense of life and purpose.
Even in death LOVE wins out.
I know I haven’t explained it as well as Herbert writes, it is a series that if you can actually find is worth the read and for myself after decades since I read it, it continues to haunt and inspire my reflections.
For me the pathos of this week calls out in us this sense of life, purpose and self sacrifice which displays compassion and love, care and wonder. Which seeks to find and be the best in all that life, God gives us.
While many of us, not longer use the designator of Christian, many of us do quite like Jesus. In contemporary theological writing, many followers of Jesus, decry the name Christian, but continue to hold on to this man Jesus.
The narratives of his life and teachings still touch us.
In these narratives we meet a man who is attempting to live his life according to what he understood his religion to mean. We can break it down to it basic point of view. Jesus was a good Jew. He saw within his faith that life was strongest while we allow the walls of hostility to be broken down, when the barriers between humans were dismantled, when all were accorded position as children of God. While he lived this basis understanding of the law and prophets, or of Judaism, in a series of events and challenges it grew to welcome all humanity. We are called to love, neighbour, stranger and enemy.
It is that universal acceptance that so many pick up on, even in the midst of bad or punitive theologies. We see something that organised religion has tried to minimalise at best, subvert at worst. Many call this Love, others acceptance, still others liberation. We may also call it compassion and community. This list can go on and on.
Somehow, or in spite of, church people still come to meet this Jewish Rabbi from the back waters of empire and choose not to believe a creed but to follow him. His compassion, his sense of justice and his call for a different way of reacting to violence beckon and inspire throughout the ages.
Even the gory and grizzly story of execution.
Throughout much of my ministry I have driven to various congregations to take service, often on Sunday I would find myself listening to BBC radio two, even during the week and I found myself listening to their various God spots. During the week day morning show around 915 they have a religious person, usually vicar or priest, give a bit of devotional material and reflection, and then have a humorous and respectful banter with the host. Overall I find it quite good and appreciate it.
One week I remember a Muslim woman speaking about how the passion narrative speaks to her. Stripped of it orthodox theologies and creeds. The simple actions and gory events of Jesus’ last week are powerful. She spoke of Jesus’ commitment to justice and love, and how that is inspiring. And she summed up the week and how many approach these things by talking about easter eggs.
It seemed she went and bought one, a box, wrapping, all beautiful and shiny, speaking of great things inside. Speaking of much to share. Only to find a basic empty shell of chocolate with a few added pieces inside.
Far too often our approach to this story is like the chocolate easter egg, all glorious outside, with little substance inside. We love the pageant but miss the drama. We nod approvingly when an archbishop or pope stoop to wash the feet of twelve people, and miss the message that all of us are called to do these things.
The pathos of the last week of Jesus’ life is more than an empty tomb, or an empty chocolate egg, it is the stuff of a lived life. It is the stuff that can change perception. It is the hard work that religion so often avoids for fear of loosing members and the money they bring.
One of my favourite children’s books is the Velveteen Rabbit. In this story we learn that it is love which makes us real.
Or as a Unitarian colleague said of spirituality, it makes me the best me I can be.
What we are experiencing in this week is more than a religious story, we are watching a man die in one of the most horrific ways humanity ever devised. Yet it is recorded that he maintained his sense of life even as he was brutally assaulted so much so that throughout the manner of his death, his message lived and grew and empowered a few people to challenge the notions and positions of those in authority. Even today when politicians try to subvert Jesus for their own political agenda, it is met with others voices who decry that perversion of the call to life enhancing sacrifice and love.
That call to become fully human.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Scott Joplin: Weeping Willow
REFLECTIONS & PRAYER:
REFLECTION: “Exultet for Easter Morning” by Mark Belletini
PRAYER: “Sustaining Spirit” by Andrew Brown & John Morgan
“I could say they are beautiful,
those stars hemming the blue veil of morning. I could say it gives me pleasure,
that bronze and perfect Passover moon,
or I could say they make me glad,
those laughing daffodils along the lane.
Or, I could just as well say they are lit from within, Divine, overflowing with what some long to call revelation, or even the growing vision of God.
But today, on Easter, I don’t care which words I use to Express my wonder.
I just am glad to be alive, blest with such marvels.
I could say that the earth hanging in space
Is an accident in the universe that just happened, Or I could say it’s one more miracle
In a cosmos full of miracles,
One overflowing with divinity.
But today, on Easter,
For all of my education and life experience, I cannot tell which word is which.
They seem to see each other’s face
In the mirror of my heart.
And so I rise in gladness again,
And sing the marvel that everything is!
When some argue for heaven,
And others argue for earth,
For the life of me I cannot comprehend the Seriousness of the debate.
After all, the heaven I see daily overhead
Never argues with me.
It just tumbles clouds through my eyes and yours And paints the horizons pink and orange
Come evening or come morning.
And the earth I walk never argues with me either. It mostly just explodes with buds and petals
Like some out-of-control fountain.
Heaven and earth remain silent even when people Malign the ancient exclamation “O God!”
By fusing it with violence and entitlement.
But now, on this Easter Day, everything grows Beyond words, beyond earth and heaven, into
A necessary vision of harmony and peace
For all humankind who rise into life that is alive.”
We end our reflections with these words from Andrew Brown and John Morgan, may this prayer speak for us this day……
We are reminded that the dark days only pass slowly form our saddened hearts
and that we walk side-by-side with reborn hope for many miles before we can recognise its presence.
Then, in simple human acts,
The shared journey,
The familiar voice,
The breaking of bread in community,
We suddenly encounter the centre of creation face to face.
All loss is restored, All grief turned to joy,
All death to life.
May this Easter Day and its joy remain in our hearts
Always as a light in the darkness which is never overcome.”
So say we all,
Lincoln: SYF 115 “O God, O Spirit free” 4/13
Hull: SYF 105 “Nature Shouts from Earth and Sky”
Our blessing today is a simple one,
go and enjoy the beauty of this day.
POSTLUDE: Paul Durand: Mademoiselle de Paris (accordion).
Wandering the edges of the Future – 19 Mar 2023 – Rev John Carter’s Sunday Reflections
Wandering the edges of Holy Drama – 2 April 2023 – Rev John Carter’s Sunday Reflections