Testing the Water in the Well: The Purity of What Sustains Us

 Antonia Andreoli

Offered at the Walpole Unitarian Church on Sunday March 17, 2019

 

Welcome and Announcements 

     Referencing the banner with a portion of our Affirmation which has been hung over the framed Lord’s Prayer which is an architectural element in our church– 

     "I am happy to see that the banner is still in place.  I am happy for three reasons:

     First – because I love our Affirmation.  In fact, as long as we have the first two clauses it is complete for me.

     Second – because of what’s behind it. The Affirmation may be what binds us today, but the Lord’s Prayer continues to remind us of where we came from as a liberal Christian church.

     And finally – because in addition to the text on the banner, the iconography also echoes Christian imagery.  The heart at the top references the Sacred Heart of Jesus, often shown with a crown of thorns in orthodox art. And the open hands, while demonstrating that “we are the church of the helping hands” also references the open hands of a liturgical celebrant telling us to “go in peace”.

 

Chalice Lighting by Brian Kiely

 

Opening Words fromSources of Our Faith, edited by Kathleen Rolenz

     “For over two hundred years Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have been dancing with the Holy.  At times, it seems as if our rational minds take the lead, moving us gracefully around the floor to the finely metered rhythms of a Bach gavotte.  At other times, mystery and wonder lead the dance, where the steps are being revealed to us even as we dance them.  Throughout history, we have moved to the rhythms of mystery and wonder, prophecy, wisdom, teaching from ancient and modern sources and nature herself.  These themes comprise the sources from which we draw strength and support.” 

     I chose the title today because I like the image of our sources being wells, from which we draw the water that sustains our spiritual life.  And our opening hymn continues the metaphor, that love is the precious liquid that will run in the channels we prepare for it.

 

Opening Hymn #299 Make Channels for the Streams of Love

 

Story For All Ages

 

Readings from K Rolenz 

 

     First Source, Direct Experience

Martin Luther: “If you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.”

     Second Source, Words and Deeds of Prophetic Women and Men

Gautama Buddha: “Conquer anger by love.  Conquer evil by good. Conquer the stingy by giving.  Conquer the liar by truth.”

     Third Source, Wisdom from the World’s Religions

Neem Karoli Baba: “The best form is to worship God in all forms.”

     Fifth Source, Humanist Teachings.

Charles Darwin: “As we daily see men arriving at opposite conclusions from the same premises it seems to me doubtful policy to speak too positively on any complex subject however much a man may feel convinced of the truth of his own conclusions.”

     Sixth Source, Teaching of Earth Centered Traditions.

Black Elk: “Is not the sky a father, and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children?”

Hymn #300 With Heart and Mind – just as today’s banner rests atop an early liturgical form, this hymn is composed of contemporary words set to a Lutheran hymn tune from the 18thcentury.

Offering, Joys and Concerns, Meditation, Musical Meditation

Reading from Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Wintle

Some may have noticed that in the first reading, I only read examples of five of the six sources. That is because I want to focus my remarks today on the fourth source, Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  In his essay, “Who Are the UU Christians?” Dr. Wintle describes three types of UU Christians, closing with this:

"Questioning Christians"

    Finally, there is a fourth category of UU Christians — those who are drawn to Christianity, attracted to the figure of Jesus, but are uncertain of what it all means or how to reconcile Christian faith with the assumptions and the skepticism of a modern secular world.

In a sense, we are all questioning Christians, all moving theologically, and that is why we are Unitarian Universalist: the freedom from creed, hierarchy and set liturgies gives us both the room to explore and the necessity of creating our own faith.

If it all seems terribly chaotic and unorganized, I would suggest it is nevertheless a logical result of Puritan congregational polity and Unitarian creedlessness.

If it seems wonderfully rich and creative, I suggest it is the result of the diversity of God’s spiritual gifts.”

 

Reflection “Testing the Water in the Well”

 

     In a service I did in 2017 about “Being a UU Christian” I emphasized the egalitarian nature of Jesus’s teaching as well as his emphasis on loving as we would be loved. The stories about the man as he walked earth speak to me; I believe I am in the minority here.  Many years ago my daughter offered a service in this church. She was in divinity school at the time. She asked why UUs seem to have trouble even speaking Jesus’s name. I think that many UUs have come to our faith as refugees from traditional Christian churches and can’t separate the life and teachings of the man from the often bloated and sadly even corrupt institutions of these churches.  We UUs are free to grow our own spiritual gardens, sustaining them with water from many different sources. (reference to opening words).

     Many in this church, for example, draw sustenance from the earth centered religions as well as the natural cycle of the seasons, the well of the Sixth Source. The Sixth Source drives many of our services and programs. Yet – I don’t remember an instance when such a worship service had to be defended. We regularly have a May Day program, including dancing around a Maypole. Was that program ever rejected as a silly children’s activity having little to do with worship? Or was it attacked as an historical anachronism, centered on a phallic symbol commemorating pagan drunken debauchery?  I think we all would close ranks to defend our Maypole celebration, even it were not deeply meaningful to us individually.

     But - the Walpole Unitarian Church is not an easy place to feel at home, as a UU Christian.  The respect that is given to the other sources is sadly lacking when the topics related to the fourth source come up.  For example, in a discussion about stories from the Fourth Source, the Jewish and      Christian traditions, someone referred to them as “tainted”.  Obviously the Fourth Well is not one that person would drink from – yet any UU Christian has just been told that their well is impure, even dangerous!  We offer a worship service on Christmas Eve every year, yet for several years there was resistance to anything overtly “Christian” during the planning of the service. 

     What does it mean to be a UU Christian? I can’t speak for the UU Christian Fellowship whose annual revival I recently attended in Worcester.  But I can speak for myself.

  • It means loving the stories of the miracles – that resulted in making someone happy or whole. As our old friend the Reverend Bill Nelson told us, “the stories may not be true, but there is truth in the stories”.

  • It means believing in love, not only as the “doctrine of this church” (gesture to banner)but as the motive for my own life’s choices. 

  • It means fully accepting Francis David’[s 16thcentury words, “we need not think alike to love alike”.

            The theme of the UUCF meeting was Reconciliation. While the focus was on the larger world, for me it felt personal.  I feel I need to be reconciled with this community. I have pulled away, and I am sorry.  This is my church.  I love the community and I am proud of our efforts at social service as well as diversity and inclusion.  But I believe we have work to do, in truly accepting – and respecting –the choices each of us has made.  Each of those six wells can water someone’s spiritual garden.  Let us try to see the truth and beauty in their stories.

 

Closing Hymn #83 Winds be Still

Closing Words: (quote from that song text) “fly, bird of hope and shine, light of love”..

Our closing words are a Responsive Reading by Rebecca A Edmiston-Lange; your response is “We are the light of the world”

Some people say that Jesus is the light of the world. We all can be the light of the world if we seek to act in ways that enlarge the realms of love and justice.

When we share another's pain or offer a comforting ear to a friend in need,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we give bread to the hungry or support ways to house the homeless,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we fight temptations to wrongdoing within ourselves and treat our neighbors with respect,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we try to overcome differences with understanding and solve conflict with peaceful means,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we look for the good in other people and in ourselves,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we do not stay quiet in the face of prejudice, but speak our minds firmly and gently,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we fight despair within ourselves and side with hope,

  • We are the light of the world.

When we use our powers justly and in the service of love for humanity,

  • We are the light of the world.

We are the light of the world! Amen and amen

 (and I wish I had thought to gesture and say, “go in peace”)

Postlude

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