Call to Worship (here)
Our Unitarian Universalist tradition draws from many sources. The six primary ones are listed in the front of the grey hymnal, the page before hymn #1, if you want to glance at them. We tend to know our principles better than our sources, but the sources are what really ground our faith and uniquely distinguish it from other secular and religious institutions.
Ellen just spoke of one of those sources, the fourth, which is “the Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Ellen learned much about love and about justice from her Jewish education. Martha and Waitsill Sharp were inspired to act from that same source. In 1939, most Unitarians identified as Christians, as followers of the prophet Jesus. Not exclusively so, of course; we almost always have had a liberty clause which guaranteed freedom of thought and belief for both congregations and ministers.
I will talk more about the history of our free faith in a couple of weeks, but today I want to focus on the story of the Sharps.
Their story, for us, relates directly to our second source which is:
Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
Martha and Waitsill Sharp confronting evil directly as they worked to rescue people. They left their young children and risked their lives for people they did not know in another part of the world. Why did they do it? Why would anyone leave their children?
They were already leading lives of meaning. They were already making a positive difference in the world. Martha was a social worker. Waitsill was a minister. They both were aware of the terrible threat of the Nazis. Waitsill preached about it, more than once I am sure.
They knew what they believed. They knew that all human life had value and that everyone deserved justice and compassion. As Unitarians, they also knew that humans had a responsibility to act. They could not stand by and expect God to save anyone.
But I don’t think they would have gone at all except for one very important reason.
They were asked. They weren’t the first people asked. 17 ministers had already said no, but for the Sharps when someone asks you to do something important, you had to at least think seriously about doing it. They said yes. They traveled to Prague.
So much of our Unitarian Universalist history comes from that time and place. While in Prague, they met Rev. Norbert Chapek, the creator of our flower communion. They were working with the newly formed service committee, the committee that commissioned Hans Deutsch to create our symbol of the flaming chalice.
The chalice was used for the rescue work that the Sharps and others did. Every time we light our chalice we are honoring that legacy of confronting evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power love.
Like any legacy, we can either ignore it or try to live up to it. I think most of us try, the best we can, to do what our faith calls us to do in the world. This congregation’s mission statement, “Live your sacred • Transform through love • Act with courage” is certainly in keeping with that legacy.
The powers and structures of evil are rising today, in our very own country. How will we answer the call to confront them with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?
We have virtually the same story that most countries had during WWII. Jews were denied entry with the excuse that some of them might be Nazi spies. Today the excuse is that they might be terrorists or criminals. But people are not skittles, but it can make for some interesting metaphors.
I found the following on facebook written by Eli Bosnick.
I am going to try and skip over some of the profanity.
The Sharps loved their lives, but they knew that other lives were just as important. They were willing to eat the skittles.
Would you eat the skittles?
Today, in America, the forces of hate, misogyny, and white supremacy have been unleashed. They have always been here, but they are more blatant because of the rhetoric of the Presidential campaign. I can’t tell you how to vote, but I can say to vote your conscience and your values. There is so much at risk in this election for so many vulnerable people.
People of color are being executed almost daily in our streets. Just a few days ago, Terrence Crutcher’s car broke down. The police arrived and this unarmed man put his hands up as they directed. He had not committed a crime. But he was shot down and killed simply because he was a large black man and so looked like a “bad dude.”
Meanwhile while white college boys spend a couple of months in county jail after they are convicted for brutal rapes.
Ending racism will require much more than putting a slogan on a wall, or even preaching a sermon about it.
The Sharps risked all. Their actions saved lives, but their own children were hurt by their absences. Their marriage fell apart.
What are you willing to risk to save lives? Black lives because we believe black lives matter? Immigrant lives, Muslim lives, because those lives matter too. I’d use the phrase “all lives matter here” if that line had not been corrupted by those who believe that only the lives of people who are exactly like them really matter.
The Sharps did not care about the religion or the race of the people they saved. And back then, Jewish people were considered to be a different race. We know now that race is simply a social construct, that there is no intrinsic difference between any of us, no matter the color of our skin. . But even in that time of ignorance, the Sharps knew, because of their Unitarian faith, that all life is sacred, to be treasured and protected.
Others had said no, but the Sharps said yes when given the opportunity to make a difference, to do something important with their lives.
The poet Mary Oliver asks us what we will do with our “one wild and precious life.”
It is the same question Martha Sharp asked her grandson, “What are you going to do with your life that is important?”
Will you say yes if someone asks you to do something scary for justice? It doesn’t have to be life threatening, although these days you can never tell. Maybe it is just speaking up when you hear hate expressed in a public place – like when you hear someone in the grocery store rudely telling someone else to speak English instead of Spanish. Anyone ever heard that? I have, even here in California where Spanish was spoken long before English was. Maybe it trying to talk to some of your relatives who have been swayed by the politics of fear.
Explain why you care, why you are willing to take a risk for justice and compassion.
Explain that your faith calls you to have a warm heart and an open mind. Tell the story of the Sharps. Explain how that story has inspired you. They were asked and they said yes. Consider yourselves asked. May it be so.
What would it take
For you to decide?
Would you stay safe or go
When humanity called?
Would you leave your children
Your work and your home?
To risk your body
Maligned and abused.
How deep is your faith?
How strong is your call?
Martha and Waitsill
Just had to go.
Evil was growing
It had to be stopped.
They met hate with love
And saved who they could
This is the challenge
We still face today
Hatred and fear
Build walls to keep
Children die in the desert
And drown in the sea
What would it take
For you to decide
To answer their cries
With love in your heart?
Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is an account of a daring rescue mission that occurred on the precipice of World War II. It tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in the care of their parish and boldly committed to multiple life-threatening missions in Europe. Over two dangerous years they helped to save hundreds of imperiled political dissidents and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe.
If there is a stairway into heaven
There must be an elevator too
Every one is welcome
You don’t have to believe
You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to worry
About playing a harp
You just have to come
And be who you are
If a God does exist
And I am never quite sure
Then God must be kinder,
Not meaner than most.
We won’t have to crawl
Grovel or whine
We’ll just push the up button
And ride into the clouds
Along with our enemies
Neighbors and friends.
Come in today, come in.
Come in peace, come in hope.
Come in sadness and in despair
Bring all that you carry
And all that you are.
Know you are welcome here.
Come in this morning,
And let your tears flow
In memory and pain.
Let the gentle waters of the spirit,
Soothe you and heal you
As you drink your fill
Of community and of hope.
The river of life flows on
With the force of all our yearnings.
The strong stones of our journeys
Build the pathways to our healing.
Come in peace, come in hope
Come in sadness and in despair
May our thirst be quenched
May we all find the strength
To meet hate with love
And carry the blessing into the world.
Amen and blessed be.
Some of you were here a couple of weeks ago when I talked to you about John Murray and how he did not believe in hell. Do any of you remember that? I heard afterward that some of the younger people were a little confused about the idea of hell, and weren’t really sure what “hell” means. I think that this congregation takes Murray’s “Give them hope not hell” pretty seriously. That is a very good thing, but just so you know, some people, some religions, believe that people who do bad things are punished by God after they die in a place they call hell. Unitarian Universalists rarely believe in that kind of god. I am not at all sure what, if anything, happens to us after we die, but I think it is just the same for all of us. We might become part of a larger spirit, or maybe we simply return to the earth to be reborn in another form. Maybe a flower or a tree, maybe a squirrel or even a bug. Who knows for sure? There is no punishment after death though, that doesn’t make any sense to me.
I think people created the idea of hell because sometimes people do really bad things that hurt other people. When someone does something bad it is easy to get angry at them and want to hurt them back. If we can’t punish them ourselves, we want God to do it.
Today is our water and stones service, a time when we gather together as a community in preparation for the fall and the coming year. This year it is also the 15th anniversary of a day when some people did some really bad, really terrible things. On September 11, 2001, they flew airplanes into buildings in New York and in Washington DC and killed a lot of people.
Those of us who were alive on that day will never forget it. Those of you who don’t remember it at all may want to talk to your parents or the people who care for you about it more later. It was a terrible and a very sad day. It is important, I think, to cry when bad things happen and when people are hurt. Tears can help us heal and go on and find hope again.
The choir is going to sing a song for us now about finding hope, about opening the windows of our hearts and letting peace and love inside.
I may ask you to come up again and help me later in the service, if you’d like to do that, but for now, you can go back and sit with your families.
Reflection 2 prayer
Open the window, let the dove fly in.
A dove is, of course, a symbol of peace. We need more peace in the world and in our own lives. It is so easy to feel despair when so many terrible things happen. Relationships fall apart, jobs are lost, we are bullied at school, the rent goes up, and people we love can die. Then there are mostly random events like earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes and tornados. Humans also create suffering for ourselves and others by things we both do and do not do. Global climate change is already killing people, and it will get much worse if we don’t act more decisively to protect our planet. What really breaks our hearts, however, is the pain and suffering that is intentional.
Today is the 15th anniversary of a planned mass murder. It wasn’t the first, and as we know too well, it wasn’t and won’t be the last. From slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples, to Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City, Boston, and Orlando. I can’t list them all, there are too many, even limiting it to the United States. That alone is heartbreaking, and I haven’t even mentioned war, but I should. We have to name the Holocaust as well.
The horror of what people can do to other human beings gives us so much to weep about, so much to fear. When I feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world, I hear echoes of the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah, crying out,
“Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there?
So why is there no healing for my people?”
His cry is our cry, aren’t we all looking for a balm to ease our suffering? For a physician to heal our wounds and the wounds of our world?
One of my favorite theologians, Mr. Rodgers, said that when something bad is happening, to look for the helpers, because they are always there. As Unitarian Universalists, we pride ourselves on being helpers. In a couple of weeks, I will talk about what some of us did during the Holocaust to try and help.
When we are in trouble, if we can, we also reach out and take the hand of another person. We just hold on, as tight as we can, feeling that human connection.
One memory of September 11th that stays with me is the images I saw of people either jumping or falling from one of the towers before it collapsed. The images were tiny, but you could tell they were people. Two of them were holding hands as they fell. We don’t know who they were, how could we? Were they coworkers, friends, strangers, or lovers? We don’t know their religion, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, or gender identity. We don’t know what jobs they had or how much money they were making. None of that really matters. They were two people who held onto each other. It did not save their lives, but I believe it gave them strength.
I also believe that religious communities such as this one can give us each the strength we need to face whatever comes, to work as helpers to try and heal some of the hurt in the world. Our tears are healing too as they wash over our wounds with a gentle salt caress.
Will you pray with me?
Hold us as we weep and give us the strength and courage to do what we can to help heal this broken world. We are grateful for communities such as this one that offer comfort and meaning in confusing and even terrifying times.
We are grateful for the water that quenches our thirst and grows the plants that become our food. But mostly, we are grateful for the beloved companions who travel with us on this journey we call life.
We pray that those who hunger might someday have their fill. We pray that all will someday understand that we are all connected, that no one should be left out, that every drop of water and every single soul matters.
We also offer prayers this for members and friends of this community:
We pray for all who are suffering in body or in spirit. We pray that they might soon find both comfort and healing.
If there are other people who should be mentioned, in prayer or in gratitude, please say their names now, just their names.
Blessings on all who have been named and upon all who have named them. May peace be with you.
We will now have a time of silence for your personal prayer or meditation. Silence, BELL
Blessings on this Church and upon our wider communities! Blessings on the world and all its creatures! Blessing on all of us. Namaste. Hymn #95 there is more love
This ritual is for young and old, for rich and poor, for gay and straight, for the able and less able, for people of all backgrounds, races, and situations. It is for founding members and first time visitors.
One of my favorite poems is I’ve Know Rivers by Langston Hughes, an African American poet from the Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s and also a gay man. It is in our hymnal #528. Let’s read it together.
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve know rivers ancient as the
World and older than the flow of
Human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when
dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and
It lulled me to sleep.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I looked upon the Nile and raised
The pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the
Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
Went down to New Orleans and
I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn
All golden in the sunset.
I’ve know rivers:
Ancient dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Our souls grow deep, I believe, when we become more aware of our connections. Souls, like rivers, cannot stand still, movement, change is in their very nature. Just as rivers seek the sea, we humans seek connection with something greater than ourselves.
One of our tasks, as human beings, and collectively as a religious community, is to deepen our souls, to increase our understanding, and to move forward toward that transformative moment when we know that we are not alone. That no one is alone. We are somebody, each of us, and just like in our opening hymn. And in our final hymn this morning we will sing about the peace, the sorrow, the joy, the pain, the love, the tears, and the strength each of us has within us. When we share our tears and our strengths, they fill us and bind us together as we move toward that deep sea of mutual care and understanding. All of it, all of the individual drops of our complicated lives come together and create the spirit of life that can both heal and transform. It is then we really feel the power of the river, the power of love. It is a wellspring of the spirit that calls us to drink deeply and be satisfied and renewed. Some of you may have brought water or a stone with you today that you collected from somewhere special to you. Some of you may have forgotten or simply didn’t know that we would be doing this today. No worries, we have extra water and extra stones. In a minute, I will invite each of you to come forward to add some water to this vase (bowl?). This is a sacred and quiet ritual. After the service there will be plenty of time to share your summer adventures with your friends. Today, let the water you pour symbolize the tears you have shed in your life and offer that sadness and grief into the care of this community. Add your water without any words if that feels right or, if you are so moved, perhaps whisper a word or two that describes what you are feeling or who you are remembering. Jesus will be playing while we do this, so not everyone will hear whatever words may be spoken, but we will all be holding on to each other, with the fullest attention of our hearts. After you have added some water, move to the altar that has the stones and add one to symbolize the strength you have within you and the faith in the power of the love that sustains us all. After you have placed your stone, please select a different one to take with you. Keep it warm in your hand as you return to your seats. Keep it to remind you of the strength we can find together.
Ritual blessing Now we will bless this water and these stones. (Children) Blessed be this water gathered here from far and near;Blessed be these stones, strong and solid as the earth. Blessed be those whose lives are lived like flowing springs, and those who are steady as a rock. Blessed be this community of memory and hope, which in its coming together, in joy and sorrow, in struggle and in triumph, makes this water and these stones holy. We bless this water. (say it with me)We bless this water.And for the stones that are on this altar and the ones we are holding in our hands.We bless these stones. (say it with me) We bless these stones.